As seen in the wild:
I recently had the pleasure of seeing an exhibit of Robert J. Lang’s exquisite origami at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. If you’re not familiar with Mr. Lang’s work do yourself a favor and check out the wonderful documentary Between the Folds, which aired on PBS a while back and featured numerous other origami artists such as the master himself, Akira Yoshizawa. Robert J. Lang also has a TED talk where he discusses his process in greater detail.
Renegade Darwinist/zoologist and truly “mesmerizing” illustrator Ernst Haeckel may have caused quite a stir when he posited organic matter as originating from inorganic matter through spontaneous generation. However, he’s most surely better known for his incessant visual chronicling of our planet’s oddest lifeforms and their myriad variations of form and color. In his article on the Public Domain Review, Dr Mario A. Di Gregorio, professor of the History of Science at the University of L’Aquila and author of From Here to Eternity: Ernst Haeckel and Scientific Faith, offers insight into the origins of Haeckel’s theories and the mind-bending art that came from his obsessive depictions of the Kunstformen der Natur, or Art Forms in Nature, which Haeckel published in 1904.
I just received my handmade vinyl record clock from vinylclockwork and love it! Mine was carved out of a Roger Williams LP on the classic and colorful Kapp Records label. I opted for the free-form version that I thought added to the uniqueness of the piece, though there is a ringed version with abbreviated (3, 6, 9, 12) numbering and a cool dot pattern fill. As a vinyl record collector I can assure you that no listenable albums were harmed in the making of these clocks. I applaud these folks and others who find a creative way to deal with the mountains of corny, cheesy, syrupy goo that our parents and grand parents listened to and that now collect dust by the crate-load.
I stumbled upon this blog post containing some remarkable photographs of cold war era monuments that seem right out of a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie. My favorite is this one located on a hilltop in Podgarić, Croatia and also immortalized on this Yugoslavian postage stamp. From what I can dig up it appears to be a WWII memorial made of concrete and aluminum and was possibly erected in 1967. I remember seeing some similarly powerful Soviet-era monuments while travelling in Vietnam, but none as striking as these. What’s probably most eerie about them to me are the photographs themselves. The monuments certainly don’t seem contemporary, but instead rather futuristic and they appear more like relics of a lost civilization situated in uninhabited landscapes much like Inca and Mayan monuments must have looked to early bushwhackers. Days of Future Passed!
I wish I could fly to New York to see this exhibit more than is possible to describe here. I’ve been a fan of World War 3 Illustrated since I first landed in NYC in the summer of 1988. It wasn’t more than a week before I had seen a striking hand-drawn poster plastered to an abandoned building in Alphabet City showing proletariat fists rising in defiance of police-like figures holding back barking dogs. I remember thinking that I had to meet the person who made this poster. Well, I did. His name was Seth Tobocman and he was an illustrator/artists living in the East Village who was highly involved in social and political movements, something that came through clearly in his art. I was a big fan of Frans Masereel and immediately saw a resemblance in Seth’s work in both style and motivation. I tracked him down after having recognized his bold, graphic style in a local comic/art/zine called World War 3, which I soon found out was published by Seth and his friend and fellow illustrator, Peter Kuper.
Chicago-based artist Tony Fitzpatrick has presented a mesmerizing collection of print/collage works in No. 9, An Artist’s Journal currently on view at Slugfest Gallery in Austin, TX. Comprised of several pieces all roughly 7.5 inches wide by 10.5 inches tall, the collection tells stories of places traveled and people known (and lost) as revealed in the subtle clues embedded using symbolic imagery and collaged objects. The ephemeral quality of the works are the result of both the actual bits of precisely cut graphic images adhered to the surface as well as the melancholic nature of the pieces as a whole. Mr. Fitzpatrick stacks cutout handwritten words in columns within each image that form poems that possibly hint at the meanings of each piece or perhaps of a moment experienced in the “story.” He frames each work with three or four matchbook covers, one in each corner of the piece. These matchbooks, which appear to date anywhere from the 1940’s through the 1960’s, often hail from bars and restaurants in New Orleans, a richly storied city where Mr. Fitzpatrick has spent some time. In fact, you may have seen his work on the cover of the Neville Brothers classic 1989 album Yellow Moon, to which he attributes the initial boost to his career as a visual artist.
The works in No. 9 strongly resemble–and are possibly a subset of a larger series of–works previously exhibited in New Orleans during the Prospect 1 Biennial earlier this year. Those works were also of similar scale and composition as the ones in No. 9 and were possibly even more compelling shown in New Orleans. However, beyond their obvious cultural references, the thread that runs throughout No. 9 and is even part of the Slugfest exhibition’s namesake is a reference to a dear, departed friend of Mr. Fitzpatrick, who bears the tattoo “No. 9” on his forearm as a memorial to his friend who would always say goodbye by reminding folks to be careful because “we’re already on our 9th life.”
Dubbed “Space Art in Children’s Books,” this very simply presented website is a treasure trove of pre-space era through post-Apollo mission illustrations which appeared in astronomy and science books beginning as far back as 1883 with Agnes Giberne’s romantic visions in Sun, Moon and Stars : A Book for Beginners. As a child of the Apollo era, just barely old enough to remember the famous lunar touchdown, I’m thrilled to see such a collection of wondrous images available online. To the moon…and beyond!
Talk about “visual junk.” If your notion of Dada is no more than a Duchamp urinal then please click on over to UbuWeb (with your French-English dictionary) and peruse their Dada Magazine archive. Founded by Tristan Tzara in an attempt to broaden the reach of Dada’s core ideas throughout Europe, Dada (the magazine) published works of art, prose and poetry and survives as a wonderful example of early DIY subculture publishing both in content and form. Of the three issues available online, Dada 3, published in December of 1918, is the most striking of the titles sporting some innovative page layouts and a terrific cover design (inset). Notable contributors over the years included Giorgio de Chirico, Robert Delaunay, and Wassily Kandinsky just to name a few.
If you’re in the NYC area and you haven’t made it to MoMA in a while, now would be the time to do so. Design and the Elastic Mind is a new exhibit which examines how designers of all kinds are exploring advances in science and technology—not to mention the changes in how we both view and relate to the world around us—in order to rethink who we are and how we spend our limited time here on spaceship Earth. This exhibit, which takes a few hours to really soak in, makes it clear that we are on the verge of, if not deeply immersed in, a fundamental leap in our thinking, doing and being. There are sublime examples of how data sources such as internet traffic and prison incarceration-vs.-spending can be visualized in new ways and for new means. The innovative concept of “thinkering” is often evoked in the demonstration of how everyday objects can have uses and lives beyond their original purpose. In many of the projects on display the roles of scientist, inventor and designer are virtually interchangeable though they are mainly presented in the context of design. Even if you do make it to the exhibit I highly recommend spending an afternoon clicking around the wonderful website that MoMA created which reflects the character of the exhibit in its approach to user experience and information design. As a visual designer I was inspired by Design and the Elastic Mind to look beyond the current hype of green and sustainable design and reexamine not only what I do but how and why. I’ll keep you posted on what I discover.
Okay, so I’m a few months late posting this, but here it is nonetheless. The 2008 version of TheBrainDesign’s Publikum Calendar is a socialist nightmare of graphic design and visual anarchy somehow corralled into a website, downloadable calendar and video documentary–just to name a few of the outlets for this inspiring international effort. The designers and artist represented hail from all over Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. If nothing else, it’s visually interesting stuff. And, yes, these images to the right are each different months of the Publikum Calendar.
Pedal on over to Taliah Lempert’s unique collection of bicycle “portraits” and see if you can find your own…model that is. The bikes in her artwork belong people she knows and, she claims, represent an extension of their personalities. She has a loose painterly style that fits the portraiture concept and clearly has developed a mastery of capturing her subjects’ likeness. Oh, and check out her coloring book, while you’re there.
If you’ve ever been crate-digging and stumbled upon an LP or 7-inch with Jim Flora’s cover art, you most likely bought it regardless of the music the record contained. At least, that’s been my experience. These covers are truly works of art and often outshine the music therein. Long the stuff of record geeks’ collections, Flora’s art has managed to slowly infiltrate the public’s consciousness largely by the efforts of one man. Irwin Chusid, a long-time WFMU DJ and Jim Flora archivist coined the term “Outsider Music” and was responsible for bringing to light such important, but previously overlooked artists as Esquivel, The Langley Schools Music Project and Raymond Scott just to name a few. The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora is the second book on the artist by Chusid, who is by now considered the authority on the subject and even co-maintains the official Jim Flora blog. As the title suggests, Flora’s normally playful graphic style is taken for a more sinister ride in the works featured in this book, which also includes several unpublished sketches and paintings. The Curiously Sinister Art of Jim Flora is an absolute must-have for both music and art lovers, fine or otherwise. And if you are going to be in the Seattle area now through October 24th, be sure to catch the exhibition of the same name currently on view at the Fantagraphics Book Store to see many of these works first hand.
This tome of Ed Ruscha’s word drawings should satisfy both lovers of contemporary art and designers alike. They Called Her Styrene collects almost 600 ‘word’ artworks created by Ruscha since the early 1960s onward, which he executed in a variety of mediums including pastel, graphite, acrylic, gunpowder and even vegetable and fruit juices. While some pieces are as deadpan as the image on the book’s cover, others are stunning renderings of three-dimensional ribbon-like words. Shaped like a good sized brick, you’re sure to have enough room for this must-own monograph on your coffee table.
Though it may not have been his intention, Dr. Alesha Sivartha’s masterpiece of mysticism and typography, The Book of Life: The Spiritual and Physical Constitution of Man, is truly a work of art. While difficult to follow at first, the often densely worded drawings and diagrams created in the late 1800s do eventually begin to make sense—if only on a per-page basis. Nevertheless, rarely have form and function been so perfectly melded, ala Edward Tufte—though way before his time. Sivartha, a.k.a. Arthur Merton, MD, was allegedly the illegitimate son of the Rajah Ram Mohun Roy, a prominent Indian scholar and reformer. While little is known about his life or why he chose to dedicate it to mapping out the physical and spiritual nature of our higher brain functions, his apparent relation to the Raja may have been the impetus. An online version of the book maintained by the author’s great-great-grandson, complete with his own interpretations, is located here.