Saturday, January 31, 2009

Primary Sources

I have been reading a lot about a certain morbidly depressing topic mainly due to the documents that, unbidden, have make themselves known to me through their appearance at the local dump. I feel that it is inappropriate for me to discuss this topic here, especially in light of my Yahoo Collage Artists Group rule prohibiting political discussion except in the context of art. Needless to say a collage is forthcoming. One with a very interesting back story.

In the process of conducting this research, and ultimately because of it, certain books have been given over to my care by fate. I have created a library of discards which forms a snapshot of the way the world (the white anglo-saxon world, specifically) was for a period of one hundred years before I was born. In school I was always bored by history, preferring art, followed by literature and science. So anything I read about the past is, at least in part, news to me. But in this case I don't think my ignorance is the result of not having paid attention. The elementary and high school texts of the 60's and 70's (whether from neglect or avoidance) did not include the topic I am researching right now.

I will end this digression by mentioning that the piece shown in progress above (that has been in my Archive of Indecision for four years) initially titled "How A New Power Dawned" now has a higher purpose.

Friday, January 30, 2009

The Other Side of the Mountain

Another novel that haunts me from my past is The Other Side of the Mountain by Michael Bernanos. This one, too, was discovered while shelving books as a high school student. Again, the cover art drew my attention. I actually used this book as the subject of a slide show for an English class project. I created some terra cotta sculptures to illustrate the story, and photographed them outside at the Ipswich River Audubon Sanctuary amongst the roots of trees, partially covered with soil as though the figures were emerging from (or perhaps being swallowed by) the earth itself.

I still have one of the sculptures but my copy of the book is long gone. Many years ago I lent it to a friend who never returned it. Amazon has some interesting reviews of the book which was translated from the French. One reviewer claims that a better translation of the title would be "The Dead Mountain of Life."

Three novels (Marcel Bealu's Experience of the Night; Ruthven Todd's The Lost Traveller; Edgar Allen Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym) are suggested here as possible inspiration for Bernanos' work "that mixes elements of Lovecraftian horror, otherworldly sci fi and hallucinatory adventure. . . there's also a distinctly spiritual dimension."

A Family Failure

The novel A Family Failure (Orion Press, 1970) by Renate Rasp (translated from the German by Eva Figes) is described by the publisher as "a macabre fable of a son's obedience instilled by educational means where the victim sees himself deprived of his own will for his own good. It is a story that has been acted out many times in recent history, and its unemotional tone shows how far we have accepted that an individual life should be moulded in the service of a higher, abstract ideal that goes unquestioned."

As a junior in high school working as a "page" (student book-shelver) at the Peabody Institute Library in Danvers, Massachusetts, I discovered this book and was drawn to the cover art as well as the description on the fly-leaf which reads: "This story of a human being who is maimed for life by the deliberate attempt to force him to become something he can never become is a thoroughly absorbing tale of great strength and originality." I was so moved by the story that I ordered my own copy of the book (which I still have today) from Lauriet's. As a young adult I identified with the narrator's disfunctional life where, denied personal freedom by a will stronger than his own, he is powerless over taking control of his own destiny.

There are two reviews of the novel on Amazon. One review reads, in part: "The book works on two levels. On the one hand, it is the most realistic portrayal of a family suffering under the domination of a psychologically abusive and controlling patriarch that I have ever encountered and, on the other, it is a brilliant allegory illustrating the very real damage done to children whose parents refuse to accept them as they are and try to force them to be something they are not."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Andy Goldsworthy

I've been an admirer of the natural sculptures of Andy Goldsworthy for some time. I first became aware of his work while working as a librarian in Topsfield, Massachusetts. And the bookstore at the Boston Museum of Fine Art stocked a number of books about Goldsworthy which I coveted for their stunning photos of his work with stones, leaves, flower petals, grasses, ice, and what have you.

Last night I watched Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time (2003). Goldsworthy is filmed in the process of creating a number of ephemeral sculptures along rivers and shorelines. Through his commentary the personal philosophy behind his visionary but often short-lived structures is revealed. I came away feeling comforted. Despite the fact that the works of art I create in this short lifetime will not last forever, the fact that I can create them at all seems miraculous enough.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Jaroslav Bradac

Czech artist Jaroslav Bradac created and directed the animated version of "The Treatise" in the 1974 film (which I first mentioned here) of Hermann Hesse's novel Steppenwolf. I just received a copy of the book Herman Hesse Treatise On The Steppenwolf; An Artist's Revelation (Paddington Press, 1975) that reproduces forty-five of Bradac's paintings along with the full text of Hesse's "Treatise on the Steppenwolf," a commentary on the predicament of modern man.

The symbols employed by Bradac in his paintings include spiral shells, palmistry hands, signs of the zodiac, phrenological heads, winged skulls, pentacles, clocks, hourglasses, masks, alchemical signs, labyrinths and chakra diagrams in addition to the ubiquitous drawing of the head of Harry Haller (who strongly resembles Freud) morphing into the wolf of the steppes. Lace doilies and the stock market page provide interesting background texture.

Here's a nice shot of the cover from an extensive 1500 page site on Hermann Hesse. Red Star Cafe mentions Bradac in a May 2008 entry about Steppenwolf. Bradac created illustrations for the children's book series "Uncle Wiggily" including Uncle Wiggily and the Will-a-wong, but for the most part there is little information about him available.

(Update: 13 September 2011 - Nice animated sequence from Steppenwolf on YouTube.)

Old Books

I felt a strong urge to visit the dump on Sunday and I'm glad I followed up on it as I found a lovely two volume New Century Dictionary with wonderful illustrations, in addition to an old leather-bound 1828 bible, and a small volume titled Making Haste to Be Rich; or, The Temptation and Fall (Tales for the Rich & Poor) published in 1852.

Stuck in side the bible was a copy of a 1972 Boston Sunday Globe article: "Old Bibles and their value." The pages are attractively foxed and the paper is heavy.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Animation Software

I'm still moving forward with my exploration of the animation process. I ended up purchasing a used copy of Chris Patmore's The Complete Animation Course, one of the more useful books on my Animation Hit List. It is heavily illustrated and covers a lot of information without getting into too much depth so it is the perfect introduction for someone like me who knows next to nothing about current technology in the animation field.

I've also just added another interlibrary loan book to the Hit List. Published in 2002 so the information is somewhat dated, Jenny Chapman's www.animation; Animation Design for the World Wide Web is nonetheless giving me a good overview of how to create a moving image on the web.

I need to consider very carefully which software I am going to invest in. I have done some reading up specifically about Flash in Phillip Kerman's Macromedia Flash 8 in 24 Hours. I absolutely adore Adobe products so there is that to examine as well. I came across a very useful link (thanks to non-obligatory blogging) which yields an incredible list of animation software: (an Online Training Library whose products are available by subscription). Who knew there were so may choices?

Friday, January 16, 2009

More on MacDowell Colony

Well, I'm still trying to recall the name of the film that I saw that was set at an artist's retreat. I remember the part where lunch was delivered to the cabin in a basket very clearly. The artist's boyfriend was trying to sneak in to see her. She had a sister who was dying of brain cancer or something, still trying to make a go of it at the family farm stand. No string of keywords that I concoct will Google this one up! I could even be thinking of two separate films at this point.

But I found this interesting bit on New Hampshire's MacDowell Colony, the first official artists colony in America.

All Curiosity

As is often the case, Robert Genn's newsletter provided me with some food for thought this morning. In answer to a reader's question about finding the time to explore new ideas, he says:

"You need regularly to move from the assembly line and simply surrender to your intuition, and you need to be guilt free about it. While maybe a seeming distraction, it's the elixir that gives energy and courage to the roll of your production and your life in art. The penchant for exploration has a great deal to do with innate curiosity. Artists have curiosity in degree--some are all output and no curiosity, others are all curiosity and no output."

That last bit just about sums it up for me lately. . . all curiosity and no output. Ever since I came down with the flu right before Christmas I have been unable to work at my art. I have been two weeks trying to unscramble a huge accounting mess, a result of my steadfast avoidance of the issue, and I'm still not done! I have been seeking refuge in films and books which, although providing lots of ideas for collage, have become an escape from unpleasant tasks. . . I need to get back on the assembly line!

Filmed in New Hampshire

I watched a netflick last night that was filmed in Peterborough, New Hampshire: The Sensation of Sight (2006) staring David Strathairn and Jane Adams. The synopsis from Netflix reads "Blaming himself for a tragedy involving one of his students, English teacher Finn leaves his job and family, moves into a boarding house and sells encyclopedias door-to-door in this dreamlike indie drama. As he makes his way through his small New England town, Finn connects with some of the local residents, attracts the attention of single mother Alice and is haunted by a ghost who trails him relentlessly."

This film takes a bit of effort to follow and it moves rather slowly and deliberately at times but I'm glad I stayed with it. David Strathairn is perfect in his role of the suffering teacher and I found it interesting to contrast his performance here as Finn with the despicable character of Truman Lester in A Good Baby (1998).

I recently encountered Jane Adams (who plays a great "on-the-edge" mom) in Jennifer Jason Leigh's dark indie drama The Anniversary Party (which also features Parker Posey, Kevin Kline and Gwyneth Paltrow).

Also of interest. . . Peterborough is home to The MacDowell Colony . Artists may apply for four week to two month residencies at the colony which supplies meals and private studios. There are between 20 and 30 artists (including writers, visual artists, performance artists) at any given time. The colony is open year-round and their web site has some lovely winter photos taken on their grounds.

I seem to recall a film about a female assemblage artist (filmed in black and white?) which may have been set at The MacDowell Colony. Something seen on IFC a few years ago. This is going to bug me until I figure it out!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Steppenwolf on DVD

I watched the film, Steppenwolf the other night and I enjoyed it more that I thought I would. It is often difficult for me to suspend criticism when I see a film version of a book so recently read. The magic theater scenes were dated by their early '70's special effects. It is so easy to achieve that solarized look in photoshop and I am not sure that I would want to.

What really excited me was the animated portion of the "Treatise" produced by Czech artist Jaroslav Bradac. So I will add Steppenwolf to my list of "Favorite Films with Collage" along with White Oleander (which has more assemblage than collage, actually) and The Day of the Locust.

Steve Earle and Tony Fitzpatrick

Back in Beverly when I used to tape off the radio, my favorite station (which only came in late at night) played some great music by Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle. I've just learned that Earle is a Tony Fitzpatrick fan.

The cover art of nine or so of his music CD's are Fitzpatrick collages. There is I Feel Alright (1996) with snakes and flowers; El Corazon (1997) with a Mexican Loteria heart; The Mountain (1999) with magnolia; Transcendental Blues (2000) with a black tulip; Side Tracks (2002) with a star; Jerusalem (2002) with snake; Just an American Boy (2003) with a bird; Revolution Starts. . . Now (2004) with a star; Washington Square Serenade (2007) with a flowered dog; and for die hard vinyl fans, The Mountain will be released as an LP record on January 20th.

And a bit more Tony Fitzpatrick trivia. I read he had a part in Jonathan Demme's 1993 film Philadelphia. It's now #1 in my Netflix queue! (Update 22 Jan. 2009: He plays a bartender.)

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Steppenwolf and the Game of Life

Let me say right off it is a good thing that in my youth I did not care much for the novels of Hermann Hesse. Because now approaching 55 is the perfect age for me to be reading Steppenwolf for the first time. I think as a teenager I might have felt distain for the character of Harry Haller with his obsessive self-absorption, his breathing and thought exercises. But now I can identify with the loner in him so out of step with his times.

How clearly the musician, Pablo sees him: "You have often been solely weary of your life. You were striving, were you not, for escape? You have a longing to forsake this world and its reality and to penetrate to a reality more native to you, to a world beyond time. You know of course where this other world lies hidden. It is the world of your own soul that you seek. Only within yourself exists that other reality for which you long. I can give you nothing that has not already its being within yourself."

My favorite scene is that in which Haller confronts the man with no name sitting in front of the chessboard of life who takes the pieces of Haller's disintegrated self and arranges them. I am reminded here of the creation of collage as ". . . he passed his hand swiftly over the board and gently swept all the pieces into a heap; and, meditatively with an artist's skill, made up a new game of the same pieces with quite other groupings, relationships and enganglements. . . And in this fashion the clever architect built up one game after another out of the figures. . . Each belonged recognizably to the same world and acknowledged a common origin. Yet each was entirely new."

"This is the art of life. . . You may yourself as an artist develop the game of your life and lend it animation. You may complicate and enrich it as you please. It lies in your hands. Just as madness, in a higher sense, is the beginning of all wisdom, so is schizomania [the separation of the unity of the personality into multiple souls or numerous selves] the beginning of all art and all fantasy."

Friday, January 2, 2009

Clyfford Still Museum

This from the January 2009 issue of Art News -- Clyfford Still, born in the US of Canadian parents, proclaimed himself to be self-created and self-taught. He was described during his lifetime as "one of the strongest and original contributors to the rebirth of modern art in America." Still died in 1980 at the age of 75. He had kept almost all of his work (825 oil paintings or about 95% of his lifetime output) which after his death remained unseen in storage until recently. Now the paintings, along with some 1,500 works on paper, are to be housed in Denver in accordance with Still's final wish to bequeath his works to an American city willing to provide permanent headquarters exclusively for their exhibition and study. What more could an artist hope for than to have an entire life's work preserved for perpetuity in its own museum?