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For years my most popular blog post was about leprechauns…so I need to make some Saint Patrick’s art pronto! However before we get there, here are some weird green flounder artworks to lead up to the holiday. Spring is almost here, even if the thermometer says otherwise. Some kelly green artwork should remind us of that fact (even if flatfish are not traditionally spring green).
Saturday (January 28th, 2017) was Chinese New Year! It’s now year 4714, the year of the fire rooster! Holy smokes, that sounds like an intense animal. Ferrebeekeeper is going to celebrate the spring festival with a whole week devoted to chickens (especially roosters). I write a lot about other animals, but I owe a truly inconceivable debt to chickens, since chicken and rice are my staple foods. Indeed, I eat so many chickens that, I am probably going to get to the afterlife and find hundreds of thousands of angry spirit chickens waiting for me with flame eyes and needle sharp ghost beaks. A week of pro-chicken posts can only help when that day comes.
Tomorrow we will talk about the ancestral wild chickens—the red junglefowl of the subcontinent—and how they became humankind’s favorite bird (if you look at the scale of chicken farming, I think you will agree that no mighty eagle, or super-intelligent pet parrot can compare in our collective esteem). We have some other observations to make about chickens as domestic animals and some rooster anecdotes. A brain-damaged rooster was the animal sidekick in Disney’s latest (amazing) princess film. My parents have an ugly multicolor rooster who is somehow endearing himself to them. Before then though, so I have something on this first workday of, uh, 4714, I would like to present these 4 chicken themed flounders.
The one at the top is a fairly straightforward rooster, greeting the dawn from the back of a turbot which is swimming between classical urns and stars which look like flowers. We will talk more later about the second flounder/chicken hybrid (which not only evokes the lost world of zoomorphs, but also speaks to my roommate’s latest creative/spiritual/magical pursuits (?). This leaves the third flatfish (in glowing green), a clear allegory of the serpent tempting humankind to taste chickens (as various mythical animals and imps excluded from creation look on from beyond the charmed circle).
Finally, there is a contortionist aiming her bow at a target beyond this world as a glowing multicolor cock stares her beadily in the eye. The sable flounder is surrounded by bats in the crepuscular sky as well as an armadillo and a horny toad. We will talk more about chickens tomorrow, but these images should give you plenty to think about as you start off the new year.
It’s Friday the 13th today and I made a little show of unlucky flounder drawings to celebrate the occasion…unfortunately (or perhaps predictably) after I handed them over to my gallerist, I realized that I had accidentally erased the digital photographs I made. I only have pictures of the three drawings I photographed for Instagram. Gah! this is sad and frustratind, but it is 12:30 AM here, and I am not going to have time to conceive a whole new blog post (not if I want to be able to comprehend infernally over-complicated transactional spreadsheets with any degree of comprehension tomorrow). So, here are three of the thirteen thirteen-themed flounder.
With its engraving-style lines and elaborate ornamentation (and its green color) the first flounder 9at the top) evokes currency. the title is “Banknote Flounder” and I already sold it! Yet if you look closely at the ornate margins, you will see they are filled with little parasites and scavengers. The Latin phrase means (roughly) “fishing using a golden hook” (which is funny considering that I immediately sold this picture…which looks like money).
The second picture features a lovely leopard gecko and thirteen colorful dots. It has thirteen translated into other mathematical notations (hexidecimal and binary). the flounder’s back is covered with various spirals, fractal patterns, and chaos scribbles which also denote different systems of order. Here is a second phot of it in different light.
Finally, just for fun, there is a “Luckyduck Flounder” with a cartoon cat, a good-hearted duck, and a shepherds primitic tally for thirteen. the flounder is attractively mottled and seems broadly happy.
Of course there are ten more thirteen themed flounder out there, but you will just have to imagine what they are like until I get my act together and learn to save images to the cloud right away. Although…come to think of it, there is another Friday 13th in October this year [spooky floundery music plays].
I carry around a little Moleskine sketchbook and a tin of pencils and I doodle whimsical little scenes on the train and at lunch. Here are some scenes from the last fortnight!
After writing my Halloween-time post about the Moche and their bat-theme pottery I was not done with their exhilarating & scary style. This is a cartoony-yet somehow intense and impressive picture of spirit beings from the long-lost world of the Moche, brought to life again after all of these years by the magic of art. The decapitator is there in the right. Various night creatures and spirit folk surround the great murderous sea god…his claws twitch open, hungry for necks to cut….
For Halloween I was Don Quixote. I carried a little model windmill around so I could say “Forsooth! I caught this baby monster!” I made the windmill myself out of detritus I found in the recycling pile—in the same style as my unpublished book of toy vehicles. This was the preliminary sketch for my toy windmill, but I colored it in and added little autumn figures around it.
Speaking of Halloween, here are some revelers at a costume party I attended: it was a party for a theatre-troupe “One Year Lease” which puts on thought-provoking (or otherwise provocative) plays in Manhattan and Greece. The woman with the goat legs was dressed as some sort of androgynous Welsh nature spirit—she had one of the best outfits I have ever seen. The person dancing in the middle was supposed to be a time traveler from the future world of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” His suit lit up and made loud futuristic rock-and-roll noises.
Also with a fantastic bent, here is a drawing of a giant mechanized hippopotamus surrounded by fairy folk and oddballs. There is a bear with pantaloons, a composer, and two sentient hot-dogs (?). A willow tree buds in front of the dazzling sun. What does it all mean?
Finally here is a woman with pink accessories riding the train. She was completely lost in her cell phone and never once looked up at the crazy spectacles in the train car. Fortunately I was there to sketch it all down in my little book.
OK, I promised everyone a Halloween treat, and here it is. This past year I spent some time (ahem, well, actually hundreds and hundreds of hours) working on an art toy–a 19th century-style miniature theater for action figures! It is sized for four inch tall action figures because I grew up with Kenner’s “Star Wars” figures. I made the toy with a jigsaw, a lathe, and plywood. I painted/drew the images with watercolors, color pencils, markers, and Photoshop! Since I used Photoshop I can print eveything up and make as many as I like! However I haven’t finished scanning all of the backgrounds in yet and altering them (and I still have a couple more backgrounds I want to make).
The proscenium arch shows the musical competition between Apollo and Marsyas, an evocative tale which reveals dark truths about art. I have showed the contest instead of the outcome. On the left a nesting swan is left bereft because a cruel cupid has stolen her mate and shackled him to a chariot (he is flying away at the top). marsyas has heartbroken love and the muses behind him. Apollo has his dead python and a cold white temple The farms and cities of humankind can be barely glimpsed in the background behind them. Shears, a wineskin, shackles, and a flaying knife hint at the future.
On either side of the stage are great mock-Egyptian columns which support the aristocrats and rich folks in the top boxes. The best seat in the house go to the state–which I have represented on one side as a beautiful princess and on the other as an evil inquisitor (although if you look closely you will see they are the same person). The orchestra is filled with musicians and music makers from around the world like a serpent player, the devil with his fiddle, a splendid lyrebird, a ponce with a triangle, a vaudeville ukulele player in pancake makeup, and a toy monkey with some cymbals.
The wings of the theater fold out to show all of society. On the bottom are various groundlings like the shouting lout, the woman with her stupid iphone, my crooked ex business partner (with his vodka bottle), and a hungry walrus watching the fish tray above him. A couple of witches have slipped in without anyone noticing (Terry Pratchett would understand). The middle level is filled with thieves, lovers, merchants, and clergy people. The top level is filled with faceless shadow-folk on one side, and noble heroes on the other (notice the lady scientist, the luchador, and the martial arts master). The enraged colossal squid in the lower right was added expressly for this blog (although dedicated readers will notice many familiar elements).
I have placed some action figures from my collection inside the theater to give you a sense of scale–and of the play operas you could invent with your own action figures and toys!
Clever viewers will note that this is really a fancy frame with footlights. The real purpose is the interchangable sets–a collection of strange artworks featuring imaginary scenes from throughout history and the imagination. There is an ancient churchyard in front of a medieval church (notice the undead form and the megaliths on the moor beyond).
Here is French Colonial Timbuktu. Effete er…elite officers ride by on a half-track as cobras and scorpions prowl the thronging marketplace.
I spent a long time drawing Hell. I was really afraid of hell when I was a child and I tried to capture some of those concepts in these horrible monsters and gruesome punishments. It is unclear whether it is hell or Diyu (if there is a difference). I wanted it to be beautiful in its depraved horror. There are burning cities and red deserts yearning for water…but the aqueducts are broken. There are churches everywhere because I figure hell will be full of the devout. After all, people who believe in Hell worship evil deities–gods who purposely created flawed spirits just to torture them forever. But maybe I am just angry about being scared so badly when I was little. I added pterosaurs because I like them, not because I think they were especially evil.
My favorite scene is the garden aviary (pictured in the first picture at the top). It is filled with beautiful flowering trees, spring bulbs, and birds from around the world. I put the tropical jungle half-set in front of it (see the arborial marsupials), but it sort of blocks the scenic vista. In fact I had all sorts of trouble photographing this. I am a better toymaker than photographer. Also some scenes are not finished (like the future city filled with post-humans and sentient robots, below). I also left the secret door on the back unphotographed. I will save it for a later day (but it is really cool and it also unifies the toy greatly). More to follow. In the mean time get out there and enjoy Halloween (oh, and direct some traffic over here, if you have a moment–I have been working hard making things for you to enjoy!).
I’m sorry I didn’t write a post last Thursday or Friday: I was away from Brooklyn on a whirlwind family trip to see the farmstead and visit my parents and grandparents. Now I love Brooklyn with all of my heart, but it was a great relief to be away from it for a little while. It was lovely to feed the thousand gentle farm creatures, to assess the growth of the plums, apples & nut trees in the orchard, and to walk back through the soybean fields into the true forest.
Unfortunately there wasn’t much in the way of writing time (and there isn’t much internet access in West Virginia and southeastern Ohio anyway). However I have a few little drawings which I doodled while I was home. My favorite is at the top of the page—it is a view of the soybean fields as the viewer emerges from the forest and is struck by the dazzling deep green of the plants. Soybeans are a critical crop in numerous ways, but I never really noticed them as a child–perhaps because I didn’t yet love edamame, or maybe because I hadn’t become used to living in a world of asphalt and bricks. Anyway, I will write a post about soybeans, but I wanted to share a quick impression of their overwhelming glowing greenness. The second picture is a drawing from the road of Parkersburg, West Virginia. The town is actually both much prettier and much uglier than the sketch—there are numerous picturesque Romanesque and “Jacobethan” churches and buildings, but there also some truly dispiriting strip malls along the outskirts (which I represented with a Kia dealership). Still the town has been improving incrementally for decades—perhaps thanks to my parents’ lovely yarn shop and quilting shop (which you should totally visit if you are ever in the Midwest/Appalachian region).
Speaking of quilting, I also drew a purely abstract picture of paisleys after I became fascinated by the printed patterns of the bolts of quilting cloth. Ever since the age of the Mughals, paisley has regularly come into fashion and then fallen out of it. Yet the concept seems to be much more ancient than the Scottish textile makers of the early industrial revolution or the Mughals. Paisley is another subject I need to blog about—because I think it is tremendously beautiful.
Finally there is a little drawing of the goose pond. I sketched it quickly (and from a distance) just before we drove off to the airport, but you can still see a few little pilgrim geese swimming about on it. My parents’ flock of these creatures has succeeded beyond all measure and now it is like their farm is infested with miniature dinosaurs. Everywhere you look there are geese busily gnawing on grass, biting each other’s tails, or jumping sadly (with expectant open beaks) beneath tantalizing green apples. I am sorry I didn’t do a sketch that really does justice to the lovable avine miscreants, however I am afraid that if I had stood among them long enough to draw them, they would have begun to nibble on me like a big ear of corn (which is their affectionate way of gently reminding visitors that geese get hungry for corn and lovely for attention). Thanks for looking at my drawings—now that I am back from my trip and my mind is refreshed I will try to blog about some of these new subjects!
What is the world’s most important occupation? There are so many contenders: the brave soldiers who lay down their lives to fight oppression, the bankers who take all of the world’s money for themselves, the doctors who keep us healthy, the workers in the energy sector who keep society from falling into darkness and horror…even our leaders who bravely ensure that nothing gets done (so that society does not suddenly lurch in some scary direction). Yet all of these professions are only possible once there is enough food. Without farmers we would still all be hunter gatherers–and by “all” I mean the tiny handful of us who would exist. Pre-agricultural society was terrifying because of its lack of certainty. Humankind foraged hither and yon in hungry desperate bands. Everyone was involved in long-running internecine wars with local tribes. After the dawn of agriculture we were stuck with all sorts of oppressive megalithic forces: social hierarchy, ownership, organized religion—but in recompense humankind found literacy and science, the twin touchstones of wisdom and progress.
As spring begins the farmers are busy getting ready for the growing season. They are out there harvesting winter crops, fixing seed injectors, tilling fields, and doing other critical things that we soft urban dwellers don’t even know about. To celebrate the importance of agriculture and give the farmer his (or her) due, here is a gallery of farmer mascots from around the internet.
Of course looking over these images raises some troubling questions. What is the difference between farmers and hillbillies? Do farmers still wear straw hats? To what extent is farming now controlled by a handful of quasi-monopolistic corporations? If farming is so important, why are so many of these mascots so primitive looking?
These questions will have to wait (or remain forever unanswered). For now let us celebrate the ancient profession of farming and each of us prepare for the spring planting in our own lives.
I wrote earlier about sepia ink, the beautiful drawing and writing medium used in the Mediterranean for thousands of years which was obtained from the ink sacks of cuttlefish. Was sepia ink also used by the great northern masters for their sketches? Not at all: there was an altogether different source of the beautiful smoky brown inks used by Brueghel, Durer, Lorraine, and Rembrandt (as well as most other German, French, Flemish, Dutch, and English artists) when they sketched from life. The name of the transparent shadowy brown pigment with yellow undertones was bistre and its source was not a mollusk but rather a tree. Bistre was made with the soot left over from burning beechwood. The beechwood ash was boiled with water to produce a cheap and superior drawing pigment. Although steel and copper nibs certainly existed, most masters probably sketched with simple reed pens or goose quills (waterfowl were generally agreed to provide the best drawing quills and geese were most readily available).
Since I have a great fondness for both beech trees, reeds, and geese, it cheers me to think that the great drawings of the old masters were produced with such humble materials. Unfortunately there is no way to set out any sort of comprehensive collection of bistre drawings: the medium was more universally used then anything other than carbon black. Even a little sampler would involve a wildly eclectic mixture of works from all sorts of drafstmen from wildly different ages and schools. So, instead I am showing three little Rembrandt drawings to represent bistre. I don’t write as much about Rembrandt as I do about other lesser artists (i.e. the rest) because my feelings about his ineffable works are hard to characterize. The “Lines and Color” blogs summarizes the scope of Rembrandt’s drawings:
Over 1,400 of his drawings survive, conservatively estimated at less than half of what he produced. (For most great artists we’re lucky to have a few dozen. For Vermeer and Franz Hals we have none.) Also unlike most of the great masters, the majority of Rembrandt’s drawings were not done as preparation for paintings, and very few were signed as pieces to be presented to friends or patrons. Most of his enormous outpouring of drawings were apparently done for himself, as visual record of his life and experience or simply for the joy in the act of drawing.
The multitude of subjects encompassed in 1,400 drawings provides a comprehensive overview of life in seventeenth century Holland (which was one of the focal points of the first wave of true globalism). Out of the murky brown ink washes emerge an endless parade of long-vanished people, places, and things. The figures work, play, and struggle in cities manufactured of hasty brown lines under brown clouds beside an ink wash ocean (over which inky ships carried the spices of the old world and the furs from the new). Magicians scheme, children squall, and captive lions recline. It is my favorite alchemy. Rembrandt gives us an entire world crafted out of water and beechwood ash.
When I was a child, my family went to the invertebrate house in Washington, DC. Upon entering the building, there was a very beautiful aquarium which contained the most alien creature I have ever encountered. It was a beautiful glistening red…and then it instantly changed color to bright white with pale dun spots. Next the strange being sank through the water column and changed color and texture. Its smooth skin knotted up into ropey bumps. The speckled white tuned to wavy deep brown lines. Intelligent eyes with W-shaped pupils regarded me from what suddenly seemed to be a hunk of rock. I had encountered my first live cuttlefish. In fact there were two in the tank, as I discovered when a patch of unremarkable sand changed shape and color and jetted to the surface while flashing rainbow colors. They were worked up because they were about to be fed and, when eating their suppers, the cuttlefish put on a particularly good show. They changed color like digital screens and waved their eight arms about and then ZAP! elongated feeding tentacles shot out from under their mantles to grab the anchovies from across the length of the tank. Then they rocketed around with uncanny torpedo speed.
Cuttlefish are cephalopods like octopuses, argonauts, squid, and nautiluses. Across the long ages they have descended from those magnificent nautiloids and othocones who ruled the world during the Ordovician era. Cuttlefish are one of the most intelligent invertebrates: their brains make up a substantial portion of their body mass, and their behavior when hunting, hiding, and courting is complex. The unusually shaped eyes of the cuttlefish are among the finest in the animal kingdom. Their blood makes use of copper rather than iron to fix oxygen so it runs green. All cuttlefish possess poisons in their saliva. In fact the Pfeffer’s Flamboyant Cuttlefish is as toxic as the Blue-ringed octopus.
But why am I talking about these extraordinary mollusks during a week devoted to blogging about color? First of all cuttlefish are “the chameleons of the sea.” As I observed at the zoo, they can change color with a speed and facility unrivaled by any other creature. They use their mastery of color to camouflage themselves, to hunt, and to communicate with each other. The animal’s existence literally hinges around the color-changing chromatophores in their skin. But the association of cuttlefish and color doesn’t stop there. Cuttlefish produce a dense ink which they squirt into the ocean to disguise their movements when frightened. This sepia ink, collected from the ink-sacks of common cuttlefish destined for the table, was prized for writing and for drawing during the classical era. Many of the great histories and literary masterpieces of Greco-Roman thought were first penned in sepia ink. Although other inks took the place of sepia for writing, it maintained its place in the artist’s studio up until the late nineteenth century when it was supplanted by synthetic pigments.
This means that many of the masterpieces of draftsmanship were also created with sepia ink. A particularly effective and pleasing style was to sketch something in watered down sepia washes and finish the details with black india ink. Like chartreuse, magenta, and vermilion, the name sepia itself has become synonymous with a color. This reddish brown is famous in old masters pen-and-ink drawings, antique photos, and memory-hazed movie flashbacks. Not only has this ink provided some of the most beautiful drawings in history, recent studies have shown that cephalopod ink is toxic to certain cells—particularly tumor cells, so we may not have written the last concerning sepia ink.