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Archive for the ‘Neat Stuff’ Category

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The purpose of my work was never to destroy but always to create, to construct bridges, because we must live in the hope that humankind will draw together and that the better we understand each other the easier this will become.

Alphonse Mucha

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You most likely know the work of Czech painter Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) for his extremely popular posters that set the style for and were the epitome of the Art Nouveau movement. It was beautiful and graceful work much like the piece shown here on the right.

That was definitely the extent of my knowledge about Mucha’s work. And that alone would be a worthy enough achievement for most artists. But his greatest work may well be his monumental Slav Epic series.

The Slav Epic is comprised of 20 large works that depict the history and the mythology of the Slavic people. It was painted over the course of 16 years with the aid of financial support of American industrialist/philanthropist Charles Crane. The works are all painted on a grand scale with some of them measuring 20 feet in height and 25 feet in width.

They somehow survived Czech occupations by both Nazis and Soviets who both saw the work as being counter to their ideologies. Mucha died soon after being interviewed by the Gestapo in 1939. The paintings are now in possession of the Czech government who are in the process of creating a museum to permanently display this magnificent work. I am sharing a number of images below that show them with viewers so as to give  an idea of the sheer scale of the works.

Pretty amazing. Good reason to get to Prague.

Alphonse Mucha- Slavs in Original Homeland

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Feels like we’re kind of in the calm before a storm. There’s a sense of pent up energy just waiting to be unleashed and the only question is how it will all unfold in two days, what kind of damage will be done.

Or undone.

It’s a schizophrenic time filled with high moments of excited hopefulness followed by lows that are comprised of doom and gloom. I dislike both the highs and lows of this time. The highs because I fear I am just kidding myself in thinking that the best thing might happen and the lows because of the future the worst case scenario presents.

All in all, it leaves me, and I think a great many others, exhausted from walking this ragged edge of social/political schizophrenia.

So finding this video this morning was just what the doctor ordered for me. I don’t exactly know how I got to it. I started with watching Lola from the Kinks, moved to a Spanish group named Cafe Quijano doing a song called La Lolagreat song, kind of sexist video–then took a couple of turns and there was this.

It’s from a group called Too Many Zooz. It’s three guys– Matt “Doe” Muirhead on trumpet, Leo P on baritone sax and DavidKing of Sludge” Parks on percussion– who started performing as subway buskers in NYC. Their call their genre of music brass house, a mix of house music, Afro-Cuban, and jazz. I think we can dispense with labels and just say that it is high energy.

They have taken off in recent years as a result from a video that went viral that was shot by someone watching them perform on the Union Square platform in NYC. They have performed around the country and in Europe and Leo P, now widely known for his frantic dance moves, even did a performance on the BBC Proms with a full orchestra. They are currently on a European tour but will be back in the states next month. I see they are appearing not too far from me at The Haunt in Ithaca in December.

This video is called Bedford and was shot on the Bedford subway platform in Brooklyn at 3:33 AM. If anyone was thinking about going to bed at that point, this most likely woke them up.

So, if you find yourself in need of a pick-me-up, take a look at this.

As John Lee Hooker once said, “If you can’t dig this, you got a hole in your soul– and that ain’t good.”

Then take that energy and get out there and vote. Vote. Vote. VOTE.

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I had a dream a week or so back.

It wasn’t particularly odd. I didn’t feel like I was somehow out of place and didn’t recognize my surroundings. I had no strange abilities. No, it all seemed very normal. In fact, I was still a painter in this dream.

The gist of the dream was that I feeling a bit down about my work. Then out of the blue I received a phone call from a person identifying themselves as the editor of a large national magazine who wanted to do a story on my work. I was excited in the dream, as would be expected.

The dream ended with me asking what this magazine was that so wanted to do a big story on my work.

The voice on the other end replied, “Finger Painting Magazine.”

I woke up at that point and I began chuckling in the darkness.

My big break!

Womp womp.

I thought about that dream again yesterday. It still made me chuckle but I thought maybe I should try painting without a brush, using only my fingers, at least once. Maybe there is something to this finger painting stuff.

So I grabbed a canvas and got at it. I decided that I should keep it simple while I work on my strokes so I went with my most basic of compositions. Sky. Ground. Path. Red Roof.

Using only my fingers definitely gave it an immediacy and excitement. The piece changed quickly with a smear here and a daub there. The quickness of the process seemed to require more boldness. I used a couple of higher toned colors in more prominent roles than I normally would when using a brush. And I think it worked in this piece.

I began to realize that my hand was a combination of many brushes. Each finger had its own size and quality so there five brushes right there. Putting two or three fingers together made a couple more. And my palm was a broad brush as well.

Actually, as I got toward the finish of the painting I began to realize it didn’t look much different than my normal work. A little more ragged on the straight edges but that is not necessarily a bad thing. And it was not as messy as you might think. I actually ended up with less paint on my hands than I normally do when using a brush.

Maybe I have been wasting my time with brushes.

I did a little research this morning. There is no Finger Painting Magazine but there are several painters who use only their fingers. Some are quite striking and one was written about in an article I remember seeing not too long ago. She paints icebergs and other frozen landscapes on a grand scale. Great work.

Maybe there should really be a Finger Painting Magazine.

 

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Cycle of Life

A few weeks ago I noticed a deer– a doe– laying down, tucked back in a group of mixed pines that are at the edge of the driveway in front of my studio. Something seemed amiss here.  Too still and not looking back at me when I stopped walking to gaze in at it.

Moving closer I discovered that it was dead. There were no obvious wounds which was my first thought. Bow hunting season had opened recently and perhaps she had been hit and made it to this spot. But looking closer there were a couple of scrapes around her face and neck. Most likely she had been hit by a car and found her way to this quiet little glade to succumb.

There are worse places to die.

I’ve watched many groups of deer around my studio over the past decade and have witnessed many of them grow up in this comfortable safe space. I watch them playfully bounce around, often running crazily in circles around the studio. I watch them graze at the grass and undergrowth. Watch them sleep out in the lawn. Watch the males test their strength with their new antlers. One even sleeps up next to the foundation wall behind the scraggly hedges at the front of the studio.

I appreciate their struggle to live as a wild creature among humans. It’s hard enough for those of us who are somewhat human. And while I understand the place of death in the cycle of life, seeing this poor dead doe made me sad.

It also made me wonder if I should do anything with her body. It was pretty close to the studio and I worried that it might create an odor. I’ve been around enough of that stench of death to know I didn’t want to wallow in it for an extended period. Maybe I should get a bag of lime? Bury it?

In the end I left it where it was. A day passed before I set up a trail cam to capture whatever came to visit.The carcass had been moved a bit and the rear haunch had been eaten at. The belly was open now and the organs exposed. The camera was setup and revealed a few visitors. But only a few. Less than I had anticipated.

The first two nights brought a single coyote who ate a bit at the rear haunch. Most likely it was the one who had moved the carcass.

 

The third day brought a couple of crows who worked at a spot behind the front leg. At this point, the open belly was writhing mass of maggots along with an army of beetles that ran to and from the body, grabbing bits of it disappearing under leaves with their precious cargo. I did not take pictures of the maggots or the beetles.

On the next two days the turkey buzzards came. If you have never seen buzzards up close, they are an impressive bird the size of an eagle with a huge wingspan. Walking down my driveway on one of these days, there were 7 or 8 of these guys in the trees around this spot. Watching them flee through the low pines, trying to avoid the many branches, with their majestic soaring way of flying was thing to behold. They did quite a job over the time they were there although nothing compared to the constant around the clock erosion caused by the maggots and beetles.

This guy below acted like the king, showing off his wingspan chasing off the others at times.

Below is the deer at the end of five days from when I first set up the camera.

Below is the next day. The turkey buzzards came for one last quick nosh. You can see how much work the maggots and beetles accomplished since the last photo above which was taken only 24 hours earlier. They are at it constantly.

Below is at the end of seven days. Little remained but bones, a bit of hair and hardened skin around the skull. Thanks to scavengers, large and small, most of the deer had made its way back into the cycle of life. If this had been further up in the woods, the bones might even be gone by now.

The odor was surprisingly limited. It didn’t emanate in waves that went out in all directions. Rather came out in narrows bands  that would move in whichever direction the air was moving at the moment. Sometimes I could walk up the carcass and barely smell a thing from it even as I stood mere feet away. But walking away around the corner from it, maybe a hundred feet away from it, I would cross through a band of pure stink that might be twenty feet wide. Once through, no more smell. After about five days the odor was nearly gone altogether.

As sad as it made me, it was an interesting thing to witness. It gave me a closer glimpse into the cycle of life, how the death of one creature can perpetrate the life of another. We don’t often get to see that firsthand so I feel lucky in an odd sort of way.

 

 

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….This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body….

—Walt Whitman, Preface to Leaves of Grass

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I have always been moved and inspired by the writings of the American poet Walt Whitman. I can find something that speaks directly to me in almost everything of his I come across. For me, he remains one of the most intriguing and unique characters in the American experience in so many ways.

This comes across in the photos of him, including the remarkable portrait above that was taken by the great American painter Thomas Eakins in 1891, a year before Whitman’s death. It has a remarkable feeling of earned wisdom and understanding.

I had always felt a familial bond with him anyway, having called him Uncle Walt for as long as I can remember. He seemed like he was the wise old uncle I wanted growing up, someone who watched over me and imparted bits of wizened advice to me from time to time. So with this great reverence for the man, you can imagine how excited I was when my genealogy revealed that we were related.

Not an uncle.

Cousins.

Okay, 6th cousins. We share a grandparent going back to the early 1600’s, five generation before Whitman and nine generations before me. So, that makes us 6th cousins, 5 generations removed.

That’s like being in the furthest reaches of relationship in the game of 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Sure, we’re related by these tenuous bonds but it is so far removed that it is academic at best. There are probably several hundred thousand, if not a million or more, people with this same bond. So it is certainly no big deal. Interesting but absolutely meaningless and without value.

But when I read a line from Whitman that makes my heart race a bit, that makes my brain and soul stir, I have to admit that it makes me happy that we share that silly, insignificant bond.

I just call him Cousin Walt now.

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There’s a building along the highway in Maryland heading toward Washington that opened this past year. It say Indoor Skydiving in large letters across the top of the structure that catch my eye every time I drive by.  I find myself wondering what the heck is going on inside that building. My wonder passes pretty quickly and it fades from my consciousness.

Well, this morning I came across this video of the kind of activity that takes place in these kinds of buildings. Actually, I came across two videos. One shows this type of indoor skydiving taken to the highest level. It shows the winning performance from Kyra Poh at the 2018 Wind Games that took place earlier this year in Spain.

I didn’t know this was a thing.

It certainly hasn’t made its way to my neck of the woods.

But it’s sort of mesmerizing to watch. Very sci-fi and futuristic. I feel like I should be rubbing an energy orb while I am watching this in my sleek silver bodysuit.

Instead, here I am with dirty painting jeans and coffee breath, wondering how much I would ache after contorting my body like that.

The other shows an instructor with some new flyers with all the difficulty that implies. Less futuristic. More like someone being dragged,kicking and screaming, into the future. You will see what I mean.


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We are into the month of October and it’s very dark and gray here this morning which has me thinking of Halloween. I thought that since I was in that mood I would run a post from back in 2010 about some macabre images from France in the 1860’s. Guitarist Brian May of the band Queen spent decades researching and assembling the most complete collection of these stereoscopic plates, which he published in a book a few years back. I’ve added a few images and a video featuring some of the plates as well.

I came across these photographic oddities and thought they would be fitting in this week that ends with Halloween.  The stereoscope was invented in Paris in 1850 and became a worldwide sensation over the next decade.  In 1861, a series of 72 of these stereoscopic photos were printed anonymously in Paris that consisted of macabre scenes of Satan and various aspects of Hell.  Called Les Diableries, these plates were a drastic turn away from the often mundane photos seen in early stereoscopes and were quite the sensation in 1860’s Paris.

The photos remained anonymous in that time because they were viewed as politically satiric of the French government of the time, the Second Empire under Napoleon III.  To openly chide the Emperor at that time could bring dire consequences but the images circulated freely, nonetheless.  I think they are a remarkable set of images from that time and I can imagine how they must have resonated in the minds of people who weren’t exposed to the mind-boggling array of imagery that we often experience in a single day in our time.

 

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