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pig topiary

As everything around us seems to be getting bigger, we are feeling the pinch and reminded of the inherent virtues of smallness.  Doing more with less continues to be a powerful idea–and an admirable choice for those who can well afford to have more.  Artists from far and wide and then and now have shown us, over and over, the magic of small productions.

Alexander Calder, best known for very large sculptures in front of very large buildings in very large cities, never lost sight of the special charm of small work you could hold in your hand intended for a small audience.

calder small pieces gift414-1024x803This set was made by Mr Calder as a gift for a friend.

Glass is a perfect medium for making hold-n-your-hand-sized sculpture.Glass figures Amsterdam thumb_IMGP2868_1024These little creatures made of glass are on display in a gin joint in Amsterdam.

The glass menagerie below was dreamed up by Kiki Smith and the critters were made by Venetian Pino Signoretto.  It is at home at the Corning Museum of Glass in NY.   Glass KikiSmithFull

But this devotion to smallness is not an invention of our time. We humans–all over the world– from our earliest days have dedicated time and talent to making small versions of ourselves.

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terra cotta 2 Denmark thumb_2017-08-05 05.09.14_1024Each just a few inches tall (the wall behind them is made of standard sized bricks), these ancient little men are captivating to modern eyes.  Conceived long before the electric light or glass shelving, they are now at home in a Danish museum.  Meanwhile, in Canada, visitors to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts can have their mood swiftly elevated by the little man below.

Smiling figure Montreal IMGP2736

Small scale also works wonderfully for two dimensional art.  In 16th century England, the Kings, Princes, and their pals, who could afford just about anything, any size, found they had a deep attraction to the smallest of paintings–miniature portraits.holbein jane small v & AMiniatures7That’s the eighth king named Henry, no Tiny Tim he, and a woman fittingly named Jane Small.  North Americans in the 18th century took to the same notion, not just Kings and their social circle this time, but plain proud people wanting a keepsake. This is Lottie Hills aged 15 painted by Rufus Porter, “inventor”.

miniature Rufus Porter Fig10

Stamps!  Engravers, mostly anonymously, spend their working lives and eyes to give us this to put on our envelopes for delivery near and far.  From the 20th century, however, the artists were more frequently acknowledged.

Stamp LacaqueMonaco-1119-LittleRed-Perrault-MG-11-8-78-PLambertStamp LarriviereMonaco-1116-PussBoots-Perrault-MG-11-8-78-PLambertStamp JumeletMonaco-1121-TomThumb-Perrault-MG-11-8-78-PLambertThese three above were all issued in 1978 by Monaco to celebrate Conte de Perrault who collected and published versions of these famous ‘children’s stories.  Artists top to bottom are Eugène Lacaque. Jacky Larrivière. and Claude Jumelet depicting tiny boy Tom Thumb.  Stunning images found here.

Wow, this love song to small is getting more than a little long.  Out of respect for the theme, we’ll stop here for now and pick it again after a small break.

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outsider photo nhung dang badger

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.

 

ousider exhibit new-york-outsider-art-fair

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.

 

outsider victorian_bug_1403723c

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.

sandswept-desert-road_peru

To those of us who have spent our lives in a moderate climate–ours is moist, mild, misty, and lush–it is stunning to encounter the desert for the first time.   Pic above is a desert in Peru looking to swallow up the highway, found here.

The desert eats me, Uyuni tour

We are here to say that people can lose their heads over this landscape, falling quickly and hard. The torrid attraction to desert heat and space happens not only to ordinary boys and girls off on a road trip (like this smitten traveller in Bolivia seen here ) but to all sorts of exotic creatures, including architects and artists.

Desert vacation home architizer

If you want to do more than just look and swoon at the desert, if you want to live there, find yourself an architect who’s got the desert bug.  Above is called the Four Eyes House by California architect Edward Ogosta, more here .

desert house olson kundig idaho desert house RosaMuerta R Stone DesertNomadHouse R Joy

Say “Desert house” to many an architect and you’ve got them where you want them.  Here you don’t have to worry about the zoning restrictions, the neighbours, or where to put the lumber, trucks, and tools while you are building.  This freedom, combined with the sheer harshness of the physical factors, has produced some beautiful results. Above three desert designs are by Olson Kundig Architects, Robert Stone, and Rick Joy, all found here.

Ant Farm Cadillac Ranch 1974 Photographed 1977

Artists too have found freedom and inspiration in the desert–the flat open space must seem liberating to any artist who feels confined by the canvas and the studio. Above is Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo Texas as it looked when produced in 1974 by an art gang named Ant Farm.  See here.

desert christo oil barrels

The artist who in our time has set the standard for getting out of the studio, Christo, has wrapped up big things (bridges, buildings) all over the world and now intends to place a very big thing in the desert landscape of the United Arab Emirates , as reported here

michael heizer_city

And this is American artist Michael Heizer, image from here.

michael-heizer city wide

Mr Heizer has devoted a good slice of his life and imagination and hutzpah to creating, not a sculpture, not a monument, but a city in the desert of Nevada.  Above image from Treehugger and more from the NYT 

And if you like art and light and you don’t know what James Turrell has been doing in the desert, you need to go here now.

turrell roden crater

Above is an entry into James Turrell’s Roden Crater project found here  

But don’t go getting the idea that it is just the 1% of the artistic club, the superstars, who get their hormones and imaginations all swept up in the desert.  Lots of everyday free spirits with a gluegun and a hammer and a glint in their eye do too.

noah purifoy

This is a portion of the life work of one Noah Purifoy, now known as the Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art exhibit near Joshua Tree CA. Visit here.

Many of the freest spirits who lust for the desert end up at the Burning Man Festival every late August/September.

burning man 2010 boston big pic 15 

Held in northern Nevada in Black Rock Desert, it is about art and life and transportation and fire and lust and freedom and a lot more.  Only a desert seems capable of hosting such a collection of desires. Pic by Jim Bourg/Reuters via Boston.com

burning man 2010 Boston Big Pic

Before the burning, time for tea.  This image is one of many at the Big Picture site at Boston.com.

Some of the sculpture is wondrous, such as the piece shown below in this photograph by Frederick Larson of the SF Chronicle.

burning man sculpture 2008 F Larson the Chronicle

The desert seems to be able to accommodate and excite all varieties of humanity. It’s not just the unclothed and untamed who fall for it, but the super sophisticates who find something unexpected and rich in the plain hot flat emptiness if it.  How about you?

desert noel2

Mr Noel Coward, 1954 photo by Loomis Dean for Life Magazine seen here

We are big fans of small at the republic of less. We just are. So we keep our eye peeled for little joys in every season and every where.

                

Above little guys are were found in a local store specializing in things Scandinavian. From Kosta Boda, maker of eye-catching things in glass since 1742. More here.

Big time artists have been known to work at times on a small scale, particularly in three dimensions. Above is a little dancer sculpted by Edgar Degas, found here.

Aristide Maillol is the man behind those large bronzes lying around in unexpected poses in the gardens adjacent to the Louvre. Not far away is the Musée Maillol, a great little museum with lots to like, including the small figure above we saw there.

This we found closer to home base. It is a lovely small figure by Antoniucci Volti (1915 1989) that lives at Vancouver’s Gallery Jones.

In our view, no artist of the 20th century was bigger than Alexander Calder in either imagination or output or playfulness.  He too could work small, producing amazing portraits in wire and, as a present for his wife Louisa, a swell set of miniature mobiles in a cigar box, seen here .

Making art large or small is not a modern invention.  Humans have been at it for ages.

This pre Columbian terracotta cutie was found in Columbia and is said to date from ca. 600-1200 AD. She’s about 5 inches tall in her bare feet.  See more here.

Strike up the band: these little fellas are from Cyprus and they are even older–600 BC. They are now performing at the MET in NYC. We first featured them in a post called  Small is. 

What’s cuter than a doll?  Well, a doll created by the guys and gal at Winnipeg’s own Royal Art Lodge, gone but never forgotten around here.  Top group done by Michael Dumontier and Drue Langlois (see here) and lower group by Mr Langlois single handed. Small wonders.

Another doll, no less sweet for being made of clay, we found at the 2011 Venice Biennale.  It was part of an exhibit by sculptor Dominik Lang which he called The Sleeping City, a tribute in part to his father Jiri.

Small scale objects have a special quality, and so do those little unexpected moments when the universe tells you things are pretty good.  Such as  when you tell a stranger at an art installation in Venice that you have a blog, and he hands you a complimentary crimson drink, which you get to enjoy while sitting at the edge of a canal.
No big deal, maybe, compared to lots of other things in Venice and in life, but it felt like a little moment that would mean a lot for a long long time.

Alexander Calder is a major figure in the world of modern art, and among those who could claim that title, he is the one who by far seems to have had the most fun. As a result, most everything he did will bring a smile to your heart. Above is a small standing mobile from around 1960, seen here.

He went to Paris in the 1920’s, and one of the projects he began there was a circus, a circus he could pack into a suitcase (or two or five, as it grew) and take from place to place. He not only made every piece, but he brought the circus to life for people at dinner parties and galleries.

The video is a shortened version of a 1955 film by Jean Painleve put together by the Whitney Museum in New York, where it often runs continuously. Above image is a 2009 installation at the Whitney of Calder’s Paris work, seen here

This is one of the circus suitcases in the Whitney Calder collection, see here.

And here is one of the performers, the Trumpeter, who now lives at the Whitney, here.

There is a longer film that can be seen here. It is well worth the time, so pop yourself some popcorn and settle in to see it when you have a chance.

Calder produced a fair amount of jewelry as a natural outgrowth of his sculpture in metal. Above from a show at the Metropolitan Museum in NY.

If you have seen a Calder in person, most likely it was one of his large metal works in a public place. Above is his Eagle in Seattle, part of the city’s terrific waterside sculpture park. Nice photo by a man known as Chimera posted here.

And this is Calder’s Flamingo in downtown Chicago, photo at this nice blog post

This black beauty is in Spoleto Italy where it spans a road . More here

One of the most extraordinary qualities of Calder was how he worked with complete originality and so successfully on both the monumental scale and on the scale of small toys.

Red fish wooden pull-toy seen here.

He made up this box of mini mobiles for a friend’s birthday. Which birthday? It might have been the 5th, the 25th, or the 75th–or anything in between. Seen here

Great dog, from here

Here he is at work and at play. producing something the world had never seen or even dreamed of.

The two above are from a show held at the Gagosian Gallery in Rome in 20o9, more here

Same show mounted in the New York Gagosian in 2010 NY, photo Rob McKeever

This is a long post for us at the R of L, but the man is, we think, worth the extra time and pixels. If ever a human being made joy visible in common materials like sheet metal and wire it was Alexander Calder, bless his heart. We could use another like him, but it is unlikely his kind will come along again anytime soon.

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