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 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.
Thanks to @brandi_duncan for turning me on to FaceOut Books and their inspiring blog, which features among others these wonderful book covers designed by Alvin Lustig. Reminiscent of Alexander Steinweiss’ covers for Columbia records, Lustig exploited the silhouette as design element and hand-drawn scripts to wonderfully tasteful heights. If you’ve read any of the books whose covers he designed for authors as varied as Franz Kafka to Henry James you will probably find that they were equally illustrative from a context standpoint. One can see resemblances to fellow modernist Paul Rand in the geometric and free-form shapes he used as well as his love for color. Check them out and be inspired.
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.
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.
Can’t afford an over-priced masterpiece? Then get a virtual drawing by a potential art star in exchange for one of your own at Sketch Swap, where it’s “Draw 1 to get 1.” As the site’s description reads: “you draw something on the screen, and when you’re finished, you hit “Submit drawing”… to receive a random drawing from someone else.” All submitted drawings require approval before being added to the pool of available drawings to be swapped, so get those dirty thoughts out of your head.
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.