Book

Legendary Cinematographer Roger Deakins on Getting Rejected from Film School and Releasing His First Book of Photographs at 72


Shortly before Roger Deakins sat down for this interview about his new book of photographs, Byways, the cinematographer received an email from director Denis Villeneuve, with whom he’d worked on Blade Runner 2049.

“I can see it’s you,” Deakins recalled Villeneuve saying about the book, meaning that he recognized the eye behind the images. 

I can too. Embedded throughout Byways, published this month by Damiani, are many of the Deakins hallmarks made famous by his lens work for directors including Sam Mendes and the Coen brothers, and in such acclaimed films as The Shawshank Redemption and Skyfall. In the book, the yawning highways and wind-whipped hills from a set of shots taken outside Albuquerque seem to recall the landscapes of No Country for Old Men, for instance, while a handful of bleached-out Norwegian vistas put Fargo front of mind. Occasionally, the connections are more overt: here, the tree from the parting shot of Mendes’s 1917 makes a more permanent cameo on the page.  

As a cinematographer, Deakins looms large: he is, for many movie peoples’ money, the greatest person doing the job today (witness his 15 Oscar nominations, with two wins). But his reputation as a fine-art photographer is far less developed. Not only is Byways his first monograph, it’s also the first place many of these pictures have ever been shared publicly. 

It’s for this reason that, as satisfying as the similarities between his films and these pictures are, the differences are just as revealing. Comparing the two bodies of work is an exercise in comparing the essences of film and photography, and an uncommon opportunity at that: rare are the practitioners who are equally accomplished in both formats.

The central difference between Deakins’s two bodies of work makes spending time with Byways a special pleasure. Whereas a film is a collaborative endeavor, one routed through the mind of its director, this collection of still images represents a wholly personal project. It may be the purest distillation of Deakins’s vision—stark, plaintive, and reverent of land and light—we ever get.

Roger Deakins. Courtesy of the artist.

Roger Deakins. Courtesy of the artist.

There are 150-some photographs in the book, representing roughly five decades of work. How many pictures did you go through to come up with that selection? In other words, how big is your archive?

Not very big—I don’t really keep much, you see. I mean, I take a lot of photographs when I’m working on a movie, but they’re just a reference for the film. The photographs that I take for my own pleasure are quite few, really. I don’t have the time when I’m working, and thankfully I’ve had quite a productive career.

So you’re not somebody who carries a camera with you at all times? 

I’m not that obsessed by it, I must say. I do have a camera with me most of the time when I’m shooting a film, but I think it’s a very different thing to spend your own time with a stills camera, looking for something that grabs you.

Roger Deakins, <i>Albuquerque Cemetary Rainbow</i> (2014). © Roger A. Deakins.

Roger Deakins, Albuquerque Cemetery Rainbow (2014). © Roger A. Deakins.

Do you use the camera to record memories, or is it more of an aesthetic instrument for you, a tool to make art?

I don’t like the word ‘art,’ really. [Laughs] I’ve obviously been on holiday and taken snapshots of a memory, but the photographs that are in the book, they just grabbed my attention. I liked the frame or I liked the light. Often I liked the slightly surreal quality of the image, a juxtaposition of things in the frame. It’s not art; I’m not a photographer and they’re not memory aids. I don’t sketch with a pencil. I sketch through the camera, I suppose.

 

In the foreword to the book, you write, ‘The choice of when to take a picture, and which of the resultant images has a future, reveals something of us as individuals. Each of us see differently.’ Do you think someone who knows your film work could see these images and know they were made by you? What are the ‘Deakins-isms’ we might see here? 

I think there’s definitely a sensibility. That’s true even when I work on a film. I’m not the author of the film, obviously—I’m working for a director and with anywhere up to a couple of hundred people—but I do think you stamp your point of view, your taste, on the work you do. When I shoot films, you can see there’s a continuity, that there’s an individual behind the camera. I look at some other people’s work in film and that’s true, too. I could always recognize a film that was shot by Conrad Hall, for instance; there’s a certain sensibility that he had. That’s the case for still photographers as well. 

Looking back through these photos, I wondered if my eye had changed, and I don’t think it has, really. The photographs I took back then are really quite simple; they’re pared down in terms of what’s in the frame. I guess that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. [Laughs]

Roger Deakins, <i>Teignmouth Dog Jumping</i> (2000). © Roger A. Deakins.

Roger Deakins, Teignmouth Dog Jumping (2000). © Roger A. Deakins.

Why haven’t you shared these pictures before now? 

I don’t know, really. The earliest photographs I took in North Devon, and they’re part of a public archive. But the other images are just things I’ve shot over the years. Some of them were taken in Berlin, for instance. When we were over there working on a movie, I’d go out and explore the city on the weekend. I had my camera and would snap the odd shot. There’s probably three or four in the book from Berlin; maybe I only ever took a dozen total. I don’t take many photographs. It has to be something that grabs me, and then obviously you have to be able to get it at that moment. There are a lot of things that grab your attention but you miss the shot.

These are just photographs from here, there, and everywhere. There’s not really any structure to the book. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, other than the fact that they’re all shots that I like. Some people had asked, ‘Well, why don’t you do a book?’ And eventually I just thought, ‘Yeah, why not?’

One of the first jobs you had out of art school was as a photographer. Can you take me back to that gig? How did it impact the way you saw the world?

Originally I wanted to be a painter, a bohemian! [Laughs] Then, while I was at art college, I discovered photography. My paintings were fairly naturalistic, just based on things that I’d seen, so it made sense to have a camera and photograph the things I saw. A great photographer, Roger Mayne, was teaching at the school; he would come in for a few days every now and again. He was quite an inspiration, him and his work. So I thought I would become a photographer. But then I was talking to a friend who was applying to the National Film School, which was just opening the year that we were finishing at art college. I had always been interested in film, especially documentary filmmaking, and so it seemed like that might be a great opportunity.

Well, I didn’t get in the first time I applied. But in the interim, I was offered this job recording country life in North Devon. I was really hired as a recorder, not necessarily a photographer. I didn’t do a very good job, I don’t think, because I’m not very skilled at recording. I took a lot of photographs, but they weren’t great in terms of documenting a historical moment. Nevertheless, it was a great learning experience for me. I just spent all day every day with my camera, experimenting with framing and other things. It was a great time to play. 

Roger Deakins, <i>Weston - Super - Mare, Looking for Summer</i> (2004). © Roger A. Deakins.

Roger Deakins, Weston-Super-Mare, Looking for Summer (2004). © Roger A. Deakins.

I was going to ask you about your relationship to painting. I know that you’ve always had a love of the medium. Does it influence your work behind the lens?

It’s funny, when somebody asks, ‘What are your influences?’ I don’t know what to say. Surely your influences are every experience you’ve had. There’s so many painters whose work I love and know quite well, whether it’s Francis Bacon or Edvard Munch or Giorgio de Chirico. I studied many of them in college. But to say how much they’ve influenced me, that’s hard. There’s a couple of photographs in the book that remind me of de Chirico, maybe, but is it an influence or just a coincidence? I’m just as influenced by growing up in South Devon and spending my childhood out at sea, fishing. These things accumulate.

All of the photos in the book are black and white, which might come as a mild surprise to people familiar with your work in film, where you have displayed such a mastery of color. What is it about black and white that interests you when it comes to still photography?

I’ve been trying to work in color and I just can’t do it. I just find it uninteresting! [Laughs] Black and white is much more about the content, the frame, and the light. Color can be so distracting. There are very few photographers that really work in color and use it well. Alex Webb is a great example of someone who can use color to his advantage.

Maybe it’s just because I grew up in love with the work of Brassaï and Bill Brandt and Alfred Stieglitz, all these great photographers that worked in black and white. Maybe I’m a bit of a dinosaur.

 

Roger Deakins, <i>Paignton Lion and the Gull</i> (2015). © Roger A. Deakins.

Roger Deakins, Paignton Lion and the Gull (2015). © Roger A. Deakins.

The relationship between film and photography is something I think about often. It’s a question I’ve asked many photographers in interviews like this one: ‘How has film informed your pictures?’ Every time, without fail, they play it down. 

I believe it.

Why do you think that is? Do you feel that there’s a line to be drawn between the work you do as a cinematographer and your experiences taking photographs?

Obviously, there are things that you learn in one that help you in the other, technically speaking. But I do think capturing a still photograph is very different.

I say at the beginning of the book that I’m not a photographer, and I’m really not; I’ve just taken some pictures. But I think with great photographers, you look at their photographs and there’s a story within them. You can’t really do that in a movie because those frames keep moving. You can’t make the frames too complex, because you’re telling the story as a composite. It’s a different way of communicating, you know? 

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

A New Book Gathers Every Single Documented Frida Kahlo Painting, Including Lost Works—See Images Here


Despite her lasting fame, Frida Kahlo made surprisingly few works in her life. Now, all 152 of the artist’s documented paintings have been collected in a massive new coffee table book from Taschen, Frida Kahlo: The Complete Paintings by Luis-Martín Lozano.

The gorgeously illustrated $200 tome includes reproductions and analysis of all of Kahlo’s known paintings, including several works that have been lost, numerous photographs of the great Mexican artist, and a detailed account of her life and career.

For author Luis-Martín Lozano, the book represents 30 years of research on the artist, tracking down artworks in private collections that are rarely loaned or reproduced. (He published his first book on the artist in 2001.)

“Every single painting is covered—that’s never been done before,” Lozano, an art historian and curator, told Midnight Publishing Group News, noting that some of these paintings haven’t been exhibited in over 80 years.

Frida Kahlo, Self-portrait (Time Flies) (ca. 1929). Photo by LML Archive, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, Self-portrait (Time Flies) (ca. 1929). Photo by LML Archive, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

“The people who write about Kahlo tend to repeat the same ideas and the same paintings over and over,” he added. “There’s lack of real research on Kahlo.”

Two private collections have become major lenders to institutional exhibitions about Kahlo, meaning that the visibility of works owned by Doris Olmedo and Jacques and Natasha Gelman has done much to shape public knowledge of and scholarship about the artist.

In addition to showcasing Kahlo’s lesser-known works, Lozano hopes that the book will also broaden readers’ understanding of the artist, allowing them to appreciate the complexity of her paintings beyond the ways in which they illustrate her iconic fashion, her Mexican identity, her health struggles, and her romantic relationships.

Frida Kahlo beside a Pre-Hispanic sculpture in the garden of the Casa Azul (1951). Photo ©bpk/IMEC, Fonds MCC/Gisèle Freun, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo beside a Pre-Hispanic sculpture in the garden of the Casa Azul (1951). Photo ©bpk/IMEC, Fonds MCC/Gisèle Freun, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

“Kahlo’s paintings talk much more about social and historical issues than has been pointed out,” Lozano said.

“I really hope readers realize how much more complex her painting is, and how well-versed she was in art history. She was looking at many, many sources, from German New Objectivity to Surrealism, and also Pre-Columbian art and Egyptian antiquities,” he added. “All this together makes her paintings much more than just her biography.”

See more paintings from the book below.

Frida Kahlo, <em>Hospital Henry Ford</em> (1932). Photo by akg-images, Museo Dolores Olmedo, Mexico City, Xochimilco, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, Hospital Henry Ford (1932). Photo by akg-images, Museo Dolores Olmedo, Mexico City, Xochimilco, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, <em>Ixcuhintli Dog with Me,</eM> (c. 1938). Photo by akg-images, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, Ixcuhintli Dog with Me, (c. 1938). Photo by akg-images, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, <em>The Heart</eM> (1937). Photo by Fine Art Images/Bridgeman Images, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, The Heart (1937). Photo by Fine Art Images/Bridgeman Images, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, <em>What Water Gave Me</eM> (1938). Photo by Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, What Water Gave Me (1938). Photo by Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, <em>The Dream (The Bed)</eM> (1940). Photo by Jorge Contreras Chacel. ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, The Dream (The Bed) (1940). Photo by Jorge Contreras Chacel. ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, <em>Self-portrait With Small Monkey</eM> (1945). Photo by akg-images, Museo Dolores Olmedo, Mexico City, Xochimilco, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, Self-portrait With Small Monkey (1945). Photo by akg-images, Museo Dolores Olmedo, Mexico City, Xochimilco, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, <em>Without Hope</eM> (1945). Photo by akg-images, Museo Dolores Olmedo, Mexico City, Xochimilco, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, Without Hope (1945). Photo by akg-images, Museo Dolores Olmedo, Mexico City, Xochimilco, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, <em>The Little Deer</em> (1946). Photo by Fine Art Images, Bridgeman Images, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, The Little Deer (1946). Photo by Fine Art Images, Bridgeman Images, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, <em>Self-portrait (for Samuel Fastlicht)</em>, 1948. Photo by akg-images, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, Self-portrait (for Samuel Fastlicht), 1948. Photo by akg-images, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, <em>Self-portrait (with Dr. Farill)</eM>, 1951. Photo by Rafael Doniz, courtesy Hauser & Wirth Collection Services, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Frida Kahlo, Self-portrait (with Dr. Farill), 1951. Photo by Rafael Doniz, courtesy Hauser & Wirth Collection Services, ©Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021; reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2021.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

A New Book on Barkley Hendricks Shows How the Artist ‘Made Everyone Feel Like a Photographer’s Model’—See Images Here


The late artist Barkley L. Hendricks was best known as a painter, often capturing the swagger and gravitas of everyday Black people. He set full-length portraits of figures against monochromatic backgrounds so that both the person’s expression and their clothing and accessories were on full display. The paintings are as much a documentation of changing sartorial trends as they are snapshots of people.

An immensely popular traveling exhibition “Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool” helped cement the artist’s legacy within the art-historical canon, but most only know him as a painter. In a new book published by SKIRA and Jack Shainman Gallery, which represents the artist’s estate, Hendricks is revealed as a prolific and impressive photographer, too.

“It was through photography that Barkley L. Hendricks got out into the world,” writes Anna Arabindan-Kesson, assistant professor of African American and Black diasporic art at Princeton University, in the foreword to the book. Armed with what he referred to as his “mechanical sketchbook,” Hendricks took in the world through his lens, often using photographs he took of particularly stylish or confident-looking people on the street as the basis for his portraits.

Arabindan-Kesson, who knows from personal experience, notes that Hendricks “made everyone feel like a photographer’s model,” a sentiment that comes through in the faces of his subjects, who are often captured beaming and strutting.

Barkley L. Hendricks, Untitled (1986). Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Barkley didn’t only photograph people, though. As a student at Yale University’s MFA program, he took classes from Walker Evans and Tom Brown and learned all about the mechanics of the art form. In some works he homes in on shadows and textures, sometimes he was in pure documentation-mode, as in shots of Anita Hill appearing on TV in the 1990s, or of a particularly incongruent handmade yard sale sign with a Confederate flag taped to it.

The book features more than 60 photographs taken between 1965 and 2004, and is the fourth in a five-volume series dedicated to the artist’s life and career, organized by his widow along with Jack Shainman. The other editions include Works on Paper, Landscape Paintings, and Basketball. 

 

Barkley L. Hendricks: Photography ($25) is published by SKIRA and Jack Shainman Gallery. See images from the book, below.

Barkley L. Hendricks, <i>Untitled</i> (1974). Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Barkley L. Hendricks, Untitled (1974). Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Barkley L. Hendricks, <i>Untitled</i> (n.d.). Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Barkley L. Hendricks, Untitled (n.d.). Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Barkley L. Hendricks, <i>Untitled</i> (1982). Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Barkley L. Hendricks, Untitled (1982). Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Barkley L. Hendricks, <i>Untitled</i> (1989). Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Barkley L. Hendricks, Untitled (1989). Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Barkley L. Hendricks, <i>Untitled</i> (1977). Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Barkley L. Hendricks, Untitled (1977). Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Barkley L. Hendricks, <i>Untitled</i> (1983). Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Barkley L. Hendricks, Untitled (1983). Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Barkley L. Hendricks, <i>Untitled</i> (1992). Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Barkley L. Hendricks, Untitled (1992). Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Jack Shainman Gallery.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

A New Book Looks at the History and Work of Artists Who Died Young. Here Are 8 of Their Stories


In examining the many artists who died before the age of 30, authors Angela Swanson Jones and Vern G. Swanson examine 109 stories in their book Desperately Young: Artists Who Died in Their Twenties (ACC Art Books, 2020). Each is unique, though they do find obvious trends and patterns.

A surprising number (in earlier times of course) fell victim to tuberculosis or other now-curable or preventable diseases. Others (roughly 20) were victims of hazardous travel and unsanitary conditions in Rome during sojourns there (in fact, seven were Prix de Rome winners).

Of course, there is no shortage of cases where drugs and alcohol were a main cause of early death, playing into the trope of the “tortured artist.” One thing that immediately leaps out at the reader is there are far more male artists profiled here than female.

The authors insist that their work is not born out of some sort of “morbid fascination” but instead out of the impulse to imbue their subjects and the art they created with “abiding honour, recognition, and consolation.”

 

Jeanne Hébuterne, age 21
(1889-1920)

Jeanne Hebuterne, <i>Autoportrait (Self Portrait)</i>, (circa 1917). Courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd.

Jeanne Hebuterne, Autoportrait (Self Portrait), (circa 1917). Courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd.

You may not be familiar with her name, but Jeanne Hebuterne’s face has graced more than 20 canvases in portraits painted by her lover, Amedeo Modigliani. The young artist met Modigliani—a hedonistic enfant terrible of the art world who was 14 years her senior—while she was studying at the Académie Colarossi in Paris, and was immediately swept into his orbit.

Though her later paintings showed some influence of Modigliani, Jeanne had her own distinct style that was more indebted to Matisse and the Fauves. In a self-portrait that was sold at Christie’s Paris in 2018, Jeanne stares frankly from the canvas at the viewer with a challenging gaze, wearing what appears to be a kimono, lending it the feeling of a boudoir portrait. 

With only about 25 paintings to her name, Hebuterne’s story was eclipsed by that of her prolific lover and her life as a mother to his child. In January 1920, Modigliani died of meningitis brought on by his tuberculosis. Less than 48 hours later, Hebuterne, overwhelmed with grief, threw herself from the window of her parents apartment, killing herself and her unborn child. 

Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, age 25
(1872-1898)

Aubrey Beardsley, Illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salome; The Climax, (1893), Stephen Calloway. Photo: © Tate.

The British artist Aubrey Beardsley came down with a case of tuberculosis at age seven that would haunt him and prove ultimately fatal, taking his life as it had his father and grandfather before. Beardsley showed immense promise at a young age, inspiring the Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones to write, “I seldom or never advise anyone to take up art as a profession, but in your case I can do nothing else.”  

Beardsley’s illustrations bore the influence of Japanese woodcuts and earlier illustrators like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, though his work was fully unique and ushered in the period known as the Modern Style, which was the Brit’s answer to Art Nouveau. His work edged toward the erotic as he matured, with a markedly bohemian sensibility that was deemed prurient when viewed in tandem with Oscar Wilde’s work. Beardsley was considered a controversial figure in his generation. 

Toward the end of his short life, the artist embraced religion, converting to Roman Catholicism and renouncing his self-proclaimed “obscene” works. Despite his pleas that publishers Herbert C. Pollitt and Leonard Smithers destroy those images, the works continued to be released into the public sphere, cementing his place in art history. Of Beardsley, the authors of Desperately Young ask, “Had he lived, would he have been as great a Christian artist as he had been a profane one?”

 

Richard Gerstl, age 25
(1883-1908)

Richard Gerstl, Semi-Nude Self-Portrait (1902–04). Courtesy of the Leopold Museum, Vienna.

Richard Gerstl, Semi-Nude Self-Portrait (1902–04). Courtesy of the Leopold Museum, Vienna.

Austrian-born painter Richard Gerstl has one of this time’s more tragic biographies, hitting all of the notes of the classic tortured artist. After befriending the composer Arnold Schoenberg and joining his tight-knit group of creative friends, Gerstl began an affair with Schoenberg’s wife, Mathilde. After the pair were caught in flagrante, Gerstl was excommunicated from the inner circle. 

Suffering from depression and becoming increasingly agitated, Gerstl’s paintings are marked by self-loathing and unhappiness, isolated and spiraling into ever-further depths of despair. On the evening of November 4, as Schoenberg was giving a concert that Gerstl had been excluded from, the disconsolate artist burned his archive of letters and drawings, stripped naked, and hanged himself in front of a mirror, also managing to stab himself savagely in a final dramatic flourish of self-annihilation. 

 

Charlotte Salomon, age 26
(1917-1943)

Charlotte Salomon's <i>Self Portrait</i> (1940). Courtesy Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam © Charlotte Salomon Foundation.

Charlotte Salomon’s Self Portrait (1940). Courtesy Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam © Charlotte Salomon Foundation.

The German artist was born in Berlin in 1917 during World War I and knew no shortage of suffering during her brief life. Her mother committed suicide when she was nine years old. In 1938, following Kristallnacht, her father was sent to a concentration camp for a time. Salomon went to live with her grandparents in Villefranche on the French Riviera.

“Far from being a haven, during her time there she personally witnessed her grandmother committing suicide by jumping from a window, as her mother had done,” according to the book.

Evidence suggests the artist may have been sexually abused by her grandfather. In 1943, she and her husband, whom she had married just a few months earlier, were sent to Auschwitz. Salomon, who was five months pregnant when she arrived at the camp, was murdered in the gas chambers.

Her tragic life has served as inspiration for plays, a novel, a documentary, a film, and even a ballet-opera. She is famous for an autobiographical gouache series of nearly 800 works that mixes fact and fantasy in recounting her family’s story from World War I through the rise of Nazism.

 

Auguste Macke, age 27
(1887-1914) 

August Macke, Four Girls (1913). Photo courtesy of Museum Kunstpalast – Horst Kolberg.

August Macke, Four Girls (1913). Photo courtesy of Museum Kunstpalast – Horst Kolberg.

Though Macke was an important German Expressionist painter, his personality and artwork were notable for his joie de vivre in contrast to the darker tones, style, and subject matter often associated with this movement. In Paris, he immersed himself in the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists and the influence of Matisse resulted in a notably brighter palette for Macke.

He was conscripted into the German army in 1914 and was killed in combat in the second month of World War I. Macke’s influence on later avant-garde German painting is, as the book says, “incalculable.”

 

Jean Michel Basquiat, age 27
(1960-1988)

Jean Michel-Basquiat, Untitled (1982). Courtesy of Sotheby's New York.

Jean Michel-Basquiat, Untitled (1982). Courtesy of Sotheby’s New York.

He is arguably the most famous artist profiled in the book and his meteoric rise to fame in the New York art world during the 1980s has been well-documented. Born in Brooklyn, Basquiat was of Haitian and Puerto Rican descent and his rebellious streak saw him take to the streets where he splashed his “SAMO” graffiti tag around prominently before getting noticed by the cognoscenti and given gratis studio space in the gallery of iconic dealer Anina Nosei.

Basquiat was famous in his own short lifetime and even collaborated with fellow art star Andy Warhol. Since his death from a heroin overdose at the age of 27, in April 1988, his work has become ever more popular and sought after. According to the Midnight Publishing Group Price Database, the ten highest works sold at auction each made over $30 million. The highest price ever paid for a Basquiat painting was $110.5 million at Sotheby’s in 2017. Japanese fashion mogul Yusaka Maezawa was the buyer.

 

Egon Schiele, age 28
(1890-1918)

Egon Schiele, Self-Portrait with Bare Shoulder (1912). Courtesy of the Leopold Museum, Vienna.

Egon Schiele, Self-Portrait with Bare Shoulder (1912). Courtesy of the Leopold Museum, Vienna.

Schiele played a major role in Austrian Expressionism and began his career as a protege of Gustav Klimt. He was extremely prolific, having created around 3,000 drawings during his lifetime. But the subject matter proved controversial—particularly erotic images of contorted and often sexually explicit nudes. The minors and young prostitutes who frequented his studio didn’t exactly help his reputation either.

In 1912, he was charged with abducting and seducing an underaged girl. The charges were eventually dropped but he was sentenced to 24 days in jail for exhibiting erotic art to children. The judge even burned a drawing in court.

In 1915, he married Edith Harms. She was six months pregnant with their first child, in 1918, when both she and the artist contracted the Spanish flu. They died within days of one another. One of the artist’s last drawings is Edith Schiele on Her Deathbed.

 

Bob Thompson, age 28
(1937-1966)

Bob Thompson, The Golden Ass (1963). Courest of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery.

Bob Thompson, The Golden Ass (1963). Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery.

The African American painter was influenced by a range of historical styles and types of art, from the baroque to Fauvism to Abstract Expressionism to jazz music. The result was a distinctive style marked by flatly painted, primary colored abstracted figures acting out narratives from mythology and the Bible.

Thompson received accolades during his lifetime, including a solo show at Martha Jackson Gallery in New York in 1963. He won several grants and fellowships that allowed him to take extended trips to Europe.

He battled depression from a young age and often turned to drugs and alcohol as a way of dealing. He died in Rome as a result of a heroin overdose. He was prolific and produced nearly 1,000 paintings during his lifetime, many of which now hang in prestigious private and museum collections.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

Eric Carle, the Illustrator and Children’s Book Author Whose ‘Very Hungry Caterpillar’ Sold More Than 55 Million Copies, Is Dead at 91


Writer and illustrator Eric Carle, the author of the classic children’s picture book The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969), died on May 23 at age 91. He was at his summer studio in Northampton, Massachusetts.

The cause of death was kidney failure, with Carle continuing to draw until this month, according to the New York Times.

Over the course of his career, Carle published more than 70 works, selling more than 170 million copies of titles such as The Very Busy Spider (1984) and Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me (1986) in dozens of languages.

But no book was more popular than The Very Hungry Caterpillar—55 million copies sold and counting—in which the increasingly ravenous title character eats its way through the story before spinning itself a cocoon and transforming into a vibrantly colored butterfly.

Some of the illustrations from Eric Carle's children's book <em>The Very Hungry Caterpillar</em>. Courtesy of Penguin Young Readers.

Some of the illustrations from Eric Carle’s children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Courtesy of Penguin Young Readers.

In an innovative approach, Carle designed the book so that the caterpillar literally eats its way through.

“It all started innocently with a hole puncher. I was punching holes into a stack of paper and I thought of a bookworm, and so I created a story called A Week With Willi the Worm,” Carle told Scholastic on the book’s 45th anniversary.

“Then later, my editor who didn’t like the idea of a worm, suggested a caterpillar, and I said, “Butterfly!,” and the rest is history.”

Eric Carle and his longtime editor, Ann Beneduce, at the 2016 Carle Honors in New York. Photo by Johnny Wolf photography, ©Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

Eric Carle and his longtime editor, Ann Beneduce, at the 2016 Carle Honors in New York. Photo by Johnny Wolf photography, ©Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

Bringing that vision to life was a challenge due to the high costs of manufacturing such a book. But when U.S. printers rejected the project, Carle’s editor, Ann Beneduce, who died in March at 102, found a printer willing to take on the task in Japan.

Over the years, Carle developed a theory as to what was behind the book’s lasting appeal.

“It’s a book of hope. That you, an insignificant, ugly little caterpillar can grow up and eventually unfold your talent, and fly into the world,” he told Metro in 2009.

“As a child, you can feel small and helpless and wonder if you’ll ever grow up. So that might be part of its success. But those thoughts came afterwards, a kind of psychobabble in retrospect.”

Carle was born June 25, 1929, in Syracuse, New York. His parents were German immigrants, and he was six when they returned to their native Stuttgart, where Carle grew up under the Nazi regime, witnessing the horrors of World War II. He was conscripted to dig trenches at age 15, and spent time living with a foster family when the town’s children were evacuated.

“During the war, there were no colors,” Carle told NPR in 2007. “Everything was gray and brown.… Houses were camouflaged with grays and greens and brown-greens and gray-greens or brown-greens.”

On long walks with his father, who was drafted into the German forces and imprisoned for two years by the Soviets, Carle developed a love for nature that would later infuse his work.

Eric Carle <em>The Very Busy Spider</em>. Courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Eric Carle The Very Busy Spider. Courtesy of Penguin Random House.

“When I was a small child, as far back as I can remember, [my father] would take me by the hand and we would go out in nature,” Carle told the New York Times in 1994. “And he would show me worms and bugs and bees and ants and explain their lives to me. It was a very loving relationship.”

A high school teacher, Herr Kraus, introduced him to Modern art, secretly showing Carle works by the German Expressionists, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, and other artists who had been deemed degenerate by the Nazis.

“At first I was upset. I thought, this man is crazy because I’ve never seen anything like this,” Carle admitted. “He believed in my artistic development… That’s why he felt I should see it. Also he had enormous trust in me that I would not turn him in. That man had an enormous influence on me by showing me that type of work.”

Today, Carle is known for his instantly identifiable style of boldly colored tissue paper collage, made using wallpaper glue on illustration board.

Children's book author Eric Carle photographed in his North Carolina studio in 2015. Photo by Jim Gipe, Pivot Media, ©Eric Carle Studio.

Children’s book author Eric Carle photographed in his North Carolina studio in 2015. Photo by Jim Gipe, Pivot Media, ©Eric Carle Studio.

“I begin with plain tissue paper and paint it with different colors, using acrylic paint,” the artist wrote of his process on his website. “Sometimes I paint with a wide brush, sometimes with a narrow brush. Sometimes my strokes are straight, and sometimes they’re wavy. Sometimes I paint with my fingers. Or I put paint on a piece of carpet, sponge, or burlap and then use that like a stamp on my tissue papers to create different textures.”

“The style was quite revolutionary,” children’s illustrator Jane Ray told the Guardian. “It was part of a whole new movement in children’s illustration and it really set the tone for what was to come.”

Carle studied at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart. Two years after graduating in 1950, he returned to the U.S., making a living as a commercial artist in the advertising business, including as a graphic designer for the New York Times.

His first foray into children’s books came in 1967, when Bill Martin Jr. hired him to illustrate his book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? The duo also partnered on three sequels.

Eric Carle's first picture book was <em>Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?</em> by Bill Martin, Jr. Courtesy of Henry Holt and Co.

Eric Carle’s first picture book was Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. Courtesy of Henry Holt and Co.

“While waiting for a dentist appointment, I came across an ad [Carle] had done that featured a Maine lobster,” Martin, who died in 2004, told the Associated Press in 2003. “The art was so striking that I knew instantly that I had found my artist!”

More importantly, Carle had found his calling. He released his first solo publication, 1, 2, 3 to the Zoo, a year later, and never looked back.

“I often joke that with a novel you start out with a 35-word idea and you build out to 35,000 words,” Carle told the Guardian. “With a children’s book you have a 35,000-word idea and you reduce it to 35. That’s an exaggeration, but that’s what’s taking place with picture books.”

An illustration from Eric Carle's children's book <em>The Very Hungry Caterpillar</em>. Courtesy of Penguin Young Readers.

An illustration from Eric Carle’s children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Courtesy of Penguin Young Readers.

Carle is survived by two children, Rolf and Cirsten Carle, and sister Christa Bareis.

Together with Barbara “Bobbie” Morrison, his second wife, Carle opened the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, on his 64th birthday in 2002.

It is the nation’s first institution dedicated to picture-book art. A touring exhibition organized by the museum, “Eric Carle’s Picture Books: 50 Years of ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’,” celebrated the 50th anniversary of the author’s most famous title in 2019.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook: