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RE: Homage to the murals of Jay Matternes.
Well, I guess it is great to have passions and preferences but I really believe
this post needs to be replied to, and probably best by a non artist so it does
not have a possible self-serving aspect. I apologize ahead if my spelling of
names misses the mark at times as I am doing this as a stream of consciousness
during a lazy Sunday morning.
First of all, I was working in the building when Jay did the murals and lived
with them for more than 15 years. I had the pleasure of staring at them
multiple times a week during that time and think they are indeed wonderful.
However, the first comment I would make about them is that they really have the
old Edward Hicks style Peaceable Kingdom vibe about them which I am sure Jay
did at the direction of the curators, presumably Bob Emry, and this would be to
pack a lot of beasts in what are relatively small areas in the murals. I'm sure
given full control, Jay would have done something more biologically
(ecologically) realistic. But they are fabulous murals so the theme of this
reply is NOT to be interpreted as any slight toward them or Jay. Great stuff.
However, less than 20 feet from one of them is Ely Kish's Life in the Ancient
Seas mural which is easily just as great a demonstration of artistic
wonderfulness. And nearby was John Gurche's work on the time column which is as
good as any paleoart ever done.
I guess what Wilbur seems to have missed is that the past 30 years has seen an
incredible golden age of paleoart and Jay's stuff is just one component of it.
Before I turn to archosaurs, I would also mention that Mark Hallet's stuff is
as good as anything I have ever seen for mammals and there are a pile of mammal
people working around the globe that are at Jay's level - and again this is not
to suggest Jay's stuff is anything but fabulous. I wish I had some on my walls.
Now onto archosaurs - I have to mention I grew up less than 20 miles from the
Zallinger murals at Peabody and still they take my breath away every time I
revisit them. However, there are fabulous things happening in archosaur
paleoart right now and for the past 30 years. Anyone who went to SVP this year
saw Bob Walters and Tess Kissinger's murals at the Carnegie and they are
absolutely magnificent and second to none - and more biologically reasonable in
not so much the Peaceable Kingdom (although remember that paleoartists have
constraints given to them by the one's paying the bills or the curators they
place in control, so again Jay would do it differently now, I'm sure). This is
just the start as Bob and Tess have done other great stuff and there are a pile
of people doing fabulous levels of work on archosaurs - easily on par with
Jay's high level. I again mention Ely with marine reptiles and, of curse
Gurche. Stylistically we have people like Doug Henderson who are doing real
works of art and Ray Troll and Bill Stout can do some real amazing stuff,
although they are less into realistic depictions. Then there is Skrepnick,
Karen Carr to name a couple. I have Brian Franzcak's painting of three
Stegoceras walking by a lakeside in my living room (the lakeside is not in my
living room the painting is) that I look at daily and it reminds me of the
quality of the realistic work being done these days. There are also about 20
Walters pieces around the house that do the same thing.
Not to mention Greg Paul (although murals are not his real niche) , Donna
Braginetz, Bob Hines, Luis Rey, Jim Gurney, John Sibbick, Todd Marshall and
lots of others from NA, Europe, South America and, if my facebook friends are
any indication, Asia. I'm spacing on the names of some the fabulous and young
artists as I write this.
These are some of the top of the crop, but there are a bunch of others working
at a comparable or near comparable level, and don't get me started on 3D
paleoartists - just look at David Krentz' post a few hours ago, or Brian
Cooley, or Bruce Mohn, and, of course, Gary Staab to name a few of the many
that are so good they will floor you with their stuff.
So - and I apologize for spacing in my head as I write this quickly - I would
suggest that Jay has been ably matched by a bunch of archosaur types as well as
mammal people and those who do inverts and stuff. We are all the better for
their work and they really do need to have their work compensated for properly.
I know Linda Deck and I drove our Camry for 12 years in part because we put our
available funds in art (and still do) rather than trading in cars very often.
Finally, I would say that great paleoart serves a tremendously important
function for all of us as well as educationally. For paleontologists, they give
visual expression to what we see in our organisms that most of us don't have
the talent to do ourselves - and many do an amazing amount of research as they
work. Still, they can also serve as powerful art in themselves. Zallinger's
mural has a powerful effect (at least on me) that matches any art I have seen.
When the Vermeer show came to DC when we were there, we went. I thought the
"Girl with the Pearl Earring" was a nice piece and then I saw it and it was
incredibly Powerful in person in a way reproductions just can't match. It's a
shame we don’t have lots of paleoart murals being done these days as they are a
special thing and can really have that effect on people.
So, sorry for the length but there is too much great archosaurian paleoart
being done now to be ignored. Great that Wilbur has a passion for Jay's work -
and it deserves passion - but we are truly lucky to have a bunch of its quality
coming out these days.
So I have passions also.
From: owner-DINOSAUR@usc.edu [mailto:owner-DINOSAUR@usc.edu] On Behalf Of M
Sent: Saturday, March 05, 2011 6:11 PM
Subject: Homage to the murals of Jay Matternes.
You’ll hopefully forgive my immediate nostalgia but when I was maybe
ten or eleven my brother wanted me to see something he'd found in the
section on Texas geology in our collection of encyclopedias. As I
walked over he seemed to anticipate the excitement I was going to
express when I saw what he was gazing at; in those pages were detailed
copies of Jay Matternes’ Smithsonian prehistoric mammal murals. I
looked awestruck at the dazzlingly bizarre spectacles on display and
the inordinate realism given to each era and subject. The painted
murals covered every major epoch of the Cenozoic and with profound
detail and realism illuminated fauna big and small from each subjected
period. Though I found them all fascinating I then, like today, found
the Pliocene Missouri Basin mural, with its panicked animal subjects,
darkened and roiling storm clouds, and juxtaposed light and dark
counterchanges, to be my undisputed favorite of the six; it has a
chaotically moody quality rarely found in the genre. Years later I
agreed to go to Washington D.C. with members of my family—not to see
the Lincoln Memorial and what not—but to view, like on some paleoart
pilgrimage, the murals that had impressed me so as a child. From the
viewing of these images in a book as a child to seeing them up close
and personal as a young adult I vehemently attest to the fact that
these murals are collectively the single greatest works in the short
history of paleoart; no other work I have ever seen has offered such
fidelity of realism, accuracy, detail—both faunal and physical—and at
the same time such vastly epic scale as these works; I can say with
confidence that cumulatively in all these categories no other work has
ever even come close.
Still, it’s strange that no archosaur-illustrating paleoartist, and
their have been so many since Matternes painted those murals, has even
tried to rise to meet the challenge—no Milton to his Homer, or Leone
to his Kurosawa to his Eisenstein, or Rockwell to his Leyendecker to
his Parrish—and painted the Mesozoic’s fauna on equally vast and
Byzantine terms. Though it may be because of reluctant exhibit
directors I think it more likely stems from the lack of scope and
scale on the part of the artists’—myself included—as well as the
simple fact that we have so few near complete faunal assemblages,
representing both the magnanimous and miniscule, from the Mesozoic.
Certainly we have the Chinle here, and the Liaoning there, but these
are spread out disparately to the four winds over various continents.
More to the point we have nothing close to a continuous knowledgeable
flow of evolution for the dinosaurian fauna of North America—the
continent with which The Smithsonian murals particularly illuminate—as
glaring omissions stand in our way, namely periods such as the middle
Jurassic; we know so little from that time period for North America
that “the dinosaur fauna of the middle Jurassic of North America” as a
description almost has a humorous novelty aspect to it.
Perhaps sometime in the distant future, when we’ve excavated faunal
assemblages as good as or better than the Judith River or Morrison for
most of the major periods of the Mesozoic, some child will grow up
inspired to create works as grand as those crafted by Matternes all
those years ago. Perhaps.