Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage N. 161 (Santa Rosa)

My latest piece is another diminutive one—just about three inches square. This one uses various leftover scraps from other work but also incorporates a piece of hand-written music with scribbles. Fellow collage artist Sherry Parker gave me a stack of old music that I've been going through. It's so visually appealing that it's hard the resist using it.

This is Untitled Collage No. 161 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper (handwritten music), collage. December 18, 2016. 8.2 x 7.6cm (3.2 x 3in). Matted to 14 x 11 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

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

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Rain: More Rain (December 10-16, 2016)

More rain on December 10-11 added another 0.80 inches of precipitation to our total at my northeast Santa Rosa location. Our total for the 2016-2017 rain year now stands at 12.95 inches, which is well above normal for this time of year—and more rain is predicted in the coming days.

[Update: And indeed there was more rain. On December 14-15 we had a solid day of rain that added 3.25 inches to our total for the year, which now stands at 16.20 inches at my location—well ahead of normal, at least for the time being. Normal for this date is about 9.5 inches.]

[Update: More rain on the evening of December 22 and into December 23 added another 1.55 inches of precipitation. That brings our total for the year to 17.75 inches--still more than six inches above normal for this time of year.]

Books I'm Reading: The Black Swan

Author Nassim Nicholas Taleb frequently uses the publishing industry as an example of one prone to what he calls "blacks swans"—a black swan is a highly unpredictable event that has far-reaching consequences and one that we rationalize after the fact, making up explanations to reassure ourselves that what happened was not as random as it seemed. He mentions best-selling books that seem to come out of nowhere, like the Harry Potter series—books that become extraordinarily popular for reasons that are easy to come up with after they take off, but that few could have suggested beforehand. He mentions events such as the 9-11 attacks. Taleb's book, The Black Swan (Random House, 2007) is something of a black swan itself. It appears to have been a major bestseller when it was new, around 2007. I bought my copy at about that time on a business trip to Tokyo but have read it only now.

Detailed, far-ranging, and not a little bit arrogant, The Black Swan is entertaining, if hard to follow in places, and somewhat repetitive. It's the kind of book you immediately want to read again after you finish, wondering if you really absorbed all there was to be absorbed—although the repetition and the author's self-congratulatory asides can become a bit tedious. To be fair, though, Taleb considerately suggests that about half the book can be skipped by those already familiar with some of his ideas.

In a nutshell, Taleb argues that we are very bad at prediction but like to pretend that we are quite good at it—that we are far too often groping blindly in the dark, hoping to find our way safely through the minefield of life, victims of confirmation bias and narrative bias, in particular. He has especially pointed barbs to hurl at policy makers, economists, and investment advisors, marking their activities as those of people habitually making bad decisions because of these biases and because of a misguided belief that they are working on meaningful evidence from the past, which Taleb suggests is, in the vast majority of cases, useless information.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 160 (Santa Rosa)

My latest collage, my first in several weeks. This one uses found Japanese paper and several subtly different shades of off-white monoprinted papers of my own creation. Together these were originally part of an abandoned monochrome experiment. I've coupled the pale overlapping lays with an abortive black and red juxtaposition from a few months back that I had abandoned as well. Paired, they finally began to make some kind of sense to me. The subtleties of the monochrome areas are lost in the photograph here, but it's a reasonable facsimile.

This is Untitled Collage No. 160 (Santa Rosa). December 11, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper, collage. Image size 19.9 x 27.2cm (7.8 x 10.7 inches). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat, signed and dated on the reverse.

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

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Art I'm looking At: Traveling Exhibit of Botanical Art & Illustration at the Petaluma Arts Center

The Petaluma Arts Center is hosting a small but very high quality traveling exhibit of botanical art right now. Tomorrow, December 11, is the last day to see it. The show features works of botanical art and illustration from the collection of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. The show comprises 36 works by artists from nine countries (Australia, China, England, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, South Africa, South Korea, and the US), all but one piece by women, and each one exquisite. The Institute was established in 1964 to support and encourage botanical artists.

I was impressed by the care taken to depict the most minute details of even the drabbest of plants. While there are floral showpieces among the works, notably a luminous Hydrangea by Gael Louise Sellwood (United States, detail shown above), I was strongly drawn to a number of portraits of rather weed-like plants, such as the winged sumac and Queen Anne's lace by Lara Call Gastinger (United States), rose hips by Denise Roxanne Walser-Kolar (United States), a selection of oddly formed heirloom tomatoes by Asuka Hishiki (Japan, top), and curly dock by Barbara Klaas (United States, bottom).

Well worth a visit. The Petaluma Arts Center is at 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma, CA, 94952, in Petaluma's Historic railroad station (707) 762-5600. Open 11:00AM to 5:00PM. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Wines I'm Drinking: Recent Grocery Outlet Wines (December 9, 2016)

Ever hopeful of finding bargains, I continue to visit my local Grocery Outlet on a regular basis. I've tried a couple dozen wines there in the past few weeks. As usual the majority are fairly uninteresting, if not objectionable, but I've lately come across a few bargains and a few worth mentioning as wines to avoid. The biggest recent disappointment was probably the 2009 Ripanera Chianti Classico. Ripanera is a fairly reliable brand for everyday wines. I've had decent examples in the past, but this wine was flawed, with an odd, jarring, volatile component. I took it back.

The 2014 Castle Tower Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel looked promising—although "Castle Tower" sounds like one of those generic, made-up names slapped onto wine of no special interest just to get it on the market. The wine was fairly tannic, not very fruit-forward, shortish, and generally ungenerous. Not terribly interesting. The 2013 Benison Lodi Zinfandel I tasted it with was better, with some red berry and sandalwood scents and a bright palate. Although it seemed a bit hollow—the flavors disappearing on the mid-palate—it came back with a fairly concentrated fruity, if somewhat woody finish. Acceptable everyday wine.

Recent Grocery Outlet finds that seem particularly worth recommending include the 2011 Bailiwick Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($6.99). Pinot Noir is perhaps the hardest of all common varieties to find cheap. I've been disappointed over and over again trying to find decent examples at an affordable price. The Bailiwick Pinot is not fine Burgundy, but it's quite solid California-style Pinot at a bargain price. It's as good as some I've tasted costing four to five times as much. It has presence and true Pinot qualities with a little character of its own. I went back for a case. Recommended—if it's not all gone. (The label shown here is the 2010 Russian River Valley Pinot from Bailiwick.)

A good deal is the 2011 Alto Cinco Garnacha ("High Five" get it?), from Spain. Another decent wine for everyday consumption with real Grenache character. Grenache is an under-rated grape in my view. When well done, it can have an irresistibly appealing ripe fruitiness. Also not bad is the 2013 Flying Feet Syrah.

Around Thanksgiving time I picked up a decent Champagne, the D'Armanville Brut, for $19.99 a bottle—actually less than that, as they were having a 20% off sale on all wines at the time. I can't say the D'Armanville is the best Champagne I've ever had, but it's competently made, has pleasingly fine bubbles, and is a nice change from the local sparkling wines in the same price range from the likes of Mumm Napa and Roederer. It's hard to find real Champagne of any kind at this price, although Grocery Outlet now has another on the shelves at $19.99 (with a blue label, I've forgotten the name) that was not as good, with comparatively large, loose bubbles and a bit on the sweet side despite being labeled "Brut". The D'Armanville is still available at the time of writing. I also picked up several bottles of a decent $6.99 Cava called Gran Barón. This appears to be gone, but I'll be picking up more if it appears again. Not great wine by any means, but respectable, everyday sparkling wine—and why not drink sparkling wine every day?

I have no financial or other connections with any producer or retailer of wine. For more wine reviews, use the "Wines I'm Drinking" label at top right

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Miscellaneous: Old-School Barber Shop

Not long ago I came across this old-school barber shop in Petaluma, CA. Didn't go in. The place was closed. So, I can't attest to the barbering skills, but I liked the colorful chairs.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Art I'm Looking At: Do We Need a Collage Taxonomy?

Why create a collage taxonomy? Presumably the goal is to allow clear, concise discussion of collage art, which seems a worthy goal given the recent surge of interest in collage among artists and collectors around the world. Kolaj magazine, the world’s premier periodical devoted to collage art, recently asked readers to help create a “collage taxonomy” in an effort to facilitate discussion about collage. The idea got me to thinking—and wondering whether such a taxonomy is really necessary.
(Above: Untitled Collage No. 135 (Santa Rosa), Colin Talcroft, 2016, acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, fragment of a doodling robot drawing in marker, collage. Mixed media? Collage? Both?)

What is collage?

What is the essential characteristic of collage art? “Stuck-togetherness,” I would argue, is the defining characteristic, if you’ll forgive the awkward term, and this is appropriate as the English word for collage comes from a French root meaning “to paste.” A collage is a work of art made of at least two elements somehow stuck together, typically, but not necessarily, with glue. Other means of sticking elements together include a variety of pastes and artist’s mediums that act as glue, such as acrylic medium, or actual paints, any of which can be considered glue for our purposes. I will discuss digital means of sticking things together below.
(Above: Order, Nancy Goodman Lawrence, 2016, paper, dry transfer letters, acrylic)

Having written that, a couple of possible “problem children” come to mind immediately: 1) is an artwork made of elements sewn together a collage? I would argue yes—unless it’s a quilt. I think common sense will allow us to distinguish the two; and 2) is a collection of three-dimensional objects stuck together or a three-dimensional construction of other elements stuck together a collage? I would have to say no, as we have better words for these things: “assemblage” and “construction” (I will leave it to the three-dimensional artists of the world to work out what distinguishes assemblage from construction and the nuances of the two words in detail—but more about dimensionality below). Note that many dictionary definitions of “collage” assume collage involves pasting disparate elements to a fixed surface—to a backing—but that is clearly an error. There are many examples of art made of elements stuck to one another without an independent backing that we would easily accept as collage.

And what of paintings with paper or other elements pasted into them? Picasso and Braque were early pioneers of that technique, adding bits of newspaper and other items to the surface of oil paintings. Are “mixed media” and “collage” synonymous?

"Mixed media" and "collage" are not interchangeable

I suspect I’m not the only collage artist that finds the term “mixed media” annoying. It’s a sloppy catch-all. “Mixed media” is virtually self-defining. The term is a broad one encompassing any artwork made using two or more media (the paintings by Picasso and Braque mentioned above fall into that category). The term doesn’t tell us much more than that. Many artists combine watercolor and ink or ink and graphite, for example, to make drawings or create paintings using acrylic and oil paints on the same canvas. These are rightly called mixed-media pieces. Stuck-togetherness is not the issue. Robert Rauschenberg’s famous Monogram 1955-59 (a stuffed goat in a car tire mounted on canvas) quite obviously uses more than one medium. It’s probably adequately described as an assemblage or a mixed-media piece, although Rauschenberg himself called such works “combines” and thought of them as being in a novel artistic category combining elements of painting and sculpture. “Combine” is probably a better word for Monogram 1955-59 than "assemblage" or "mixed media"—and that underscores the vagueness of “mixed media.” When speaking of collage, let’s abandon “mixed media.” So, to repeat, combination of media is not the main point when talking about collage, stuck-togetherness is the most important point.
(Above: Monogram 1955-59, Robert Rauschenberg, 1955-1959, goat, tire, paint, found objects on canvas. Collage?)


Both assemblage” and construction” are useful terms. I will not attempt to define either in any detail, but I hope readers will agree that both immediately connote three-dimensionality. I suppose you could call a flat artwork composed entirely of two-dimensional elements an assemblage, but we have a better word for that: “collage.” “Assemblage” seems best reserved for three-dimensional art objects made from assemblages of other three-dimensional objects. A “construction” is a three-dimensional art object made of discrete elements that is in some way architectural or sculptural. Note that the elements making up such a construction may themselves be two-dimensional—imagine a glued-together tower of playing cards. To define these two terms more precisely would take us too far afield—into a dimension beyond the two dimensions of collage—but I hope the point is made.

There are, of course, grey areas. Imagine a work called Canvas Landscape, made of thickly painted canvas scraps cut from abandoned paintings and stuck together with glue. Is Canvas Landscape collage or is it assemblage? I think we have to accept that there will always be hard-to-categorize outliers, but I appeal again to common sense: if Canvas Landscape seems more flat than not and its elements are not obviously object-like, then it’s probably safe to call it a collage. No physical artwork is truly two-dimensional, even the thinnest paper has a third dimension, but we happily ignore the third dimension when it seems small enough to be irrelevant. Is the impasto of Canvas Landscape irrelevant? Probably not entirely, but, given that “assemblage” connotes stuck together objects, I’d argue that “collage” is the better term in my hypothetical example, as its parts would seem to have little meaning as independent objects. I don’t believe collage must be made of paper. Again, media of the elements involved is not a defining characteristic. We come back to stuck-togetherness. So, a collage is a two-dimensional artwork made of two or more essentially flat elements stuck together somehow.

What kind of collage?

We see any number of modifiers in front of collage.” These include words that describe physical attributes and processes such as “digital,” “analog,” “hand-cut,” “handmade,” and stylistic tags such as “surrealist,” “Dadaist,” and so on. I would argue that style and art historical DNA are irrelevant to a collage taxonomy. To call a collage “surrealist” is no different from calling a painting “surrealist.”  We learn something about style, about content, about art historical associations, but nothing essentially new about the thing as object. Process and stylistic modifiers may be useful in describing a piece of collage art, but they are not words with meanings specific to collage; they can apply to art in any medium.

Collage or digital collage?

Computers allow us to stick digital elements together in ways that look like actual elements stuck together. Inevitably, digital collaging emerged as soon as software allowed it. Here, digital layering and mental processes are our “glue.”
(Above: Evelyne Chevallier, Rock Solid, 2016, digital collage)

All digital elements are virtual. The sources of digital elements are infinitely diverse (they may be entirely computer generated, or digital photographs, or bits of other digital images, or scans, etc.), but we are always left with pixels on a screen or tiny ink blobs on a medium such as paper if a digital collage is to become a viewable image. Sets of pixels or tiny ink blobs that we mentally process and understand as physical elements (images of things or swaths of color or texture) are not in reality more than sets of pixels or tiny ink blobs. They become understandable as things because our brains insist on processing them that way; if our brains didn't do that, we'd be unable to understand images of any kind. The digital–analog divide is real and important. A digital collage is an artwork that imitates collage.

The elements in a digital collage are realized and stuck together more by our brains than in reality, but we seem comfortable with the analogy, willing to accept the idea that the digital elements could have been printed out individually and stuck together in real space (or at least laid over one another) as they appear to have been in a digitally created scene. Thus, there is a fundamental difference between collage and digital collage, albeit one we find easy to ignore. Nevertheless, it seems very important to point out that difference when we talk about collage. Collage is non-digital by tradition and precedent, so I recommend using “collage” as the default. Let’s abandon descriptions that seek to distinguish the two in other ways like “analog collage,” “handmade collage,” and “hand-cut collage.” All collage is analog and handmade—unless it’s digital.

Found or made elements?  

Are the elements in a collage found or artist-made? If artist made, how are they made? Does it matter? Stylistically, yes. Just as a collage of cut elements is stylistically distinguishable in important ways from one made of torn elements, a collage made of found paper elements has a very different feel from one made from artist-created elements, but these are stylistic differences. Expressions like “found paper collage” or “monotype collage,” or “artist-painted paper collage,” while useful, are terms that highlight how the elements in a collage are made, not how they come together. They give us information ancillary to the essential characteristics of collage: stuck-togetherness and two-dimensionality.
(Above: Untitled 8-4, Daniel Anselmi, 2016, artist-painted paper, found paper, collage)

A non-problem?

So, it seems to me that talking about collage shouldn’t be more difficult than talking about any other kind of art once we clearly define “collage.” A collage is an essentially two-dimensional, non-digital artwork made of two or more essentially flat elements stuck together somehow. A digital collage is a digital artwork analogous to a traditional collage. All else is description of materials or process, and we already have a rich, widely accepted and therefore useful vocabulary for describing artist’s materials and processes.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Rain: More Rain (November 28, 2016)

More rain in the past couple of days has added 0.60 inches to our 2016-2017 rain year total, which now stands at 11.05 inches at my location in northeastern Santa Rosa. Normal for this time of year is just under six inches, so, for the time being, we are significantly ahead.

[Update: More rain on December 9 added 1.1 inches of new precipitation, bringing our total to 12.15 inches for the year—but it's still raining as of early morning December 10 and more rain is predicted in the coming week.]

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 159 (Santa Rosa)

My latest collage is another predominately green one, using sheets of monoprinted paper I made when in the mood for green. This is Untitled Collage No. 159 (Santa Rosa). November 3, 2016. Acrylic on Paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. 20.3 x 27.6cm (8.0 x 10.9 inches). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat. I haven't been in the mood to create art since the election, I'm afraid.

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

Rain: More Rain (November 19, 20, and 24, 2016)

A good steady rain the past two days has added 2.80 inches to our total for the 2016-2017 rain year, which now stands at 10.00 inch at my location in northeastern Santa Rosa—very good for this time of year. I hope it keeps up. More rain is forecast in the next couple of days.

More rain on November 24 raised the total to 10.45 inches.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Miscellaneous: The 2016 "Supermoon"

I wasn't able to get a good photograph of last night's super moon down low, where the size is most dramatically apparent, but I did get a decent shot of the full moon after it had moved above the band of clouds that had veiled it nearer the horizon.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 158 (Santa Rosa)

Almost caught up with posting recent collage work. Here's another new one. This piece is now on view on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi, Cotati, California (through December 31, 2016), along with many others. Come by and see it, and me, and have a glass of wine--or two--at the OPENING RECEPTION on MONDAY, November 7, 5:00PM to 7:30PM.

This is Untitled Collage No. 158 (Santa Rosa). October 22, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper, cotton thread, collage. 15.3 x 20.1cm (6.0 x 7.9in). 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 of my collage work, visit my collage site at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Art I'm Looking At: "Cries and Whispers" Contemporary Painting at Sonoma State University (Paintings by Cate White and John Yoyogi Fortes)

I attended the opening last night (November 3, 2016) of a show of contemporary painting at Sonoma State University's University Art Gallery, tucked away in a corner of the campus and hard to find (I wonder who thought it was a good idea to give EVERY building on the Sonoma State campus the same address?) but worth the trouble. "Cries and Whispers" features paintings by two Northern California painters, John Yoyogi Fortes and Cate White.

Both painters draw in a way that seems deliberately intended to look less skilled than it really is, White using a nervous, wiry line, Yoyogi Fortes a thicker, weightier line. Both painters make narrative paintings, White's seemingly grounded in reality, Yoyogi Fortes's more abstract, a little surreal. Both painters use layering and juxtaposition of apparently random elements that give the works a graffiti-like look. The work of neither painter would look out of place in an urban concrete setting. It's easy to see why this pairing made sense to the curators.

While the two painters clearly have affinities, they have different concerns. Cate White's work is intensely personal. Assuming the named characters peopling her canvases are real people—people she knows—she is recording significant moments in her life. If these are fictional people, there is at least a recurring cast of characters. "Rory" is one such character. Among the most memorable paintings by White is Rory Counting His Money (2015, acrylic on wood panel), in which we see precisely that: Rory, secretively counting money in a kitchen, seemingly worried about who might observe him, perhaps someone in the room pictured through an open door behind him. The kitchen is crudely depicted but realistically enough drawn in the top half of the painting to make it easy to accept the space on its own cartoon-like terms, but White pulls the carpet out from under the viewer in the bottom half of the painting by making Rory's legs transparent, by suddenly shifting to an abstract depiction of space roughly blocked out with patches of flat color. And Rory's cat, too, is transparent. The orange outlines of the cat and the orange patch beneath Rory's boots are jarringly set against the aqua highlights in the room. The real world dissolves here. In other works, White again uses this transparent effect to keep things one step removed from reality.

In Dre Looking at Me at the Mike Brown Memorial (2015, acrylic on Canvas), a nude female figure is one of several figures (the others clothed) that hold up cell phone cameras to snap photos of the pile of stuffed animals and other objects that appeared in Ferguson, Missouri's Canfield Drive as a spontaneous memorial at the site of the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, in August 2015. If the female figure is White herself, the image shows an outsider both observing and being observed—observed by people local to the scene (the man in the car, Dre), the scene under the surveillance of police cars tucked away into nearby alleyways. Why the foreground figure is nude, I cannot say. In other paintings, a prison visit is depicted; a woman, possibly the artist, stands naked, peeing in the shower; a soldier, flanked by two dogs sits in an ambiguous space (apparently on a sofa placed outdoors), a pair of phantom arms holding his gun.

The work of Yoyogi Fortes is bolder. In some ways it appears crude. The thick, clumsy outlines are reminiscent in places of Philip Guston's late work (itself a crude departure from his earlier representational work). At the same time, however, Yoyogi Fortes is a subtle colorist and his concerns are more painterly than White's. He works in layers. There are splashed areas of dripping paint. Some layers are applied, sanded down, and then overlaid with new layers. Thin, wiped layers float on top of textures left behind by thicker, sculpted layers underneath. The surfaces are of interest in themselves.

The cast of characters is more abstract than in White's work. It includes a stylized monkey face and headless bodies with skinny, booted legs (or heads on legs, reminiscent of Spongebob Squarepants). Recurring symbols include dollar signs and elongated, bloodshot eyes (R. Crumb comes to mind), and brick walls or linear grids. There is frequent use of irregular blobs of pure color that help to rob the paintings of depth—the flatness and the color blobs reminiscent of Japanese techniques, the first associated with traditional woodblock prints before artists in Japan were widely familiar with Western-style perspective, the latter a favorite technique of certain schools of contemporary Japanese abstract printmakers—as in Sweaty Pickle (immediately above: 2016, acrylic, pencil, charcoal, enamel, and collage on canvas). The positioning of these various elements on the canvases suggests narrative in some places, particularly the narrative style of manga or other graphic novels. Elsewhere, the elements appear more randomly placed, more like graffiti tags on walls that have been tagged and covered, tagged and covered repeatedly—although, no doubt, the artist is making decisions about placement based on compositional concerns. Text fragments commonly appear, as in POV (above: 2015, acrylic, enamel, charcoal, pencil, collage, and glitter on canvas), again suggestive of graffiti or street art, a style very much in vogue these days. Not all the pieces by these two artists are immediately appealing. It took me a while to warm up to some of the work, but I left the show glad I'd made the effort to see it. The paintings of both artists are worth a look. Recommended.

"Cries and Whispers: Paintings by John Yoyogi Fortes and Cate White" runs through December 11, 2016 at University Art Gallery at Sonoma State University. Parking Lot A is the closest. Exorbitant ($8) parking fee required. Gallery hours 11:00AM to 4:00PM Tuesday through Friday, weekends 12:00PM to 4:00PM. Closed Mondays and holidays. Closed November 11 (Veteran's Day) and November 23-25 (Thanksgiving). For more information, call (707) 664-2295.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 157 (Santa Rosa)

My latest collage. This is another done during the recent Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event. This piece (and many others) is now on view on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi (through December 31, 2016, opening reception Monday, November 7, 5:00PM to 7:30PM.) Come by and see it, and me, and have a glass of wine--or two.

Untitled Collage No. 157 (Santa Rosa). October 17, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, found paper, collage. 30.8 x 25.5cm (12.1 x 10.0in). 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 of my collage work, visit my collage site at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Rain: More Rain (October 24-25, 2016)

Rain all day today (October 25) and yesterday has so far added 3.20 inches to our total for the 2016-2017 rain year. As of 7:00PM on the 25th, our total stood at 4.85 inches. Off to a good start—and more rain is forecast.

[Rain has continued on and off since writing the above—an unusually extended period of rain for us. Since last reporting (and, as of noon on October 30) we have had an additional 2.10 inches of precipitation, bringing our total so far to 6.95 inches, which is very healthy for this time of year. May it continue.]

[Occasional sprinkles since last writing have added another 0.25 inches to our total, which is now 7.2 inches, as of noon, Sunday, November 6.]

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Music I'm Listening To: Pablo Heras-Casado and Alisa Weilerstein with the San Francisco Symphony

Last night, October 21, 2016 was the opening of the 2016-2017 concert season—for me, at least. I was in San Francisco to hear Pablo Heras-Casado conduct the San Francisco Symphony in Mozart's Symphony No. 29, Schumann's Cello Concerto in A Minor (Alisa Weilerstein soloist), and Dvorak's Symphony No. 7. Each time I've watched Heras-Casado conduct, I've been impressed by his apparent rapport with the San Francisco Symphony musicians. Everything seems crisp, clear, taut, and in its place.

I enjoyed the Mozart performance, which had these qualities in spades, the Schumann less so. The Schumann concerto is from that period in musical history when it was fashionable to leave no pauses between movements; it's always felt wrong to me. There's nothing inherently necessary about dividing music into clearly separated segments, but the breaks allow the listener time to reflect and absorb before being asked to consider a new set of ideas. The Cello Concerto seemed amorphous, without direction, and a little overblown, the lack of pauses contributing. It's not among my favorite cello concertos. Weilerstein, Heras-Casado, and the orchestra seemed very much in tune (pardon the pun), however, and Weilerstein played with the drama she's known for, the drama heightened by her voluminous crimson dress, but I thought the sound of her low string rather ugly—gritty and grippy, as if she had put much too much rosin on her bow. I suppose that's a minority opinion, but I found it distracting.

The highlight of the evening was perhaps the Dvorak. Sitting near the front is a compromise. It's fun to be close to the conductor and soloists, but the sound can get a trifle out of balance, with the brass and low strings a little too strong, the violins a little lost, and that was apparent in the Dvorak, particularly when the sound was biggest, with the horns threatening to overwhelm the violins—but that was not the fault of the performers, who were, as usual, in good form. Dvorak is nothing if not colorful. He always uses the full orchestra, giving everyone a lot to do—in this case, the winds, in particular. His Symphony No. 7 is a passionate piece of music. There's plenty of drama (and it's hard work for the conductor; Heras-Casado was dripping with sweat by the end), but Dvorak, even at his most intense, never seems willing to accept the notion of hopelessness. There is always something optimistic about his writing, a positive energy always swirling around at the eye of the storm. All in all, a good start to another season of fine music in San Francisco.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 156 (Santa Rosa)

My latest collage piece. This was done during the recent Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event.

This is Untitled Collage No. 156 (Santa Rosa). October 16, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. 21.8 x 31.6cm (8.6 x 12.4in). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on the reverse. Signed on the mat.

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

Friday, October 14, 2016

Rain: First Real Rain of the New Rain Year

We had drizzle a couple of weeks back (0.2 inches) but the first real rain of the new rain year (October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017) began last night. The first rain is always refreshing. It's very welcome, even if it comes in the middle of the Art Trails open studio event tomorrow and Sunday. So far this morning (October 14, 2016) there is 0.75 inches in the rain gauge. I'm hoping we'll have had a couple of inches by the end of the weekend.

[Update: By Sunday morning (October 16) most of the rain clouds were gone. We ended up with 1.45 inches at my location, bringing the annual total to 1.65 inches. I was hoping for more, but everything looks refreshed and the air smells clean.]

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Art I'm Making: New Collages

Since last posting images, I've finished three new collages. These are numbers 153, 154, and 155. I don't give my collages titles because to me they are mostly problems of composition. Inevitably, people see images in them (and I do myself sometimes), but these are coincidental. I intend no subject. I seek no subject. From top to bottom:

Untitled Collage No. 153 (Santa Rosa) September 5, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. 23.3 x 18.6cm (9.4 x 7.25in). Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat. This one is a fairly simple overlay of hard-edged forms over a flowing black-on-white monoprint, a study in motion and stasis.

Untitled Collage No. 154 (Santa Rosa) September 20, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, found paper (handwritten music), collage. 18.0 x 23.1cm (7.13 x 9.13in). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat. This one sets horizontal linear effects of dark blue-black monoprinted elements against verticals created by up-ended staff paper.

Untitled Collage No. 155 (Santa Rosa) October 12, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, found paper (handwritten music, Japanese textile stencil, fragment of a doodle bot drawing), collage. 17.6 x 15.1cm 6.9 x 5.9in). Matted to 20 x 16 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat. A study in blues accented by green and rust patches. Here I've used found music again, but I've used it more for the blue pencil marks on the staff paper than for the linear quality of the staff paper itself.

Click on the images for larger views. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can see my work in person during the Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, always the middle two weeks of October--this year, October 8, 9 and October 15, 16. This year, I will be Studio No. 141.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Books I'm Reading: A History of the World in 12 Maps

When we think about the meaning of maps--if we stop to think about their meaning at all--I suspect we work on a number of assumptions that author Jerry Brotton neatly disposes of in the course of his look at 12 extraordinary maps in A History of the World in 12 Maps (Penguin, 2012). Most important among these is probably the assumption that a map is an objective representation of the physical world. Brotton shows that maps—all maps—reflect the attitudes of the people who make them and the people for whom they are made. Maps are inevitably selective and biased, even when expressly intended to be quite the opposite, and therefore maps are always incomplete and expressive of only one view of the space they describe.

Brotton starts with a mention in his introduction of the oldest known map of the world, a map on a clay tablet excavated near modern-day Baghdad in the 1880s dated to c. 700BC - c. 500BC. However, the first of the 12 maps mentioned in the title of the book is the picture of the world created around 150AD by Ptolemy in his Geography, which, apparently, included no maps at all, but rather instructions on how to create a world map, the first known attempt to create a world map based on scientific principles and with an understanding of the mathematics of projection. It is remarkable for being an attempt to transmit knowledge digitally rather than pictorially--that is, with the numbers required to draw a map rather than by reproducing the map itself (although it is not entirely clear that the text was unaccompanied by maps published separately; in any case, none have survived). Ptolemy's known world was centered on the Mediterranean. What lay beyond the westernmost point in Europe, beyond modern-day Portugal, was unknown. The New World was yet to be discovered. Africa was not yet understood to be a continent surrounded by water. What lay beyond India was only vaguely understood and suggested.

He moves on to an 1154 map of the world made in Sicily by one Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Idris al-Sharif al Idrisi (mercifully shortened to Al-Idrisi), part of what Brotton describes as a "comprehensive summary of the known world" that included more than 70 regional maps and the world map discussed. Brotton further describes Al-Idrisi's work as an attempt to bring together "Greek, Christian, and Islamic traditions of science, geography, and travel to produce a hybrid perspective on the world based on the exchange of cultural ideas and beliefs between different faiths." Al-Idrisi's approach was inclusive and syncretic and an attempt to describe the world as it really is, even if that goal is elusive and the possibility of achieving it illusory.

There follows a discussion of why maps are oriented the way they are. Most early Muslim maps, including Al-Idrisi's, were oriented with south at the top rather than north, mainly because the direction of Mecca in the earliest days of Islam was south for most of the religion's followers. Early Chinese maps were oriented with north at the top because the emperor was thought to look down upon his subjects facing south, with his back to the north, and all others looking up to him. Until the 15th century, Christian maps, however, were oriented with east at the top, as in the c. 1300 Hereford mappamundi, the third of Brotton's twelve maps (shown, illustration from Wikipedia). Here, the scientific approach is mostly discarded (the bulk of the factual information on the map derived from classical sources) and replaced by a religious point of view, in what seems a step backward from objectivity—but, again, one of Brotton's central themes is that maps really cannot be objective. The Hereford map shows the world as a sphere surrounded by water with the land divided into three areas labeled "Europa," "Asia," and "Affrica," although, as Brotton notes, Europe and Africa are transposed (it's not clear why). At the apex of the map (east) sits Christ, flanked by angels leading people to either heaven or hell, a depiction of resurrection and judgment. At the bottom of the map, opposite Christ and associated with the setting sun, decline, and death, lies the west. The shapes of the land masses are wildly distorted by ignorance of actual geography but also by the attempt to locate places mentioned in the Bible and to account for various Biblical stories. Around the borders Biblical, classical, and other mythical monsters are depicted. The Hereford mappamundi is more a map of the road to salvation in a Christian universe than a picture of the surface of the Earth.

Each of the nine maps that follows is used similarly as a starting point for discussing how a picture of the world, a map, is a reflection of the people that make it, their attitudes toward the world, and, most importantly, their political, financial, and ideological interests. There is not room here to discus them all in detail, but Brotton looks at a 15th century world map centered on the Korean peninsula, very much concerned with relations with imperial China; Martin Waldseemüller's 1507 world map, created at a time when Europe was beginning to explore the rest of the world; a 1529 map by Diego Ribeiro, reflecting rivals Spain and Portugal aggressively claiming territory around the globe; Mercator's famous map of 1529, a view of the world that is highly influential to this day (although losing ground); Joan Blaeu's 1662 atlas, which becomes a centerpiece for a discussion of the economics of an intensely competitive market for maps in Holland in the 17th century; the Cassini map of France of 1793 as an example of maps as a tool for gaining and keeping political power (and a lesson in the futility of trying to remain up to date); Halford Mackinder's 1904 The Geographical Pivot of History in a chapter that deals with the rise of geography as a modern, scientific pursuit but also, again, a pursuit intimately connected with politics (in this case British colonial politics); the 1973 Peters projection map, a flawed yet highly influential attempt to rectify the distortions of the ubiquitous Mercator projection (perceived as oppressive and Eurocentric)*; and finally, Google Earth, which, although it might seem to be the closest thing we have to an objective depiction of the entire world, Brotton argues is inevitably biased and incomplete—like all maps.

Thoughtful, wide-ranging, absorbing. Highly recommended.

*Shown is an overlay of the Mercator and Peters (or Gall-Peters) projections, the Mercator in black outline, the Gall-Peters projection in solid aqua. I have been unable to find the original source of this comparison graphic. If anyone reading this knows, please share, as I'd like to properly credit its creator.

[Here's a link to a brief Mental Floss article about a new Japanese world map that attempts to overcome the usual projection problems in a novel way. http://www.mentalfloss.com/article/88138/more-accurate-world-map-wins-prestigious-japanese-design-award. I see that this resembles the Dymaxion map or Fuller map, created by Buckminster Fuller. The Japanese one, however, is a single, uninterrupted sheet, whereas Fuller's map is highly interrupted.]

The Cocktail Glass Collection: The Ha-Ra Club, San Francisco

Another neon cocktail glass sign to add to my growing collection. (This is No. 21. For more, use the "The Cocktail Glass Collection" tab to the right.) This is the Ha-Ra Club, at 875 Geary St., in San Francisco. This one looks generic, just popped on top of the Ha-Ra sign.

[Update: In November 2017, I happened to drive by the place at night. Below is a shot of the sign lit.]

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

Rain: First Rain of the 2016-2017 Rain Year

On October 2 and 3 we had the first rain of the new rain year, the 2016-2017 rain year, which will run from October1 2016 to September 30 2017.  It wasn't much, just 0.2 inches, but refreshing nevertheless. More please.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Serendipitous Art: Worn Floor (September 29, 2016)

When traveling in Europe, I've always loved seeing the edges of stone steps worn into softly dipping curves by centuries of foot traffic. This patch of worn flooring in front of the cash register of a local grocery store is somewhat less dramatic, but it looked like art to me. Serendipitous art.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Art I'm Making: Art Trails 2016--Opening Reception Tonight at the Sebastopol Center For the Arts (September 23, 2016)

If you're local to the San Francisco Bay Area, you can see my work in person during the upcoming Sonoma County Art Trails Open Studios event, October 8, 9 and October 15, and 16. I'm studio No. 141 this year.

OPENING RECEPTION for the preview show at The Sebastopol Center for the Arts is tonight, September 23, 6:00PM to 8:00PM. http://sonomacountyarttrails.org for more information.

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

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 151 (Santa Rosa)

Catching up on posting recent collage work. Another tiny collage, only 8 x 6.2cm (3.1 x 2.4in). Being so small, the subtleties are hard to see here. But, Sonoma County Art Trails is just around the corner (October 8,9 and 15, 16). This year I'll be studio no. 141. Come and have a look at a year's worth of new work.

This is Untitled Collage No. 151 (Santa Rosa). July 28, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Matted to 14 x 11 inches. Signed and dated on reverse. Signed on the mat.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my collage site at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can see my work in person during the Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, always the middle two weeks of October--this year, October 8, 9 and October 15, 16. This year, I will be Studio No. 141.

OPENING RECEPTION for the preview show at The Sebastopol Center for the Arts is September 23, 6:00PM to 8:00PM. The preview show, which includes one piece of work from each of the 192 participating artists is on view now through the end of the event. For more information, go to http://sonomacountyarttrails.org.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Books I'm Reading: Beethoven's Hair: An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved

It's odd to think that a lock of Beethoven's hair made its way to San Jose, California in the 1990s. It's perhaps almost as odd that San Jose has a dedicated center of Beethoven research (at San Jose State University, where the lock—or most of it—rests today). Yet these are facts. Russel Martin's Beethoven's Hair: An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved (Broadway Books, 2001) explains the journey from 19th century Vienna to California of an extraordinary relic: a lock of hair cut from Beethoven's corpse the day after the composer died—that is, on March 27, 1827.

The lock (apparently one of many taken from the body) was cut by a young musical prodigy, Ferdinand Hiller, who had been taken to see Beethoven on several occasions during the composer's last illness by Johann Hummel, Hiller's teacher and Beethoven's friend and fellow composer. The hair passed down through Hiller's family until the WWII years when it somehow got passed on to a doctor in the town of Gilleleje in Denmark, which became the scene of a remarkable effort to ferry Danish and other Jews out of the country (occupied by the Nazis) to safety in neutral Sweden—perhaps the most interesting part of the story Martin tells by switching back and forth between details of Beethoven's life and the fate of the lock containing Hiller's souvenir. Exactly how the hair passed into the hands of the Danish doctor remains a mystery—one the book ultimately fails fully to shed light on—, but the hair eventually came to auction at Sotheby's, in 1994, sold by the doctor's adoptive daughter for £3,600 to a group of Beethoven enthusiasts in the United States one of whom had amassed such a collection of early Beethoven scores that he persuaded San Jose State University to house his collection and build a research facility around it (the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies).

The final chapters of the book center on the chemical analyses conducted on a sample from the lock and on the painful end of Beethoven's life, providing something of a climax the story of the lock's peregrinations lacks because of the big gap in the story leading up to and during the WWII years. Testing showed two important facts: first, that Beethoven apparently eschewed painkillers despite his ill health, presumably because he preferred to seek solace in his music rather than mask his pain at the price of lucidity; and second, that he appears to have had very high levels of lead in his system when he died–which may or may not account for his deafness. Tests failed to show the presence of mercury, which would have pointed to treatment for syphilis, one theory the investigations laid to rest.

An engrossing page-turner interesting in large part because of the way it shows how coincidence and a reverence for souvenirs of the famous can link people across continents and centuries. This appears to have been a bestseller when it was new--now almost 16 years ago.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 150 (Santa Rosa)

Playing with purple, I've created an unstable-looking pile of textures in that color. The shapes are vaguely suggestive of something. I can't decide what—but there's no need to discover a "subject" in this little composition. It is what it is.

This is Untitled Collage No. 150 (Santa Rosa). July 21, 2016. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monoprint, collage. Image size: 15.3 x 15.6cm (6.0 x 6.2 inches). 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 of my collage work, visit my collage site at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can see my work in person during the Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, always the middle two weeks of October--this year, October 8, 9 and October 15, 16. This year, I will be Studio No. 141.

OPENING RECEPTION for the preview show at The Sebastopol Center for the Arts is September 23, 6:00PM to 8:00PM. The preview show, which includes one piece of work from each of the 192 participating artists is on view now through the end of the event. For more information, go to http://sonomacountyarttrails.org.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Art I'm Looking At: A Drawing by Aaron

I was living in Japan in the spring of 1985. Mike, a former college roommate, was working at the American pavilion at Expo '85 in Tsukuba, just north of Tokyo (officially known as The International Exposition, Tsukuba, Japan, 1985), a World's Fair with a focus on science and technology. I took an opportunity to visit Mike, staying a night at his lodgings. He showed me his fat diplomatic passport. He told me about the vetting he had been through. Apparently, someone in the State Department thought it wise to interview some of his grade school classmates. What did they want to know? Maybe Mike ate paste as a child and was not to be trusted? He was the only member of the US delegation not a Mormon, I learned. Mormons don't get drunk, Mormons don't do drugs; they're a safe bet for international duty. With delegations from all over the world at hand, the atmosphere was somewhat party-like after hours. The Mormons seemed keenly focused on finding sex partners. Some of Mike's friends had made plans to go out for a beer with people from the Swedish delegation on the night of my visit. No sex was involved, but I can say "Jag förstår inte svenska" as a result of tagging along that evening ("I don't understand Swedish"). My pronunciation was praised.

Being a stamp collector, I was eager to get Expo cancellations for the stamps issued to commemorate the event. I stood in line. The Japanese have an interest in stamps far beyond anything I've ever seen here. The country still produces beautiful stamps. Collectors stand in line when new issues appear. Stamps in the US are now cheap stickers. US stamps once were gems of good design and often exquisite miniature engravings on fine paper, but the thrill is gone. Shown here are the souvenir sheet Japan issued to commemorate the 1985 event and a strip of five of the ¥50 Tsukuba Expo issue with special cancellations from the site.

At the American pavilion I overheard a Japanese visitor muttering about how the US had come down in the world. Visitors seemed unimpressed by the drab, technical displays. The State Department paid more attention to vetting delegates than to impressing the locals. The Japanese took a World's Fair seriously. The Reagan administration didn't. The Japanese wanted spectacle. They wanted talking robots and cars that drove themselves. They wanted skinny "companions" in slight bathing suits commenting on glitzy displays. What they got at the American pavilion was a rather dryly presented look at recent US developments in artificial intelligence. One corner featured an optical character reader scanning book pages. Another featured Aaron. The rest was not memorable. Aaron was mostly a horizontal plotter, about three feet wide and four feet long, that drew pictures. Aaron wasn't flashy. Toshiba had installed a vertically oriented billboard-sized multi-color plotter in front of its corporate pavilion. The Toshiba plotter drew crowds of people looking up, watching the moving plotter arms, impressed by the size and the color, but the Toshiba machine simply regurgitated pre-programmed images—mostly images promoting Toshiba.

I fell in love with Aaron almost immediately. He wasn't big and he drew in black and white. He may not have impressed most visitors to the American pavilion, but Aaron did something special. He didn't simply reproduce images fed from a computer. The real Aaron was a computer program that controlled the plotter using algorithms to create images—each one unique. Aaron could draw faces and crude figures and rocks and leaves. Aaron liked to put heads with crudely indicated facial features in rocky landscapes. Aaron knew that objects in the foreground seem to overlap picture elements behind them and further away. Aaron had a rudimentary sense of depth and a distinctive, angular, linear style. Aaron was an early—perhaps, the earliest—example of truly creative artificial intelligence. He was about 13 years old when I met him. His creator, Dr. Harold Cohen, later gave Aaron the ability to color his drawings, but, in 1985, Aaron had not yet discovered color.

I coveted one of Aaron's drawings, and I came home with one. Mike secured one for me signed by both Aaron and Dr. Cohen (above). It's dated March 13, 1985, four days before the Expo officially opened, on March 17. At this remove, I can't remember if Mike said Cohen had pre-signed paper sheets fed into Aaron or whether he signed the program's output later. I visited Tsukuba in August 1985, so the example I received had been produced a few months before my visit. I hadn't seen the drawing in many years when I came upon it today in the course of reorganizing my studio. Perhaps it's time to get Aaron's handiwork framed?

Since writing the above, I've found a copy of Aaron's Code: Meta-art, Artificial Intelligence, and the Work of Harold Cohen, by Pamela McCorduck (Freeman, 1991), a detailed account of Aaron's genesis and development. I look forward to reading it. The exhibition of Aaron at the Tsukuba Expo is mentioned. I can see from quickly flipping through the pages that Aaron may have received more attention there than my brief visit suggested. Perhaps the day I watched Aaron draw was just a slow day at the American pavilion, but the space was virtually empty and the visitors I saw were dismissive. One, as noted above, was contemptuous.

I will review Aaron's Code once I've read it*. In the meantime, here are author McCorduck's own words about her book, which, although out of print, is available used online. I found a copy on Amazon for a few dollars.

I've also found this piece about Cohen written following his recent death (in April 2016). He was 87. I had been wondering whether he was still alive. There is much more by and about Dr. Cohen and his work at "Aaron's Home."

*[Update: I have read it now and reviewed it. See the review.]

Monday, August 22, 2016

Miscellaneous: A Photograph that Sums Up the Sonoma/Napa County Experience

In the past, when people have asked me what life is like in Sonoma County, I've tried to explain the dichotomy between the wealth here—much of it generated by the wine industry—and the rural character that lingers. I've called Sonoma County the land of Porsches and pick-ups. Recently, in Napa, I came across this parked Mercedes in front of an upscale hotel, fully loaded with hay. It seemed to sum up the same idea nicely.

Serendipitous Art: Chain Link Fence Shadow (August 20, 2016)

The shadow of a chain link fence cast on a white-washed store window looked like art to me. Unintended art, serendipitous art.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.
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