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So it is the end of another year, and it is time to write the post which I always put off again and again…right up until the last day of the year–which is to say I still need to write the year-end obituaries. Ferrebeekeeper readers will recall that the obituaries here are obituaries for those departed who meant a lot to me–so if you want to know about queens, popes, soccer guys, rappers, or whatever, you will probably have to look elsewhere. For example, last year, I only wrote about my grandfather, an international master operative who battled against Soviet and Chinese dirty tricks in Africa and Southeast Asia throughout the middle of the 20th century. These days, everyone rolls their eyes about the worldwide cloak-and-dagger proxy wars by means of which the Cold War was fought, but, please note that as soon as grandpa was dead (and his ilk out of power), Russia formed an alliance with China and attacked Europe, so I tend to think it all WAS pretty necessary, no matter what the anti-American apologists say.

Grandpa taught me how to take stock of the world and look at art (which he avidly collected), but for more specific lessons in world history and painting, I turned to a generation of teachers and masters who are now also passing away. And so it is with great sadness that I write about two of my illustrious teachers who died in 2022.

Walter Kaegi Abroad (a professor unafraid of travel)

Walter Emil Kaegi, (1937 – 2022) was one of my favorite history professors from college (along with the late, great Emmet Larkin). Kaegi was a professor of Byzantine history, a broad subject which he approached with polymath intensity from all sides. In some respects, Byzantine history is regarded as the story of one thousand years of precipitous and ineluctable decline. Kaegi, however, remembered that history does not seem inevitable to those leading it. His multi-faceted view of the Byzantines was indeed filled with trademark battles, religious controversies, and palace intrigue, but he also added the trade, farming, technology, music, poetry, and ecology missing from the work of great Byzantinists of yore. Kaegi was a scholar’s scholar who knew Latin, Greek, and Aramaic just as well as English, but also learned French, German, and Russian so he could read the works of other scholars. Speaking of Russian, the professor always wore a hilarious heavy Russian hat which we bare-headed undergrads laughed at in the bitter Chicago winters (which illustrates that comedy, like history affords multiple vantage points on what is actually the truth).

Although history scholars like to speak of him like he was Gibbon, Kaegi was definitely not Gibbon. He instead synthesized some insights into the long fall of the Roman Empire from new resources–particularly archaeological/geological ones. Whereas most historians fixate solely on the doings of emperors, courtiers, bishops, and generals, Kaegi came to the conclusion that a combination of climate change, agricultural collapse, and religious change was driving events to a heretofore unappreciated extent (an insight worth remembering when eyeing the events of the present).

Of course he didn’t paint a self portrait, so here is a photograph of Ron Sherr

My other teacher who passed away last year will probably not be remembered foremost as a teacher–since he was actually an artist first. Ronald Sherr (1952-2022) was a brilliant portrait-painter who studied with Daniel E. Greene, Harvey Dinnerstein, and Burton Silverman before going on to paint America’s leading politicians, soldiers, and business leaders (and win all sorts or awards and accolades chronicled elsewhere). Since he rubbed shoulders with the mighty (or at least painted those mighty shoulders) he is liable to be incorporated as part of this era’s political zeitgeist. Indeed, in the recent headlines about former house-speaker Boehner crying when Nancy Pelosi’s official portrait was unveiled, CNN and the NYTimes neglected to dwell on the fact that Ron had painted the official portrait of both speakers!

Portrait of General Colin Powell (Ronald Sherr, 2012) Oil on canvas

Yet world-renowned clients was not what made Ron important as an artist. Ron was an artistic anachronism of sorts–he painted beautiful realistic portraits which looked like they had some piece of the living subject inside of them. His real method for obtaining these incredible results was not some trick or secret tool, but constant practice and stringent self-criticism. Ron’s artistic hero was Jon Singer Sargent who combined the unparalleled draftmanship of the Old Masters with the realistic color and focus of the impressionists. Ron likewise used this combination and it is what he tried to teach his students. We all remember that during our first year painting he would mostly ask seemingly obvious questions like “Is the head you have painted bigger or smaller than the model’s actual head? Is the torso you have painted more yellow or less yellow than the model’s actual torso?”

Our utter inability to answer these questions (at first) reveals part of why it is hard to teach painting. A great teacher must teach looking and comparing first….and then second and then last. Unless you can look at a subject with fresh eyes and regard your own efforts honestly, true realism will forever remain out of your reach.

Speaking of which I have not been painting realistically! Nor have I been applying the lessons of Byzantine history to the Byzantine circus factions of today. I worry that I have dishonored my amazing teachers by not making use of what they worked so hard to teach me. Now, thanks to time’s one way arrow and the nature of mortal existence, we no longer have the real masters. All that is left is the hazy memory of their teachings…although, come to think of it, here I am on a Saturday night (on New Year’s Eve no less) trying still to understand their teachings and make use of such learning to explain the world to others. Keep asking questions! Keep comparing. Keep striving for greater honesty. This is what I hear in my head as I set down the obituarist’s pen and reach again for the artist’s brush.

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There is colorful news from the world of fashion and lifestyle!

Every December, Ferrebeekeeper (and everyone else on the planet who writes about color) gets to comment on the Pantone “Color of the Year”, a well-publicized hue which is chosen by a group of fashion mavens and marketing experts to embody our cultural zeitgeist. The Color of the Year welds together the fashionable palette of the day with whatever events happen to be in the news. Thereafter companies, designers, and brands plan the colors for their clothes and goods based around this standard (which is how stores work together to craft lucrative aesthetic trends). You should click this link to see Ferrebeekeeper’s commentary on past colors of past years!

It is a powerful idea…however, this year’s color does not technically exist?

Well, cough…at least it doesn’t exist according to classic Newtonian physics… Longtime Ferrebeekeeper readers will already recognize that this weaselly sort of language applies to the beautiful rich pink color of magenta. And, indeed, the 2023 Color of the Year is “Viva Magenta” (see above). Magenta famously drove Sir Isaac Newton (further) into madness, since it was his favorite color but he could not find it within the prismatic spectrum of visible colors. Only when the great Sir Isaac set up multiple overlapping prismatic rainbows did he realize that magenta is an illusion our mind makes when it sees bright pink and blue at the same place and same time.

Beyond the pure realm of the electromagnetic spectrum, the color of the year embodies other confusing modalities. For example it has long been posited that there is a strong correlation between the economy and the color of the year. Self-important/self-deluded economists no doubt theorize that the former entirely influences the latter and never vice-versa: I am less sure. But even if bear years really do yield subdued colors, this would make “Viva Magenta” an outlier–since 2023 is projected to be a glum year of economic recession (in contrast with the beautiful, joyous, and bright magenta). Once again, the Pantone executives have carefully hedged their prognostications. If you proceed to Pantone’s site to take in this year’s entire palette, you will see that Viva Magenta is surrounded by a disheartening smear of lifeless beige and gray colors.

Back in the nineties I worked in an office with a colleague who dated a Pantone insider from wayyyyy back in the ’80s (when Pantone produced its consumer product palette advice without all of the color-of-the-year hoopla). My colleague’s beau was doing quite well choosing colors…until he chose a brilliant hot pink cerise (do you remember the year when it was everywhere? 1986 maybe?). Unfortunately, the great masters of capitalism regarded that ’80s electric magenta as too bohemian/artistic (and as a possible cause of the 1987 crash). Thereafter Pantone started pushing drab conservative colors for a while (and they chose other people to choose the Pantone colors).

Abstract Painting in Magenta and Red (Frida Kaas) Digital

Will this year’s magenta similarly be the last drop of dramatic color before a new drab era? The cultural critics of the New York Times do not seem to care for “Viva Magenta” much (they seem like the sort of people who would prefer ecru or pearl gray…or just black). Personally, I rather like “Viva Magenta” (which looks like something a 19th century opera-enthusiast would wear). Additionally, I have high hopes that the economy will not sputter out and that society will finally embrace colors (other than monotones, red, blue, and brown). We will see during 2023. At the very least, Viva Magenta is dramatic…in that respect it certainly catches hold of what we already know about the year to come…

Coati in the Central American Rainforest (Wayne Ferrebee, 2022) ink on paper

It is already the end of October…which means it is time for Ferrebeekeeper’s annual Halloween theme week! This year we are going to celebrate artistically…which is to say with a series of Inktober drawings. For those of you who somehow manage to spend your life away from the electric seduction of the internet, “Inktober” is an awkward portmanteau made by sewing “ink” and “October” together. The word and the concept were invented by draftspeople who wanted the world to take a longer look at the ink drawings which we ruined our clothes and furniture to produce for you.

This is a little drawing made with various indelible inks on terra-cotta colored Canson paper. In the image, a racoon-like coati scurries through the rainforests of Central America surrounded by various beetles, orchids, vines, slime molds, butterflies, and glass frogs. In the background a volcano spews out lava and broiling clouds of ash and gas. While in the foreground someone has thoughtfully cut open a delicious soursop fruit for us. Yum! (More about this delicious fruit in following posts).

The coati may not strike you as an ideally spooky Halloween animal (even with their bandit masks and cunning hands, I find them endearing and winsome). However Europeans of the 16th century were much more alarmed by the clever New World mammals, and coatis somehow became an emblem of witchcraft during that unhappy century of witch-hunts and religious pogroms. In order to evoke this feeling I have included a Pre-Columbian sculpture with a mysterious fungus (or miniature civilization?) spilling out of its dark belly. The tumbled-down ruins of some MesoAmerican step-temple likewise hint at the doom which humankind carries with us like a curse. Hopefully the coati and the rainforest denizens can escape the consequences of our folly…but probably not. Let me know what you think, and get ready for more Inktober artworks!

We knew that, if the Webb telescope could make it to the L2 Lagrange Point in one piece and deploy properly, this would be an exciting season for astronomers–but, even so, the parade of stunning new images from outer space are marvelous and demand comment. Today’s treasure is a picture of Planet Neptune and its moons as imaged by the near-infrared camera on Webb. The ice giant Neptune is made of strange cold things with a great pall of methane gas over them. Methane gas is very opaque to infrared light (which it absorbs) and so the planet looks like a frosty, haunted bowling ball with glass rings.

Ever since Pluto got demoted to “dwarf planet”, Neptune is the outermost world of our solar system. Yet the great gas giants…or even the trans-Neptunian objects like Eris and Haumea get all of the attention. No space craft has even visited Neptune since Voyage II rolled by in 1989 (the first and last time a probe entered the Neptune system).

Aside from the spectral rings, the image shows some bright sparks in a line along Neptune’s Tropic of Capricorn (which is not called that, but you get the idea). These bright spots are caused by high altitude methane clouds which are made of methane ice (which reflects infrared light better than methane gas does).

The full Webb photo has a striking focal point! Pulling back we see that Neptune’s largest and strangest moon Triton outshines the giant world it orbits. This is because Triton (which is named for the Greco-Roman deity Neptune’s merman super-son) is covered in a sheet of frozen nitrogen which reflects 70% of the sunlight which strikes it–so Triton glows like an aquamarine star in this photo. Ultimately Triton might well turn out to be be more interesting than Neptune: it is the only large moon in the solar system with a retrograde orbit (an orbit opposite of the planet’s rotation). Such an unusual orbit suggests that the moon was a little world captured by the ice giant long ago.

Triton is larger than Pluto and is one of five moons in the solar system known to be geologically active (the others being Io, Europa, Titan, and Enceladus). Voyager II spotted geysers of nitrogen gas venting from the moon. Clearly cryovolcanic activity is taking place below the strange patchwork of old ice (as explained in this confusing yet compelling map/diagram) and lakes of liquid water may exist below the moon’s crust.

I am going to keep staring at images of our strange far-off neighbor world, but I can’t wait to see what Webb photographs next!

My roommate Rennie is also a flower gardening enthusiast, but what he likes is morning glories. To make this work in Brooklyn, where space is limited, he gardens in the front yard (where there is lots of light and lots of things to climb on) and I plant my shade garden in the tree-filled back yard (admittedly, I plant a few morning glories to climb up onto the broken down structure behind the Haitian Church behind us).

Anyway, last year, Rennie ran around collecting all of the seeds from the morning glories he raised in the front yard (Grandpa Ott, chocolate cocoa, & flying saucers) and the ones I raised in the back (crimson rambler, Carnevale di Venezia, and Harlequin). He planted them all in big plastic planters and throughout the long hot summer of drought he has lugged out bucket after bucket of dehumidifier water straight from the dank basement for the thirst tropical flowers.

Unfortunately these pictures do not do them justice–the pure glowing colors are almost psychedelic–but even through the lens of my cellphone the beauty is still evident. His morning glory garden is such a triumph and it has been giving me a few seconds of unbridled joy each morning as I run past trying to get to my morning subway (mornings are not my best time–but the flowers help a bit).

I even unexpectedly captured a special visitor. Perhaps you remember this post from the depths of 2020 about rescuing a little carpenter bee which keeled over from exertion. Well, I noticed that a carpenter bee was rooting around in one of the cocoa-colored trumpets and took a close-up picture before rushing off to work. The picture came out far better than I would have expected (who knew my cheap phone had such a good macro function?). Admittedly, I only captured the carpenter bee’s behind (beehind?) but the lens picked out all of the individual grains of pollen caught up on the bee’s fur. Additionally, you can see the glistening luster of the cells which make up the flower.

September may be the second best garden month in Brooklyn: I will see if I can get some more pictures from the back yard and from the front one, before the magic fades. In the mean time, I will just assume that this bee is a direct descendant of that earlier one, just like these vines are all children of last year’s flowers. Also, thanks Rennie!

A fortnight ago, Ferrebeekeeper put up a review of “Requiem for a Good Machine” a science-fiction novel by friend and collaborator, Daniel Claymore. The book describes a future police officer’s attempts to solve a chain of murders (and related crimes) in Mirabilis, an ideal city built by robots to serve as a habitat for the faltering biological humans of the post-singularity age.

As of today, Claymore’s work is now on sale and you can get an e-copy (or better yet, a real copy!) of his book by going to any purveyor of fine literature. Different parts of stories stick with different people, and ever since reading Claymore’s novel, I have been thinking about the gleaming city at the heart of his work. Paradoxically, thinking about this future city is causing us to go backwards in time for the subject of this post.

Back in 2015, I built/drew the Apollo and Marsyas miniature theater, a theater for 1:18 figures (mainly the Kenner Star Wars figures…but it turns out there are lots of other little actors at this scale jockeying for position on stage too). Anyway, the fun of that project was drawing some strange background scenes (like a medieval castle, a pleasure garden, Timbuktu, a spooky cemetery, Hell, etc.). One of the backdrops I drew was a glowing city of the future filled with robots, meta-humans, droids, and transgenic chimera animals. Here it is:

Future Megalopolis (Wayne Ferrebee, 2015) ink and colored pencil on paper

My recollection of this work is that I enjoyed drawing all of the future beings (look at that quantum computer clock guy (or thing?) at the left side beneath the pink organ wall…or the purple owl woman standing above the metal dog-robot at right!) but then I got lost coloring in the asphalt and threw the whole thing aside in disgust. Looking at it afresh, however, it is better than I remember. You are getting an impossible peek into the world of the far future thanks to the one power capable of opening such a window–the imagination!

Yet, although the imagination is capable of peering through deep time, it is also fallible (just look at all of that confusing, hard-to-color future asphalt!). I was hoping to portray a city made of cities–where super-arcologies stand next to each other, rank upon rank, stretching to the horizon. I wanted an effect which was akin to the troubling urban art of George Grosz–with all of the maddened machine-people and transgenic organisms spilling out of the architecture like confetti and tainted candy pouring out of a psychedelic piñata.

The fun of painting like Grosz is creating a river of chaotic heterogeneous lunatics! But the peril of creating such an artwork is getting lost in a world of visual clutter (which is a less-flattering way of describing a river of chaotic heterogeneous lunatics). With this work I certainly experienced the fun…but I also fell prey to the peril. Even so, this glowing drawing captures some of the effect of looking into a bewilderingly complicated social ecosystem.

The dancing, crawling, and flying robots running from dome to dome in a world of strange machines may not be exactly what the future holds…but they inspire us to think about where we are going (and we need to think about that a lot harder). Maybe I need to get my fluorescent ink back out and paint some more fantastical cities glowing in the purple twilight of ages we will never get to see.

Here at Ferrebeekeeper we continue to marvel over the images from the James Webb telescope (the first such image was the subject of Monday’s post). As an ongoing homage to the new telescope (and to the team of scientists, engineers, and experts who made humankind’s marvelous super eye in space a reality) here is a short pictorial post…about a completely unrelated Caribbean filefish!

This is Cantherhines macrocerus, the American whitespotted filefish, an omnivorous filefish which lives along the southern coast of Florida and southwards through the shallow tropical waters of the Caribbean. The fish makes its living by eating algae and reef/coastal invertebrates like worms, small mollusks, sponges, soft corals, gorgonians, etc. The adult fish grows to a size of 45 centimeters (about 18 inches).

Perhaps you are wondering how this fish is related to the space telescope. Well, like many fish, the whitespotted filefish can–to a degree–alter its color depending on its mood or background. The fish’s dark coloration scheme pays homage to deep field images of the universe filled with galaxies

Obviously this is one of those aesthetic-themed posts which deals with delightful and fantastic (albeit superficial) similarities of appearance. It is the only way I know how to express my delight with cosmology and ichthyology! Indeed, even when this fish is not white-spotted (there is a yellow and olive variation) it still reminds me of the Webb scope..

Of course Ferrebeekeeper has a long track-record of seeing the forms of the universe within the patterns of fish. Humankind looks for patterns–and sometimes finds similar patterns in unrelated forms. Although maybe this particular similarity is not just an artistic conceit: humans and all vertebrate life descend from fish…and all-living things are made of atoms built in long-dead stars. The highest purpose of our new space telescope is to find out about the possibilities of life out there in the universe (since Webb can possibly peak into the atmospheres of exoplanets to let us know about any whiff of molecules associated with life). While we are looking millions of light years away we also need to keep looking at where we are. For the present, home is still the only place we know for sure to have abundant lifeforms (like, for example, the whitespotted filefish). Imagine if we found a water-dwelling, pincer-nosed alien which devoured fractal lifeforms and had a picture of deep space on its lozenge-form body. We would go crazy with delight. But we already have such a thing swimming around Turks and Caicas hoovering up gorgonians and looking cute.

Hey everybody! Sorry I went awol for a little sabbatical from writing. It is summer plus I felt burned out after the last two (or 20) years, and none of my blogging pleasure centers were registering any joy. However today there is something to be quite joyous about: the President of the United States released the first deep field image from the James Webb Space telescope, a colossal near-infrared eye in the sky, which is now unfurled, debugged, and fully operational at Earth’s second LeGrange point! Huzzah!

Courtesy NASA Webb Space Telescope

And what a picture it is. It is so good and so spectacular that it almost looks like background art from a disco album rather than a colossal galaxy-studded expanse of outer space as it existed billions of years ago. The image is a composite of multiple scans taken with the space telescope’s Near-Infrared camera over a 12.5 hour window (the world famous ultra deep field photo from Hubble which rocked the world back in 2004 required closer to 12 days of scope time and did not peer early so deeply into the universe).

The Webb image shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 which is 4.6 billion light years away. Because this galaxy cluster is (or was?) so massive, it acts as a gravitational lens and much more distant galaxies can be glimpsed in the curvy fisheye at the center of this image. I am no galactic astronomy expert (here are some vague pointers about what the color means from an earlier post), but the beauty and grandeur of the image is evident to even the rankest layman…and this is the first real image. There are going to be lots and lots of additional pictures coming in of every conceivable sight out there in the universe and we are going to be blown away by what we see. I can hardly wait for more!

Ferrebeekeeper has been over-reliant on garden posts lately. Yet the last days of spring/first days of summer are such a beautiful time, that I thought I would put up some more pictures anyway. Most years I select tulips to bloom at the same time as the cherry tree, but, last autumn I apparently picked out whatever took my fancy and paid no attention to the timeline. As a result there were lots of frilly, fringed, or otherwise baroque tulips blooming in late May!

As the tulips faded, the roses, impatiens, and torenias started to bloom. The rose pictured below has the splendid name “Cherry Frost” which sounds like a sinister James Bond girl or a punk band or something. Because it was transgenically tinkered with, the little rose is surprisingly resistant to blackspot and molds. Additionally, it does well in low light and cold (at least so far). This rose was blooming back in February…but I did not post the pictures because the blossoms were not nearly as beautiful (and the rest of the garden was fallow).

Speaking of lying fallow, I recognize that I did not post a great deal for the last few weeks, and I apologize.  Sometimes it is necessary to take a little break to think of new ways to express oneself.  This in no way indicates that I have lost my enthusiasm for writing about art and science or opining about the affairs of the world!  It does however mean that I have been working on some new artistic themes (maybe the poor misunderstood flounders need to lie fallow for a little while too).  In the meantime, I have been sitting in the garden working on new ideas…and how to explain/popularize them.

We will explore this more in soon-to-follow posts, but for right now, I hope you are enjoying June too (and maybe have some lovely flowers of your own). Don’t give up on coming here for posts (nor on anything else for that matter).  Sometimes things take their own time to germinate (just like this year’s late tulips).

Hi everyone! Happy Earth Day! For now, I will spare you from the posts about the state of our planetary ecosystem and its fraught relationship with the intelligent invasive primate causing so much trouble everywhere (although you can read some past thoughts about that here), and instead show some garden photos. The gorgeous Kwanzan tree which lives in my backyard in Brooklyn is abloom and I have been sitting beneath the tree enjoying fleeting feelings of ineffable beauty instead of writing blog posts. We will return in full force at some pint next week. In the meantime I have tried to capture some of the garden beauty in the pictures below.

The cherry tree is starting to get older and most of the eye-level branches have died out, but there are still gorgeous blossoms higher up where the limbs get sun! More about the tree next week, when I hopefully have some artworks finished…

Some people regard pansies and violas as sort of tawdry flowers, but I think they are as beautiful as the most exotic Miltonia in terms of sheer prettiness. If they were more rare we would probably think they are the most gorgeous blossoms in the garden. But they are not rare…because they are super tough! I planted the little black violas back in October and they shrugged off the full force of winter’s blast with shocking indifference.

Another favorite plant which is blooming right now is the bleeding heart. I planted a white one too, but it is presently only 5 centimeters high, so you may have to wait to see its blossoms.

It looks like the tulips will bloom later, but some species tulips and volunteers have come up. Below are more pictures of tulips and Johnny-jump-ups.

There is an ornamental crabapple in the back of the garden which is as lovely as the cherry (in some respects). Unfortunately it is less photogenic, but you can see some of the pretty magenta blooms above the hellebore and the single lonely muscari.

And here is a picture of the gardener, looking peeved that everything did not bloom at once (he never seems perfectly happy, no matter how wonderfully the flowers perform). In the near future, we will return to traditional Earth Day themes of the proper path humankind must chart in order not destroy the living systems of Earth (we all need to think a lot more about that and push back against powerful interests which assert that it is not a thing to be thought about). The garden is a way to start thinking about such things (for it is a problematic artificial ecosystem), but for the moment, let’s just enjoy the blossoms.

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