Archive for the ‘master of the month’ Category

Master Spotlight: Jackson Pollock

Latest posts by Rama (see all)

Jackson Pollock by Rama Hughes

Jackson Pollock by Rama Hughes

Jackson Pollock was an abstract expressionist who revolutionized the art world with his unique way of painting. Nicknamed “Jack the Dripper,” Pollock drizzled, flung, and splattered paint on canvas. Instead of objects or people; his process, brush strokes, and colors were the “subject” of his paintings. Some of his masterpieces include Blue Poles, Autumn Rhythm, and The Deep.

Paul Jackson Pollock was born in Wyoming in 1912. His father was a farmer, and his mother loved art. Jackson was the youngest of five children, and had to compete for his parents’ attention. When his dad left the family, Jackson’s brother Charles became like a father to him. Charles was an artist, and he influenced his little brother’s interest. When their family moved to Los Angeles, Jackson enrolled in the Manuel Arts High School.

When he was 18, Jackson moved to New York City to live with his brother and to study art from Thomas Hart Benton, a celebrated painter of regional scenes and history. Jackson babysat for the Bentons and eventually became like one of the family. When his own father died suddenly though, Jackson was so upset that he got in a fight with his brother and was kicked out of their house. He struggled with alcoholism for the rest of his life.

Jackson made a living during the Great Depression creating art for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Public Works of Art Project. His artwork at the time was influenced by the symbolism of Native American art and the experiments of Pablo Picasso.

Lee Krasner, a fellow painter and Pollock’s future wife, took an interest in Jackson’s work and introduced him to her friends in the art world. One of their friends told the collector, Peggy Guggenheim, that Jackson’s paintings were “Possibly the most original American art he had seen.” Guggenheim loaned Pollock money to buy a house, and gave him an allowance to live on. Lee dedicated herself to promoting her husband’s work. Jackson Pollock was revitalized by his home in the country and the love of his supportive wife. The following years were his most inspired and prolific.

Life magazine published an article that asked “Is Jackson Pollock the greatest living painter in the United States?” The question changed the artist’s life. His next gallery show sold out. He became the highest paid avant-garde painter in America. Other artists resented his fame though. Critics called him a fraud. Pollock began to doubt himself. The business of self-promotion made Jackson feel like a phony. He agreed to be filmed for a documentary about his work, but he was so frustrated by the process that he began to drink again.

Although Pollock’s next show included some of his best known masterpieces, none of those paintings sold at the time. He wasn’t happy painting the same way again and again. So, he changed his style and tried new things with each painting. Critics disliked his new work, and Jackson began to drink more and more. He painted one more masterpiece, “The Deep,” before his succumbed to his alcoholism.

In 1956, Jackson Pollock drove drunk and crashed his car. He killed himself and another passenger.

Despite his struggles in life, Jackson Pollock was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. His work revolutionized how art was made, how it was taught, and what it might be. Lee Krasner managed the sale of his paintings and how they were sold to museums. Before her own death, she set up the Pollock-Krasner Foundation which gives grants to young artists.

Shimmer by Jackson Pollock

Shimmer by Jackson Pollock

I am not a big fan of Jackson Pollock to be honest. As always though, my appreciation grows with investigation. I was especially interested to learn that – although Pollack didn’t paint images of nature – he was inspired by the energy and movement of nature. His A&E Biography shows a nice comparison of the moving grass and water around his home and the paintings he did when he lived there. Similarly, I never saw The Deep until I began this research, but it is a haunting painting. Maybe my favorite.

The Deep by Jackson Pollock

The Deep by Jackson Pollock

As a teacher, I resent Jackson Pollock for disrupting traditional art education and, as a butterfly effect, leaving so many children without drawing skills. Nonetheless, his work can be used to teach abstraction, movement, unity, and balance, and is definitely important as an example of art as process. I also favor him as a subject for aesthetics and history lessons. Whether you like his work or not, Jackson Pollock was a pivotal figure in art history – shifting technique, subject matter, values, opinions, and even the center of the art world itself. He is, therefore, worth studying.

Posted by Rama on 04/02/13 under artists,master of the month
No Comments

Master Spotlight – Shepard Fairey

Latest posts by Rama (see all)

Shepard Fairey is a graphic designer and street artist. Street art describes any artwork created for a public space, including stickers, murals, graffiti, and sculpture. Fairey’s best known works are his “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” sticker campaign and his Barack Obama “Hope” posters.

Frank Shepard Fairey was born in Charleston, South Coralina in 1970. He began making art when he was 14. He placed his drawings on t-shirts and skateboards. He attended high school at the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts, and he went to college at the Rhode Island School of Design.

In college, Shepard took a part time job at a skateboarding shop. While there, he used a newspaper image of Andre of the Giant, a French wrestler, to teach a friend how to make stencils. The stencil inspired Fairey to create “Andre the Giant Has a Posse” stickers to amuse his friends and classmates. He and his peers placed the stickers in cities around the world though! The images inspired people to question their surroundings and investigate the mysterious stickers. This reaction forced Fairey to consider the use of “ambiguous images” in public spaces. “I began to think,” He wrote, “There was potential to create a phenomenon.” The sticker soon evolved into the “Obey Giant.” Fairey continues to use the icon as a personal symbol and signature.

After graduation, the artist started a small printing business. Alternate Graphics made silkscreens for stickers and t-shirts. Fairey later founded BLK/MRKT Inc., a design studio that specialized in guerilla marketing. Its clients include Pepsi, Hasbro, and Netscape. Shepard also founded Studio Number One with his wife, Amanda Fairey. Through their design agency, he created album covers and movie posters. He even started an arts and culture magazine, Swindle. Some of Fairey’s fans were disappointed by these business ventures. They wanted the artist to remain “a cult figure.” These businesses provide a steady income though, and they allow Shepard Fairey to continue making his own artwork.

Fairey shows his work in galleries, he creates art for charities, and he makes posters for his preferred politic causes. In 2008, he created a series of posters supporting Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Fairey distributed 300,000 stickers and 500,000 posters before the election. His iconic “HOPE” portrait was called “The most effective American political illustration since ‘Uncle Sam Wants You.'” Although the Obama administration denied any connection to the “illegal work” of an “independent street artist,” Barack Obama did send a thank you letter to Shepard Fairey. “I am privileged to be a part of your artwork,” The president wrote, “And proud to have your support.”

As a street artist with strong political views, Shepard Fairey has faced legal problems. Placing artwork on other people’s property is illegal. In 2009, Fairey was arrested for graffiti, vandalism, and property damage. He was also sued for plagiarism and copyright infringement. This is ironic because Fairey has threatened to sue people who reuse his work the same way. In 2012, Fairey pled guilty to contempt of court for “destroying documents and manufacturing evidence” during his trial. Despite these controversies, Fairey’s social and political messages do seem sincere. He donates heavily to his favorite causes, and he often reinvests money he earns back into those efforts.

Shepherd Fairey has already earned a place in history. He is a leader of the street art movement that defines this era of art history. More importantly, Fairey’s “HOPE” portrait has become a part of America’s political history. It was acquired by the US National Portrait Gallery and is part of its permanent collection. Regardless of its political leanings, that poster alone is a historic illustration of an artist’s ability to affect change.

Shepard Fairey is political, controversial, successful, skilled, criminal, and timely. Can you think of a better character to launch our school year? Studio lessons spring to mind, but I’m more interested in the conversations that this artist might generate. With an election around the corner and his posters in the hall, I’d be surprised if my students and their families didn’t bring the discussions home and back to the art room again.

Portrait of Shepard Fairey by yours truly, Rama Hughes. Bayshore Billboard print by Shepard Fairey.

Posted by Rama on 08/18/12 under artists,master of the month
No Comments

Master Spotlight – Egon Schiele

Latest posts by Rama (see all)

Egon Schiele was an important figurative painter from Austria. His paintings of people are known for their contorted, expressive poses. The most famous ones include Seated Woman with a Bent Knee and any of the many self-portraits that he created.

Schiele’s teachers recognized his talent at an early age. His uncle, who cared for Egon, sent him to Kunstgewerbeschule, the School of Arts and Crafts in Vienna, where Gustav Klimt studied art. Within a year, Egon’s teachers sent him to the more rigorous Akademie der Bildenden Kunste. He studied painting and drawing there, but was frustrated by the school’s old-fashioned approach.

Gustav Klimt took a special interest in Egon. The older artist mentored Schiele, bought his drawings, and introduced him to models and patrons. With his help, Egon had his first art shows. At the 1909 Vienna Kunstschau, he discovered and was inspired by the paintings of Edvward Munch and Vincent Van Gogh.

He left school that year to found the Neukunstgruppe, the New Art Group, with some other dissatisfied classmates. Free to pursue their own interests, Egon painted landscapes, still-lifes, and “tributes to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.” But he was best know for his studies of the human form. His paintings of people focused on sexuality, death, and self-discovery.

Critics called Schiele’s artwork grotesque, pornographic, and disturbing. To escape the “claustrophobic Viennese milieu,” Egon moved to Krumau, a small town in southern Bohemia. The residents disapproved of Schiele’s life style though, and they ran him out of town for hiring teenage girls to model for his paintings.

Schiele moved next to Neulengbach. His studio became a gathering place for delinquent children. His neighbors were angered by his way of life. They accused him of kidnapping and he was arrested for seducing a young girl. A judge dropped those charges, but he found the artist guilty of “exhibiting erotic drawings in a place accessible to children.” In court, the judge burned one of Egon’s drawings over a candle flame. While in jail, Schiele created 12 paintings depicting the discomfort of a prison.

Soon after, Egon moved to the Viennese suburb where he met his future wife, Edith. Three days after their wedding, he was drafted into World War I. The officers respected his artistic talent. He never saw any fighting, and he was allowed to paint and draw while guarding prisoners of war.

When he returned from war, Schiele’s work “reflected the maturity of an artist in full command of his talents.” Fifty of his pieces were accepted for the Secession’s 49th exhibition in Vienna. He designed a poster for the show, and was offered his own exhibitions in Zurich, Prague, and Dresden. Thanks to their success, the price for Egon’s work increased and he received many requests for portraits.

Later that year though, the Spanish flu reached Vienna. It killed Edith Schiele when she was six months pregnant. Egon died three days later. His final works were sketches of his wife.

The Egon Schiele Museum is located in Tulln, Austria where Schiele was born. A more complete collection of his paintings can be seen in the Leopold Museum, Vienna. There is even a Schiele museum in Krumau, the small Bohemian city where Egon was run out of town. You can see his work and learn more about him at

I saved this master of the month for summer time because I don’t think he’d pass muster with my K-8 school’s administration. In college though, Egon Schiele was a formative inspiration to me and my classmates. In my freshman sketchbooks, you can find pages and pages of pulled faces, contortionist poses, and Schiele-style self-portraits. Even now as a college visitor, I can’t count how many art students adopt Schiele’s style for a semester or more. His work is perfectly suited to the figure studies and exploration that go hand-in-hand in art school.

Portrait of Egon Schiele drawn by yours truly, Rama Hughes.

Posted by Rama on 07/05/12 under master of the month
No Comments


Submit your illustration:

Select an image on your computer:
Choose File no file selected