Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Raymond Pettibon: Making Waves

Venus over Manhattan has assembled forty ‘surfer works’ created between 1985 and 2013 by California-based artist Raymond Pettibon. Inked across one of the works is the line “SOME THINGS (SEA FOAM, FOR INSTANCE) CANNOT BE DRAWN AT ALL, BUT ONLY SURFED.” While this might sound like a disclaimer, it ends up serving as more of a myth for Pettibon to defy. Impressively, the non-surfer manages with his loose, gestural style to convey, way beyond more realistic renderings, the heart-stopping tininess of the surfer up against a world-obliterating wave.

I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with how the viewer experiences the paint as water and the rhythmic strokes as waves. The vigor of Pettibon’s marks and the wateriness of the drips impart an immediacy that lets you see the big picture and be inside it at the same time, something not possible with a more photographic approach. In effect, this allows Pettibon to work both the wide-angle lens and the zoom in one picture. The comic book-style freefloating thoughts and phrases, add yet another level of intimacy, placing the viewer inside the head of the speck inside the monster curl. 

“Are Your Motives Pure? / Raymond Pettibon Surfers 1985-2013” is on view through May 17.














Saturday, April 12, 2014

Letters From a Photo Auction


Aaron Siskind (1903-1991)
"Lithuanian Store"
Silver print, 1957

The items in the upcoming auction, “The Vernacular Eye: Photographic Albums, Snapshots & Objects” are on view now at Swann Galleries until the sale on April 17. In addition to photos of spiritual apparitions, chain gangs, and early aviation, you’ll find albums of criminal mug shots, advertising photography and photo objects.

If you’ve ever considered collecting, say, photos about typography, this would be a great place to start.

Berenice Abbott (1898-1991)
"Jacob Heymann Butcher Shop, 345 Sixth Avenue"
Silver print, 1938


Walker Evans (1903-1975)
Bowery lunchroom, New York, New York.
Silver print, 1933-34


Georgia moonshiner from collection
of "Hooch" vernacular.
Silver prints, 1960s


William Klein (1928-)
"William Klein New York 54/55"
Portfolio of 12 silver prints, 1954-55


Yasushi Nagao (1930-2009)
Death of Inejiro Asanuma.
Silver print, 1960

This Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph shows the death of Asanuma, a Japanese politican and leader of the Socialist party. He was assassinated by an extremist nationalist while speaking in a televised political debate. His violent death was seen in graphic detail on national television, causing widespread public shock and outrage.


Ralph Steiner (1899-1986)
"Typewriter Keys"
Silver print, 1921-22


Nat Fein (1914-2000)

"Babe Bows Out"
Silver print, 1948


Photo album of window displays for Kleinhans Co., 
Buffalo, NY, 1919-26.


Post-Victorian vernacular photograph
Bromide print, circa 1910

No typography here, but I refuse to be constrained, even by my own self-selected topics.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

eBay Eyes: Vintage Baseball Goodies From Japan

Baseball season is well underway and April is National Kite Month! I came across these vintage baseball-player kites on eBay a while back along with some mid-century "baseball menko" cards.

eBay Eyes is an occasional presentation of found visual treats from that ever expanding , electronic mega-marketplate. 




I was amazed to see pictorial elements of traditional Japanese prints in the three "bookmark" cards above. 

European artists were smitten with the "new" aesthetic they encountered when Japanese prints found their way to the continent in the later part of the 19th Century. The influence of ukiyo-e on the Impressionists, and everything from fashion to d├ęcor was profound.

These baseball cards confirm how culturally determined our sense of design really is. What struck the eyes of Western artists as “fresh” in Japanese prints—asymmetrical compositions, adventurous cropping, the flat indication of space—were elements of design native to the Japanese sensibility. So much so, as to show up in in their baseball cards!

The portrait cards, below, are formatted with traditional Western composition.





Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Being Practical


Many years ago I purchased “Practical Ventriloquism” in a thrift shop. Mine was a 1938 edition of the Robert Ganthony tract first published in 1883.

Having grown up in the age of “How To,” the use of “practical” in that sense was unfamiliar enough, that the title always had me wondering: Were there other books out there on alternative aspects of voice throwing? Theoretical ventriloquism, perhaps? Or experimental?

By now, even “How To” is dated and has long since given way to “DIY,” and “For Dummies.” Ventriloquism for Dummies, anyone?

Here are a few other “practical” books …














Here are some of the dyed feather samples included in the book. I love the dreamy seaweed-like quality. Dye recipes for each can be found in the text.





Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Naval Gazing in Annapolis

Gilded footballs from every victory against Army are enshrined behind glass, including the one from the first confrontation in 1890.

I recently visited Annapolis to attend Tableau Software's Tapestry conference on data visualization. I’ll post details about the conference when the links to the presentations are in place.

I had some time before my scheduled return to New York, so I grabbed a tour of the U.S. Naval Academy.

First stop was Lejeune Hall where we got to size up the 33’ platform, off which every midshipman must jump in order to graduate.

Above, you can see half of the Olympic-size swimming pool. The other half lies beyond the moveable bulkhead at the far end.

What might be mistaken for Marimekko carpeting, is the floor of the wrestling room.






Campus architecture is dominated by the Beaux-Arts style of Ernest Flagg. In addition to Dahlgren Hall, below (2), and the Naval Academy Chapel, he designed Bancroft Hall which houses all midshipmen and is the largest dormitory in the world.



Bancroft Hall on a frigid Annapolis morning.


The entire second floor of the naval museum in Prebel Hall is devoted to ship models. Displayed on the first floor is the original flag from the Battle of Lake Erie bearing the "dying command" of Captain James Lawrence, "Don't Give Up The Ship." 






Beneath the Naval Academy Chapel, lie the remains of John Paul Jones in a massive, ornate marble sarcophagus. Above ground, in addition to a sumptuous Tiffany window, there are water and sea-themed stained glass windows representing passages from both the old and new testaments.








The many antique shops along the charming streets of historic Annapolis abound with Naval Academy memorabilia.

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