Fuseli, Struzan, and Basquiat

Henry Fuseli (aka Johann Heinrich Füssli)

As we were told in class, Fuseli was a Swiss-born painter, draughtsman, writer, and art critic who spent a majority of his life in the United Kingdom (where he eventually passed away in 1825)

Some of his best known works dealt with supernatural content, depicting mythological scenarios or fictional characters. He was recognised a number of times for his work, including holding the posts of Professor of Painting and Keeper at the Royal Academy. It’s said that he influenced a number of other younger British artists, such as William Blake, and he taught John Constable and Benjamin Haydon (names I recognised).

He ended up painting more than 200 pictures and had about 800 sketches/designs to his name. I actually really like his sketches and drawings more than his full paintings, but I think it’s because they look more raw. His paintings are steeped with meaning and interpretation of his subjects – for example, he painted 47 pictures based on the works of John Milton. He was going to use them to finance the opening of a Milton exhibition that would rival the Shakespeare gallery, however it failed.

I find it interesting that he was an exceptionally well-educated man who actually wrote essays on the topic of art and reviewed his contemporaries from time to time. He also vocalised his opinions on literature and politics of the time, including the French Revolution and when Louis XVI was executed. He was also a bit of a linguists, fluently knowing four different languages.

It’s also funny to read about what he felt towards landscape paintings, refusing to make any of his own because “Damn Nature! she always puts me out” and he only ever painted two portraits.

Jean-Michel Basquiat

He was a progressive artist from Brooklyn who passed away quite prematurely at the age of 27 due to his heroin addiction. He was first recognised while being a part of a graffiti duo called SAMO in the late 1970s. Towards the 1980s, he began showing his own artwork in galleries and museums all over the world.

His work primarily showed divisions in various topics, such as wealth vs poverty or integration vs segregation. He generally tried to marry a variety of art methods, such as poetry and painting, images and text. Basquiat even worked with Andy Warhol and struck up a friendship with him – it’s assumed that Warhol’s death in 1987 led to a deeper depression in Basquiat and subsequently contributed to his death in 1988. One has to wonder where he would have gone in his career and life if this hadn’t happened to him.

His style is up to one’s artistic taste and leans more towards the abstract compared to some of the other artists we’ve looked into. I’m not sure I quite “understand” the message he was trying to convey through his work, however I think his legacy speaks for itself. To this day he’s still extremely well-respected and a topic of conversation in many other works: writers, film-makers, and musicians have all looked at him for inspiration. If nothing else, he should be respected and revered for that.

Drew Struzan

I actually left my favourite for last, because my mind was blown in class when Struzan’s name was mentioned and then we were shown what work he’s created throughout his expansive career. He’s likely one of the most well-respected movie poster artist, whose work included the all the films for Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, and Star Wars – some of my favourite movies of all time!

After a very poor childhood, he made the decision to earn a paycheck as an illustrator rather than freelance as a fine artist. He began designing album covers for many big-name bands such as the Beach Boys, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind, and Fire, etc. At about the same time, he designed the cover for Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare album , which was eventually voted one of the top 100 covers of all time by Rolling Stone magazine. Along with that, he’s won several other awards for his hard work and dedication to his art.

A documentary about his life was released in 2013 and I really want to track it down. It looks at his life and work, with interviews from the film-makers and actors involved in the films for which he’s done posters for. I’m hoping it goes more into his creative process, which I loved reading about. It’s so impressive that the poster he did for John Carpenter’s The Thing, he created the entire poster overnight! Meanwhile, he says it only takes him one or two weeks from start to finish to make a poster – this alone is staggering, considering the detail and excellence of his work.

In my opinion, his work is absolutely stunning and it’s surprising to think that very few people would know the name of the man who created so many iconic movie posters over the years. I agree with him when he grieved the waning use of traditional art in favour of other more modern techniques. I think this quote sums up just how passionate he is:

I love the texture of paint made of coloured earth, of oil from the trees and of canvas and paper. I love the expression of paint from a brush or a hand smearing charcoal, the dripping of paint and moisture of water, the smell of the materials. I delight in the changeable nature of a painting with new morning light or in the afternoon when the sun turns a painting orange or by firelight at night. I love to see it, hold it, touch it, smell it, and create it. My gift is to share my life by allowing others to see into my heart and spirit through such tangible, comprehensible and familiar means. The paint is part of the expression.

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