Artists Who Have Influenced Us

By JoAnn Frekot

I recently conducted an informal survey of my studio mates, wondering about artists who have influenced us.  What a treasure trove of responses!  Here's what we had to say.  

Sallie Sonntag Malmstrom

Being professional artists is my family tradition on both my maternal and paternal side. 

On my father's side (Sonntag) from New York / East Coast:

August Sonntag was a Textile Designer in NYC (1920's to 1940's).  I only met him a couple of times before he died.  He was my grandfather.

His son was my father, Edwin Sonntag.  Edwin was a veteran of WWII and he was a cartoonist for a few newspapers.  He retired as a daily cartoonist from the St. Paul Star & Tribune in 1968 (see cartoon, right).   I have a few original cartoons by him at the studio.  

My father Edwin got me hooked on "POGO" cartoons by Walt Kelly.  I practiced drawing them even I entered kindergarten.  I liked "I go Pogo" graphic novel to draw from because of all the critter characters, and have the one I drew from in my art bookcase at home.

From the paternal relatives of my father, I have a few original paintings and watercolors of theirs hanging in my home.  They are famous plein air / Hudson River School painters - William Louis Sonntag and his son, William Louis Sonntag, Jr.  I even have an original ink drawing that they did together.  Sadly, the son died when he was 29, and his father less than a year later, in 1899.

On my mother's side (Corwin) from St. Paul:

My great grandfather, Albert Samuel Corwin, immigrated from Ireland as a boy (in the 1800's).  He became a child slave laborer at a farm in New York, after his mother left him there "with family friends."  He apprenticed as a stone sculptor as a teenager, carving tombstones.  I have one of the stone sculptures he completed during that time at my home. 

As an adult, he traveled through the various states coming into the Union, and worked on stone carvings at a number of state capitals.  Albert settled in St. Paul after working on the stone sculptures, including the golden horses on top of the state capitol here.  He and his wife had six children; one of these was John Raymond Corwin, born July 3, 1895.  He was my grandfather.

Ray Corwin (photo, above) graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Architecture after serving in the military during WWI.  He began working for Tom Ellerbe as a architect, and became chief architect after working on St Paul's City Hall.  His Art Deco design was well-known.  The book, "The Ellerbe Tradition," by Thomas F. Ellerbe, features Ray's work prominently.  I remember seeing the various architectural designs drawn on linen as a child.  Ray was a master watercolorist, and I have a few of his works in my home.

My mother, Marilyn Corwin, graduated from the Minneapolis Institute of Art in 1942. j She was a portrait artist as well as a painter, and I have one of her works stored in the studio.  She went to New York City after she graduated, and met my father there.  For a time, they both worked as cartoon "cell" painters at a cartoon studio.  After my oldest sister was born, they moved back to St. Paul.

My middle sister, Cynthia Sonntag, was an artist in her own right.  She and I graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) in 1985.  Though we took different paths, we both made a living drawing every day.  She was a graphic designer, and I work as a design engineer in a security company.

 Being at OT Artists helps me fine tune my painting and drawing skills.  I am also inspired by my fellow artists there.  I am grateful to work alongside my husband, Harold, in the painting studio.

Christine Tierney

Norman Rockwell was my first artist crush as a kid.  I couldn't wait for the old Saturday Evening Post magazine to arrive so I could examine his art on the cover, then do my best to draw my own rendition - my favorite was always the "Little Girl Looking Downstairs at a Christmas Party."

As the years passed and I discovered other artists, my tastes evolved.  I fell in love with pastels and Mary Cassatt ( "At the Theater," left), and Edgar Degas ("The Star," right).    When I was about 10, I was given a set of Grumbacher pastels and a pad of colored pastel paper, then promptly drew a portrait of President John F. Kennedy, copied from a magazine photo.

Fast forward to my adult years, and the precision of Johann Vermeer's work made my heart flutter!  My fascination with perspective and his beautiful paintings led me to study indirect oil painting in the classical style of the Old Masters.  (Left, "The Milkmaid")

I have also been deeply influenced by the works of Joaquin Sorolla, "Strolling Along the Seashore," (left), John Singer Sargent, "Smoke of Ambergris" (right), and below, Bouguereau and Anders Zorn.   

 (Left), "The Sheperdess," William Adolph Bouguereau and  (Right), "Emma Zorn Reading," Anders Zorn  

Today, I work in oil and pastel, and can see how these great artists have shaped my art life.  I continue to honor my old favorites, and add to my ever-growing list the names of current artists I admire. 

Pat Cleary

Years ago, when I started doing abstract wood sculpture, I looked to the British artist, Henry Moore.   The wandering lines of his very large human figures caught my eye and somehow gave me permission to produce simple figures from hard wood.

More than one painter stirred my creativity once I started painting.  I really admire the dreamy abstractions of the Mexican painter, Israeli ZZpeda, and those of the Russian-French painter, Marc Chagall.  The former is of course more widely recognized.  ZZpeda's work is technically strong and, in my opinion, seems to reveal long accepted false truths.  If only I could afford one of his paintings!  

Truth be told, my interactions, support and friendships with our talented OT Artists have certainly had the greatest impact on my painting life.  

Katharine Gotham

This is tough!  It's like trying to pick a favorite color.

So many artists have influenced me and continue to influence me throughout my life.  There are, however, a few famous painters that I continually circle back to again and again.

John Singer Sargent
in particular influences my style of painting.  I appreciate the amazing accuracy of his work, combined with the judiciously placed, absolutely juicy and lush brush strokes that appear effortless.  (Right, "Lady Agnew of Locknaw")

I love Frida Kahlo's self-portraits for their explosion of color, raw personal nature and surreal settings.  (Left, "Frida Kahlo Self Portrait with Monkey")

And last but not least, I really admire Edward Hopper's cinematic and unsettling compositions coupled with his eerie color selections. (Right, "Automat")

JoAnn Frekot

When I was a kid, my parents ordered a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  With it came a companion book entitled, "The World of Art."  I poured over each of its pages, which were full of images of paintings large and small, memorizing the artists and their works.  I don't know what happened to my family's copy, but when I saw one on Ebay, I ordered it. 

It arrived a few days ago.  It's just as I remembered, featuring paintings by (among many others), Modigliani, El Greco, George Seurat, John Singer Sargent, and Rembrandt.  

I feel like I'm greeting old friends, like "The Artist in His Studio," (left) by Jan Vermeer.  There are areas of bright light and dark shadows, along with the use of perspective, sharp angles, soft curves, hard and soft surfaces, geometric shapes, patterns, and an intriguing focal point.  When I was 12 or 13, I'm not sure I could have explained what was so compelling about this painting, but I knew I liked it.

When I was about the same age, a cousin gave me a book featuring pencil drawings by Michealangelo.  It offered some intriguing examples of how to use perspective and shading to render an image precisely, sans color.  I studied this book too, mesmerized by how pencil strokes could so convincingly convey form and texture.  

In retrospect, I can see now why I did a lot of pencil drawings, followed by pen and ink, in high school and into college.  

Another great artist who has influenced me is Paul Cezanne.  I can stare for hours at his paintings, especially his landscapes, observing his masterful use of color, shape, perspective and technique.  He painted what he saw, which is something I try to do, too.  

(Right, "Maisons en provence:  La vallee de Riaux pres de l'Estaque")


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