Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Fine Art of Concealment

The Fine Art of Concealment

By Michele M Beaulieu 
Monday, January 01, 2007
Article Rating: 9

The Fine Art of Concealment
One of the most pleasant surprises in viewing art is to see something we thought we were looking at suddenly change before our eyes and become something else. This is a technique the artist uses to present the art of concealment. It’s a vision within a vision. It’s about images hidden within images. There are stories hidden within objects, people or animals that switch themselves like a modern morphing wonders. It’s referred to in the art world as camouflage art or hidden images. In the juvenile world, it’s sometimes called hide and seek art. Contemporary masters of this illusionary technique are Bev Doolittle, and Judy Larson. Other artists using similar techniques are Deborah Mae Broad, Chris Van Allsburg and Anthony Browne. Two of these artists are scratchboard artists (Larson and Broad) and being a scratchboard artist myself, of course I am intrigued not only by their work, but how they have incorporated this technique into their art.

My Early Awareness
My introduction to this phenomenon was as a kid sitting at the kitchen table and studying that famous illustration (first concept appearing 1914) on the Morton Salt shaker cardboard box. The company developed a salt that would be free-running even in damp weather. In 1911, a little girl with an umbrella and her now-famous slogan, "When It Rains It Pours”, was created to promote this new product in a national consumer advertising campaign. The little girl in the yellow dress against the dark blue background was seen holding her umbrella, walking along, holding a box of Morton salt under her arm as it spilled out . The salt box she was holding showed a picture of none other than herself in the same pose, and so on. I remember being transfixed at that image thinking how this was a never ending loop and remember the hypnotic pull to such a kooky idea of an image that never died or went away–it just happily recycled itself into itself, thus achieving immortality in the world of art. Pretty clever I thought.

Hidden Images in History
Michelangelo was known to have hidden images in his paintings and carving them into his marbles.
Peter Breugel the Elder 1520-1569 and his fantastic surrealistic paintings concealed and twisted images 500 years ago.
The Fall of the Rebel Angels by Peter Breughel the Elder

Contemporary Artists
Bev Doolittle
Artists use many different techniques to achieve the same goal. We are probably all familiar with Bev Doolittle’s “Pintos” watercolor painting, where she shows a group of pinto horses (brown and white) at the foot of a rocky snow covered rock formation. The rocks and snow reveal much more than rocks and snow. And so we have the 2nd story: What does this mean? It’s obviously more than an illusionary trick of the eye. We could interpret Bev’s painting to mean many things....forms in nature repeat themselves...there is a great majesty we can only be in awe of as observers of nature......the past is never lost, but is carried on with the living. The symbolic meaning is up to you. What is wonderful about this art is that it asks questions that we the viewer, are challenged to answer. It does not give us answers but only asks the questions.

Here are Bev’s words about how it happened.
"I was observing a small group of chestnut horses in a grassy meadow when I became aware that they were 'observing' me. This seemed like an interesting situation for a painting. I also thought it would be fun to have the horses observing you, the viewer, before you could find the horses! So I began to think of ways to camouflage them. The chestnut horses became Pintos, and the grassy meadow turned into a backdrop of rocks and snow." - Bev Doolittle

Judy Larson
Larson is consumed by the story as well. Her pictures tell a fascinating story and go beyond a beautifully executed drawing. Her works like that of Doolittle’s, ask questions of the very nature of man and his relationship to the world. Perhaps in these times of destruction, war and extinction of our beloved animal kingdom, we might reflect upon artists who are dealing with these issues in a non-combative way. They are presenting their philosophies through the mediums of their art and their art is available to all of us at many price points. There are no excuses not to open our eyes.
On her website, Judy Larson

has a page where you can move your curser over the scratchboard drawing to reveal the spirits within.

Child’s Play by Larson”Child's Play" celebrates the wolf, now listed as an endangered and threatened species.

" The subtle hidden image of the two Native American children asks that we replace the deep superstitions of our European ancestors and awaken to the joy and wisdom wolves bring to our world.”

Deborah Mae Broad
Broad does etchings, wood engravings, drawings and scratchboard. Her art encompasses poignant portraits of animals in surrealistic settings. She uses humor and satire to present her point of view. Her soft and subtle use of hidden images lead the viewer to another place in time where one’s imagination can soar.

Camouflage Art for Young People

In the world of children’s books, camouflage art sometimes is  referred to as Hide and Seek art.

Chris Van Allsburg
Many people are aware of Van Allsburg for the films from his books like Jumanji and Polar Express. Van Allsburg has been awarded the Regina Medal for lifetime achievement in children's literature. In 1982, Jumanji won the National Book Award and in 1996, it was made into a popular feature film. In my opinion, the film has its place but cannot compare with the experience of sitting down with a child and reading this book together, watching the magic happen and the story unfold through these amazing drawings.
“In his second book for children, Chris Van Allsburg again explores the ever-shifting line between fantasy and reality with this story about a game that comes startlingly to life. His marvelous drawings beautifully convey a mix of the everyday and the extraordinary, as a quiet house is taken over by an exotic jungle.”
See Van Allburg’s terrific website
View Allsburg’s books at his website

Anthony Browne
Anthony grew up in a pub in a village called Hipperholme in Yorkshire. He loved art and would spend hours drawing with his father. As well as drawing Anthony played a lot of sports like rugby, football and cricket. After school Anthony studied graphic design and then went on to paint pictures of the insides of people's bodies for medical textbooks. He found this job fascinating but after three years felt that the work was becoming a bit repetitive and so began designing greetings cards. This led him to illustrating children's books - his book Gorilla began life as a picture on a birthday card.

You can find Anthony Browne’s books (over 22) at the Walker Pbl site

Here are two of my favorites:  Changes and The Tunnel.
Don’t think they are just for children.
You will be surprised. Check out the sink carefully.

In conclusion, camouflage art is an exciting exploration into the art of drawing. It’s more than just another art technique. Look around and you will find more hidden images than you thought existed. Once you become aware of this style of art, it’s fun to collect this art and enrich your life, the way art is supposed to do.

The author (Beaulieu dba Naquaiya's) contribution to hidden images world inventory.

Spider Cat scratchboard by Naquaiya


nhd106 said...

Very very cool...and interesting!  Thanks!


rebuketheworld said...

OK, this entry is saved. I loved browsing these links. I love hidden images within art. My parents had those in our home and even though I did see them, I loved looking at them. Great entry Ann. ~Raven