Sunday, February 10, 2008


One of my favorite contemporary illustrators is Thomas Fluharty, whose excellent work has appeared on the cover of Time Magazine, The Weekly Standard, U.S. News & World Report and the Village Voice.

Don't get too distracted by the technical virtuosity of his finished paintings-- that's not the real measure of his talent. To see what Fluharty is made of, look at these wonderful studies:

Fluharty draws with strength and conviction. He injects personality, character and insight into his images. And despite the fact that he is truly a nice guy with a gentle spirit, he creates the most scalding caricatures I've ever seen.

These studies should not be viewed as incomplete fragments. Each is a finished and excellent work on its own. This is true of every really good artist I know: the preliminary sketches or underpaintings may indicate just the beginning of a nose or a hand, but they can still stand alone as well designed, coherent images. Check out the studies of Rembrandt or John Singer Sargent or Leyendecker. Their drafts are obviously incomplete in one sense, yet they contain a full microcosm of a finished artistic statement. Beware of artists who strive only for accuracy at the early stages and leave the "design" part for the end.

This is one more way in which the creative process in art seems to mimic the creative process in nature. As the science writer Arthur Koestler said about the rules governing organic life:

"Parts" and "wholes" in an absolute sense do not exist anywhere in the domain of living organisms.... [P]arts... at the same time... function as quasi-autonomous wholes.
In other words, nature organizes the world so that each part of an organism contains the independent properties of a coherent whole. Despite its limitations, a component is endowed with all the properties necessary to be complete and consistent with regard to its own parts. Art that is built from components this way is more likely to end up with the balance and harmony and other aesthetic attributes we find and respect in nature.

For example, if we deconstruct this lovely painting of a gangster, you will find that each stepping stone on the way to the final painting is a true and clear statement.

See how Fluharty uses rapid strokes and a few colors to rough in the shadows and highlights on the knife and fork below. A lot of this vigor will be lost in the final painting, but in the interim version it has a beauty all its own.

This ability to infuse design in the picture from the beginning stages is one of the most reliable tests I know for a picture of quality.