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Lady on the Horse (Alfred Kubin, 1938, Pen and ink, wash, and spray on paper)

Alfred Kubin was born in Bohemia in 1877 (Bohemia was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire).  Like many people, Kubin could see the direction which Austrian society was taking, and it seemed to rob him of direction.  As a teenager he tried to learn photography for four pointless years from 1892 until 1896. He unsuccessfully attempted suicide on his mother’s grave. He enlisted and was promptly drummed out of the Austrian army. He joined various art schools and left without finishing. Then, in Munich, Kubin saw the works of symbolist and expressionist artists Odilon Redon, Max Klinger, Edvard Munch, and Félicien Rops.  His life was changed—he devoted himself to making haunting art in the same vein.  His exquisite mezzotint prints are full dream monsters, spirit animals, ghosts and victims.  These dark works seemed to presage the era which followed.  Yet throughout the nightmare of both World Wars and the post-war reconstruction, Kubin lived in relative isolation in a small castle.

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After Anschluss in 1938, Kubin’s work was labeled degenerate, yet his age and his hermit life protected him and he continued working through the war and until his death in 1958.  In later life he was lionized as an artist who never submitted to the Nazis (although possibly he was too absorbed in his own dark world to notice the even darker one outside).

 

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The North Pole (Alfred Kubin 1902)

Kubin’s beautiful prints look like the illustrations of a children’s book where dark magical entities broke into the story and killed all of the characters and made their haunted spirits perform the same pointless rituals again and again.  Great dark monuments loom over the lost undead.  Death and the maiden appear repeatedly, donning their roles in increasingly abstract guise until it is unclear which is which.

 

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The Pond (Alfred kubin, ca. 1905)

My favorite aspect of the works are the shadow monsters and hybrid animals which often seem to have more personality and weight than the little albescent people they prey upon.  The gloomy ink work is so heavy it seems to lack pen strokes—as though Kubin rendered these little vignettes from dark mist.

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The Egg (Alfred Kubin, 1902)

Kubin’s imagery was naturally seen through the psychosexual lens of Freudianism.  He was claimed by the symbolists, and the expressionists. Yet his work seems to really exist in its own mysterious context. Kubin’s greatest works seem to involve a narrative which the viewer does not know, yet the outlines of which are instantly recognizable (like certain recurring nightmares).

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The Government (Alfred Kubin)

Gifted in multiple ways, Kubin wrote his own novel, The Other Side, which has been compared to Kafka for its dark absurdity.  I certainly haven’t read it, but if anyone knows anything about it, I would love to hear more below.  In the meantime look again at this broken world of Gothic horror and wonder.  Then maybe go have some candy and enjoy some flowers.  There is plenty more dark art coming

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Snakes in the City (Alfred Kubin,1911, pen and ink)

 

 

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Last week I blogged about flatfish.  These fascinating benthic predators can be found in oceans worldwide…however my interest in the asymmetric masters of blending in transcends pure ichthyology.  I have been busy drawing a series of intricate pen and ink drawings of flatfish for a project.  I will show you some of these large drawings one of these days, but I have also been drawing a series of small humorous and surreal flatfish in spare moments…during the commute or lunch break.  I am putting these whimsical, comical, and absurd flounders in brightly colored frames for fun.

Here is some of the series:

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This flounder seems to have an industrial refinery in Kazakhstan on his belly.  In accordance with his landlocked status, strange mythical beasts of Central Asia gambol in the twilight skies around him.

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This flounder has Greco-Roman objects around him.  The chameleon above his back reminds the viewer of the true nature of flatfish. The strange quadripeds on his back betoken a different age of agrarian labor.

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This flounder is at home in the ocean (where he is joined by apparitions and animals which look curiously like molecules or primordial forces.  Indeed, Gauss’ Law for electrical fields reminds us of the subtle but ineluctable flux which pervades interactions at all levels.

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I have been trying to garner greater commercial interest in flatfish-themed art, and what is of greater commercial interest (and general prurient interest) than pop-superstar Miley Cyrus?  The famous singer coos atop a stolid turbot in the midst of an exotic and sensuous garden.  A musically literate person can play the musical phrase above the singer for a true multimedia experience. Miley’s cowgirl footwear hint at the true nature of this artwork.

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Trailing streamers of ragged blue plasma, a wild eyed flatfish covered in squirming parasites rides a beam of yellow energy over an elongated pink woodchuck ghost.  What could be more straightforward?

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A radiant orange flounder with the sun in his belly soars above some sort of pumping station or acetylene factory. In the sky above him, an overly eager gundam has fired an air-to-air missile at an endangered crane.  Oh no! What will happen next?

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A long faced flounder made of stitched together toruses looks down upon a futuristic city of arcologies and bioengineered structures.

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Mechanical innovation and the aristocratic southern lifestyle begin to seem increasingly at odds.  Predatory animals stock the riverine boundaries. A flying machine whirrs through the heavens.

The flounder at the top of the post–which features fanciful animals gathering around an elegant flounder with a brittle star on its belly is my personal favorite since I drew it with a dip pen–a style of drawing which generally results in the total destruction of the piece with the final stroke of the pen (as a huge blot of ink falls out), however in this rare case that did not happen so you can see some of the linear elegance of the medium.  All of these flatfish are created with ink and (generally) colored pencil, by yours truly Wayne Ferrebee in this year 2016 AD.  I’ll put up the second batch next week.  Thanks for looking and kindly leave any comments!

 

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Sorry for the empty space here last week.  But now I am back, refreshed, and ready for a whole theme week dedicated to eggs.  I conceived of this theme during Easter as I feverishly dyed goose eggs from my parents’ farm, but now that I start to write, the enormity of the subject hits me.  Almost all arthropods, vertebrates, and mollusks reproduce by laying eggs.  We mammals are in a minority among animals (and even then, there are certain exceptions).  The fertilized offspring of the vast majority of animals develop to viable lifeforms inside an egg.  Eggs consequently hold a huge place in mythology, biology, and agriculture.  A surprising number of cosmologies (and biographies) start with an egg cracking open.  Likewise, an understanding of animals beyond hydrozoans requires one to contemplate differing sorts of eggs (and indeed the universal name for female gametes happens to be “eggs” as well).

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So that is what I will be writing about for the rest of the week, however I am opening “egg week” with this little miniature essay as an introduction…and with the literary allusion pictured above.  Do you recognize it? It is green eggs and ham! It occurred to me as I began to unpeel the eggs that I had accidentally re-created Sam-I-Am’s famous feast. The eggs are really dyed chicken eggs.  This is the only mention I will make of eggs from a gastronomic context—but trust me, those eggs were quite delicious and, if we didn’t have so much ground to cover, we could dedicate an entire blog every day for a lifetime to eggs’ central position in cuisine.  But alas, there is no time for custard pie recipes—we need to move on.  Tune in tomorrow for one of those egg-based cosmologies!

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The Otomi people are an indigenous Mesoamerican people of the Mexican Plateau.  During the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish, the Otomi allied with the Spanish against the Aztecs (since the Aztecs were a hated upstart empire oppressing and enslaving them). Otomi populations practiced (and continue to practice) shamanism.  The sacred spirit animals of the shaman’s spirit journey take a central position in the most characteristic artforms of the Otomi—which consists of exquisite embroidered animals in dazzling colors.  This is the subject of today’s post because…well look at these textile artworks!  I just innately love them.  They are masterpieces.  The colorful animals seem to come to extravagant life on the elaborately sewn panels.

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In these embroidered medallions and picture squares, fantasy birds, fish, quadrupeds, and insects embroidered out of brilliant stripes swirl together among equally colorful flowers and vines. Most of the creatures seem to be based off of familiar domestic animals like burros, chickens, rabbits, turkeys, and bees—but the farm creatures are turning into each other and exchanging characteristics and identities.  I am a bit surprised that Ferrebeekeeper has only just found out about Otomi art….

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It isn’t like I went to the Mexican national art gallery and cherry-picked a few hallowed masterpieces from the walls either.  Most of these beautiful examples were for sale on the internet by anonymous living artists and artisans whose work I like better than basically anything on sale right now in Chelsea for a thousand times more.  I could have one of these amazing handmade artworks if I possessed…35 American dollars?  How can such a beautiful thing cost less than a dvd of Fifty Shades of Grey?  People who claim that the market is all-knowing should take note (and people who love beautiful art should be taking out their wallets).

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Moche Ceramic Vessel in the form of a Crab (Photo:  Museo de América de Madrid)

Moche Ceramic Vessel in the form of a Crab (Photo: Museo de América de Madrid)

Yesterday’s post for World Oceans Day did not sate my need to write about the endless blue bounding.  I am therefore dedicating all of the rest of this week’s blog posts to marine themes as well (“marine” meaning relating to the sea—not the ultimate soldiers). Today we are traveling back to South America to revisit those masters of sculpture, the Moche, a loose federation of agricultural societies which inhabited the Peruvian coastal valleys from 100 AD – 900 AD.

Moche Vessel: A Human with a Large Fish

Moche Vessel: A Human with a Large Fish

I keep thinking about the beauty and power of Moche sculptural art, and the Moche definitely had strong feelings about the ocean.   In fact an informal survey of Moche art online indicates that their favorite themes were cool-looking animals, human sacrifice, the ocean, grown-up relations between athletic consenting adults, and crazy nose-piercings.

Golden Moche Nose-Ornament in the shape of Lobsters

Golden Moche Nose-Ornament in the shape of Lobsters

Moche Sea Turtle Vessel

Moche Sea Turtle Vessel

You will have to research some of these on your own, but I have included a selection of beautifully made Moche art of sea creatures.  Look at the expressiveness of the crab, the turtle, and particularly the beautiful lobsters (which are part of a large pectoral type ceremonial ornament held in place through the nose).  Moche ceramics are as rare and beautiful in their way as Roman paintings or Greek sculpture.  I wish we knew more about Moche culture and mythology to contextualize these striking works—but the outstanding vigor and grace of the figures is enough to feel something of what this vivid culture was like.

Moche Ceramic Vessel shaped like a Fish

Moche Ceramic Vessel shaped like a Fish

Thebaid (Fra Angelico, 1410, Tempera on Panel)

Thebaid (Fra Angelico, 1410, Tempera on Panel)

Are you ready for a deeply strange and problematic painting of tremendous beauty?  This is “The Thebaid” a masterpiece from Florence in the very early 13th century (it was probably completed in 1410 AD).   For centuries, art historians have argued over who painted this epic monastic landscape.  For a long time it was believed the painting was by the enigmatic Jacopo Starnina.  Then, for many years, art experts thought the painting was by Lorenzo Monaco, a gothic painter who moved to Florence from Sienna and excelled at painting brilliantly colored saints (although he eschewed the great artistic innovations of his time—such as perspective and painting from life).  Finally, historical consensus has settled on none other than the matchless Fra Angelico as the painter–which seems fitting since this work is so thoroughly a celebration of monastic life (Fra Angelico was a friar…although so was Lorenzo Monaco).  Fra Angelico is famous for bridging the styles of the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance.  With its angular mountains, stylized churches, and gilded sailing ships, “The Thebaid” is appropriately gothic and old fashioned to be one of his early works.  Yet it also has the first flowering of the flowing rhythm and deliquescent grace which have made Fra Angelico such a famous name in art.

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Detail

Whoever painted it, the painting is a mythological depiction of the Egyptian desert in the Fifth Century AD—a time and place synonymous with hermits and monasticism.  The story goes that Saint Horus, an early Christian ascetic, wandered into the desert outside of Thebes to live as a hermit.  Although initially illiterate, Horus learned the Holy scriptures on his own (or through divine intervention).  So many devout men were inspired by his life of solitude, renunciation, and piety that they too moved into the empty desert.  Thus a thriving community of monastics gathered around the famous anchorite.  The one became many and the once barren desert became a verdant model for monasticism.

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Detail

The picture is certainly a celebration of the cloistered life which a Florentine monk would have known.  The architecture, dress, and agricultural equipment is of the same era as the painter.  Yet the painting also has a timelessness befitting the subject. Within the narrative flow of a community of monks assembling, one can discern beautiful humanizing details such as the infirm elderly monk being carried on a dais by his brothers or the monk in the center preaching to a black dog.  Indeed animals abound within this work and one of the monks seems to be riding a deer while another rides a chariot pulled by lions.  There is a lot going on in this magic gathering of holy men communing with nature!

 

Okapi (Walton Ford, watercolor on paper)

Okapi (Walton Ford, watercolor on paper)

Walton Ford is a contemporary artist who paints realistic large-scale watercolor paintings of mammals and birds.  The creatures are often placed in anthropomorphic contexts (where they dress or act like people). Because the paintings are so large, the artist tends to annotate them in beautiful copperpoint longhand (although it is a bit hard to see in this example).  In this painting, a shy okapi, the wraith of the African jungle is trying to purloin a piece of honeycomb from a dangerous gun trap.  The okapi’s face is filled with purpose but the ominous fire on the horizon and the hunting paraphernalia in the foreground hints at a dark outcome.

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Detail

The Memorial, After the Storm (Laurie Hogan, ca. early 21st century, oil on canvas)

The Memorial, After the Storm (Laurie Hogin, ca. early 21st century, oil on canvas)

Laurie Hogin is a contemporary artist who paints acid-hued animals, fruit, and fungi posed together in a landscape of molten color.  Her work “The Memorial, After the Storm” presents a collection of unnatural flora and fauna which only exist in the artist’s imaginary realm. Silver snakes glide towards pseudo foxes, as parti-color fowl jostle with pied lizards.  The effulgent pears, berries, toadstools, and pumpkins flow out of an unreal pastoral landscape which literally morphs into perfect geometric shapes as it approaches the foreground.  Hogin’s paintings grab the viewer’s attention and refuse to let go, but the garish creatures and pale fruiting bodies pose an elusive quandary about humankind’s unnatural tastes. It almost appears that the grumpy birds and uppity mammalian predators are peeved that they don’t actually exist and never will. This is an ecosystem built to appeal to jaded primate senses—a fact which makes its unreal inhabitants fretful and sullen.

El Yunque Tropical Rain Forest in Puerto Rico

El Yunque Tropical Rain Forest in Puerto Rico

Long-time readers know that I love trees.  So you can imagine how thrilled I was this past weekend, when, for the first time, I visited a tropical rainforest–El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico.  The only tropical rainforest under the rubric of the United States Forest Department, El Yunque is a very gentle jungle:  not only does it lack poisonous snakes or spiders, but there are not even any endemic mammals other than bats (although mongooses have crept in, thanks to a misguided introduction program long ago) and no predators larger than hawks.  What it lacks in large violent animals, El Yunque makes up for with astonishing botanical diversity.   Immense tree ferns tower over volcanic boulders.  Delicate Coquís—tree frogs which are the unofficial mascot of Puerto Rico–sing beneath the umbrella-like leaves of Cecropia trees.  The mollusks, that great strange phylum, exist in proliferation which rivals a coastline or an oyster reef.  Transparent slugs with green nuclei  are virtually invisible on stones.  Snails the size of children’s hands hang in the branches.

Gaeotis flavolineata, a transparent semi-slug (image credit: exotiskadjur.ifokus.se)

Gaeotis flavolineata, a transparent semi-slug (image credit: exotiskadjur.ifokus.se)

A Tree Snail at El Yunque

A Tree Snail at El Yunque

Among the flowers, frogs, and fruitbats, there are ancient giants–just not animal ones.   The most beautiful tree I saw in the rainforest was an Ausubo (Manikara bidentata) a huge, slow-growing evergreen tree rising magnificently 10 stories above the forest floor. The wood of ausubo is coveted by builders and carpenters since it is lovely to look at, rock hard, and resistant to rot and insects (the sap can also be formed into a hard resin like gutta-percha: this material, called gutta-balatá, was used to make golf balls for professional golfers until it was replaced by modern synthetics).  Ausubo was once the most important timber tree in Puerto Rico and many of the great colonial buildings feature great halls made of mighty ausubo timbers now hundreds of years old.  Today, sadly few large, ancient trees remain.  However the forest service has planted great stands of them in El Yunque and some originals still remain like the one pictured below which a sign asserted was three to four hundred years old.  It is strange to think that the tree (which is broader at the base than a person is tall) was once a tiny seed dropped by a fruit bat or a bird. It has outlasted all of the lumberjacks and hurricanes since San Juan was little more than a fort  above a colonial village.

Ausubo (Manilkara bidentata), the titular big tree of "Big Tree" trail in El Yunque (photo by Xemenendura)

Ausubo (Manilkara bidentata), the titular big tree of “Big Tree” trail in El Yunque (photo by Xemenendura)

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What a long week!  What with mad bombers and North Korea and taxes and sexy exes and goodness knows what else, I am totally ready to phone in today’s blog post.  Fortunately I have the ideal solution for a quick but fun post!  This year I forgot to celebrate Ferrebeekeeper’s 3rd anniversary.  For our first year celebration I published a group of doodles.  These are little drawings which I do at the Monday morning staff meeting at the beginning of every work week. This might sound well…sketchy, but I assure you doodling keeps me alert and allows me to remember what was said at each meeting. As you can see from the strange eclectic subjects, I think the whimsy and freedom of the weekend hasn’t quite worn off when I draw these.  Sometimes, during my lunch break I color my little doodles in with highlighters or crayons.  So here are 21 weeks’ worth of Monday morning staff meeting doodles.  These little throw-away doodles open up a world into the subconscious where our true feelings about the universe can be found.  Strangely these doodles reveal that I really like melting Middle Eastern cities of arabesques and angels (?).  Less surprisingly I love fantasy beasts, gardens, fish, and mammals.  I’m not sure why I love paisleys so much—maybe the sixties had a greater influence on me than I know (though I certainly wasn’t around back then).

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My favorite is the little purple pleasure garden where a flamingo watches a phoenix fly away from the ruins of an alien robot (below), but I also like the bat and the geometric widget beast relaxing by a tree at sunset, as well as the underwater city of sharks and biomechanical walking buildings.  Which ones do you like?  Please leave a comment–I promise I’ll respond next week!

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