All posts by Ryan Williams

I am the artist and admin of this blog. I try to provide insight into my painting process, my thoughts about the current state of the art world, and links to interesting painting resources. Subscribe to Brushes and Bytes now!

That’s no Space Station – it’s a Westfalia!

I have just uploaded a new video of my latest painting, “How the Westfalia was won.” I know this piece just came out of the blue, but it was a gift for a friend. He owns a Westfalia and so I thought I would pay tribute to him and his special vehicle. I haven’t forgotten about the Goonies painting; I’m working on it again as we speak. I needed a mental break from that painting though as the last year has been so hectic that I haven’t had time to really focus on it. Back to the Westfalia, I had no idea there was a subculture around this vehicle. Doing some research online and talking to my friend, these vehicles not only represent freedom to thier owners, but they also sell for a pretty penny too. In some cases, models from the early 80’s are hitting six figures! People customize their rides for living on the road and hook up with other drivers for swapping stories about their travels. That’s like a throwback to how America was once looked at: Everybody going after their own dream with just their ambition and total freedom along for the ride. Ahh the gold ole days.

Paintings of Protest

Given the nature of the political climate, I have no doubt that we will see many politically motivated works of art. The intent and message of these works depends on what’s in the artist head and heart. Some artists are looking for attention to drive sales while others are trying to push their own views on their viewers. Still, others are simply trying to tell a story or report on the state of the world through the use of their brush. This kind of political art is nothing new and when I think back to some of the most powerful art dealing with politics, I always end my trip on Jacques-Louis David. You may or may not know the name David, but you have most likely seen his art. While it’s easy to appreciate the incredible realism his hand portrayed, have you actually looked at his subjects and wondered what story is being told? It’s a powerful one – one of revolution and blood.

Oath of the Horatii (1786) by Jacques-Louis David
Oath of the Horatii (1786) by Jacques-Louis David
While a Roman scene, this painting is actually David’s message to the French populace to stand and fight for a revolution in France. To stir up national pride and overthrow the Monarchy and Aristocracy.

Think of those two words: revolution and blood. What comes to mind? Many of us turn our thoughts to that of the French Revolution because you can’t think of that revolution without thinking of the guillotine and the prolific public executions that took place. This isn’t a history lesson, but to understand David’s work we have to have a basic understanding of what was going on during the French revolution. What caused it? Who were the opposing forces at work?

While there were multiple forces that sparked the revolution, the main force was simple: the poor were enraged with the aristocracy and their decadent lifestyle and the poor choices made which took France down a dark path. After helping the Americans gain their independence, France was near bankruptcy. The ill-fated solution of the monarchy was to tax the poor even more. The aristocracy, unlike the peasants, didn’t contribute with more taxes; the plight of the peasants was ignored. The sparks were about to ignite into a full fledged inferno. The man there to describe the social apocalypse and even contribute to it was Jacques-Louis David.

During the 1950’s America suffered through McCarthyism: the wrongly accused and blacklisting of Americans thought to be communist traitors. Jobs were lost, friendships were broken, lives were ruined. Now take that paranoia and multiply it by a thousand. This was the darkness that the wealthy of France lived under during the revolution. A key figure behind the darkness was Jean-Paul Marat. As the revolution began, he wrote in a paper for the people a list of aristocrats, politicians, and royals who (usually without any evidence) he deemed plotters, schemers, and general enemies to the liberty that the people now sought. His words fueled a wave of conspiracy theories and paranoia that drove the now ostracized aristocrats and royals to the guillotine. With little evidence, all Marat had to do was write a name, attach an unfounded accusation, then give it to the fanatical public, who were longing for upheaval and revenge, and often (within days) that person was rendered headless. Marat was an author for a condemned list of souls, whose only crimes, in most cases, was an apathetic attitude towards politics. What has history taught us about the fate of such fanatics?

Marat’s reign of paranoia and influential words would finally come to a bloody end. He was assassinated in his bathtub for which he had to spend most of his time to compensate for a painful skin disorder. A single woman, under the guise of one of his informers, handed him a list of names of supposed conspirators against the cause. Without any evidence he responded to her, “I’ll have them in the guillotine within a week.” Those were his last words. The woman pulled out a knife from her stocking and threw it into his chest. Marat’s wild accusations came to an quick end, but did his message of liberty at all costs also come to end? That’s were David comes in as he painted “The Death of Marat.” David, a supporter of Marat, agreed to paint the now rotting corpse as it lay in the tub as a tribute and rallying cry to the burgeoning republic. What could be a more powerful political statement of the time than a hyper-realistically rendered portrait of a martyr? The painting not only captures the figure in his lifeless form, but it also portrays him as helping the people. Indeed, the letter that he holds is a letter from someone seeking his help. David, in his not-so-subtle-manner has rendered the letter to appear as though it originated from the assassin herself Ms. Corday. So now we get that sense that Marat was betrayed by someone he was helping. He was innocent, he died trying to protect the country from the very treachery that eventually killed him. This was the sentiment that David wanted the viewers to walk away with in order to elevate Marat’s image and give the revolution its’ continued direction. In short, this painting was propaganda.

The Death of Marat (1793) by Jacques-Louis David
The Death of Marat (1793) by Jacques-Louis David
Political propaganda at its finest.

When the revolution came to an end, this painting was actually hidden in storage for decades. Many people felt it summoned back the memories of some of the darkest days in the history of France. Guilt must have been buried deep in the psyche of the french populace. Once the republic fervor was over and enough time had passed to allow for a retrospective frame of mind, how could the french come to any other conclusion other than they had killed thousands of seemingly innocent people? The painting, initially a tribute to a man whom the people regarded as the soul of the revolution, became a symbol of the epicenter of strife. When the people turned on David and threw him in prison for his support of the reign of terror, he mustered the resources to create another painting with a message. A self-portrait of the artist simply holding brushes and a palette as if to say, “What? You’re blaming me for the bloodshed? I’m just a painter!”

Political paintings – why do they grab us so? Perhaps because like religious beliefs, our political stances are intrinsic parts of our mind and soul. Rarely do our beliefs change on such powerful subjects, but that won’t stop people from posting their views on social media, writing editorials in politically biased papers, or more eloquently, painting depictions of controversial people or events. Given the controversial time we live in now, I expect to see a powerful painting that marks our current state. For myself however, the best of the political paintings will always be “The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David.

Jacques Louis David Self Portrait (1794)
Jacques Louis David Self Portrait (1794)
Painted while in prison for his contributions during the reign of terror.

The Move and the Return to the Easel

It’s been a while huh? Yep I’m back. To say it has been a busy 9 months would be an understatement. What have I been into since my last post? Ah not much really; just raising an infant into toddler-hood, dealing with medical issues with my wife, packing up and moving out of our rented house, searching and finally buying our first home – you know, the usual stuff.

The Struggle Goes on
The Struggle Goes on

Really though, this has been the busiest year of my life. I have lost some hair along the way to mark the times. Painting was always my therapy to cope with the stress of life and I simply have not had time to paint during the past year. There have been a few nights here and there where I have an hour or two, but by then I’m usually too tired to think and I don’t like to start something if my mind doesn’t feel up to making great progress. Frustration? Absolutely. Resolve? Always.

So here we are again and I’m starting to get the time to paint again. In my new studio too! Yes I have a new place to paint and with more space comes more inspiration and drive to complete new works. I think I’ll also have photographs and a video about my new painting studio. A little more space and more light to create an atmosphere for creativity and optimism. However, before I can start my first new painting in my new studio, I need to finish what I started over a year ago – the Goonies painting.

The Goonies painting has proven to be a frustrating experience. I’ve repainted the figures many times already and sometimes feel like I’m going in circles. If we’re to learn from our mistakes, then I’m probably in line for a PhD about now. Unlike that Disney painting that I started all those years ago, and gathers dust in my closet, I WILL finish this work. I’m driven by the passion for the hobby and the interest in the subject. I’ll have updates on my Facebook page and Instagram soon.

Well what am I doing here typing? I should be painting! We’ll talk soon.

Paint Sweat and Tears

Shane will always be watching
Shane will always be watching
It’s been an emotional month since my last blog post. Of course if you read that post then you know that I was planning on the Goonies painting as my next big project. Well it is (now), after having completed the portrait “Mr. Shane Herrenschmidt.” If you haven’t kept up with my Facebook fan page or seen episode 26 on my YouTube channel, then right now your wondering,

“what happened to those original plans?”

Life….life happened.

We can all sit around and plan out our lives down to the minute detail, but we all know that in reality the world we live in is filled with millions of variables that flow in and out of reality to create a random and often frustrating life for us. Our job is to handle those obstacles to the best of our ability without losing ourselves in anger, sorrow, or madness. So while I was painting the Goonies one night, I found out that an old friend was approaching heaven’s doors.

A close family friend for over 30 years, my brother’s best friend, and wonderful friend to so many people, Shane was about to say goodbye to a world that put him through more tribulations than any other person I have ever met. Diagnosed with cancer over 10 years ago, Shane was put through countless chemo sessions, tried multiple trial drugs, and saw an assortment of doctors to try and fight of Sarcoma. He had good reasons to fight hard, he had a son, brothers, sister, parents, and countless friends investing their hearts in him and his recovery. Alas, in the end the good Lord upstairs decided it was his time and he became pain free on October 30th. Upon his passing, I felt the overwhelming urge to pay tribute to him in the best manner I know – painting.

I wanted to present the portrait to his mother at the wake which was only 6 days away. So I grabbed a photo from Facebook, sketched out the composition, and started jamming on the canvas. It took 3 days of painting, a day of drying, and framing to make the portrait come together. I was pleased with the work considering I didn’t have much time and anyone who knows me knows that I work slow on the canvas. I tend to get bogged down in details which slows my production. However, there was no room for piddling about on this one. The objective was to get it right the first time. I felt I did and the final seal of approval would be the presentation to his mother.

Her thoughts? I’m not sure, but judging by the long hug and the tears that ran down her face, I would say I was successful in my interpretation of her son. Indeed, she was so moved and surprised, I didn’t tell her I would be painting him, that she was shaking as she hugged me. It caught me off guard – that incredible reaction – and I felt it difficult not to tear up as well. The first thoughts in my head after that embrace,

“THAT is the power of art.”

I have always believed once a painting leaves the easel, so does a small part of the soul of the artist. Because he was a longtime friend who went too young (36), it was an emotional set of painting sessions for me. When I presented the portrait, I felt like I had presented her with a framed part of myself with my memories, my brother’s memories, and my family’s memories. So perhaps all of us are now a part of this painting. In the video, I mention that the painting is like a reflection of the impact Shane had on myself and my family. So I think because of that, a small part of his spirit is now encased in that painting as well. Materialism isn’t a good character trait, but in this case, the object is made from the memories and love of a friend. Objects like that are truly of value. With any luck, this painting will live on through his family and be handed down over the years so the courageous fight of Shane Herrenschmidt is not forgotten.

The paint went on….the sweat gathered….and the tears followed. That is the power of art.

Through the Fog I See

A new video as been posted to my YouTube channel. I’ve gone back to my “roots” to paint you a bunch of trees by a river. Ah, words can be so…pun, can’t they? The video is a simple and straight forward look at how I painted “Fog River” and I hope you enjoy it.

I completed this video in between painting sessions of my latest work. A large movie-themed work that focuses on – you guessed it – the Goonies. The challenge this time is incorporating 11 figures to work together to create a cohesive composition. My inspiration for this was none other than Rembrandt van Rijn. Rembrandt painted “The Night Watch” and in that work he successfully stacked figures from front-to-back as opposed to left-to-right. So I borrowed from this idea to stack my characters in such a manner that hopefully the viewer is not overwhelmed when looking for the center of interest. I don’t want to give away too much about the painting until I’m farther along. I want this to be a surprise and unveiled to unbiased eyes. I love this movie so much and I’m working hard to do it justice. I hope to have it done by Halloween.

That’s all for now, I have to get back to the painting. Check back later. Thanks for hanging out!