Friday, May 28, 2010

The Shaman: Voyages of the Soul - Trance, Ecstasy and Healing from Siberia to the Amazon

There are three reasons to like this book:

[1]  It deals with the mystical and magical. As Western culture adults there is far too little (if any) to believe in that isn’t dry, processed, empirically proven, and documented to death. The shaman, aliens, voo doo, and crop circles represent the mercurial possibilities that deserve space in our thinking.

[2]  The author, Piers Vitebsky, appears to have exhaustively researched the topic and presents all angles including worldview, traditions, becoming a shaman, their clients, and understanding how their practices fit into a culture. Vitebsky covers practitioners from all continents and corners of the planet.

[3]   The independent publisher, Duncan Baird Publishers in London, did a great job with the book production, making it enjoyable to hold, page through, and read.  They claim to be “…committed to innovation, design, editorial excellence and imagination, creating unique books for today's readership.” And with The Shaman, they fulfilled the promise. The book is richly illustrated with photos and graphics, and there are tons of sidebars filled with anecdotes, explanations, historical incidents, and definitions. The page paperstock is heavy, which is great for the illustrations and provides the tactile sensation of an art book.  

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Image Maker

Stumbling along the digital highway I came across an interesting photographer, Ian Curcio. He is an editorial and commercial photographer with artistic flare. There is clear evidence in his work of an obsession to capture beauty in the unnoticed and interesting shots of the noticed. He certainly has mastered the technical aspects of photography—composition, lighting, exposure, flash, lenses, and more. He knows his way around f-stops and such. But what makes him special is his creativity. Incredible creativity borne out of necessity…a compulsion…to shoot photos that communicate, tell stories, or stimulate the imaginations of the viewer.
• Look at his “12 Portraits of 12 Strangers on the Streets of San Francisco,” where his self-assignment was to go out and shoot strangers in the streets with a camera and one light attachment—all in six hours. The shots are remarkably wonderful.
• Look at his collection of iPhone photos. Curcio exploits the capabilities of the iPhone’s camera and captures textural details, everyday scenes, and people, with an artist’s eye for color, blur, and light.
• Look at his professional portfolio of portrait, editorial, structures, and food. Food! (According to the pro-shooters I’ve known, shooting prepared food is probably the most challenging assignment a photographer can receive.).
• Look at the tearsheets from his work published in print publications. Compelling stuff.
• Look at his black and white work to see Curcio’s sophisticated understanding of the power of light and shadow. Gorgeously arty.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Deceivingly Simple

Simple, graphical art is appealing. It inspires the “I-can-do-that” in us. Unfortunately, the scale, balance, and execution never looks right from the hands of rank amateurs. A wonderful artist and printmaker is the Chinese artist Tan Ping. Born in Chengde, China in 1960, a retrospective of his deceivingly simple work will be opening May 15th at the Red Gate Gallery in Beijing.

From the press release announcing the exhibit:

“Graduated from the printmaking department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Tan Ping rediscovered abstraction and its essence when he was awarded a scholarship to study in Berlin, Germany. During the years spent abroad, not only was he exposed to European artistic traditions but he also reconnected with his Chinese roots as he strives to interpret and innovate the art of printmaking with an Asian connection. Just as a true artist never ceases to evolve and redefine his artistic perspective, the exhibition will showcase the various phases of his graphic expression over the last twenty years. From the early calligraphic etchings on special hand-made paper to chromatic etchings using his innovative technique of over-layering copperplates to the more recent cellular works, ‘Tan Ping at 50’ is an artistic journey infused with a unique sensibility founded on the marriage between the Western tradition of printmaking and Chinese philosophies and principles.”

Tan Ping is vice president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing. The Red Gate Gallery is located at Levels 1 & 4, Dongbianmen Watchtower,
 Chongwenmen, Beijing.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Eastern Inspiration

There was a time when gas stations were simple. You drove in, got gas (pumped for you), paid, and drove off. No cigs, big gulps, lottery tickets, or “tasty” sandwiches. In the early part of the last century, the buildings were generally no larger than a single-car garage, with two pumps outside—Regular and Ethyl. Enter Wadhams Oil and Grease Co., Milwaukee, Wis. In 1917, the company hired local architect Alexander C. Eschweiler to design the prototype for their chain of stations. Eschweiler developed an eye-catching Japonist red-roof pagoda design for filling stations that numbered around 100 locations in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Upper Michigan in their heyday. Each filling station had a different roofline and floor plan. The pagoda-style roofs were made of stamped-metal tiles. Atop the gabled red roofs many stations had cupolas - often multi-tiered - with lanterns hanging from the corners. The walls were black with yellow trim around abundant glass. Most had large plate glass windows on the front, and multi-pane windows covering the sides. The signature pagoda look became one of the earlier examples of architecture forging a brand identity. Today, sadly, only a few remain. One of them, located at South 76th Street and W. National Ave in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis, was operated by Frank Seneca from 1954-1978 and donated it to the City when he retired. It was restored in 2000 into a window-peeper, mini-museum (photo on left). Another former pagoda station is located at N. 4th St. and W. North Ave. in Milwaukee and houses Grant’s Soul Food Restaurant (photo on right).

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Kring Books

Incredibly cool and creative graphic storybooks are available from the Oakland graphic designer and author, Bryan Kring. The hand-crafted books mostly measure 4-1/4-inch square and either feature a silk-screened cover or are letter-press printed. I own Peephole and Bug. Both 56-page stories have delightfully dark humor and terrific illustrations. The books are super limited press runs and generally cost $10. What’s wonderful about books like these is they’re fun to own and they make great gifts for the I-don’t-know-what-to-get-them types.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Dire Responsibility of Skeleton Keys

Pitch the key fob (even the word “fob” sounds dorky), car dealer doo-dad, or Italian-leather key wallet. Dumpster-donate the maintenance-man, 18-inch-long key chain secured to your belt loop. All you need is a simple skeleton key on a simple key ring, along with your half-dozen essential keys. A skeleton key adds a sense of mystery, a touch of luck, and a grounded link to the past. You need it because it’s cool and because most people don’t have one. Now, when someone asks about it, you have the unbreakable, sacred obligation to respond correctly. Being flip and saying something like “Oh, it’s just a stupid old key I found at a yard sale” is not correct. In fact, it’s dead wrong—even if you did find it at a yard sale or on eBay or at a thrift shop. You must honor the skeleton key. Its first and primary use was to open something that had restricted access—a door, a cabinet, a chest. With that appreciation, you are better off creating a sense of secrecy, importance, and mystery befitting the key. It is far better to respond to the “what’s with that key” question with a bit more drama. You may want to act nervous with a couple of furtive glances to see who else may have heard the question. Stumble out your response (if you’re a stutterer, you’re lucky) which should be something like: “Oh…um…. you’re asking about THE key? It… it’s really NOTHING.” Note: It’s important to pronounce THE and NOTHING with enough emphasis to imply a universe of possibility. When the follow up questions come, and they will, you need to act little more nervous but regain composure quickly and say “It’s just a key I have, no big deal.” Then, abruptly excuse yourself to leave, use the washroom, or return an important phone call.

It’s also important for you to know the correct anatomy of a skeleton key (or passkey), because this adds depth to your mysterious ownership of the key. Skeleton keys consist of a bow (the part you turn), a handle, and a combination (the part inserted in the lock). Use the correct terms, always.