Atelier / Comfort · March 14, 2008

Friday in the atelier: “After The Bath” by Mary Minifie

Today’s “Friday in the atelier” is brought to you today in honor of two Internet gadflies – Ray Comfort and Theodore Beale (aka “Vox Day”).

First, my apologies to my readers. Usually atelier entries only deal with the normal politics and critics of the art world. Although I’ve mentioned pseudoscience in the art world, I’ve never directly related art to Secular topics. While I don’t plan on making this a usual occurrence, I’ll happily do so again in the future if there is sufficient reason.

If you want to skip ahead to the meat of today’s atelier, you can do so by clicking here.

For those who don’t know anything about Ray Comfort, he’s a former street-preacher who’s clawed his way up to the evangelical minor leagues – he transferred his soapbox from the street to his blog on the Information Highway. I’ve written about him before. (link1, link2, link3)

I dedicate today’s atelier entry to Comfort due to his equating art with bathroom porn. In a recent blog posting Comfort said:

If you too enjoy gazing at the naked female form, you don’t have to go to New York to see similar works. You can find them scrawled on the walls of most public rest rooms.

Comfort wrote this little throw-away condescending comment at the end of a mini-biography of artist Gustav Klimt. The biography of course focused on Klimt’s eroticism and decadence, and included a warped version of Klimt’s “The Kiss” (as drawn by cartoonist Richard Gunther) that changed the artist’s original meaning.

As for Vox Day – he’s a misogynistic Christian Dominionist and libertarian who frequently touts his own superiority in the ultra conservative site Worldnetdaily and on his own blog. Normally I ignore this type of person, and categorize him with Anne Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, but he recently got my attention with a little rant about women in which he said (in part):

Women love education; it’s the actual application they don’t particularly like. Whereas the first thought of a woman who enjoys the idea of painting is to take an art appreciation class, a similarly interested man is more likely to just pick up a paintbrush and paint something – usually a naked woman.

So thank you Ray Comfort, for letting me know I should show (more) nude figures in my atelier series, and thank you Theodore Beale for pointing out my lack of female master artists in my Friday series. I think I’ll start correcting both of those errors right now.

Today’s artist is Mary Minifie, who paints in the tradition of the Boston School of Academic Art, which is in turn rooted in the 19 century French Academy. Minifie received her Bachelor of Arts from Wellesley College in 1973, where she studied studio art and art history. She received her Master of Fine Arts degree from the Boston University School of Fine Arts in 1976. She then spent ten years in Cairo, Egypt, Oxford, England, and Vienna, Austria, where she lived and worked and studied the works of other masters as she exhibited her own works.

After Minifie and her husband returned to the United States in 1985, she found that Paul Ingbretson’s works inspired her, and sought out Ingbretson for private study in his atelier.

Ingbretson also painted in the tradition of the Boston School of Fine Arts, and he was trained in the atelier of R.H. Ives Gammell. Gammell was trained by William Paxton, who studied with Jean-Léon Gérôme.

Minifie studied with Ingbretson for nine years, learning the very exacting methods of the French Academy, until 1997. She had always been a serious painter with her own goals, but her husband’s sudden death forced her support herself and her two children. She became a portrait painter, and her painting sessions became more intense, more goal focused, and more based upon a timetable.

Modern life for a painter is not like what was available for painters at the turn of the century. In today’s world, it is difficult or impossible to find a patron that would allow an artist to follow their own pursuits. Minifie had to be successful. And in her atelier – a converted mill in Manchester, New Hampshire – she learned that she could continue to paint quality work at a pace that would support her and her family.

I’m showing two of Minifie’s works today. The first is called “After The Bath”, painted in 2000. This painting demonstrates why artists, even female artists, paint the female nude form. It isn’t because it’s pornography, it is because it requires a great deal of skill to create the naturally pleasing graceful lines and skin tones that attract the human eye. Nude figures are to the art world what the Olympics are to the sports world.

Take some time to walk around a big city and study the architecture. Architecture is one of the traditional “Fine Arts”, which – like painting and like dance – is best represented with smooth, flowing and graceful lines. An artist can create a series of graceful lines that causes a person’s eye to follow, from one line to the next, to wherever the artist wishes it to go. This directing of the eye develops interest, and your eye will follow one line to the next and then the next. This is why nudes are so often painted gracefully, carefully drawing your eye through the painting.

Although the lines themselves require a great deal of skill and accuracy, skin – painted realistically – is a huge challenge for any artist. Skin has depth to it, it reflects its surroundings, and it is something that we humans understand so instinctively that we notice when there is even a faint imperfection. (This is a reason why makeup is so popular – to blend out the imperfections!)

In “After the Bath”, Minifie draws your eye up the model’s arm to her face, you follow her eyes to her hand, and then follow her leg upwards again – the movement of your eye around the painting is what captures your interest. I did not crop this work as I usually do, but it is reduced in size. Click on it to see it larger from the Art Renewal Center.

I also wanted to show a charcoal drawing from Minifie. The drawing is titled, “Ray”, and it shows the artist’s technical skills. Realistic figure drawing is an exacting skill that impressionistic or abstract artists don’t have to worry about as much. This ability to be precisely exact is very important because humans are wired through evolution to immediately recognize subtle details (and imperfections!) in the faces and bodies of others. You don’t have to be trained as an art critic to see when a figure drawing is poorly executed – you don’t need training when the visual “hardware” that does this automatically is in everyone.

But our minds don’t store exact representations of what we see – instead our memories hold “shortcuts” that indicate greater detail. This is why an amateur artist draws coffee cup handles instead of ears – because our memories are getting in the way of our visual processing.

This is one reason why artists like Minifie spend a lifetime learning how to draw and paint realistically. And of course artists learn about human psychology, and how to draw the eye in a subtle fashion around the painting.

Go check out Minifie’s web site, or you can check her work at the Vose Galleries of Boston.