Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Illustration: Moebius’ Project Pendulum

June 2nd, 2013

I’ve always got a few book illustration side projects that I wish I had more time to work on (story of my life). So, when I see some inspiring images, I take note.

Here are some great illustrations by French artist Jean Giraud Moebius from the sci-fi book ‘Project Pendulum’. I found these on a great book arts blog called Tenth Letter of the Alphabet. Check it out for some other font, logo, and illustration gems.

Project Pendulum 08 Project Pendulum 04

Art, Drawing

Inspiration: Art Deco Neckline

December 17th, 2012



I love me some pin-tucks.


Art, Design

Is This Lady Gaga’s Motorcycle Father?

May 27th, 2011

In promotion of their new (and pretty damn great) Cloud Drive streaming media service, Amazon was offering Lady Gaga’s new record Born This Way for just 99 cents. Now, I’ve never been the biggest fan of her music, but I thought I may as well own a complete record to give her a fair chance — you know, seeing as how she’s one of the most popular artists in the world.

Disappointingly, I wasn’t won over by this record. Instead, I found it even more cloyingly campy and difficult to listen to than I anticipated. It seems I’m just not cut out to be one of Gaga’s Little Monsters.

In disproportion to my interest in her actual music, it is telling that I have now written three posts on Gaga. In fact, I have always admired Lady Gaga as an art director and performer. I think that she and her team come up with some of the catchiest, strangest, most referentially brilliant props and performance conceits in modern memory (her meat dress and cigarette sunglasses come to mind). Now, I don’t find the becycled cover of Born This Way to be brilliant, exactly, but I was pleased that it recalled one of my favorite old pinball machines, Centaur. Back when I first saw the straight-out-of-the-80s Centaur machine at a bar in Seattle, I remember thinking the concept of a centaur being half-man and half-motorcycle was funny but strangely compelling. Would this form factor be a gift or a curse? It’s difficult to tell…

…and now I’m thinking the cover just might be kinda brilliant — an aptly odd metaphor for the whole pop-machine Gaga identity whirlwind… Damn! She got me again!

Perhaps the only question that remains is: who wore it better?

Art, Design, Music , , , ,

Art At Auction: The Game

January 29th, 2011

Holed away inside a rental cabin in the thick, rainy, forest near Washington’s Mount Baker, I happened upon an unexpected treasure: a board game from the early 1970′s about buying and selling fine art at auction. The box featured a surly cast of fiscally flush archetypes straight out of some airport intrigue novel — all of them bidding against each other to take ownership of the masterworks that line the walls around them. The game was called Masterpiece.

Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Renoir — paintings by the world’s most famous artists are on the auction block, for sale to the highest bidder. How high will you bid before the tension and bluffing get to you? And how good’s your eye — can you spot a forgery when you buy one?

The MASTERPIECE game combines the excitement of a fast-paced board game with the glamour and sophistication of a game that deals with fine art. Some of the world’s greatest paintings, illustrated in full-color postcards, are an integral part of gameplay.

The high-stakes world of international art — and the power plays of an auction — will entertain and enlighten as you join a particularly eccentric group of collectors who’ve all come in search of a MASTERPIECE.

The version of the game that I played, the original, featured works from the collection of The Art Institute of Chicago, including Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day, and even relative newcomer Jackson Pollock’s Greyed Rainbow.

The game was designed for Parker Brothers by master toy design firm Marvin Glass Associates (in an office located, at the time, just a few blocks away from the Art Institute in downtown Chicago). The firm had recently created the classic bug flipping game Ants In The Pants and, with Masterpiece, someone at the firm apparently wanted to take things a few notches up the cultural ladder. You know, in order to teach young people about something culturally relevant… something like the concept of art as commodity.

The cast of characters that you play in the game are gross caricatures of the wealthy “art collecting class”. You’ve got shady Barons, huffy intellectuals, and plenty of inherited or stolen wealth. I imagine in 1970, after a Hippie youth uprising and in the midst of a distinctly anti-establishment movement throughout the country, I too would be tempted to turn a few screws into the elite class — snobbish, self-possessed pricks throwing their ill-gotten money away on a bunch of old paint and canvas. Also, the way that the value of the paintings in the game get assigned randomly according to chance presents a similarly jaded viewpoint, and helps to reinforce the silliness and greed of the collectors themselves.

It is in this same spirit that contemporary artists like Andy Warhol were managing to both make fun of the art market and also to prosper within it. By 1971, Warhol’s Factory was openly taking commissions for silk-screened portraits at a price of $25,000 apiece, milking dough from these same tasteless collectors by giving them what they really wanted: pictures of themselves.

Artists would soon attempt to opt out of this system of commodification completely. So called ‘conceptual art’ was popularized in the 1970s, led by artists such as Sol LeWitt, who didn’t sell objects, but instead sold sets of directions that allowed his ideas to be realized by others. Ideas became valuable, simultaneously owned by everyone and no one. On Kawara made simple paintings that depicted simply the date of the work’s creation in white text on a black ground. He and others produced ideas and objects easily copied by whomever found them appealing. This body of work was a cry for freedom from a much more elite world of painterly talent, schooling, and expensive materials. Anyone with a love for ideas could feel free to collect without worrying much about things like money or rarity. However, the irony of this populist subversion was, of course, that the collection and subsequent high market value of such ‘immaterial’ work has served perhaps to alienate the general public from the art world even more.

In any case, games such as Masterpiece certainly don’t help to re-frame a dismissive opinion of art and its buyers. As much as this game no doubt served to introduce many people to beautiful works by renowned artists, it also primed them to understand the world of fine art with a veneer of contempt. Unfortunately, the “masterpiece” of the game turns out to be whatever random work gets randomly assigned the game’s only million dollar price tag. It seems sad that a whole generation of kids grew up with this slanted notion of artistic value, when they probably should have been taught that it is possible to have a real relationship with art — a meaningful and ongoing conversation based on their own ideas, empathy for artists and their historical environments, and maybe even a little wonder thrown in for good measure.

Back at the cabin, my curiosity got the better of me, and we ended up playing a round of Masterpiece. I felt a rush of satisfaction as I snatched up Mary Cassatt’s gorgeous The Child’s Bath, only to be immediately crestfallen to see that I had apparently overpaid. In the end, I must report that the game really wasn’t very much fun. In a real auction, you get to assert your love for a work of art by bidding on it. The amount you’re willing to pay becomes what the work is worth to you — what the work is worth in the real world. In the game, you are often forced to acknowledge that your love was misguided when the work turns out to be worth half of what you paid for it. Your confidence in your own taste and in the artist is deflated, and you try to trick someone else into taking the ‘dud’ off your hands. This dynamic kinda sucks.

Everyone at the table agreed that the game was lackluster, but we also saw promise in the basic premise of an art collecting game. If I were to redesign the game, I might encourage players to defend or steal the works they love from other players, designate their own ‘masterpiece’ to pursue, or at least award a bonus to the biggest collection of art at the end of the game. Though the game would still be unavoidably focused on art as a commodity, at least it would also consider the artistic tastes of the players themselves and give a value to the art itself as something more than a stand-in for cash.

The thrill of the sale must never usurp the much more significant and meaningful thrill that accompanies an association with beauty, vision, and genius. That’s the real trip of the art collector.

Art, Ideas

Behind the Scenes at Bloedel Reserve

November 7th, 2010

Shortly after I published a previous article detailing the impact of my first visit to the sublime Bloedel Reserve, I received a lovely note from Ed Moydell, the reserve’s new Executive Director. It seems that he and I shared something in common — we were both deeply moved by our first impressions of Bloedel and we both wished that more people outside the gardening community knew about the place. In pursuit of the latter, Ed offered to take Sara and I on a behind the scenes tour of the grounds, where we took in the sights and smells of Fall as we discussed the past and, more importantly, the future of Bloedel Reserve.

Bloedel Reserve is luckier than most organizations and experiences that are vying for the attention of people these days in that not only is the place itself amazing, but it has an incredible history — a rich genesis story of family, love, art, forestry, and architecture that is fun to turn around in your head as you reflect on what the place means to you.

Narrative such as these offer an avenue for understanding and sympathy that, in turn, leads to deeply felt connection on a personal level. For instance, there’s a reason why a whole new crowd of people all of a sudden wanted to go see Prince live in concert after the semi-autobiographical film Purple Rain came out. The fact is, that once you give something a context — a framework for understanding — even the best experiences somehow seem better and more interesting. It’s a fact that concerts seem better when you know the words to the songs, but they seem doubly awesome when you feel like you know the performers themselves. More locally, one of the smallest, slowest towns around — Forks, WA — became a tourist destination just because it was the setting for vampire love in the Twilight book series. People naturally try to project a narrative onto everything they encounter, and they love it when that narrative already exists. Bloedel Reserve might not quite have vampires (or Prince), but the place does have a story to tell.

Bloedel does have challenges, though, as they try to start a conversation with a new group of would-be visitors. Even though they’ve got the charm and the pedigree, getting the word out to a new generation that may not exactly be open to hearing anything about a “garden” is a challenging project, to be sure. How do you make a place like Bloedel sound relevant to people before they experience it for themselves? How do you communicate the poignant environments, the history, the architecture, and the unmistakable feeling (energetically relaxed?) this place instills in you? Is this a brand you can deliver on with just history and a walk through the grounds, or do you have to add another layer or two to the experience? What are those other layers? Parties? Picnics? Concerts? Lectures? Interactive Video? How many layers can you add before you’re not telling the same story anymore?

You can’t shout a bedtime story, but there’s always a way to get more people to hear you without sacrificing the effect of what you’re saying. In today’s hyper-connected world, people are learning that they don’t necessarily have to talk louder to spread a story. Instead, they try to get the community to retell the story amongst themselves. Going viral is the new network TV. Fortunately for Bloedel, a good story is first ingredient in this elusive recipe.

Anyway, this challenge — of perception, appeal, and publicity — is one of the many things we discussed with Ed while we were on our walk. We also talked a lot about the recent improvements and future plans for the grounds at Bloedel.

A big draw of the Bloedel experience is the way that you almost feel like you’ve got the place to yourself as you explore its vast acreage. In order to increase the amount of visitors to the Reserve — and still retain this feeling of solitude — the park is on a trajectory to add even more pathways and open up more areas of the grounds to the public. One of the most exciting is called Fern Hill.

Fern Hill is on the eastern side of the grounds down the hill from the main house and close to the water. Once it is open, you will be able to enjoy numerous vistas overlooking Puget Sound as you wind your way through the ferns and giant trees of the forest. Adding more opportunities for ocean views highlights another unique and very ‘Northwestern’ aspect of Bloedel Reserve. When I think of this part of the country, the combination of water with lush green forests is very much at the front of my mind. This is a tiny slice of Puget Sound in its most elemental state.

At the end of our tour, Ed brought Sara and I into the guest house in the middle of the Japanese garden. A building tailor-made for hosting, this low-slung retreat is a nexus of glass, wood, and paper. If Mad Men’s Bert Cooper was looking for a vacation home on Bainbridge Island, this building would certainly do the trick. The place, designed by architect Paul Hayden Kirk, is amazing — possessing of a feeling of structure and openness that stems from the fact that none of the interior rooms are completely walled off. The open floor plan coupled with the 360 degree wrap-around porch makes this house the ultimate place to throw a soiree.

Outside, a zen rock garden calms the spot where the swimming pool used to be. Family friend and Pulitzer prize winning poet Theodore Roethke drowned here in 1963, the victim of a heart attack. The family ordered the pool filled in the very next day. There is no plaque, but the mysterious power of this hidden history lends this part of the garden a dark but redemptive essence.

In fact, it is easy to imagine that you are being accompanied by various spirits as you walk the grounds of the reserve. This is a place where people lived, and in many ways it feels occupied still. Perhaps Ed should set up a summer movie night where everyone can sit on the lawn and watch My Neighbor Totoro, Hayao Miyazaki’s lively ode to forest spirits, friendship, and family. This might be a fun way to introduce a whole new generation to the wonder and the magic that the natural world communicates to those that take the time to listen.

Bloedel Reserve is a truly a place for wonder and magic. Go Listen.

Design, Life, Photography , , , , , ,

The Met’s Tinterow on Picasso

October 1st, 2010

Recently at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC was an exhibition of hundreds of works by Picasso from the museum’s permanent collection. Curator Gary Tinterow talks with Charlie Rose in a revealing, warm, and varied discussion of Picasso, the Met’s checkered history toward the artist, and the discoveries they made while putting together the exhibition. It’s quite long (it is an episode of Charlie Rose, after all) but you’ll be rewarded with a candid history and an in depth look at several of the more significant works from the show, such as Seated Harlequin from 1901.

Art, Painting , , , , ,