Friday, December 12, 2014

"Featuring Jean Marcellino"


  Getting it right, getting it real, redeeming the art of rendering 

By Ilene Skeen

Moody Sue* published its first art of the nude juried calendar in September 2006. Jean Marcellino first entered work for February 2007, after about two years of intensive drawing study. Marcellino's carefully rendered nudes were an immediate hit with those Barebrush guest curators who tend to favor representational art. Artworks by Marcellino were chosen by successive guest curators for February, March and April from among hundreds of entries. I thought that May would be a real test, however, as the curator was from a hip New York gallery known for surreal and abstract urban art. Marcellino was selected again. I was surprised. Like most artists growing up in the era of Abstract Expressionism, I was carefully taught that rendering, that is, making careful, accurate and tonal drawings was, in a word, pitifully nineteenth or even eighteenth century.

Leaning Man
In June 2007, when Barebrush guest curator, Chelsea gallery-owner, Kim Foster, reviewed the hundreds of nudes of all styles submitted, and saw Marcellino's Leaning Man, she exclaimed, "This is not my thing at all, but I have to give it to him, he's got skill, and that has to count for something."

"Jean Marcellino is a woman," I said.

Raising an eyebrow, Ms. Foster replied firmly, "Doesn't matter."

Thus, as the artist-anthropologist founder of Barebrush, I learned then that superior skill can trump aesthetic prejudice. It was a revelation. However, the real story of Jean Marcellino today is a tale of how dedication to a singular vision and superlative skill has developed into a uniquely twenty-first century aesthetic.

As a young girl, Jean drew and painted for hours every day from the age of four through high school. Her goal was to capture what she saw accurately. The "art world" was going in a different direction. As an art major in Cooper Union in 1960, she found Abstract Expressionism unappealing. Tonal rendering was considered unacceptable and irrelevant. Instead, she opted for a major in advertising. After retiring from a successful advertising career, she thought again about drawing. Marcellino credits an article by Ephraim Rubenstein, "Drawing Basics: The Emergence of Tonal Drawing" (American Artist, September 2006) with reigniting her passion for drawing and helping her find her current path. She enrolled in Rubenstein's class in the Art Students League of New York, and after a 40+ year hiatus, she says, "I gave myself permission to be terrible." Painting followed, as well as participation in Barebrush. Marcellino was Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome three times. Marcellino also met and painted in Rome with American painter and fellow tonalist, Wendy Artin.

Also notable is her oil on linen Portrait of Sandra Day O'Connor acquired by the Smithsonian Institute. It is in the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery and was included in the "Treasures from the Smithsonian Institute" 2011 desk calendar.

Portrait of Sandra Day O'Connor
Marcellino says that she agrees with Rubenstein in that most drawing instruction is a formula for not looking – most artists are taught to draw what they know, not what they see. To overcome this unfortunate tendency, Marcellino approaches each drawing or painting with "Martian methodology," imagining herself as a Martian who has landed in a studio on Earth with the intention of capturing the lumps and bumps of the scene before her as accurately as possible, knowing nothing about what she sees but really seeing the visible light and shade. Admirers sometimes marvel at the expressions she achieves and want to know what she did to achieve them as if the expression were pasted on a face and not part of it. "Expression comes out of accuracy," she states firmly.

When I chatted with Marcellino over coffee and breakfast in November 2014, I asked her to select some of her "best or favorite" artworks on Barebrush. She selected seven, (marked with asterisks). True to the idea of art as an exploration, Marcellino especially likes capturing the figure with drapery. Using marks on a two-dimensional plane, she builds her metaphor for our three-dimensional world. The light and dark of the figure and the environment participate with each other to form the unity we call art.

Marlo Lost in Stripes is a tour de force of this metaphor. The shallow curves of the ribs
Marlo Lost in Stripes by Jean Marcellino
Marlo Lost in Stripes*
and the hook of the clavicle echo in the composition: in the vertical stripes of the cloth draped on the back of the chair; the long, rising diagonal curves of the folds; and the descending strokes of a shimmering white mist. The mist counters the cloth and focuses our attention on the vignette, and suddenly, by subtle inference, we are surprised to be looking at the downward curve of the mouth in contemplation, and wondering ourselves.

Barebrush curators and the general public like her art as well. Over the years, Barebrush guest curators have nominated Marcellino for the Curators Choice awards 27 times, and she has won 8 firsts, 8 seconds and 6 third-place wins, a remarkable record.
Since the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, representational art has been slowly but inexorably on the rise. Perhaps the most striking aspect of Marcellino's art is its distance from the rendering we have been taught so carefully to disdain. An alert glance at the works below reveals figures in poses and with attitudes that are supremely modern. Most of these compositions could only be found in art at the end of the nineteenth century, at the earliest. At the same time, Marcellino's careful rendering and the subtle artistic explorations of tone against tone are absent almost entirely from the art of the twentieth century.

Fierce Monk*
The effect of her artistic passion for rendering is clear; Jean Marcellino is painstakingly transforming complex design, meticulous observation and a love of the real into art of the twenty-first century. As founder of Barebrush, it is my privilege to present this transformation.

Saskia Hangin' Out*
Jill Looking
Manou's Brief Return by Jean Marcellino
Manou's Brief Return*
Pillow Drapery
and Keryn*

More about Jean Marcellino

* Images selected by Jean Marcellino as "best or favorite." ©All images copyright Jean Marcellino or assigns.