it’s always amazing to see what nature is up to when we aren’t there

white sands national monument john hunter

up there in the wildest places, the farthest places from our small lives, that’s where you’ll see what can happen without us.  it is always original, never trivial, never trending.

ice greenland nytEven when these farthest places change because of the accumulated effects of our daily lives. the result is all nature’s own–spectacularly un-human,  beautifully bereft of our precious cliches.

We can’t help but drop our jaws and shed some tears of admiration before we go back to our day job.  But some have chosen to find work, put down roots and raise families right up against the raw originality (and harshness) of remote places.

La Rinconada Peru REMOTE-6

This is upper Peru. Life unplugged from everything except life.  It isn’t easy of course, but the miracle is that it exists at all.  Found here

Frozen-Ittoqqortoormiit-Greenland

And this village is on Greenland in the upper middle of nowhere looking bright, cheerful, remarkably at ease.  Part of a collection here

The only rival to the remoteness of the highest and coldest places on earth are the oceans where, we are told, you might sail for weeks without seeing any land at allocean-yonaguni-ring-shape-oxygen-ascending-risingThe only mark on this part of the Pacific is an air pocket…

landsat image of antarctica

The remotest places have many lessons to teach us, if we will only listen and look, lessons about beauty, humility, responsibility…

hiroshi sugimoto-seascape-north-atlantic-cape-breton-1996Just look .

Image by hiroshi sugimoto (seascape-north-atlantic-cape-breton)

Originally posted May 2016

Image result for black and white motherwell

So here at the end of the year/beginning of the year, we find ourselves thinking about what matters most/what matters least.  Through all the buzz, all the fear, all the lunacy, all the loss, what starts to matter more and more to some of us is that humans are also very well equipped to make something BEAUTIFUL and never before seen. Hold that thought. And take a look up there, that, made by Robert Motherwell.  (it’s now at the MOMA).

Image result for black and white calder

Who knows why, but the objects of eye-popping beauty-made-by-humans that rush to the front of the mind, for us at least, so often seem to be those made with the simplest palette of all: Black. White. Black + White. Look up, the amazing Mr Calder, his amazing THING, all BLACK set in a white, light filled room.

Image result for charcoal drawing matisse

And then there is Henri Matisse, no slouch with colour, he was, but often, OFTEN, he put the reds and blues and acid greens to one side and made DRAWINGS–in charcoal, graphite, conte, ink,   No colour necessary.  None.  It’s all there.

Image result for white on black drawing matisse

Oh good gravy, even simpler even more reduced and amplified.  Achingly beautiful.  H. Matisse, encore.

Maria Likarz-Strauss: Draft for the FABRIC “Montag” [Monday]

Not sure who she is, but Maria Likarz Strauss (1928 Vienna) is up to the challenge embracing colourlessness in the name of striking go-tell-someone-about-this-ness.

 

The pen + the ink for centuries the main way of conveying information from one hand and one mind to one pair of eyes.  We have other tools now,  but even so, the power and seductiveness of the inked line has no competitor.  Artists everywhere know this.  Paul Klee knew it.  Intimately.    Thankfully

paul-klee-ink-drawing-mage_660_1189625069

The ‘white’ of Mr Klee’s drawing has drifted in the direction of sand or warm chocolate milk, as opposed to say snow or salt.  We approve.  Found here.

OImage result for pen and ink kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky made some of the most colourful pictures of the last 100 years, but he too sometimes paused, took a breath, and showed us the power of B+W, musical, explosive..

Image result for black and white keith Haring

Keith Haring.  Young. Subway artist.  Gifted draftsman. Brief life.  Draped in black. And white.

Related image

We are not done with this dark/bright discussion.  But for now, a pause, the last word, for now, to A. Calder again. Giving us a wire “drawing”.   Aquarium.  It’s all there.

Originally posted in January 2019

Painters, photographers, and law enforcement officers have shown a lot of interest in capturing just one side of us, a side of us we don’t usually see.

Potrait double Piero_della_Francesca_-_Portraits_of_Federico_da_Montefeltro_and_His_Wife_Battista_Sforza_-_WGA17626

Portrait Paolo Uccello (1397 - 1475)  Roundel with Head, ca. 1435

Italian artists working 500 years ago and more gave us some of the most arresting one-sided portraits we will ever see.  Up top, that’s  Federico da Montefeltro giving his wife Battista Sforza the eye, courtesy of Piero della Francesca.  And that beautiful face in the round frame belongs to an unnamed Florentina painted by Paolo Uccello (1397-1475).  More here

Portrait Fra Filippo Lippi (Italian Renaissance painter, c 1406–1469) also called Lippo Lippi, Portrait of a Woman with a Man at a Casement

Here’s a lady caught at the window by Fra Filippo Lippi (c 1406–1469).  Her eyes don’t quite meet his, and maybe that’s the story here.  From this nicely gathered collection of side portraits.

portrait Bernard exhibit_fivecenturies

Moving up the road to France and a bit closer to our time, we found this lovely drawing by Jean-Joseph Bernard, 1785, at Vanderbilt University. Just pen and ink with watercolor on paper.

portrait profile French_-_Profile_Portrait_of_a_Man_-_Walters_27251

Staying in France for a moment, here is a carved profile of an homme who from this angle seems both aristocratic and capable of beating somebody up.  Image found here

portraits of lawgivers montage

This group called Portraits of Lawgivers lives in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol Building. Each of the men depicted is a person who, some say, contributed to the laws that now underlie the US justice system. We think that’s Hammurabi up there.

Portrait Sargeant Madame_X_(Madame_Pierre_Gautreau),_John_Singer_Sargent,_1884_(unfree_frame_crop)

Madame X, as she came to be called, was an American in Paris in the 1880’s who did well in marriage, generated much gossip, and attracted the attention of painter John Singer Sargent who asked if he could paint her.  She said yes and the resulting portrait of her, with her gaze averted stage left, was judged just s bit too, you know.  Despite the averted gaze and the “X” everyone recognized the woman in black as “that woman”.  See her here now, at your leisure.

portrait Jimi jailhouse672a0

Jumping ahead to modern scandalous celebrity, getting your “mug” shot shortly after an arrest, profile on one side and full face on the other, is  almost a rite of passage for film stars and musicians of the last 70 years or so.  Mr Hendrix got out of the Toronto jail soon after and went on to play another day.

Portrait Man Ray of Lee Miller IMAGE-ONE-T

20th century artists like Man Ray rediscovered the power of the sidelong view even when no crime had preceded the shot.  This is Lee Miller in his Paris studio. Some of course thought it a crime that a woman this beautiful could also be a talented, brave, and prolific photographer.

portrait studio-portrait-movie-star-billie-dove-profile-in-silky-robe-and-heavy-jewels-hair-french-short

Isn’t she lovely, actress Billie Dove.  We don’t care what she’s done.

Portrait yousuf-karsh-audrey-hepburn-1956-profile-portait-high-quality

Audrey Hepburn photographed by Yousaf Karsh and, bless her, she turned just a little toward us.  From Boston.com

Portrait silhouette ProfileBrightonMahomed

The silhouette was not just a fad, it was an obsession at a certain point.  If you hadn’t been caught from the side on black paper with scissors well you just hadn’t arrived.  This nice example from England found here

Portrait silhouette sturgefamily_092-4-_stu_hug

Many got the whole damned family scissored and pasted. This is the Sturge Family, ca. 1820 presented in the collection of the Library of the Society of Friends (The Quakers)

Portrait sillhouettes book

Some silhouettists snipped black images of everyone they met, apparently.  Here’s a book of hundreds of them at the Smithsonian Institute

ghirland 2 giovanna

Back to where we started, in Italy, this must be counted among the most beautiful portraits ever produced, and it is amazing how much it conveys while only showing us one side of this woman’s story.  Her name is Giovanna Tornabuoni, and she died in childbirth.  Painted posthumously by Domenico Ghirlandaio about 1490. She now lives in a museum in Madrid and was recently the star of an exhibition there reported here.

portrait Johannes_Vermeer_(1632-1675)_-_The_Girl_With_The_Pearl_Earring_(1665)

Much as we love the profile portaits we found, we are very very glad that Jan Vermeer (go here) coaxed this lady to turn toward his canvas and to us.  Perhaps the gift of her gaze is all the more powerful because we have been deprived of it.  Maybe that’s the power of the profile–to increase the appetite for more of her face.

originally posted June 2014

clowns 2 and high hair gal-1

clowns 3 clowns phunny

Clowns tell us a lot about ourselves and our lives. The best of them reveal some sadness or strangeness or both while doing their best to amuse us.  The overall message is: you might as well laugh because, well, life isn’t always a piece of cake, sometimes it’s a pie in the face.

clown handstand   clown_gum_display

clown toy crawling

Clown figurines of tin or ceramic seem to carry an extra layer of sadness and oddness after a few years.  Maybe there is a contradiction between what we see now and the smiles the little joker was meant to induce.  Crawling clown toy, 1900, from here

clown rolly dollys

But for all the contradictions, we can’t stop smiling at this little gang of kidders.

clowns mini rolly dollys

According to Tracey’s Toys:

“The Rolly Dollys first appeared in 1902 and were produced through the 1920s in over 70 different styles. Some were based on advertising or cartoon characters like Buster Brown and Foxy Grandpa, while others represented children, clowns, police officers, and more.”

Foxy Grandpa??

Is this him?

clown cookie jar

All in all, the clown whether he is a comic actor, a circus performer, a tin toy, or cookie jar (above) has a long history and a continuing important function in human society.  Is there sadness underneath it all?  Is there misery and madness?

clown group photo1916_clowns

Well…maybe.  But we all have a choice to see the soda spray bottle half empty or half full.  Is the whoopee cushion a cry for help?  Or just a perennial boyish prank.  We come down on the side of mirth.  Release the clowns!!!

Digital StillCamera

Play on fellas.  Do you know “My Funny Valentine?”

Pen and Ink and Saul Steinberg. Found at Ah Magazine

The art of the line is ancient. It is often instant and permanent. It is seductive. It is everywhere. It is drawings, it is maps, it is documents, it is cartoons, it is a record of our heartbeat, of our brain activity, of earthquakes. It is tattoos. At its sharpest, and at its best, we think, it is ink and pen..


This extraordinary drawing in pen and ink was made by a scientist trying to understand the complexity of the brain. Spanish neuroanatomist Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934) left more than 2900 drawings mostly of brain cells mostly in pen and ink of what he saw through his microscope. The process of drawing what he saw through the lens led to new theories about how the cells of the brain worked. He earned a Nobel prize. His theories have held up well under he scrutiny of much more complex instruments developed in the last 85 years.

1904 drawing by Santiago Ramón y Cajal of cells in the cerebral cortex of a child. New York Times Article has this and more

PENS, Real Pens >>Dip Pens

Just a few of the metal pen nibs available today.  These found at Pendamonium

If you want to make impressive lines in pen and ink sometime this week, you have two good choices– pens with nibs that are dipped ink (dip pens) and fountain pens that carry their ink inside.  This is somewhat equivalent to an acoustic guitar versus a synthesizer for making music, and beautiful though they often are (we have a few), we will leave fountain pens for another time.  (As for ballpoints and felt tips, we will leave them alone entirely. Iif you are a genius you might make something agreeable and lasting with them, but for the rest of us, these are best reserved  for jotting down grocery lists or “notes to self”, etc.)  

Metal nibs have been manufactured on a commercial scale in a wonderful variety of styles for at least 200 years.   Once you have one or two, find yourself just the right holder (consider weight /shape /material, as if you were selecting a tennis racquet or pool cue) to hold the nib securely and a bottle of  ink, most often brown or black.  Those of us who care about the quality of the lines we produce in pictures or prose will at some point find themselves in possession of nibs, many nibs, several comfortable holders, and a bottle or two of real ink.

Making your mark. It’s quite addictive. A nice presentation can be found here

And if you spill some ink, it often makes its own magic.

Indian Ink From Winsor/Newton

Whatever your pen, whatever your ink, whatever your goal, this combination of sharp instrument and strong dark fluid will serve you like no other combination.

For a very long time these simple materials and methods were all that was available.

Now there are dozens (hundreds!) of possibilities for making words and images visible to each other. Yet many artists in our time still rely on pen and ink to make their mark. One artist working right here in the 21st century has been drawing maps. Of cities. With pen(s) and ink.

This is a hand-drawn ink map of a section of Inverness Scotland, 6 and a half feet wide, completed by artist Carl Lavia and photographer Lorna Le Bredonchel found here Their goal is to render 68 cities in the UK in this meticulous beautiful fashion. You have to admire not only the outcome but the determination and effort.

OK back to work. If you want to make the most out of your dip pens and your collection of metal nibs, you will need to do some thinking about INK, about Drawing inks.

Fortunately, as with the nibs themselves, we still have available INKS that are essentially the same as what were used by artists and scribes an calligraphers of the past.  The packaging has changed a little as have a few ingredients, but their quality and qualities remain high.  Some will make marks that will outlast their makers. These and more to be found at My Modern Met.

 

We’d like to finish this exploration/lovesong about Pen and Ink with the reason we started it in the first place: our deep and lasting love for the images generated in this medium by a few of our favourite pen-and-ink artists.

Arthur Rackham R Crumb

We hope some of those above are already familiar to you.  If so, treat yourself to a reunion with one or two.  And if some are new and unknown, do check them out.  Making so much happen with simple lines is, we think, one of the miracles of our species.  Here are some links to those above to get you hooked.

JJ Sempe    Ronald Searle   Aubrey Beardsley    Len Norris   Len Norris_2  Arthur Rackham  R Crumb 

Mitsumasa Anno  James Thurber

The final line, rightly so, to Mr Steinberg,

From the cover of his book Steinberg at the New Yorker

Maybe I’m not using the right pen….

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