Saturday, December 19, 2015

Rain: December 18-19, December 21-23, 2015

As the title says, we got another 0.6 inches of rain yesterday and into this morning, December 19. The skies have cleared, but more rain is forecast in the coming days. Our 2015-2016 total now stands at 4.90 inches at my location in Santa Rosa. Normal for this date is a little over ten inches, so we remain well below average, but we're catching up a little.

[Update: It rained all day on the 21st and into the morning of the 22nd, adding 1.80 inches of new rain, bringing our total so far this rain year to 6.70 inches at my location. That's good, but we need about four inches more soon to bring us up to normal levels--twice that much to bring even a modicum of longer-term relief. More rain is in the forecast.]

[Update: More rain on the night of December 23 and early morning of Christmas Eve gave us another 0.25 inches, bringing the 2015-2016 total at my location to 6.95 inches.]

Art I'm Making: Untitlled Collage No. 121 (Santa Rosa)

My latest collage. Untitled Collage No. 121 (Santa Rosa), completed December 15, 2015. A small work that I've left asymmetrically trimmed and one that uses more organic shapes than I usually employ. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size: 9.8 x 9.9cm. Click on the image for a larger view.

For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right, or visit my collage website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/

Serendipitous Art: Wood Grain (December 17, 2015)

I saw this door at the offices of the Santa Rosa Symphony recently. It's a thick, solid wood door from a bygone era. Beautiful grain. Unintended art.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Art I'm Looking At: Coit Tower Murals, San Francisco

I've lived in the Bay Area for 15 years now. I've been visiting here off and on for more than twice that long, yet I'd never been to San Francisco's Coit Tower until yesterday. I never thought the tower itself especially attractive, although it makes a nice enough punctuation mark in the landscape. I paid the $8 fee to take the elevator to the top, disappointed that you can't walk the stairs (I wonder what the interior looks like?—although I don't imagine it's inspiring for its engineering or architecture like the inside of Brunelleschi's dome in Florence or the like; the tower appears to have been made by simply pouring concrete into forms). The view was attractive out in the direction of Alcatraz and the bridges, but I went to see the murals I'd heard about rather than the tower itself. I didn't see any of the feral parrots said to live on Telegraph Hill, the site of the tower (named for a telegraph station built on the hill in 1850 to alert residents of the arrival of ships in San Francisco Bay. Apparently the station used semaphore).

All the interior walls on the first floor of the tower are decorated with murals. In what is now the gift shop, there is an interesting row of painted "plaques" high up on the walls naming the murals and the artist who created each one. Also given are the dimensions of each mural and the technique used to create it. Pictured here is the painted plaque for Edward Terada's Sports, a fresco measuring nine feet by ten feet, we are told. The tower was built in 1933, the mural painting project completed by 1934. Apparently there are more murals in the stairwell, not normally open to the public, except during docent-led tours (see below). The mural project was sponsored by the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), a New Deal program aimed at supporting artists—artists who in this case included: Maxine Albro, Victor Arnautoff, Jane Berlandina, Ray Bertrand, Ray Boynton, Rinaldo Cuneo, Hebe Daum, Mallette Harold Dean, Edith Hamlin, George Albert Harris, Otis Oldfield, Frederick E. Olmsted Jr., José Moya del Piño, Suzanne Scheuer, Ralph Stackpole, Edward Terada, Clifford Wight, Frede Vidar, and Bernhard Zakheim. PWAP was a WPA precursor.

I was aware of some of these artists (notably Otis Oldfield, whose work I've admired in the collection of the Crocker Museum, in Sacramento, Ray Boynton, and Victor Arnautoff), but other names I'd mostly not heard before. Olmsted was a great-nephew of Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who designed New York City's Central Park. Arnautoff taught art at Stanford, where Richard Diebenkorn was one of his students, and worked widely as a muralist in the Bay Area, often embracing social themes such as class, money, and political power. Ralph Stackpole was the father of photographer Peter Stackpole, noted for his fine photographs of the building of the Oakland Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, some of which were shown last year at the De Young Museum (between February 1, 2014 and June 8, 2014) in a show called The Bay Bridge: A Work in Progress, 1933–1936. Ray Boynton's work is in several Bay Area museums, including the De Young and The Legion of Honor. He was a pioneer of the fresco technique in this area.

Arnautoff's large fresco City Life is perhaps the highlight, although I enjoyed many of the other works, notably the large figures by Clifford Wight (The Ironworker is shown above). City Life, according to the Wikipedia entry for Arnautoff, caused some controversy because of details that hinted at the artist's left-of-center political views. That article mentions, for example, the artist's exclusion of The San Francisco Chronicle from the newsstand depicted, which is selling left-wing papers instead. The artist's somewhat cynical view of life in the city is apparent in his decision to include both an auto–pedestrian accident (which looks fatal) and an armed mugging (above) among the goings-on. The mugging victim is getting his pocket picked at the same time—perhaps being worked over by a team of thieves.

Other murals depict agricultural activities, cultural activities, and the various industries of the Bay Area at the time the murals were made, including steel production, canning, sugar, petroleum, hydroelectric power, and mining. Industries of California, by Ralph Stackpole (1885-1973) focuses on oil, steel, sugar, and canning (above, detail). The descriptive labels in the tower point out that sugar and oil remain important local industries, while steel and canning have disappeared from the Bay Area.

California Industrial Scenes, by John Langley Howard (1902-1999), the artist's only fresco, was interesting for its focus on the mining, oil, and hydroelectric power industries coupled with a concern for the social divide the success of these industries exacerbated. As the mural labels point out, a noteworthy detail is the contrast drawn between a wealthy, chauffeur-driven family and the tent-dwelling family they observe below a hydroelectric dam (above).

I also liked Bernard B. Zakheim's (1896-1985) Library, among others. According to the onsite labels, Zakheim, along with poet Kenneth Rexroth, and artists Frank Triest, Victor Anautoff, and Ralph Stackpole, helped to create the Artists' and Writers' Union which pressured the government to start federal arts projects. Their efforts "resulted in the Coit Tower mural project becoming the first New Deal project of its kind in the U.S." Zakheim's daughter was a model for one of the figures, and friends and fellow mural project artists are included. Stackpole is shown reading a newspaper article about the destruction of a Diego Rivera mural in New York, sculptor Benny Bufano reads about an upcoming statue project of his own, and artist John Langley Howard is shown reaching for a copy of Marx's Das Kapital; many of the artists held leftist views.


The industrial focus on one side of the building is complemented on the other side by murals that highlight California's agricultural heritage. California Agricultural History (above, detail), by Gordon Langdon (1910-1963), shows farm workers milking cows by hand. A number of the other mural artists were used as models in this image. Lucien Labaudt cleans cows, Fred Olmsted and an assistant, Tom Hayes, give a cow a vaccination, and in a section in a window alcove, John Langley Howard looks at silage, holding a pitchfork. California, by Maxine Albro (1903-1966) is a panoramic view of the state's agriculture activities (below, detail). The mural labels point out that the laborers depicted are all of European descent, the artist having excluded the many Mexicans and Asians who already worked in California's agriculture industry. Crops shown include hay, flowers, oranges, apricots, almonds, and grapes, among others. There is a full winery depiction as well (not shown). This mural was created just after the repeal of Prohibition. It's easy to imagine the artist wishing to acknowledge the long history of winemaking in the state interrupted by passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.

There are a number of interesting panels in the small elevator lobby as well. These appear to be oil paintings rather than frescoes. Artists include Olmsted, Oldfield, Rinaldo Cuneo (1877-1939), and José Moya del Piño (1891-1969). Cuneo's paintings show farmland in what is now the urban landscape of the East Bay. Oldfield's painting shows shipping on the Bay, with a view of Yerba Buena Island before the manmade Treasure Island was added or the Bay Bridge built. Moya del Piño's panel shows the Bay again and the waterfront. It's interesting for the two figures shown, a self-portrait and a portrait of Olmsted doing a sketch of the scene in front of the figures (below, detail).

These murals are as arresting as the beautiful, fanciful underwater murals from the same period (completed in 1939) by Hilaire Hiler (1898-1966) at the former oceanside bathhouse at the end of Polk St., now part of the San Francisco Maritime Museum—another government-sponsored, depression-era arts project. Both are well worth a visit. Note that parking is extremely limited at Coit Tower. It's probably best to go in the winter months and on a weekday, if possible. For information about visiting Coit Tower and docent-led tours, visit the official Coit Tower website.

For some perspective on federal spending on the arts during the depression and now, read this Hyperallergic article about a 2014 show of WPA and WPAP art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Rain: More Rain (December 9-13, 2015)

More rain overnight on the 10th and again on the 11th left 1.00 inches in the rain gauge this morning under clearing skies. That raises our total so far for the 2015-2016 rain year to 3.50 inches at my location in Santa Rosa, California. However, normal rainfall by this time of year is a little more than eight inches, so we are about five inches below normal at the moment. May the rain continue.

[Update: And so it has continued. Overnight on the 12th-13th, we got heavy rain, which added 0.80 inches of new precipitation to our total—which now stands at 4.3 inches. That's still well below normal, but it's an improvement.]

Books I'm Reading: Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir

It would be hard to argue that Leni Riefenstahl didn't live a full life. Reading her memoirs is exhausting. She goes full-tilt, without a break, from her earliest days to the last covered in her memoir (published originally in 1987 in German, when she was 85, in English in 1992; I read the Picador edition pictured). She was a dancer, actress, filmmaker, and photographer. In conjunction with these activities, she became a mountain climber, a propagandist, an African adventurer, and a scuba diver. Best known for her film Triumph of the Will, a documentary about the 1934 Nazi Party rally in Nürnberg, and for the two-part film Olympia, a record of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, she will forever be associated with Hitler and The Third Reich--an association that overshadowed the rest of her life, and one she's at pains to play down in these pages.

The earliest sections of the book cover Riefenstahl's debut and rise as a dancer, her transition into acting, and from there into producing and directing films. Many of the pre-war films she starred in had heroic alpine settings that required arduous climbing and filming in perilous conditions, the best known of which was The Blue Light (1932). These early films gained her the reputation that drew interest from the Nazi Party, and Hitler in particular.

While admitting that Hitler was charismatic and that she was drawn to him, she claims she abhorred his racial ideas and that he shut down any conversation about them. She claims she was pressured into making the Nazi Party films—that she tried to avoid making both Triumph of the Will and the earlier Victory of the Faith (a documentary about the 1933 Nazi Party rally, also in Nürnberg, and a virtual template for the later party film). She says her film Day of Freedom: Our Army, about the Wehrmacht, was made solely to assuage the egos of the Wehrmacht leadership (she says scenes of the Wehrmacht's participation in the 1934 rally were shot during bad weather and she decided they weren't good enough to include in Triumph of the Will—and that that omission had ruffled feathers). She doesn't mention Berchtesgaden über Salzburg (1938), a film Susan Sontag ascribes to her and calls "a fifty-minute lyric portrait of the Führer against the rugged mountain scenery of his new retreat [in Berchtesgaden]" in a review in The New York Review of Books (see below)—although an exchange between David B. Hinton and Sontag regarding the above-mentioned review raises doubts about Riefenstahl's connection to that film; pinning down the facts about Riefenstahl is often challenging.

She comes across as either terribly naive or deeply disingenuous. She never confronts the issue of her complicity in the crimes of Nazi Germany. She wants us to believe she was working solely as an artist, objectively documenting the party rallies—but it's hard to believe it never occurred to her that she was also making propaganda. She was a perfectionist. She may have been incapable of doing anything but her best and it might be argued that it wasn't her fault that Hitler admired her work and saw her value. Yet, she could have left Germany if the highly nationalistic, anti-Semitic rhetoric of Hitler and his party truly disturbed her, and much evidence seems to suggest she was a willing participant. Nevertheless, she asks the reader to believe she simply was unable to resist the chance to work on a subject as dramatic as Hitler and the Nazi Party rallies and that she felt unable to refuse Hitler—not that she was a true believer.

Much of the immediate post-war period Riefenstahl spends in and out of detention by the allies, losing and attempting to regain possession of her belongings, including her films. In Riefenstahl's portrayal of things, bad luck meets her at every turn, she is dogged by lying detractors bent on keeping her from working, and it's one personal disaster after another. She is suing people for libel left and right. Some of the animosity directed at her does appear to have been simple spite, and criticism of Olympia solely as a propaganda film seems somewhat misplaced, but she never understands why so many continued to shun her; she always sounds strangely naive, self-absorbed, and intent on forgetting inconvenient parts of her past.

By the time she turns to Africa in the mid- to late 1950s, enough time has passed that she finds sufficient support to move forward with her artistic endeavors, nevertheless suffering setbacks all along the way—setbacks always cast as the result of her victimization by enemies. Eventually her attention turns specifically to the Nuba tribe, in remote areas of the Sudan. Getting to and from these rarely visited parts of Africa to film and photograph would sap the energy of most people half her age. She is nothing if not energetic, persistent, and—despite bouts of depression and physical illness exacerbated by her financial and artistic setbacks—optimistic. It's extraordinary that she succeeded in getting several books of photography about the Nuba produced in her 70s and 80s. At the age of 74, she takes up scuba diving, and, in addition to photographing the Nuba, she begins to learn underwater photography.

The end of the book is anticlimactic. As Riefenstahl brings her story to a close, the reader is left still hoping for some reflection on the meaning of her work during the Nazi era, some admission that—even if truly unintentionally—her work served Hitler's cause, but that reflection never comes. Susan Sontag, in a review of one of the Nuba books in the New York Review of Books entitled Fascinating Fascism (February 6, 1975), offers a very different view of the meaning of Riefenstahl's life work from the one Riefenstahl herself offers, arguing for the presence of a consistent vein of fascist aesthetics running from her earliest film work through the Nazi-era films and into the African photography. It's worth reading both views. Riefenstahl died in 2003, at the age of 101. Thus, her memoir deals with her first 85 years. The book is an interesting read despite the hard-to-avoid feeling that Riefenstahl's story is told in the voice of an unreliable narrator. I wonder if there is an informed, truly objective biography available?

[Update: Perhaps Steven Bach's The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl is that book? A review of Bach's biography in The Guardian.]

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Art I'm Making: New Collage

My latest collage work: Untitled Collage No. 120 (Santa Rosa). I completed this on November 11, 2015. Acrylic monoprint collage. Image size 18.4 x 21.6cm. Click on the image for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right, or visit my collage website at: http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Cocktail Glass Collection: The Flowers Saloon, Healdsburg


Until recently, I'm sure this place had another name, but it seems to be called "The Flowers Saloon" now. In front of the entrance is this lighted cocktail glass sign. Not neon, but the effect is similar. This one is flanked by eating utensils, indicating there is food here, not just drink. For more examples, use the "Cocktail Glass Collection" tab to the right at the top of the page.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Miscellaneous: The Meat Identification Kit

I recently stopped at a roadside estate sale in Bodega Bay, California, where a friend and I spent a silly 45 minutes or so going through some of the possessions of a departed soul deeply interested in food and food preparation. There were stacks of cookbooks of every description and a large pile of old kitchen tools, many of uncertain application. We had fun with other browsers trying to figure out what some of the more obscure utensils were. The back-and-forth, face-to-face interaction with strangers was a refreshing change from online exchanges.

I bought an egg separator for only a dollar, simply because I liked its coiled design. It looks like something Alexander Calder might have twisted out of wire. My special find, however, was the "Natural Color Meat Identification Kit" that I found sitting on top of a stack of cookbooks. At first I laughed. The idea seemed absurd--a field guide to meat. Initially I was drawn to it because it seemed such an unlikely thing for anyone to have created.

On closer examination, however, it began to appeal because of its ingenuousness. No irony here. The Meat Identification Kit is in earnest. The box boasts that it's "Complete with Suggestions for Using and Instructor's Key." It's not dated, but my online research suggests it probably appeared in the 1960s, published by The Interstate Printers & Publishers, Inc. at 19-27 North Jackson Street, Danville, Illinois. Designed for students of agriculture and home economics classes, the cards are intended to teach recognition of common meat cuts--cuts "recognized and accepted as the standard retail cuts by meat cutters throughout the nation." It includes 82 cards (23 for beef, 17 for fresh pork, 10 for cured pork, 11 for lamb, 16 for veal, and six for "variety meats," which are organs and joints. There is a key card with all these listed and numbered (each of the meat cards has a photo on the front, a corresponding number on the back). A separate card gives the aforementioned suggestions for use, which include "A procedure similar to the game of pinning the tail on the donkey" with students pinning the meat cuts where appropriate on an outline of an animal carcass, or using the pictures "to introduce the subject before going on a field trip where actual cuts of meat will be studied and observed." (I'm tempted to add "in the wild" at the end of that sentence.) There is also an acknowledgement card that refers to a booklet entitled "101 Meat Cuts" supplied by the National Live Stock and Meat Board" but the box seems full without such a booklet and there is none present. The set I found has 82 numbered flash cards. Later editions appear to have had a handful over a hundred.  

Doing my online research, I've come across at least one person with a set who has posted views of all the cards--although I notice that that site reproduces a later revised version of the kit, with more than 100 cards. The one I found appears to be the original issue. I found a couple of expired Etsy listings from 2009 offering single cards from the set for sale. I found a mention of the kit as a reference source on a curriculum sheet for a meat grading class from Chico State University of uncertain date. The University Libraries at Virginia Tech publish a History of Food and Drink Collection Blog that mentions the Identification Kit in a number of posts and calls it a staff favorite. (This also appears to refer to a later edition with more than 100 cards.) David Letterman got a hold of one of these kits and used it in at least two shows to do a segment entitled "Know Your Cuts of Meat." The first apparently aired on CBS on March 24, 1999, the second on April 9, 1999. I haven't seen these episodes, but it's easy to imagine Letterman making fun of the kit. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who might know more about The Natural Color Meat Identification Kit.

Now, the question is, what am I going to do with this curiosity? I mean after I've finished learning my meats.

Art I'm Looking At: Richard Diebenkorn's Notebooks at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University

It's been a year of Diebenkorn in the Bay Area. Following a show of prints at the De Young in San Francisco and a show of works on paper at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, in Sonoma, earlier in 2015, The Cantor Arts Center at Stanford is hosting Richard Diebenkorn: The Sketchbooks Revealed, a show of 29 of Diebenkorn's sketchbooks, mostly a gift of Diebenkorn's widow, Phyllis. The sketchbooks are displayed publicly here for the first time. In conjunction with the show is a small exhibit celebrating the center's recent acquisition of an Edward Hopper painting from 1913 entitled New York Corner. The connection may not at first be obvious, but early in his career Diebenkorn was deeply influenced by Hopper.


I visited the Stanford campus recently to see both offerings. I had never been to the Cantor Arts Center, which has an extensive permanent collection that looks well worth exploring.

The sketchbooks contain more than 1,000 drawings that span Diebenkorn's career. He appears to have kept several sketchbooks going at once and to have used them randomly, so that looking at them from page to page doesn't provide a sense of development. Almost none of the pages is dated and the chronological order of the books itself appears to be unclear. Instead, we get a series of snapshots--some finished works, others the simplest outline of an idea. All but one of the sketchbooks are opened and housed in plexiglass cases, so only two facing pages are visible from each. One has been separated into individual leaves and hung in a rack that allows you to see the whole as if turning its pages.

All 29 sketchbooks have been digitized, however. Two large monitors in the gallery allow you to look at every drawing, as well as the various items Diebenkorn left tucked into their pages, and even front and back covers. The digital presentation is available online. Thus, the 29 sketchbooks can be browsed from home, although the pages are slow to load, even with a fast Internet connection.

The sketchbooks may not document a linear development of the artist's work, but they offer glimpses into his thinking. Most of the drawings are figure sketches--some from models, some sketches of friends and family--, but there are doodles that record ideas for later use, there are preparatory sketches for some of the large Ocean Park paintings, and there are abstract sketches that appear to be finished pieces. Of special interest are clusters of related sketches of models that allow us to see Diebenkorn making repeated attempts to capture a pose (as seen above).

The Hopper is worth seeing all on its own, but the galleries juxtapose New York Corner with early paintings by Diebenkorn that show a genius still unformed. They are, on the whole, not compelling works, but demonstrate that even the most highly regarded of artists has to start somewhere. I doubt contemporaries looking at these pieces would have predicted Diebenkorn's subsequent development.

The Hopper shows the influence of Impressionism, especially in the rendering of the distant cityscape at the left of the canvas and in the use of black (and here, indirectly, the influence of Japan). I particularly enjoy the way the little rectangle of white at the left of the clustered figures interacts dynamically with the white blocks at the far right. Despite the Impressionist influence, Hopper's signature style is already apparent. He was a master at using architecture and human figures to suggest the quiet, almost inaudible hum of distracted humanity.

Both the Diebenkorn and the Hopper exhibits were to have closed February 8, but have been extended to August 22, 2016. The Cantor Arts Center is at Stanford University (328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way, Stanford, California). Free admission.

Rain: A Real Downpour (December 3, 2015)

A good downpour started this morning at about 9:30AM. May it last all day--a good two to three inches would be nice. We are already several inches behind normal again. Perhaps this is the start of rains associated with the record-breaking El Niño we keep hearing about. As of 5:00PM, with the skies clearing, we'd had 0.55 inches of new rain, bring our total so far for the 2015-2016 rain year to 1.90 inches.

[Update: Light rain in the following days had added another 0.4 inches by early afternoon on December 6, when 0.95 had accumulated in the rain gauge. As of that date, the 2015-2016 total stands at 2.30 inches at my location--although it's still drizzling.]

[By the time the sky cleared, there was another 0.20 inches in the gauge, for a total of 1.15 inches since the raid started on and on recently. That brings the total as of the afternoon of December 8 to 2.50 inches.]

Miscellaneous: Here We Go Again--Mass Shooting in San Bernardino

Another day, another mass shooting. There's no way to stop this sort of thing, you know. It just happens. Nothing we can do. Thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families.

Add San Bernardino to the list. Here's a fun link--Mass Shooting Tracker.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Art I'm Looking At: New Show at Shige Sushi, Cotati (December 1 through January 31, 2016)

In my role as curator of The Art Wall at Shige Sushi, I'm pleased to present a new show, opening December 1—Mixed Media work by Jenny Honnert Abell.

JENNY HONNERT ABELL—MIXED MEDIA
On the ART WALL at SHIGE SUSHI, Cotati
Dec 1, 2015 - Jan 31, 2016
Reception: Monday, Dec 7, 2015 from 5:00PM to 7:00PM. Light refreshments served. Come have a glass of wine and meet the artist (note that Shige Sushi is closed on Mondays. The restaurant will be open on Monday, DEC 7 for the reception only). The show runs from DEC 1, 2015 to JAN 31, 2016. See the Art Wall website for details of opening hours and for more information. Http://ctalcroft.wix.com/artwallatshige/

Jenny Honnert Abell is a mostly self-taught artist whose work beautifully combines fine handwork with subtly exotic imagery. Abell's work is represented by multiple galleries in the US. Overseas, her work has been shown in Canada, England, Switzerland, and Senegal. A recent commission by the State Department’s Art in Embassy program honored her with a trip to Dakar, Senegal in West Africa where she was given the opportunity to experience the people and culture there. Reflections on that experience resulted in a series of 10 pieces now exhibited in the permanent collection of the US Embassy in Dakar. Jenny’s work resides in numerous private collections including world-class collections at Hall Winery in Napa, California and Imagery Estate Winery, in Glen Ellen, California. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Abell has lived and worked in Santa Rosa, California since 1995.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Places I'm Visiting: Santa Rosa Farmers' Market (November 28, 2015)

I visited the farmers' market at the Veteran's Building in Santa Rosa today, today being Saturday. I had thought it might be very busy with people in the area from out of town for the Thanksgiving Holiday, but it turned out to be fairly quiet. There was a lot of beautiful fruit on display and for sale. If the day after Thanksgiving is called "Black Friday," I wonder what the following Saturday should be called? "Black Saturday"? I imagine the stores were still busy with shoppers, but the market was the extent of my shopping for the holiday.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Miscellaneous: Autumn in Wine Country (November 25, 2015)

I took a drive through wine country today that ranged from Healdsburg in the north to Glen Ellen in the south. It was a beautiful autumn day. The vines are golden and red. The air was clear and cool. Autumn in wine country.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Art I'm Making: When Lingering Dissatisfaction Prompts Action--Reworked Collages

Someone once said a work of art is finished when it stops bothering you. There's some truth to that. Generally, when I finish a collage, I've come to that point--a point of satisfaction with a kind of dynamic stasis. When you can look at a piece and it's exciting but it doesn't ask for more, you know it's good and that it's finished. Sometimes, however, I call a piece finished and sign it when I'm almost satisfied. I may make this compromise because of mental fatigue. I will often try to convince myself such a piece is both finished and good while something inside quietly insists I'm wrong and that it's not time to give up and move on. I make that error from time to time.

Once in a while, although rarely, I look back on these pieces and discover that my doubts were unfounded. Sometimes a piece that bothered me a little will quickly appear different and settle comfortably into the category of finished work. A piece with real shortcomings continues to bother me, however, and eventually will annoy me deeply. Recently I decided to purge my collage work of two pieces that, in retrospect, were subpar. Before making any new work, I decided to rework the two pieces that disturbed my sleep. The results are pictured here. I've noted on the backs of the mats that the collages were completely reworked in November 2015. Little remains of the original images, but I've left the number sequence unchanged because the new versions have emerged from the original pieces.

The upper image is Untitled Collage No. 62 (Santa Rosa), originally "finished" in August 2014; acrylic monoprint, graphite, collage; image size 11.0 x 11.3cm, matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed and dated on the reverse, signed on the mat. All that remains of the original is the partial indigo circles with graphite lines through the negative space between them.

The lower image is Untitled Collage No. 97 (Santa Rosa), originally "finished" in April 2015; acrylic monoprint, found paper, collage; image size 12.1 x 15.8cm, matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on the reverse, signed on the mat. Virtually nothing of the original remains here except the orange and deep blue strip at lower right, but, again, I've kept the number sequence intact for the reason noted above.

Click on the images for larger views. For more, visit my collage website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/.

Rain: Light Rain Overnight (November 23-24, 2015)

Light rains overnight left 0.1 inches in the rain gauge this morning. Not much, but every little bit helps the drought-stressed plants. That brings our total so far for the 2015-2016 rain year (calculated from October 1 2015 through September 30 2016) to 1.35 inches.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Food I'm Eating: Warm Olive and Marcona Almond Salad with Mozzarella

The version shared with me says "Best eaten informally standing in the kitchen before dinner is served, or sitting around a coffee table. It is particularly good with chilled Champagne or rich, dry sherry, like Oloroso or Palo Cortado. It's most successfully enjoyed served without plates or silverware in a big flat serving platter, right from the pan." It also admonishes "No silverware!" The idea was to use the bread (see below) to pick up the food with and to encourage conversation at the start of a party, but many at the gathering I attended found it easier to use a utensil--namely a fork. I will share the proper attribution for this recipe as soon as I can track it down. I record the recipe here because, if I don't, I'll lose it.

Ingredients:

1 cup canola oil
½ cup peeled garlic cloves
1 garlic bulb, cut in half
1 fresh serrano chile cut in half lengthwise
2 pints assorted PITTED olives--a variety of colors and flavors recommended
1½ cups Marcona almonds or whole blanched skinless almonds
2 small jars marinated artichoke hearts with their oil
1 tbsp. good red wine vinegar
8 oz small-size fresh mozzarella cheese, drained, at room temperature, Or larger mozzarella cut into smaller pieces.
4 oz. Manchego cheese, cut into ½-inch cubes
4 oz. Gruyere, or any other similarly textured cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 basket cherry tomatoes
1 head Belgian endive, leaves separated, then cut in half
Black pepper
1  cup whole parsley leaves
1 cup basil leaves, torn
Zest of one lemon

Preparation:

In a small saucepan, sauté the peeled garlic cloves in the canola oil until golden brown, stirring often--about 5 minutes. Remove the cloves and transfer them to a paper towel. Reserve the garlic oil.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add three Tbsp. of the garlic oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Place the garlic cut sides of the garlic bulb down into the pan and sear for three to four minutes, add the chile halves and continue to sauté until the chiles are brown, being careful not to burn them.

Add the olives and almonds and continue to sauté until hot all the way through--three to four minutes more--tossing often.

Add the cherry tomatoes, the artichoke hearts and all of their oil and cook for another minute or two, stirring or tossing continuously until the tomatoes are warmed through and beginning to swell. Add the vinegar and lemon zest and stir well.

Add the hard cheeses and continue to toss until they begin to melt.

Remove from the heat and add the mozzarella balls all at once. Stirring or tossing well. Stir in the parsley, basil, and endive leaves and season with pepper.

Turn out the salad into a large serving platter and serve immediately with rustic bread, cut into thick chunks. Serves 8-10.

Miscellaneous: San Francisco City Hall Lit with the Colors of France (November 18)

I attended a San Francisco Symphony concert on November 18, at Davies Symphony Hall. Diagonally across the street from the concert hall, City Hall was lit with the colors of France in recognition of the attacks in Paris earlier in the week. The concert was a recital by Leif Ove Andsnes. He played music by Sibelius, Beethoven, Debussy, and Chopin.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Miscellaneous: Tricycle Sailors

The mistakes made by voice recognition software (which I sometimes use in my job as a translator) are mostly annoying. Once in a while, however, the software makes an intriguing substitution. Today I got "tricycle sailors." I like the image.

What I actually said was "triacetyl cellulose."

I did an image search on Google using the words "tricycle sailor." I found tricycle sailors. Little boys in sailor suits riding tricycles seems to have been a thing. Who knew?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Rain: 0.3 Inches Overnight on November 14

It rained last night here in the middle of the night. I didn't hear anything, but I had emptied the rain gauge and this morning there was evidence of rain and 0.3 inches of new precipitation in the rain gauge. That brings our total so far for the 2015-2016 rain year (calculated from October 1 2015 through September 30 2016) to 1.25 inches. That's something, but we're well behind the historical average for November 15, which is 4.05 inches.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 119 (Santa Rosa)

Another new collage, this one using some of the newest monoprints I've made. The linear textures are the result of gently rubbing paper laid over a thin layer of paint with a high-tech baren. The paint is rolled out on a sheet of glass with a brayer. The traditional Japanese baren is a coil of hemp rope on a wood support overlaid with a bamboo leaf. My baren is two arrays of small ball bearings embedded in a pair of perforated plexiglass discs. Used just so, it transfers delicate parallel lines to the paper. I've used sheets with these line patterns to contrast texturally with sheets of more solid color, creating a dynamic counterpoint.

Untitled Collage No. 119 (Santa Rosa). November 11, 2015. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size 18.8 x 19cm. Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed and dated on the reverse. Signed on the mat.

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


Monday, November 9, 2015

Rain: A Little More Rain (November 9, 2015)

We had a little rain overnight and off and on in the morning today. We'd received about 0.3 inches by the end of the day, when things cleared up. That brings our total for the 2015-2016 rain year (October to September) to 0.95 inches so far, which is below the historical average. Waiting for El Niño...

Art I'm Making: New Collage (November 7, 2015)

I've just finished a new collage, drawing on a large group of new monoprinted sheets I've made, this time using a roller to roll out the paint onto my glass plate rather than spreading the paint with a brush. Using the roller creates a different kind of texture. I've used mostly Prussian blue and violet shades. This latest collage uses these new sheets but also some of the orange sheets I made last month during the Sonoma County Art Trails open studio event.

This is Untitled Collage No. 118 (Santa Rosa). November 7, 2015. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint on paper, graphite, collage. Image size 11.1 x 13cm. Matted to  11 x 14 inches. Signed and dated on the reverse. Signed on the mat.

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

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Rain: The 2015-2016 Rain Season--Drizzle, but It's a Start

We've finally had a little rain today. It's been a light drizzle, but it's continued much of the day. There was 0.05 inches in the rain gauge earlier. I'm hoping to find considerably more than that in the gauge tomorrow morning.

[Update: Yes, 0.65 inches in the rain gauge--the first real rain of the 2015-2016 rain year. That brings our total so far to 1.15 inches using a rain year from July 1, 2015 through June 30 2016--which has been traditional here for decades. It's just come to my attention, however, that official totals are shifting to a rain year that runs from October 1 through the following September 30. Using the new rain year, this would be the first rain of the 2015-2016 season, and our total would therefore be 0.65 inches.]

Books I'm Reading: Wood

Harvey Green's Wood: Craft, Culture, History (Penguin, 2006) is a detailed cultural history of wood that touches also on the biology of trees and the physics of wood, but mostly considers how wood has provided for mankind since ancient times. It dramatically demonstrates the pervasiveness and importance of wood in almost every sphere of human life until very recently, when plastics and other synthetic materials have replaced wood in many applications. At the same time, it demonstrates just how much wood the Earth has lost to human consumption, particularly for fuel, for the construction of dwellings, for ships, and for containers (most especially, barrels). Refreshingly wide-ranging, the book recognizes the importance of wood to cultures from around the world and the contributions of these cultures to woodworking and carpentry. Word geeks and Scrabble fans will enjoy it for the large number of obscure words for woodworking tools mentioned. Educational and entertaining.  

Art I'm Making: Two More Collages

These are the last of the collages I made during and just after the recent Sonoma County Art Trails open studio event using some new papers I've made in browns, oranges, and pinks. They are Untitled Collage No. 116 (Santa Rosa) and Untitled Collage No. 117 (Santa Rosa), both from the third week of October.

No. 116 (upper image) uses paper made by monoprinting off a sheet of glass that I deliberately left uncleaned from the print that preceded it. I like the map-like effect the overlap of colors created. October 22, 2015. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size 17.1 x 17.6cm. Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat.

No. 117 (lower image) is a very small piece, less than 2 x 3 inches, using some scraps of the new papers and bits and pieces from older work. October 23, 2015. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size 6 x 7cm. Matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the images for larger views. For more, visit my collage website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Books I'm Reading: Gut Feelings

I picked up this slim volume used somewhere. I liked the cover, and my theory is that Penguin never publishes a bad book, so I bought it for a dollar or so. A short book and a quick read, but one that I enjoyed. Author Gerd Gigerenzer argues that sometimes heeding a gut feeling yields a better result than making a decision based on hard information. While that may feel right (we have gut feelings even about gut feelings), this book is interesting for its attempt to present evidence that supports his central thesis that too much information can lead to worse decisions than decisions made on instinct. Sometimes, he argues, it's better to rely on what he calls our "intelligent unconscious" to make quick decisions than it is to think things through. Recommended. Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, Penguin, 2008.

Art I'm Making: More Recent Work

Here's some more collage work using the brown, orange and pink papers I've made recently. This is Untitled Collage No. 115 (Santa Rosa). It uses a speckled orange sheet but also some old indigo paper and a remnant of the sheet of antique silver leaf a fellow artist recently gave me. I've allowed a flap of the blue at the bottom to ride on top of the paper underneath it to give an overlapping effect with a shadow.

Untitled Collage No. 115 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. October 20, 2015. Image size 6.8 x 9.8cm. Matted to 11 x 14 inches. Signed and dated on the reverse. Signed on the mat.

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

Books I'm Reading: Two Years Before the Mast

I can't remember when I picked up a used copy of Richard Henry Dana Jr.'s Two Years Before the Mast (Penguin Classics, 1981). I don't remember exactly why I bought it either, except that I've always enjoyed 19th century maritime literature. Dana's is a non-fictional account of two years working on American merchantmen in the 1830s--but close enough. It's been on my bookshelf for at least a few years. Recently I read it, and I'm glad I did.

The book paints a vivid picture of life on board ship in the early 1800s, specifically, on a vessel whose business it was to collect cowhides from the West Coast of the US and transport them around Cape Horn to the US East Coast (where they mostly became shoes). It paints a picture of pre-Gold Rush coastal California--when San Francisco, Monterey, Santa Barbara, and other cities were tiny Mexican villages (Dana Point, near Los Angeles today, was named for the author). Unlike the protagonists in so much literature about life on the oceans, Dana is not running away from anything; he sees his time at sea as a temporary separation from civilization. Dana is very much focused on getting back to life in Boston and afraid that a delay in his return will cause him to be so deeply changed by life at sea that he'll become unable to go back.  

Art I'm Making: More New Collage Work

During the 2015 Sonoma County Art Trails open studio event (always the middle two weekends in October) I created several demonstration sheets of paper using browns and oranges and pinks. These made it into the work I did during the event. This collage is very simple, but I like its quiet dignity.

Untitled Collage No. 114 (Santa Rosa). October 11, 2015. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size 16.3 x 17cm. Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on reverse. Signed on the mat.

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

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Music I'm Listening To: Christian Tetzlaff with Susanna Mälkki Conducting the San Francisco Symphony

I attended the Friday, October 16 San Francsico Symphony performance at Davies Symphony Hall. On the program titled "Russian Masterpieces" were Mussorgsky (orch. Shostakovich)
Dawn on the Moscow River from Khovanshchina, Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1, and Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5.  Guest conductor Susanna Mälkki led the orchestra. Christian Tezlaff was the soloist in the Shostakovich concerto. Mälkki was in control throughout, delivering a good, precise reading of the Prokofiev. I especially enjoyed the second movement. Tetzlaff was wonderful, going at the concerto with great energy. An excellent way to begin the 2015-2016 concert season.

Books I'm Reading: Stiff

Stiff, was a New York Times bestseller when it was new, but I found it at a used bookstore long after the fact. I remember hearing its author Mary Roach interviewed on the radio (probably Fresh Air or All Things Considered) and thinking the book sounded interesting, although I'd forgotten that when I bought it recently.

The subject is a somewhat creepy one, but Roach's approach is matter-of-fact and almost reverent--if at times laugh-out-loud funny. Educational and entertaining. I read it in one sitting. Recommended. I see Roach has published at least two other books--Bonk, which takes human sexuality as its subject, and Gulp, which looks at eating—probably both as entertaining as Stiff was.

Art I'm Making: New Collage

Still catching up with the collages I made during the recent Sonoma County Art Trails open studio event (always the middle two weekends in October), here is Untitled Collage No. 113 (Santa Rosa), which (unintentionally) has a rather Turner-esque feel to it, I think.

Untitled Collage No. 113 (Santa Rosa), October 11, 2015, Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image 20.2 x 27.7cm, matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on reverse, signed on the mat.

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Books I'm Reading: The Hare with the Amber Eyes

Edmund de Waal's The Hare with the Amber Eyes appears to have been a best-seller when it was new. I received it long ago as a gift but read it only recently. It's an extraordinary tale expertly told. I can see why it was popular. De Waal is the current custodian of a remarkable collection of more than 260 netsuke that has been in his family since his relative, one Charles Joachim Ephrussi, acquired it whole in Paris during the late 19th century, a time of intense interest in Japanese art there among the wealthy and knowledgeable. Charles and the Ephrussi family as a collection of people are as interesting as the netsuke and De Waal is expert at introducing them to the reader as he investigates his ancestors and traces the history of the collection he now owns.

The collection moves from Paris to Vienna, following the family fortunes--where it narrowly escapes confiscation by the Nazis--and then to Tokyo by the 1960s, in a kind of homecoming, owned by a great uncle of the author, who now houses the collection in England. The earliest section, about Paris, is especially interesting for the picture it paints of the artists and writers Charles Ephrussi associated with.

A first-rate story beautifully told. My only complaint is that the edition I read (Picador, 2010) frustratingly has no illustrations of the collection, or even of the several special netsuke the author repeatedly mentions--the hare with the amber eyes among them. I've heard, however, that there are fancier editions available that are better illustrated. Still, highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Art I'm Making: New Collages

I finished only one collage in the weeks leading up to the Sonoma County Art Trails event in the middle of October, but I produced quite a number during the event. Here are Untitled Collage No. 111 (Santa Rosa) and Untitled Collage No. 112 (Santa Rosa). Both are collages made from acrylic monoprints. Number 111 (left) uses monoprint elements evocative of watercolor. Number 112 (below) uses some new papers I've made with a lot of browns and rusty oranges--as usual, incorporating scraps from papers made for earlier pieces.

Untitled Collage No. 111 (Santa Rosa), September 17, 2015, acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage, 12 x 11.4cm, signed and dated on reverse, signed on the mat. Matted to 11x14 inches.

Untitled Collage No. 112 (Santa Rosa), October 10, 2015, acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage, 10.5 x 12.1cm, signed and dated on reverse, signed on the mat. Matted to 11x14 inches.

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


Books I'm Reading: Two Books on Japanese Art

I've just finished reading two new publications from University of Hawaii Press, both about Japanese art. Hokusai's Great Wave: Biography of a Global Icon, by Christine M. E. Guth, examines the history of response to Hokusai's print Kanagawa Oki no Namihira [Beneath the Wave off Kanagawa], better known today as The Great Wave, from its 1831 publication as part of Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji to the present day, and then looks at how the image has been adopted and repurposed since then. The book's approach is mainly descriptive, aiming to show the breadth of the image’s influence. Guth doesn’t dwell too deeply on the question of why The Great Wave has become the most widely recognized non-Western work of art in the world and perhaps the most recognized work of art of any kind after Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.

The themes are diverse, and appropriately so, as the central truth that emerges from Guth’s writing is that The Great Wave has been extraordinarily adaptable, particularly in a commercial and artistic context, where it’s been used to add cachet to package design and advertising, to decorate everything from éclairs to wristwatches, and as a backdrop or pictorial element in both high art and parody. It’s been called upon to represent the power of natural forces generally and, the struggle between man and nature more specifically. It has been taken to symbolize a temporal dichotomy—with Mount Fuji in the background standing for timelessness, the wave for the ephemeral. It has been used as a stand-in for Japan and, by extension Asia, although Guth points out that the print’s use of European illusionism and the then-modern Prussian blue likely would have given it a foreign and exotic appeal to Japanese viewers at the time of its initial appearance.

While simply adding a dash of Japanese flavor is sometimes the goal of these commercial and other applications, just as often the aims of those adopting Hokusai’s wave image seem vague and hard to pin down. The Great Wave remains a symbol of Japan but at the same time a powerful and ambiguous icon easily divorced from its geographic origins, referenced as often as a signifier of abstract ideas as of anything specifically Japanese. Ultimately it is perhaps this elasticity of meaning that has allowed—and continues to allow—its many transformations.

Julie Nelson Davis’s Partners in Print: Artistic Collaboration and the Ukiyo-e Market is a more focused volume. Although it takes the form of close—almost archaeological—studies of four disparate publications and looks at their differing collaborative configurations, her carefully researched book uses each of the four studies to make the same point—that creation and consumption of artworks in the Ukiyo-e tradition were highly collaborative processes.

Davis examines a specially commissioned print featuring a work by painter Sekien, a teacher to both Utamaro and Sekichujo, to look at relationships between a teacher and his students. She examines a full-color printed guidebook to the Yoshiwara entertainment district in Edo, complete with reviews of the prostitutes and their establishments, focusing on relationships between painters, a publisher, the brothel operators, and tsu (those in the know—in this context, veteran frequenters of the pleasure quarters, the idealized assumed reader). She reveals the nuances of an erotic printed scroll, examining ties between the scroll’s designer and its publisher. Finally, she looks at a popular illustrated satire in book form, illuminating the interdependence of the book’s writer and its illustrator, at the same time shedding light on how publishers and government censors interacted in late eighteenth century Japan. She sees each of her examples as a “material record of dialog,” and she is expert at teasing out meaning from the smallest details of these works. Partners in Print is valuable not only for the convincing clarity of its central argument but also for the author’s masterful explication of each of the works she examines so closely. Partners in Print is likely to be of special interest to students of Japanese art history but of interest to any reader with more than a passing interest in Japan, art, and the sociology of art. 
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