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28 June 2008

Aviation Art’s Grandpa Moses

My apologies for checking in late this week. My plan was to do a piece on my salad days in commercial radio back in the late ’40s and early ’50s. But to do it as accurately as possible I had to check some details with a couple of guys in Wilmington, Delaware, the scene of my crimes against good sense and radio protocols. But I couldn’t reach them in time to beat my deadline, so while I’m sitting here, fuming and fussing, I might as well answer a question I get occasionally from aviation art lovers.

Deadly Impromptu
Deadly Impromptu
A Recent Commission

As soon as you open this site it’s clear that I do a special kind of aviation art. It’s a labor of love, a natural product derived from my heart and an inborn understanding of perspective, and it poses no obvious threat to aviation’s truly great artists — those men and women whose works win extraordinary awards, sell for megabucks, and hang in all the world’s most important galleries. And properly so, because, with paints, brushes, and canvas these wonderful few — the pure ones — achieve results worthy of the classic Dutch, French, and Italian masters.

So what’s the question?

It’s one that comes up now and then from afficionados who like their airplane pictures to be specific, so detailed, so realistic they can pass for photographs. Paraphrasing, these folks ask: “How can you claim to be an aviation artist when, in an art form that demands realism, your work is so loose, so schoolboy-ish?”

Well, while I respect the questioners’ honest curiosity and implied defense of their preference, I don’t see where any art form can demand anything. Art is art — a representation of what the artist sees in the world around and how he/she feels about it. Music is an art form. Which does it demand — Beethoven or Gutbucket Charlie? Cinema is an art form. Which does it demand — Spielberg or YouTube? Dance is an art form. Does it demand tutus — or spike heels, a pole, and bare bottoms?

The art market today is replete with incredibly realistic drawings and paintings of aircraft of all eras. And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s the problem: they are incredible. All too often they’re created by computer, with engineering drawings extrapolated electronically into three-dimensional perspectives which are then laid against photos of interesting skies or other backgrounds and given touches of brush work and “blends” of airbrushing that turn the whole into what suggests a glossy magazine illustration. The “paintings” are often so accurate and highly detailed they could indeed, by almost any measure, pass as color photos.

Compared to these electronic marvels, my work could be defined (and often has been by my questioners) as primitive folk art. My paintings are paintings. They are energized by pure passion and spontaneity.

The planes and the action to be featured are “seen” in my mind, then sketched lightly on illustration board lying flat. Once the planes are positioned to provide drama and good composition, they are covered by frisket, a rubberized water-resistant liquid. Then I “see” a sky or background that establishes a mood, and the appropriate colors are brushed in quickly by way of watercolor, or gouache, or acrylics, or whichever combination plays to the mood I’ve “seen.” When everything is dry, I lift the frisket from the planes, leaving them pure white images against the background mood. The final process is given to finishing the planes with those water-soluble media that provide the best, most accurate colors and the finest detail my freehand permits. That done, the completed work is sprayed by a protective sealant and prepared for matting and framing.

Chaos on the Set of 'Wings'
Chaos on the Set of “Wings”
A Recent Commission

The net result is a historically accurate depiction of antique airplanes in action, created by a self-taught artist who was doing his thing decades before anyone ever heard of electronics. As a matter of fact, the action at times depicts incidents described to me by both American and German fliers who had survived World War I and hung out at the old Roosevelt Field on Long Island, where, as a schoolboy, I washed open-cockpit biplanes in exchange for flight instruction. And where, many nights in my home nearby, instead of doing my homework, I’d spend hours pencil-sketching the planes I loved.

Some have derided me as “the Grandpa Moses of aviation art.” Well, if they think they demean me they’ve got another think coming. Grandma Moses painted from the heart and defied the conventional, and I understand and applaud her and consider the accusation to be a great honor. And as for my own art, my only aspiration is to fill part of the creative hunger in me and to bring enjoyment and pleasure to those who commission my work because they prefer folk art over professional magazine illustrations.

Any other questions while I’m waiting for those Wilmington guys?


Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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