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

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, life on board 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. Interesting for both its historical value and the psychological self-portrait the author presents.  

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

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

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

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. 

Birds I'm Watching: Magnolia Warbler at Bodega Bay (10/21/2015)

A stray Magnolia Warbler has been hanging out at Diekmann's Bay Store, in Bodega Bay. Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia) is normally an Eastern species not found here. Once in a while a young bird will get lost west of the Rockies during its first migration south. I went to have a look and was lucky enough to get a good photograph of the bird. Warblers are such frantic foragers that I always feel lucky to capture one in focus (above).

A few days later I went again, but was unable to find the bird. I did, however, see a Nashville Warbler (Setophaga ruficapilla), also unusual here (although much less so). The birds can look similar in some plumages. Both have a complete white eyeing, a grayish head, and are otherwise greenish above and pale yellow below, but I knew this to be a Nashville because  of a number of differences--notably the lack of patterning in the wings, lack of a yellow rump, and the lack of the black and grey scalloping at the base of the tail present in the Magnolia Warbler (above). From underneath, it was all yellow except for a white patch at the base of the legs, which is typical of a Nashville (below).

For more about birds and birding in Sonoma County, see my Website: Sonoma County Bird Watching Spots. 
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