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 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 about 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.]

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 http://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site

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 http://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site

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 http://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Cocktail Glass Collection: Palmer's Tavern, San Francisco

At 2298 Fillmore St., in San Francisco, is Palmer's Tavern, a new addition to my collection of photos of neon cocktail glass signs in front of bars. The glass looks fairly generic, but I like the blue  contrasting with the orange neon of the logo.

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

Books I'm Reading: Never Use Futura

If there's a typeface nerd in your circle of friends and family members, here's a great Christmas present idea. Douglas Thomas's Never Use Futura (Princeton Architectural Press, 2017) is a look at one of the most enduring modern typefaces. Futura and its variants are so common today we hardly see them any more, but they're everywhere, as a pictorial section of the book entitled "Futura in the Wild" clearly shows. Louis Vuitton, The Limited, Nike, Valero, Volkswagen, Swissair, Absolut Vodka, Vogue, Apple, Bed, Bath & Beyond, and the US Post Office, among many others have relied on its crisp, geometric forms for branding, but it's a much older typeface than I realized, having been first created around 1925. It rapidly caught on, becoming the go-to font for projecting a modern feel, both in Europe and the US. In its home country of Germany, it was, in particular, part of an internationalist trend in reaction to the peculiarly Germanic fraktur typefaces. The book looks at Futura from numerous angles—at its position in the history of typography, at its structure, at its political applications, and at its extensive use in advertising. It's always been a favorite of mine, despite my ignorance about its past. I use it myself in all the advertising for The Art Wall at Shige Sushi and in advertising material for my own art work. Its appeal is simple: when used in all caps, it creates neat, compact lines of text that are easy to incorporate into graphic design. Recommended--both the font and the book.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Music I'm Listening to: Grams Conducts the Santa Rosa Symphony, Stewart Goodyear Piano

Conductor candidate Andrew Grams, before going onstage
I attended the Sunday, December 3 performance of the Santa Rosa Symphony at the Green Music Center. Conductor candidate Andrew Grams led the Symphony in a program of Overture to King Lear by Berlioz, Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major, Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, and Debussy's Clair de Lune. Stewart Goodyear was the piano soloist. I didn't get to hear that much of the concert as I was backstage the whole time and the soundproofing is surprisingly good, but it's interesting to watch the backstage goings on with musicians arriving and warming up, with the administrative and other staff handling announcements, lighting, and changes in stage configuration, and watching the conductor and soloist going on stage and coming off again and their rituals before stepping into the lights and applause. Grams is the third of the five conductor candidates being considered to become the new music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony when Bruno Ferrandis leaves the post.

Conductor Grams and soloist Stewart Goodyear backstage

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Ar I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 191 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage, a small collage. This one is only 7.5 x 8.3cm or 3.0 x 3.3 inches. Untitled Collage No. 191 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. November 13, 2017.

Matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

For more of my collage work, visit my website at http://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Books I'm Reading: The Secret Lives of Color

Author Kassia St. Clair has converted a passion for color and a regular column about colors in British Elle Decoration magazine into The Secret Lives of Color (Penguin, 2016), a volume covering 75 colors of note. Some of these are as familiar as beige, others are as obscure as mummy, which was, yes, made by grinding up Egyptian mummies. The main entries, each two- to three-pages long are grouped by hue and the pages are edged in the hue under discussion so that the book from the side looks like a package of construction paper in assorted colors. Another 120 or so colors are given one- to two-line mentions in a "Glossary of Other Interesting Colors" at the back of the book. There are fairly extensive notes, recommendations for further reading, and a good index as well.

When I hear the word "color" I think in terms of pigments, but St. Clair uses "color" in the vernacular sense of a hue or shade. Thus, while many of the colors discussed are, in fact, pigments (white lead, Prussian blue, and vermillion, for example), as many or more in the book are not—colors such as "acid yellow," "fluorescent pink," and, more tamely, "taupe." As the authors puts it, "Some are artists' colors, some are dyes, and others are almost more akin to ideas or sociocultural creations."

Pigments tend to be constants; we know white lead (lead carbonate) today is the same shade it was hundreds of years ago. Vermillion (mercury sulfide) is always vermillion. Hues are more slippery and for a variety of reasons. The color associated with a particular name may change over time or be different in different cultures using the same root word. Names themselves change over time. I thought it interesting to learn that both "russet" and "scarlet" (and apparently "blanket") were originally terms for types of cloth rather than colors, and that russet today is a shade rather redder than it would have been understood to be even 100 years ago (when it denoted a range of dull brownish, grayish colors). Some colors become lost entirely, for technical reasons, and, when revived, there is no way to know for certain if we've produced the lost shade; Tyrian purple, made from the bodies of a certain sea snail in the genus Murex, is the classic example of a lost color, but Egyptian blue was lost as well, and no one makes mummy any more. Even indigo is not as certain as it may seem; some 30 plants are known to be a source of natural indigo, but different plants and different processing techniques may create subtle differences of hue, and today most indigo is entirely synthetic. Then there is the difference between subtractive (emitted color) color and additive (reflected) color. In short, color is a complex subject and the stories of virtually all colors are rich in historical, social, and scientific nuance.

However, being something of a pigment nerd and an artist who has used inks and paints since childhood, much of the information in The Secret Lives of Color was familiar to me already. I would have welcomed a deeper dive into the technical side of things, but St. Clair is writing for a more general audience. Her essays, she says, are intended to be "something between a potted history and a character sketch" for each color. And so they are. They are light enough to be easily read and entertaining yet they have enough technical information to make the book a useful quick reference. That said, reading The Secret Lives of Color left me wanting to indulge in something like Artists' Pigments: A Handbook of Their History and Characteristics (Barbara Berrie, editor), a multi-volume compendium costing hundreds of dollars and full of all the trivia I so love when it comes to pigments. It's on my Christmas list.

Rain: New Rain on November 26, 2017

It's been raining on and off all day today, November 26, 2017. So far there's 0.85 inches in the rain gauge. That brings our total so far for the current rain year to 5.75 inches. Normal for this date is about 5.82 inches, so we're somewhat behind normal, but it's still raining....

[The rain that continued eventually added another 0.40 inches to the total, which is now at 6.15 inches as a result.]

Monday, November 20, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 190 (Santa Rosa)

Another diminutive collage. This is Untitled Collage No. 190 (Santa Rosa). November 12, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size: 14.6 x 10.9cm (5.7 x 4.3 inches). Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse. Matted to 14 x 11 inches.

For more of my collage work, visit my website at http://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site

Friday, November 17, 2017

Books I'm Reading: Goshawk Squadron

Derek Robinson's Goshawk Squadron (Cassell Military Paperbacks) was first published in 1971, but I read the 2000 edition pictured. This is one of the books left behind by my father who had an interest in military history, among many other things. It's not something I would have bought myself and I went into it with no particular expectations, but it turned out to be well written.   The central character, is the young but seasoned leader of Goshawk Squadron who has a simple, brutal philosophy: aerial combat is about killing enemy pilots. The idea of chivalry in the air is alien to him. He sees no honor in combat. He does his best to drill this idea into a string of utterly green replacements in the hope of keeping some of them alive. This reminded me a little of Andersonville, which I recently read, in that it is fiction but fiction apparently based on careful research. Much of the impact of Goshawk Squadron can be traced to the fact that it feels entirely authentic. A short but worthwhile read.

Rain: 2.55 inches of New Precipitation

It's rained on and off the past few days, at times heavily. We've had 2.55 inches of new rain since I last reported. That brings the total for the current (2017-2018) rain year to 4.90 inches.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Cocktail Glass Collection: The Page, San Francisco

At 298 Divisadero St., in San Francisco, is The Page, a small neighborhood bar with a nice neon sign out front. I like the custom script here and the contrast between the yellow lettering and the blue cocktail glass.

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

Art I'm Making : Untitled Collage No. 189 (Santa Rosa)

My latest collage—a rather large one for me, although small by the standards of most. This is Untitled Collage No. 189 (Santa Rosa). October 30, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size: 34.6 x 25.3cm (13.6 x 10.0 inches). Matted to 24 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse. This one features some venetian red papers I made recently that are suggestive of writing. These asemic scrawls were entirely unintentional, but I liked them.

For more of my collage work, visit my website at http://ctalcroft.wixsite.com/collage-site

The Cocktail Glass Collection: The Boom Boom Room, San Francisco

I recently drove by the Boom Boom Room, at 1601 Fillmore St, in San Francisco. The glass in this one appears generic (although the blue-green hue is unusual), but the rest of the sign is a custom design with a lot of nicely done text.

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

Art I'm Looking At: Edvard Munch in San Francisco

Edvard Munch, Puberty, 1894.
Munch museum, Oslo. Photo by the author.
It's been weeks now
since I saw the recently closed Edvard Munch show at SF MOMA (which ran from June 24 to October 9, 2017). I had intended to visit a second time and to write something, but time slipped away and then the fires hit (on the day the show closed). I did want to record a few impressions, however, even if belatedly. Mainly, I was struck by two things: the extraordinarily loose brushwork in many of the later canvases and a boldness of color that I have never associated with Munch. The latter, in particular, was a surprise. Munch is best known for two or three distinctive images: primarily The Scream and Madonna (in their various forms), and perhaps Vampire and Puberty (both of which exist in a number of versions as well). These are all angst-ridden, psychologically dark works rendered mostly in somber colors. This is the Munch I suspect most people know. The SF MOMA show brought together a large number of less familiar works, an extraordinary number from the Munch Museum in Oslo, that, seen together, fundamentally changed my view of the artist.

Edvard Munch, The Death of Marat, 1907.
Munch museum, Oslo. Photo by the author.
His brushwork often was bold—daring even. Many of the canvases look barely finished. They give the impression of roughed-in sketches to be completed later. Faces are mask-like, skull-like, or cartoonish. The Death of Marat (1907), for example, is a loose lattice of lines in thinned paint that allows the canvas to show through.

Edvard Munch, Self-portrait with Bottles, 1938.
Munch museum, Oslo. Photo by the author.
There is no denying that Munch was fairly obsessed with the death of his older sister Sophie, obsessed with sickness and death in general. His was a morbid mind, apparently, and many of the paintings are of morbid subjects. Yet, what was most striking about stepping into the galleries at the SF MOMA show was the color. If Munch was psychologically dark, he was by no means always dark in a literal sense. Munch was a strikingly distinctive colorist, as some of the examples here show, even if he often used slightly garish, starkly contrasting color combinations mainly to heighten a sense of unease.

Edvard Munch, Model by the Wicker Chair, 1919-21.
Munch museum, Oslo. Photo by the author.

Edvard Munch, The Artist and His Model, 1919-21.
Munch museum, Oslo. Photo by the author.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Miscellaneous: Things We Need Names For

I wish there were a word for a mysterious small object that creates an alarmingly loud ring as it shoots up the vacuum cleaner and disappears before you have had a chance to see whether it's something worth digging for in the vacuum cleaner bag innards to recover.

Speaking of useful words, a while back I came across a wonderful word for marks that look like writing but aren't writing--think of the marks in some of Cy Twombly's work, or imagine fake calligraphy. Does anyone know this word? I've been unable to remember it. It's something I'd like to recover from the vacuum cleaner bag that is my brain.

[Update: Someone has reminded me. The word I was looking for is "asemic."]

Rain: More Rain (November 10, 2017)

More rain on the night of November 9 and into the following day has added 0.30 inches of new precipitation, bringing our total so far for the 2017-2018 rain year to 2.35 inches.

Books I'm Reading: Wine, Giant Squids, and a Yellow Diamond

I normally write about the books I'm reading one at a time, but so much time has been lost by dealing with disruptions caused by the recent fires that I have three to note here in order to catch up. I've recently finished Todd Klimann's The Wild Vine (Clarkson Potter, 2010), the tale of one of North America's most interesting native grape varieties, Norton, also known as Cynthiana. Years ago, driving across the country, I stopped in the Missouri wine country where a lot of Norton is still grown and tasted Norton wines. They seemed the most familiar among the many wines I tasted on my trip made using non-vinifera grapes (Norton is believed to be Vitis aestivalis or a hybrid including a large aestivalis component). I thought the Norton wines I tried competently made and drinkable but not very exciting. Port-style wines made from Norton seemed the most successful. The book discusses Norton's history in Missouri and elsewhere, its origins, a rise to domestic prominence (and even some surprising successes overseas), and then its subsequent fall into obscurity. An interesting, if rather narrowly focused read.

I followed that with a rather different book, Richard Ellis's The Search for the Giant Squid (Penguin, 1998) a highly readable look at the rather mysterious, poorly studied, poorly understood, largest members of the squid family. Much of the book is an attempt to bring some clarity and objectivity to historical reports of giant squid from around the world--often reports of "monsters" that probably were squid. One section looks at squid biology. Another looks at the giant squid in literature and film. An entire section is devoted to known models of giant squid, mostly in museums around the world. In short, everything to know about the giant squid is here. That's a lot, but the take-away from reading the book is actually that we know very little about the biology and habits of these largest of the invertebrates.

In another switch, I then turned to reading the latest mystery from Andrew Martin, The Yellow Diamond (Faber and Faber, 2015). I'm not usually a fan of mysteries, but my mother introduced me to Martin's Jim Stringer series of mysteries a few years back and I enjoyed those very much for the good writing, the masterful evocation of period (early 1900s), and of place (various parts of England, France, and later one in India), but especially for the vividly described railroad culture in them; Jim Stringer is a detective on the railroads, formerly an engine driver. The books are steeped in the language of the railroads, which makes them both a little challenging to get into at first but rewarding. The Yellow Diamond is the first in a new series that takes place in more modern times and with a new detective, one Blake Reynolds, investigating the super rich in London. The ending leaves one wondering what's next for the main character. I suspect another Reynolds adventure is on the way--if one hasn't been published already. Reading this after the fires was a welcome escape.

While waiting out the progress of the recent fires I also read The Janissary Tree, by Jason Goodwin (Picador, 2006), the first in another series of mysteries recommended by my mother. This one features Yashim, an investigator in the late days of the Ottoman Empire. Yashim is a eunuch, which gives him access to the harem and other inner chambers of the Sultan's palace in Istanbul, usually off limits to outsiders. He has an interest in cooking, eating, solving mysteries, and—because Yashim became a eunuch  after puberty—in women. In this tale, a series of gruesome murders--linked, we learn, to the disgruntled remnants of the Sultan's Janissaries--keeps Yashim in the streets of Istanbul, in the harem, and in trouble.  Like most good mysteries, the pleasure here is as much in the atmosphere and detail Goodwin achieves as in the plot.  I'm not usually a mystery reader, but I liked this well enough that I'm curious to find out what Yashim gets up to in the next book in the series.
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