Thursday, July 29, 2010

Alphonse Mucha

Since he just celebrated his 140th Birthday, I thought Mr. Mucha deserved a post... well, and because he's one of my biggest inspirations ever.

Second only to my love of Art Deco is Art Nouveau, the highly organic and decorative style of art which was popular throughout Europe at the turn of the 20th Century, inspiring everything from art and architecture, to fashion. If Erté was the "father" of Art Deco--the more stark and geometrically patterned movement, Alphonse Mucha was probably the closest thing to a "father" of Art Nouveau there is.

Despite this fact, Mucha tried to disconnect himself from the term "nouveau" as much as he could believing art itself should be an eternal expression born of spiritual inspiration, rather than a "new" fad or trend. He always claimed his inspiration came from the folk art of his nation and was intended for his people, rather than something that belonged to any school of thought.

Born in the Czech Republic in 1860, Alphonse was raised in small, traditional community which engrained in him a deep religious devotion, and strong identity of Slav nationalism all his life. His first love was art and drawing, and he was very influenced by the works of art he witnessed in local churches.

Despite Mucha's verging talent he was rejected admittance into the Prague Academy of Fine Arts, so at 19 he moved to Vienna to work for a theatrical design company. After his employer went bankrupt, Mucha returned to Moravia to do freelance work and was hired by the Count Khuen to decorate his castle with murals. Oooh. He was so impressed with his work that the Count decided to patronize Mucha's education at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1887, Mucha moved to Paris to continue his studies, producing magazine and advertising illustrations to support himself. One day around Christmas, 1894, Mucha happened to walk into a print shop the moment there was a drastic need for a new advertising poster for a play starring Sarah Bernhardt, the most famous actress in Paris. Mucha volunteered to do the poster himself, and within two weeks it was posted over all the streets of Paris making Mucha and his style an overnight sensation. What destiny!

“If anyone is destined to become an artist and follows this career led by a mysterious and irresistible force, then it is Mucha. . . . He submits without argument, as he himself says, to the commands of this watchful, protective force which propels him through life as if he were sleepwalking, placing before his feet at decisive moments the stops to success.” - Victor Champier

The actress Bernhardt was so taken with the poster that she entered into a 6 year contract with Mucha, launching him into a flurry of fame and high demand for designing everything from paintings, posters, advertisements, and theatre sets, to jewelry, carpets, wallpaper, and even stained-glass windows.

Ironically enough, it wasn't fame through commercial art that Mucha wanted, rather he desired respect--as a Czechoslovakian artist who created art with significance and meaning for his struggling people. One such attempt Mucha considered to be his printed masterpiece was, Le Pater; an occult examination of the Lord's Prayer of which Mucha "poured his soul into".

One other such attempt was The Slav Epic, a series of 20 huge paintings depicting the history of the Slavanian and Czech people which he spent years on without pay, and finally donated to the Slav people. They were received with generally negative reviews because they did not appear traditional enough in execution for such themes, which was ironically a foreign aesthetic. In all actuality Mucha had created something entirely fresh and of his own doing, yet his people interpreted his style as "french", and his character as "sold-out".

Even today Mucha has not been entirely embraced by his nation, yet there is a museum in Prague operated by his grandson which displays his work. Today Mucha is much more popular in the West where his work is celebrated for it's lively and flowering beauty, warm tones, stylized utility, and themes of nature and the exotic. To me even his commercial works are incandescent and hint of something transcendently divine. I just hope one day Czechoslovakians will find room in their national identity for their ever-devoted artist Alphons Mucha.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Nick Park

I remember the first time I saw A Grand Day Out on PBS. I felt like I'd found the most enchanting, hilarious treasure a child ever could. The animation was so quaint and lovable, and the interplay between Wallace and his loyal friend Gromit was perfection. I would just laugh, and for months afterwards the word "cheeeese!" became my trademark.

Born in Preston, England in 1958, to a seamstress mother and a photographer/ amateur-inventor father, Nick Park was very keen on drawing cartoons from an early age and animated several little films on his home movie camera. After attending Cuthbert Mayne High School, Park studied Communication Arts at Sheffield Polytechnic, and then went on to the National Film and Television School where he started making A Grand Day Out. Nick says a lot of Wallace's foibles and character traits were inspired by his very own inventor father. Aw.

Park's next film, The Wrong Trousers (1993, probably my favorite), was another triumph that left me beaming and giggling all the way through. The quality of the action and animation was so sharp--especially for stop-motion animation--that it's no wonder it received an Academy Award. It was from watching the behind-the-scenes featurettes of this film (and of the Nightmare Before Christmas) that really got me interested in animation.

Please enjoy a clip of the famous train chase:

Shortly thereafter, The Wrong Trousers was followed by another great film (although not as endearing as The Wrong Trousers in my opinion but still good), A Close Shave (1995), which garnered Mr. Park with yet another Oscar.

Of course there were also the original Creature Comforts series of animations Nick Park did in 1989, which won him his first official Oscar. They're so brilliantly lip-synced to everyday British folk answering simple questions, and they perfectly personify with exactness the animals of which they have been portrayed.

Please enjoy a clip of one of the episodes that always make me laugh out loud:

Interestingly enough, Park seemed to get his big-break animating Peter Gabriel's 1986 hit music video, "Sledgehammer", which was considered one of the very best music videos made. Way to go Mr. Park.

At this point in time we can see the very creative and innovative mind Mr. Park had, which would later give birth to the clever and enjoyable Wallace and Gromit franchise. True talent always shines through in my opinion, with a little hard-work and perseverance of course. ;)