Saturday, November 12, 2011
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Sunday, October 23, 2011
The time loop is an idea that is bandied about occasionally, but perhaps I should clarify my idea of it. Rather than being a literal loop, (such as a bit of spliced-in film, which repeats itself unchangingly), the time loops I'm thinking of are perhaps more like orbits of planets. Though conditions are largely the same now, when the cycle is entering a phase of concurrence, the universe is nonetheless altered slightly. Events have deja vu, but they are not precise reenactments of history. History doesn't repeat itself to the letter. Rather than Clockwork Orange, now it's Clockwork Lime.
The era is again dystopian, with violence, disposession and revolution flaring up in ways that lead pundits grasping at straws. Yet in this iteration the protagonists are not Burgess' charismatic hoodlums, but rather hooded rioters, seeking anonymity.
Arab Spring... UK Riots...Occupy Wall Street... What will the next chapter be?
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Saturday, October 1, 2011
Powwow Culture recalls the type of publication that Fass' organization specialized in: the one-off. Appealing to and exploiting the public's crazes was what he was especially good at, printing magazines about JFK or Elvis (or sharks during the JAWS era.) In my alternate universe, the celebrity LaFontain is the one to celebrate.
My Forsider paintings in this exhibition are one-offs. They are also OOAKs (isn't that the acronym they use on Ebay for One-Of-A-Kind?) They fall well short of Fass' parameter of success, sales of at least 20,000 units.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
It's also an illustration for my other blog, obitulog
I was recently reading about the contemporary philosopher, Derek Parfit, who claims not to be able to save images of his past, and hence rarely thinks of it. Perhaps he is able to work on moral philosophy because is he less burdened by his own identity and subjectivism. Such is not my case; my identity is hyper-subjective, full of associations. My past plays in my mind like a projector supplied with an endless, infinitely large reel of images.
I've used many sources as references to paint these faces. They are not so much painted as engraved, scraped through paint. Am I one who bows before the graven image? Heck, I'm a far worse idolator than that--I engrave the things! In this painting you may recognize some of the faces: stars, starlets, rogues, heroes, prophets, and prophets of doom. They, and thousands of others, are engraved in the sequence that makes up my sliding puzzle of mental tiles.
Friday, September 16, 2011
I hope I can pull it off. Were I given the resources, I feel that I could edit and publish a real-life magazine of the same name (chameleon-lover, and a file on chameleons, the animal that is little understood.
The mythology of chameleons in the popular culture is that they change colors to suit their environment. This is largely true, but just the beginning of their wonderment. They also change colors to communicate: in order to affect their environment.
Just as fascinating is their personality--their human-like moods. And their sight is perhaps the keenest ever developed on this planet by any animal. In comparison to them, poor humans are as blind as dogs. Sharp-sighted hawks or cats? Poor souls are they, nearly holding white canes in comparison to the chameleon, who sees colors vividly, as well as the outline of a fly, leagues away.
Fascinating as these attributes are, they are limited subjects if one moves on to philosophical and existential questions that the chameleon opens. They are supposed to be primitive animals; reptiles, are they not? How could it be that they dream? Well, they do--easily seen by their rapid-eye-movements in sleep. As far as I know, other reptiles are not known to dream.
Their postures and attitudes often seem uncannily human, or hominid. I believe this is an example of parallel evolution. Though humans and chameleons are not related other than in the very distant past
( in the same way that any vertibrate is related), they seem more closely related to us. Their kind took an evolutionary journey that matches our own in two very important parts: (1.) they chose trees as their home, and (2.) they chose sight as their sense.
Primates took to the trees, needing prehensile hands to grasp branches. Same with chameleons, which have tight-clasping hands and tail. (The ground-dwelling choice, which the likes of baboons and hominids took, is late in the game, a few drops in the bucket of evolutionary time; the bulk of our primate ancestors bid their time in the trees, as most of our cousins still do.)
Our brains and attitudes are due to sight being our sense. Some estimates put it that 80% of our sensory stimulus is visual. For chameleons it must be at least that; they are, in fact, deaf, without ears. (They can, however feel vibrations, and even make vibrations to communicate through the jungle telegraph of tree branches.) Chameleons have stereoscopic vision, like us (and unlike all other reptiles, and most mammals.) Because they are so sight-oriented, they appear hyper-aware and nervous, always vigilant. They are very different from a lethargic snake, for instance. It is uncanny when they look at you directly with both eyes, which work a dissonance on your mind.
Just think about life on other planets. We are finding new Goldilocks planets every day, in regions of space remote, but not hideously far across the cosmos. Imagine encountering extraterrestrials that also chose the twin paths of trees and sight early in their evolution. Which type would be the one that reached for technology first: the reptilian one or the hairy one?
Monday, September 12, 2011
Here's my logo painting for the exhibition, which I began some months ago.
It may be finished--but I never know before it is actually out of the studio.
It shows a mixing of old and new signs, old and new methods of communicating, surfaces and images vying for attention, especially the case now on the web.
I've always had the feeling of being buried under papers. Sometimes I can keep them under control within files, but more often than not they pile up. I tend to collect all to many things, both in my memory and in my studio!
Friday, September 9, 2011
Sunday, September 4, 2011
(Can you believe it, yet another splinter?)
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Friday, August 5, 2011
Bubbles have always been around, but they seem to be in the air lately. Eli Pariser's book, The Filter Bubble, argues that each of us may have our own separate internet. Our profile dictates what we are offered.
This extended bust cycle in the economy, which just lurches on endlessly from one crisis to the next, makes me think of the great granddaddy of bubbles, the Tulip Bubble, which wracked Holland and the financial markets back in the 1600s.
The bubble seems so soft and etherial, just a little nothing. That's why it's such a good metaphor for insidious events or tendencies. The winds blow good fortune to some, but very many are left in poor straights as a result of these bursting bubbles.
Some insulate themselves within social networks that have an echo-chamber effect. Yes, there is great diversity and democracy on the web, much more than the days of magazines and newspapers. But the colorful, skillfully designed covers are no longer displayed on a dated shelf for us to buy. Gone also is the record album cover, an even more glorious format, displayed for our vote. (We put our money where our mouth was.) Our patronage provided livelihood to the artists.
Now we read a tailor-made mix that suits our taste, so specific that we know what it is before we see it. Apps clean up content for us. (Heavens, don't commission an illustration- just slap on a free thumbnail. The audience won't care, nor will they see it, on their diminutive smartphone screens.) We are tiny choirs finding just the right preacher. And some preachers can be very happy with their choir; they may invent it and select it from within their own bubble. They may be so convinced of their worth, they publish a long manifesto, spread over the web.
Regarding the font of Bubble Rubble, I was inspired by a magazine from 1969, which was celebrating the impending Moon Landing. The font was evocative of an age soon to come: the future. It was at once technical and soft- bubbly even. Amid the rubble of the space shuttle program and the austere courses nations have set themselves on, this optimism seems increasingly distant.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Saturday, July 9, 2011
(morgtage or sketch for forsider painting, which may be titled Coney Island Interlude.)
One of the best midnight movies must be David Lynch's Eraser Head. Just hearing the title will summon up in your mind a special mood. Plot? It certainly has one, but the mood is what the film is about. Mood is what you first recall about great films, as you do with dreams.
Todd Browning's Freaks is the other legendary midnight movie. Eraser Head's mood is a dense fog of night, the deep sound of a boiler room's hum. Freaks' mood is more attenuated, a shrill garbled whistle on a scratchy 78 rpm disc. But it's a film I would sooner see.
I first became acquainted with Freaks from an uncanny still in a book about horror movies, a prized possession I got in the early '70s. This book stated that the film was banned. Browning, director of the iconic Dracula of Bela Lagosi, had not used makeup or special effects in Freaks, you see. He had used nature, actual sideshow performers of the 1930s era. The audiences of the day were disturbed by this—as they are today, 80 years later.
A week or two ago a seed for a painting was planted in my head as I mused about Coney Island, after seeing a good montage movie made from clips housed at archive.org, the public domain's modern Alexandria. I recognized some of the performers from Freaks, still in their prime on Coney Island in the 1940s. I was just blown away by the place, marveling at what once was, as compared to what remains in Coney Island today. It is still one of my favorite places, but it's just a husk of what was.
I decided to make a montage, a reference sheet for my painting. I call these morgtages (yes, looks like a nice typo related to the housing crisis, but it's morgue + montage.) I paste together a multitude of references of a subject, gleaned from the net. In the old days illustrators had a file cabinet called a morgue, wherein they kept their references. Now our references are found over the internet.
While gathering these references I was amazed to find that several of the side show performers have incurred a great cult following. In some cases whole websites are devoted to them. Perhaps the most popular is Schlitzy. Masterful underground cartoonist Bill Griffith's flagship character, Zippy the Pinhead, counts Schlitzy as an inspiration.
My forsider painting will be called Interlude. I imagine Coney Island in the evening, an amalgam of what is there today, and what was—including the elephant hotel. In the foreground a trio of sideshow performers stroll on the beach, taking a break. It is a quiet scene, contradicting the riotous, humorous and disturbing associations the characters and place summon up in our minds.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Recently I heard Nick Redfern, author behind many speculative books. His most recent is about the Men in Black phenomenon. He explores folkloric paths long before what we associate now, thanks to the MIB franchise of entertaining films. This inspired me to start a new painting.
The Observers of Fringe seem to be more on target with what the Men in Black have traditionally been through the decades, before the entertaining movie franchise.
What type of phantoms are they? Benevolent, malevolent, or something in between? The same questions could be asked about another man in black, Bigfoot. I will probably put him in the picture, toward the background.
I wanted some remove from the movie trademark, so I thought it might work to title it Menn i sort, the Norwegian variant. What happens when these shadowy figures poke around in a deciduous Norwegian wood? Can this happen here, where the wavelengths are a bit more prosaic and flat-footed? I got a flat-footed posture from a photo of the enigmatic Gilbert and George duo. (English, rather than Norwegian.)
Men in Black dress the way they do, allegedly, because they need to be generic, able to visit regardless of a period of time. Though their fedoras are unusual, their suits still blend in, a default clothing style that appears to be timeless, though formal.
This is a take off of the New Yorker magazine. Living as I do in Europe, I don't take it for granted that the publication is universally known. The wonderful thing about the New Yorker is that it still exists; every week it still comes out, full of long, rambling articles, illustrations, and cartoons. In this bleak media landscape, it surprising that something so good could still be; why shouldn't it be sleeping in the same crypt with all the other hundreds of beautiful magazines? The mag is a gem, the last of its kind.
Now, on to The Old New Yorker. The motif is taken from a neon sign, I think about E. 60th Street. The sign itself is worth everything, but I have some fond associations of the bar inside, which was a student hangout for Hunter College, some blocks up. Back in those days it was famous for selling draws, frosty mugs of draft beer costing only a dollar. Some years ago I popped in there to revisit and found it had changed typically for the worse, offering instead a grim array of expensive, bottled swill. All charm and goodness was gone—except for the sign on the facade.
No wonder it was featured in Mad Men. (if for a brief instant.) This series has an astonishing attention to detail, evoking the recent past. Rather than slapping some sceneographic sign up, they used the real McCoy, showing The Village Inn's reflections in a taxi. The curved glass of the taxi's window, passing slowly beneath the sign, caused the neon reds and oranges to undulate. This perfectly fits with the era and atmosphere that the series evokes. NY is the city that always changes, I know, but I like it when some little perfect thing can survive, just by chance.
Monday, June 13, 2011
The FugiTimes is the masthead to a broadsheet that can still be found lining the closet shelves of older houses. It is a palimpsest of fugitive events. I just began this painting, a work in progress. How it will end up, no one can tell. What I can tell now is what is moving around in my head at the moment.
I'm thinking of the nature of newspapers, how wonderful they are. But they are a double-edged sword; the events depicted in them rest in the collective imagination only a short time. They flee like the transparent, running colors on a wet canvas. Only a very few artifact-lovers pore over past copies, the journalists and illustrators forgotten by most. I have worked as a freelance illustrator for the NY Times, and the Wall St. Journal. Both were black and white only—and the WSJ, can you believe it, was still fighting last good fight of the the century...the nineteenth century, that is. The paper didn't even publish photos. Talk about good times for illustrators!
My thoughts often go to the The Old Gray Lady, The New York Times. She is putting up a good fight, and her web product is very good. I'm hoping the recently erected pay wall will take root effectively, allowing her journalists to survive; we need news to be written by journeymen, who check sources—and receive a check for their labors!
You could say news ink flows through my veins. Perhaps regular ink runs through my veins too. I got a chuckle when I was painting the black letters, trying to emulate masthead fonts: suddenly I was visited by the memory of my calligraphy teacher, a purist paleographer and former Trappist monk, who loved to rue the grotesque “progress” of the 19c. During that time the calligraphic arts were thrown out the window, and graphic designers used T-squares to draw letter forms, mutating the nature of pen strokes done by hand, so he thought.
Being visited by people from my past is a very common thing in the painting studio. Sometimes the room becomes quite full. I am often surprised by extremely fragmentary types, whose names have long run away, but who offer one quote or action that turns up like a small scrap in a bottle, quickly submerged in the roiling waves of memory. I think I will paint some of these on this canvas; it has just begun, and I am showing only the top quadrant.
For further reading on newspapers, the best book I can recommend is Matthew Goodman's The Sun and the Moon. This brings the age of the newpaper(early to mid 19c.) alive in a very entertaining way, including a hoax that may be the most successful and educational caper of all time.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
I wanted to advertise Forsider, so I painted this picture, celebrating different ages of communication. Though it is just oil on canvas, I now realize that it looks like a collage. Or a ransom note. (It's fun to think of what criminals will have to use these days, now that a wide variety of printed materials are not necessarily lying around; some people don't even care for books, let alone those fusty old things called magazines or newspapers.)
All the letters are talking to each other, and so are the colors and textures—or at least that is what I hope. The dominant letter is a logo in itself, and the guy most happy with the age of digital reproduction. Most of the other letters are more at home in the age of mechanical reproduction, rescued from book or product covers. Others are looking dated or corroded. Some characters may be so old, they don't even know about paper, being more comfortable in ancient clay.
Are they letters or pictures? One of my favorite things to see along a roadside is a billboard whose letters have left. They have gone off into the landscape.
When arriving in a new town, or just passing through it, it often looks alien. I have a strange method of making it part of the world, less alien: I imagine an upstairs window of a house, with a comic book or magazine open on a desk, wind from an open window gently shifting the pages. Suddenly the town doesn't seem alien anymore. The spirit of the publication, and the ideas of those who wrote and illustrated it, are fluttering about the town. No matter how cementy and drab the town is, it has some redemption.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Long ago, at a school somewhere, before the age when everyone had a pc, I remember playing around with a basic paint program. It was fun and full of promise, theoretically. Along with most anyone else using it, it was good to explore some possibilities, as long as I could ignore my clumsiness and jagged lines with a mouse. It never went anywhere because there seemed to be little we could actually apply it to. Things couldn't be printed in those days. We still used typewriters to make documents. There was no internet, no digital photos, etc.
Then over the years and decades the computer insinuated itself more into my life. Photoshop and the internet came along. But now all this stuff was so damned complicated. I would use programs for certain projects and then forget how to use them, taking a long break after frying my brain during the eternally long sessions of trying to do some basic thing.
Suddenly it occurred to me: say, what ever happened to that fun paint program? It didn't take an eternity to figure out how to draw a line or color in a shape. I searched a little and found something close: Paintbrush. It's easy to use and basically how I remember.
I decided to do a magazine title with it. Computers are good at squares and right angles, so it seemed good for designing letters. I chose to remix a painting I had done last year, called The Clan. It would work for a magazine or comic book cover. What would the title be? I like alliteration, so I chose Klan Klatch, inspired by a googled image of an old cafe. The style of the letters for Koffee Klatch, the cafe's name, were just the type that I like, vaguely New Yorker-ish. In that era, around 100 years ago, artists redesigned the wheel every time they had a project. Magazine titles, newspaper ads, whatever, were nice and hand made, even though they were straight and vaguely machine-age. These words were hand-made, but also futuristic.
Nowadays, no one reinvents the wheel. Mr. Computer hands everyone thousands of fonts, so there is no call for anyone who likes drawing letters. Not following this trend, using a retro style of paint program, I drew the Klan Klatch title, thinking about every aspect of the name. Both “Klan” and “Klatch” are words whose time has faded. They are in keeping with the style of the lettering, c. 1920. The famous Klan or KKK reached its highest membership in the 1920s, I recall reading somewhere. (Lest one think the good old days were always all that good.)
The word klatch (a social gathering) may be as worn as the klan, perhaps not even known by youth. At one time German influenced American pop culture more than it does now. The old traditions of Vaudeville, where ethnic types were stock and trade, carried on for decades into radio and TV. Beloved rocket scientists, mad scientists of horror films, and “long hair” musicians always spoke in thick accents. Ernie Kovacs had many zany German accents, along with others of the Euro-ethnic soup that was mid-century America pop.
As for the actual content of Klan Klatch, which the painting symbolizes, what is it? This is a klatch of hominids, of an apish type. Or are they more than a klatch—maybe a clan, forbidden to outsiders, ever suspicious? Perhaps Klan and Klatch are contradictions. A gathering infers strangers, or acquaintances meeting socially. Perhaps it is a family reunion. Have you ever been to a family reunion where you were a stranger?
Among the curiosities that have fascinated me recently are the traditions and concerns of families. These concerns are all-important for a few decades, as if they are rules written in stone. Then the elders die off and the rules are forgotten. The house is cleaned out and the goods taken to the dump. It's strange!
Sunday, May 22, 2011
There are many mysterious places along the waterways of N.Y. One of my favorites is City Island, The Bronx. It is quite far from Manhattan, though the distant spires can be glimpsed miles away. Figuratively, too, it is far from the city. Its ambience is of another time. In the foreground stands a forlorn, abandoned yacht club, seeming to remember the age of Gatsby, who would have partied on one of Long Island's Eggs not far across L.I. Sound.
Though the quiet local of City Island largely furnished the mood of this painting, the time of about 100 years since also did, inasmuch as that I used a color and value strategy inspired by one of my favorite illustrators, Maxfield Parrish. In keeping with what is appearing to be a theme of this blog, and upcoming exhibition, Parrish is an example of transitory fame. Like Al Jolson, (earlier blog) he was a star of his age. I read somewhere that a full TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT of households in America displayed a reproduction of his on their walls in the 1920s. That made him perhaps even more popular than than Jesus Christ, even the famous 1940s wallet image given to G.I.s during WWII.
In this era of TV, film, and internet, the idea of such a supremely popular visual artist is beyond our wildest imagination. Equally boggling to the mind is that such a phenomenon would now be forgotten, relatively. Mainly he is remembered by artists.
He had a special talent for clear, atmospheric scenes with heightened colors, often in the keys of yellow and purple. Though he painted in oils, he more often used paper rather than canvas. His results had a lucidity of watercolor, but an intensity and sense for detail that oils foster. I think this was due to his understanding of transparency. In my painting of City Island, I tried to use transparent pigments, such as alizarine crimson, yellow and red iron oxide, and ultramarine blue, though I painted on canvas.
Forsider, Covers, is about magazine covers—print artifacts. Parish's age was the magazine and newspaper age. I grew up at the end of this age—and was influenced by it to the point that I think in terms of magazine covers. I dream magazine covers. Thanks to Mr. Computer, we don't care about covers anymore. But rather than gnash my teeth over a bygone age, I can try to do a project in the new digital medium that has killed off (or killing) the medium I pine for.