Sunday, May 16, 2010

Jim Buckels

Since my last post I got very nostalgic thinking about my high school days, and then got even more nostalgic thinking about my middle school and elementary days, and one artist whose images especially bring back the wonder and emotions of my childhood are those of Jim Buckels.

I first remember seeing a coffee-table book of his post-modern, neo-surrealist images when I was about twelve. They immediately struck a chord with me. I would spend hours gazing at them all.

I swear I could almost smell the fragrance of mid-summer roses, hear the gentle warble of a wood thrush, and feel a cool vapor rising off the lake onto my face. His images were captivating and dream-like, so much so that part of me yearned more than anything to live inside their perfect stillness forever.

Born in 1948 in Iowa State, Jim Buckels' fascination with fantasy began in early childhood when his mother, who taught English comp and literature at Iowa State University, would read to him from storybooks illustrated by N.C. Wyeth and Maxfield Parrish. The similarities between Buckels' and Parrish's use of light and architecture are quite apparent.

Maxfield Parrish

Jim Buckels

When he was eighteen, Buckels won an art competition and received a full scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa. In 1968, he interrupted his studies to join the army and serve two years in Vietnam. Once he returned he completed his education, found work as a freelance illustrator, and later worked in a design firm, becoming known for his stylized landscapes and dreamscapes.

On first glance they appear "pretty", perhaps even uninspired landscapes, meant only to please the viewer. Art for art's sake. However, on second glance they seem to reveal truths of lingering memories that continue to haunt you long after wards.

There is an interplay of warm fantasy and mythology to them, as well as an element of cold, modern starkness. Perhaps, this is due to Buckels' airbrush technique which produces straight lines and reflections of such geometric precision, and detail of such meticulous, crystalline clarity... but it's not just that. Everything is almost off-puttingly serene; the water so untouched, the lawns so exactly cut, yet there isn't a human soul to be found.

Buckels' surrealist influence is evident from his use of marble spheres and random pianos floating on water and in air. Are these objects purely symbolic or actual embodiments of the artist's dream-like subconsciousness?

I suppose for a young impressionable girl of my age there was nothing more alluring than a world of fairy tale chateaus, magical palaces, and elegant villas, but I like to think there was something more to the images that enticed me than silly girlhood fantasies.

Perhaps it was the ever vigilant moon, a symbol of the feminine, or the female busts and statues named after greek goddesses that seemed to address a certain feminine mystique.

All I can say, is there was something about the dusky twilight and glow of the street lamps that made me swell with awe and almost dread. The best way I can think to describe the beauty is that it made my heart ache. Way to elicit an emotional response Mr. Buckels.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Tim Burton

Well, since I just made a post of one of Tim Burton's biggest inspirations, I thought I might as well do one of Mr. Burton himself, seeing as how he was a huge High School inspiration of my own.

When most people think of Tim Burton they think of a pudgy-faced filmmaker with crazy hair who directs films about quirky, misunderstood characters in a dark, Gothic style, usually with Johnny Depp as his lead, and often with his partner, Helena Bonham-Carter playing primary roles. Some of his most famous blockbusters are, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Batman, Batman Returns, Planet of the Apes, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and most recently, Alice in Wonderland.

What most people don't know about Tim is that before he was a filmmaker he was an artist and animator. Born in Burbank, California, Tim grew up in a classically suburban neighborhood (as seen in Edward Scissorhands) and soon realized he didn't quite fit the mold of normality. From an early age he was a recluse and enjoyed drawing and watching classic horror films, especially those featuring Vincent Price.

In the ninth grade his artistic skills were recognized when a garbage company placed his poster on all their trucks for a year. Boy, would I pay to see that. After high school Tim received a scholarship to attend the California Institute of the Arts, but once he lost the scholarship he decided to make a "proper" pencil sketched animation titled "Stalk of the Celery Monster" (1979). The film shocked many of his school mates and caught the attention of Disney execs, so Tim was offered a job in the animation department.

During this time Burton animated for The Fox and the Hound (1981), but found animating in the Disney mold unfulfilling. He often described his attempts at animating Disney characters as looking like "road kill". Even when he was set to create concept art for the The Black Cauldron (1985), a relatively "dark" fantasy film by Disney standards, his sketches were considered too deviant and never used.

Despite having a unique set of aesthetics compared to the light and cheery Disney cartoons, Disney recognized Burton's talent and gave him the freedom to develop his own personal projects. Burton indulged in directing cheap, odd-ball films such as Doctor of Doom (1980), and the infamously bizarre Luau (1982). He did some designs for the cartoon Family Dog which was later turned into an episode of the Steven Spielberg TV series Amazing Stories. He did some uncredited work on the computer animation Tron (1982), and came up with a poem and several sketches that would later become inspiration for The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), what I consider to be the greatest animated film of all time.

It was also during this time that Tim wrote and directed the strange and beautiful, German Expressionist-inspired, black and white stop-motion animation, Vincent (1982), a semi-autobiographical film narrated by Tim's childhood idol, Vincent Price.

It's captivating. It's genius. I kind of wish Tim would return to this style rather than the highly commercialized feel of his recent films. Oh well, that seems to be the curse of all successful Blockbuster directors. Anyway, the pet dog and mad scientist themes would continue to inspire many of Tim's other films (Frankenweenie, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, etc.). We can only hope that in the future Tim will stick with producing films that are personal, in order that his talent and originality might continue to flourish.