When art meets aviation

Still Life with Airplane

Which one doesn’t fit: a bowl of pears, a reclining nude, a Catalina flying boat, a hillside in Italy? Artists train themselves to see the beauty of shape and line in everything, and airplanes, of course, offer plenty of beauty; still, we were surprised by the variety of examples we found when we went in search of aircraft posing as models for artists. For the gallery on these pages, we’ve selected pieces that differ from the conventional forms of aviation art, in which a historic air battle or dogfight, for example, is portrayed in careful detail. These works are less literal but in their way just as revealing.
This painting and the previous one are a part of “An Imaginary Plane Crash,” a small series of paintings made by Noc Vvyne Lim of Singapore. Lim, who attended Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, says that in the course of working on the series, she “learnt to combine realistic illustrative elements with expressive mark-making.“ The results, she adds, “symbolize the tension between creation and destruction.”
Man Ray was a 20th century artist who experimented with “rayographs”: He placed objects in front of a piece of photo-sensitive paper, then exposed the assemblage to light from an artificial source, such as a photographic enlarger. The work at right was composed with toy airplanes that embodied futuristic designs, rather than represented actual types. Made around the end of World War II, the composition may have been meant to suggest hope for a future Allied victory, according to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, which owns the print.
Pieces of two Lear 23s and a Lockheed JetStar, plus lengths of air-filled felt tubing, make up this sculpture by Adel Abdessemed, an Algerian refugee who is today one of France’s most successful artists. The title of the piece, “Telle mere tel fils,” means “Like mother, like son,” and according to the artist’s gallery, the work is meant to represent “the interconnectedness of mother and child.”
“As a kid I was very interested in warplanes and -ships,” says painter Bob Dornberg of New Smyrna Beach, Florida. “I remember my uncle Ray Linsley’s photo of him climbing into a Navy trainer. A few years ago my subject matter turned back to those memories,” and Dornberg made this impressionistic oil painting of a Consolidated PBY flying boat. Today, it hangs in his Uncle Ray’s house.
A 1931 wood engraving by Howard Cook shows a New Standard, an aircraft used for mail delivery and cropdusting, cruising over Mt. Tom, Massachusetts. Joann Moser, deputy chief curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, notes that the image contrasts the agrarian and the technological: “America was in the depths of the Depression in 1931, and perhaps Cook saw the salvation of the economy in technological innovation (i.e., the airplane).”
Printmaker Jenny Robinson traveled to Arizona last year intending to visit the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson: “My plan had been to wander around and do drawings from right underneath the old planes, but since 9/11, visitors are not allowed to walk around, which was a real disappointment.” Luckily, her tour included a stop at the Pima Air & Space Museum, where she was struck by this Lockheed Constellation, which she rendered as a drypoint engraving.
Matt Nieminen (second from left) had two major firsts in his Alaskan flying career: the first flight over Mt. McKinley, and as depicted here, the first landingm at Lake Clark, where he put down in a float-equipped Waco 10 in 1930. Commemorating that event, artist Tish Bowman drew inspiration from both her longtime residence in the Lake Clark region and her intimate knowledge of Alaskan bush flying: Her husband Howard flew a Super Stinson 108 with floats.

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