Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Menn in Black sketch

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.

A side note about the fedoras: I read with mirth that hipsters are supposed to be wearing them now. Perhaps they will become fashionable again, gaining a critical mass. Oddly, current fashion authorities are unaware, or fail to note, that such hats were quite popular among the hipsters in NY only 20 years ago. At that time there were still many original fedoras to be found in used bins. It seems now that they are manufactured in the current century, and of a different cut, with a more compact, Elvis Costellian brim.

Black Bart, Highwayman and doggerel poet of old California, sported a more compact brim, in the form of a bowler. If modern hipsters want compact brims, should they try bowlers?

Old New Yorker

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

Ransom Note

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.