Category Archives: Visual Art

Our hawk (Kristen Droke photos)

Early in June we got some new visitors to our back yard, a pair of juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawks (I thought they were Cooper’s Hawks, since they had not a trace of the red I was looking for). These birds, and one in particular, have cawing long and loud every day for about three weeks, as they perch on a few trees in our yard, and a big dead tree next door.

Trees attract birds, and birds attract photographers, so we were happy to have a visit from our friend Kristen Droke, who combines a keen eye with a long lens and a lot of patience. Enjoy our hawk as he fights with corvids, has a light (grey) meal, and generally sits around looking cool.

I think I will call him Yells at Crows.

Kansas City museum walk

I had a short trip to Kansas City (KCMO, not KCK! There’s a difference!), and spent a short time visiting two museums. I went to the inside of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, which was showing an exhibit of Hung Liu, a Chinese-born American artist whose powerful paintings mix Red China propaganda and children’s literature, political statement, expressionist elements, and physical elements that accompany the image.

I also visited the outside of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, because the inside was closed. I hope to go back, because it is enormous and looks to be quite extensive. It was a beautiful clear day, so I walked the perimeter or the grounds. I saw several of its many Henry Moores, as well as Claes Oldenburg’s excellent Shuttlecocks, a set of four giant birdies caught just as they landed on either side of the main building, as if it were a badminton net. An exhibition on the Plains Indians included some modern large tipis on the lawn. But my favorite piece to experience was Robert Morris’s Glass Labyrinth, a triangular path of glass walls.

I made a movie of my walk through Glass Labyrinth, and a few pictures follow.

It’s a labyrinth rather than a maze: you follow a single path into the center, then turn around to follow the same path out. The glass walls are quite clean, so there are few visible clues to show you where to turn; it was common to see people bang into a wall, which is why you are warned to walk slowly. (I don’t bump into anything, but you can see the expectant looks on the faces of the people I meet inside.)

The buzzing is from a drone someone was operating nearby.

labyrinth

shuttlecock2sm

tipis2sm

 

 

The Dying Art of Neon

This 11-minute video on the neon craftsmen of Hong Kong has a lot to recommend it; for instance, how to bend Chinese ideograms so as not to burn your hands. I visited Hong Kong a couple years ago, and the neons signs are over the top.

 

I was reminded of this recently when I was in Philadelphia. We had dinner in Chinatown, which had several excellent multicolor signs. But also, I was inside the Center for Architecture, whose walls are adorned with some fine animated signs, like this excellent sign for Greyhound:

Ira Glass on Taste

My younger son has just started making and sharing music, so I sent him this short encouragement.

THE GAP by Ira Glass from frohlocke on Vimeo.

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters is a beautifully shot and edited documentary about a photographer who creates elaborately composed and lit compositions that seem to tell a story. Each photograph looks to be a moment taken from a film, maybe by David Lynch: often shot in deep twilight, giving us glow from the sky as well as exterior signs and traffic lights or interior rooms. Often the photos contain exterior and interior details, whether we look through an open door into a room or out to a yard, or even just the interior of a car. There are people, too, perhaps in some interior crisis of their own, though from Crewdson’s comments any narrative we create is our own — he doesn’t supply, or even care about, the before and after. There is just this painterly, pregnant moment.

Each shot is essentially created with the same care, equipment, and crew as a movie. Cranes, lights, assistants, makeup, and, in the shots that are created in purpose-built sets, construction crews and interior designers. Crewdson frets over every detail, and yet I really enjoyed him as a person. It was remarkable how even-tempered he is, even in the face of setbacks like a crying baby or a house-wrecking crew. He seemed to have none of the “I’m in charge here” bluster you’d expect to see in the midst of such elaborate direction, nor did he seem to need to convey what was in his mind’s eye (except, perhaps, to his director of photography). And yet he was still incredibly thoughtful about the process.

I enjoyed every minute, and really liked director Ben Shapiro’s choices, from the titleless opening (I went back: the title is at exactly 5:00 in) to the end, with Crewdson’s voiceover reflections on each artist’s central story while we look at the site of his new work (which I also went back to hear again). shapiro himself has a fine eye, and he manages to convey the complexity of Crewdson’s work without losing sight of his larger goals. The close of the movie is shot at Cinecittà, the famous studio backlot in Rome, where Crewdson is setting up for his next effort.

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters Trailer from Benjamin Shapiro on Vimeo.

 

Vi Hart’s 12-Tone Music

Vi Hart (a full-time mathemusician at Khan Academy) makes mostly short YouTube videos on a variety of mostly math and science subjects. She draws in a notebook while talking really fast, making insightful, surprising connections. She’s smart, funny, knowledgeable, and entertaining.

This brilliant video is, I think, a bit of a departure: a 30-minute piece explaining how 12-tone music works. Because of copyright law, she can’t play Stravinsky and Schoenberg, so she composes her own 12-tone versions of well-known tunes, with side-journeys into pattern recognition and the nature of art. By the end, she’s composed a four-part, 12-tone vocal version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” that she sings herself. It’s a tour de force of music, science, art, and explanation.

Book buying flowchart

Courtesy of Explore, this fine diagram from the Paris Review:

The Freddie Stories

I recently read the latest Lynda Barry collection, The Freddie Stories, a reissue of a story thread from the ’90s with some new material and previously uncollected old material added in, part of Drawn & Quarterly’s reissue series.

Freddie is the younger brother of Maybonne and Marlys, and his life alternate between wonder (because he has a big heart and loves the world) and terror (because he is a magnet for bullies, who call him a fag, get him in trouble, and treat him badly). The mother of all three kids is a horrible shrew, and Freddie eventually has a break with reality, gets put into special ed classes, and generally has a hard time of it.

As always, Barry channels the thinking and language of these kids with uncanny accuracy and empathy. The drawings are in her earlier, rougher style, which might be off-putting for some but have a great quality that adds something important to the stories. I don’t know about Barry’s own story, but I feel her knowledge of these dysfunctional lives is likely all too personal, and she is a treasure for sharing them with us.

Woody Guthrie’s Songbook

IMG_0000Somewhere in the late 1940s, Woody Guthrie gave his mimeographed 25 Cent Songbook to Charlie Weiner, my late father-in-law. Typewritten and decorated with Woody's cartoons, the songbook contains ten songs, including "This Land Is Your Land," "Grand Coolee Dam," and others. It's pretty fragile, so I made a quick scan of the whole thing here. (This German site has kindly typed it up already.)

Charlie knew Woody well enough to report riding trains with him, though they were 19 years apart. When Woody printed this in 1945, Charlie was 13 or 14. He left home a few years later, so I suspect it was 1949 or later when their lives intersected. 

Anyway, I'm glad to have this little slice of time. Happy 100th birthday, Woody.

IMG_0006  IMG_0013

David Smith, again

I had earlier posted a video about the remarkable work of David Smith, an ornamental glass artist whose intricate creations are both aesthetic wonders and masterpieces of an obscure craft. Today, I noticed a lot of people visiting from a discussion website for the guitarist John Mayer: turns out, David Smith has designed Mayer's latest album cover, and a jaw-dropping accomplishment it is. I found the best copy on Mayer's Tumblr page:

Mayer