I Heart Art (& Comics): James Kochalka

I’ve enjoyed the work of James Kochalka ever since N’s brother Ken loaned us American Elf years and years ago. Back in 1998, Kochalka decided to keep a daily journal by drawing a comic a day. It seems like a project destined to peter our after a few months, but Kochalka kept at it and is still at it today.

American Elf: Volume One collects the first five years of daily comics. (Regarding the title, Kochalka draws himself as a somewhat balding, buck-toothed elf.) The comics range all over the place: some capture funny exchanges between him and his long-suffering wife Amy, some highlight a moment of beauty or wonder that stands out from the mundane, some celebrate the mundane, and some just defy description. As you would expect from the daily format, there are a few throwaway strips, but as a whole Kochalka’s work is solid and enjoyable. Kocahlka doesn’t pull many punches and so following the lives of him and his family (sons Eli and Oliver are born during the course of the project) is engrossing and charming.

Kochalka is still drawing daily comics. In addition to the first collection, volumes two and three are in print. I would recommend reading the collections; they make for quick, fun reads. But if you have time to kill at the office you can also read all of the strips online.

“But what does this have to do with art?” you might ask. Well, a couple of months ago I saw that Giant Robot was having another Post-it show. And I saw that James Kochalka was participating and that his Post-it was still available. The drawing was of his cat Spandy (frequently featured in American Elf) and was just $20 so I snapped that baby up.

I had it framed and now it hangs in our bathroom. I look at it as I’m getting ready in the morning and it makes me smile.

I Heart Art: CW Roelle

N’s main passion is music. And when it comes to presents nothing makes him happier than unwrapping a tidy stack of CD-shaped objects. But sometimes I like to mix it up and give him something other than CDs.

I had seen Rhode Island artist CW Roelle‘s work on Tiny Showcase but missed out on getting a piece. But artistry and craftsmanship of what he does really stuck with me. And so I contacted him a few months ago to see if he would be interested in creating a piece for me to give to N for Christmas. I asked CW to make a wire drawing of a praying mantis, a critter which N had a fondness for as a child.

This is the finished piece:
I’m very pleased with how it turned out. The details captured in the bends and folds of the wire are amazing. I think the style really captures the alien strangeness of the mantis. It’s kind of hard to see from this picture, but the mantis is set back about half an inch from the frame and so there’s a nice depth to the piece. I wanted to make sure it was protected from dust and toddlers knocking about and so I had it framed in a shadow box.

You can see more pictures of CW’s work on his flickr page here. It includes listings of currently available work if you’re interested. I really like this one in particular. It’s called, “You Are Sleeping And There Are Dogs In The Park You Know.” I think it’s great.

I Heart Art: Jen Corace

I am a big fan of Providence, RI artist Jen Corace. She has been a frequent contributor to Tiny Showcase which I think was where I first saw her work. You can see her past TS prints here. From what I’ve seen she has quite a few fans online; some of the art bloggers I follow love her work too.

I enjoy the narrative nature of many of her pieces. I like the two pieces above in particular. I love the moment the piñata piece captures. The girls in the background are either ambivelent or mildly scandalized about what just happened, the girl with the stick has lost her hat in her exertion, and the piñata is dripping something that doesn’t may or may not be candy; the details are great.

A lot of Jen’s work deals with childhood. And while her subjects often seem to be in some sort of peril, they don’t seem like helpless victims to me. Their blank eyes cloak a strength and a capability even while they’re surrounded by strangeness or isolation. I always believe they’ll prevail.

I was excited to hear that Jen had illustrated a new version of Hansel and Gretel. I think her style is perfect for the themes of the story. I ordered a copy “for E” for Christmas (tee-hee).

Check out Jen’s web site here and a current exhibition of hers here.

I Heart Art: Steve Keene

These are the only original paintings we have in our house (except for some Chinese and Korean watercolors):

They’re by Brooklyn-based artist Steve Keene who is closely tied to the music scene there. (He did the cover art for an Apples in Stereo CD, for instance). I think N. first found out about Keene’s work from a music related discussion board he frequents and then he told me about him. I ended up getting N. these Beatles paintings for a birthday gift.

The main thing about Keene is that he thinks art should be accessible to everyone. I found an online interview with him, in which he says:
Painting should be part of people’s lives and not separate from the world
like a precious object. I feel like a baker making cakes, making a good quality
object that’s affordable to everyone from college professors to high school
kids. I want buying my paintings to be like buying a CD: it’s art, it’s cheap
and it changes your life, but the object has no status. Musicians create
something for the moment, something with no boundaries and that kind of
expansiveness is what I want to come across in my work.

I think Steve Keene’s artistic viewpoint is interesting and I like the loose style he paints in. Mass production has made things cheaper and more readily available, including art. For example, think about the way in which Thomas Kinkade‘s empire churns out merchandise and various prints. Kinkade touts himself as the most collected artist in America. Supposedly, 1 in 10 homes in America has one of his prints hanging on its wall. Kinkade mass produces printed canvases and then has his “skilled artisans” add painted touches to the prints to create the illusion of them being original works of art. He also has ‘galleries’ all over the place in which these prints are presented as fine works of art and sold for crazy prices.

So both Keene and Kinkade are very prolific, but while Kinkade has built his empire on giving his customers the illusion that the mass-produced replicas of original art they’re buying (at $800-$1200 a pop) are precious original pieces of art, Steve Keene does the very opposite. He paints thousands of paintings by hand and then sells them for $10 (small size) or $14 (large size). Granted, you’re not going to get rich collecting Steve Keene, but I think what he does is pretty great.

If you’re interested in Steve Keene’s paintings, you can buy them directly from his web site or on ebay (his user name is skskgreenpoint). If you go through his web site, you get whatever he’s currently working on, sight unseen. If you buy through ebay, you can pick out want you want.

I Heart Art: Scott Campbell

I like looking at (and once in a while buying) art online. I’m mostly interested in prints and silk-screened posters because they are, well, affordable. I’m also quite taken by the idea of supporting living, breathing artists and having unique art in my home rather than prints of very common pieces by long dead artists (Don’t get me wrong though, I like a good Van Gogh as much as the next person). But there are a lot of talented artists whose prints you can buy online for $20 or $30 and I thought I’d share some of my favorites.

A couple of weeks ago I bought another Tiny Showcase print.

This print is actually a diptych by artist Scott Campbell (or Scott C) and it’s titled “The Cute Hunter.” I’ve been a fan of his work for a couple of years, but this is the first print of his that I’ve bought. I love Scott’s use of watercolor combined with his whimsical/somewhat old-timey subject matter. I bought this set with the idea of hanging them in E.’s room, but after I get them framed (I thinking that they would look great with an old-fashioned brocade mat) I might end up snagging them for somewhere else in the house.

I think a lot of his prints would be great in kids’ rooms. I have been coveting this awesome ninja battle print (make sure you check out the details on the right) for E.’s room. But it’s kind of pricey and huge. But a set of these two prints would also be great in a kids room.

I first discovered Scott’s work through the web site of the art gallery Nucleus. Their website used to be kind of clunky and take forever to load but they redesigned it about a year ago and it’s great now. The gallery is located in L.A. and is high on my list of places to go the next time we’re in L.A., whenever that will be. Nucleus carries a lot of artists that work in the comics industry and they put on a lot of cool themed shows. After each show they’re pretty good about putting prints of the exhibition pieces up on their site for sale and so it’s fun to check and see what’s new.

If you want to see all of Scott’s prints that Nucleus carries you can do that here. Scott also has a comic coming out on August 1st that I’m excited about (and have already pre-ordered) and his blog has updates on projects that he’s working on.

(Wow, I had no idea I was such a gushing fanboy of Scott’s work until I just reread this post. Yikes. I need to calm down!) Anyway, I’ve got to go hop on the Nordic-Track and exercise and so I think I’ll save the other artists I like for later posts.