Paint the Human Body in Action

24 Sep 2013

Moving In by Steve Huston, 16 x 20, 2001. Courtesy Eleanor Ettinger Gallery.
Moving In by Steve Huston,
16 x 20, 2001. Courtesy Eleanor Ettinger Gallery.

Alaska-born artist Steven Huston knows that when there's no mammoth sports arena or cheering crowds, an athlete on the field of play can easily turn into an oil painter's ideal model. Even without motion, an athletic figure still possesses an interesting pose, physical awareness, and conceptual power of form. "I wrestled throughout junior high and boxed for a while, and I've always been interested in 'mano y mano' sports," the artist explains. "As a painter, I was drawn to the musculature and movement of the body in action. My style is pretty chunky and lends itself to the lumps and bumps of muscles. But I wanted a context for showing off the body, rather than simply objectifying the human form."

Headlock by Steve Huston 36 x 48, oil on panel. Courtesy Scotia Gallery.
Headlock by Steve Huston
36 x 48, oil on panel.
Courtesy Scotia Gallery.
Finding His Reach by Steve Huston, 24 x 24, 2009. Courtesy Eleanor Ettinger Gallery.
Finding His Reach by Steve Huston,
24 x 24, 2009.
Courtesy Eleanor Ettinger Gallery.
It took a bit of work to change his reputation from that of a well-known illustrator and focus on his newly found desire to create fine art oil paintings. "Fantasy and sci-fi characters were what I knew, but I didn't want to be confused with an illustrator doing sports posters," Huston says. "I essentially merged the athletic body and the action figure instead of merely painting a nude guy on a couch, and I developed the subject matter conceptually and got the 'personality' out of it."

To that end, Huston consistently edits signifiers that could give too much literal detail to an oil painting. Instead of a boxing ring, for example, he situates his figures in undefined spaces or those that seem contradictory to the subject, such as a room with Romanesque architectural details or a cathedral-like atmosphere. He often hides the faces of his models and creates dramatic light effects in the style of Rembrandt.

Huston does not credit a successful oil painting with anatomical acuity alone. "A lot of realist painters get fixated too much on anatomy, but anatomy doesn't show you how to prioritize," he says. "Some muscles group with others; in other parts of the body one muscle might display itself more prominently than all the ones that are anatomically making the motion. The figure can't appear broken or held hostage by its own body--you've got to integrate and relate the parts to a greater whole. I've told students, you are not painting seven peaches and a pear; the point is to paint one still life. It is the same with the body's anatomy."

Huston stresses that each visual component incorporated into an artwork must relate to an artist's ultimate goal--what he or she want to accomplish on the large scale, as opposed to the small details that may appeal to the artist but don't necessarily aid in conveying the visual message to the viewer.

When it comes to painting the figure, artists should strive for an understanding of what goes on within the human body, because knowing what's happening below the surface enables you to render that surface more accurately. The Artist's Magazine explores the gamut of oil painting, from oil painting techniques to figure painting to understanding anatomy and the human body in action. In The Artist's Magazine, it is firsthand knowledge directly from artists and painting instructors that can lead you to create figures that teem with life and realism, much like Huston's.

 

 


Related Posts
+ Add a comment

Comments

on 7 Jun 2010 1:59 PM

Well written and very informative piece. Huston's work is outstanding.

luisvieira wrote
on 25 Sep 2013 5:37 AM

Love your writing. Just one thing, is it possible for you to make the pictures bigger so i can pin them? :)