Sunday, December 24, 2017

Miscellaneous: Things We Need Words For

Things we need words for: A missed answer caused by a misreading of the question or simply hitting the wrong button while actually knowing the correct answer on an easy online quiz promoted as difficult so that getting a high score on it will provide an ego boost.

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 194 (Santa Rosa)

After making a number of tiny collages recently, I've finished a couple of larger ones. This is Untitled Collage No. 194 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, found paper, collage. December 8, 2017. Image size: 24.9 x 32.4cm (9.8 x 12.8 inches). Matted to 20 x 24 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

I normally don't use found paper much, but this incorporates a piece of an envelope mailed from Denmark. Postage stamps in collage are a rather tired cliché, but I hope I've used them subtly here--for their color mostly, rather than in an attempt to evoke some automatic nostalgic response or to suggest something foreign. They are simply a compositional element. Diagonals can be tricky--never stable. I rather like the way the lines slanted to one side here nevertheless seem grounded and, I hope, right.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my website at

Books I'm Reading: To Cork or Not to Cork

When I open a bottle of wine, I usually look at the cork, if the wine has a cork. I look at it mostly to see what might be printed on the cork, what condition the cork is in, and, secondarily, to see what kind of cork it is. I've noticed over the years that there are many types--natural cork, composite corks of various description, composite corks with natural cork disks on the ends, and a number of styles of plastic corks. Then there are screw caps. What's the ideal closure for a bottle of wine?

Everyone seems to hate plastic corks. My own experience with them has been negative--particular the kind that is a single block of molded or extruded plastic. They can be exceedingly difficult to extract and they are so stiff that it's virtually impossible to re-close a bottle with a plastic cork. Plastic lacks cork's resilience, and, according to Taber, plastic corks don't seal very well. They tend to allow air to leak into the wine.

The main problem with corks has been taint with 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA, and a few related chemicals, which, even in the tiniest quantities (as little as two to three parts per trillion is detectable by some people; virtually anyone smells the tell-tale mousy, cardboard scent of a tainted cork at about 12 parts per trillion), can ruin a bottle of wine--often many years after purchase, by which time the buyer has no recourse.

In his book To Cork or Not to Cork (Scribner, 2007), author George M. Taber looks at the causes of TCA taint and modern responses to problems with natural cork, weighing the pros and cons of each approach.

According to Taber, a consensus seems to have emerged that screwcaps in many instances make much more sense than corks, especially in wines intended for early consumption and as long as winemaking techniques take into account the way different types of closures affect aging; under a screwcap, wine gets very little oxygen, making it vulnerable to reduction effects over long periods of time, whereas plastic corks (and bad natural corks) don't seal well, causing the opposite problem, oxidation. The advantage is that screwcaps can't be tainted with TCA. That said, cork continues to be favored for it's aesthetic qualities, especially for more expensive wines, and in certain markets. France, for instance, steadfastly rejects screwcaps, while New Zealand has wholeheartedly adopted metal closures, even for fine wines.

The proliferation of composite corks made from scrap cork (the bottle-closure equivalent of particle board), plastic corks, and screwcaps has made natural corks better. A complacent cork industry (with a centuries-long monopoly on wine closures) was finally forced to modernize around the end of the last century when it started losing significant market share to alternatives. Cork oak growers have consolidated, cork manufacturers have upgraded equipment to eliminate contact with the ground and other wood products during curing (that can harbor TCA), and, most importantly, eliminated the use of chlorine to bleach cork, as the presence of chlorine has been found to promote formation of TCA. Non-chlorine cleaning and bleaching have also allowed the manufacture of better composite corks, which allow use of waste from production of natural cork stoppers.

So, what's the best way to close a bottle of wine? As is so often the case, the answer is complex. Taber does a good job of presenting the arguments for and against putting corks in wine bottles in prose that never seems heavy, despite the somewhat dry subject matter. To Cork or Not to Cork is perhaps not for everyone, but it's likely to entertain and inform anyone with a serious interest in wine or anyone afflicted by the sort of intellectual curiosity that makes just about any subject worth reading about.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Rain: Dry December

It's been a dry December. Last night, a misty drizzle added 0.15 inches to our total for the 2017-2018 rain year, but, at 6.3 inches so fare, we are well behind normal. Normal for December 20 in Santa Rosa is a little over 10.5 inches. The last substantial rain we had was November 26.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 193 (Santa Rosa)

Another collage....This is Untitled Collage No. 193 (Santa Rosa). November 30, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Image size: 19.2 x 23.6cm (7.6 x 9.3 inches). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more of my collage work, visit my website at

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Art I'm looking at: Recent Shows

Sometimes it's hard to keep up with all the good art on view in the Bay Area. I've recently seen Klimt & Rodin: An Artistic Encounter (October 14, 2017 – January 28, 2018) at The Legion of Honor, Gods in Color: Polychromy in the Ancient World (October 28, 2017 – January 7, 2018), also at The Legion of Honor, and Richard Diebenkorn: Beginnings, 1942-1955 (October 8, 2017 – January 7, 2018) at the Crocker Museum of Art, in Sacramento.

I didn't need convincing that much ancient statuary and sculpture was once polychromed. We are used to seeing such statuary and sculpture stripped of color, but scholars have long been aware that many pieces preserve virtually invisible traces of pigments, and some pieces retain quite a bit of obvious color. Why were so many scrubbed clean (mostly by 19th century archaeologists and collectors)? A symptom of prejudice perhaps, but at least a result of taste, it seems. Some have argued the practice reflects racism--a deliberate attempt by mostly white males to suggest that the gods were "white like us." That seems a bit far-fetched to me, but my incredulity may be mainly a result of the progress in thinking we've made in the last 150 years (I have no such racial insecurities). Maybe scholars really did feel uncomfortable with colored statuary because of racial prejudice. I can't say. In any case, it seems clear that many felt ancient statues were more aesthetically pleasing without adornment, whatever the underlying, subconscious reason for that feeling.

There are parallels. I own six Japanese wooden chests (tansu). Three we brought back from Japan (where I lived for about 19 years), three we purchased here, in California. The three from Japan retain their original finish. The three purchased locally have been stripped of their color. Tansu usually were finished with stain or lacquer and have mostly acquired a patina of accumulated soot and dirt, but Tansu dealers here typically strip the pieces they buy in Japan because they can't sell them locally to an audience that expects them to be "clean." The patina is prized in Japan, despised here.

I think of carpets from the East and Japanese woodblock prints. Both weavers and print designers were delighted by the introduction of garishly bright (although often fugitive) aniline dyes in the 19th century, while taste among Western scholars and collectors of both rugs and Japanese prints has always shunned the brightest colors.

The reproductions in the Legion of Honor show are based on pigment traces and remnants of patterns found on the statuary. Scholars seem to be fairly confident their recreations are close to reality, but freshly painted, they seem garish and cartoon-like. Perhaps they would have quickly weathered into something much more subtle. Straight from the factory, so to speak, they are startlingly bright. I was reminded of my feelings about new tennis shoes in childhood--bright white shoes I'd always try to quickly dirty by hopping into muddy puddles. A small but thought-provoking show. A final display with samples of some of the pigments found on ancient statuary and modern methods of detecting their presence was particularly engaging, I thought.  

The Klimt/Rodin show is a sensible pairing of the work of contemporaries. The paintings seem right alongside the Rodin sculptures---an impression that contrasts with that created by the incongruous Sarah Lucas sculptures recently shown in some of the same galleries, although the connections between Rodin and Klimt are rather sketchily drawn here. No matter. The show offers an excellent chance to see some important work by Klimt and some rarely displayed drawings by Rodin (I've always thought Rodin's drawings more interesting than his sculpture). Several of the Klimt paintings have never been shown before in the United States.

Among the Klimts are several in the style he's best known for--stylized figures surrounded by and wrapped in bold patterning, such as The Virgin (1913) shown above, but included are some earlier works in a more realistic style, notably Portrait of Sonja Krips (1898), and an interesting unfinished Portrait of a Lady (1917) that brought to mind some of the oil sketches on cardboard done by Toulouse-Lautrec.

There are a number of large, square landscapes I thought reminiscent of Van Gogh (and one of the labels mentioned that they were painted shortly after Klimt had seen works by Van Gogh). A detail of A Garden In Italy (1913) is shown here. The frames on the paintings, too, are worth a careful look. Many are masterpieces of craftsmanship.

The Diebenkorn exhibition now on at the Crocker Museum in Sacramento subtitled Beginnings: 1942-1955, offers a good opportunity to see early works by Diebenkorn not often on view. The show focuses on the period preceding the artist's shift toward figurative work around 1955, but most of what's on display is from the latter part of this early period; there's little here that could be called juvenilia. The earliest pieces date to the time of Diebenkorn's WWII military service. There are a couple of interesting early sketches of fellow soldiers, for example, but the most compelling works are from the rarely seen cubist-influenced period (roughly 1946-1948), and then from the later Sausalito, Albuquerque, and Urbana periods. Diebenkorn moved to Sausalito in 1947, to Albuquerque in 1950, and later spent a year teaching in Urbana, Illinois, during the 1952-1953 school year, before moving to Berkeley, in 1953, after a very brief stay in New York.

I was familiar with the cubist-influenced work from photographs, but this was the first time I'd seen any of it in person. These paintings rely on bold primary colors and often use heavy, black linear elements to separate areas of color. Untitled (The Magician's Table) of 1947 shown here is typical. I struggle to see the later Diebenkorn in these. They are harder, more grid-like, and less subtle than the later work. Diebenkorn's best work I think derives its strength from a sublime balance between the dyadic and the static, from a generally (although not always) muted palette, and a subtle color sense. In the cubist-influnced works of 1946 to 1948 the artist focused on creating bold effects relying on stark contrasts and largely unmodulated, mostly primary colors. Seeing a grouping of them at once is jarring.

But it was not long before Diebenkorn began to find that balance. He also seems to have found a better technical footing. I noticed that the paint is badly crazed in many of the pieces from the cubist-influenced period but rarely so in pieces done after about 1948. And it is from around 1949 that Diebenkorn begins to look like the Diebenkorn we know from around that year to the figurative work that begins about 1955. The colors are softer, the compositions less grid-like. The linear elements are more nuanced. Areas of color start to have rounder, less defined edges. Paint layers become thinner. Reworked areas are allowed to show their history. In short, the paintings acquire a much expanded visual vocabulary, a more subdued palette, and a more sophisticated one. My favorite piece in the show, Untitled (Alburquerque) of 1951 (catalog raisonné No. 1093) is a perfect example of the change in style. The two paintings shown here couldn't be more different. The difference seems to reflect a complete reinvention of self. Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising. The figurative paintings and then the Ocean Park series of paintings look as different from each other and as different from these two styles as these two look from each other. Diebenkorn was rather good at swinging his rudder and veering off in new directions.

So many of the earlier paintings and drawings are untitled that it would have been helpful to have had each one identified with its number from the catalogue raisonné, but that has not been done. My other complaint would be that many of the large paintings are rather unevenly lighted in the Crocker galleries. But these are quibbles. The show is worthwhile if you're a Diebenkorn fan and haven't seen much work from the early periods. There is a lot here worth looking at and much of it is unlikely to be on view again any time soon. I plan to make a second visit before the show closes in January.

Catalog raisonné No. 795

Friday, December 15, 2017

Art I'm Looking at: The Minnesota St. Project, San Francisco

Last week I finally had an opportunity to visit the new arts complex on Minnesota St., in San Francisco. There is a large, two-storey warehouse-like building (1275 Minnesota St.) divided into gallery spaces and a second building that houses offices and a more museum-like space (1150 Minnesota St.). The La mère la mer (the mother the sea) show at the latter, presented by the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts was of interest. To quote the publicity materials:

[The show] "highlights the breadth of the McEvoy Family Collection, from Nion McEvoy and his mother Nan Tucker McEvoy (1919-2015). It features a variety of artists including Richard Diebenkorn, Roe Ethridge, Carsten Höller, Ragnar Kjartansson, Ed Ruscha, and Wayne Thiebaud.

The exhibition is organized around a principle of poetic assonance; works from the collection of the mother (la mère) resonate with works from the collection of the son and many depict the sea (la mer). The combination reveals commonalities and divergences across two related but singular creative minds."

In the main 1275 Minnesota St. building, however, I saw comparatively little that interested me. The exceptions were the works at the Jack Fischer Gallery, where I met Byron Ryono, now showing some small bronze sculptures that I enjoyed for their beautiful surfaces, and the show of works by Seiko Tachibana at Themes+Projects. At the latter, I especially enjoyed looking at three books this gallery has published of work by Hong Kong photographer Fan Ho, an artist I had never heard of before, but a master of light--someone I look forward to learning more about.

As sometimes happens, I liked some of the unintended art I found in the building best--for example, the composition shown here that I found on one of the steel girders supporting the building. Unintended art.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Untitled Collage No. 192 (Santa Rosa)

A small collage, a tiny collage. It measures 3.7 x 4.5cm (1.5 x 1.8 inches). This is Untitled Collage No. 192 (Santa Rosa). Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. Matted to 8 x 10 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

For more of my collage work, visit my website at

Friday, December 8, 2017

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

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

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

Books I'm Reading: Never Use Futura

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

Monday, December 4, 2017

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

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

Conductor Grams and soloist Stewart Goodyear backstage

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

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

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

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

For more of my collage work, visit my website at

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Books I'm Reading: The Secret Lives of Color

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

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

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

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

Rain: New Rain on November 26, 2017

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

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

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

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

For more of my collage work, visit my website at

Friday, November 17, 2017

Books I'm Reading: Goshawk Squadron

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

Rain: 2.55 inches of New Precipitation

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Cocktail Glass Collection: The Page, San Francisco

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

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

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

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

For more of my collage work, visit my website at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

Miscellaneous: Things We Need Words For

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

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

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

Rain: More Rain (November 10, 2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music I'm Listening To: Santa Rosa and San Francisco

Guest conductor Mei-Ann Chen
I've had the fun of going backstage to do photography as a volunteer for the Santa Rosa Symphony this season. I had intended to write in some detail about each of the five concerts serving as auditions for the Symphony's new conductor following the upcoming retirement of Bruno Ferrandis, but, with the fires, I've been unable to write much and many of my impressions are no longer fresh or they have been lost altogether. Two concerts have already finished. Candidates Francesco Lecce-Chong, and Mei-Ann Chen have both led the Santa Rosa Symphony in concerts designed to give audiences a sense of who they'd be if chosen to replace Ferrandis. Both Lecce-Chong and Chen seem enthusiastic and competent, but I thought Lecce-Chong a trifle nervous in his interpretation, a little rushed, a little in need of rubato to vary tempi. Chen seemed more in control of things, more self-assured, and I liked the way she seemed very cognizant of the mid-range instruments like the violas. The next audition concert will feature Andrew Grams as guest conductor with performances at the Green Music Center on December 2, 3, and 4.

Guest conductor Lecce-Chong
The first San Francisco Symphony concert I attended this season featured violin soloist Augustin Hadelich, who gave a very good performance of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto notable, I thought, for the articulation and the way Hadelich let the inherent romanticism of the piece shine through without exaggeration. So many performances of the piece are a bit over the top and often marred by laziness in the slurred passages. Hadelich's was a model of clarity throughout. I never got around to writing anything about the final SF Symphony performance I attended last season either, which included Joshua Bell playing Lalo's Symphony Espagnole. Bell is not among my favorite violinists. He likes very romantic music and tends to give it more romantic passion than it needs (very much unlike the Hadelich performance noted above). However, he played the piece nicely, I thought, despite a minor mishap; Bell at one point got the tip of his bow momentarily caught in his strings. Guest conductor Vasily Petrenko took the music at a rather faster pace than is usual and perhaps that kept Bell from getting carried away.

Miscellaneous: The Fires

It's been a month already since wildfires swept into Santa Rosa from the north and then began to threaten from three sides. The first night was particularly scary. The wind was extraordinary. Warm and relentless. I went to bed thinking only that the wind was strange and unsettling. A few hours later, my son wakened me, smelling smoke and saying something about fires. Later, when I told him he had roused me, he said that I had, in fact, awakened him. I have no recollection of that. Memory becomes patchy in times of stress, perhaps, because next I remember gathering a few things together to put in the car, just in case, and then standing in the street with neighbors, looking north toward Fountaingrove, into a wall of black and charcoal-colored smoke fringed with an orange glow. And then the distant, repeated popping of what people tell me was propane tanks and cars exploding. I don't remember exactly when we left, but the power was out soon after we awoke to the smell of smoke. It was some time the next morning. We filled the car with some important possessions--mostly art and family irreplaceables--and headed to my mother's house, in Sebastopol, about 10 miles to the west, three cats in tow. There was so little news at first and rumors swirling. It was surprisingly hard to get information about what was going on. Ultimately, local radio stations proved the best source of accurate news. The photo above shows the wall of smoke behind a neighbor's house. Immediately below, a firefighter from the Los Angeles area gives details of progress in fighting the blazes at a makeshift information post in front of the Coddingtown Mall Whole Foods store.

We spent a week in Sebastopol, the cats in the garage, disoriented, two of them quiet, one crying softly but incessantly. We had the luxury of being able to go back home during the day to take out more valuables. The house, although powerless and in a neighborhood largely abandoned, remained just outside the mandatory evacuation zones. We drove the second car out. Evenings were occupied by a little reading and watching the fire updates on Internet maps. The situation continued to worsen. The fires kept spreading. The air was heavy with smoke at home. The ground in Sebastopol was littered with ash. It was about five days before it became clear that the fires would be contained before they reached us.

Unsettling. An inconvenience. An anxiety-filled temporary disruption. Happily, for us the fires were not more than that. For so many others, the fires took everything in minutes. Many escaped with virtually nothing, and so I feel I have nothing to complain about. It could have been much worse. I feel particularly for my artist friends and acquaintances who lost not only their homes but their studios and years of work, which I imagine must feel almost like losing a child.

Part of me wanted the house to burn. I suppose that's a strange thing to say and perhaps easy for me to say because it's so hard to know how it would really have felt to see everything reduced to ash. But there was a part of me that kept thinking it would be liberating to lose all material possessions. It would allow a clean re-start. It would create an unequivocal demarcation line. A before and after. The Buddhists tell us that to possess nothing and to desire nothing is the true road to happiness. Perhaps they are right, but I am hopelessly attached to beautiful things. Most of what I took out of the house was art--my own and the art of others. And, as I say, it's a luxury to be able to think about these things in the abstract, without the actual shock of complete loss. We were lucky. Most of me is glad the house still stands, contents intact. Grateful to the firefighters from all over the country--and as far aways as Australia--who came to help.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Rain: New Rain November 8, 2017

We had 1.15 inches of new rain last night, the night of November 8, 2017, which also marks a month from the wildfires here, not to mention a year with the criminal, national embarrassment. That brings our total so far for the 2017-2018 rain year to 2.05 inches.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Art I'm Making: Untitled Collage No. 188 (Santa Rosa)

A new collage, the first I've made since the chaos caused by the recent fires here. For those of us who did not lose everything, life is beginning to return to normal. I feel for those still sorting through the wreckage, dealing with insurance, finding a place to live, mourning the loss of possessions and, in some cases, loved ones.

Trying to move ahead, this is Untitled Collage No. 188 (Santa Rosa). October 21, 2017. Acrylic on paper, acrylic monotype, collage. 20.1 x 20.8cm (7.9 x 8.1in). Matted to 16 x 20 inches. Signed on the mat. Signed and dated on the reverse.

For more of my collage work, visit my website at

The Cocktail Glass Collection: St. Mary's Pub, San Francisco

I've recently had reason to be in San Francisco at night more often than in the past. I'm enjoying the opportunity that's afforded to see some new neon cocktail glass signs lit. This is the sign in front of St. Mary's Pub, at 3845 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94110. The glass itself is generic, but I like the script "St. Mary's Pub."

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

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Art I'm Looking At: "Somewhere Else" at Blasted Art Gallery, Santa Rosa

Bill Shelley and Chris Beards have launched a new art space in the Backstreet Building, in Art Alley, in Santa Rosa's SOFA Arts District. I attended the grand opening of the new space on Friday night (November 3), not knowing what to expect from the outset and then feeling a bit baffled by the curtain closing off the space when I arrived for a look. There was no door, just the curtain. The entry was reminiscent of a curtained-off side gallery in a museum reserved for a video installation, projected film, or a piece of neon or other lighted art--and that was what I had expected to find.

When I poked my head in, I was disappointed. First, neither Bill nor Chris was in the space, and I had come in part to say hello and lend support, but I was disappointed more because the space was simply an empty room with black-painted walls onto which a series of empty white frames of varying sizes had been hung--or, I should say, a series of framed white blanks, the frames painted white as well. My heart sank. I like these people. I wanted to like what they had done, but it seemed there was nothing much to see. The show seemed a hackneyed conceptual art piece that was immediately graspable and therefore of little interest. I left almost immediately to look at some of the other studios. I found Chris (pictured above) in a hallway. I said something polite and later was able to greet Bill on a second foray into the space. I had a little wine (and they were serving some decent wine). I talked with a few of the people visiting, mostly acquaintances. I looked at the empty frames on the walls.

Before long, the framed blanks seemed not entirely white any more. They had a slight blue-green cast, as if someone had got the color balance wrong in Photoshop. I thought that a little strange.

A few minutes later, I suddenly saw that the frames and the spaces they enclosed were not white at all, nor were they a pale, slightly blue-green sort of white, but a vivid, saturated aqua, the color approximated in the photo of Chris above. Chris later told me the color is called "Poolside Blue." I was genuinely shocked. I began to doubt my own eyes, but it became increasingly clear that it was no illusion. The "paintings" were, indeed, a blue-green reminiscent of the bottom of a swimming pool. I realized something else. When I first saw them, I had expected the mounted pieces to be white. Because of that and because my eyes took some time to adjust to the darkness in the room, I had seen them as white. It was only as my eyes became accustomed to the darkness that I was able to see the color. It wasn't long before I was doubting not the color, but that I had at first been capable of not seeing the color. And so it turns out that there was much more to see and think about in that black room than I first thought. I feel a little embarrassed that I was initially so quick to give up, but, in my own defense, I went back. I kept looking.

On one level, there really isn't much to see in the room--it's just a series of uniformly colored, framed spaces on a black wall, but during the past two days I've found myself thinking about what I saw almost constantly. The installation raises many questions about how we see, how expectations can color (literally) our perception, and how two people can see identical images very differently (there were quite a few people discussing what color they were seeing and not all agreeing). I keep asking myself: what color were the "images" on the wall? The answer depends on who you ask and when you ask.

Adding a layer of complexity, the chosen color is somewhere between blue and green. The blue/green distinction is notoriously slippery in many languages. In Japanese, for example, my second language, the word ao often stands for both the English words "blue" and "green." In Japanese the sky is ao but so is a "green" traffic light. Foliage, too, is ao. Chris and Bill chose the color deliberately for that ambiguity.

And then there is the problem of photography. When I got home to look at my photographs, they were dark and had to be adjusted. But adjust them to what? What color are those framed spaces on the wall at Blasted Art Gallery? I really can't say. When I first entered the space, they looked like the image below. When I left, they looked like the image above.

I look forward to seeing what Bill and Chris get up to in the future. The current show, "Somewhere Else" will be viewable again next weekend, November 11 and November 12, between 11AM and 3PM. Congratulations to both Bill and Chris on the new space and for presenting us with an entertaining intellectual exercise.

[Update: I later read some comments Chris wrote about the installation that mentioned the recorded highway sounds playing in the background. I didn't hear any sound. I have no recollection of a "soundtrack" to the show. I imagine I was so focused on what my eyes were telling me that I completely ignored what my ears were telling me.]

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Rain: First Real Rain of the 2017-2018 Rain Year

Overnight last night (November 4, 2017), we had a good rain, the first real rain since the start of the 2017-2018 rain year (which began on October 1, 2017 and will end on September 30, 2018) and the first appreciable rain since the fires. We had a trace of rain about a week after the fires started on the early morning of October 9, but not enough to make a difference, and things were in chaos. I didn't record the amount. It was very little--unfortunately. Rain then would have helped tremendously.

I have had no time at all to write about the fires or to write about the other things I usually write about in these pages, but I hope to get back into stride again soon. For the time being, I simply report that our rainfall so far this year stands at 0.9 inches.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Art I'm Looking At: Susan Stover on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi October 31 to December 31

I'm pleased to announce the next show on The Art Wall at Shige Sushi, in Cotati. We'll be showing recent work by Susan Stover, known internationally for her textile-inspired encaustics. I put up the show yesterday. Looks great. Join us on Monday, November 6, for the opening reception from 5:30 to 7:30. See the work, meet Susan, enjoy nibbles and wine...
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