Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Art I'm Making: More Collages (September 2-3)

In the past week I've completed a couple more collages. Untitled Collage No. 67 (Santa Rosa) shown at the top uses more of the raspberry colored papers I've recently made but also incorporates bits and pieces leftover from older work.

BelowUntitled Collage No. 68 (Santa Rosa) uses a piece of green paper with graphite scribbling on it as well as some deep blue papers and a scrap of dark blue mono-printed paper that involved scraping into the paint on the glass with different tools to create lines of various sizes. These two were completed on September 2 and September 3.

Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage and photography website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).


Visit my studio during the 2014 Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, Saturday and Sunday, October 11th and 12th and Saturday and Sunday, October 18th and 19th, 2014



Books I'm Reading: The Jim Stringer Mysteries by Andrew Martin

I'm not a fan of mysteries. Most mysteries seem hopelessly contrived. Usually my reaction to reading or trying to read one is annoyance, but Andrew Martin's Jim Stringer--a reluctant detective who really wants to be a steam locomotive driver--was a pleasure to follow through the four Jim Stringer mysteries so far published. The last one (Murder at Deviation Junction) first appeared in 2007, however, which makes me wonder if there will be more. I hope there are. Martin has captured the mood of his chosen setting (England in the early 1900s) so masterfully that reading the books feels like time travel--with a railway-obsessed young man as Cicerone. The heavy use of railway jargon, particularly in the first book (The Necropolis Railway), is confusing at first, but once you get used to Jim Stringer's language and settle in to the backstage railway world he inhabits, the stories are compelling.

Art I'm Making: Yet More Collages (August 2014)

Visiting a friend recently, I sampled some of his favorite chocolate bars, exotically flavored with green tea, cardamom, and other ingredients. They come in velvety paper wrappers that I just couldn't resist using in a couple of new collages. These are Untitled Collage No. 65 (Santa Rosa) and Untitled Collage No. 66 (Santa Rosa). The wrinkled red paper and the orange paper are from the chocolate bars. I finished these two at the end of August.

Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage and photography website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).


Visit my studio during the 2014 Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, Saturday and Sunday, October 11th and 12th and Saturday and Sunday, October 18th and 19th, 2014

Books I'm Reading: The Nobility of Failure


Originally published in 1975, Morris’s influential The Nobility of Failure was recently re-released by Kurodahan Press in a new paperback edition, making it readily available again. I’ve just finished it. The book still reads well after 40 years.

Morris’s central contention, supported by ten extended essays, is that throughout their history the Japanese have been so deeply drawn to sincerity of purpose that outcomes are virtually irrelevant in constructing hero stories—that failure may actually be preferable to success in a model Japanese hero, so long as the hero pursues his cause with sincerity. Morris starts by reaching back into prehistory to identify the legendary Yamato Takeru as the nation’s ur-hero, whose trajectory he sees as a kind of template for the pattern of initial success and subsequent downfall the author presents as common to the heroes of the essays comprising the bulk of the book.

Morris makes his case well, but the suggestion that Japan is unique in this regard may overstep the evidence, at least a little bit. The general pattern of admiration for a doomed underdog is more widespread than the book’s thesis admits, even if heroes in Japan seem to come to their end more than usually frequently by their own hand. Other nations have similarly revered failed heroes, some of whom have been posthumously elevated to near-mythical status. Great Britain has more than its fair share—Boudica, Oliver Cromwell, arctic explorer Scott, T.E. Lawrence. Still, the combined effect of reading the stories here of figures who rose then fell back to Earth in a futile struggle, suggests convincingly that the Japanese have an especially deep sympathy for this type of character, even if the author makes no attempt to examine why that might be so. Morris’s writing is clear, precise, and highly readable, in places having the sweep of a novel, despite being aimed as much at the specialist as at the general reader. The book is entertaining and it retains its appeal as a well-written piece of historical psychology that offers still-useful insights into Japan’s cultural history.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Art I'm Making: New Collages (August-September 2014)

I continue to make collages at a fairly steady pace--roughly finishing one a week. Here are Untitled Collage No. 63 (Santa Rosa) and Untitled Collage No. 64 (Santa Rosa). Both use new papers I've created in raspberry and dark blue-black colors with a lot of striping and scratching done with a cake decorating tool and the back end of a paint brush.

Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage and photography website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).


Visit my studio during the 2014 Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, Saturday and Sunday, October 11th and 12th and Saturday and Sunday, October 18th and 19th, 2014

Wines I'm Making: Grapes Coming Along Nicely (September 3, 2014)

We're probably still several weeks to harvest, but I tested a couple of berries on the vines today, just to see how things were progressing. A single Sangiovese berry measured 21 degrees Brix, a cabernet berry 20 degrees Brix. In a couple of weeks I'll start taking sample berries from clusters all around our little vineyard to get an idea of the average ripeness of the fruit, but above 20 degrees Brix at this date suggests harvest may be on the early side this year. I like to pick the Sangiovese (for making rosé) at about 23 Brix, the Cabernet at 24-25 Brix. Depending on the weather a one degree increase in sweetness can take a week or more. We may be picking toward the end of September rather than in the second week of October, which has been typical. 2014 will be our 11th vintage. Soon I'll bottle the 2013 Cabernet, which will give us ten years of winemaking in bottle. Time for a vertical tasting soon.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Cocktail Glass Collection: The 500 Club at Night

I've been posting photos of neon cocktail glass signs in front of bars off and on again for about a year now--a low-key project I indulge in just for fun. I've photographed the big sign in front of San Francisco's 500 Club on Valencia street before, but only during the day--until recently. I happened to drive by the place at night. The sign is pretty spectacular when lit up. The liquid in the glass sparkles as the white bulbs there flash on and off.

To see others in this series of photographs, click on the "cocktail glass collection" label. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Serendipitous Art: Fallen Sign at the Airport

At the outdoor arrivals area at San Jose Airport I found this intriguing pattern on a concrete wall. After some thought, I decided there was probably once a sign here that fell down or was removed. The pattern of squiggles was probably made by the adhesive that once held it up. Unintended art, serendipitous art.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tidbits--RIP: Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall

I was sorry to hear yesterday that Robin Williams had committed suicide. A sad surprise--but what a shock to hear now that Lauren Bacall died today. One of the all-time greats. To Have and Have Not is the greatly entertaining film that it is in large part because of Bacall (and Bogart and Hoagy Carmichael). What a shame. They say celebrity deaths come in threes. Perhaps the recent death of another Hollywood star, James Garner, makes this the third already.

Art I'm Making: New Collages (August 3, 2014)

Two new collages--these finished last week. Untitled Collage No. 61 and Untitled Collage No. 62. The first is rather gestural as it uses mono-printed elements that were made by scribbling in wet paint on a sheet of glass and then transferring the paint to paper by pressing the paper against the glass.

The second is rather different, as the composition is dominated by the two rows of partial indigo circles at the top. Still, all the elements in this piece are likewise pieces of paper made by mono-printing with acrylic paint, although there are a few lines made with graphite as well.

Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage and photography website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).

Visit my studio during the 2014 Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, Saturday and Sunday, October 11th and 12th and Saturday and Sunday, October 18th and 19th, 2014

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

First Home-grown Tomatoes of the Year (2014)

We've been enjoying cherry tomatoes for several weeks now (popping them like candy before breakfast has become a habit), but today I harvested the first full-sized tomatoes from the eight plants we have in the garden this year--mostly heirloom varieties. These pictured are Brandywines and a couple of Dragon's Eyes. They will have been consumed by the time you read this--probably in the form of a caprese salad.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Art I'm Making: New Collages (July 2014)

While it goes without saying that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to art, there's something to be said for establishing a regular work routine. It was in the middle of July 2013 that I made my first collage. It happened that I finished about one new collage a week in the following weeks. I decided that it would be good to try to maintain that pace, so that I would have 52 finished works a year later. I've been able to do that. In fact, I've exceeded that pace. In this, the last week of July 2014, I should have finished 54 collages, but I have finished 60, and here are Untitled Collage No. 58 (Santa Rosa), Untitled Collage No. 59 (Santa Rosa), and Untitled Collage No. 60 (Santa Rosa).

Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage and photography website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).

Visit my studio during the 2014 Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, Saturday and Sunday, October 11th and 12th and Saturday and Sunday, October 18th and 19th, 2014


Monday, July 28, 2014

Places I'm Visiting: Sacramento

Made a short trip to Sacramento recently, mainly to visit the Crocker Art Museum again, but took the opportunity also to visit the old Governor's Mansion in the city. The large Victorian house was built in 1877 not for the governor but for Albert and Clemenza Gallatin. Gallatin was a partner in a large hardware firm in Sacramento and had become very wealthy supplying the railways and men who had become rich in the gold and silver businesses, among others.

The $5 tour is worth the time (about an hour). Tickets are sold in what used to be the stables and carriage house, an impressive building in itself (pictured here). Many details date back to the original construction, including some of the original plantings (the palm trees and a couple of very large camellias), but the house has undergone quite a number of modifications that reflect decades of use by the first families of California, many of which were made in the 1950s and 1960s. The result is an interesting blend of late 19th century architecture with bathrooms and a large kitchen brought up to date in a style that's familiar from my childhood. The kitchen looks a lot my grandmother's kitchen did. Thirteen governors used the building as a residence over a period of 64 years from 1903, when the state purchased the structure. It's still used occasionally for special events.

Special exhibits currently at the Crocker Museum of Art include a show of quilts "Workt by Hand: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts" from the collection of the Brooklyn Museum (through September 1) and a show of African American art from the collection of the Smithsonian Institution's Smithsonian American Art Museum "African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond" (through September 21).


Some of the quilts were magnificent. The curators have hung most examples on the walls, but several are shown on period beds and a number are placed on horizontal supports positioned so that the wall behind the quilt can be painted with the outline of a headboard, allowing the viewer to easily imagine how the quilt would have looked in use. The oldest date from the early 1800s, the most recent are post-WWII work, but the majority are from the mid-1800s. A large number of styles and techniques are represented. Particularly impressive were a large patriotic quilt using reverse appliqué, a fabulously flower-embroidered crazy quilt, a beautiful Rob Peter to Pay Paul quilt in red and white, a large Whig rose quilt (detail shown), and a number of "album quilts"--quilts made cooperatively, with a number of people creating panels later sewn together to form a finished piece. Accompanying materials include popular magazines showing how quilting has been interpreted differently in different periods. Particularly interesting were brief discussions on wall panels of the work from a feminist point of view, raising issues of authorship and highlighting the tendency of curators to see abstract quilts as a precursor of modern abstract painting, usually relegating the quilts (made mostly by women) to a subordinate position and exalting the paintings (made mostly by men), positioning them as the culmination of a trend.

The African American art show is notable for a very large collection of excellent photographic work and a range of paintings from the mid-20th century by less familiar artists (less familiar to me, anyway). Among the photographers, I was impressed by the work of New York-born Roy DeCarava (1919-2009), a name I'd never heard before (but should have, considering the excellence of his work). His prints, mostly of street scenes in New York, are dark and atmospheric on the whole but characterized by starkly contrasting details--islands of light in a sea of black. I especially liked "Two Women, Mannequin's Hand (1950). The show includes work by some familiar names--notably Gordon Parks (1912-2006) and James VanDerZee (1886-1983) but mostly by people new to me--Marilyn Nance, Robert McNeil, Earlie Hudnall Jr., Tony Gleaton, and Roland L. Freeman, among them. Among the paintings, A couple of pieces by Benny Andrews are striking. There are two large collages by Romare Bearden, and I especially enjoyed a couple of paintings by William H. Johnson (1887-1967) in an almost primitive style. Well worth the time, especially for the photographs. Finished the day with a very good dinner at The Waterboy.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Art I'm Making: More Collages (July 2014)

Still trying to bring the blog up to date, I share here three recent collages, all finished in the past few weeks. Two of the three continue the feel of previous works--I'm working through a batch of green and indigo papers I made not long ago--but, feeling a need for a change, I recently made some bright red paper and the third example here uses the red as its main color element. These are Untitled Collage No. 55 (Santa Rosa), Untitled Collage No. 56 (Santa Rosa), and Untitled Collage No. 57 (Santa Rosa).



Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage and photography website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).

Visit my studio during the 2014 Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, Saturday and Sunday, October 11th and 12th and Saturday and Sunday, October 18th and 19th, 2014.


Wines I'm Making: 2012 Cabernet, 2013 Sangiovese Rosé Labels

I finally got around to creating labels for our 2013 rosé of Sangiovese and our 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc. I got them on the bottles last night. I used green capsules to go with the green of the Cabernet label and gold capsules on the rosé. There are only 10 bottles of the rosé left (of the original 25 bottles), but better late than never. The Cabernet, of course, requires more time, but we have sampled it. We made 40 bottles, of which 33 survive. It's already drinking nicely, but it will improve with time.



Art I'm Making: More Collages (June-July 2014)

I'm ahead of myself. I've finished quite a few new pieces, but I haven't had the time to post them here. In the interest of getting caught up, here are three more recent works, finished between the end of June and the first week of July. These are Untitled Collage No. 52 (Santa Rosa), Untitled Collage No. 53 (Santa Rosa), and Untitled Collage No. 54 (Santa Rosa). All use the newer green papers I've made recently but also draw a lot of the indigo blue papers I was making before that. The most recent also incorporates pieces from a sheet mono-printed in a bluish-grey color. It has a nocturnal feel.

Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage and photography website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).

Visit my studio during the 2014 Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, Saturday and Sunday, October 11th and 12th and Saturday and Sunday, October 18th and 19th, 2014.



Plants I'm Growing: 2014 "Flavor King" Pluots

The day before yesterday I was standing on the deck behind the house and noticed a large bird in our fig tree. It flew a dozen feet and landed in the little "Flavor King" pluot tree in our back yard, picking at the fruit. That was annoying, but I was glad to see the bird because it was a Black-headed Grosbeak, a species I've never seen in the garden--although I've heard them singing nearby before.

So, birds were taking notice and fruit was beginning to fall: I decided to harvest. I took about 100 pluots off the tree. They're delicious fresh, but it may be time to make jam again.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Art I'm Making: New Collages

More collages using the green papers I've recently made, as well as indigo papers from weeks past. One also uses a scrap of orange that goes back months. You never know what will turn out to be just the right element to complete a composition. These are Untitled Collage No. 50 (Santa Rosa) and Untitled Collage No. 51 (Santa Rosa).

Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage and photography website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).

Visit my studio during the 2014 Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, Saturday and Sunday, October 11th and 12th and Saturday and Sunday, October 18th and 19th, 2014.



Wines I'm Making: Last Sulfur Spraying (July 17, 2014)

It's a bit late in the season to be spraying the grapes, but I noticed a hint of mildew in some of the shadier sections of the rows, so I decided to spray once more. The sprayer broke in the middle of things, so I failed to get the back side of the back row done, but there's nothing I can do. Hoping for the best. The grapes are just beginning to show a hint of color; veraison has begun. Time to get up the nets and turn on the electric fence.

Art I'm Making: New Collages

I make collages by pasting together pieces of paper onto which I've directly painted with acrylic paints or made mono-prints on (again using acrylics). I recently made some attractive mossy green prints that have become part of new collages. Shown here are my Untitled Collage No. 48 (Santa Rosa) and Untitled Collage No. 49 (Santa Rosa).

Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage and photography website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).

Visit my studio during the 2014 Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, Saturday and Sunday, October 11th and 12th and Saturday and Sunday, October 18th and 19th, 2014.

Food I'm Eating: First Homemade Pesto of the Year (July 12, 2014)

Two events mark the true start of summer: Picking the first homegrown tomato from the vine and making the year's first batch of homemade pesto. Cherry tomatoes are already ripening here. Full-sized tomatoes will require another couple of weeks it looks like, but I've just finished making the first pesto of the season. Fresh basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, raw garlic, and salt. Nothing else. Basil gets my vote for most useful of all the herbs. It can garnish tomatoes and it makes pesto. Even a small garden can grow enough to provide pesto all summer long and then, frozen, for most of the winter as well. Presented here in a cup made by local (Sebastopol) potter John Chambers.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Art I'm Looking At: Current Exhibitions at the De Young, San Francisco

I visited the De Young Museum in San Francisco again recently and took in most of the current exhibits. There was a lot to see. For starters, the museum is now showing pieces from a very fine collection of Native American art donated by the Thomas W. Weisel family--Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art from the Weisel Family Collection (to give the show its full name), on view through January 4, 2015.

Most of the pieces are the work of southwestern tribes. Notable are a group of very early Mimbres earthenware vessels decorated with pigment (above) and a large number of Navajo weavings, including several very fine early "chief's blankets," but there are a few choice Northwest Coast pieces too, including a striking Tsimshian mask with shell inlay (left; circa 1800-1850), and a small group of plains "ledger drawings." These last are simple, rather poignant drawings made on ruled ledger paper of the kind distributed to reservation schools by the US government--evidence of traditional activities (drawing) surviving during the period of forced assimilation. This exhibit alone is well worth a visit to the museum.

Modernism from the National Gallery of Art: The Robert & Jayne Meyerhoff Collection (through October 12, 2014), seemed poorly organized. It would have been easy enough to present these works simply as highlights of the Meyerhoff collation, but the introductory text in the galleries sets up expectations that go unfulfilled. The text suggests the show will pose and attempt to answer questions about the motivating forces behind postwar American art without really doing that. The arrangement of the works in the galleries seems fairly arbitrary. A chronological approach might have been more effective if the intent was to show the range of styles American artists have explored in the last seven decades (the works range from the late 1940s through the present, more or less, with many familiar names represented). That said, I thought the exhibition was worth seeing. The highlight was Barnet Newman's 16-panel series The Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachthani presented in a chapel-like setting, as originally intended. Pictured here is Third Station (1960). Each of the paintings repeats a basic composition with variations. Newman called the series (painted over about 8 years--between 1958 and 1966) a "complete statement of a single subject," according to the gallery text, and that abstract meaning would seem to fit the works better than the religious idea that was their original armature.

Perhaps most interesting, however, was a show of Walasse Ting's 1¢ Life, a large book of Ting's poetry. I had never heard of Ting or his book, but I very much enjoyed seeing this collaborative creation, which, published in 1964, is 50 years old this year. A remarkable group of 28 artists worked with Ting to illustrate with lithographs a collection of 61 of his ungrammatical, chaotic, evocative, sometimes comical poems--artists including familiar names like Asger Jorn, Karel Appel, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Joan Mitchell, James Rosenquist, Sam Francis, Tom Wesselman, Pierre Alechinsky, Jim Dine, Mel Ramos, and Robert Indiana, as well as some names less familiar to me. A lot of fun on many levels, the book is notable for Ting's exuberant poetry (some of it difficult to read on pages displayed upright well below eye level), for the lithographs, and for its very conception--as an interesting example of bookmaking (although the volume on display is unbound; 1¢ Life appears to have been conceived as a portfolio). It functions as a snapshot of lithography of the period, especially interesting for the inclusion of several artists not much accustomed to the medium. It's unclear to me whether Ting's odd use of language was a direct result of linguistic weaknesses or if he knew better and deliberately chose a pidgin-like idiom that evokes Hollywood caricatures of Chinese, non-native speakers of English. To give just one example, a verse from his poem "Go Back Infant" (illustrated by Karel Appel) reads (all in caps):

Syphilis from mother life from father
Electric chair and gas chamber from government
Can you fly
You female grow big breasts mangoes
Garbage flower
Marry millionaires
Happy
Mink coat better than skin skin better than heart
Heart better than soul
Hair grease best
Woman not spring? Spring not perfume? Perfume not happiness?
Where happiness
In afternoon tea?
In beauty salon?
In television set?
Go back infant
Go back Angel

Strange, but often compelling language typifies the writing. The exhibition of Walasse Ting's 1¢ Life is showing through September 7, 2014.

Art I'm Making: More Abstract Collages (June-July 2014)

I continue to make collages. Here are two more, these still made using scraps from sheets of paper painted or printed on weeks before. Sometimes the oddest small bit of paper left over from other work is precisely the shape, color, or visual weight needed in a new piece--which makes it hard to throw scraps away; nothing seems like trash.

Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage and photography website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).

Visit my studio during the 2014 Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, Saturday and Sunday, October 11th and 12th and Saturday and Sunday, October 18th and 19th, 2014.




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