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The world is (still) full of wild things, plenty of them pretty weird in appearance and habits.  Yet we humans have never been satisfied with nature’s menagerie.  Since way back when, we have imagined things even more wild and more weird. Like this unnerving critter photographed by Nhung Dang (spotted here).

 

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No surprise the Japanese have been heavily into conjuring up unusual creatures from the imagination.  There was a whole show of them in London.

 

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The USA can claim many  producers of eye-poppng imaginary animalia, sometimes under the banner of Folk Art, sometimes Outsider Art, sometime…Art.  This wild dog was here.

 

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And in the USA, there is no shortage of well produced, well attended shows featuring objects and  drawings of creatures who have never actually roamed the earth, but which are very much alive in the minds of some artist.

 

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And then there is England, which might hold the all time record for the number of its citizens who have turned their imagination and their natural skills to the rendition of new life forms.  The above drawing is a collaboration of two sisters born in the 1840’s with time on their hands and wonderful, playful minds.  Here’s the story.

 

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Kate Bradbury, a current artist from England, emerged late, blossomed quickly, makes things no one else could never dream of.  This is her  Angel.  More

 

 

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Let’s give the last word and image to the Asians. Eunmi Chun is Korean, and she makes animal figures out of dried intestinal skin and human hair (sometimes gold-leafed), beautiful forms sewn together, see here.

Wild.  Thing.  You make my heart sing.

Nature is the crucible, churning out an infinite variety of living things.  And still, some of us turn our heads and minds to the invention of things that, so far, never were.

Wild.

colleen H Wellof Exaggeration

When you first come across a painting that turns out not to be a painting, but rather an arrangement of pieces of fabric sewn together, you might feel tricked.  But never mind how it’s done, your eyes are right: it’s got everything a painting should have, except paint.

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Canada is not known for boasting, but there’s no getting around the fact that it boasts one of today’s finest practitioners of the stitched fabric picture.  Her name is Colleen Heslin.  Two Images above and four below from her website and that of Monte Clarke Gallery in Vancouver.

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You can’t help but think there is a connection between what Ms Heslin is doing and what tailors and seamstresses and emergency room doctors attending to flesh wounds do on a daily basis.  But whatever the connection, you won’t be able to hold it in your head very long once you see these pictures live and up close.  There’s only room for swooning.

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Ms Heslin is one of a kind, through and through.  Still, curiosity got the better of us and a little searching revealed that a few other contemporary artists have put down the brush and taken up the needle.  One is from Denmark and he is Sergej Jensen.

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You can find out more about him from this report on a show in Denver 

And to see these and more images in context, just put Mr Jensen’s name into mother google’s magic window.

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People bent on explaining Art are trying their polysyllabic damnedest to claim this stuff for themselves by naming it, for example here. But we’ll have none of that.  Let your eyes do all the work, see where they take you.

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We landed here, and our last word on the subject is boro.  Apparently Japanese patchwork from quite a while ago.  Crazy boro.

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Sometimes the best discoveries don’t require meticulous planning, a long journey, or special shoes.  Sometimes you just have to see what’s in front of you.

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This is some of what Belgian photographer Harry Gruyaert has been seeing and recording for the rest of us over the last 40 years.

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He is credited with helping to prove the point that European photographs could be in colour and still be taken seriously.  Not that there is anything wrong with black and white.

ITALY. Sardinia. Near the town of Cagliari. Poetto beach. 1998.

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SOUTH KOREA. Seoul. 2007.

Mr Gruyaert claims that he doesn’t think much about all this, and he avoids talking about it if at all possible.

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The British Journal of Photography did manage to get a few words out of him, which can be read here

All images © 2015 Harry Gruyaert / Magnum Photos

 

Living by the sea can be a swell thing. Where we live, the breezes are mostly mild and scented with salt, sea shells, and mermaids.

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People, lots of people, choose to live in coastal cities, and they always have.  And those who don’t or can’t, come for holidays. Many of the benefits are obvious. Lovely pic of a coastal guy on his lunch break from here.  Experts from all over (e.g.) say that just breathing sea air allows us to sleep better, and that can have real benefits to how happy and healthy we are.

But of course we can’t be blind to the other side of living with the sea as your neighbour.  Our salty benefactor that serves up so much pleasure and good health can also serve up destruction and death. The truth is, sometimes, the bountiful sea doesn’t stay put. Sometimes, it comes calling.

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Venice is the most famous and photogenic example.  And though Venetians are justly famous for just carrying on and wading about their business,  the government is spending a fortune (even by Venetian standards) to try and keep the Mediterranean out of the piazzas and palazzos. One story here

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New Yorkers got a taste of life with the Atlantic ocean too close for comfort during and after Hurricane Sandy Oct 2012.  Since then, the city has been re-thinking the way Manhattan works in order to prevent similar damage from future, inevitable storms.  Here is one of many reports on the plans.

It is not just New York’s problem. This is something all great and small coastal cities should have on their agenda.  Because there is more water in all the seas than there once was, and the only place it has to go is up, where we are, by the sea.  Why?

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The ice at the top and bottom of our planet is melting fast enough to cause measurable changes in sea level around the world.  Whether you think the reason is man-made climate change (we do), natural cycles, socialists, or alien misbehavior, the melting of arctic and antarctic ice is real.  It is not a theory or a political platform.  It happens daily, sometimes in dramatic fashion.

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This berg is about to shed a wedge of ice the size of warehouse.  Beautifully photographed in Alaska by Betty Sederquist.  More here.

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At the other end of the earth, this is a giant iceberg in Antarctica about to leave the mother ship.  It was deemed separated in April of 2014 and weighed in at “the size of Chicago”  or “as big as Singapore”, depending on your source.  Lots of video coverage via this site

What this event means for those of us who live by the sea now is not much, in terms of our day at the beach.  Even if it drifts into warm waters and melts completely, even when Chicago melts, you’d need more than an eagle eye to spot the rise in sea level.  But there are lots more city size ice cubes breaking away and melting.  This is a recent summary report from the NY Times

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This beautiful object (wonderful photo by Camille Seaman) may not be much of a threat to modern ships or tomorrow’s day at the beach, but it and its kin are slowly raising the tideline around the world.  Choice property will be lost–some quickly in murderous storms, some slowly over generations.

We can’t stop it, but we can do what we do when we are at our best: we can start thinking differently about how we respond to this force of nature.  We in coastal cities can start planning–as New York is doing–for dealing with higher water when it comes, taking preventative action, reducing the destruction.  Instead of pure admiration or pure fear of the ocean, we need to get more realistic and show more respect for the ocean we love.  As sailors always have.

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It’s time to move the carousel.  Pic from Brooklyn Oct 2012.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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 - WikiArt.org                               © 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.

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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…….

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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