Seurat 1280px-DETAIL_1_Sunday_Afternoon

Here is a Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte (detail) (1884) for which we have Georges Seurat (b 1859) to thank.  And we do, as do lots of people these days, but it did take a while for those living in his own time to get over their surprise at this picture.  What’s with the dots?

M Seurat took some science (of optics and colour), a lot of experience as a painter, and a bold leap into new possibilities, and then let his talent do the rest.

He believed that the eyes of a viewer of this painting would receive the dots/pointes of colour and generate a new, unified, visual experience.   Something very personal, something very special.

He was right.

Spots G Seurat Evening-At-Honfleur

Someone called it pointillism. These pictures received a lot of attention in his lifetime, both from those who were genuinely impressed and from those who seemed convinced he was trying to destroy something fundamental about painting.

To us, Seurat’s paintings (and most of the best visual art since then) elevate our role as viewers. We play a central part in determining its impact, its value.  It is not a cookie to be chewed and swallowed, it is a recipe and a few key ingredients made available for us to make something for ourselves.  That process gives us something we didn’t have before.

All the works of George Seurat are conveniently pictured here.

Spots G Seurat The-Channel-At-Gravelines-Petit-Fort-Philippe

Today, the mystery is not so much how this works, the mystery is how this idea came to M Seurat in the first place?  Our (very amateur, fingertip, easily distracted) ‘research’ has led pretty much nowhere in terms of scholarly evidence on that point. We found no statement from the man himself–if it exists, it lies beyond our reach. So let’s plunge in with a suggestion as to one possible source of inspiration that just might have played a part.  Maybe.

Ancient Mosiacs and their Conversation with the new

This Mosaic is from ‘Ancient Greece‘, a 2000 year old survivor, almost intact, a portrait made entirely of small pieces of coloured stone.  The mosaic form of image making is present in the oldest cultures of Western Asia and Europe –Mesopotamia, Greek, Roman, Byzantine…M. Seurat may have encountered a relic or two, and it may have influenced his decision to paint pictures with dots of colour.  Just saying.

But even if he didn’t, their existence and the undisputed reality of La Grande Jatte, so many years apart in different parts of the world, would seem to suggest: there is something fundamental in this desire among humans to making pictures out of pieces.  And for us to marvel at their effect on us.

Italian police detain British woman who removed Pompeii mosaic ...

The history, longevity, variability, and sheer beauty of ancient mosaic images is truly stunning even in our age of a million digital images for many subjects (e.g. “About 136,000,000 results (0.60 seconds)” for “Images Lady Gaga”, who we like too).  Both of the above from Pompeii. Destroyed/buried by ash from a volcano almost 2000 years ago, first excavated in 1600, then again and again into the 21st century… See and learn more from here and here.

Which brings us to Chuck Close, American Artist born 1940 in the State of Washington, USA

Spots_Chuck Close_Keith_Detail Square_1980_2_3a_d2_2012

The above painting, in watercolour and pencil, is a portrait of “Keith” 1979.  Above that, a close up of some of  the squares, all of them about the same size, that make up the image.  From Reynolda House                        Credit Line Reproduction: © Chuck Close, courtesy The Pace Gallery. SEE HERE.

spots chuck close p glass ma-19263-WEB              Photograph by Al Mozell, courtesy Pace Gallery

Here is Mr Close’s portrait of the composer Philip Glass--again ‘hand painted’, this time (it seems) the hand in direct contact with the paper.  As a relative of ancient mosaics, “Philip” seems to us less Greco/Roman and more Mesopotamian/Byzantine.  If you are following this homemade ragged string of thought we’re weaving.

Mr Glass seems a perfect subject for Mr Close.  Both manage to produce Big Impact by means of intricately arranged small pieces.  Repeated but not identical.  Result often Hypnotic.

Agnes, 1998 - Chuck Close -                               © Chuck Close

Agnes Martin, artist, painted by Chuck Close in 1998.  This MUCH more colourful phase of this singular painter’s career was a surprise–not just for the colour, but because of its inventiveness and the fact that Mr Close by this time was mostly paralyzed from the waist down. The result boggles a lot of minds including ours.

Spots_agnes_DETAIL_chuck Close

So where are we now with this hop, skip ,and jump from Paris 1884 to Pompeii 79(AD) to Portraits1998….are these connected in a way that helps us understand anything better?  While we’re thinking…….

Spots_ Cobblestones Paris

Let’s go back to where we started.  Paris.  On the ground.  What’s going on?














Above is an astonishing image, no matter what.  The immediate appeal seems mostly from the shards of strong colour, each piece a bit different from any other, yet they can be grouped in families by hue and shape …  they are close to one another but still separate.  Is this something coming together or falling apart?  Whatever is going on, It somehow generates energy, vibration, vitality,  And more.

Before long, we were thinking about all kinds of things — pixels and mosaic and pointillism, about some artists we like, and well, lots of things, one after the other.  As you will see soon enough.  But before we leave the inspiration above, we must tell you what it is. You may not believe this.

Spots G Seurat 70.183-d1-2017-01-26_o2      Spots G Seurat DETAIL 70.183-d1-2017-01-26_o2                                                                                                                                    spots octo skin Sepia-officinalis-skin_Roger-Hanlon            spots small Octopus Smithsonian Specimen8_0

The truth behind the opening image, if truth is the right word here, is this: the top half is a close-up of a portion of a painting executed in 1889 by Georges Seurat.  The lower half is an image photographed through a microscope of the skin of an octopus.  The story of how it came to be can be found here,  Other images are from here, here, and here

For us, this was an invitation, a provocation, a dare to explore the work of artists who compose images, objects, or spaces from spots, or blobs, or dots.  Next thing we knew we were spending a heart-thumping afternoon with the work of Yayoi Kusama.

spots Yayoi Kusama pumpkinspots YK Forbes 960x0

This room of what seems like leopard skin spots is something called the Spirits of Pumpkins, found here. along with a recent message from Ms Kusama that is, as expected, all her own.

The photo above the room is the artist amid those Spirits, found here

spots Yayoi_Kusama_signing

Here she is signing a piece of her work, from a 2018 film directed by Heather Lenz, seen via the Museum of Fine Arts Houston website.

Interior, Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity. Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

This incomparable artist from Japan, is still going strong at 91.  Those who like to talk about her art often call the exuberant explosion of small shapes in her work “polka dots”.  We don’t know how Ms Kusama feels about that, but to us, Polka Dots are the stuff of uncomplicated fun, ephemeral simple pleasure, perkiness–Minnie Mouse’s dresses, for example. Yayoi Kusama’s productions are certainly fun, but nothing about them is ephemeral, and no one would every find them mousey.  Perky?  well….maybe percolating or percussive or…

spots yayoi-kusama-to-infinity-and-beyond_dezeen_2364_col-5-1704x1114

Anyway, we think they represent something of what she sees in the world, how it is built of little pieces as opposed to being a continuous fabric, whether inside the screen of a $2000 phone or a river bed or a Linden tree.  It’s the same message we got from the Octopus/Seurat image that started this.

Who knows. But that idea/feeling does seem to be somewhere near the heart of her emergence as an artist as presented in a beautiful MOMA book “‘for children” about YK titled From Here to Infinity written by Sarah Suzuki, a curator at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, with illustrations by Ellen Weinstein. Found here and in great bookstores everywhere.

As with most great artists, we find it doesn’t pay to spend too much time on the ideas behind the work when there is so much to be gained by just looking.  So, whatever is going on here,  Wow.

That OctopuSeurat image did open a few other avenues that seem worth exploring, which we will offer up soon in I See Spots Two/Too.  Here is a taste of it.

Italian police detain British woman who removed Pompeii mosaic ...

see you soon










Shadow d taylor pdf

Two dimensional, monochromatic, and featureless, shadows only exist because something else exists.  They are totally dependent on it, the mothership,  the object that CASTS them.  Yet, to us, they often seem to be something, if not separate, then singular, a unique offshoot.  Photo by David Taylor seen here.                                                             

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At certain angles of the light, in fact, the shadows outsize the source and take on a character and life of their own.  Above photo by  Alexey Bednij found at feeldesain

What is more ordinary anywhere than a chorus of pigeons on a wire except when they are  accompanied by a slightly taller thinner blacker troop brought to them by light, just light.

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Great photographers recognize the challenge and the opportunity of strong light and the spreading black alter-ego it conjures up for each of us.

Untitled,  				ArtistGarry Winogrand,Photographs

This trio caught in the low-angled light by Garry Winogrand 1960 now at home at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.


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Henri Cartier Bresson, who else?  (Source)

Vivian Maier went about developing as a great photographer totally out of the spotlight, sometimes literally in the shadows. Her self portraits are both bravely revealing and consciously concealing.


Vivian Maier,self Portrait, 1955.  This and many, many more of her remarkable photographs on view at this site

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Though never shy, Pablo Picasso was always game for a visual trick: here he give us two picassos, one that he made with paint, the other a created by the great man in collaboration with the sun.  photo by David Douglas Duncan 1960

Andre Kertesz, Henry Moore's Shadow, England, 1980

Here the shadow of Henry Moore dwarfs his usually monumental work.    by Andre Kertesz  Here   

Beckett, monumental in life and in reputation.  Rarely in the shadows

But let’s not forget the wonderful FUN we can have with shadows

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Personally, we never mastered any of these, but you can try at home when no one’s watching. Found here on etsy

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We photographed these Indonesian shadow puppets at the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) a miracle temple of the fruits of civilization from around the world to be found at the University of British Columbia

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And to finish up–or start something–we present a wonderful puppeteering duo that goes by the name of  mind of a snail.  Much of what they do is done with projection of images. While they, the creators and performers, lurk in the shadows.  Mostly.  Always brand new and wondrous.  Find more here  


Image result for west village best brownstones nyc

If you live on a street lined with tall leafy trees between you and the road, you probably either love them unconditionally, as we do, or wish they would be a bit tidier and keep their leaves (and birds and insects and moss and bark…) to themselves.  In either case, unless one falls down, most of us have little reason to think about how they got there in the first place.

That of course got us thinking, and while we are thinking, take a look at some streets in a few of the most desirable cities for human habitation we know of.  Above is New York.

This is Philadelphia, old Philadelphia,  as per William Penn’s plan 1683. Photo Photo by Melissa Romero

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This is Paris, whose streets are as well dressed as its residents.


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Rome.  Roman trees are muscular, sinewy, regal, slightly wild, imperfect.  Roman.


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Vancouver.  Pretty.  Abundant.  Well cared for.  Well behaved (mostly). Photogenic.

So who decided this was a good thing? Who do we thank?  Who is responsible?  Today, our cities employ a small army of people from planners to planters whose job it is to maintain the trees we have and oversee the selection and placement new ones.  But the decision to include trees along our streets was made long before we got here,  by people we never met.

With our oldest greatest cities–Paris, London, Amsterdam, New York, Philadelphia, to name a handful–we can find visual records of the early ideas about trees and cities in the form of plans and maps.

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Paris 1615. There are green strips and squares and triangles, trees we guess. But hard to tell what the streets are like.

Historical image of Edinburgh: modest walls did not preclude green space inside the walls

Britain.  Scotland. Edinburgh.  Somewhere around in the 17th century we guess. Four fancy folk on a hill overlooking the plan for a treeful city in the countryside.

The idea seems to have taken hold.  This is Edinburgh now.

So it is an idea that goes back a way, at least 400 years.  And the idea generally seemed to be: when planning a city, make room for a bit of the country in the city–in squares, parks, along roads and canals, and ultimately on the streets where people live.  Apparently, it just seemed natural at the time, at least in Europe, Britain, and later North America.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Of course the basic notion may actually go back much further to Medieval times of castles and monastries and beyond.  But if we want to give credit to the origin of what we see today where we have trees on the street as well as in parks and squares, Holland could certainly make a good case.  This is Amsterdam 1670.  Found here

Happily, we found that lots of people have been thinking about this for quite a while, dedicated people with a lot more insight and knowledge than we’ve got.  If you are interested, a good place to start is with a blog innocently called Green Infrastructure

Also, you might want go check out your own city, the history of your trees and who is in charge now.  It’s something worth knowing because it may need some help to keep it going.  see here

The benefits of street trees, besides the sheer pleasure of laying our eyes on them, are many and varied: shade, substantial energy savings, cleansing city air of particulates, stabilizing the ground, flood mitigation, swingin’ on a tire?….

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Happy citizen of San Antonio Texas–a tree, a rope, an old tire, and thou.  From here


J Pollock No. 29 reverse

Mr Jackson Pollock didn’t like to repeat himself, and he went out of his way to choose materials you might find down in the basement (e.g. black and aluminum enamel paint, expanded steel, string, beads, coloured glass, pebbles, and window glass) as opposed to those made specifically for artists.

When he elected to make the above image on glass from these ingredients in October 1950 (painting No 29), he was doing something new (for him). Photo of No 29 from here.

Glass Bowl, 

But painting on glass has a long and varied history among humans.

As Mr Pollack may have known, people have been making marks on glass for as long as there has been glass.   That would go back more than 5000 years, we’re told.

This bowl at Yale University is about 2000 years old, and it is part of a tradition that has found a place in cultures everywhere and in every time period.

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The above group was brought together for an auction .

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The practice and tradition of paint on glass gained a new and lasting place in the stained glass windows found in thousands of surviving churches in Europe.  One of the most beloved for its painted glass is Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, designed and built over 700 years ago.

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Fast forward to the 20th century, artists active when Pollack boldly made “no 29” were still being enlisted to apply paint to glass in the name of worship and redemption. Above by Marc Chagall for Fraumünster church in Zurich.

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M Chagall then brought his painting-on-glass gifts to the middle of America, to Chicago. These are resident at the Chicago Art Institute, a palace for art worshipers whose devotion is surely as deep as those showing up Sunday’s at Fraumuster in Switzerland.

But back to Mr Pollock, an artist through and through, bent on expression of his own angels and demons, not anyone else’s. Artists who came after and followed their own path, devoutly, were ready for any medium.  Some found glass.  Who?

Well, Gerhard Richter for one.

Here he is painting on the back of glass–as commercial sign painters did for most of the 20th century.

And again.. And when the church makers came calling, he delivered this:

Nice. Cathedral in Cologne/Koln

Below is the work of Brian Clarke.

This British artist works almost exclusively in glass.  Is this painting is it sculpture? Does it matter?

And what’s this?

Modern Art 6

A piece of art in glass bottles, arranged by Jean shin. Wow

Glass again, our time, fluid and sharp and versatile, and …something, something swell,  by Cathryn Shilling


Oh, we just remembered: sometimes artists paint on glass and then place paper on top of the image and by pressing down the make a print a unique print a monoprint/monotype.  Artist + Glass, plus paper = unique result, so sweet.  Here was a great exhibition of monotypes.

Well we could to on and on.  Actually we did.

But there is more….

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Maybe next time.

See you next time.




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