Friday, March 16, 2018

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 197 (Santa Rosa)

My most recent collage. A small piece that once again includes a bit of hand-written music from a stack of old music given me by fellow collage artist Sherry Parker. The music has a seductive charm of its own, but here I've used it purely as an abstract design element.

This is Untitled Collage No. 197 (Santa Rosa). January 29, 2018. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, found paper, collage. Image size: 13.3 x 12.0cm (5.2 x 4.7 inches). Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

For more of my collage (and other) work, visit my website at

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Books I'm Reading: Heisenberg's War

I've read a number books about the development of the atomic bomb and a detailed biography of Robert Oppenheimer. These books focused on bomb development efforts in the US, only touching lightly on German efforts to build an atomic bomb during WWII. Heisenberg's War (Knopf, 1993) looks at German progress toward a nuclear device in detail by examining what Werner Heisenberg was up to during the lead-up to the war and during the conflict and what the allies thought he was up to.

During the war, Heisenberg was regarded by the allies and his peers as the most important scientist in Germany. If anyone could build a bomb for Hitler, it would be Heisenberg, and fear of Hitler with an atomic bomb was the primary motivation behind the Manhattan Project, the concerted US effort to beat Hitler to the punch, at least at the outset. It was unclear, however, whether Germany was attempting to create a bomb. A great deal of intelligence gathering was aimed at trying to piece together a picture of German bomb plans. That uncertainty was a spur in the flank of the allied bomb builders. Signs coming out of Germany were ambiguous. Clearly the Germans were interested in heavy water, but, oddly, German scientific journals following the discovery of fission (not long before the start of the war) continued to publish routine articles about nuclear theory as if it was of no immediate importance except as a potential source of energy. The US enforced a moratorium on articles about nuclear research of any kind; the government did not want to arouse suspicion that it was interested in the subject, nor did it wish to give away any useful information. But routine public activity among German scientists might have been part of a deception....

As for theory, there was disagreement among scientists around the world about the nature of the nuclear chain reaction we now know is required to produce an explosion and about how much fissile material would be required to sustain such a reaction and a detonation. If tons of uranium would be required, it would be impossible to make a bomb small enough to transport by air to any target destination (early on there was talk about exploding a large bomb on a boat in an enemy port). In the early days, there was disagreement about whether such a reaction was possible at all, although scientists in the US (many who had fled Europe) were fairly quick to understand that a bomb was possible and what it would require to build a bomb--either enriched uranium or plutonium.

Natural uranium consists of two isotopes, Uranium 235 and Uranium 238. The heavier isotope, U-238, predominates. If my understanding is correct, U-238 absorbs neutrons to the extent that it hinders the chain reaction while U-235 does less so. Therefore, a bomb can be made with a much smaller amount of U-235. With an enriched mix of the two isotopes (more U-235 than in a natural sample), critical mass, it was understood, would be about the size of a pineapple and even smaller using pure U-235. The problem is that separating the two isotopes is a slow, expensive process. Many physicists at the time concluded that a bomb would take many years to develop because of the time required to separate enough U-235 to do the job. Meanwhile some physicists surmised that certain reactor designs could be used to produce plutonium, an element that had been discovered only recently. Plutonium is much easier to produce in quantity than enriched uranium. It was a U-235 bomb the US dropped on Hiroshima, but the Trinity test detonation was a plutonium bomb, as was the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. That is, ultimately the Manhattan project succeeded in enriching uranium, in producing plutonium, and in developing explosive nuclear device designs that worked both with enriched uranium and plutonium, but, as history has shown, it was a massive effort involving more than 130,000 workers, multiple production sites, and the equivalent of about US$23 billion in today's money.    

Despite worry in the US about Hitler acquiring a bomb before the allies, German scientists appear to have believed the idea was impractical (essentially that it would have required far more money than was likely to be available) and that it would be impossible to build an atomic bomb quickly enough to win the war with such a device. They also clung much longer to the idea that tons of fissile material would be required. Scientists in Germany did understand that it might have been done if there had been a will to do it (as the allies proved), yet they never asked for funding or much other support from Hitler's government. Author Thomas Powers suggests persuasively that that was a reflection of moral compunction. Few German nuclear physicists wanted a weapon of mass destruction at the disposal of a man like Hitler. More pointedly, Powers suggests Heisenberg deliberately exaggerated the difficulties of making a bomb and never let on that he understood the physics as well as he did, giving the lasting impression of relative German incompetence. When asked, Heisenberg repeatedly said critical mass would be a ton or two of fissile material long after he appears to have understood that was not true. Heisenberg attracted suspicion and mistrust in the scientific community worldwide because he decided to remain in Germany after most others had fled the country and Nazi-occupied Europe. He remained in Germany throughout the war. There was much speculation then and later about his loyalties, but he appears to have been fiercely loyal to Germany rather than to the Nazi Party.

The book does not read like an apology. It seems even-handed. It appears to be well researched and meticulously documented. Its arguments are compelling. The book is interesting for the broad sweep of history it presents as much for the intimate details it offers of allied monitoring of German bomb development, often drawn from primary sources. Recommended, although Heisenberg's War may offer a little too much detail for a reader only casually interested in its subject matter, a problem compounded by the fact that it becomes clear fairly early in the narrative that the Germans had no hope of making a bomb before the end of the war, in large part because no one in Germany was trying very hard.

Rain: More Rain (March 11-12, 2018)

A good storm yesterday and today left us with 1.15 inches of new rain, bringing our total so far in the 2017-2018 rain year to 14.65 inches. Normal for March 13 in Santa Rosa is going on 30 inches, however, which means we are way behind where we should be. Rain is forecast for tomorrow again. The more, the better.

[Update: More rain on March 14-15 added 1.65 inches to our total, which now stands at 16.30 inches. Better, but we need much more.]

[Update: Rain again since last reporting has brought the total as of today, March 18, to 16.40 inches.]

Friday, March 9, 2018

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms—Species Tulips, Michelia Yunanensis, and Two-toned Daffodils

A little warmth in the air today and a lull in the rain has coaxed out some new flowers in the garden. Today, March 9, the first species tulips bloomed (in this case Tulipa bakeri). First blooms today also on Michelia yunnanensis, a small tree related to the magnolias. Belatedly, I report also the first blooms on the two-toned daffodils in the garden, which opened on February 24.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Cocktail Glass Collection: Neon Cocktail Glass with Unusual Garnish

Here's another neon cocktail glass to add to my collection. Until now, I've found such signs only in front of bars, so this one's an outlier. It's not in front of a bar but in front of one of San Francisco's North Beach topless clubs--which explains the unusual garnish. It reminded me of a Mel Ramos painting. Is that a very large olive? A melon, maybe?

For more, click the "Cocktail Glass Collection" label at right at the top of the page.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Rain: Finally, More Rain (February-early March 2018)

After a very, very dry February, we've finally had a little real rain again (on the night of February 25-26 mostly), adding 0.30 inches. More rain is in the forecast for the coming few days. The more the better. So far, our total stands at only 10.95 inches, which is well below normal for the end of February. We'll see how much new rain we get in the coming week.

[Update: On the night of March 1, very heavy rain added 1.35 inches to our total. We now stand at 12.30 inches for the year as of March 1 noon, but more rain is forecast for tonight.]

[Update: As of noon on March 3, we've had an additional 0.90 inches, bringing the total to 13.20 inches for the year so far.]

[Update: Another 0.30 inches brought the total as of March 8 to 13.50 inches. It's supposed to rain for much of the coming week.]

Friday, February 23, 2018

Miscellaneous: Mass School Shootings--Here We are Again

Personally, I believe the 2nd Amendment doesn't (and was never intended to) guarantee an unrestricted right to all citizens to own any kind of firearm. I believe the NRA and gun rights supporters have perverted the meaning of the 2nd Amendment, but, let's set that aside for a moment. Let's assume it DOES guarantee that right. If it does, then, on the face of it, it imposes no restrictions on the kind of arms citizens are allowed to bear (throwing out the well-regulated militia idea as well, for the sake of argument and ignoring the fact that "bear arms" was never, until recently, understood to be the equivalent of "own a gun"). Logically, that means all US citizens have a constitutional right to own and use ANY kind of arms--simply, "to bear arms"; this is the NRA position. There seems to be a logical inconsistency here, though. Why stop at an AR-15 then? US citizens, by this interpretation have the right to own bazookas, cruise missiles, even ICBMs with nuclear warheads, if they can afford to buy such a thing. Further then, the authorities are failing to uphold the Constitution if they refuse citizens the right to buy nuclear weapons, cruise missiles, bazookas, machine guns--anything.

Crazy? Maybe, but even the Lapierres of the world seem to balk at claiming an individual's right to own an ICBM. To own a cruise missile maybe? Probably not. To own a bazooka? Maybe: I think there are probably a few gun rights activists who are angry they can't own a bazooka. So, even the staunchest gun advocates draw a line SOMEWHERE--somewhere just beyond a bazooka, perhaps. If so, that means even gun rights advocates recognize a class of weapons the ownership of which is NOT protected by the 2nd Amendment--that is, that the 2nd Amendment does not guarantee an individual's right to own ANY kind of weapon, that there are exceptions, limits. This is the common ground between gun control advocates and gun rights advocates.

I have to wonder: on what basis do gun advocates concede (if they do) that the Constitution does not guarantee citizens the right to own certain kinds of arms--say, a cruise missile? Presumably they would acknowledge that it is because such a missile is a weapon of war designed solely for the purpose of killing many human beings quickly. That suggests an obvious question: is an AR-15 different? I don't think it is. Someone please explain to me how an AR-15 or similar small arm is different in that respect from a bazooka, a cruise missile, a nuclear ICBM?

But, of course, this is all nonsense. The Amendment was written to protect state militias (well-regulated state militias) from the potential threat of a tyrannical government wielding a standing army against the people, and, historically, "to bear arms" has almost always meant "military service," not "own a gun." The Second Amendment says nothing about a private right to own weapons, and virtually any child can see that a right to the possession of anything has no place trumping the right to live in safety and with piece of mind.  It's time to take back the 2nd Amendment.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Art I'm Looking At: Robert Rauschenberg and Walker Evans at SF MOMA

Robert Rauschenberg, Collection (1954/1955)
San Francisco Museum of Art
I recently saw the Robert Rauschenberg retrospective now on view at SF MOMA (November 18, 2017 through March 25, 2018). I think the most striking thing about the show is the impression it gives that Rauschenberg was, essentially, a collage artist. Often his work actually was collage (or assemblage, the three-dimensional version of collage), but even when he was not making collages or assemblages, his sensibility remained that of a collagist to a remarkable degree; it was his instinct to juxtapose fragments of things.

Robert Rauschenberg, From
34 Illustrations for Dante's Inferno (1958-1960)
He came into his own at the height of abstract expressionism and matured as pop art emerged, but, looking at his work, he seems to be of neither movement. He worked large, but I don't feel he was concerned about the idea of the heroic painter. Although he incorporated commercial images and everyday objects into his work, I doubt his intent was to comment on consumerism and consumption or on how the media represent the world. He was an aesthete. What seems revolutionary was that he succeeded in created so much visually engaging work without using pretty materials. Up close, many of the pieces are messy (sometimes made out of actual trash), but ultimately they always seem to be about composition. Radical approaches and materials never trump composition.

Walker Evans
Garage in Southern City Outskirts, Atlanta Georgia (1936, printed 1972)
I also saw the large Walker Evans retrospective (closed February 4)—one of those shows that puts the best known work of an artist into perspective, teaching that the most familiar work is not necessarily the most representative. I had seen mostly Walker's familiar depression-era photographs before, but not a lot else, I realize now.

Walker Evans
Tin Snips by J. Wiss and Sons Co. (1955)
The exhibition looked at Walker's career from the perspective of his interest in the everyday, his implicit rejection of the formal, highly aestheticized conception of photography in the work of photographers like Stieglitz. Walker was interested in the things around him and in revealing them as they were. I think it was Ansel Adams who once said you don't "take" a photograph, you "make" a photograph, emphasizing the control of the photographer over the viewed world that resides in the finished image; the photographer is seen as a manipulator of the seen world, but Walker would have rejected that idea. His interest was in recording the present, taking what was there for what it was. A comparison with Atget is an obvious one, but I wasn't aware that Walker was conscious of and inspired by Atget. Apparently he was. Walker had seen and studied Atget's photographs (several of which appear in the show near similar views by Evans). I especially enjoyed a series of photographs of everyday objects shot almost as if intended for a sales catalog, such as the tin snips shown here. An enlightening show that was well worth seeing.  

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Michael Christie and Anna Fedorova with the Santa Rosa Symphony

I had the privilege of being the backstage photographer at the Santa Rosa Symphony again on February 13 at the Green Music Center. Santa Rosa Symphony director candidate Michael Christie led the Symphony in Bernstein's music from On the Waterfront, Prokofieff's Piano Concerto No. 3, and Dvorak's Symphony No. 9. Anna Fedorova was soloist in the concerto.

Wines I'm Making: Bottling 2016 Zinfandel and 2017 Rosé

I finally got around to bottling our 2017 rosé last week and it was time to get the 2016 Zinfandel I made from our neighbor's grapes into bottle as well, so I spent a day at it. I designed labels for the two wines as well as for a few older bottles of rosé that hadn't been labeled. Everything looks pretty good.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms--Yellow Daffodils (February 4, 2018)

The yellow daffodils in the front garden starting blooming yesterday, February 4, 2018, in response to the unseasonably warm weather we've had this week. It seems like spring already, with highs in the 70s. That said, this has been typical. These flowers have frequently bloomed in the first week of February since I started keeping track.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 196 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage. This is Untitled Collage No. 196 (Santa Rosa). January 26, 2018. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, graphite, found paper. Image size: 16.4 x 20.3cm (6.5 x 8.0 inches). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

For more, see my collage website at:

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Music I'm Listening To: San Francisco Symphony led by Thierry Fischer, Soloist Gautier Capuçon

I attended the January 28 evening performance at Davies Symphony Hall. Conductor Thierry Fischer replaced Charles Dutoit on the podium, but the program was otherwise unchanged. He led the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The concert opened with Debussy's Petite Suite, followed by Haydn's Cello Concerto No. 1 and, after intermission, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. Gautier Capuçon was soloist in the Haydn concerto.

Technical brilliance is by no means the only measure of a performer or a performance, but Capuçon is one of those who enters the stage with an aura of utter confidence and plays with such surety that, as a listener, you can take in a live performance with no anxiety—knowing that whatever happens on stage will be right. He is entirely persuasive. His performance of the Haydn concerto was taut with energy, passionate and gritty in places, yet lyrical where lyrical was called for.

Maybe it's just me, but when I listen to cello performances, I often find the four strings can have rather obvious differences of tone that don't always mesh well. The high string will be strident relative to the others or the low string too boomy. I thought Capuçon's cello unusually in synch with itself. According to Wikipedia, he mainly plays a 1701 instrument made by Matteo Gofriller, but also has a 1746 instrument by Joseph Contreras (both on loan to him). I don't know which he played on Sunday, but I liked its sound.

The audience was very appreciative. Following an extended standing ovation, Capuçon played El cant dels ocells (Song of the Birds) as an encore, supported by a number of cellos and basses in the orchestra. This Song of the Birds, based on a traditional Catalan song, seems to be a favorite encore among cellists following in the footsteps of Pablo Casals who regularly played it after concerts as a form of protest against the fascist Franco regime of Spain. I've heard  Zuill Bailey play it as encore as well.

Debussy's Petite Suite is always pleasant and it was fun to hear The Firebird Suite live. It's one of those pieces that offers a lot to look at on stage. I thought the performance of the latter a bit lacking in coherence here and there, but good overall. The audience was again very appreciative, offering another long standing ovation that resulted in another encore, the orchestra doing a lively run through something from one of Bizet's L'arlisienne suites. I noticed the Royal Philharmonic seats its musicians a bit idiosyncratically. Often European ensembles put the cellos stage right (while we usually put them stage left). In this case, the cellos were stage right but on the inside with the violas on the outside, closest to the audience. I noticed also that the Royal Philharmonic brought its own music stands.

Photo of Thierry Fischer by Marco Borggrove. Photo of Gautier Capuçon by Gregory Batardon. Photos courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Books I'm Reading: The Drunken Botanist

Amy Stewart's  The Drunken Botanist (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2013), is a versatile book likely to be of interest to anyone with even a passing interest in the things we drink and the plants we grow. The main text is divided into three sections: a look at fermentation and distillation; a look at the main plant ingredients of the liquors and liqueurs that go into alcoholic beverages; and then a look at various plants used in mixers and garnishes. Within these sections, short briefs (one to four pages each) treat the plants covered. Interspersed are cocktail recipes that use ingredients described and even short notes on how to grow some of the plants mentioned. Thus, the book is part plant dictionary, part cocktail recipe book, and part a grower's guide. The main sections are subdivided by type of plant. For example, section two is divided into herbs and spices, flowers, trees, fruit, and nuts and seeds. That arrangement, alphabetical listing within sections, and a good index make it easy to use the book as a reference, but it's engaging enough to read straight through.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Books I'm Reading: The Billionaire's Vinegar

I recently finished a book about forged art (specifically, about fake Vermeers). Mentioning that book to a friend prompted her to lend me The Billionaire's Vinegar, by Benjamin Wallace (Three Rivers Press, 2008), another book about forgery--in this case, forged wine. The emergence in 1985 of bottles of wine from the 1784, 1787, and other vintages purportedly owned by Thomas Jefferson, supposedly purchased by him during stays in Paris at around that time, was big news taken up by newspapers and news magazines around the world. I remember the stories. Skepticism wasn't far behind. The Billionaire's Vinegar is a nice piece of investigative journalism that goes a long way toward unraveling the mystery behind the discovery of the wine, its sensational sale for hundreds of thousands of dollars, the doubts about its authenticity and the authenticity of other antique bottles, and the investigations that ultimately exposed the Thomas Jefferson wines as having been faked by one Hardy Rodenstock, whose real name was Meinhard Görke.

Rodenstock was a genuine connoisseur, it seems, and, at least at first, had a talent for discovering genuine old bottles, usually buying them from forgotten cellars at old estates in Britain and Europe. He was something of a showman, too, and became known for staging incredible vertical tastings of some of the world's most sought-after wine. Inevitably, the supply of genuine bottles (small to begin with) began to dwindle following a boom in the world of fine wine actions that fueled demand, prompted collectors to sell old wine, and spurred old wine sleuths to find it. Rodenstock turned to forgery. As is so often the case with good forgers that eventually get caught, he began to get a little reckless--coming up with finds that began to seem too good to be credible. However, in a familiar pattern, some who initially judged some of his questionable wines to be genuine stubbornly stuck with him even as suspicion grew, because their reputations had become entangled with his. Michael Broadbent was the main casualty. Jancis Robinson was peripherally tainted, although less so.

Among those who bought fake wine from Rodenstock were the Forbes family and billionaire Bill Koch who brought his wealth to bear once his suspicions were aroused, funding an extensive (one might say obsessive) forensic investigation into the Jefferson bottle and others he had bought. Koch ended up spending several times the $150,000 or so the Jefferson bottle cost to ultimately determine that not only was it a fake but that Rodenstock had sold a string of highly questionable bottles over the years, notably old vintages of Chateau d'Yquem and other old Bordeaux in great years and in large-formats (imperials of 1921 Chateu Pétrus, for example, although the chateau had no record of any such bottling)--precisely the sort of rarity that collectors lust after. As in the case of Han van Meegeren's forged Vermeers, Rodenstock's forged wines cannily exploited the desires and assumptions of their victims, along with sometimes sketchy record keeping and simply the passage of time.

Koch ultimately filed a civil suit against Rodenstock in 2006 and won a judgment against him by default in 2010. Broadbent, meanwhile, unhappy about how he was portrayed in The Billionaire's Vinegar, sued Random House (which initially published the book) for libel. The dispute was settled out of court but the agreement stopped publication of the book in the UK and, according to the Wikipedia article on Hardy Rodenstock, the settlement forced Random House to state in court that allegations in the book were untrue, yet the company made no changes to the text and it appeared in all other markets. Given that and the ease with which books can be acquired from anywhere through the Internet, the stay of publication in the UK seems to have been a fairly hollow victory for Broadbent. The Billionaire's Vinegar is a mystery solved, a tale of greed and big money, and a cautionary tale all in one. Well researched, briskly written. Recommended.

The Cocktail Glass Collection: Pop's Bar, San Francisco

I think this may be my new favorite neon cocktail glass sign in San Francisco (hitherto, the sign at The 500 Club at 500 Guerrero St. has been my favorite, and it's still pretty fabulous). I love the bright neon doubled lettering, in particular. There's a nice mix of colors here, too--with white, pink, orange, yellow, and green tubes. The effect is enhanced by the Christmas lights wrapped around the tree just outside the entrance. This is Pop's Bar, at 2800 24th Street (at the corner of 24th and York St.).

For more, click the "Cocktail Glass Collection" label at right at the top of the page. Click the image for a larger view.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

At I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 195 (Santa Rosa)

My latest collage. I was in the mood for yellow. I started out with the idea of doing something entirely in shades of yellow, but the process has a way of taking over. Collages have a way of going where they will, and this is where this one went. This is Untitled Collage No. 195 (Santa Rosa). December 20, 2017. Image size: 25.7 x 34.8cm (10.1 x 13.7 inches). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, found paper, graphite, collage. Matted to 20 x 24 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Books I'm Reading: The Forger's Spell

Edward Dolnick's The Forger's Spell (Harper Perennial, 2008) is the story of one of the biggest art hoaxes of the 20th century, the story of how Han van Meegeren, a disillusioned, unappreciated Dutch artist duped a host of collectors, connoisseurs, and wannabe connoisseurs, including rapacious Nazi art thief Hermann Goering. Van Meegeren turned to forgery largely to get back at an art world that neglected him. He specialized in creating fake Vermeers—a comparatively easy target given that artist's small output and only sketchily documented life.

The book reads in places like a whodunnit, compelling for details of how forgers work (particularly, how Van Meegeren discovered he could quickly dry and harden fresh oil paint by mixing it with Bakelite and baking his new paintings in a slow oven); for the story it tells of competitive art looting between Hitler, Goering, and other top Nazis; and for its detailed chronicling of Van Meegeren's initial success as a forger, his unmasking, trial, and downfall, and his later rehabilitation in the popular mind as he came to be seen as a hero for fooling Goering. Having said all that, The Forger's Spell is perhaps most rewarding for the answers it suggests to perhaps the most interesting question about forgeries that have been revealed; how do clearly bad paintings take in people who really should know better?

As the author points out, many of the paintings by Van Meegeren that fooled scholars and collectors alike were clearly bad. His biggest success was perhaps his sloppiest. Van Meegeren's Christ at Emmaus, pictured above, was a crude attempt to suggest what Vermeer might have done with this Biblical subject under the influence of Caravaggio. The experts wanted to believe in the authenticity of the work because many believed Vermeer had been influenced by Caravaggio and that, in some sense, there ought to be such a painting. What is startling is that the obvious Vermeer-esque touches in this generally crude painting were enough to convince so many people. They include the single window to the left with light raking in from the side (although Christ's face ought to be in deeper shadow); the use of blue and yellow; the composition itself (roughly taken from a Caravaggio depicting the same subject); the placement of the hand on the table (a reference to a genuine Vermeer, The Astronomer, in the Louvre); and the jug on the table, an element in several genuine paintings by Vermeer. Van Meegeren's forgery is an object lesson in the power of playing on what people want to believe, and, in some instances, need to believe to preserve their standing among professional peers once committed to an assessment. Author Dolnick persuasively suggests that forgery done well (in the sense of forgery done successfully--setting aside the quality of the work) usually involves the people fooled doing most of the work for the forger. A committed believer will work hard to preserve his reputation.

Well researched and well written. Recommended.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Plants I'm Growing: First Blooms—Cyclamen Coum, White Flowering Plum

On the first day of 2018, the white Japanese flowering plum in the back yard started to bloom. It has bloomed as early as December 30, but it typically blooms in the middle of January (about now, today being January 14), so the flowers opened somewhat early this year.

On January 4, the first blooms appeared on the delicate dwarf cyclamen we have growing in back of the house under a Japanese maple--Cyclamen coum. The flower stalks stand only about two inches high. This tiny cyclamen typically blooms anywhere from late December to early January, so, that was in line with its usual pattern.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Rain: Almost an Inch--Then More

Rain off and on on January 4 and 5 added 0.70 inches of new rain at my location in northeast Santa Rosa. That brings our total for the 2017-2018 rain year to 7.00 inches. We are still well below normal so far, but every little bit helps.

[On January 7-8 we had more rain--an additional 2.95 inches. That brings our total for the year so far to 9.95 inches. Normal for this time of year is about 16 inches, so we are well behind average rainfall, but more rain is in the forecast for next week.]

[More rain about a week later added 0.70 inches to the total. As of January 20, we now stand at 10.65 inches for the year.]

[Drizzle on and off since last reporting added an additional 0.70 inches. As of January 24, the total for the year was 11.35 inches.]

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Art I'm Looking At: Linda Yoshizawa on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi (through February 25, 2018)

Linda Yoshizawa, on the Art Wall at Shige Sushi. Through February 25, 2018. Opening reception, Monday, January 22, 2018, 5:00PM to 7:00PM (open Monday for the reception only).

I've just finished hanging the latest show on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi--evocative, layered monotype collages of botanical subjects by Linda Yoshizawa.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Linda graduated with a BA in studio art from Pomona College in 1978. She studied silkscreen printmaking at the UCLA extension and produced editions at a serigraph workshop run by Evelyn B. Johnson in Southern California. In 2007, she built a studio in San Ramon, expanding her work to include solarplate etchings, collagraphs, and mixed media prints. Her artwork is in personal and corporate collections across the country including the Library of Congress, Kaiser Permanente, Eden Medical Center, and El Camino Hospital Foundation. She shows at Valley Art Gallery in Walnut Creek and Andrea Schwartz in San Francisco. She is a member of the California Society of Printmakers and the Los Angeles Printmaking Society.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Miscellaneous: Things We Need Words For

Things we need words for: A missed answer caused by a misreading of the question or simply hitting the wrong button while actually knowing the correct answer on an easy online quiz promoted as difficult so that getting a high score on it will provide an ego boost.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 194 (Santa Rosa)

After making a number of tiny collages recently, I've finished a couple of larger ones. This is Untitled Collage No. 194 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, found paper, collage. December 8, 2017. Image size: 24.9 x 32.4cm (9.8 x 12.8 inches). Matted to 20 x 24 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

I normally don't use found paper much, but this incorporates a piece of an envelope mailed from Denmark. Postage stamps in collage are a rather tired cliché, but I hope I've used them subtly here--for their color mostly, rather than in an attempt to evoke some automatic nostalgic response or to suggest something foreign. They are simply a compositional element. Diagonals can be tricky--never stable. I rather like the way the lines slanted to one side here nevertheless seem grounded and, I hope, right.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my website at

Books I'm Reading: To Cork or Not to Cork

When I open a bottle of wine, I usually look at the cork, if the wine has a cork. I look at it mostly to see what might be printed on the cork, what condition the cork is in, and, secondarily, to see what kind of cork it is. I've noticed over the years that there are many types--natural cork, composite corks of various description, composite corks with natural cork disks on the ends, and a number of styles of plastic corks. Then there are screw caps. What's the ideal closure for a bottle of wine?

Everyone seems to hate plastic corks. My own experience with them has been negative--particular the kind that is a single block of molded or extruded plastic. They can be exceedingly difficult to extract and they are so stiff that it's virtually impossible to re-close a bottle with a plastic cork. Plastic lacks cork's resilience, and, according to Taber, plastic corks don't seal very well. They tend to allow air to leak into the wine.

The main problem with corks has been taint with 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA, and a few related chemicals, which, even in the tiniest quantities (as little as two to three parts per trillion is detectable by some people; virtually anyone smells the tell-tale mousy, cardboard scent of a tainted cork at about 12 parts per trillion), can ruin a bottle of wine--often many years after purchase, by which time the buyer has no recourse.

In his book To Cork or Not to Cork (Scribner, 2007), author George M. Taber looks at the causes of TCA taint and modern responses to problems with natural cork, weighing the pros and cons of each approach.

According to Taber, a consensus seems to have emerged that screwcaps in many instances make much more sense than corks, especially in wines intended for early consumption and as long as winemaking techniques take into account the way different types of closures affect aging; under a screwcap, wine gets very little oxygen, making it vulnerable to reduction effects over long periods of time, whereas plastic corks (and bad natural corks) don't seal well, causing the opposite problem, oxidation. The advantage is that screwcaps can't be tainted with TCA. That said, cork continues to be favored for it's aesthetic qualities, especially for more expensive wines, and in certain markets. France, for instance, steadfastly rejects screwcaps, while New Zealand has wholeheartedly adopted metal closures, even for fine wines.

The proliferation of composite corks made from scrap cork (the bottle-closure equivalent of particle board), plastic corks, and screwcaps has made natural corks better. A complacent cork industry (with a centuries-long monopoly on wine closures) was finally forced to modernize around the end of the last century when it started losing significant market share to alternatives. Cork oak growers have consolidated, cork manufacturers have upgraded equipment to eliminate contact with the ground and other wood products during curing (that can harbor TCA), and, most importantly, eliminated the use of chlorine to bleach cork, as the presence of chlorine has been found to promote formation of TCA. Non-chlorine cleaning and bleaching have also allowed the manufacture of better composite corks, which allow use of waste from production of natural cork stoppers.

So, what's the best way to close a bottle of wine? As is so often the case, the answer is complex. Taber does a good job of presenting the arguments for and against putting corks in wine bottles in prose that never seems heavy, despite the somewhat dry subject matter. To Cork or Not to Cork is perhaps not for everyone, but it's likely to entertain and inform anyone with a serious interest in wine or anyone afflicted by the sort of intellectual curiosity that makes just about any subject worth reading about.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Rain: Dry December

It's been a dry December. Last night, a misty drizzle added 0.15 inches to our total for the 2017-2018 rain year, but, at 6.3 inches so fare, we are well behind normal. Normal for December 20 in Santa Rosa is a little over 10.5 inches. The last substantial rain we had was November 26.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 193 (Santa Rosa)

Another collage....This is Untitled Collage No. 193 (Santa Rosa). November 30, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size: 19.2 x 23.6cm (7.6 x 9.3 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 website at

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Art I'm looking at: Recent Shows

Sometimes it's hard to keep up with all the good art on view in the Bay Area. I've recently seen Klimt & Rodin: An Artistic Encounter (October 14, 2017 – January 28, 2018) at The Legion of Honor, Gods in Color: Polychromy in the Ancient World (October 28, 2017 – January 7, 2018), also at The Legion of Honor, and Richard Diebenkorn: Beginnings, 1942-1955 (October 8, 2017 – January 7, 2018) at the Crocker Museum of Art, in Sacramento.

I didn't need convincing that much ancient statuary and sculpture was once polychromed. We are used to seeing such statuary and sculpture stripped of color, but scholars have long been aware that many pieces preserve virtually invisible traces of pigments, and some pieces retain quite a bit of obvious color. Why were so many scrubbed clean (mostly by 19th century archaeologists and collectors)? A symptom of prejudice perhaps, but at least a result of taste, it seems. Some have argued the practice reflects racism--a deliberate attempt by mostly white males to suggest that the gods were "white like us." That seems a bit far-fetched to me, but my incredulity may be mainly a result of the progress in thinking we've made in the last 150 years (I have no such racial insecurities). Maybe scholars really did feel uncomfortable with colored statuary because of racial prejudice. I can't say. In any case, it seems clear that many felt ancient statues were more aesthetically pleasing without adornment, whatever the underlying, subconscious reason for that feeling.

There are parallels. I own six Japanese wooden chests (tansu). Three we brought back from Japan (where I lived for about 19 years), three we purchased here, in California. The three from Japan retain their original finish. The three purchased locally have been stripped of their color. Tansu usually were finished with stain or lacquer and have mostly acquired a patina of accumulated soot and dirt, but Tansu dealers here typically strip the pieces they buy in Japan because they can't sell them locally to an audience that expects them to be "clean." The patina is prized in Japan, despised here.

I think of carpets from the East and Japanese woodblock prints. Both weavers and print designers were delighted by the introduction of garishly bright (although often fugitive) aniline dyes in the 19th century, while taste among Western scholars and collectors of both rugs and Japanese prints has always shunned the brightest colors.

The reproductions in the Legion of Honor show are based on pigment traces and remnants of patterns found on the statuary. Scholars seem to be fairly confident their recreations are close to reality, but freshly painted, they seem garish and cartoon-like. Perhaps they would have quickly weathered into something much more subtle. Straight from the factory, so to speak, they are startlingly bright. I was reminded of my feelings about new tennis shoes in childhood--bright white shoes I'd always try to quickly dirty by hopping into muddy puddles. A small but thought-provoking show. A final display with samples of some of the pigments found on ancient statuary and modern methods of detecting their presence was particularly engaging, I thought.  

The Klimt/Rodin show is a sensible pairing of the work of contemporaries. The paintings seem right alongside the Rodin sculptures---an impression that contrasts with that created by the incongruous Sarah Lucas sculptures recently shown in some of the same galleries, although the connections between Rodin and Klimt are rather sketchily drawn here. No matter. The show offers an excellent chance to see some important work by Klimt and some rarely displayed drawings by Rodin (I've always thought Rodin's drawings more interesting than his sculpture). Several of the Klimt paintings have never been shown before in the United States.

Among the Klimts are several in the style he's best known for--stylized figures surrounded by and wrapped in bold patterning, such as The Virgin (1913) shown above, but included are some earlier works in a more realistic style, notably Portrait of Sonja Krips (1898), and an interesting unfinished Portrait of a Lady (1917) that brought to mind some of the oil sketches on cardboard done by Toulouse-Lautrec.

There are a number of large, square landscapes I thought reminiscent of Van Gogh (and one of the labels mentioned that they were painted shortly after Klimt had seen works by Van Gogh). A detail of A Garden In Italy (1913) is shown here. The frames on the paintings, too, are worth a careful look. Many are masterpieces of craftsmanship.

The Diebenkorn exhibition now on at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento subtitled Beginnings: 1942-1955, offers a good opportunity to see early works by Diebenkorn not often on view. The show focuses on the period preceding the artist's shift toward figurative work around 1955, but most of what's on display is from the latter part of this early period; there's little here that could be called juvenilia. The earliest pieces date to the time of Diebenkorn's WWII military service. There are a couple of interesting early sketches of fellow soldiers, for example, but the most compelling works are from the rarely seen cubist-influenced period (roughly 1946-1948), and then from the later Sausalito, Albuquerque, and Urbana periods. Diebenkorn moved to Sausalito in 1947, to Albuquerque in 1950, and later spent a year teaching in Urbana, Illinois, during the 1952-1953 school year, before moving to Berkeley, in 1953, after a very brief stay in New York.

I was familiar with the cubist-influenced work from photographs, but this was the first time I'd seen any of it in person. These paintings rely on bold primary colors and often use heavy, black linear elements to separate areas of color. Untitled (The Magician's Table) of 1947 shown here is typical. I struggle to see the later Diebenkorn in these. They are harder, more grid-like, and less subtle than the later work. Diebenkorn's best work I think derives its strength from a sublime balance between the dyadic and the static, from a generally (although not always) muted palette, and a subtle color sense. In the cubist-influnced works of 1946 to 1948 the artist focused on creating bold effects relying on stark contrasts and largely unmodulated, mostly primary colors. Seeing a grouping of them at once is jarring.

But it was not long before Diebenkorn began to find that balance. He also seems to have found a better technical footing. I noticed that the paint is badly crazed in many of the pieces from the cubist-influenced period but rarely so in pieces done after about 1948. And it is from around 1949 that Diebenkorn begins to look like the Diebenkorn we know from around that year to the figurative work that begins about 1955. The colors are softer, the compositions less grid-like. The linear elements are more nuanced. Areas of color start to have rounder, less defined edges. Paint layers become thinner. Reworked areas are allowed to show their history. In short, the paintings acquire a much expanded visual vocabulary, a more subdued palette, and a more sophisticated one. My favorite piece in the show, Untitled (Alburquerque) of 1951 (catalog raisonné No. 1093) is a perfect example of the change in style. The two paintings shown here couldn't be more different. The difference seems to reflect a complete reinvention of self. Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising. The figurative paintings and then the Ocean Park series of paintings look as different from each other and as different from these two styles as these two look from each other. Diebenkorn was rather good at swinging his rudder and veering off in new directions.

So many of the earlier paintings and drawings are untitled that it would have been helpful to have had each one identified with its number from the catalogue raisonné, but that has not been done. My other complaint would be that many of the large paintings are rather unevenly lighted in the Crocker galleries. But these are quibbles. The show is worthwhile if you're a Diebenkorn fan and haven't seen much work from the early periods. There is a lot here worth looking at and much of it is unlikely to be on view again any time soon. I plan to make a second visit before the show closes in January.

Catalog raisonné No. 795

Friday, December 15, 2017

Art I'm Looking at: The Minnesota St. Project, San Francisco

Last week I finally had an opportunity to visit the new arts complex on Minnesota St., in San Francisco. There is a large, two-storey warehouse-like building (1275 Minnesota St.) divided into gallery spaces and a second building that houses offices and a more museum-like space (1150 Minnesota St.). The La mère la mer (the mother the sea) show at the latter, presented by the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts was of interest. To quote the publicity materials:

[The show] "highlights the breadth of the McEvoy Family Collection, from Nion McEvoy and his mother Nan Tucker McEvoy (1919-2015). It features a variety of artists including Richard Diebenkorn, Roe Ethridge, Carsten Höller, Ragnar Kjartansson, Ed Ruscha, and Wayne Thiebaud.

The exhibition is organized around a principle of poetic assonance; works from the collection of the mother (la mère) resonate with works from the collection of the son and many depict the sea (la mer). The combination reveals commonalities and divergences across two related but singular creative minds."

In the main 1275 Minnesota St. building, however, I saw comparatively little that interested me. The exceptions were the works at the Jack Fischer Gallery, where I met Byron Ryono, now showing some small bronze sculptures that I enjoyed for their beautiful surfaces, and the show of works by Seiko Tachibana at Themes+Projects. At the latter, I especially enjoyed looking at three books this gallery has published of work by Hong Kong photographer Fan Ho, an artist I had never heard of before, but a master of light--someone I look forward to learning more about.

As sometimes happens, I liked some of the unintended art I found in the building best--for example, the composition shown here that I found on one of the steel girders supporting the building. Unintended art.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Untitled Collage No. 192 (Santa Rosa)

A small collage, a tiny collage. It measures 3.7 x 4.5cm (1.5 x 1.8 inches). This is Untitled Collage No. 192 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Matted to 8 x 10 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

For more of my collage work, visit my website at
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