Showing posts with label Artists. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Artists. Show all posts

16 May 2014

For Giger: Against the Gigeresque

For Press Play, I wrote about the late H.R. Giger:
H.R. Giger's imagery so deeply influenced the imaginations of film production designers, tattoo artists, fashionistas, magazine illustrators, skateboard designers, and just about everyone other than My Little Pony animators that at this point it's difficult to separate Giger from the gigeresque. What was once outré, repulsive, and disturbing became the Thomas Kincaid style for the cyber/goth set, a quick kitsch to perform a certain idea of taste. You hang Christmas Cottage in your living room to display your pleasant, unthreatening Christianity; I put a poster of Giger’s Li I on my bedroom wall to show how transgressive I am in my deep, dark soul. Each is a sign that communicates immediately, without any need to look for more than a second, because each communicates not through itself but through all the associations is has accumulated.

Of course, this is not fair to Giger the artist, who was much more than his most popular tropes. But that's about as useful as saying van Gogh is much more than a sunflower, a starry sky, and a bandaged ear: obvious, yes, but also beside the point. Giger is mourned and remembered because of the gigeresque.

04 December 2010

John Coulthart on the Hide/Seek Controversy

If you haven't read John Coulthart's commentary on the recent controversy over an exhibit at the Smithsonian, do.  It's called "Ecce Homo Redux".  Here's the first paragraph:
If the news of the past few weeks has felt like a re-run of the 1980s—ongoing recession, government cuts, riots in London, Tories casting aspersions on the undeserving poor, the threat of another royal wedding—then add to the list ofdéjà vu moments a flurry of outrage concerning art and religion in America that’s like a recapitulation of the Helms vs. NEA spats of 1989. On that occasion Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ was in the firing line, accused of being a blasphemous portrayal. This week it’s been the turn of a video installation of a short film made the same year, A Fire in My Belly, by David Wojnarowicz, a work featured in an exhibition I linked to a couple of weeks ago, Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC. Los Angeles Times piece previewing the exhibition also connected Hide/Seek and the earlier attacks by the right against the NEA, ending by saying “Times and attitudes change”. Well, not always…

14 July 2010

Third Bear Carnival: "Shark God vs. Octopus God"

by Eric Schaller

[This post is part of an on-going series of explorations through, investigations with, and inspirations from Jeff VanderMeer's new short story collection, The Third Bear.]

16 April 2009

A Conversation with David Beronä

Over at Colleen Lindsay's digs, The Swivet, I interview David Beronä, who wrote a marvelous book called Wordless Books: The Original Graphic Novels.

One fun bit of trivia I forgot to mention in the intro to the interview -- before David and I had any knowledge of each other, we were both reviewers for Rain Taxi, and you should definitely check out his review there of one of the most recent wordless books to gain a lot of attention, Shaun Tan's The Arrival.

01 September 2008

The Art of Frédéric Chabot

I discovered Frédéric Chabot's work when we were looking for cover artists for Best American Fantasy 2008. We looked at art from a bunch of different people, but I kept coming back to Frédéric's images. For a while, in fact, he was going to be our artist. Alas, the publishing world is mercurial, and in the end some marketing forces pushed us in other directions. It happens all the time, and I certainly understand. But this is such marvelous art, I couldn't help but share my enthusiasm with the world...

More of Frédéric's images are available here and here.

13 July 2008


While watching the marvelous end credit sequence of WALL-E last week, I thought I saw Shaun Tan's name amongst the art department, but I wasn't sure, because I was having too much fun following the concept of the credit sequence to pay close attention to the names. I thought I could rely on IMDB, but no, he's not listed there. Did I dream it? I fired up the ol' Google, though, and voilá -- this article from The Australian, wherein it is said: "...he was commissioned to do art work on the Hollywood children's films Horton Hears a Who and the forthcoming WALL-E. While he enjoyed both jobs and insists he has no complaints, most of his work ended up on the cutting-room floor."

The jaws of Google are vast, though, and they also caught an entry on TOR art director Irene Gallo's blog that is really the point of this whole entry. What they caught was Bob Eggleton's comment: "The ending credits are worth the price of admission and,really underscore the whole film! And yah for Shaun Tan's concept work in it. I HIGHLY recommend THE ART OF WALL-E by Tim Hauser. Has lots of concept art and paintings in it." (Methinks I shall be looking for this Art of WALL-E at the library...)

It's the blog entry that really captured my fancy, though, because in it Irene Gallo presents some images from old covers of F&SF by Mel Hunter and wonders about Hunter's influence on some of the film's designs. Great fun! And I'd never discovered Gallo's blog before, so am happy now to add it to the ever-growing blogroll.

[And what did I think of the film, you ask? It's charming, wonderfully made, particularly magnificent in the first 40 minutes or so, and I agree with Richard and everybody else who has said the last part is stupid, even for a kids' movie. The filmmakers followed the logic of their politics, not the logic of the world they had created -- what would make sense would be for all of the not-quite-right robots to return to Earth, which is a perfectly good and perhaps even paradisaical environment for them, and leave the humans to their spaceship, which is a paradisaical environment for them. The humans give up the utopia they have evolved into and trade it for an agricultural task far beyond their capacity. There is nothing inherently wrong with either world -- they just seem horrifying to us because we privilege our own way of living and our own prejudices about what is and isn't right and good above others, but the spaceship has solved the problem of human happiness (even if it has diminished human free will) and the Earth would be a marvelous playground for the robots, who can withstand its environment. The humans, who cannot withstand its environment without a lot of suffering, trade universal happiness for what is likely to be centuries of toil and misery. There can be no sequel to WALL-E, at least not one that is anything other than a fairy tale, because it would be more brutal than When the Wind Blows.]

19 August 2007

Collaged, Reclaimed, Altered, Eroded, Revised, Invigorated

Via Giornale Nuovo, I just discovered the work of Brian Dettmer, an Atlanta-based artist. Dettmer specializes in the transformation of old objects, many of them books (dictionaries, medical and scientific texts, histories), which he meticulously digs into and carves up. In some of his most recent work, he has even cored the books to create an extraordinary effect -- they look to me like blocks of wood in which worlds of words and little pictures have ripened, entangled, and exploded.

Dettmer doesn't just create new worlds with old books; he also transforms other objects -- for instance, building a lovely rosebush from old videocassettes, or creating what looks like a rotted animal carcass from cassette tapes. In 2003, he moved from manipulating objects to manipulating sound, sculpting "ReAddress" from George W. Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address: "A few minute minutes of recorded sound became hundreds of separate audio files that become recontextualized when played randomly through a computer media player. New word streams, phrases, and meanings emerge as the language continuously re-structures in real time."

Dettmer's creations remind me of a couple of other things -- first, Thomas Allen's photographs of pulp paperbacks carved so that their covers gain new dimensions. (I'd love to see the two artists collaborate.)

I was also reminded of Kenneth Goldsmith's ideas of conceptual poetics or uncreative writing, because much of what Goldsmith seems to advocate creates a kind of object from texts and textual processes, an object that includes the text but doesn't require reading so much as it requires noticing and perceiving, which makes such work less like writing than like sculture or construction.

In any case, I love this sort of art, the reconception and recontextualization of objects. Collage and reclamation; alteration and erosion; invigoration by revision.

19 July 2007

Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination

I'm back in New Hampshire for a few days, and yesterday journeyed to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts to see the exhibit "Joseph Cornell: Navigating the Imagination", which I'd first heard of when it was at the Smithsonian, and then read about in the Times, and thought: I have to see that.

Cornell is pretty much my favorite North American artist, which isn't to say I think he's the best (whatever that means), but that it is his work I respond to most viscerally. I spent two hours in the galleries of the exhibit, wandering back and forth between displays, staring, daydreaming, looking at details, imagining Cornell's hands and tools as he assembled his boxes and collages. In one place, there is a display of some items saved from Cornell's workshop, and I was thrilled, because artists' studios particularly fascinate me, housing, as they do, the the mundane choice-making and inexplicable inspirations that combine, through craft and art, in creation.

Many people have tried to express the attraction of Cornell's work, focusing often on the extraordinary balance between nostalgia and formalism, sentimentality and austerity, creepiness, childishness, yearning, hope, sadness, naivety. As I wandered through the galleries, though, I realized that one of the things I most appreciate in Cornell's work is that it doesn't inspire words in me -- it exists in a realm entirely outside language, which is almost a paradoxical statement given that plenty of his works utilize items with text on them. But they aren't texts to me, they are shapes and patterns and evocations.

The exhibition is apparently the first Cornell retrospective in 26 years, and it includes quite a few pieces that have never been shown publicly before. It also includes 7 films Cornell made, making this the first time his films have been shown in conjunction with his other artworks. I watched two, "A Legend for Fountains" (which I found both transfixing and heartbreaking in some weird way) and "Rose Hobart", which I'd seen before, but which feels very different when projected on a big wall.

A few Cornell links:

14 May 2007

Glorious Eccentrics by Mary Ann Caws

For the past couple of months, I've been dipping into Glorious Eccentrics: Modernist Women Painting and Writing, a delightful and enlightening book that offers essays on a variety of women who lived their lives according to their own senses of propriety and integrity. The essays are partly biographical, partly analytical, but the book makes no attempt to present comprehensive studies of these women -- instead, it is a celebration and reclamation of particular people in particular moments.

Some of the women here are receiving attention they have long deserved, while at least one, Dora Carrington, is likely to be familiar to many general readers, at least via the movie in which Emma Thompson portrayed her. The other women in the book may be familiar to specialists or devotees in some fields: Claude Cahun (about whom I've written here before), Paula Modersohn-Becker, Emily Carr, Dorothy Bussy, Suzanne Valadon, and Judith Gautier.

Caws's tone is often light, but her sentences are full of information and insights. At first, I thought the book lacked structure and import, but by the second chapter, I had changed my mind completely -- the wonder of the book lies less in its individual portraits of each woman than in the force that comes from comparison and accumulation. Caws is not just celebrating interesting lives, lives deserving more notice -- she is showing ways that women learned to live according to their own standards, ways that women crafted lives for themselves in societies and cultures where the sorts of lives they wanted to live were seldom rewarded and were often perilous. Some of the choices these women made took tolls, but many of them opened up possibilities and pleasures that less daring people (of any gender) might envy.

Glorious Eccentrics is a marvelous book not just because it does the good and noble work of bringing the art and lives of some wonderful women out of whatever shadows covered them, but because it tells lively stories about these women. Each chapter has a different sort of approach, because, as Caws says at the beginning,
Most appealing to me are the crucial moments of their lives or thoughts, those crisis points that mold the mind and heart and grip the imagination. I have chosen to speak of these women because their very intensity beckons my own -- not the particulars of their lives, but the odd details that challenge society's norms and beckon to us others, eccentric in our own way, often interior.
It is those moments that Caws makes fascinating and appealing by using the women's own words whenever possible, as any good scholar might, but also by stretching a bit, speculating. For instance, about one of Carrington's portraits of Lytton Strachey, she writes,
The painting conveys all the wonder and terror of Carrington's adoration. How private it is: how it should not be shown to others. Here is the surprising part, until we try to understand it a bit: even not to the person loved. His portrait, with its so clear statement of adoration, is not always to be shared, in agony of soul, with the very person adored. The dread is double: showing it to others, but also showing it to the beloved. Intimacy does not require, in all cases, the sharing of the expression of emotion. Here is Carrington's profound instinctive comprehension of something indeed too deep for words. It is the image itself that reaches the profoundest depths. She has loved Lytton the way few people have the ability to love. Even during the rages of jealousy portrayed in the descriptions of her, alone, outside the lit windows of the house where Lytton is with his male lovers, and she sees them through the windowpanes, even during the loneliness and her own incapacities for painting, about which she always blames herself, it will be this relation of her mind and heart to the one she so terribly loves that will matter.
(I'm sure it's not to everyone's taste, but I love how that last sentence whirls out of control with passion.)

Love -- its creative and destructive power -- is a theme running through many of these lives, and both Carrington and Dorothy Bussy loved gay men (in Bussy's case, André Gide). The chapter on Bussy is a masterpiece, because in it Caws quotes at length from Bussy's letters and journals, trying to show, as she later tries to show with Carrington, that her love was not something to be scoffed at, dismissed, or marginalized, as many writers (about the men) have done. About the relationships between Bussy and Gide, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and Carrington and Strachey, she writes,
In my view, neither the various household arrangements nor the various emotional involvements were unsuitable, for, despite the anguish, they worked. In each case, a strong-minded and artistically oriented woman, married to a heterosexual man, remained in her most important relation with a man oriented toward other men. In each case, it was the singular and "inappropriate", thus eccentric, relation that lasted as the crucial one, for the work and the life of both beloved and loving -- each dependent upon the other. We have only to reread these letters between Dorothy and the man she spent her life loving and translating to see the essential nature of the relation between them. These three beloved men, all extraordinary, all homosexual, were able, for all the pain caused by the inbalance [sic] of their relations, to nourish the mind and work of the imaginative and strong personalities that these women were. We too have to make a true reading as best we can.
I'm not sure it's possible to offer any sort of "true reading", but I do like Caws's attempt to offer a different one, one opposed to the often trivializing readings of most of the men's biographers. She may err toward celebration, but that, to me, is preferable to the opposite.

There's much more -- more stories, more words, more sparkling moments of insight.

My greatest regret about the book is that the paintings reprinted in it are reprinted in black and white, which makes them seem far more drab than they are. Even the cover of the book, though reprinting a marvelous Cahun photograph, is drab, is this is unfortunate, because what is contained here is anything but drab.

I wish I had boxes of this book to give away to young writers and artists of all sorts, male and female. We need more eccentrics, and we should never be afraid to glorify them.