Sunday, January 03, 2010
Artist of the Month: Rodney Matthews
Rodney Matthews was probably my first great love affair with illustration. Up until I bought his book 'In search of Forever', I'd not really concentrated my attentions on the style of one artist in particular. That changed when I brought home 'In search of Forever' and found that although there were many things I didn't care for in Mathews work, it was his execution that appealled to me. Looking back over it now I can see that most of Mathews work in the book is fairly unsophisticated, and usually a painted foreground is presented against an airbrushed background. Unsophisticated doesn't mean untalented in this regard, I'm refering to Matthews ability to create highly detailed images with the minimum of effort.
In todays digital world, making an image like the above isn't all that difficult, and those backgrounds almost seem rather quaint, but you have to consider how much attention and care real airbrush takes as opposed to airbrushing in photoshop. When you use an airbrush you have to physically mask the rest of the picture with film which you cut to shape with a scalpel. Scalpels are of course very sharp, so cut to deep and you scar the painting, cut too shallow and the film doesn't seperate well. When using an airbrush, you paint on something called Illustration board which is a thick, hardened paper that can withstand cutting and also absorb more liquid than ordinary paper without warping, though naturally there is a limited as I've discovered many times, much to my annoyance. A complicated airbrush might take several hours to prepare and then the airbrush itself has to be kept clean and in perfect working order because all it takes is one hiccup during spraying and the painting has a big fat splat mark in the centre.
Rodney Matthews painted (then, I don't know about now) using a mixture of media; inks for the backgrounds and large surface area's then inks and guache for the details. Quite how he got this combination to work was always a mystery to me, not least because guache dries with a very matt surface texture where as inks have a more crystallic/satin look about them. The thing thats always puzzled me is how Mathews, using guache brushwork manages to create such soft transitions into black shadows. Even today it puzzles me how he does this.
Matthews himself is about the same age as my Dad which always struck me as odd as I'd imagined any one in that generation must be devoid of imagination. He's also an ardent Christian which I also found at odds with his art (and in later years I've read that he has distanced himself from some of his earlier work) some of which seemed to contradict my, admittedly biased view of Christians. The fact that my big idol was the same age as my father and held views I couldn't empathise with only served to impress upon me the strange nature of imagination. I didn't actually like Matthews line all that much, far too much unrealistic armour for my liking, but I learned a lot from his pictures, copying them so late at night that I often didn't sleep at all.