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I have fallen in love with these colorful fabric sculptures by the great contemporary Chilean sculptor,Serena Garcia Dalla Venezia. Her works are simple conglomerations of little hand-sewn fabric balls and yet look at them: they are dazzling alien landscapes which also evoke the world of cell biology or coral reefs.
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Each work also combines color with visionary bravura. It is strange how the most simple ideas can expand into a world of captivating otherworldly beauty. Bravo to Serena Garcia Dalla Venezia. I look forward to seeing more of her gorgeous works and finding out more about her oeuvres.
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Happy April Fools Day—or Happy April Fish! (as it is known in France).  This is a special day for several reasons.

Most importantly today is the anniversary of Ferrebeekeeper which came into existence 7 years ago today!  Since then, there have been lots of snakes, Goths, catfish, and colorful stories.  I have gotten some things completely and utterly wrong, but I have always tried to do my best and be honest and keep the content coming, even when I was tired or sick or sad at heart.  This is the one thousand five hundred and twelfth post!  That’s a lot of clams and crowns! To celebrate, I am putting up three flounder-themed artworks (literal poissons d’Avril) and I am also announcing the rollout of a bizarre and compelling new online toy to appear here soon.  I won’t tell you what it is (although I guess a prophet could tell you) but I will drop hints during next week’s blog posts.

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Unless you are a Dagon-worshiper or a Micronesian, April Fish is one of the few fish-themed holidays on the calendar and so it is very precious for me, as a fish-themed artist.  Additionally, today celebrates being careful in the face of obviously fake news stories.  Now lately there have been lots of weird propaganda statements and transparent lies issuing from certain albescent domiciles in Washington DC, so the waters are even more muddied than usual (almost as if antagonists to the east are deliberately throwing up lots of lies and fake stories to make the real news seem suspect to people who are not very good at reading), but it is wise to be eternally on guard.  Getting to the bottom of things is difficult, but a good rule of thumb is that real news is messy and complicated and offers more questions than answers (and lots of seeming contradictions), whereas self-serving puffery is generally gloriously simple and shifts all blame onto some third party (like Freemasons, foreigners, witches, or journalists).

Thank you all so much for reading.  I treasure your attention and your patience. Forgive me for being so tardy in responding to comments and kindly pardon my errors or mistakes in judgement.  Keep reading and looking and I will keep on writing, drawing, and floundering.  There are glorious things ahead for all of us.

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Today we have an AMAZING post which comes to us thanks to good fortune (and the tireless work of archaeologists).  Datong is an ancient city in Shanxi, a province in north-central China. The Datong Municipal Institute of Archaeology has been excavating 31 tombs from throughout the city’s long history.  One of the tombs was a circular “well” tomb from the Liao dynasty.  The circular tomb featured four fresco murals painted on fine clay (and separated by painted columns of red).  These paintings show servants going about the business of everyday life a thousand years ago:  laying out fine clothes and setting the table.  One panel just shows stylized cranes perched at a window/porch.  The cremated remains of the dead upper class couple who (presumably) commissioned the grave were found in an urn in the center of the tomb.

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The tomb dates from the Liao Dynasty, which flourished between the 10th and 12th centuries.  Attentive readers, will note that this is the same timeframe as the Song Dynasty (960 AD–1279 AD), which Ferrebeekeeper is forever extolling as a cultural and artistic zenith for China (although sadly, I can never seem to decide whether to call it “Song” or “Sung”).  Well the Song dynasty was a time of immense cultural achievement, but the Song emperors did not unify China as fully as other empires.  The Liao Dynasty was a non-Han dynasty established by the Khitan people in northern China, Mongolia, and northern Korea.  To what extent the Liao dynasty was “Chinese” (even the exact nature of whom the Khitan people were) is the subject of much scholarly argument.  But look at these amazing paintings!  Clearly the Khitan were just as creatively inspired as their neighbors to the south—but in different ways.

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The cranes have a freshness and verve which is completely different from the naturalism of Song animal painting and yet wholly enchanting and wonderful in its own right.  The beautiful colors and personality-filled faces of the servants bring a bygone-era back to life.  Look at the efficient artistic finesse evident in the bold colorful lines.  If you told me that these images were made last week by China’s most admired graphic novelist, I would believe you.

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These murals are masterpieces in their own right, but they are also a reminder that Ferrebeekeeper needs to look beyond the most famous parts of Chinese history in order to more fully appreciate the never-ending beauty and depth of Chinese art.

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My art theme this year has been flatfish, and I have made quite a lot of them.  I think the results are very strong, but the slightly ludicrous subject leaves me at a disadvantage when I am trying to explain my work via the unforgiving medium of tweet or elevator pitch.  Nothing vexes a group of high-fashion socialites quite like blurting out “I mostly paint elaborate symbolic flatfish!” The most obvious quick explanation is to make a joke about how I have been floundering (which is certainly true in many ways), however there is a lot more to this favorite subject than that.

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The Pleuronectiformes (flatfish) are indeed flat–like paintings and drawings–which makes them an ideal medium for compositions.  They are a favorite prey for humankind–which perfectly suits my theme of hooks, lures, traps, and beguilements (which seem to be taking over ever more in human society as we proliferate and jockey for resources).  Flatfish also provides an immediate environmental theme–for they are quickly being fished into extinction (like almost all of the ray-finned fishes).  Yet flatfish are no innocents.  Like many large fish, these animals are all highly sophisticated predators. In order to succeed they make use of their own subterfuges.  Flatfish blend in. They can literally change colors like chameleons.  I sort of think of them as the middle class of the biome, squeezed between the little shrimpkins, copepods, and minnows they gobble up and the rapacious pelicans, dolphins, humans and suchlike superpredators who in turn hunt them with beaked hooks, sonar, and cruel nets.

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Above all, flatfish are asymmetric–which means I can draw both of their expressive eyes without being forced to contemplate a lot of elaborate piscine bending.  Their asymmetry also makes them stand out among all of the vertebrates. The universe has twisted them at adolescence–but it has given them an indefinable topological advantage as well.  Also look at their little irregular paisley eyes.

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Of course Meg Miller thinks I have gone crazy, and perhaps she is right.  But after a while staring in the windows, “outsider artist” is the only card left to play.  You never know, I could still leap out of the substrate and start gobbling shrimp any day now.  Kindly check out my flatfish on Instagram and write me about your thoughts on the subject.  Flounders are sad, but they are comical too (which is unusual in visual art) so everyone has an opinion.  Please let me know how these flatfish make you feel!

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The Amazon is the planet’s largest river.  The great waterway is very much in the news this week as the world turns its eyes to Brazil to watch the Olympics. My whole life I have wanted to visit the upstream backwaters of the Amazon and view its ecological treasures before it is all converted into strip malls and low-cost parking.  Unfortunately, the developers are doing a lot better in this life than I, so I am not sure that will ever happen. Thus, instead of going to Brazil in the real world, we will go there via blog! No need for visas (I hear that Brazil doesn’t really want American visitors anyway). We can check out the amazing fish, snakes, mammals, and, um, emperors of Brazil without ever leaving the internet.

The Piranha TheoryNo!

Speaking of fish, the Amazon is the home of the fearsome pirarara! No freshwater fish is more storied or more…wait “pirarara”?  What the heck is that?\

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The Pirarara is actually a giant extremely colorful catfish which grows to immense size (You knew I couldn’t get through these Olympics without writing about some of the magnificent siluriformes from the place with the greatest diversity of catfish….a place where catfish are actually found beneath the water table).

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The pirarara (Phractocephalus hemioliopterus) aka “the redtail catfish” is the only living representative of the genus Phractocephalus.  These catfish are omnivores which grow to 1.8 meters (six feet) in length and weigh up to 80 kg (180 lb). I wonder if they wear the same sized suits as me?  I am being silly, of course: these catfish do not wear suits since nobody has found a pattern which does not clash with their brown backs, mustard yellow sides, and white stomach….and their bright ketchup-red tails.  The pirarara should really be called the condiment catfish.  The fish are popular in large aquariums, although they are so voracious that they can injure themselves by swallowing aquarium furniture and vomiting it back up.

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Redtail catfish may be the last living members of the Phractocephalus genus, but there were once many species…some of which date back to the upper Miocene (13.5 million years ago).  They lived throughout what is now Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, and Ecuador, in the great series of lakes and wetlands which made up the long-vanished Pebas mega-wetland.  The pirarara has a certain prehistoric look to it.  Can you imagine the crazy color combinations which its vanished realtives must have had as they sw3am among the super crocodiles and crazy alligators of the Pebas?

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When scanning over the (dreadful and upsetting) news this morning, a wacky and funny story jumped out at me from amidst all of the grim happenings: fruit merchants in Japan auctioned off some grapes for a record high price!  A bunch of approximately 30 “Ruby Roman” grapes sold for 1.1 million yen (which is equal to approximately $11,000.00).  Even considering today’s high food prices and Japan’s astringent import rules (aka crooked tariffs), $365.00 per grape is an appallingly high price!  What is going on? And what are “Ruby Roman” grapes?

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Paying astronomically high prices for high-status foods is sort of a Japanese food tradition—like hotdog contests or giant pumpkin weighing in America. Merchants or wealthy patrons buy up ceremonial first fish or crops in order to gain prestige and whip up public attention (from all the way across the ocean in this case). The buyer of these particular grapes, Takamaru Konishi, plans on showing the expensive fruit in his shop before parceling them out to special customers and patrons.

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Ruby Roman grapes are a special Japanese variety of red grape which each grow to the size of ping pong balls. Viticulturists began developing this new variety of grapes in 1992 by hybridizing and selecting certain strains of Fujiminori grapes.   In 2008 the new giant red grapes hit shops…provided the fruit met the hilariously strict Japanese agricultural guidelines for what constitutes “Ruby Roman.”  To quote Wikipedia:

Every grape is checked strictly to guarantee its quality, with certification seals placed on those thus selected. The Ruby Roman has strict rules for selling; each grape must be over 20g and over 18% sugar. In addition, a special “premium class” exists which requires the grape to be over 30g and where the entire fruit bunch must weigh at least 700g. In 2010, only six grapes qualified for premium status while in 2011, no grapes made the cut.

Wow! Maybe these grapes are worth $365.00 each! Or maybe this is another goofy publicity stunt for lazy reporters.  If so, count me in!

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Today we feature one of Australia’s best-known and best-dressed snakes, the red-bellied black snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus).  This exceedingly handsome reptile lives all along the eastern coast of the island continent and grows to lengths of 1.5 to 2 meters (5.5 to 6.5 feet).   It is a generalist predator which eats small mammals, reptiles (including fellow red-bellied black snakes) arthropods, and above all, frogs.  This fetching snake is a member of the elapidae family—a group of toxic snakes which includes such famous genera as coral snakes, cobras, and kraits.

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The red-bellied snake is indeed venomous: its venom is a complex mixture of neurotoxins, myotoxins, and coagulants.  However, when the snakes bites people (which they are loath to do) they rarely inject a lethal dose of venom.  When threatened they try to hide in the urban woodlands, billabongs, or scrublands where they live.  If backed into a corner they will make a threat display by extending their cobra-like hood and hissing.  Australians, who live with many horrifying venomous snakes, seem to regard red-bellied black snakes as comparatively benign although I certainly wouldn’t want one to bite me!).

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Snakes of this species are ovoviviparous—they hold their eggs inside their body until the young hatch.  This is no mean feat, since mother snakes can give birth to litters of up to 40 little baby snakes!

Red-bellied black snake, Lota.

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This is the year of the monkey! Way back during the Chinese New Year, I promised to celebrate the primates—that intelligent and nimble (and malicious) order of mammals.  Since then, primates have made the news (literally, since it is our invention), but where have the posts been?

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(the malefactor crouched on an electric thingy)

Well yesterday, June 7th 2016, a vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) fell onto a power transformer at the Gitaru hydroelectric power station in Kenya.  The transformer tripped off, which led to a cascading sequence of generators shutting down–which, by some dark magic of electric grids, caused a nation-wide blackout.  Kenya, a nation of 44 million souls was without electricity for fifteen minutes (and the juice was out much longer near the epicenter of the problem).  A monkey turned off the world’s 31st most populous nation for a quarter of an hour!  The malefactor survived this mayhem and has been taken into custody by Kenya wildlife services—no news on what sort of community service they have planned for the mischievous creature.\

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The vervet monkey is a generalist vegetarian which eats fruit, berries, grains, flowers, seeds, and vegetables (in addition to eggs and small animals when they are available).  Adult vervets weigh between 3.5 and 8 kilograms (7.7 and 17.7 pounds).  They have a long tail which is not prehensile and grizzled dun and gray coats which fade to white collars around their black faces.  That description makes them sound somewhat monochromatic, however they are among the most brilliantly colored primates…in certain respects: adult males have magnificent turquoise scrotums and vivid incarnadine genitalia.  Speaking of procreation, vervet monkeys give birth to a single infant which can live up to 24 years (in captivity).

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Vervet monkeys are trapped as pets, poisoned as pests, and hunted for meat by humans, even though primatologists (and anthropologists) have noted profound social similarities between our species.  Vervet monkeys are capable of complex communication (including self-serving lies) and they build complicated webs of alliances and enmities.  The Wikipedia page says they are also one of the few animals capable of spite (which suggests that Wikipedia has limited experience of living creatures), however it would go a long way towards explaining yesterday’s events in Kenya.

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Masters of Purest Spite?

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Chartreuse Cloud Monster (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016, cardboard and paint)

Hypothetically, sometimes, at one’s day job one has a pushy colleague who loudly demands things and stridently lobbies for oh say…all new office furniture.  It is a conundrum whether to simply bow to the wishes of the assertive colleague who demands a credenza from the internet, or whether one should go to one’s superiors and assess whether this is the right use for the office credit card.  One could potentially be caught between bickering superiors fighting over a cheap credenza. Hypothetically.

In unrelated news, office credenzas come packed in extremely heavy cardboard boxes.  This cardboard seemed perfect for building something, so instead of throwing it into a landfill, I cut it out and brought it home to build into strange new life (thereby erasing any unpleasant office politics which may or may not have been involved in its acquisition).

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Tawny Elder Monster (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016, cardboard and paint)

Last year I crafted a three-dimensional anglerfish/horse type monster in bright fluorescent colors to go with the blooming cherry tree.  This year I decided to build three ambiguously shaped blossom monsters out of the heavy cardboard from some, uh, office furniture.   The first monster (chartreuse, at the top), was meant to represent the life giving power of spring clouds.  He is a cloud creature squirming with tadpoles–or maybe Yin/Yang spirit energy…however the guests at my party thought he was a three eyed camel with sperm on him (which I guess is also true, from a certain point of view).  I wonder if Henry Moore had to deal with this sort of rough-and-ready interpretation of his abstract sculptures.

The second statue, which may be the best, is an orange figurine somewhere between a wise bird and a tribal warrior.  It has the cleanest lines and the best paint job and it is only marred by a slight tendency to curl up (there is always something!  Especially if one is dealing with cardboard sculpture).

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Pink Sphinx Figure(s?) (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016, cardboard and paint)

Finally I made a sort of pink octopus/sphinx with a glowing pink interior. Again one friend looked at it and said “It’s a Pierson’s puppeteer!” (this being a meddlesome three-footed, two-headed extraterrestrial super-being from Larry Niven science fiction novels).

Another friend looked at it and said “Why is it so explicit?  I can’t believe you would show such violent erotic ravishment at your cherry festival!”

So, I guess my blossom monsters are more evocative and more ambiguous than I meant for them to be (I was sort of thinking of them as a cross between Dr. Seuss and African carvings).  Please let me know what you think!  Oh and here is a colored pencil drawing of the orange one cavorting beneath the cherry tree!

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Blooming Cherry Tree (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016, colored pencil and ink)

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DeBrazza’s monkey (Cercopithecus neglectus) Photo by In Cherl Kim

So far, Primate Week has been a huge success! The Year of the Fire Monkey has featured the loudest land animal, the immortal magician monkey god, and the disconcerting calculus of Dunbar’s number. There is still another topic which I wanted to address—an important primate post which I have planned to write for a long time–but it is almost midnight on Friday night, so I am going to bunt with a quick gallery post about color. Last week I wrote a piece about humankind’s love for the color red. I blithely assured everyone that primates are the most colorful mammals…however I didn’t back that up with any images.

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Northern owl monkey (Aotus trivirgatus) photo by Mogens Trolle

Therefore, here are some beautifully colorful primates. I am only listing the species and the source (where available) so that you can revel in the beautiful color of these monkeys. If you want to learn what these colors betoken and how each species evolved such lovely patterns, you will have to look elsewhere. I have done my best to label each picture, but the WordPress function which allows a a blog’s creator to label images has been broken a long time (at least for the template I use). If you have any questions, just ask in the comments!

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The mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx)

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The Golden Langur (Trachypithecus geei)

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The golden snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana)

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Emperor Tamarin (Saguinus imperator)

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Bald-headed uakari (Cacajao calvus) photo by Luis Louro

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Zanzibar Red Colobus monkey (Procolobus kirkii) Olivier Lejade

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Golden lion tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia)

 

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Red-shanked douc (Pygathrix nemaeus)
It is a pretty intense rainbow! Look at how expressive their faces are. It is possible to read the personality of each monkey. Some of them remind of acquaintances from secondary school or world leaders, but of course we humans are not quite so colorful. Still we can pull off a mean combination of orange pink and brown in our own right. We also change colors somewhat when we are aroused, angry, or afraid! Colorful mammals indeed!

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Human (Homo Sapiens) photo by Luis Aragon

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