Sunday, April 23, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 172 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage. This one combines a bit of calligraphic gesture with a geometric array—a self-contained diptych of sorts. Untitled Collage No. 172 (Santa Rosa). April 4, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. 32.2 x 22.0cm (12.7 x 8.7inches). Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site.

Books I'm Reading: The Wright Brothers

David McCullough's The Wright Brothers (Simon and Schuster, 2015) tells the familiar tale of two bicycle makers from Dayton, Ohio solving the fundamental problems of sustained, controlled, powered flight by dint of persistent hard work. McCullough doesn't dwell on the very early lives of the brothers nor does he detail the protracted legal issues Orville Wright dealt with to the end of his life, long after the principles of powered flight were well established. These and other loose ends tied up in a short epilogue. The book mainly covers the period starting from around 1900-1901, when the brothers finally realized that much of the available information about flying was simply wrong and that to fly would require starting from scratch—methodically accumulating data about airfoils and control strategies.

It is remarkable that it took them less than three years to do that; they first flew at the end of 1903. McCullough ends the main part of his narrative around 1910, by which time there was no doubt about who had first made nearly all the discoveries that led to manned flight. I had read before that Glenn Curtis invented the aileron, but McCullough points out that the idea of the aileron had already been suggested by the Wrights themselves in a 1906 patent as an alternative to the wing-warping method of control they initially used. None of the Wright patents was ever successfully challenged.

Having myself lived in Dayton from 1970 through 1977, through middle and high school, it was fun to read about places I know in the city and nearby. Huffman Prairie, where the Wrights first really learned to fly after returning from Kitty Hawk, is now part of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (technically, in Fairborn, I believe). I'm distantly related to the Huffmans after which the prairie (and nearby Huffman Dam) was named. My grandmother is buried in Dayton's Woodland Cemetery, a stone's throw from the Wright brothers, their sister Katharine (who gets a lot of deserved attention in the book), and both their parents.

I knew the Wrights had demonstrated their planes in Europe after the US government initially showed little interest in the airplane, mostly in Paris, Berlin, and later Rome, but I hadn't known that the brothers also flew demonstrations at Pau, in the Pyrenees. The book is full of other interesting detail, but it never seems cluttered. McCullough's style is crisp and to the point. It's a quick read both because of the clarity of the prose and the inherent interest of the subject. Recommended.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rain: OK, Now I'm Sick of the Rain (April 17-19, 2017)

It's been raining again. And more rain is in the forecast—through the end of this week. Already we've had another 0.8 inches since I last reported. That brings the total at my location for the 2016-2017 rain year to 54.65 inches. This has been the wettest year on record since people began keeping records for Santa Rosa. It's nice that I don't have to water the garden, but a little sun would be a nice thing too now.

[Update: On the evening of the 19th it started raining again. We got an additional 0.35 inches after I wrote the above. So, we are now at 55.00 inches at my location.]

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 171 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage. A small one (4.4 x 4.1 inches) using some smoky-looking bluish black papers I recently made. This is Untitled Collage No. 171 (Santa Rosa). March 31, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Cocktail Glass Collection: Susie's at Night

Susie's, in Calistoga, was the first neon cocktail glass sign I added to what has become a growing collection. I'd never seen the sign at night before. My original photo is a daytime shot. Here's Susie's sign at night. The original post is here.

For more, use the "Cocktail Glass Collection" tab to the right of this page.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 170 (Santa Rosa)

A recent piece. Untitled Collage No. 170 (Santa Rosa). February 15, 2017. A comparatively large collage for me, this one measures 25.5 x 35.2cm (or 10.0 x 13.9in). Matted to 20 x 24 inches. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, fragment of a doodling robot drawing. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site.

Rain: More Rain (April 12-13, 2017)

On the morning of April 13 there was yet another 0.90 inches of rain in the rain gauge. That brings the 2016-2017 rain year total at my location in northeast Santa Rosa to a fairly amazing 53.85 inches.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Art I'm Looking At: Newly Framed

Art: A Lot to Think About, Sherry Parker (2012) and London 17 (Old Bond Street), Yoshida Katsuro (1975). Iron Kettle, Japan, 1960, atop a Taisho-era shoe chest, Japan (c. 1920). I just framed the Yoshida, which is the first piece of art I ever bought with my own money (in 1978, when I was 18).

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Places I'm Visiting: The House at Webster and Filbert, San Francisco

On my way to see the Matisse/Diebenkorn show again at SF MoMA, I passed what is probably my favorite house in San Francisco—the confection on the corner of Webster and Filbert. The house has just been given a complete make-over and it looks wonderful. It's been repainted a subtle green and all the trim has been redone in white with embellishments in gold and violet. It looks like all the metal domes have been restored as well. This building was being used as a temple of some kind last time I saw it, painted an odd pale lavender and looking a bit run down. It's been transformed. Well worth a visit. Below is a photo of the house before the restoration.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Rain: Record-breaker

Last night and yesterday (April 6-7, 2017) we had another 1.9 inches of rain. That raises our total for the 2016-2017 rain year to 52.25 inches at my location in northeastern Santa Rosa and makes this the third-wettest year on record since records have been kept in the county, since 1888, apparently. The official record for Santa Rosa (monitored at the Sonoma County Airport) is already at  55.51 inches, likewise the third-wettest year relative to the official total, and only about two-tenths of an inch behind second place; we're likely to move up a slot by the end of today. Another 1.5 inches in the coming weeks will be enough to put us into first place, topping 56.06 inches, set in 1889-1890.

[Update: More rain on the 8th. An additional 0.70 inches puts us at 52.95 inches moving us into second-place for wettest year on record, at my location: as noted above, the official tally for Santa Rosa already has us in first place this year.]

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Books I'm Reading: On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder

Midnight, Ninotchka, Ball of Fire, The Major and the Minor, Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, A Foreign Affair, Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, Sabrina, The Seven Year Itch, Witness for the Prosecution, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, One, Two, Three, Irma La Douce—Wilder either wrote or co-wrote the screenplay or wrote the screenplay and directed each of these films (and more than a dozen more Hollywood films that are less well known today, not to mention the many screenplays he wrote before emigrating to the United States). It's an impressive list; each is a classic.

Before picking up Ed Sikov's On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder (Hyperion, 1998) I had seen all of these films but I realized quickly as I began reading the book that I knew very little about Wilder's early life—in particular, that he had written so many screenplays. I knew him mostly as the director of the films from the sweet spot of his career—say, from Double Indemnity to The Apartment.

He got his start, however, as a screenwriter, working first in German, following a period as a journalist in Vienna and then Berlin. He had been born near Krakow, in 1906. Twenty years later, he was leaving Vienna for England in the company of bandleader Paul Whiteman, on tour (he had become friendly with Whiteman by showing him around Vienna; as a reporter, Wilder knew the city well). A few months later he left with the Whiteman entourage for Berlin, never looking back. When it became clear in 1934 that Jews were no longer welcome in the German capital, he left for Hollywood, without his mother, who later vanished in the Holocaust. When he arrived in the United States, he had virtually no money and spoke almost no English, but he quickly found work as a screenwriter anyway, often working as a team with Charles Brackett. Leveraging his quick wit, chutzpah, and good luck he found increasingly lucrative work and eventually landed an opportunity to direct. The Major and the Minor (1942), starring Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland, was his first directing credit.

On Sunset Boulevard looks at Billy Wilder as an artist, a businessman, and, eventually, as an exceedingly wealthy art collector gradually left behind by a changing Hollywood. Author Sikov looks at each of Wilder's films in detail, from conception to critical and popular reception, while serving up a great deal of anecdote to create a vivid portrait of one of Hollywood's most important directors. Along the way, Sikov gives us much about the people Wilder worked with and for and the people who worked for him, particularly writing partner Brackett, and performers such as Marilyn Monroe, William Holden, and Jack Lemmon. Wilder was notoriously foul-mouthed and casually abusive and tightly controlling on the set—character traits that not everyone tolerated well. It was his desire for control that drove his ambition to move from writing to directing and that kept him writing much of the material he directed, material that was often on the edge of the limits allowed by the Hollywood production code, a code that Wilder was instrumental in eroding (Wilder's writing was often darker and more sexually suggestive than the censors would allow, particularly early in his career). Long but a worthwhile appreciation of the man and each of his major films and worth reading for the wealth of information it includes about how films are conceived, written, financed, and produced.  

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Art I'm Looking At: Matisse/Diebenkorn at SF MoMA

Yesterday (March 24) I went to see SF MoMA’s Matisse/Diebenkorn show (March 11 through May 29, 2017). The show has been open here for a couple of weeks. I was hoping crowds would be thin with an initial rush of interest already past, but the galleries were crowded, even on a weekday. Perhaps rain was to blame, as a ticket-taker suggested when I enquired. I sometimes had trouble getting an unobstructed view of the mostly large canvases, and I see that elsewhere in the museum they’ve made no effort to improve the signage since my last visit—wall lettering so small as to be mostly useless (and signs are much needed given the illogical, disconnected layout of the stairways). These complaints aside, I very much enjoyed seeing this close look at the influence of Matisse on the work of Richard Diebenkorn.

The exhibition begins with a timeline showing where and when the American artist had significant contact with Matisse’s work, both through visits to collections with important Matisse holdings and through reproductions (several display cases hold books about Matisse that Diebenkorn owned). The exhibition follows Diebenkorn’s career in broadly chronological fashion and thematically, starting with large abstractions from his Urbana period. A side room focuses on black and white drawings by the two artists. Many works by Diebenkorn are mounted beside works by Matisse that organizers and catalog editors Janet Bishop (SF MoMA Thomas Weisel Family Curator of Painting and Sculpture) and Katherine Rothkopf (Senior Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, The Baltimore Museum of Art) believe were particularly important to Diebenkorn or that they believe show obvious influence. Matisse/Diebenkorn presents more than 100 works by the two painters from private collections, the estate of Richard Diebenkorn, museum collections all over the US, from museums in Paris and London, and other sources, including SF MoMA’s own holdings—about 40 by Matisse, 60 by Diebenkorn. San Francisco is the second of only two locations that will host the show. Matisse/Diebenkorn was at The Baltimore Museum of Art from October 23, 2016 to January 29, 2017.

Matisse: Studio, Quai St. Michel, 1916
The Phillips Collection
Richard Diebenkorn moved to Urbana, Illinois, in 1952 to take up a year-long teaching position there. He doesn’t appear to have liked the landscape much, but during his stay he produced some important large abstractions (these and the Berkeley-period pieces are among my personal favorites). The show includes Urbana No. 2, Urbana No. 4, Urbana No. 5, and Urbana No. 6 (all from 1953), pairing Urbana No. 4 with Matisse’s 1916 Studio, Quai St. Michel (shown above) and Urbana No. 6 with the French painter’s Goldfish and Palette (below). The show would be of interest just for the opportunity to see this group of Urbana paintings, but the pairings highlight similar color choices, a willingness to leave behind traces of process, and an approach to composition marked by an ever-present tension between opposing forces—tension between the abstract and the representational; between complex gestural areas suggesting motion on the one hand and static expanses of subtly modulated color on the other; between the linear and the un-delineated; between the patterned and the plain; between three-dimensionally rendered form and flatness. This dialectical approach to composition (along with a distinctive use of color) is perhaps what most clearly makes Matisse recognizable, particularly in his highly experimental work of 1914–1916, and walking through the galleries I began to feel it may also have been the most fundamental lesson Diebenkorn learned from Matisse. Both painters were adept at creating a slightly disturbing ambiguity that generates the same feeling you get when looking at an optical illusion presenting two contradictory perspectives the brain struggles to reconcile. The real magic Matisse and Diebenkorn achieve, however, is in at the same time providing just enough solid ground to stand on that we aren’t compelled to turn away.

Matisse: Goldfish and Palette, 1916
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Goldfish and Palette is a good example of the ambiguity. It’s not at all clear what kind of space we're looking into here. The junction of the base of the blue trapezoid in the top half of the painting and the white in the bottom half suggests the meeting of a floor and a wall at the back of a room, two planes presumably meeting at a 90-degree angle, but the more-or-less centrally placed vertical black strip flattens the space—although not completely: the fine white lines on top of the black (both the two vertical lines above and apparently beyond the fishbowl and the less-assertive horizontal lines under the table-like surface that appears to support the fishbowl) argue again for a three-dimensional space (is that a door beyond the fishbowl?). The flat, supporting surface of the "table" grounds the fishbowl, but an interpretation of that surface as a table top is undermined by the incursion of blue at the left and by the black edge of the table-like plane doubling as part of what looks like a pattern on the blue wall beyond (which again flattens the space—if it is a wall; perhaps it is blue sky seen through a decorative balcony railing?). Thus, the “table top” apparently supports the fishbowl yet it threatens to fold down against the blue space at the same time, while, logically, it can’t do that because there appears to be a pair of legs under the table (or is it three?). The cross-like black lines in the upper right corner of the painting perhaps represent bars on a window, but, if there is a window there, the blue area must be a wall…and on and on.

Diebenkorn: Urbana No. 6, 1953
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth 
Diebenkorn’s Urbana No. 6 may not be as directly indebted to Goldfish and Palette as the curators suggest, but Diebenkorn has used similar techniques to create ambiguity, even if the image is much more abstract than Matisse’s. In Urbana No. 6, we see a similar central black band, although here horizontal rather than vertical. In Diebenkorn’s painting it's this band of darkness that seems to create a flat, supporting surface; Diebenkorn’s black band functions like Matisse’s table top, supporting pale forms and red accents that suggest Matisse’s fish. The pale blue area in the upper right suggests a window, reinforcing the notion that the black area is in an interior space. The blue could also give the impression of looking through an open door at the far side of a room. In that case, the black band would seem more like a large carpet. But this is abstraction. I don’t mean to suggest one should struggle to interpret a work like Urbana No. 6 as representational. Yet the human brain inevitably interprets and Diebenkorn gives our brains just enough to keep us groping—following the example of Matisse.

Left: Matisse: Yellow Pottery from Provence, 1905, Baltimore Museum of Art
Right: Diebenkorn: Berkeley No. 47, 1955, SF MoMA
In pairing Diebenkorn's Berkeley No. 47 (1955) with Matisse's Yellow Pottery from Provence (1905), the curators look at how Diebenkorn experimented with unusual color combinations apparently inspired by Matisse. If Diebenkorn had Matisse's Yellow Pottery in mind when he painted Berkeley No. 47, he turned things on their side again, translating Matisse's representational color into horizontal bands of abstract color.

Throughout the exhibition, the color echoes are striking. Diebenkorn's Untitled, 1964, for example, showing a spray of flowers in a small blue bottle on a chestnut-colored table with a window beyond rendered in contrasting light and dark blues (not shown here) echoes the brown table and grey wallpaper (patterned in similar light and dark blues) in Matisse's Pansies (c. 1903, not shown). More generally, there's a range of blues in Diebenkorn that strongly echoes the blues Matisse favored. Following his autumn 1964 visit to the Soviet Union (now Russia) as part of a cultural exchange (where he toured the State Hermitage Museum, in St. Petersburg, and the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, in Moscow, both with large Matisse holdings), Diebenkorn made the paintings in his oeuvre most obviously indebted to Matisse. Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad from 1965 and Large Still Life from 1966 (below) use the characteristic Matisse blues, overtly decorative flourishes filling spaces that read as walls, and, again, spatial ambiguity. It's appropriate that Recollections adorns the catalog cover (top of this page).

The Matisse paintings Diebenkorn saw in the Soviet Union include some of the French painter's largest canvases. I was set to wondering if the monumental quality of Diebenkorn's large Ocean Park paintings was also inspired by Matisse. Diebenkorn started painting the Ocean Park series in 1967, returning to abstraction on a large scale and in earnest following a period of mostly figurative work not long after his return from the Soviet tour.

Diebenkorn: Large Still Life, 1966, Museum of Modern Art, New York


Drawings on display in a side room are instructive. Devoid of color, they make it easy to see Diebenkorn using some of Matisse's compositional tricks—in particular, the use of decorative patterns and the juxtaposition of flat and three-dimensional treatments. Matisse loved interlocking areas filled with patterns, sometimes suggestive of tiling. (It's tempting to think Matisse's 1912 and 1913 visits to Morocco inspired the habit, but he was already using this device before his trips to Africa.) The most striking example of influence among Diebenkorn's drawings is perhaps an untitled 1964 drawing in graphite and ink on paper showing a coffee cup, a plate, and silverware on a richly patterned tablecloth (below).

Diebenkorn: Untitled, 1964, Collection of Leslie A. Freely, New York
To illustrate the juxtaposition of two- and three-dimensional treatments, the curators pair Matisse's Reclining Model with a Flowered Robe (c. 1923-1924, not shown here) with Diebenkorn's Untitled (Woman Seated in a Chair) of 1963 (not shown here), pointing out that Matisse depicted his figure with volume against a flat (again heavily patterned) background, while Diebenkorn used a patterned drape to flatten his figure against background elements handled three dimensionally. I thought Diebenkorn's 1962 Girl with Flowered Background among the paintings an even better example (below).

Diebenkorn: Girl with Flowered Background, 1962
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
The figure is simplified, but it is clearly three-dimensional. The knees protrude, the waist recedes. One hand is behind an elbow, the other is in front of the girl's face. There is shadow below her skirt and under her chin, and her forearm throws a shadow across her chest. She casts a blue shadow on the wall behind her. The background is completely flat, and Diebenkorn muddies the relationship between the girl and the background—and here he shows how completely he's absorbed Matisse's example. The red-tipped floral curve at the girl's left shoulder (on the right side of the painting) connects with the line of trim on her collar,  undermining her three-dimensionality. The way the "horizon" line behind her is broken by the blue shadow has a similar effect, as do the connections between the shadow and the blue line of her collar (this time at her right shoulder, on the left side of the painting) and the connection between that blue line and the darker linear element on the wall behind her, just above her shoulder. The effect is to make the red and blue trim of her collar appear part of the decoration on the wall behind her.

Left: Matisse: Seated Nude, Head on Arms, 1936, private collection
Right: Diebenkorn: Untitled (Seated Nude), 1966, SF MoMA
Also of interest were drawings by Diebenkorn that show substantial reworking (pentimenti), with heavy lines overlaid at the end to mark the artist's final decision about what ought to go where—a technique Matisse used in a number of his drawings. Shown above are the French artist's Seated Nude, Head on Arms from 1936 and Diebenkorn's Untitled (Seated Nude) of 1966.

I also thought it notable that one of the Matisse drawings had been augmented (made larger) with an additional strip of paper added at its top edge. A thumbtack hole is visible in each of the four corners of the original sheet. The artist appears to have run out of space and added the paper at the top, adapting his working space to the demands of a composition in progress. I mention this drawing in particular (Model Resting on Her Arm, 1936) because I have seen film of Diebenkorn working in this way, pasting strips of paper onto a piece in progress as the composition seemed to require. Again the influence of Matisse? (I saw the film at The Sonoma Valley Museum of Art in 2015 in conjunction with a show of Diebenkorn's works on paper. The film shows Diebenkorn at work at Crown Point Press, in Oakland, collaborating with master printers Marcia Bartholme and Hidekatsu Takada, in 1986, photographed by Kathan Brown, the founding director of Crown Point Press. A review of that show is here.)

Matisse: French Window at Colliure, 1914
Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
The Matisse/Diebenkorn show is a pleasure to walk through because it is a lucid explication by example of the way Diebenkorn learned from Matisse, but it's worth a visit simply because it's a collection of very fine work by both artists and work that we don't often have a chance to see. While I am very familiar with the Ocean Park series, for example, I'd never before seen any of the very early pieces in person, and the SF MoMA show includes Ocean Park No. 6 (1968), Ocean Park No. 12 (1968), Ocean Park No. 27 (1970) and Ocean Park No. 29 (1970). The early numbers look distinctly awkward. You can see Diebenkorn here struggling to find something he hasn't quite figured out yet. By Ocean Park No. 54 (SF MoMA) Diebenkorn has found his stride again. In the mature Ocean Park paintings, Diebenkorn reflects Matisse mostly in his palette and in the use of large, subtly varied planes of pale color broken up by linear elements, mostly lines parallel to the edges of the picture plane or at 45 degrees to those lines (although often ever-so-sligtly askew). Diebenkorn has now completely absorbed Matisse and removed the referential entirely, but, if seen beside Matisse's most experimental work, even these paintings are not so far removed from Matisse as they may at first seem—paintings like French Window at Collioure, from 1914, shown above, or his Seated Pink Nude (below).

There's a lot to see. Matisse/Diebenkorn is a show that will bear more than one visit—perhaps even three.

Matisse: Seated Pink Nude, 1935-36
Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Art I'm Making: Wine Label Release, Imagery Estate

The release date for the Imagery Estate wine on which my label will appear has been set. There will be a release party on Sunday, April 9, at the winery (14335 Sonoma Hwy, Glen Ellen, CA 95442; imagerywinery.com; (800) 989-8890).

 I'll be on hand to talk about my work and sign bottles of the wine, the 2016 Muscat de Canelli. The grape is also known as Muscat Canelli, and by a host of other names around the world. According to Jancis Robinson, in her Vines, Grapes, and Wines (Mitchell Beazley, 1986), its proper name is Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. She calls it "the real goody of the Muscat family." Like most Muscats, it usually makes a highly aromatic sweet wine. It is known for its small berries (hence the name, which translates to "Muscat with small berries") and for low yields and thus for high quality. Robinson goes on to say that many believe the Muscat family to be the oldest cultivated by man and that it was Muscat grapes that "Phoenicians, Greeks, and then Romans most commonly dispersed around southern Europe."

I have yet to taste the Imagery Estate version whose label will bear my artwork, but I'm looking forward to giving it a try and to meeting some art and wine enthusiasts at the release party. Please come on by if you can.

Rain: A Little More, for Good Measure (March 21-22, 2017)

In the past 24 hours we've had a little more rain. There was 0.80 inches in the rain gauge this morning. That brings our total for the 2016-2017 rain year at my location in northern Santa Rosa to 49.05 inches.

[Update: We got yet another inch of rain on March 23-24. So we now stand at 50.05 inches at my location. Sonoma County Airport is reporting 52.71 inches, however, which ranks 2016-2017 as the third-wettest winter on record since the 1880s, when recording began. Another 4-6 inches this year would break the record, which is 56.06 inches, set in 1889-1890. All we need is one or two more storms before the end of October.]

[Update: We got another 0.30 inches overnight on March 26-27, bringing the total to 50.35 inches at my location. The forecast is now clear for about 10 days, but who knows what April will bring?]

Friday, March 17, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 168 (Santa Rosa)

Catching up with posting some recent work, this is Untitled Collage No. 168 (Santa Rosa), from January 25, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. 26.7 x 35.4cm (10.5 x 13.9 inches) signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

This one draws on some blue papers I've recently made and on black and white monoprints with some unusual textures caused by the paper ripping and sticking to the painted glass I work from. I left ripped sections on the glass and repainted the surface before making new prints. Because the sections covered with plastered down paper layers absorb ink, I ended up with areas of mottled grey-black unlike the cleaner areas of color created by printing off clean glass.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site.

Books I'm reading: Capturing the Light and The Edge of Vision

I've just finished Capturing the Light: The Birth of Photography, a True Story of Genius and Rivalry, by Roger Watson and Helen Rappaport (St. Martin's Press, 2013). Refreshingly well written, this was a quick read because reading it was a pleasure. Authors Watson and Rappaport give an overview of the history of the invention of photography by focusing on the main characters in the story, Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre, as well as on a number of other characters less well known. Nicephore Niepce, the inventor of the first non-ephemeral (if largely impractical) photographic process was familiar (I stumbled across his gravesite in a churchyard in France years ago), but others such as Frederick Scott Archer (inventor of the wet collodion process) were less familiar. The book gives a good overview of how Daguerre in France and Talbot in England arrived at two very different processes that allowed images to be captured permanently.

Lyle Rexer's The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography (Aperture, 2013, paperback edition) looks at the history of abstraction in photography, beginning with some of the photograms of Henry Fox Talbot and ending with contemporary works that stretch the definition of photography beyond the breaking point. In between, there is much of interest to see and the book seems more valuable for the many illustrations it includes than for the text, although there is some interesting back material included in an appendix, mostly writing about photography by critics and some of the artists whose works are included in the book. This is a good reference that suggests what photography is capable of when released from its traditional role as an objective recorder of the world around us (although many would argue that photography never has been that at all).

Friday, March 10, 2017

Music I'm Listening to: Two San Francisco Symphony Concerts (February-March 2017)

It's been a busy month. I've had little time to write. It's been more than two weeks now since I attended the February 24th performance at Davies Symphony Hall. Michael Tilson Thomas conducted Scheherazade.2 by John Adams and selections from Romeo and Juliet, by Prokofiev. The former, written for Leila Josefowicz (the soloist during the February performances) is not quite a violin concerto. I think Adams described it as a "dramatic symphony." Adams appeared on stage before the music began to discuss the piece, summarizing what was in the program notes. Adams conceived of the violin part as expressing Scheherazade, but Scheherezade as a strong, modern woman, and I can think of no violinist active today better to play it than Josefowicz, who is muscular in her playing but beautifully nuanced at the same time. I've seen her play three times now. I've been impressed each time. Scheherazade.2 is a complex piece, hard to take in on a single hearing, but I enjoyed it and enjoyed seeing Josefowicz wrestle with it. The performance brought the entire hall to its feet. Conductor Thomas and Josefowicz were eager to acknowledge Adams afterward, pointing to him in the balcony seats and insisting that he stand and be recognized.

The Prokofiev was familiar music from the ballet Romeo and Juliet, but it's a piece I'd never heard live before, and its always fun to hear a familiar piece live for the first time. It makes you acutely aware of who in the orchestra is doing what when. I was pleased my favorite part of the ballet, the section knows as "Dance of the Knights" was one of the selections—but, of course, it would be.

On the evening of March 10, I was back at Davies Symphony Hall for a concert featuring another fine violinist, this time Arabella Steinbacher. Marek Janowski was the guest conductor. The program included Beethoven's Coriolan Overture and the Brahms Symphony No. 4. Steinbacher was soloist in a performance of the Hindemith Violin Concerto, an unfamiliar piece that she handled with aplomb.

Steinbacher never lacks the ability to play lyrically when that is called for, but she excels at precise, staccato, modern music like the Hindemith, and her violin, which is rather gritty in the low register, suited the music. Janowski and the Symphony gave us a fine performance of the Brahms as well, receiving an extended standing ovation at its conclusion, with the symphony players at one point refusing to stand so that Janowski could be recognized alone. He looks a trifle frail, but he gets the job done. On the occasions I've seen him work, I've always had the impression that he's particularly good at communicating with the San Francisco performers and that they respond to him deeply, in a way that they don't with some other conductors.

Photographs of John Adams and Arabella Steinbacher courtesy of The San Francisco Symphony. Photo of Steinbacher by Jiri Hronik. Photograph of pointing Josefowicz by the author.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Food I'm Eating: Green Olives (March 2017)

I've been making black olives at home for the past few years now, making batches whenever able to get my hands on good olives. I'd never tried green olives before, but this year I had access to a tree that still had green fruit in January, so I thought I'd give it a go. They are now done. The process was much the same as for black olives, but I started with a plain water soak for about ten days, changing the water every day, before switching to brine with a change every three or four days. I finished them with just a little bay, lemon juice, and white wine vinegar added toward the end, mostly the vinegar. I've always brined the black olives from the start and finished them with garlic, lemon, and rosemary. Both methods have resulted in some pretty tasty olives. Green olives seem to finish more quickly than black olives, suggesting the ripe fruit has more of the bitter compounds that make unprocessed olives inedible.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Rain: Another Inch (March 5, 2017)

We had more rain overnight on March 4-5. I found 0.90 inches of rain in the rain gauge this morning. That brings our total to 48.10 inches so far in the 2016-2017 rain year at my location in Northeast Santa Rosa and ranks this year as the fifth rainiest year since recording began in the 1880s—and we still have a few months to go....  We are now about 20 inches above normal.

[Update: A little more rain following this has left the total as of the morning of March 8 at 48.25 inches.]

Friday, March 3, 2017

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms—Two-toned Daffodils, Pluot "Dapple Dandy," Ceanothus "Ray Hartman" 2017

In the past couple of weeks, spring has sprung around here. On February 16, the pluot "Dapple Dandy" started to bloom. With heavy rains it went into a state of suspended animation shortly afterward, but it's in full bloom now. I'm hoping the rain won't have reduced the crop. The fruit is delicious, and rain during bloom can cause poor fruit set. February 19 brought the first blossoms on the two-toned daffodils in the front garden. The ceanothus "Ray Hartman" began blooming the following day, on March 20.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Art I'm Looking At: New Show Opening on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi—Contemporary Bay Area Photography

I'm pleased to announce the next show on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi: A show of recent work by nine accomplished Bay Area photographers, ranging from artists with decades-long careers and international reputations to a Santa Rosa Junior College student, and including work made using digital, analog, and alternative processes.

The show will run from February 28, 2017 to April 30, 2017. Opening reception: Monday, March 6, 2017 from 5:30 to 7:30. Come have a glass of wine and meet the artists.

Work by: Holly Anderson, Bill Baldewicz, Bob Cornelis, Barbara Elliott, Janis Crystal Lipzin, Maureen Lomasney, Michael Maggid, Austin Reynolds, and Colin Talcroft.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Rain: Heading for a Record (February 15-22, 2017)

Heavy rain again on the night of February 15-16 left 1.05 inches of new rain in the rain gauge this morning. That brings our total to 42.55 inches for the 2016-2017 rain year--well above normal.

[Update: As of the evening of February 19, we'd had an additional 2.70 inches of rain. That puts us at 45.25 inches at my location in northeast Santa Rosa—and it's still raining, with rain forecast to continue tomorrow and the day after. Santa Rosa recorded 47.70 inches in 1981-1982, for the fifth-rainiest year on record since recording began, in 1888. The record is 56.06 inches, in 1889-1890. Average cumulative rainfall historically for this time of year is 24.79 inches, which means we are more than 20 inches above normal! (All historical data are from Kent's Weather Center)]

[Update: And, subsequently, another 1.95 inches (as of the morning of February 22). So, the total is now 47.20 inches at my location, by my reckoning. That would make this the sixth wettest year on record, although I don't know where the official Santa Rosa precipitation level is measured or what they are reporting. I've learned over the years that even within the city of Santa Rosa there can be a variation of a couple of inches or more. Suffice it to say that we've had A LOT of rain this year. Showers predicted for the end of the week, too.]

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Plants I'm Growing—First blooms: Pink Flowering Plum (February 13, 2017)

Our pink flowering plum with double flowers started blooming yesterday, February 13, 2017. This is Prunus blireiana. This tree always blooms in the first half of February, having bloomed on the 15th (2009), the 4th (2011), the 2nd (2012), the 15th (2013), the 3rd (2015), and the 5th (2016). I don't have dates for 2010 or 2014. This year the birds left the buds alone, so it looks like we'll have a tree full of flowers. In some past years, sparrows and House Finches have eaten the buds before they bloomed.

Books I'm Reading: The Blackwinged Night

Subtitled "Creativity in Nature and Mind," F. David Peat's The Blackwinged Night (Perseus Publishing, 2000) is a wide-ranging look at creativity, which, the author argues, is pervasive. As he is a physicist by training, much of Peat's discussion involves creativity from the perspective of that discipline. At the same time, the author appears to be conversant with the history of the arts, and much of the discussion seeks to establish parallels between the creativity of the universe and creativity that springs from the human mind. However, Peat argues that we are all creative (not just composers and painters and writers and filmmakers), or at least we all can be creative, in every conscious minute of every day, if we simply remain alert to our surroundings and aware of the world around us.

Memorably, he recounts a scene in Dostoyevzky's The Idiot in which a character describes how clearly and intensely he lives the moments leading up to what he believes will be his execution by firing squad (it turns out to be a mock execution; Dostoyevsky apparently based this on a real-life experience of his own) while the narrator points out that the character will nevertheless quickly revert to his habitual lack of attentiveness soon after the immediate threat of death has passed, a particularized example of the praying-in-a-foxhole phenomenon. Peat goes on to say:
We are always before the firing squad. Every conversation holds within itself the promise of a new beginning. But no matter how vivid the potential for change, it is all too easy to slip back into old habits. The theme of this book is that the habitual way of looking at things is an illusion. It is not a true reflection of the world but a fallacy. All of the cosmos, from stars to elementary particles, is essentially creative, and each time we see or look or listen, we are being creative. The trick is to stay awake, to remember who we are, and to avoid the dulling drug of habit.
According to Peat, this ever-present potential for creativity is not an attribute only of life. It extends to all matter and even to the quantum void, where elementary particles are winking into and out of existence incessantly, and some of the best passages of the book are coherent explanations of the basic ideas of quantum physics. To take just one example, The Blackwinged Night contains an excellent treatment of the idea of "the collapse of the wave function" in a subchapter with that title. This is a familiar idea to anyone who has ever read about modern physics, but never before has it seemed so clear and obvious to me.

In discussing this collapse, Peat points out that concepts accurately describing events in the large-scale world do not apply in the quantum world, saying, for example, that, while the trajectory and landing point of a cannonball are absolutely certain given nothing more than the cannonball's initial position, vector, and speed (and taking wind into account), it is impossible to say that an electron has a position or trajectory at all—that it must be described using a wave function that expresses only the probability of finding an electron in a region of space.  Yet, when an electron hits a screen of some kind, it reveals its position. Suddenly, it has location. It is in this sense that we say light is both a wave and a particle. The wave form of probability collapses at the instant the electron is manifest. I found the book worthwhile for this section alone and, in an insight that has surely been expressed by someone else before, I felt the idea of a wave function describing quantum uncertainty collapsing suddenly into something material aptly describes the process of artistic creation. The artist herself cannot describe the finished artwork until it is complete, until it is manifest. Until then, art is in a soup of creative potential that is impossible to pin down. Recommended.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms—Yellow Daffodils

The yellow daffodils in the front garden began to bloom today, February 10. This is a trifle late, probably owing to the rain, but not way out of line. This is one of the few plants in the garden I have a complete data set for since 2009, when they bloomed on February 5. They bloomed on February 5 also in 2010, calculating a 365-day year. They bloomed on February 2 in 2011, February 13 in 2012, February 4 in 2013, February 8 in 2014, February 3 in 2015, and January 31 in 2016.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Rain: A Year's Worth of Rain

At the end of the day on February 7, there was yet another 3.1 inches of rain in the rain gauge. That brings the total so far to 38.65 inches at my location. A site I monitor elsewhere in Santa Rosa is reporting somewhat less, or 36.3 inches. In either case, we have now had more than our normal annual rainfall, which is a little over 36 inches, and we still have several months ahead of us in the 2016-2017 rain year (October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017). Rain is predicted for at least the next two days....

[Update: As of the afternoon of February 9, we've had another 2.85 inches of new rain. That brings our total so far to 41.50 inches at my location. And it's still raining....]

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Art I'm Making: One of my collages reproduced in Kolaj Magazine

I was pleased to see one of my collages reproduced in the current issue of Kolaj, an international quarterly dedicated to the art of collage (No. 18, page 34) in an article about "collage painting." While I don't normally think of my work as collage painting, the author of the article, Ric Kasini Kadour, argues that the term is useful in describing collage work that, when representational, subordinates the collaged fragments used to "the gestalt of the picture" to create a whole rather than juxtaposing relatively independent, distinctly different collage elements to set up tension between two or more picture segments, a technique common in Surrealist collage and among the Dadaists.

The author used my Untitled Collage No. 158 (Santa Rosa), as an example of a non-representational collage that emphasizes a compositional whole. Before concluding the article by saying "Wholeness, completeness is the magic of collage painting," he said I use paper elements like the sounds of violinists "in the pit orchestra of a grand opera," presumably to suggest that in my collages the whole composition is more important than any of the individual elements, and, as I work, I am always focused first on creating a stable yet dynamic compositional whole—so, I suppose he has a point. In any case, it was nice to see the work reproduced.


Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 167 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage, this one experimenting with somewhat more organic shapes than I usually use. This is Untitled Collage No. 167 (Santa Rosa), January 14, 2017, acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size 20.0 x 26.9cm (7.9 x 10.6 inches). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Miscellaneous: Photographs in Birds of the Pacific Northwest

I'm pleased to announce that some of my bird photographs were chosen for use in a new field guide. Birds of the Pacific Northwest (Timber Press, authors John Shewey and Tim Blount) is scheduled for release in March 2017. It is part of the Timber Press Field Guide Series. In particular, a clear, diagnostic shot of a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is hard to find, it seems. My photo of the bird that appeared at Shollenberger Park in October 2011 is among the dozen or so of my photos included in the new book.

Serendipitous Art: Black on Black (February 2, 2017)

Black paint on black boards in a window painted black with a black frame. Black on black. Unintended art.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.
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