Here is part 2 of our interview with Master painter: Michael Hussar. He has taught Portraiture-Head Painting for almost 10 years at an art college in Los Angeles and continues to teach painting workshops in the United States and Europe. He paints in the Old Master style and his subjects are often provocative. You can also read the full interview in the Winter Issue of Sinical. ~ Danny Stygion
Red Red Robin 2005
Sinical Magazine: It has been said that you paint in the Old Master style. Which Old Masters painters have influenced you?
Michael Hussar: Yeah, that's a long list. Different artist's have influenced me for different reasons, at different times. I'm all over the place on this topic.
But to try and answer your question, the core group at the moment could be narrowed to the painters of the Baroque period. The Spanish, Italian and Flemish. The use of paint became much more dynamic and more directly applied during that period. I think they were managing their palettes better, which improved their color and tonality. Black became a color to be used and not just a tube of dark paint to added to other mixtures.
Some familiar names would be Diego Velazquez, Anthony Van Dyke, Goya, Rembrandt. These were painters of the Court, for popes and kings. That's badass. They had access to everything. They could paint the midgets and buffoons. Which is not unlike what I do now.
Pontormo, an Italian mannerist, was an amazing Draughtsman. His figure drawings are brilliant.
And then there is the American portrait painter John Singer Sargent. He has always been a big influence as well. Not just his work but how he moved through life, always moving around europe painting, moving through scene and society.
I, to this day and always will, like the awkwardness of the painters from the late gothic and early renaissance. People like Hans Memling, Jan van Eyck, Bruegel, Bosch. I appreciate the fact they proved that not having a good grasp of proportion and perspective is ok.
There's a flawless portrait of Christ by Memling at a museum right down the street from me. I just went to visit it the other day. It'll bring a tear to your eye.
Oh and there is Johannes Vermeer. I respect that he left little over 30 paintings behind. And no known drawings.
Sinical Magazine: There are two classical styles associated with the Old Masters, sfumato and chiaroscuro. Which style do you see your work leaning more towards? Or do you consider your style something else?
Michael Hussar: Both. I respect both, I feel like I draw from both and have found a pretty good balance between the two, which isn't a contradiction as they're not mutually exclusive.
Sfumato is an effect of atmosphere and implies a deep layered spacial property which diffuses value relationships and edges. That is all important to me. Chiaroscuro, on the other hand, tends to have a certain accessibility and clarity to it, despite the dark passages. The detail and edges can be very vivid, particularly in light, but can also be expect in shadows.
Both are effects based on a specific property of light within a certain spatial quality. It comes down to how a painter chooses to describe the density and quality of air between the viewer and object or figure within the painting.
Impressionism, which introduces us to the full-effect of Sfumato, is reacting to the heavy Parisian air and how it affects natural light. Color is unified by the atmosphere.
Chiaroscuro on the other hand aims to capture direct light. Many times candle-lit interiors within a very closed space, with little reguard for the air between, the color is unified by the light. We gain greater access to the subject. And we're drawn through the picture plane as a result. You can almost climb into it.
So as an painter you pick and choose where along that sliding scale you want to work within.. My work lays much closer to the Chiaroscuro end of the scale utilizing strong definitive shadow. But I often open up those shadows in a way that you would expect to see in Sfumato.
Lamb of God 2003
Sinical Magazine: How has your work evolved over the years?
Michael Hussar: Artists tend to evolve over their careers, and I have too.
Each new painting presents an Artist with a new set of challenges, so each painting might incrementally change from those before it. When viewed from afar you can see the evolution more clearly. but I think an Artist feels as though they're always doing the same thing.
A few years ago I suffered the pressures from a gallery to work smaller. What they were after was smaller prices. It was a business decsion on their part
So I may actually be devolving because I am working larger again. Scale changes everything; such as it allows merely suggesting detail as opposed to tightly noodling the everything.
That's in part due to where a person stands when looking at a painting. Smaller intimate pieces tend to draw a person closer to it, so you are forced to refine detail rather then suggesting it. On bigger paintings a viewer will stand much farther away.
I think if I had made my work in a bubble I'd probably be doing the same thing. When I started my career there wasn't the Internet. Now there is. Having the means to instantly share a painting or body of work can instantly turn someone or something that's a standout, to a flavor of the day, and ultimately into a gimmick.
It seems now more then ever we are more than willing to share or appropriate ideas and styles,
As my work has gained a larger audience via the internet I find I'm trying to shake a legion of followers and emulators. An unfortunate blowback of what is otherwise an amazing technology.
Sinical Magazine: Clive Barker has said he has to have loud music in the background while painting. Do you listen to music while you paint? If so, what are you listening to?
Michael Hussar: Generally speaking yes I do work to music. Definitely when starting a piece. And the music is usually dialed way up at that point too. Music helps drive the moment when laying in large broad areas. It builds momentum. For me working quickly at that point allows me easier access to my intuition. There's no point in over thinking things; it'll all get painted over anyway.
As I settle into a painting, though, at that mid point, it's not unusual for me to work in complete silence. I do so because I enjoy listening to my thoughts and letting my mind wander. It's at this point where I really connect with the painting and with life in general. It's where I begin to compose my next body of work.
I listen to stuff like Faith no More and Tool. Actually anything by Mike Patton or Maynard. Stone Temple Pilots, Manson. It's a long list.
Sinical Magazine: Apart from painting ....and illustration.... what other things are you into?
Michael Hussar: Wow, I haven't worked commercially in 15 years.
Sadly not much else get's my attention these days. I don't watch movies and I don't have a TV. When I need a release I get on an airpane and travel.
I've recently begun drawing from life. I've having models come over to the studio and pose for 2-3 hours. It's nice to take a night off occasionally and just unwind and draw.
Sinical Magazine: What galleries, projects or workshops do you have coming up?
Michael Hussar: I'm currently working on a new body of work for my next solo show. It's loosely scheduled for November of 2012, most likely be in LA but hopefully it'll pack up and relocate to Rome or London. And I've finally got a book coming out. It should be on the shelves by the end of the year.