Departure (after Beckmann) by Joe Linton, watercolor and India Ink on paper, 2001
Many years ago, I think when I was in college, my mother took me to a big retrospective of artwork by Max Beckmann. Beckmann is a German painter who lived from 1884-1950. The show was at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It included a lot of self-portraits that really showed his own evolution as an artist. I went home and started doing a bunch of self-portraits.
I really enjoy Beckmann’s artwork. It’s often dark and brooding, big and heroic too. There’s a story going on behind his tableaus… and the story is usually big, powerful, legendary, mythic. Also, on a more low-brow note, he uses a lot of black outlines… so do I… and so do comic books. Incredibly, he captures light and skin tone really well, and still includes sometimes bulky black outlines. Lastly, perhaps completely over-stretching this thin analogy, Beckmann’s most famous works are multi-panel triptychs.
So, over the years I’ve based a few of my pieces on Max Beckmann paintings. Though I think that pretty much all artwork is inspired by other work, this basing one’s work on another’s can be seen as lazy, or as honorable, or something between. In highbrow art, borrowing can be called an homage or a reference; in comic book art terminology this is called a swipe. Not all swipes are bad; many are great. I learn copying from masters. Alan Moore very much swipes stuff and reinvents it brilliantly in the process. But it’s, of course, generally dishonorable (sometimes illegal) to swipe without acknowledging the source. (more…)