Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Music I'm Listening to: Ton Koopman, Mark Inouye with the San Francisco Symphony

I always wonder how orchestra performers feel when they sit through an encore by a soloist. Impossible to generalize, of course. I imagine some genuinely enjoy listening from the best seats in the house, but I always suspect some may be a little jealous, that some may be in a hurry to get home and hope the encore doesn't go on too long. And usually encores don't. Is two to three minutes normal perhaps? Following his performance of the Hayden Trumpet Concerto last Friday (March 20), a prolonged standing ovation prompted an encore from Mark Inouye, principal trumpet of the San Francsico Symphony. Instead of taking center stage, however, he walked to far stage left and stood beside principal bass Scott Pingel. With a nod of the head from Inouye, Pingel began a jazz riff that morphed into a seven or eight minute-long improvisation by the two based on "Corcovado" (the 1960 bossa nova tune by Antônio Carlos Jobim, known also as "Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars"). Inouye is clearly a gifted jazz trumpeter. It was an extraordinary performance. The concert was worth the price of admission just for this unusual bit of stretching out. As I say, I always wonder what the other performers are thinking during encores, but the expressions on the faces of the symphony members suggested they truly enjoyed this extended bit of fun. The audience loved it, too. Afterward, I asked Pingel about the encore from the edge of the stage. He laughed and said they had planned to do something but hadn't thought too much about what. Pingel said that Inouye had told him to do something based on "Corcovado" and that he (Inouye) would just jump in--and so he did.

Before the Haydn concerto, guest conductor Ton Koopman--an incurably jolly-looking elf of a man (although he looks rather serious in the photo here)--led the symphony in the first suite of music from Handel's Water Music, which involves quite a work out for the French horns. After intermission, Koopman gave us a tight, precise, but expressive reading of Haydn's Sypmhony No. 98. Listening to this music from 1792, I was struck in places by how modern it sounds--a feeling I've had listening to Haydn before. There were passages that seemed to point directly to Beethoven and to Brahms. All in all, an excellent night of music.

Photos of Mark Inouye and Ton Koopman courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony.

Wines I'm Drinking: 2006 Ardente Atlas Peak Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Grande Reserva

Intensely colored. A rather youthful-looking purple--which is unusual in a wine that already has spent nine years or so in bottle. Tobacco, earth, chocolate, leather, and black cherries on the nose at first, with something slightly musky in the background. Good acid, bright on the attack. Richer mid-palate with some nice tannins, but with a rush of acidity again toward the finish. Decent length, with leathery, chocolatey tannins lingering on the finish. Tasty, but still seems quite young, at least when just opened. I let the wine sit for a while and I began to get hints of butter and sandalwood on the nose, and later marzipan, brandied cherries, and even mint, and the rather prominent acidity on the palate began to soften a little. The bright acidity suggests this wine will keep and that it would nicely compliment rich meat dishes. I got this for just under $10 at my local Grocery Outlet. Recent vintages sell for about $36 a bottle elsewhere. Good value.

Art I'm Looking At: Suzanne Jacquot, Abstract Painter, on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi, Cotati

In my role as a curator, I'll next be showing the work of Sonoma County painter Suzanne Jacquot on the Art Wall at Shige Sushi in Cotati. The show opens this coming Tuesday, March 31 and will run through the end of May. Artist reception Monday, April 6.

This week is the last week to see the current show: Janis Crystal Lipzin—Color Photographs from The "Starflex Series" (through March 29). For more information, visit

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Rain: Unexpected Overnight Rain (March 21-23, 2015)

We had showers in the early morning hours last night--showers that I don't remember being in the forecast. We got 0.15 inches, which is hardly enough to make much of a difference, but better than nothing. That brings the total for the 2014-2015 rain year (which ends on June 30, 2015) to 22.90 inches at this location (other Santa Rosa locations have reported closer to 21 inches for the season). In either case, that's well below the historical average for this date (March 22), which is 30.88 inches.

[Update: More rain overnight on the March 22 - March 23 gave us an additional 0.25 inches, bringing our total to 23.15 inches.]

Monday, March 16, 2015

Art I'm Looking At: "Birds" at Ice House Gallery (March 16, 2015)

I attended the opening of the latest show at Ice House Gallery in Petaluma, "Birds" a show of art depicting birds--work by a diverse group of artists including Dick Cole, Sylvia Gonzalez, Diana Majumdar, Robert Poplack, Michele Rosett, Stephanie Sanchez, and Joanne Tepper.

Sylvia Gonzalez's work is attractive for its decorative qualities. She sketches birds on top of subtle, layered backgrounds created using a number of techniques, notably Xerox lithography. Some of her pieces are colorful arrays of smaller works. Diana Majumdar sketches very freely, but she nicely captures the kind of quizzical attitudes that often make birds so endearing, and she gets the birds right--which satisfies the bird watcher in me. Recognizable among her works in the show were Bushtits (Psaltriparus minimus, detail shown above) and a sparrow that I couldn't positively identify but one rendered in a way that makes me confident I could have done so with a field guide in hand--perhaps Five-striped Sparrow (Aimophila quinquestriata) or Black-throated Sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata). Dick Cole's work shows some nice painterly effects. Joanne Tepper's work is realistic--with an emphasis on draughtsmanship--but often whimsical at the same time. In her paintings she likes to pose real bird species on teacups, for instance (one such painting was on the cover of the 2014 Art Trails catalog).

I spent about an hour walking around Petaluma after visiting Ice House Gallery and dropping in at Griffin Map Design & Gallery, a couple of doors down, where the Ladies Night show is still on. The most interesting bird art I saw during the evening may have been this 4-foot-high cardboard creation in a shop window along the main drag. I wonder who made this wonderful owl? If you're a bird lover and an art lover, however, my top recommendation would be to take the time to visit Erickson Fine Art Gallery in Healdsburg to see some of the wonderful bird paintings done on gold leaf by Antoinette Von Grone that Erickson shows.

Later I stopped at Riverfront Gallery where an eye-catching photographic montage by Jeremy Joan Hewes depicting a crow or raven seemed the most interesting thing on the walls. Finally, I checked out Prince Gallery, which has a new show of photography up. I especially liked the work of one Laura Alice Watt. Her dreamy pinhole images really struck a chord with me. They are beautiful, blurry  corners of the natural world--not at all in the tradition of "nature photography"--but striking nevertheless. She says in her artist's statement that she rejects the perfection of much nature photography. She says  "I am more interested in a direct connection with the world around me...attempting to see nature from the inside, via interaction, rather than simply admiring from afar." Compelling images.

Books I'm Reading: Richard Diebenkorn: Abstractions on Paper

For my birthday I received a copy of Richard Diebenkorn: Abstractions on Paper, a comparatively new (July 2013) book about the work of Richard Diebenkorn (a gift I had asked for). I came across it quite by accident on the Internet. I can't remember what I was searching for, but I'm glad I found this diminutive (6 x 8-inch) volume, one of three about Diebenkorn published in the same format by a small California press I'd never heard of--Kelly’s Cove Press--in association with the Richard Diebenkorn foundation. I knew I wanted the book simply because I like Diebenkorn and because in the Diebenkorn retrospective at the De Young in the summer of 2013 works on paper were some of the more interesting and rarer pieces (click here for my review of that show). Now that I have the book in hand, I'm deeply impressed--and thrilled to see this is actually a catalog for a traveling show of these and other works on paper (many never before published) that will make a stop in Sonoma County this summer, at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, in the town of Sonoma, from June 6 through August 23, 2015.

The book contains 88 full-color plates and a number of black and white views of Diebenkorn’s studio spaces. It covers nearly his entire career, starting in the late 1940s and early 1950s in Sausalito, Albuquerque, Urbana, and Berkeley, moving on to the Ocean Park period (1967-1988), and then to his late period (1988-1992), in Healdsburg. I had no idea he had retired and spent his final years so close by. I was in Healdsburg today. There is little text and almost all of it is at the end of the book. There are no essays, only descriptions (titles, dates, dimensions, media, etc.) and these are presented in a block following the images rather than alongside them, so that each page of the book presents a single image with no distractions. Besides the descriptions there are only: a page of credits identifying the seven short quotes interspersed among the images on otherwise blank pages; a brief (five-paragraph) biography; and the end matter. It's a pleasure to flip slowly through the main section of the book, getting a new gem with every new page.

The quotes are wonderful. Diebenkorn appears to have been a man of few words, having given only a handful of interviews over the years, as far as I can tell, but what he says always resonates--although perhaps his words are especially meaningful to a working artist. I don't want to spoil the fun, but two quotes I liked in particular. "One wants to see the artifice of the thing as well as the subject," said Diebenkorn (this from Contemporary Bay Area Figurative Painting, Paul Mills, ed., Oakland Art Museum, 1957). It was probably uttered in response to a question about his figurative work, which in Diebenkorn's, case blossomed after an extended, highly productive period of pure abstraction, but it's a sentiment that bears repeating today in the context of an art world bamboozled by art that has become so divorced from the human hand that it barely supports the descriptor "art" any longer. Yes, indeed. One wants to see the artifice.

The other I liked was "There's nothing I cannot paint over." That made me laugh out loud. Here I suspect Diebenkorn is talking about the courage and clarity of vision it requires to see that nothing is sacred, despite that feeling we artists sometimes get that a particular effect, some combination of colors, some juxtaposition of lines is perfect and inviolable--although it's almost never the case that such details can't be improved upon, set aside, painted over, left behind during the process of achieving something better. A beautiful little book.  

The book has been produced in association with a traveling exhibition entitled The Intimate Diebenkorn: Works on Paper 1949-1992. The exhibition began its tour at the College of Marin Fine Arts Gallery, in Kentfield, moved to San Jose State University and then to American University in Washington DC. It will next appear at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, as noted above. The show ends at The University of Montana, in Missoula, on view there from September 24 to December 12, 2015. In conjunction with the same show, Kelly's Cove Press has also published Richard Diebenkorn: From the Model and Richard Diebenkorn: Still Lifes and Landscapes. The books retail for $20 each.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Art I'm Making: Cyanotypes and Van Dyke Prints

I recently visited the Santa Rosa studio of photographer Barbara Elliott, whose work I plan to show in August and September on the Art Wall at Shige Sushi. We ended up talking for a couple of hours. One subject that came up was the work she's been doing trying to learn the platinum/palladium photographic process. We also talked about cyanotypes--a process that's always interested me for its simplicity. I've fooled around with pre-sensitized sheets for making cyanotypes before, but the sheets are small, expensive, and rather flimsy. Barbara told me about supplier Bostick & Sullivan, where I just got a deluxe kit of chemicals for making both cyanotypes and Van Dyke prints.

Cyanotypes, as the name suggests, are blue (blueprints are essentially cyanotypes), the final image formed by a insoluble deposit of ferric ferrocyanide--also known as Prussian blue, which has always been one of my favorite colors (remember the "Midnight Blue" Crayola crayon?). Van Dyke prints are brown, but rather different in color from a sepia-toned print. I associate the Van Dyke process mostly with the work of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, who together used it extensively in the 1840s to make portraits that remain highly regarded today. Anna Atkins, who published a book of photograms of algae and other plants  in three volumes, in the 1840s and 1850s and is usually credited with creating the first book illustrated with photographs, used the cyanotype process. I look forward to playing with my new chemicals.

["Midnight Blue" was one of the original eight Crayola colors introduced in 1903. Until 1958, it was known as "Prussian Blue." It's still in the line-up. It was always my favorite.]

Opening of the show "Birds" tonight at Ice House Gallery, in Petaluma (March 14, 2015)

Tonight I plan to attend the opening of a new show at Ice House Gallery, in Petulama. "Birds" an exhibition celebrating the art of rendering birds by artists Dick Cole, Sylvia Gonzalez, Diana Majumdar, Robert Poplack, Michele Rosett, Stephanie Sanchez, and Joanne Tepper. 405 East D Street, Petaluma. Reception tonight from 5:30 to 8:00. Look for a review here in the next couple of days.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Art I'm Making: New Collages (January-February 2015)

Still trying to catch up with posting images of my most recent collage work, here are two recent pieces--Untitled Collage No. 87 (Santa Rosa) and Untitled Collage No. 88 (Santa Rosa). The first of these is nearly all in black and white--with just a little Prussian blue and a touch of red. The tiniest touch of color in just the right spot can transform a composition. It has the feel of a landscape, although entirely abstract in conception (acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage, 13.3 x 10.4cm, January 28, 2015).

Untitled Collage No. 88 (Santa Rosa) is a small, nearly square piece that uses a scrap of pastel-covered drawing paper I got from another artist (the rust-colored element) and incorporates a sliver of an engineering drawing.

Click on the images for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at (requires Flash Player). Come see my work in person during the Art at the Source open studios event, June 6 & 7 and June 13 & 14, 2015--at Studio 48, in Sebastopol

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Plants I'm Growing: Michelia Yunnanensis, Nanking Cherry, Two-toned Daffodils

The Michelia yunannensis in the side yard (a magnolia relative) starting blooming on March 1 this year. First blooms on March 2 on the Nanking cherry by the birdbath (Prunus tomentosa), a bush cherry with very delicate pretty, barely pink blossoms. First blooms on the two-toned daffodils in the front yard on March 3.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Art I'm Looking At: "Ladies Night" Opening Reception (February 28, 2015)

Last night (February 28) I attended the opening of the new show at Griffin Map Design & Gallery--"Ladies Night," featuring work by fourteen local artists, all women.

I particularly liked the small pieces by Meg Regelous, whose work I've seen before at the Healdsburg Center for the arts. She's showing a drawing, an etching, and what looks like a linocut, suggesting the wide range of her activities. She's young, enthusiastic, and stylistically still evolving, perhaps, but I look forward to watching her career.

I had a long conversation with Jaynee Watson. She appears to be mainly a performance artist, but her contribution to the Ladies Night show is two mixed media pieces--Nothing More/Less #1 and Nothing More/Less #2. They are not quite collages but not straight drawings either. Both are done on backgrounds of what looks like thin card stock rather crudely cut into near-rectangular shapes onto which she's painted with latex, gouache (perhaps), and drawn on with pencil and black crayon. What at first glance look like graphite lines in the images are actually fine sewing needles suspended from threads, their effect subtly doubled by shadows. A scrap of plastic is attached in the lower right corner of Nothing More/Less #1 (shown here). Semi-circular dimples at the top of the sheet are actually bite marks. The sheets are shown unframed, nailed at their corners to the wall.

There is no pretense of prettiness in Watson's art or the way it's shown. The work is direct, simple, accessible, unfinished, bare. The corners of the sheets are perforated with overlapping nail holes, evidence of previous hangings. It was hard to resist the temptation to play with the dangling needles or to run a finger over the bite marks or to feel the surface of the small plastic piece attached to Nothing More/Less #1. I suspect Watson wouldn't have minded. The works invite interplay. They have a palpable vulnerability. They are open to accident, vandalism, wear, and she has deliberately chosen non-archival materials. Nothing More/Less #2 uses strips of what look like black electrician's tape (when I asked, she explained the tape was the seal from a tin of printmaking ink) and other inexpensive plastic tapes that will deteriorate and probably stain the underlying sheet. She told me human beings don't last forever and that their art shouldn't either. I found the insouciance behind the works made me a little uncomfortable. I almost wanted to clean them up, to make them neater--yet I found these unabashedly unpretentious pieces of art strangely compelling at the same time.

Perhaps my favorite piece in the show is a painting by Angelina Maria Rodrigues called Flight. Painting isn't quite the right word. Like Watson's two pieces, Flight doesn't fit well into a category. The surface is not really a surface. It's made up of numerous fine strands of variously colored yarn wrapped around what looks like a canvas stretcher. Onto the yarn layer, Rodrigues has attached pieces of cloth--some that look like fabric scraps, others that look like pieces of clothing or lingerie--and the whole is splattered with what she described as "house paint." The lighting was difficult. My photograph here doesn't do the piece (or Watson's piece) justice; the yarn layer is subtly colored. The variety of textures is a pleasure--the yarn, the yarn with paint on it, the unpainted fabric, the paint-splashed fabric, the strip of smooth unpainted canvas at middle left, the different textures of the fabrics (some of which look like nylon stocking material), and the wood of the support are all different. This thick wooden armature and the gaps in the yarn layer, which allow you to see through to the back side of the piece and the wall behind it add depth--literally. There is also a slightly titillating tension as you go back and forth between viewing the piece solely as an abstraction and being drawn in to an examination of the fabrics as pieces of clothing, which can suddenly give you the feeling of looking at a pile of someone's laundry, some of it intimate. I look forward to seeing more of this artist's work.

I also enjoyed a tongue-in-cheek pair of photographs by Kadie Sue Anderson. The Blond Bimbo Beauties, shown here, is a send-up but it's attractive for its formal qualities at the same time. I like the use of color--the overall palette--but especially the train of yellows that runs from the mail holder at bottom left through the filing cabinet, the two skirts, the yellow shoes in the book case, and the paper folder there. The shadows on the wall behind the figures are beautiful in their own right. I also like the way it's so easy to imagine the women singing. You can almost hear this image.

I thought pieces by Jamie Drobnick, Angella Dela Cruz, and Cammy York also of interest. The show at Griffin Map Design & Gallery (405 East D Street, Suites D and F, Petaluma, CA 94952--707 347-9009) will run through March 28. Curator Justin Ringlein has chosen some good art. Worth a visit. Next to the Ice House Gallery (which will be showing new work from March 14).

The Cocktail Glass Collection: Mario & John's Tavern, Petaluma

Last night I attended an art show opening at Griffin Map Design and Gallery on D St., in Petaluma. On my way home I noticed Mario and John's Tavern, at 428 E. D St. Here I add it to my small but growing collection of neon cocktail glass signs. I liked this custom neon sign for the unusually squat cocktail glass on top.

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

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Dwarf Peach, Dwarf Nectarine, Tulipa Bakeri (February 2015)

Plants are coming into bloom in rapid succession in the garden and I'm already behind in keeping track, but here I note that the Dwarf Peach Tree in the side yard started blooming this year on February 16 (top photo). The Dwarf Nectarine started blooming on February 18 (second photo). Our Flavor King Pluot (not shown) began blooming on the 17th. The few remaining species tulips in the front garden (Tulipa bakeri) started blooming this year on February 20 (bottom).

Friday, February 27, 2015

Tidbits: RIP Leonard Nimoy (February 27, 2015)

Leonard Nimoy died today. Sorry to hear this news. Like most, I knew him mainly as Spock in the original Star Trek series and the original series has always been the real Star Trek to me--the one I remember watching in real time as a child. Thursday nights at 6:00, but memory is a tricky thing.

My father worked with Nimoy in the late 1940s at the Pasadena Playhouse. I remember him saying he respected Nimoy for his diligence--that Nimoy would accept almost any role offered him and work hard to do his best at it, often roles that other young actors would look down on. His diligence appears to have served him well over a long career.  RIP.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Miscellaneous: Fox on the Garden Wall (February 26, 2015)

An unusual morning visitor in the garden today. I spied a fox running across the driveway. He hopped up onto the garden wall and posed there for a short spell.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Art I'm Making: New Collages (January 2015)

Still catching up, here are a couple of recent collages--these two finished in January. Untitled Collage No. 85 (Santa Rosa), picture above, uses scraps of various blue papers I've made in the past but also some of the yellow papers I've painted more recently. I like the way the central white element "talks to" the comb-like orange form at the bottom of this piece--and the dance of objects around that little conversation.

Untitled Collage No. 86 (Santa Rosa) is a smaller piece, one that draws on mottled, blue, grey, and maroon papers that remind me of old-fashioned marbled endpapers from book jackets. This is a dense piece that reminds me of layers of soil in cross section--although I had no such idea in mind as I was working on it.

Click on the images for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at (requires Flash Player).

Books I'm Reading: Napoleon: A Biography

I recently read The Black Count, about Alex Dumas, one of Napoleon's most successful (and unjustly neglected) generals, incidentally the father of Alexandre Dumas, the writer, who drew on his father's imprisonment for his novel The Count of Monte Christo. It made me feel rather ignorant about Napoleon. Happily, ignorance is easily remedied, if you enjoy reading. So, I  picked this book up from my bookshelf. It was a gift--the last gift--I gave my father, shortly before he died. He never read it. It reverted to me after his death and it's been sitting on a bookshelf here since.

After finishing this comprehensive biography of Napoleon, I'm left wondering, what was it all for? The author estimates Napoleon was responsible for the deaths of about 4 million people, both soldiers and civilians throughout Europe. He (Napoleon, not the author) appears to have been extremely selfish, extremely insensitive to the suffering of the civilians in the countries he overran, and of even his own soldiers. Virtually all the territory he took was later lost to France. He rolled back many forward-looking reforms that came out of the Revolution. So, what did all those deaths achieve? It's hard to say. I suppose the Rosetta Stone and other discoveries made by the scientific experts that accompanied his early campaigns (mostly the Egyptian campaign) were worthwhile, but probably not worth the lives of so many people.    

Strange also is the parabolic development of Napoleon's military genius. It seems to have bloomed rapidly, peaked, and then abandoned him. The second half of his tenure as France's leader was marked by bad military judgment with only a few exceptions--a few moments of resurgent brilliance. He seems to have been particularly bad at judging character, failing to sack incompetent and deceitful generals, and incapable of doing anything but indulging his ungrateful relatives.

Having read no other Napoleon biographies, I can't say how this one compares to others, but it appears to have been well received by critics and it gives the impression of being well researched and even-handed. At the very least, it's lucidly and engagingly written and without a single typographical error, which is refreshing (I read the 2011 Arcade Publishing paperback edition).

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Art I'm Making: New Collages

I've continued to make collages since last posting one on these pages, but I've not been keeping up with my production. Here's a start toward getting caught up. These are Untitled Collage No. 83 (Santa Rosa) and Untitled Collage No. 84 (Santa Rosa), both from late last year. The former is a departure for me as it incorporates a found object, in this case the cover of an old book I found at a Goodwill Store. Ordinarily I wouldn't have removed a book's cover, but one cover was already missing. I liked the worn leather corners, the texture, and the bits of dangling string from the binding.  I like the brooding, stormy look I've achieved.

In contrast, No. 84 is bright and more cheery, dominated by yellows. Always experimenting, I love the fact that there is an infinity of satisfying compositions. For some reason, the photo here of No. 84 insists on coming out much darker than the image appears on my computer and the collage is in real life, despite making adjustments. The original is more subtle. Imagine it paler. Imagine it with less contrast between the yellow discs and the yellow behind them.

Click on the images for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at (requires Flash Player).

Friday, February 6, 2015

Rain: New Storm Brings Long-awaited Rain (February 6-9, 2015)

After a January with virtually no rain, it's good to be in the middle of a substantial storm that's already dropped about an inch and a half of new rain since early in the morning of the 6th. I'll wait until the storm has passed to add to the tally, but predictions range from between three to six inches. Every drop is welcome.

[Update: On the morning of the 7th, I found 2.25 inches in the rain gauge. That brings our total for the 2014-2015 rain year to 21.40 inches. It's clear again now, but more rain is on the way....]

[Update: On the morning of the 9th, there was another 1.35 inches in the rain gauge, bringing the total to 22.75 inches. Average for this date is about 22.5 inches.]

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Plants I'm Growing--First Blooms: Daffodils, Pink Flowering Plum (February 3, 2015)

A stretch of dry, unseasonably warm weather has coaxed out flowers in the garden. On February 3, the first yellow daffodil blossoms opened. The pink flowering plum tree in the side garden (Prunus blireiana) starting blooming the same day. This year the sparrows and finches left the buds alone (probably because I've not been feeding the birds), so it looks like we will have a full tree of flowers for the first time in a while. February 3 is on the early end of the normal range for both plants here. They have bloomed between February 2 and about February 20 in a typical year in the past. A storm is on the way, though. I hope these blossoms don't all get lost before we've had a chance to enjoy them.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Serendipitous Art: Chalk Board, Healdsburg CA (January 30, 2015)

A chalkboard used to keep score next to a bocce ball court at a restaurant in Healdsburg, CA looked like art to me. Unintended art, serendipitous art.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Rain: A Little Drizzle

Drizzle for much of the day on the 16th added 0.1 inches to our total for the current rain year. The total now stands at 19.15 inches at my location.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Miscellaneous: The Lesson of Violence?

The war on terrorism, they tell us, has done nothing but breed new terrorists--terrorists that would not have emerged had we not waged war. Terrorists attack and kill at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The result is a new cartoon of the muslim prophet in an issue published in vastly greater numbers than usual, bought and seen by far more people than would have otherwise seen it. Maybe there is a lesson here for both sides?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Art I'm Looking At: Arnold Newman: Masterclass at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco

While some of Arnold Newman's images are very well known--including a few of the most recognizable photographic portraits of the 20th Century--my guess is the vast majority of people would be unable to tell you the name of the photographer behind that famous portrait of Stravinsky at the piano, the famous Picasso portrait with the sitter's hand on his face, the famous Salvatore Dali portrait with the hanging wire, the famous portrait of Yasser Arafat.... The images are instantly familiar, the name of the man who created them less so. It's therefore a treat to see so many of Newman's photographs--most but not all portraits--on display at one time, nearly 200 prints in all, in the first posthumous retrospective of his work. Even those who think themselves very familiar with Arnold Newman are likely to find a lot to look at here.

"Masterclass" is an apt subtitle for the show now on at San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum: with only a few exceptions, each of the images on display is an object lesson in the art of photography--more specifically, in the art of composition. Newman had an uncanny ability to capture what was essential about the sitter and his or her environment and to see physical manifestations of the connections between the two. There is something wonderfully abstract existing simultaneously with the projected presence of the sitter in the portraits and the abstract images seem to project something alive beyond their formal elements.

Go. Drink the photographs in one by one. Learn from the placement of compositional elements in space--the collage-like effect of some of the images (notably the Greorge Grosz portrait, above left), the shapes and their echoes so carefully arranged in others (Jean Arp, Yasuo Kuniyoshi--Kuniyoshi at the top of the page), the careful attention to cropping in all. Almost no one did it better. Arnold Newman: Masterclass is on view through February 1, 2015 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, at 736 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 (415-655-7800).

Art I'm Looking At: J. Otto Seibold and Mr. Lunch at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

I visited the Contemporary Jewish Museum last week to see the extraordinary show of photographs by Arnold Newman on view there through February 1, 2015 but along the way stopped in to see J. Otto Seibold and Mr. Lunch at the same museum, the current show in a series that has focused on Jewish book illustrators. I'm so glad to have seen this small, imaginatively installed tribute to the ground-breaking illustrations of J. Otto Seibold for his Mr. Lunch series with Vivian Walsh. Mr. Lunch is a small white terrier who had charming adventures in a series of books from the 1990s that, unfortunately, are now out of print. Mr. Lunch Takes a Plane Ride (1993), Mr. Lunch Borrows a Canoe (1994), and Free Lunch (1996) deserve to find a new audience.

Seibold was among the first children's book illustrators to use a computer to execute his drawings, working on a Macintosh with Illustrator. I bought my first computer (a Macintosh Centris 650) in February 1994. It had a 25 MHz processor. Photoshop at the time was black and white only. I imagine Illustrator was equally crude compared with its current iteration. This is the period the books come from. Seibold was a pioneer. What is extraordinary about his style, however, is the way he achieves a warmth not usually associated with computer-generated imagery. His drawings maintain a very human quality. They don't have a distracting digital look. Despite the early software, they don't look at all crude. They require no apologies whatsoever. His illustrations are distinctive and simply delightful--immediately appealing but also peppered with funny, quirky details that make them a pleasure to pore over. Mr. Lunch and his surroundings owe a greater debt visually to the work of Miroslav Sasek, best known for his series of books about great cities of the world, such as This is San Francisco--a debt Seibold freely acknowledges. Margaret and H. A. Rey (creators of Curious George) are another apparent and freely acknowledged influence. Yet, Mr. Seibold looks like Mr. Seibold.

The installation recreates scenes from some of the books. The entrance to the room is through airport customs, taken from Mr. Lunch Takes a Plane Ride. A plane from the book sits in the middle of the space. On one side of the room is the prison cell Mr. Lunch finds himself in in another adventure (echoing Curious George's incarceration for having inadvertently called out the fire department to quell a non-existent fire). On a back wall, facing outside windows, Mr. Seibold has painted a mural referring to the installation of the show--a new and unique work. The walls otherwise are adorned with prints of illustrations from the books, some paired with original sketches that preceded the digital renderings. Well worth a visit. J. Otto Seibold and Mr. Lunch is on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, at 736 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 (415-655-7800) through March 8, 2015.

Books I'm Reading: The Black Count

It's always a pleasure to read a book that lifts a deserving subject out of undeserved obscurity. Tom Reiss's The Black Count (I read the paperback edition, Broadway Books, 2012) paints such a vivid picture of General Alex Dumas that you wonder why his name was not better known before Reiss's book appeared (the general was quite famous in his day, but had been largely forgotten). Perhaps it's simply my own ignorance that's been lifted here, but, prompted by reading the story of the black count, I'm now reading a thick, recent biography of Napoleon.  Surprisingly, that book mentions Dumas only in passing, although Dumas became General-in-Chief of the Army of the Alps, distinguishing himself during the French campaigns against Austria in the 1790s, and acted as Napoleon's General-in-Chief of the Cavalry during the later Egyptian campaign. It seems history--or historians anyway--have slighted Dumas as deeply as Napoleon, who quickly grew jealous of the tall, strikingly handsome count, despite his having been one of the Emperor's most loyal and successful generals, treating him rather shabbily. Reiss's book is interesting not only for the details of General Dumas's life it presents but also for the background the book offers illuminating early life in the French colonies (specifically Saint-Domingue), the history of race-related legislation in France (which was remarkably forward-looking just before and during the French Revolution, although Napoleon rolled back much of the progress), and the connections between the life story of General Alex Dumas (who was imprisoned for years in a tower and poisoned) and the work of his writer son, Alexandre Dumas, who drew heavily on his father's experiences for his novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Meticulously researched, going back to original sources; half the fun of reading this book is following the first-person sub-narrative of Reiss's detective work.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Art I'm Looking At: Houghton Hall at The Legion of Honor

After seeing the Keith Haring show at the De young Museum, it took a moment to adjust to the very different mood of the Legion of Honor's show of work from Houghton Hall, in England, a large house originally built by Sir Robert Walpole, in 1776, generally considered a masterpiece of Palladian architecture. The show includes a large number of paintings from the Houghton Hall collection displayed along with furniture, dinner ware, silver, rugs, and other objects laid out in several large rooms. The walls have been covered from floor to ceiling with photographic reproductions of the original rooms, which give a fairly good sense of how the various object on display would look in context.

There's an entire room of Sargents--probably the highlight of the exhibition--paintings that rarely travel. They included a painting Sargent did to document World War I damage to a cathedral. His painting of gassed WWI soldiers is well known, but the captions in the Houghton Hall show suggest he was commissioned to do a lot of this type of work, which I hadn't known. There are a couple of full-length Sargent society portraits of note and several attractive charcoal portraits of Houghton Hall residents, but I especially enjoyed a quickly sketched head of a gondolier (c. 1878) from a visit to Venice (pictured).

In the room with the Sargents, I was surprised to see a very familiar-looking head of Pope Innocent X, clearly related to the famous Velazquez portrait. Approaching a little closer, I read the label. The painting turned out to be a Velazquez study for the larger painting.
I also enjoyed a portrait of Catherine Shorter, Lady Walpole (c. 1710) by Swedish artist Michael Dahl. The wall tag mentions that she was extravagant--"frequently attending the opera and buying expensive clothes and jewelry," although she is fairly modestly attired in the portrait. The Dahl portrait is shown in a facsimile of the Houghton Hall library, with walls covered in faux books--large photographic wall coverings like the ones mentioned above. The room displays several pieces of furniture and an interesting wool rug described as English, but I noticed that triangles, apparently cut from the borders of oriental carpets, have been worked into its four corners.

Among the most beautiful objects in the entire show are two large rolls of handmade Chinese wallpapers (detail below). It wasn't exactly clear, but these appear to be actual leftovers from papers made for bedrooms in Houghton Hal, papers that presumably still cover the walls in some rooms today. The many birds on the papers are exquisitely drawn. The foliage, rocks, and other background elements are highly stylized, in some places becoming almost entirely abstract, while somehow retaining the power to evoke environments the birds might have been found in. The blue is especially striking. The show was worth seeing just for these wallpapers. The Houghton Hall exhibit runs through January 18, 2015 at the Legion of Honor.


Wines I'm Making: Ten Years of Clos du Tal

I lined up a bottle from each of our ten vintages--2004 to 20013--the other day and took a quick photo of them. If you're paying attention, you'll notice that there are actually only nine bottles--2005 is missing. That was the year the raccoons found the grapes before I had figured out how to effectively deter the critters (which involves nets and an electric fence). While I did make six bottles of wine that year from what the raccoons left behind, it was so bad I didn't bother making a label. I've designed a label for the wine each year in every other year.

Happily, all the other vintages have ranged from good to very good, with the 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 drinking best at the moment. The 2006 is beginning to feel a little tired. It's still too early to be certain, but my guess is that Clos du Tal will generally be at peak at 5-7 years old. I will, however, continue to keep bottles back from every vintage to see how they age. The 2014 wine is resting in carboys at the moment. Last week I bottled the most recent batch of hard cider I've made. The cider should be undergoing its in-bottle secondary fermentation. Next week I'll open one to see how it's coming along.  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tidbits--RIP: Gael Reed

Sad news over the weekend--news of the death of Gael Reed, long-time kindergarten teacher at Spring Creek Elementary School, in Santa Rosa, CA. Grateful that my child had her as a teacher. Grateful to have been able to call her a friend. Few teachers are as imaginative and giving, few teachers as filled with the kind of inner strength and beauty she had. Grateful to have known her. Heartbroken that she's gone, taken too soon, a victim of cancer. She is mourned and will be long remembered by the many who loved her.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Art I'm Looking At: The Art-o-Mat

This post was prompted by a post I happened to see today on Hyperallergic, following an old link to an article about the Art-o-mat®.

What is an Art-o-mat® you ask? If the name suggests some connection with the culture of automation (and naming) of the 1950s and 1960s, you're right on track. A group called Artists in Cellophane, the brain child of artist Clark Whittington, operates a fleet of old cigarette vending machines from the period that now dispense art rather than cigarettes--machines Whittington has dubbed Art-o-mats®.

I first encountered an Art-o-mat® in the entrance lobby of the Crocker Museum of Art, in Sacramento, in the summer of 2012 on my first visit to that museum. A $5 bill and a pull on a lever dispensed a cigarette pack-sized art object of my choice (eventually--the machines are old, finicky, and not tolerant of much deviation from the size and weight of a cigarette pack; my choice got stuck and a staff member had to open the machine with a key to retrieve it). If you're old enough to remember cigarette machines, the idea makes instant sense. I had to buy something, just to support the whimsy. Sitting on my bookshelf now is a small (very small) painting of a Laysan Duck by artist Alice Dean. I had misplaced the little painting right after buying it, until yesterday, when looking through a small travel bag I had used that day two years ago, I finally found the purchase again. The finding of my little duck portrait and seeing the article about the Art-o-mat® coming a day apart was the serendipity that truly prompted this post.

This being the start of a new year--another bit of serendipity--and the start of new years being the traditional time for starting new projects, I went to the Art-o-mat® website (well worth a visit) after reading the Hyperallergic post, suddenly curious about the location of other Art-o-mat® machines that might be near me. I see that there are seven in the Bay Area, four in San Francisco, the one at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento, one at the San Mateo Public Library, and one on the Stanford campus, in Palo Alto. In San Francisco, there's an Art-o-mat® at the Exploratorium (Pier 15), one each at two locations of The American Conservatory Theater (415 Geary St. and 1119 Market St.), and one at the RayKo Photo Center (428 3rd St.). According to the Art-o-mat® site, there are more than 100 working Art-o-mat® machines around the United States. You can find them all on a map on the site. Pictured at top is the Art-o-mat® at The Exploratorium (photo from the Art-o-mat® website). Perhaps I will attempt to make a collection of artworks from all the Bay Area Art-o-mat® machines in 2015. If you're an artist and willing to meet the stringent dimensional requirements that allow the machines to work, Artists in Cellophane is looking for contributing artists.
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