Those amongst us who are not artists nonetheless feel we know a thing or two about art and artists. We "know" that artistic vision and style are intensely personal, that "art by committee" is doomed to fail. But see here, "Morning in a Pine Forest," painted in 1886 by Russian artists Ivan Shishkin and Konstantin Savitsky.
Shishkin and Savitsky were both accomplished painters and well-regarded at the time. Shishkin was known for sweeping landscapes that portrayed the Russian countryside in loving detail. Savitsky painted sentimental tableaux, often of historical scenes. They both signed this painting, and for years it was assumed that the forest was by Shishkin and the bears by Savitsky.
But archivists eventually discovered preliminary sketches for the work done by both men, and it became clear that each of them contributed to both the background and the bears. Meanwhile, for unknown reasons, the first owner of the painting ordered that Savitsky's signature be removed from the canvas.
Ivan Shishkin painted this field of ripened rye in 1878. The grain is so tall it almost hides a couple of people way in the distance, on the road near the middle of the picture. I'm pretty sure that they are hunters; there are two dead birds at the edge of the field in the foreground, and a big flock of birds still in the sky.
I love this painting. I might not have fallen for it so completely if I'd noticed the dead birds first, but it's too late now. I love how simple it is: field, trees, road--something we might see any time we go out into the country. Not a specially scenic spot. But the trees are super trees, bigger and more dramatic than ordinary trees. The crop in the field is golden, bursting-ripe. The road reels us in, winding mysteriously. They say Shishkin painted this way to celebrate the bounty of Russian nature. He knew what he was doing.
For a million years--34, to be exact--the sixth-grade gym teacher at Westlawn Middle School in Tuscaloosa was Yvonne Wells. So far as I could tell, Ms. Wells was a perfectly normal physical education teacher, who probably went home hoarse every night after a hard day's work.
When she got home, she took up her needle and thread and scissors and spread out her fabrics on the living room floor and went to work quilting. Sometimes she stayed up half the night. She'd had no training in quilt-making, and when she tried to reproduce the old patterns, she felt frustrated and dissatisfied with the results. Gradually, she abandoned traditional patchwork for her own intensely personal, and often political, storytelling style of quilt.
Wells sells her quilts at festivals and in galleries; almost all her work, she says, winds up hanging on the wall instead of laying across a bed. Her style has attracted attention far beyond Tuscaloosa, and in recent years her work has been featured in traveling exhibits at museums all over the country. Half a dozen of her quilts, including this one, are now part of the permanent collection of the International Quilt Study Center and Museum in Nebraska.
What we see here is the Statue of Liberty holding dollar bills in one hand and a black person, perhaps a child, in the other, while she stomps on an Indian with both feet. The title pretty much says it: Being In Total Control of Herself, B.I.T.C.H.
In 1543, the artist Titian painted this picture of the male members of the Vendramin family of Venice, who are shown venerating what is said to be a relic of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. The relic actually belonged to a different Venetian family, but some years earlier it had been accidentally knocked into a canal during a procession, and Andrea Vendramin, the grandfather of the doge in the center of this portrait, had dived in after it and retrieved it, thus sealing a special relationship between it and the family.
It is believed that Titian had help in completing this portrait; specifically, it is said that his apprentices painted some of the children. Titian himself did the boy with the red stockings and the dog, but the three boys at the left, and perhaps also the two other boys at the right, represent the work of his assistants.
They Didn't Expect Him, by Ilya Serin, 1883. A revolutionary returns home unexpectedly from political exile, setting up a cinematic sort of family scene.
The man's mother rises to greet him. The little girl, his younger child, seems a little frightened; perhaps he has been gone so long that she doesn't recognize him. The boy, a little older, looks thrilled. The man's wife, sitting at the piano near the door, is startled and confused; perhaps she had given him up for lost. Perhaps too, she has been angry about his political obsessions that left the family abandoned for so long. The servants are watchful, eager to see what happens next.
The man himself looks haggard and unsure of himself. His return is not triumphant; perhaps it's not anything at all like what he might have imagined while he was away. Can he pick up the pieces of his old life? Will his wife welcome him back? What about his political and intellectual life, which had led to his exile? What does he do now?
Toxic waste can give a body of water that certain something--a sheen, a glow. Call it art. Perhaps it's not surprising, in light of what a mess we're making of this world, that there has emerged in contemporary art a movement obsessed with discovering beauty in garbage and pollution and rusting husks littering the landscape. It has been argued that the nightmarish provenance of this beauty somehow deepens it, makes it more meaningful.
When one of my children was in elementary school, his teacher assigned a paragraph about something beautiful that they'd seen with their own eyes. My child wrote about the colors shimmering in a little puddle of gasoline in the Crown Station parking lot. The teacher was very upset; she apparently thought he was mocking her and her assignment. Really, he was just showing preternatural aesthetic sensibilities.
California sculptor Michael Christian wrought this man--bogeyman?--from rusting steel. The creature first appeared last summer at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, but he has recently been transplanted to a brick courtyard in Toronto's Distillery District.
He is named Koilos, which is a place of caves in a fantasy-card game. He's fourteen feet high and weighs about a ton. And he is perfectly typical of Christian's monumental-scale work, which is well known on the West Coast: vaguely human, clearly alien, all kitschy with that ineffable low-budget horror-movie something. Many Torontans have quickly grown fond of Koilos; as of last night, at least 339 photos of Koilos in Toronto have been posted on the web.
There's a new mural in the neighborhood, by Michael Webb. It honors Julian Abele, the architect who designed the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Duke Chapel, among other wonders, and who lived in the neighborhood for most of his life.
Abele was the first academically trained African American architect in the United States. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture in 1902.
That's Abele in the middle of the mural, in the brown, three-piece suit, standing in front of a blueprint of the Duke Chapel tower.
The small lot here is called a park--Julian Abele Park--and with a new grant for landscaping improvements, it may soon become an actual park. One of the landscaping features is to be a walkway lined with old marble stoops, suggesting the rowhouse architecture of the neighborhood.
The trees in front of the mural don't look like much in the wintertime, but of course they are controversial. Do they block the view of the artwork or frame it in natural greenery?
In the 1890s, when Thomas Eakins was teaching painting and anatomy at the Philadelphia Academy of Art, he spent a lot of time hanging around a local gym, watching the anatomy in action. This painting, "The Wrestlers," the final work in Eakins's sporting series, features not only a stylized moment in a wrestling match, very close to a final pin, but also some background characters watching and working and teaching and learning. In particular, the man in street clothes who is pointing at the wrestlers has been compared to Eakins himself--the coach in the gym, like the art instructor in the studio, draws attention to the wrestling action in hopes of elucidating salient matters of craft and human dynamics.
In 2011, meanwhile, wrestling season is again upon us, and one of the Stein wrestlers has stepped away from the gym for a few moments to share with us some observations about the Eakins wrestlers. "The guy on bottom," notes Allen, "should not be trying to peel the fingers off of the offensive opponent. He will be better off planting his right foot on the ground and arching on his head and trying to punch through back to his belly."
Coach in the background may be making the same point. But Mr. Eakins, the guy with the paintbrush--the guy in charge--apparently liked both these wrestlers exactly as they are.
It’s a little hard to take at first, but keep looking till you see the cute little baby seal above the ear with the pearl earring. And the grouchy-looking turtle underneath the necklace.
And look at all the different kinds of hair on this person's head—coral hair and snake hair and claw hair and tentacle hair and even crawfishand seahorseand water-spout hair.
This is “Water,” painted in 1566 by Giuseppe Arcimboldo, part of a series of four portraits representing the elements. The subject of this portrait is approximately a human being, perhaps a woman, but quite grotesque, maybe because Arcimboldo had studied under Leonardo da Vinci, who loved to sketch dramatically ugly-looking people. As for the critters in the picture—there are more than sixty species, we’re told—they are here in true-to-life detail because Arcimboldo in his day job was court painter for Emperor Maximilian II in Vienna and Prague; his duties included painting natural specimens collected by the Hapsburgs, and his perks included access to the royal library.
Why would a court painter in the sixteenth century paint a person made out of an octopus, a frog, two eels, a stingray, a catfish, a starfish, and etc., etc., etc.? The short answer must be: because the emperor liked paintings like that. Apparently, Maximilian even liked an Arcimboldo portrait of the emperor’s son made out of fruit and vegetables.
And Maximilian wasn’t his only fan. Almost a hundred years later, when Queen Christina of Sweden raided Prague during the Thirty Years War, she specifically ordered her army to steal all the Arcimboldos in the Hapsburg collections and ship them to her in Stockholm. Many of the portraits—people made from chickens and pumpkins and grapes and turnips, a librarian with arms made of the spines of books, a lawyer with a shirt made of lawsuits and a mouth of fish lips—remain in Sweden to this day.
The postcard had a Belgian stamp on it, and a message: "I think this is self-explanatory."
Fortunately or unfortunately, additional explanation was at hand, in the caption in the lower left-hand corner, in French and some other languages. It turns out that the artist is Anu Tuominen, and the work is Fleur de Sel, completed in 2002–2004. The medium, if you must know, is saltshakers and travail de crochet.
From the intertubes, I see that the artist was born in Finland in 1961, and that she doesn't always work in saltshakers and crochet. Sometimes she uses a cheese slicer and knitting, sometimes mittens and socks, sometimes clothespins. In closing today, we have a work by Anu Tuominen done all in red and blue pencils.
One of the masterworks of early American art, Asher B. Durand's massive 1853 oil painting "Progress (The Advance of Civilization)," has been sold privately to an unknown buyer, perhaps Bill Gates, and has disappeared from public view after almost half a century on display in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The sale price may have been in the range of $50 million.
The details of the painting, which are very difficult to make out in this digital reproduction, utilize landscape to represent time. There is wilderness in the foreground, where Indians stand on the rocks looking way off into the distance. The middle distance is pastoral: fields of grain, country roads, a horse-drawn wagon. Far off in the background is a new railroad trestle and a train, its engine belching smoke. The Indians are still standing in the forest primeval, but already, they and their paradise are so last week.
I remember writing a paper on this kind of symbolism in college, as did a million other students. It all has something to do with a new American way of looking at nature: Old World artists painted romantic landscapes in which the ruined stones of ancient buildings were being reclaimed by the forest, whereas in American landscapes, fresh civilization was intruding into nature. Either way, the story was somehow sad.
The story of what happened to the Durand painting this year is also sad, and the lesson it illustrates could be taken to implicate both nature and civilization: i.e., human nature.
About fifty years ago, Jonathan "Jack" Warner, the wealthy owner of Gulf States Paper Company in Alabama, started collecting art, mostly American art. He bought original Audubon prints and put them up in the company cafeteria. He bought paintings by Winslow Homer, Georgia O'Keefe, Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, Mary Cassatt, James Whistler, Edward Bierstadt, Gilbert Stuart, and dozens of others; he kept many of the paintings at home but decorated the walls of corporate headquarters with many others. Eventually, he built a museum for the collection.
The museum was open to the public, but it was still a private collection, funded in large measure with corporate money. Warner had a good eye for art and also apparently a good nose for a bargain, and eventually the art collection came to represent many tens of millions of dollars of corporate assets. He set up a foundation to manage the collection, but ownership remained substantially with the company.
And he turned over corporate leadership to his son. "That was a huge mistake," he said recently. "I think about that every day."
Warner's son, Jonathan "Jon" Warner, remade the family business, changing its name to Westervelt Company, selling off its paper mill and focusing on forest management and renewable energy. Early this year, plans were announced to build a plant in west Alabama to manufacture wood pellets for export to Germany.
Building the wood-pellet plant will cost about $50 million. The Durand painting may have fetched that much, even in the somewhat depressed art market that has lingered since the financial crisis and recession.
In fact, the recession has made the painting much more valuable to a corporate entity like Westervelt. One of the provisions of the 2010 Stimulus Act provided for a one-year capital-gains tax break for companies selling assets not related to their core business.
The Warner collection curators say they came in to the museum one Monday morning and found blank spots on the wall where many of the paintings had been. Westervelt's board of directors had voted to sell the art.
Jack Warner did manage to keep a large part of his collection intact, and he has created an organization called the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art to eventually display it. In the meantime, several dozen of the paintings make up a traveling show that has been exhibited in London and is now at the University of Pennsylvania's Ross Gallery in Philadelphia.
Speculation as to the buyer of "Progress" has focused on two deep-pocket collectors who are known to be interested in American art: Alice Walton, of the Wal-Mart fortune, and Bill Gates. Jack Warner's wife personally called Ms. Walton and was told that no, she did not buy the picture. It has also been reported that Gates has denied the purchase, but some sources say that he always issues denials and that it is exactly the kind of painting he would want.
One of about a dozen murals painted in 1938 by Joseph Hirsch to decorate the basement walls of a long-since-abandoned building on South Street in Philadelphia, this one is titled "A Mechanical Engineering Problem." I can't say I know for certain what the joke is here, though the fact that the art had been commissioned by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA), who owned the building and used it for an office and social center, would have to be a major clue. My guess is that the mustachioed tailors portrayed here were not union workers and were not particularly skilled suitmakers, either; perhaps the point is that only a chump would order a custom-tailored suit from guys like these instead of buying a ready-made, union-made coat and trousers.
Here is another take on the same theme:
In this image, the chump is getting an ill-fitting suit not because it's off-the-shelf and union-made but because the slimeball salesmen can't or won't be bothered to fit him properly. The superiority of union needlework–which the establishment advertises prominently–is or ought to be a selling point among highfalutin haberdashers.
Whatever the punch line, the ACWA was happy with the murals and rehired Hirsch a couple of years later to do a much larger and more formal work for the wall of their auditorium upstairs: a mural 11 feet high and 65 feet long–the largest the entire city at the time–which traced the early history of labor unions in the United States. It was later removed from the building and installed in the lobby of the Sidney Hillman Apartments a few blocks away.
Sidney Hillman, who founded the ACWA, had no personal association with Philadelphia; he was born in Lithuania, and after being imprisoned for labor agitation in Poland in the early years of the twentieth century, he settled in Chicago, where he organized several powerful unions and steered the American labor movement toward the Democratic Party in general and Franklin Roosevelt in particular. But his ACWA represented about 25,000 Philadelphians in the 1930s, when locals from around the city got together to buy the building at 2101 South Street, which became known as the Amalgamated Center. There were offices upstairs, an auditorium and meeting rooms on the main floor, and a swimming pool, gym, and social hall in the basement.
The building was already set up for pretty much these same functions and had been since before 1900, when wealthy merchant John Wanamaker financed its construction for the Bethany Brotherhood, a men's fellowship and social lodge from nearby Bethany Presbyterian Church. During World War I, the Brotherhood turned over the building for housing and recrational use by soldiers and sailors on leave; more than 8,000 servicemen swam, played, and partied there in 1917 and 1918, with Wanamaker picking up the tab for operating costs.
The Amalgamated unions bought it in 1934 and remodeled and expanded it, eventually cladding many walls in marble; the ACWA and a series of affiliated and successor unions occupied the building until 1984, when declining membership led to its sale as office space for Graduate Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
In recent years, it has sat empty. But this week, the basement and much of the first floor of the old Amalgamated Center reopened to something like its original function: once again, the place is a gym, this time operated by a private company, City Fitness. Old Sidney Hillman would not have approved of how the renovation work was undertaken; a couple of weeks before the reopening, there were pickets in front of the building, in response to a subcontractor's use of non-union labor.
Hirsch's murals in the basement will also meet an inglorious fate (as if the graffiti wasn't enough). They are theoretically protected by the building's inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places, but what that means in practice is that City Fitness will soon be hiding most of them, covering them over with mirrors for the exercise rooms.
Meanwhile, for a brief moment in a new century, Sidney Hillman, "The Guide and Spirit of Amalgamated C.W.," is once again flying free, even if he does have a heart inked on his bicep with the name Carmine inside:
Well, I didn't do a very good job a couple days ago when I posted a Good Morning about a Hans Christian Andersen paper cutting. I wrote that the cutting "was associated with" Andersen, using fudge words that I hoped would hide my ignorance: Did Andersen actually own the cutting? Did he commission it? Or cut it himself? Or was it simply inspired by Andersen's fairy tales, associated with him thematically rather than personally?
As y'all often point out to me, there's a lot I don't know about most of what I post, but my ignorance on this one is especially egregious. All it would have taken to learn the whole story was a single, obvious google click. Yes, Hans Christian Andersen made the paper cutting himself; more than a thousand of his cuttings survive to this day. They are the subject of at least two books, which have been translated into umpteen languages. They have been collected and exhibited all over the world. Upon the bicentennial of his birth in 2005, Denmark issued a commemorative postage stamp featuring one of Andersen's paper cuttings: this one.
This guy is a pierrot, a harlequin sort of character who makes an appearance in numerous Andersen tales and paper cuttings. He's loud and he's boisterous, often portrayed as kicking or dancing, and, as here, singing or yelling.
This particular pierrot is burdened down; what's on the tray balanced atop his head is apparently so heavy he's reduced to a froglike crouch. The objects on the tray all represent facets of Andersen's personal life story: his birthplace in Odense, the grammar school he attended, the fairy-tale motif of a windmill man, the tower of St. Canute's Church in Odense, and an ugly duckling transformed into a swan.
Andersen made many of his cuttings for the children to whom he told his tales; he apparently kep himself busy with his scissors while he was telling the stories, and it's been suggested that the cutwork was a way of entertaining himself while he retold tales that children requested over and over again.
He also made many cuttings, some of them extremely intricate, as hostess gifts for the families with whom he visited or stayed. He had been born a poor boy, and though he died fabulously wealthy, he was always unsure of his social status: eager to socialize with the high and mighty but careful to express his gratitude with tangible, fanciful gifts.
Ten years ago, an exhibition of work by the Colombian sculptor and painter Fernando Botero toured Europe, including a stop in the courtyard of the Cathedrale di Milano, as shown here. Next fall, a Botero exhibit will visit Bilbao, Spain, but the photo below taken in Bilbao last week features a sculpture that resembles the work of Botero in roundness alone.
Atlanta artist Brian Dettmer takes scissors to old books–also scalpels and tweezers and other surgical instruments–to reveal a sort of alternate reality deep inside. Nothing in the book is altered, he says; nothing is relocated or added. He just cuts out the words and pictures and stuff that are in the way of the words and pictures and stuff he wants the world to see.
Dettmer especially likes to slice up volumes of old encyclopedias or illustrated dictionaries, works with numerous and varied illustrations. "The book's intended function has decreased," he says; old books are "still linear in a non-linear world." By twisting the spine and cutting the pages, he exposes cast-off words and pictures to new kinds of appreciation.
More than fifty walls, rooftops, and billboards high above Market Street, visible mostly from the elevated train line in West Philly, bear pictures and snatches of poetry by former graffiti artist Steve Powers; together they make up his "Love Letter" mural project, one of the city's most popular new tourist attractions.
"We share sheets," says the writing on the third-floor sidewall of a trackside rowhouse. "We share defeats," says the writing at the end of the block.
The message on the back wall of a warehouse is spelled out in what appear to be refrigerator-magnet letters: "If you were here, I'd be home."
Power says his style grew out of a trip to Northern Ireland, where the political murals on the walls of Belfast struck him as "powerful for all the wrong reasons." In his Love Letter murals, he says he's trying to retain the power but "use it in a really good way."
German artist EVOL works with stencils and spray paint on concrete walls, steel electrical cabinets, and plain cardboard boxes to create vast high-rise apartment blocks. For this installation in a Berlin parking garage, EVOL works a cross-beam into his creation as a crushing artistic blow.
Last week, in Portland, Maine, in the combined first- and second-grade class at Longfellow School, Emily Wiggin and her classmates made a mosaic table for a silent auction fundraiser. The winning bid on Saturday night was $200, and somehow, on Sunday morning, there was the table in the Wiggin living room.
Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, kindergartner Lily Sklaver spent the week learning to ride her bike without training wheels or pedals; by last night, when she had that balancing thing under control, the pedals went back on and she took off flying down the street.
Another sample from the Library of Congress's small collection of color photos from the 1930s and 1940s, this one shows a woman working with aerial photos to develop camouflaging for airfields and critical factories during World War II.
Camouflage experts at New York University would use the aerial photos to build a model of an area that included the facility to be camouflaged. Then they would paint over the facility on the model until it blended in with its surroundings. Aircraft plants on the West Coast were covered with acres of canvas and plywood painted and sculpted to resemble suburban subdivisions. Airstrips were painted to look like small-town streets and farmland from the air.
Not everything was so easy to camouflage; ships at sea, for example, proved impossible to hide no matter how they were painted. A completely different approach, known as dazzle camouflage, was devised for ships; they were painted with crazy stripes at jagged angles, visible from afar but very different to interpret as to size, direction, and speed of movement.
Some fighter planes were painted pale pink, a color that was thought to show up as white or grayish, like clouds, at high angles of intense sunlight.
This photo looks posed, and the woman may be a model rather than a serious camouflage authority; she is holding the aerial photo more or less upside down with respect to the model she's supposedly painting.
In 1881, this painting earned Thomas Anshutz an award from the local arts establishment, as embodied then by the Philadelphia Sketch Club. The Sketch Club honored Ironworkers' Noontime as the year's "best carefully finished study." According to the minutes from the meeting at which the award was presented, Sketch Club members talked at length about how well Anshutz had learned the style of painting taught by his teacher, club founder Thomas Eakins, and they also talked at length about the painting's extremely unusual subject matter.
It's the subject matter that distinguishes the painting today; it's believed to be the earliest American artwork depicting industrial life. Anshutz had been born and raised along the Ohio River near the foundries of Wheeling, West Virginia, where he did the sketches for the painting. He presented the ironworkers as individuals, each using his noon break for his own purposes, despite the overall grime and grit of the surroundings.
The artists in the Sketch Club thought this approach was "needlessly confrontational."
Wheeling's ironworks are now defunct, and the city has been in decline since the 1930s. The old foundry sites along the riverfront are currently promoted for "heritage tourism activities."
We all know that artists are often politically minded people, and that much art is intended, on some level or another, to communicate political ideas. But we all also know that works of political art, regardless of whether or not they succeed artistically, usually fail to directly accomplish much of anything politically. The paintbrush is not often mightier than the sword.
A couple of months ago, artwork on the streets of Yekaterina, Russia, a city of almost two million people about a thousand miles east of Moscow, got the political job done. The city fathers of Yekaterina–the regional governor, the mayor, and the vice-mayor–had all been elected on promises to repair potholes and other problems in the city's badly deteriorating roadways. Once in office, however, they seemed to lose interest; despite citizen complaints, the potholes just kept getting worse and worse.
One dark night in July, Yekaterina artists took to the streets of center city and painted portraits of the three well-known politicians with wide-open mouths surrounding three of the worst potholes. They documented their work with a video that they posted to a popular local website; an English-language video about their video is here.
The next day, the potholes were fixed and the portraits scrubbed from the pavement. Officials denied that the artwork had anything to do with the sudden burst of municipal maintenance.
Why I Hate Self-Portraits (2009), by Dwayne Wilcox.
Wilcox, of Oglala/Lakota heritage, works with colored pencils on vintage lined paper in the tradition of ledger art, recalling the days when artists living on reservations had no paper to draw on but bills and invoices and some pages, perhaps, from purloined account books.
His father was Joe Egg, an Alsatian gunsmith. His older brother was George Egg, who inherited the Egg gunworks in London. He was Augustus Leopold Egg, born in 1816 and endowed with a moniker that could have come from the pages of Dickens, who, it just so happened, was a good buddy of his.
Augustus Egg spurned gunsmithing and took up art. This morning, we are treated to two Egg works: above, his best known painting, The Travelling Companions (1862), and below, a sample of his early, humorous, storytelling style, Queen Elizabeth Discovers She is No Longer Young (1848).
The word generally used to describe Travelling Companions is ambiguous. The two women in the railway carriage are very nearly identical; do they in fact represent different facets of the same person's life or character? Indolence and industry, perhaps? Or is the sleeping woman dreaming up her bookish companion? Or are they simply what they appear to be, identical twins on a long train ride? And why are they both oblivious to the spectacular scenery of the French Riviera that glows outside their window?
Queen Elizabeth is much more straightforward. In fact, the painting itself pretty much says everything there is to say about Augustus Egg's historical imagination.
In the wintertime around the French ski resort of Les Arcs, the sun sets early; to get his tromping done, Simon Beck has to wear a headlamp along with his snowshoes. He'll stomp the snow, guided by his orienteering compass, for days on end, from can to can't, filling pristine snowfields with enormous works of art as big around as six football fields and impossible to fully apprehend except from high above.
Beck is an engineer by training and a longtime orienteer by profession. He roughs out the geometry of his designs using what he calls "a kind of reverse orienteering." Then he fires up the music on his MP3 player and slowly, painstakingly, stomps in the details.
He made his first snow designs in 2004. "The main reason for making them," he said, "was because I can no longer run properly due to problems with my feet, so plodding about on level snow is the least painful way of getting exercise.
"Gradually, the reason has become photographing them, and I am considering buying a better camera."
Nice looking skyline, is it not? The city is Albany, New York, which may or may not be a nice place to live or even a nice place to visit; I've never been there and yet . . . here I am squawking about it.
It's actually one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the Western Hemisphere, founded in the early seventeenth century as Beverwijk, a Dutch village outside the gates of Fort Orange. Beverwijk was renamed Albany when the English took over in the mid-century, and in 1686, the city was officially incorporated under a charter that is said to be one of America's oldest governing documents still in effect.
Albany was also the eastern terminus of the Erie Canal and for many years produced beer that was shipped westward on the canal to all the thirsty pioneers out in the hinterlands.
The painting below shows Albany's North Pearl Street in approximately 1800.
Stockholm's 110-km metro rail system has been described as one long tubular art gallery. Exposed bedrock in dozens of the stations has been painted and sculpted by a variety of artists from Sweden and beyond.
Consider this posting another entry in an occasional series: Places I've never been and stuff I've never seen and don't honestly know much of anything about, but damn.
I made my first picture using camera obscura techniques in my darkened living room in 1991. In setting up a room to make this kind of photograph, I cover all windows with black plastic in order to achieve total darkness. Then, I cut a small hole in the material I use to cover the windows. This opening allows an inverted image of the view outside to flood onto the back walls of the room. Typically then I focused my large-format camera on the incoming image on the wall then make a camera exposure on film. In the beginning, exposures took from five to ten hours.
Over time, this project has taken me from my living room to all sorts of interiors around the world. One of the satisfactions I get from making this imagery comes from my seeing the weird and yet natural marriage of the inside and outside.
A few years ago, in order to push the visual potential of this process, I began to use color film and positioned a lens over the hole in the window plastic in order to add to the overall sharpness and brightness of the incoming image. Now, I often use a prism to make the projection come in right side up. I have also been able to shorten my exposures considerably thanks to digital technology, which in turn makes it possible to capture more momentary light. I love the increased sense of reality that the outdoor has in these new works .The marriage of the outside and the inside is now made up of more equal partners.
Morell photographed Venice in 2006. The top picture is of Santa Maria della Salute in a living room. The lower picture shows Piazzetta St. Marks prismatically inverted in an office.
It must have been Oscar Wilde who said that you could never be overdressed or overeducated. In fact, he may be saying it just now, as he contemplates the world outside his childhood home in Dublin's Merrion Square, dressed to the nines from the neck down and wearing a becoming shade of snark across his face.
Sculptor Danny Osborne was as much prospector as artist for this project. He found the jade for Wilde's smoking jacket in extreme northern British Columbia, near the Yukon border. The pink collar and cuffs are from manganese-rich veins of zoisite in Norwegian shale.
The shimmery trousers are larkivite, also from Norway, a coarse-grained rock rich in anorthoclase feldspar, mined in Oslo Fjord. The well-polished shoes are black charnockite, from southern India; they get their shine from a distinctive kind of pyroxene known as hypersthene.
The 35-ton boulder that Wilde lounges on is Irish, but it's not in situ; Osborne found it in the Wicklow Mountains outside of Dublin.
The statue was sponsored by the Guinness Ireland Group and dedicated in 1997, ninety-seven years after Wilde's death at age 46.
It seemed appropriate, even necessary, to end this posting with a Wildeism. Settling on a single passage, however, proved ridiculously difficult, and it is certainly unfair to the man to reduce him to well-dressed witticism. But this line may do as well as any: "Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future."
There's a new mural in the neighborhood, bolted high on the wall of a new house at the corner of Fitzwater and Smedley. Looks to be a private project, not part of the city's Mural Arts Program, and it's hard to say if it's intended as permanent street art, since it mostly blocks the windows of the house. But it's something to look at, a portrait of Nelson Mandela looming above a scrim of drippy red and black streaks. The painter signed the mural illegibly; we believe that whoever he or she is, he or she got it right, those dark, worldly, heavy-lidded eyes in a brilliant red face.
Maud Humphrey, born in 1868 in upstate New York, educated at New York City's new Art Students League and then, of course, in Paris, was a rare creature in her place and time: a highly successful professional woman who managed to combine a brilliant career with conventional marriage and family life. She married a doctor but out-earned him several times over, producing commercial artwork for immensely popular books, magazines, and advertising campaigns; she specialized in sentimental watercolor illustrations that featured plump children and adorable animals. Think: Gerber baby.
During her student days, Maud had become friends with another aspiring career woman, Grace Hall, a contralto from Illinois who was studying music and beginning a career on the New York opera and concert stage. Grace enjoyed considerable professional success right from the start, performing at Madison Square Garden among other venues, but she soon began to fear that the pressures of a heavy performance schedule were taking a toll on her health. Her eyesight had been weakened by childhood scarlet fever, and the newfangled electric stage lights seemed blinding. She suffered headaches and exhaustion after every show and lasted only a year before returning home to conventional bourgeois domesticity in the suburbs of Chicago. Like her friend Maud, she married a doctor, and also like her she earned substantially more money than her husband, in her case by offering voice and piano lessons to Chicago's nouveau riche.
The two women stayed in touch, and in 1899, when Grace wrote Maud that she was expecting her second child, Maud responded by sending Grace a half-dozen watercolors to decorate her nursery. And Maud had some news of her own: she too was expecting.
That year, both women gave birth to sons: Maud's boy was named Humphrey Bogart, and Grace's was named Ernest Hemingway. Fifty or so years later, Bogart and Hemingway got to know each other during the filming of a Hemingway story, and they figured out their mothers' connection and the provenance of the nursery paintings.
The photo above shows two of the Maud Humphrey watercolors above Ernest Hemingway's baby bed in the family home in Oak Park, just outside Chicago.
Although Grace Hall Hemingway was still alive when her son met the son of her old friend Maud, she may never have learned about the meeting. Hemingway rather famously nursed grievances against his mother and was distant to his family. His main complaint was that his mother was a cold bitch who had emasculated his father by earning too much money and refusing to defer to husbandly authority.
Every summer, when the family vacationed at a lake cabin in Michigan, where Ernest's father loved to hunt and fish, Grace vacationed instead in a cottage across the lake that she had built for herself and her one-time music student Ruth Arnold, who had previously worked as the children's nanny. Grace clearly preferred Ruth's company to that of her husband and six children, even after her husband created a public commotion when he tried to expel Ruth from their property. Ernest's version of the story emphasized a financial angle: he believed that the money his mother had used to build her lake retreat should have been used instead to send him to college.
Humphrey Bogart is alleged to have complained similarly about his own mother, Maud, although many more details of the Hemingway mother-son issues have been thrashed out in public. But one Maud Humphrey legend can definitely be put to rest: no, the young Humphrey Bogart was not the Gerber baby. His mother did paint his likeness for a baby-food advertising campaign, but that was for a different brand.
Among the happy occasions being celebrated recently while we were in New Zealand, in addition to the marriage of our niece, was the one hundredth anniversary of the invention of the zipper, as featured in the World of Wearable Art exhibition at Te Papa museum in Wellington.
Elias Howe, inventor of the sewing machine, patented a zipper-like Automatic Continuous Clothing Closure in 1851 but was too busy selling sewing machines to get it to market.
Another zipper-like thingy, called a clasp locker by its inventor, Whitcomb Judson, was displayed at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. It was designed to close boots with long rows of hooks and eyes, and it attracted investors who built a company around the idea but couldn't ever make it work.
Then in the early twentieth century a Swedish-born electrical engineer named Gideon Sundback married the daughter of the company president and was named chief designer. He spent seven years refining a different zipper-like device that by 1913 actually worked. But the company was still stuck in boot-closure mode, and for the next twenty years B.F. Goodrich was the main customer for zippers, which were used on a style of rubber galoshes known as "Zips."
It wasn't till the 1930s that zippers were sewn into ready-made clothing: at first, in children's wear, then for fly closures in men's trousers, and eventually in coats, skirts, dresses, luggage, sports gear, and everything else.
The little guy here in the white apron, with a pencil behind his ear–that's Mr. 4, the grocer-mascot of New Zealand's ubiquitous Four Square chain of supermarkets.
The mural featuring Mr. 4 covers a side wall of the art museum in Christchurch. The museum is closed at the moment and has been for a couple of years. All the artwork currently on exhibit is out in the streets of the city, like this piece.
Perhaps you are wondering why in the picture below there's a crane on top of the museum? Hold that thought; we'll get to it soon.