Archive for the Interviews Category

John Ebersberger Interview Part 2

Posted in Interviews on Sunday, November 19, 2006 by Todd Shaffer

Continued from Part 1

TS: As a working artist, and part-time teacher, what advice would you give to a high school student who wants to be a classically trained painter and is considering going to art school?

JE: There are going to be certain places in life where you will need to be able to say that you graduated from college. The unfortunate thing is the education you get from accredited colleges is probably not going to be as good as if studied under a good painter.I always maintain that you have to study with an old man, or someone who has studied with an old man. They have the grounding of experience that arcs back over the reign of abstract expressionism, post-modernism, and all these other ‘ism’s’ that distracts one from the pure study of nature. What you don’t want to study is ‘art about art.‘ Post-modernism deals with conceptual problems about art. It generates works of art that are only concerned with art being an object of art in itself. Artists got caught up in the various trappings of art. They were drunks like DeKooning and, who’s the other guy with all the paint on the floor?

TS: Pollack.

JE: Jackson Pollack! Guys glorifying depravity and other nonsense. A young person that wants to be an artist has got to understand that if he wants to make a living selling paintings to people, he’s going to have to appeal to normal, healthy tastes. You have a very limited audience for ‘artsy art’. Ultimately you want to appeal to everybody. If you don’t, then you’re forced to chase around grants from state agencies that will give you money to do this…crap.

Art Schools
College education is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately a lot of the art schools are a waste of time regarding their studio training. You have some schools trying to fly the banner of ‘New Realism’, but just because you say you’re painting from reality doesn’t mean you have the understanding to approach it.
You can take a photo and copy it and think you’re a realist painter, but you don’t have the foggiest notion of the rhythmical flow of the form, or the understanding of the structure of the anatomy you’re painting.There are some good schools out there trying to get on board this new realist movement. The director of the Hershal Adler gallery, one of the big heavy galleries in New York, recently currated a show of realism, and wrote an interesting essay on the revivalist movement. This is a promising sign, coming out of the post-modernist Mecca of New York. There is definitely something happening there with this newfound appreciation of realistic painting. But, what I’ve seen is they don’t have any clue about color. The show I saw, the artists went out of their way to seem ‘classical.’ The work had the trappings of it without the profound understanding of figurative art, and certainly without the color quality. So that’s not going to help us out. So then the artsy crowd will accuse us of being ‘retro,’ of adopting the guise of ‘claaasss-E-call’ painting. Anyone who doesn’t understand color is barking up the wrong tree as far as I’m concerned.

The Glory of Visual Existence
: My friend John Todd is a great boat builder. He said he would get these guys who want him to create old style boats. He would have to make the point that he will make them a fine boat, but there are certain things in the process of building that, if those builders had this given technology back then they would have used it, because they were doing the best that they could.You see what I’m saying. Don’t pretend to be ignorant. Don’t go back in time to be a great renaissance painter and, oh by the way, forget the impressionist movement ever happened. They would not have done that. Henry always made the point that if Rembrandt had the pigments available in his day, he would have probably been painting with a lot more color. Can you imagine Rembrandt painting in color? Some people will be very offended by this statement. Rembrandt was such a fine tonal painter that most people would not believe the paintings are in color. They’re brown and gold, very beautiful. They look like light. You know what, let him try outdoor light-he couldn’t do it.
The tonal tradition, using tones of the same color (using brown soupy notes in the shadows) only works if you’re trying to recreate an indoor lighting effect. You can kind of get away with it, but try to create a high noon bright light painting–you can’t do it! It doesn’t work. You have to embrace color.A lot of people get stuck in the notion of tradition. ‘I’m an impressionist,’ or ‘I’m a realist.’ We pigeonhole ourselves and our art. We need to look at the glory of visual existence in all of it’s totality, and say, I’m not concerned with style, movement or this or that…I’m interested in communicating the beauty of the world in all of it’s aspects in an emotional way as I see it. You don’t have to get locked into ‘what your are,’ and have some allegiance to some camp. People get hampered by these dogmas, and I can see it in the Hensche crowd as much as it is in the tonal crowd in New York. A lot of the Hensche-ites denigrate the figure painters, but look at the drawing chops that figure painting demands. There’s no reason to come down on anybody. We can appreciate all aspects of art, and hopefully pull them all together.Cedric Eglei, who I studied figure painting and portraiture from, came from the traditional tonalist background. He studied with Henry Hensche for awhile. Cedric said to Henry early on, “I don’t know, Henry, if I’m cut out to be an impressionist.” Henry looked at him and said, “Don’t you understand? It’s not about whether you’re an impressionist or not, it’s about getting the color right.” That appeal to Cedric’s rationale and he took to it. It’s about getting the color right.

Good Training
JE: Good training is essential. You have go all over the country looking for good artists. There are many, many great artists today teaching workshops. It seems to be the era of workshops. Primarily because you have artists who have trained under an individual artist. I studied under Henry. You have working artists who spend more time painting than teaching. It’s those artists you want to study under. They don’t have the time to teach full-time, but the workshop is a good vehicle for them to teach. The only trouble is the workshop experience has become something people think they can come to a week-end workshop and voila’, they’ve got the magic color. There’s a lot of hobbyist painters, and face it, they help pay the bills for the workshops.

But what I’m trying to say, is that you can’t flit from here to there and get what you need. Painting takes a lifetime of study and application. Find artist’s whose work you admire and study with them. Email them, write them, call them on the phone. Ask them what they have available as teaching. Everytime I run into a good artist I ask ‘who did you study with?’ ‘What was that teachers lesson to you?’ You can learn fascinating things that way.
You should not be locked into one discipline. Everything can add into your work. For example, I’ve been taking classes with Steve Perkins who’s an amazing sculptor. He studied with Leslie Posey. Posey sculpted in an old garage in Florida, and was ancient when Steve studied with him. Posey studied with Albin Polasek, who taught at the Chicago Art Institute and was a contemporary of Hawthorne. Polasek sculpted a portrait of Charles Hawthorne, and Hawthorne painted Polasek’s portrait. Polasek studied with Grafly who is a very well know figurative sculptor. He did the Mead War Memorial in D.C.

TS: Yes, I’ve seen that.

JE: The funny thing is you can see Steve Perkins sculpture in the Mead War Memorial. You can tell these ideas were transmitted down. The premise of his art is the rhythmic flow of organic forms. Steve doesn’t teach anatomy so much as he teaches the music if the form. How the forms flow into one another. His teaching has had an incredible impact on my paintings. I would advocate artists to study outside of their discipline. I have also taken your classes in gesture drawing. Though I had a background in cartooning, you taught me the gesture and movement of the figure, which has had an impact on how I approach the figure. Even the simple constructive points on how you construct the figure, even in a cartoon sense. Interview to be continued…


John Ebersberger Interview Part 1

Posted in Interviews on Sunday, November 19, 2006 by Todd Shaffer

Annapolis, Maryland
I first met John Ebersberger at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.  I taught my first gesture drawing class in Maryland and John was one of the first to register.   John had been painting professionaly for over 20 years, yet he still has an insatiable thirst to learn new things about art.

John has been featured in American Artist Magazine, The Artist’s Magazine, Chesapeake Life, and in a TV documentary for Maryland Public Television.  His paintings have been featured in the book ‘Capturing Radiant Colors in Oils’, by Susan Sarback. He is a member of the American Impressionist Society, the Maryland Society of Portrait Painters, and a founding member of the Mid-Atlantic Plein Air Painters Association.  John also teaches workshops through Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts and Echo Hill Outdoor School (See his website for details).

TS: John, how did you get started in art?

JE: I loved cartoons as a kid. The first cartoon book I ever had was Walter Fosters “How to Draw Animated Cartoons” It’s an incredible book! I drew a little cartoon sketch of a baseball player from the book. I amazed my fellow students that I had drawn it. They said, ‘You traced that…let’s see you draw it.’ So I drew it again. Cartoons sparked my interest in art.I went to the Maryland Institute of Art in the mid 70’s. I worked my way through the Institute by drawing caricatures on the Ocean City boardwalk. My love of cartoons persisted throughout my schooling. There were not that many good representational painters at the Maryland Institute.

TS: And they’re still aren’t.

JE: And they’re still aren’t! They were very conceptually oriented. They were concerned about absurdist conceptual ideas about art itself, rather than relating to nature. Instead of looking at the human form and studying anatomy it was more about studying art itself, such as the picture plane, and the relationship of splattered paint and found objects. It had absolutely no interest for me. It made it easy for very untalented people to proclaim themselves as artists.

When I graduated I went to a sketch group here in Annapolis. That’s when I met Cedric Egeli. I looked at the drawing he had done in the sketch group and I was amazed. I had never seen a head drawn so realistically, in 3 dimensions and modeled in full light and shade. That was a totally new concept to me. My approach was very linear coming from cartoons. I immediately came up to him, now as an art school graduate, and said to him, ‘Will you teach me how to draw?’ He cryptically muttered under his breath, ‘Draw longer lines.’ What he meant was to draw longer relationships of line, sort of like a line of action in a cartoon.

So thus began my real art education at the hands of Cedric Egeli. He was the first art instructor at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, where he taught with his wife Joanette Egeli. It was those two who introduced me to Henry Hensche, the impressionist painter on Cape Cod. I went with Cedric and three of his students to Cape Cod and spent 2 weeks studying with Henry. I was totally intimidated. I just didn’t get it. I didn’t grasp the importance of this guy. So I went back the next year and I realized then I was in the presence of someone who had the utmost integrity about his art. He didn’t talk about sales-everything he said was related to the purity of fine art painting.It was a stunning thing to hear him speak. I realized I was in the presence of greatness. I watched him do a demonstration painting and I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. It took my breath away and I was totally hooked from that point on.

At that time he was in his mid 80’s and I knew I had to spend as much time studying with him. I was also fighting my impulse to be a rock-n-roll star, as well. But Henry’s paintings were so dynamic that they rivaled the intensity of the rock-n-roll experience.Henry’s art philosophy presented an opportunity in art for me, that is, the beauty and study of nature first hand in all its glory. It seemed something worth devoting my life to. That’s where I dramatically turned the corner from rock-n-roll and cartoons to painting.

TS: How does John Ebersberger fit into the broad scheme of impressionism?

JE: I’m not old enough to be able to talk about myself. I’m still relatively young man. Great painters who made significant contributions to art such as Monet and Henry, they did so later in life, in their 70’s or so, so I have a few years to go.I had a wonderful opportunity to study with a great figure painter named Cedric Egeli, and also his wife Joanette, and his father Bjorn Egeli. What I would like to do is bring together the classical understanding of the figure that I learned from Cedric with the exploration of color that I learned from Henry.There is one genre that Henry did not do much of, and that is the outdoor figure.The artist Freiseke did some beautiful outdoor nudes. One’s in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They recently had a retrospective of his work and I flew down to Savannah Georgia to see it. I have done several life-size outdoor figure paintings, and that is what I’d like to focus on. I don’t see myself as striving to create any new innovations in art, maybe merely carry on the torch of the artists that proceeded me.  

TS: Like Henry, you have students as well.

JE: I’ve been teaching at Maryland Hall for the last 20 years. There are now students that I taught now teaching, like Abigal McBride and Sharon Littig, and others. There are many other artists at Maryland Hall who came through the Hensche teaching. When I first started showing in downtown (Annapolis) I was the first oil painter in McBride Gallery. At that time the galleries were filled with duck art. Now, you can definitely see an improvement in the quality of art over the years.

Interview continued in Part 2