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Date: Monday, 22 Oct 2007 09:16

I began this Giornale five years ago today, and feel like today is as good a day as any to end it. This last year my enthusiasm for weblogging has subsided, and I prefer to make a clean end to it now, rather than allow it to suffer a slower demise by neglect. Comments will be disabled at the end of the month, but I intend to keep everything on-line for at least a couple more years.

First of three details of illustrations in Luigi Serafini's book 'Pulcinellopedia Piccola.'

I am very grateful to everyone who has participated in this site in any way. Special thanks go to Michelangelo, for his fine contributions to its upkeep. My heartfelt thanks also to all who have suggested ideas for entries, provided links, and to those artists who have generously sent me examples of their work. Mille grazie to all of you who have commented, read, or just stopped by to look at the pictures.

Second of three details of illustrations in Luigi Serafini's book 'Pulcinellopedia Piccola.'

The three images here are details from illustrations in Luigi Serafini’s book Pulcinellopedia Piccola. These have been reproduced without permission, only for as long as no-one objects to their presence on this site. Arrivederci, thank you, and goodnight!

Last of three details of illustrations in Luigi Serafini's book 'Pulcinellopedia Piccola.'

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Ghisi   New window
Date: Sunday, 21 Oct 2007 15:13

Seeing a post about Giorgio Ghisi’s engraving Allegoria della Vita Umana (‘Allegory of Human Life,’ also known—like an earlier engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi—as ‘The Dream of Raphael’) at John Coulthart’s feuilleton weblog, led me to seek more information about this printmaker, and, ultimately, led me to buy a book about his work: Paolo Bellini’s L’opera Incisa de Giorgio Ghisi, published in 1998 by Tassotti Editore of Bassano del Grappa. The following images are details of scans of the works illustrated in this book.

Detail from 'Silenus Sleeping,' an engraving by Giorgio Ghisi, 1540s.

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Detail from 'The Vision of Ezekiel,' an engraving by Giorgio Ghisi, early 1550s(?).

Ghisi was born in Mantua in 1520, to which city his ancestors had moved from Parma a century before. Many in the Ghisi clan were notaries, while others, like Giorgio’s father Ludovico, were merchants. The engraver’s childhood and youth coincided with the construction and decoration of the Palazzo del Te, under the supervision of Giulio Romano. From about 1535, it is thought that Ghisi studied engraving with one Giovanni Battista Scultori, whose workshop was largely dedicated to reproducing Romano’s designs. Ghisi’s earliest known prints can be dated to the early 1540s.

Detail from 'Venus Pricked by the Thorns on a Rose-Bush,' an engraving by Giorgio Ghisi, mid-1550s.

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Detail from 'Apollo Among the Muses,' an engraving by Giorgio Ghisi, 1556/7.

Ghisi lived and worked in Rome for a few years in the late 1540s, where it is likely he met the renowned Flemish artist & printseller Hieronymus Cock. He relocated to Antwerp ca. 1550, to work at Cock’s print shop Au Quatre Vents (‘At the Four Winds’). From about 1554 Ghisi was in France, ‘working with Fontainebleau artists like Luca Penni and Primaticcio and presenting works by Giulio Romano, Raphael, and Michelangelo to Northern print-collectors and painters.’ Ghisi returned to Mantua in the late 1560s, where he remained until his death in 1582.

Detail from 'Allegory of Life's Destiny,' an engraving by Giorgio Ghisi, 1558/9.

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Detail from 'Hercules Resting After his Labours,' an engraving by Giorgio Ghisi, early 1570s(?).

The present images are (i) ‘Silenus Sleeping,’ one of Ghisi’s earliest surviving prints, after a design by Giulio Romano; (ii) ‘The Vision of Ezekiel,’ which follows an original by Giovan Battista Bertani; (iii) ‘Venus Pricked by the Thorns on a Rose-Bush’ and (iv) ‘Apollo Among the Muses,’ both of which are modelled on works by Luca Penni; (v) ‘Allegory of Life’s Destiny,’ which is thought to be based on a lost design of Romano’s, and, (vi) ‘Hercules Resting After his Labours,’ which again carries the influence of Romano, but is meanwhile, in the detail of the landscape in the background, reminiscent of the work of Flemish painters such as Marten Heemskerck.

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Date: Thursday, 11 Oct 2007 20:49

Burning Inside, an exhibition of Judith Schaechter’s work in stained glass, opens at the Claire Oliver Gallery in New York tomorrow. I mentioned Judith’s work here once before, and was delighted to hear from her again this summer, announcing both the (then forthcoming) exhibition, and her new website, House of Rats.

Detail from 'Puppets,' a stained glass picture by Judith Schaechter.

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Detail from 'Winter and Spring,' a stained glass picture by Judith Schaechter.
Judith Schaechter’s stained glass windows are composed of flash glass: a thin veneer of brilliant color bonded to paler layers of color underneath. Most of the color is harbored within the glass itself; Schaechter reveals it by sandblasting and engraving the flash and then often layering several pieces together. She models her images in black enamel, fired on the kiln, and sometimes adds silver stain or cold paint. The windows are then assembled with the copper foil technique, and installed in a light box—(source).
Detail from 'Multiplication Table,' a stained glass picture by Judith Schaechter.

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Detail from 'He's Haunted,' a stained glass picture by Judith Schaechter.
When I start a new piece, it’s like I’ve never done anything artwise before. All accumulated knowledge is really useless because I want to make something truly brand-new every time; like reinventing the wheel without the benefit of remembering round shapes. This may seem utterly disingenuous considering my output has a very consistent look to it […] I figure that’s because though I may be reinventing, I “independently” come to similar conclusions all the time. And obviously I can’t really forget what I know. I just don’t rely on it.—(source).
Detail from 'The Floor,' a stained glass picture by Judith Schaechter.

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Detail from 'Monument,' a stained glass picture by Judith Schaechter.

In Alex Baxter’s preface to the book Extra Virgin: The Stained Glass of Judith Schaechter, he quotes the artist thus: ‘My work’s not intended to make comfortable people unhappy, although it may make unhappy people comfortable:’ a just and pithy assessment, I think. The images above are all Copyright © 2000-07 Judith Schaechter: they are details of works pictured at the artist’s website (click to see the images in full), and have been reproduced here with her permission.

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Date: Sunday, 23 Sep 2007 11:46

A post some weeks ago at John Coulthart’s excellent weblog feuilleton alerted me to a recent exhibition of the graphic works of Érik Desmazières at the Musée Jenisch in Vevey, Switzerland. My thoughts echoed John’s where he wrote that ‘the catalogue for this would certainly be worth ordering:’ a week or so later a copy had found its way to me.

Detail of 'Ville Imaginaire II' (Imaginary City #2), an etching by Érik Demazières, 1999.

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Detail of 'Ville Rocheuse' (Rocky City), an etching by Érik Demazières, 1999.

This catalogue of ‘imaginary places’ contains reproductions of eighty of Demazières’ etchings, sorted into seven thematic sections: Cities, Battles, Explorations, Curiosities, Comedies, Chambers of wonders and Libraries. Under the Cities heading, for example, there are Piranesian perspectives, science-fictional vistas, and invented townscapes in the manner of 17th-Century topographical prints.

Detail of 'Jeronimo et Josephe sous un arbre' (Jeronimo & Josephine Under a Tree), an etching by Érik Demazières, 1987.

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Detail of 'Des Amateurs Perplexes' (Perplexed Connoisseurs), an etching by Érik Demazières, 1993.

Demazières was born in Rabat in 1948, the son of a diplomat. He spent his childhood in Morocco, Portugal and France. Although he showed an aptitude for drawing from an early age, Desmazières first considered a career in the diplomatic service, ‘but after graduating in political science from the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris in 1971 he decided to become an artist.’

Detail of 'Die Wunderkammer' (The Cabinet of Wonders), an etching by Érik Demazières, 1998.

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Detail of 'Rembrandts Kunstcaemer' (Rembrandt's Art-chamber), an etching by Érik Demazières, 2007.

Although Demazières attended evening classes in printmaking directed by Jean Delpech (where his classmates included Francois Houtin), he is largely self-taught, having acquired a formidable mastery of etching and aquatint. Andrew Fitch, the print-dealer who represents Desmazieres, has said ‘Like so many great printmakers, he has learned by doing.’

Detail of 'Alphabet Imaginaire I' (Imaginary Alphabet #1), an etching by Érik Demazières, 1997.

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Detail of 'Alphabet Imaginaire II' (Imaginary Alphabet #2), an etching by Érik Demazières, 1997.

The present images are details of scans of illustrations in the catalogue Érik Desmazières: Imaginary Places published by 5 Continents Editions, Milan, in collaboration with the Musée Jenisch. All are copyright © Érik Desmazières, and have been reproduced without permission, only for as long as no-one objects to their presence on this site.

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Date: Sunday, 09 Sep 2007 22:59

Objets dans la forêt by Alberto Savinio, 1928

Objets dans la forêt, oil on canvas, 1928

Italian polymath Alberto Savinio (1891-1952) left a large body of work in painting, music and literature which is highly regarded at home but little known in the English-speaking world, in spite of a few translations and exhibitions.

Souvenir d'un monde disparu by Alberto Savinio, 1928

Souvenir d'un monde disparu, oil on canvas, 1928

Brother of the better known Giorgio De Chirico, he shared with him the early phases of life: childhood in Greece, studies in Germany and participation in the Paris avantgarde circles.

The whole of the modern myth still in process of formation is founded on two bodies of work—Alberto Savinio’s and his brother Giorgio de Chirico’s—that are almost indistinguishable in spirit and that reached their zenith on the eve of the war of 1914.
(André Breton, Anthology of Black Humour, 1937.)
La cité des promesses by Alberto Savinio, 1928

La cité des promesses, oil on canvas, 1928

Close enough to be nicknamed I Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux), later the two diverged to the point that Savinio wrote ‘[in death] my brother and I will find each other the way we were twenty years ago, when nothing divided us yet and we shared the same thoughts’ (from the introduction to Casa ‘La Vita’, 1942).

Niobe by Alberto Savinio

Niobe, tempera on canvas

While his output was protean from early on, Savinio seemed to focus on different media in different periods of his life. ‘My interest in the various forms of expression does not privilege any one of them. I go from one to the other the way people used to change horses at the posting house. My undivided love is for something that lies beyond all forms’.

Donna coniugale by Alberto Savinio, 1951

Donna coniugale, costume for his ballet Vita dell’Uomo, 1951, pencil and watercolour on paper

Le Angiole Infermiere by Alberto Savinio, 1941

Le Angiole Infermiere, pen and ink on paper, 1941

After studying piano in Athens and composition with Max Reger in Berlin, Savinio seemed destined to a career in music. His early compositions seem to have made quite the impression in Paris avantgarde circles. Modern recordings of Savinio’s music exist, but I doubt they do justice to the composer’s own fiery performances:

I was surprised and beguiled; Savinio mistreated his instrument so much that after each piece the keyboard had to be cleared of chips and splinters. I foresee that within two years he will have gutted every piano in Paris. Savinio will then go on to destroy every piano in the universe, which may be a true liberation.
(Guillaume Apollinaire in Mercure de France, June 1, 1914)

Later he moved away from music yet he never abandoned it completely. Like other musician-writers (Sorabji and Gould come to mind) his music criticism is witty and idiosyncratic; it is a shame that it is not available in English.

Il fiume by Alberto Savinio, 1950

Il fiume, tempera on masonite, 1950

As a painter Savinio was more or less self-taught, except of course for his close connection to his brother. I will let the images speak for themselves, except for noting his early predilection for ‘painted collages’ that quote freely from sources both high and low (such as The World before the Deluge or Zur Geschichte Der Costüme), often reproducing the original’s texture: a photograph’s sepia tone, a folk print’s broad cross-hatching, a map’s bold outlines, etc.

Il sonno di Eva by Alberto Savinio, 1941-42

Il sonno di Eva, mosaic after a cartoon by Savinio, 1941-41

Savinio wrote a lot and in many different forms. English traslations are heavy on his early ‘surrealist’ writing at the expense of later essays, fiction, theatre and less classifiable items such as Nuova Enciclopedia. A good place to start is The Tragedy of Childhood, a quasi-memoir that romantically sides with children as the eternally defeated soldiers of imagination and poetry:

If you, an adult, wish to be consistent with the proposition you keep hidden within yourself, you should trace this warning with charcoal on the foreheads of expectant mothers: ‘Attention! Here lies danger!’
Monumento marino ai miei genitori by Alberto Savinio, 1950

Monumento marino ai miei genitori, tempera on masonite, 1950

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Date: Friday, 31 Aug 2007 10:46

I don’t know of a single, ready-made term that satisfactorily describes the art of Didier Massard. His beguiling photographs could be considered works of pictorialism, given their almost painterly style; and they are certainly tableau photographs, given their ‘staged’ execution—but the tableaux Massard constructs are, specifically, miniature ones: models. The only other photographer I’d heard of who worked in anything like a similar manner was Charles Matton, but in Matton’s work the miniatures take on lives of their own as self-contained objects, whereas Massard’s do not. Moreover, Matton’s photographs are all interior scenes, where Massard gives us landscapes…

Detail from 'La Grille' (The Gate), a photograph by Didier Massard, 1997.

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Detail from 'Le Manège' (The Carousel), a photograph by Didier Massard, 1999.
At first glance, Didier Massard’s photographs create a disturbing impression which we quickly realize has been achieved by means of photographic techniques. The photographs play on the ambiguity and confusion which takes hold of us as we try to establish the relationship between what we see and what actually existed. […] We want to believe and yet, cannot quite believe, that this “has really existed.” Explaining how the photographs were made would rob them of part of their mystery, that fine, taut defining line that links the apparent and the impossible—Christian Caujolle.
Detail from 'Arbre en automne' (Tree in Autumn), a photograph by Didier Massard, 2001.

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Detail from 'Arbre en hiver' (Tree in Winter), a photograph by Didier Massard, 2000.

My initial source for the first six of these pictures was a book simply entitled Images, which presented Massard’s œuvre as of 2002. While corresponding with the artist, however, he professed dissatisfaction with the quality of the reproductions in the book, and very kindly offered to send me copies of the works I’d intended to feature, also attaching another four more recent pieces. He writes that a new volume of his photographs, provisionally titled Artifices, is in preparation, to be published in November this year by Gourcuff-Gradenigo, Paris. Anyone intrigued by these photographs who happens to be in the Boston area next month, should check out the upcoming exhibition of Massard’s work at the Robert Klein Gallery, which is due to open on Sept. 7th.

Detail from 'La Pagode' (The Pagoda), a photograph by Didier Massard, 1996.

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Detail from 'La Palais Mogol' (The Moghul Palace), a photograph by Didier Massard, 1997.
[Massard] was born and raised in Paris where he received his Baccalaureate degree in art and archaeology from the University of Paris in 1975. For twenty-five years he executed commercial work as a still photographer for clients in the world of fashion and cosmetics including Chanel, Hermes, and many others. After the completion of his series Imaginary Journeys, executed over almost ten years, his career was launched and he now works exclusively on his personal projects.
Detail from 'La Jardin Obscur' (The Underwater Garden), a photograph by Didier Massard, 2005.

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Detail from 'Le Mangrove' (The Mangrove), a photograph by Didier Massard, 2003.
His series are conceived from his imagination while drawing from our collective romantic and touristic notions of nationality and place. His exotic locales created in his studio have evoked Ireland, China, India, Holland and the cliffs of Normandy. Massard works for long periods on each of these tableaux, and ruminates that “each image is the completion of an inner imaginary journey.” Roberta Smith wrote in The New York Times “color and space combine with fastidious detail to create a sense of illusion and artifice that is more usual to painting, Magic Realist painting in particular…one’s willingness to suspend disbelief is a measure of Massard’s skill.”
Detail from 'Le Marais' (The Marsh), a photograph by Didier Massard, 2006.

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Detail from 'La Grotte' (The Grotto), a photograph by Didier Massard, 2003.

While compiling this post, I have learned of other photographers besides Massard (and Matton) working with miniature tableaux: notably James Casebere, Edwin Zwakman, and Oliver Boberg. In an article about Boberg, I read that he seeks ‘to create unerring representations of the world without relinquishing the satisfaction of craftsmanship:’ a characterization that could similarly apply to Massard, provided we remember there is no way for us to inhabit the world he represents… For these sculptor-photographers, the craftsmanship is twofold, the construction of an image presupposes the construction of a model. In Massard’s case, both are done with the utmost attention to detail, but also with great imaginative flair. The present ten images are copyright © Didier Massard, and have been reproduced here with permission.

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Date: Wednesday, 22 Aug 2007 20:23

The house where we stayed on vacation the week before last was large enough that one room, on the ground floor, between the dining-room and the entrance-hall, was set aside as a bar. This room had tartan wallpaper and housed three striking taxidermical specimens: a deer’s head trophy; a large, stuffed bird-of-prey perched on the bar itself; and what appeared to be a genuine bear-skin rug. The taxidermy continued in an adjoining room, the one between the kitchen and the main lounge, where another trophy was on display, this time a boar’s head. More curious still was the ‘kitten shrine’ in the corner of an upstairs landing. Here, three stuffed kittens had been arrayed, a silent litter, on the floor in front of a mirror.

Cropped photograph showing the deer's head trophy in the bar at Segersta Herrgård.

The house, we read, had originally been built in the seventeenth centuury. It was beautifully-decorated throughout: and some of the guest bedrooms had been deliberately ‘themed.’ For example, there was a ‘Venetian room,’ with carnival masks and framed, antique prints hanging on its deep red walls, and a vintage upright typewriter standing on the desk. Of the many eye-catching details, perhaps the most spectacular (barring the stuffed animals) was the powder-blue Vespa scooter posed in the main lounge. The gardens were suitably extensive, and there was a large outdoor swimming-pool—quite an extravagance at a latitude on the wrong side of 59° North—and also a full-size tennis-court.

Cropped photograph showing the boar's head trophy at Segersta Herrgård seen from outside the house, at night.

While exploring the house on the day of our arrival, I found my way, past the first-floor guest bathroom, to a staircase at the opposite end of the house to the one where we had entered. Ascending this I was surprised to find myself in yet another suite of rooms, and further dismayed when a German lady approached me and introduced herself as the tenant of the house’s attic apartment, whose existence the house’s owner had neglected to mention to us. Embarrassed at having inadvertently wandered into someone else’s home, I made a quick exit, and later joked that I was reluctant to explore the basement, lest I should discover another family living down there…

Cropped photograph of the bearskin rug in the bar at Segersta Herrgård.

Before the vacation, I’d had vague plans to set aside a day for some leisurely shopping in Stockholm, and to find time to check out the historic sights (and the bookstores) in Uppsala. And I was very keen to visit Skoklosters Slott, a nearby stately-home-turned-museum, where a certain painting was on display that I’d wanted to see. As it happened, I found myself more than content to spend most of my time lounging around the house or the pool with my wife and my mother & her boyfriend, and my sister & her husband and daughters, and our dog. And I made sure to spend a while swinging in the hammock suspended from two sturdy boughs of a horse-chestnut tree.

Cropped photograph of one of the stuffed kittens at Segersta Herrgård.

Anyone who wants to be further bored by my accounts of previous years’ vacations can find them here. I took the four photographs above, and five of those that follow below the fold. The shots of the horses, the dining-room, and the Vespa, were taken by my brother-in-law Mr. A____, and the last picture, of me in my Montecristi Fedora, was taken by my mother.

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Date: Sunday, 19 Aug 2007 08:12

Artempo

Hand of Buddha, 15th-16th century bronze from Thailand Ivory carving by anonymous artist, 1640
The four Elements by Louis Finson, 1611 Tondo 87-3 by Emilio Vedova

Wildly eclectic and full of surprises, Artempo is the best show I have seen in years. I will direct you to Roberta Smith’s enthusiastic review of Artempo on the New York Times for more information. Let me just say that if you happen to be in Venice before October 7, 2007, I would forgive you for missing a rather unremarkable Biennale, but please do not overlook this gem.

Clockwise from top left:

  • Anonymous (Thailand), Hand of Buddha, bronze, 15th–16th century
  • Anonymous, ivory carving, 1640
  • Louis Finson, The Four Elements, 1611
  • Emilio Vedova, Tondo ’87-3, 1987

Brian Dettmer

Itch with Service Angle, by Brian Dettmer

In a recent Giornale comment thread we mentioned Tom Phillips’s A Humument. I was reminded of that work as I saw Brian Dettmer’s exquisite carved books at Urtopia, a group show curated by Kelly McCray at Toronto’s Edward Day Gallery. In a sense, these works are the opposite of collage. Using surgical tools, Brian Dettmer removes paper like an archeologist releasing a fossil from layers of sediment, thereby unveiling connections between words and images hundreds of pages away from each other. The results are breathtaking: solid and sculptural, with a texture resembling the wood from which the paper pulp once came.

Dairy Nets Soda Angle by Brian Dettmer

The Vanishing City

The Vanishing City by Tiger Tateishi

I just found this page in a pile of old magazine clippings. It is a late seventies wordless comic by Tiger Takeishi. I believe Tiger is currently active as a Manga artist; at the time he painted this, he was working at the Ettore Sottsass architecture and design firm. The city being wiped away, Hiroshima-style, by the emptiness emanating from the homeless guy is unmistakably Milan, although I can’t quite place the neighbourhood. If anyone knows more of Takeishi’s works in this vein, I’d love to see them.

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Date: Sunday, 19 Aug 2007 08:12

Artempo

Hand of Buddha, 15th-16th century bronze from Thailand Ivory carving by anonymous artist, 1640
The four Elements by Louis Finson, 1611 Tondo 87-3 by Emilio Vedova

Wildly eclectic and full of surprises, Artempo is the best show I have seen in years. I will direct you to Roberta Smith’s enthusiastic review of Artempo on the New York Times for more information. Let me just say that if you happen to be in Venice before October 7, 2007, I would forgive you for missing a rather unremarkable Biennale, but please do not overlook this gem.

Clockwise from top left:

  • Anonymous (Thailand), Hand of Buddha, bronze, 15th–16th century
  • Anonymous, ivory carving, 1640
  • Louis Finson, The Four Elements, 1611
  • Emilio Vedova, Tondo ’87-3, 1987

Brian Dettmer

Itch with Service Angle, by Brian Dettmer

In a recent Giornale comment thread we mentioned Tom Phillips’s A Humument. I was reminded of that work as I saw Brian Dettmer’s exquisite carved books at Urtopia, a group show curated by Kelly McCray at Toronto’s Edward Day Gallery. In a sense, these works are the opposite of collage. Using surgical tools, Brian Dettmer removes paper like an archeologist releasing a fossil from layers of sediment, thereby unveiling connections between words and images hundreds of pages away from each other. The results are breathtaking: solid and sculptural, with a texture resembling the wood from which the paper pulp once came.

Dairy Nets Soda Angle by Brian Dettmer

The Vanishing City

The Vanishing City by Tiger Tateishi

I just found this page in a pile of old magazine clippings. It is a late seventies wordless comic by Tiger Tateishi. I believe Tiger is currently active as a Manga artist; at the time he painted this, he was working at the Ettore Sottsass architecture and design firm. The city being wiped away, Hiroshima-style, by the emptiness emanating from the homeless guy is unmistakably Milan, although I can’t quite place the neighbourhood. If anyone knows more of Tateishi’s works in this vein, I’d love to see them.

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Date: Sunday, 05 Aug 2007 20:13

At some time in the mid-eighteenth Century, John, the first Earl Spencer spent a hundred guineas on an album of a hundred and two paintings which he supposed to be the work of Peter Bruegel. Had he examined the album’s first folio closely, he might have noticed it was dated 1626, some fifty-seven years after Bruegel’s death. On the final folio, moreover, is an hour-glass motif with a signature traced in gold on its base which reads AV Venne fe. In 1978, the album was acquired by the British Museum, who, ten years later, published a book reproducing all of the album’s paintings. This volume (inelegantly titled Adriaen van de Venne’s Album in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum) has been my source for the images that follow. The information quoted and paraphrased here is likewise drawn from Martin Royalton-Kisch’s long and detailed introduction to this work.

1. Detail from 'The King and Queen of Bohemia,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

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2. Detail from 'A Baron,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

Adriaen van de Venne was born in Delft, in 1589. The one contemporary account of his life, Cornelius de Bie’s 1661 Het Gulden Cabinet, (‘The Golden Cabinet’) records that the painter’s parents were ‘estimable people and wealthy.’ The young van de Venne was taught drawing and illumination by a Lieden-based goldsmith named Simon de Valck, and went on to study with one Hieronymus van Diest, apparently ‘a very fine painter in black and white.’ Between 1614 and 1624, van de Venne lived and worked in the town of Middelburg, where he produced a number of fine, large-scale paintings, and where he began providing emblematic illustrations for the works of the poet Jacob Cats. During this period he also produced many independent prints, most of them topical satire or political propaganda.

3. Detail from 'A Game of Balloon,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

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4. Detail from 'A Game of Billiards,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

By 1625, van de Venne had moved to The Hague, where he lived until his death in 1662. Royalton-Kisch speculates that his initial reason for moving there was to complete commissions for the new stadholder Fredrik Hendrik, who had succeeded to the title following the death of Prince Maurits. Van de Venne worked until the 1650s as a prolific illustrator and painter of grisailles, works done only in shades of grey and brown. Most of his grisailles are coarsely-humorous genre scenes depicting ‘the folly of an ignorant peasantry.’ Van de Venne was active in the Guild of St. Luke at The Hague, being elected several times to positions of responsibility within it. Besides painting, he also wrote several volumes of poetry, his verses often as broadly humorous as his grisailles and as stoutly patriotic as his designs for visual propaganda.

5. Detail from 'An Old Poacher,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

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6. Detail from 'Two Men Carrying a Barrel,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

The origins of the album now in the British Museum are obscure. Royalton-Kisch guesses it to have been commissioned by the exiled Frederick V., the ‘Winter King’ of Bohemia. He and his uncle, the stadholder Fredrik Hendrik are both depicted several times in the album, with the former, in line with court etiquette, usually given precedence. Thematically, the album falls into roughly-equal halves, the first being concerned with political imagery (places of importance in the on-giong eighty-years’ war; depictions—both formal and informal—of the nobility, courtiers, professionals and soldiers; and allegorical scenes of various kinds). The album’s second half is mostly concerned with moralising scenes of peasant life, which, while often comical, are generally more sympathetic and wholesome than those sketched by van de Venne in his grisailles.

7. Detail from 'A Peasant Couple and a Dog on Tiptoe,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

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8. Detail from 'A Peasant Pushing a Woman on a Sledge,' one of 102 gouache paintings by Adriaen van de Venne in the Bristish Museum album.

The present images are as follows: (1) The King and Queen of Bohemia, where Frederick and his wife Elizabeth are shown on horseback, followed by Fredrik Hendrik and his wife, Amalia van Solms; (2) A Baron on horseback, accompanied by three boys; (3) A Game of Balloon: an apparently volleyball-like game; (4) A Game of Billiards where Fredrik Hendrik is about to strike a ball, encouraged by the Winter Queen; (5) An Old Poacher with a ‘necklace’ of dead rabbits; (6) Two Men Carrying a Barrel: where the barrel is to be understood as a symbol for Heidelberg, former seat of Frederick V. and Elizabeth, the burden of whose court was then borne by sturdy Dutchmen; (7) A Peasant Couple and a Dog on Tiptoe; and (8) A Peasant Pushing a Woman on a Sledge.

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Date: Thursday, 26 Jul 2007 13:46

Butt Johnson is the name assumed by (or, perhaps—he doesn’t say—given to) a Brooklyn-based artist whose published œuvre to date comprises twenty-five remarkably intricate drawings done in ballpoint pen, and a single limited-edition print. The minute attention to detail in these works reminds me, if only tangentially, of the similarly meticulous drawings of Laurie Lipton and Paul Noble. The details below link to images copied from the artist’s website: these are all Copyright © Butt Johnson, and have been reproduced here with permission. The text below is quoted from an article about Johnson by Conor Risch.

1. Detail from 'O Quantum in Rebus Inane!,' a drawing in ballpoint pen by Butt Johnson.

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2. Detail from 'Vene Vidi Vici,' a drawing in ballpoint pen by Butt Johnson.
Although he studied painting in college, post-graduation Johnson turned to ballpoint pen drawings. ‘Everything changed in ’01,’ he says, ‘I discovered these Victorian securities engravings that were done literally as railroad bonds in the turn of the century, and I started getting really interested in this tradition of engraving.’ […] The bond engravings, with their elaborate borders, backgrounds and ornamentation, were created not only to look impressive but also to prevent counterfeiting, which meant incredible levels of detail. […] According to Johnson, the intense patterns on the bond engravings were created using geometric lathe-work. Johnson managed to create his own patterns with spirographs and rulers, and then folded pop culture imagery into his borders and backgrounds.
3. Detail from 'Another Study for Scientific Creationism (HIV),' a drawing in ballpoint pen by Butt Johnson.

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4. Detail from 'Unrequited Love,' a drawing in ballpoint pen by Butt Johnson.
In addition to the Victorian engravings that first caught Johnson’s eye, he cites as influences Italian architect, archeologist and engraver Giovanni Piranesi, Venitian painter Giandomenico Tiepolo, and the work of German anatomist Bernhard Siegfried Albinus […]. ‘I wish I could say that I studied [these master techniques] formally,’ says Johnson, but it’s just me crapping around the internet mostly, looking up stuff. And trolling around in the Strand looking at all the books.’ […] Johnson says his drawings take him roughly three months to complete, a schedule that makes it difficult to gather enough material for a gallery show.
5. Detail from 'Qualb Tenah Maksour' (Another Broken Heart), a drawing in ballpoint pen by Butt Johnson.

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6. Detail from 'Laa tishrab min beer o tirmy feeh Hajar' (Don't drink from a well and throw a stone into it), a drawing in ballpoint pen by Butt Johnson.
I suggest to him that our culture might appear unimpressive next to those we’ve grown up studying, but he disagrees. ‘I’m sure they’ll find our little plastic G.I. Joes in two hundred thousand years—and they’re going to last that long—and I’m sure they’re going to be in a lot better shape than the rocks we find from other cultures’ he says as he scrolls through images on his computer. ‘Considering the technology that we have, will they be able to access this stuff? Who knows. But if you’re just talking about remnants they can go to a landfill and find the most incredible things.’
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Date: Tuesday, 24 Jul 2007 14:12

1. Detail of a photograph of Eva Bonnier, ca. 1905.The artistic patrimony of the town where I live is, to be frank, none too inspiring. My first impression on visiting the municipal art gallery was that its permanent collection had an apologetic ‘sorry, but this is the best we could scrape together’ air about it, with portraits of local dignitaries jostling for wall-space with unimpressive maritime scenes, drab townscapes, and angst-filled, impastoed abstracts. One painting, however, caught my eye, and I spent the greater part of my visit staring at it. This was a small, informal portrait, of a blonde-haired girl with sad-looking eyes (see fig. 2 below). From the caption I learned that it was painted ca. 1906, that the girl’s name was Julia Hasselberg, and the painter’s, Eva Bonnier.

2. Detail of a postcard print of Eva Bonnier's 'Portrait of Julia Hasselberg,' ca. 1906. 3. Detail of Eva Bonnier's 'The Housemaid (Portrait of Marie Blanck),' 1890.
4. Detail of Eva Bonnier's 'Lady Visiting the Studio (Tora Kjellberg),' 1886. 5. Detail of Eva Bonnier's 'At the Studio Door (Ida Ericson),' 1885.

Eva Bonnier was born in Stockholm, 1857, into a wealthy, upper middle-class Jewish family. Her father, Albert, was a successful and influential publisher (the company he founded is still one of the largest Swedish publishing concerns today, and is still run by the Bonnier family). From 1875, Eva studied at a private art academy, later enrolling in the Women’s Department of the Kungliga Akademien för de fria konsterna, the Swedish Royal Academy of Art. In 1883 she moved to Paris, apparently one of more than fifty Nordic women artists studying and working there at that time. She attended classes at the Académie Colarossi and painted: these years in Paris were by far her most productive.

6. Detail of Eva Bonnier's 'Magdalena,' 1887. 7. Detail of Eva Bonnier's 'The Seamstresses,' 1887.
8. Detail of Eva Bonnier's 'On the Balcony (Rebecka Nathanson-Kempff,' 1886. 9. Detail of Eva Bonnier's 'Portrait of Hanna Marcus' 1886.

While in Paris, Bonnier met a sculptor named Per Hasselberg with whom she had a ‘complicated relationship:’ the couple were to be married, but their engagement was broken off in 1892, by which time she was back in Stockholm, trying, with only limited success, to establish herself as a portraitist. In 1894 Hasselberg died suddenly, leaving a new-born illegitimate daughter, Julia, who Bonnier adopted. The sad-eyed girl in the portrait must therefore have been about twelve years old when she posed for her adoptive mother. Shortly afterwards, Bonnier abandoned her attempts to make a career from painting. She is reputed to have been an intelligent, strong-willed and sharp-tongued woman who ‘could neither in private nor as an artist charm or flatter her contemporaries.’

10. Detail of Eva Bonnier's 'Portrait of Jenny Bonnier' 1886. 11. Detail of Eva Bonnier's 'Convalsecent (Lisen Bonnier),' 1890.
12. Detail of Eva Bonnier's 'Portrait of Oscar Levertin,' 1892. 13. Detail of Eva Bonnier's 'Self-Portrait,' 1886.

Although no longer a working artist, Bonnier remained active for some time in public life, but, after the turn of the century, she gradually wihdrew into isolation. In 1909, she took her own life. Although she was never quite a virtuoso with the brush, her portraits nevertheless seem acute and ‘true,’ yet not unsympathetic. My source for all but one of these images and for most of the information above is a book by Margareta Gynning entitled Det Ambivalenta Perspektivet: Eva Bonnier och Hanna Hirsch-Pauli i 1880-talets konstliv. Fig. 2 I scanned from a postcard print I picked up at the Blekinge Museum, where the painting is currently on display. Some more of Bonnier’s paintings can be seen reproduced here and here. There is an exhibition devoted to her work running currently at the Thielska Gallery in Stockholm.

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Date: Saturday, 21 Jul 2007 14:21

Veridicus Christianus was the first Jesuit emblem-book. It was published in 1601 by Jan Moretus at the famous Plantin workshop in Antwerp. It had evolved from a catechism consisting of a hundred questions and answers written by Father Jan David, rector of the Jesuit Colleges at Courtrai and Ghent. An unillustrated version of the text, in Dutch, had previously been printed in Brussels, in 1597. David had the idea of accompanying these with a hundred engravings, a commission assigned to the studio of Phillips Galle, and probably executed by Philips’ son Theodoor.

1. Detail from 'Sin,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.'

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2. Detail from 'Heresy, More Pernicious than Plague,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

The current images are courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, Candler School of Theology, Emory University. They have been reproduced from a Dutch-language edition of the Veridicus, entitled Christeliicken Waerseggher which Moretus published in 1603. (To see all of the emblems from the book, specify the Call Number “1603Davi” at the archive’s search page.) Looking at these engravings, it is easy to see why Theodoor Galle has also been credited with the authorship of the engravings in Barthélémy Del Bene’s Civitas Veri, given the two series’ similarities in style, and the deployment in both of ‘key letters’ at various points of the illustrations.

3. Detail from 'Demons,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

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4. Detail from 'Devils and Heretics,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

One peculiar feature of the Veridicus was the inclusion of a ‘lottery plate’ near the end of the book ‘with a volvelle with four openings, which always revealed a number to one of the hundred proverbs or wise sayings from classical authors printed on the following pages,’ each of which ‘in its turn referred to one of the hundred emblems of the book.’ This gimmick merely formalised a common practice whereby emblem-books would be opened at random, with the selected emblem being interpreted for its relevance for the reader (source here).

5. Detail from 'The Insanity of the World,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

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6. Detail from 'Indulgent Mother,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

Taking the present images in turn, fig. 1 illustrates Sin ‘juxtaposing sinful indulgences, including a sumptuous feast, with the image of a demon riding a human being like a beast of burden;’ while in fig. 2 we are shown Heresy, More Pernicious than Plague, where a gorgon-like figure stands at the mouth of hell, presenting a book bearing the word “heresy” to a fleeing crowd. Father David, we read, was particularly zealous in his condemnation of heretics. Depicted in fig. 3, Demons, is an alarming female figure with wings and horns, whose clawed hand brandishes a three-pronged sceptre. She is surrounded with animals, and a serpent’s tail protrudes from her skirt.

7. Detail from 'The Incautious Gaze,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

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8. Detail from 'Nothing,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

In Fig. 4, Devils and Heretics, ‘A demon and a heretic pull a sledge—on which sits a skeleton and a group of naked men transfixed by a mirror from which peacock feathers sprout—into the mouth of hell.’ Fig. 5 shows us The Insanity of the World wherein a masked female figure stands before a scale, with the symbols of earthly pleasures & power (a cup, a crown, and money) are shown seeming to outweigh the cross, rosary book, chalice and whip on its left-hand side. In the foreground of Fig. 6 we see an Indulgent Mother and her spoilt child in the foreground, juxtaposed with cautionary background scenes, including one where ‘a mother kisses her son as he goes to the gallows.’

9. Detail from 'Death, Judgement, Hell and Heaven,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

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10. Detail from 'Painting Jesus,' an engraved emblem by Theodoor Galle in Jan David's 'Veridicus Christianus.

Fig. 7 represents the Incautious Gaze where the head of a man is shown in the form of a house—this picture intriguingly echoes a drawing attributed to Arcimboldo. Fig. 8, Nothing portrays the nullity of wordly vanity, while fig. 9 depicts Death, Judgement, Hell and Heaven. The final image, Painting Jesus, does not belong to the main sequence of emblems, but rather forms part of the title-page for the book’s closing section, comprising a sequence of a hundred prayers. Note in particular the unorthodox work-in-progress by the would-be artist at the bottom-left of the engraving.

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Date: Tuesday, 26 Jun 2007 10:33

Too many books! Not enough room! What better reason could there be to stage the tenth of the Giornale Nuovo’s free book giveaways? Peruse the odd assortment of books below. If you’d like one of them, check the comments to see whether your choice has already been claimed: and, if it hasn’t, then leave a comment of your own stating which of the books it is that you want. Once you have laid claim to the volume of your choice, send me an e-mail (to mr.h@spamula.net) which contains your snail-mail address. I’ll sort through the requests to decide who gets what: in most cases, it’ll simply happen that the first person to claim a book will be the one who receives it. I’ll mail out the books within a week or so (I will pay all postage costs). I’m limiting the offer to one book per recipient.

Cover of 'Lequeu: an Architectural Enigma.'   Cover of 'Ceramica de Picasso.'

1. Lequeu: an Architectural Enigma, by Phillipe Duboy, translated from the French by Francis Scarfe, with a foreword by Robin Middleton. The book contains 420 illustrations, of which only 8, alas, are in colour. I disparaged this book in my post about Lequeu: ‘while Duboy does not omit […] what little is known about Lequeu’s life, he does this confusingly, and uses his discussion of Lequeu’s work as a pretext for a tiresome & pretentious farrago about Marcel Duchamp, Raymond Roussel & Le Corbusier, among others.’ This is a dustjacketed hardback: ISBN: 0-500-34095-1; 368pp.

2. Ceramica de Picasso, by Georges Ramié. Most of Picasso’s paintings fall into an aesthetic blind-spot of mine, but I do admire some of his sculptures, and, as documented in this volume, which I picked up at the bookshop of the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, his ceramics. The catalogue is illustrated in colour throughout; the text is in Spanish. My copy is a hardcover issued by Ediciones Polígrafa in 1995. ISBN: 84-343-0399-X; 128pp.

Cover of 'Velly: L'Oeuvre Gravé.'   Cover of the 'Philosophical Writings of Henry More.'

3. Jean Pierre Velly: L’Oeuvre Gravé collects the etchings and engravings of this Breton artist, in a catalogue raisonné compiled by Didier Bodart, with a preface by Mario Praz. I confess I never took to these works like I did to Velly’s paintings (previously mentioned here & here), although Velly was, for much of his career, best known as a graphic artist. This catalogue was issued in 1980 by the Galleria Don Chisciotte in Rome, in conjunction with Sigfrido Amadeo and Vanni Scheiwiller in Milan. It is also available for download in PDF format from this page. The text is in French and Italian. There is no ISBN, & the book is not paginated, but runs to approx. 164pp.

4. The Philosophical Writings of Henry More presents us with excerpts from three of the Cambridge Platonist’s works, namely ‘The Antidote Against Atheism,’ ‘The Immortality of the Soul,’ and ‘Enchiridion Metaphysicum.’ with a long introduction and extensive commentary & notes by Flora Isabel MacKinnon. Personally, I would have preferred much longer extracts & less commentary. This volume is a 1970s reprint of an edition first issued in 1925. ISBN 0-404-04409-3; ca. 312pp.

Cover of 'Philosophical Fictions and the French Renaissance.'   Cover of 'Mélancolies: Livre d'Images.'

5. Volume XIX of the Warburg Institute’s Surveys and Texts is Philosophical Fictions and the French Renaissance, a collection of eight essays, edited, and with an introduction by Neil Kenny, and with an afterword by Terence Cave. Three of the scholarly texts therein are in French, the others in English. The subjects include Bartélemy Aneau’s Alector; ‘Neoplatonic Fictions in the Hymnes of Ronsard;’ ‘The Philosophical Phoenix’ and ‘Fictions cosmographiques à la Renaissance.’ ISBN: 0-85481-079-X; 138pp (paperback).

6. Mélancolies: Livre d'Images, was my main source for this post. It’s a ‘book of images,’ published to coincide with the exhibition Mélancolie: Génie et folie en Occident staged in Paris in ’05-’06, and was compiled by Maxime Préaud, a knowledgeable authority on graphic art. The book’s historical scope extends from Dürer, in particular his famous 1514 print Melencolia I, to Goya. The text is in French. The illustrations (all in black-and-white) are well-chosen and well-reproduced, although, presumably owing to the book’s small size and square format, several of them appear to be more-or-less cropped. Paperback; ISBN: 2-252-03535-8; 224pp.

Cover of 'Barocke Architektur in Böhmen.'   Cover of 'Francisek Starowieyski: Plakaty. Retrospekywa.'

7. Barocke Architektur in Böhmen, is the ninth volume in the excellent Instrumentaria Artium series issued by the Austrian publishers Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA for short). It reproduces in facsimile an architectural treatise by a master-builder named Abraham Leüthner, which was first published in Prague in 1677. Leüthner’s book begins with a short, illustrated text, and is thereafter wholly pictorial: a jumble of groundplans, façades, decorative elements, fountains, grotesques, diagrams, etc. (I used a few of these images in this post). It is followed by an illustrated 40pp+ essay (in German) by H.G. Franz. Paperback; ISBN: 3-201-01577-6; 140pp.

8. Francisek Starowieyski: Plakaty. Retrospekywa / Posters. Retrospective. This slim volume collects the striking poster designs of Starowieyski (some of which I mentioned here). The images are drawn 'from the collection of Piotra Dabrowskiego & Agnieski Kulon.' There is a brief foreword by Starowieyski, and a note by Piotr Dabrowski (both given in Polish and English), followed by reproductions of sixty or so of his designs, followed by a more comprehensive catalogue, with tiny thumbnail illustrations (all in colour). Paperback; ISBN: 83-915298-5-1; approx. 96pp.

Cover of 'Eisbergfreistadt: A House of Cards.'   Cover of 'Die Entdeckung Amerikas

9. Eisbergfreistadt: A House of Cards, by by Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick. As recently mentioned here, this booklet contains designs for ‘a hand-coloured etched playing card deck’ with ‘four suits: birds, smokestacks, icebergs,’ which, together ‘form a continuous panorama.’ I’m letting this go as I now have some decks of the actual cards that Kahn & Selesnick have since produced. Paperback; 57pp; published by lulu.com; no ISBN.

10. Die Entdeckung Amerikas, (‘The Discovery of America’) by Saul Steinberg. This is the German-language edition, published by Diogenes Verlag, Zürich, of a collection of Steiberg’s drawings published in 1992. I wrote about this book here: while I enjoyed making these works’ acquaintance, I have seldom looked at them since. There is a brief introduction by Arthur C. Danto (given in German), but after that the pictures are presented without commentary. Hardback; ISBN: 3-257-02042-2; 210pp.

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Date: Thursday, 21 Jun 2007 12:28

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from Marc Dennis, thanking me for some old Giornale posts which, he wrote, had aided him in his research for a lecture on the subject of Insects in Art that he had delivered for the New York Entomological Society. Mr. Dennis added that I might be interested in certain of his paintings, and, after a quick perusal of the works on display at his website, I replied that yes, indeed I was.

Detail from 'Seascape with Submarine,' by Marc Dennis, painting in oil on masonite, 2002.

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Detail from 'Seascape with Machine Gunfire,' by Marc Dennis, painting in oil on masonite, 2002.

His compositions are usually simple yet bold examples of beautifully-rendered realism, though seldom without some ironic twist. In the first of the two beguiling seascapes above, for example, the swell in the foreground of the picture is explained by the painting’s title: Seascape with Submarine. The columns of spray in the second image? Seascape with Machine Gunfire. ‘Rather than trashing art history,’ writes one critic, ‘Marc Dennis uses it to make contemporary social commentary.’

Detail from 'Horse with a Minimalist Blanket,' by Marc Dennis, painting in oil on panel, 2003.

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Detail from 'American Horse with Tabriz,' by Marc Dennis, painting in oil on panel, 2003.
Through the appropriation of a visually decadent style of historical painting, I attempt at infusing the notions of beauty and seduction with new symbolic criteria and attitude.
With a light-handed use of narrative and metaphor, I’d like to think that my style of realism, in its lucid objectivity, results in a kind of nervous beauty and irrational disquiet.
'Hybrid #20, Florigium Classicus Bumpus,' by Marc Dennis, painting in oil on canvas, 2006.

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'Hybrid #44, Florigium Bling Bling,' by Marc Dennis, painting in oil on canvas, 2006.

Dennis has been exhibiting his work since the early ’90s, and his paintings have been on show at such prestigious locales as The National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian; the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. He is currently represented by the Hirschl and Adler Gallery in New York. He also works as an Asssociate Professor of Art at Elmira College in upstate New York.

'Vespid Mortem (Dead Wasps) #2,' by Marc Dennis, painting in oil on canvas, 2006.

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Detail from 'Vespid Mortem (Dead Wasps) #6,' by Marc Dennis, painting in oil on canvas, 2006.

The first four of the images above were scanned from a catalogue of a 2003 exhibition devoted to Dennis’s paintings at the Ricco/Maresca Gallery, also in New York, while the remainder of them were sent to me by the artist. Other paintings of his can be found at the websites of the Hooks-Epstein Galleries, Houston; the Bettcher Gallery, Miami; the Tory Folliard Gallery, Milwaukee and the G. Gibson Gallery, Seattle. All of these images are copyright © Marc Dennis, and are reproduced here with permission.

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Date: Wednesday, 06 Jun 2007 09:30

Not quite a year ago, further to a post here about the grotesque in art, Marly asked if I might also write something similar about the arabesque. This idea rested on a cold back-burner until a couple of weeks ago, when I acquired a booklet entitled Some Main Streams and Tributaries in European Ornament from 1500 to 1750 by Peter Ward-Jackson, in which are reprinted some articles that had first been published in a 1967 issue of The Victoria and Albert Museum Bulletin. One of these articles was specifically concerned with the arabesque, and is my source for the images (and for most of the information) below.

Fig. 1: detail view of a damascened brass dish: Venetian-Saracenic; early sixteenth-century.

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Fig. 2: detail of arabesque designs by Francesco Pellegrini, from his 'La fleur de la science de pourtraicture...,' Paris, 1530.

The very term arabesque is a rather diffuse one, sometimes used broadly to denote almost any style of geometric ornamentation prevalent in Islamic nations, but here I will take it as referring more specifically to stylised vegetal decoration ‘in which plants and leaves grow according to the laws of geometry rather than nature,’ forming ‘interlaced straps, zizags, spirals, scrolls and knots’ which tend to fall into complicated polygonal shapes, in turn forming separate frames for other patterns inside them. Use of this type of decoration, which apparently originated in 10th-Century Baghdad, became widespread throughout the Islamic world in the following centuries.

Fig. 3: detail of arabesque design (i) by Jean Gourmont, (d. 1551).

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Fig. 4: detail of arabesque design (ii) by Jean Gourmont, (d. 1551).

While stylised, interlaced ornament was not unknown in classical and mediæval Europe, the arabesque proper seems to have made a relatively sudden appearance in Renaissance Italy ca. 1530, with Venice as its likely point of entry. ‘Venice was a great market for Islamic wares, some of which were made in Venice itself by the Moslem community that lived there.’ The first image above shows part of a damascened brass vessel thought to have been made by a Venetian Moslem craftsman in the early 16th Century. Similar patterns, known even then as Arabesque, (or Moresque, or Saracenic) were used in the decoration of book-bindings, manuscripts, textiles and pottery.

Fig. 5: detail of a design for a cup decorated with arabesques by Holbein (1497-1543) - from a later etching by Hollar (1645).

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Fig. 6: detail of a design for a pilgrim bottle decorated with arabesques by Wenzel Jamnitzer (1508-85).

‘This then,’ writes Ward-Jackson, ‘was the Saracenic ornament which certain Italian artists began to study and to copy during the 1530s, precisely in the decade when a new kind of scrollwork […] was beginning to emerge in the palace of Fontainebleau under the direction of Rosso Fiorentino.’ ‘It so happens,’ he continues ‘that the author of one of the first books of Moresque ornaments to be published in Europe, the Italian artist Francesco Pellegrini, was one of Rosso's assistants in the work of decorating the Palace.’ Ward-Jackson then speculates that Pellegrini ‘may have introduced Rosso to the Moresque, and Rosso’s knowledge of this free linear ornament may have encouraged him in his own experiments with bands and scrolls, [although] the Saracenic influence is not very perceptible in Rosso’s own work.’

Fig. 7: detail of a design for a dish decorated with arabesques by Pierre Firens (1601-90).

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Fig. 8: detail of some arabesque designs (incorporating grotesque elements) by Balthasar Sylvius (1518-80), from his 'Variarum protractionum quas vulgo Maurusias vocant,' Paris, 1554.

This novel style was quickly circulated throughout Europe by means of pattern-books illustrating arabesques on needlework, jewellery, furniture, weaponry, etc., etc. The designs reproduced in Pellegrini’s volume (fig. 2), were intended for embroiderers. Some similar patterns were printed without a specific decorative context, such as the mid-16th-Century designs by the engraver Jean Gourmont (figs. 3 & 4). Others were shown in situ as embellishments on finished objects, such as the decoration on the cup designed by Hans Holbein the Younger shown above (fig. 5) in a later print by Wenceslas Hollar, or the pattern on the ‘pilgrim bottle’ (fig. 6), designed by the Nuremberg goldsmith Wenzel Jamnitzer.

Fig. 9: design for an ewer decorated with arabesque-influenced strapwork, by Georg Wechter the Elder, from his 'Stück zum Verzachnen...,' Nuremberg, 1579.

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Fig. 10: grotesque design with arabesque-influenced strapwork, by Lucas Kilian, from his 'Newes Gradesca Beuchlein...,' Augsburg, 1607.

By the mid-17th Century, the vogue for ‘pure’ arabesque had faded—Pierre Firens’s design for a dish (fig. 7) being a relatively late example. Arabesques, though seldom used any more in isolation, came to be an essential part of the design vocabulary of the 18th-Century rococo style, having been proved ‘capable of combining harmoniously with traditional classical motifs, above all with the grotesque.’ Even in the 16th Century, some designers had begun to combine grotesque and arabesque elements together: the patterns by Balthasar Sylvius in fig. 8, above, are an example. The ewer by Georg Wechter shown in fig. 9 is another hybrid design, where Fontainebleau-style strapwork is interlaced in an arabesque-like manner.

Fig. 11: grotesque design with arabesque influences, by Jean Berain, late 17th Century.

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Fig. 12: rococo design with arabesque influences, by François de Cuviliés the Elder, ca. 1750.

The design by Lucas Kilian (fig. 10) foreshadows the rococo deployment of grotesque elements following vaguely arabesque patterns around a central frame. The next image (by Jean Berain, fig. 11) is another example of what is, ostensibly, a grotesque, but again, one in which the ‘movement of the lines, the ogival patterns which they form when intersecting, and above all, the tendency of the bands to fall into polygonal patterns within the design’ we see ‘features typical of the arabesque.’ The final image above, a mid-18th Century ceiling design by François de Cuviliés the Elder seems no less distant from the the origins of the arabesque, but even so (according to Ward-Jackson) ‘the same basic features are still there: the lines of bandwork, alternately straight and scrolled, the acanthus foliage sprouting from them at intervals, the complex interlacements, and the tendency of the lines to form separate polygonal compartments.’

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Date: Tuesday, 29 May 2007 08:15

Behind the smooth, almost photographic surfaces of Laurie Lipton’s pencil drawings lies a world of intricate detail. Inspired by the hyper-realistic paintings of the 15th-Century Flemish masters, she has developed an unique, decidedly painterly graphic technique using a permanent-point pencil in a way that mimics these artists’ endlessly patient application of egg-tempera paint. From thousands upon thousands of distinct, precise, cross-hatched pencil-strokes, she builds up rich, monochrome tones. ‘I see my pencils as “colours,”’ she writes, ‘with the “H” leads as cold and the “B” leads as warm.’ Lipton concedes that this painstaking approach ‘takes forever,’ adding that ‘no one in their right mind would have the patience to draw in this way, which is why it works for me so well.’

Detail from 'Love Bite,' a pencil drawing on paper by Laurie Lipton, 1990.
My mother and father had the normal reaction of Jewish parents and exclaimed ‘Genius!’ every time I showed them my work. They were extremely proud of me, and displayed my tortured, pain-filled masterpieces to dinner parties of friends and relations. The dinner guests would look at me—a pretty, beautifully-dressed, petite little sweetie—then look at my artwork, and slowly edge away.
Detail from 'Too Long at the Fair,' a pencil drawing on paper by Laurie Lipton, 1997.
I was accepted into one of the best universities to study Fine Art, but became disillusioned with what was on offer. It was the 1970s, and ‘doing your own thing’ was fashionable. If the assignment was a self-portrait, students would bring in rocks, broken mirrors, or slashed canvases, and explain why it was a self-portrait: talk art. I used to cut classes and hide in the library for hours copying Dürer, Goya, Memling and Bosch.
Detail from 'Rush Hour,' pencil drawing on paper by Laurie Lipton, 1988.
I only draw about the things that affect me deeply. Why bother spending so much time and effort on a piece if I'm not passionately involved? I want my work to dig into me, to be so subjective that it goes beyond itself and is able to affect other people. I am trying to be brutally honest with myself in order to communicate, to touch on a truth. It’s like an archeological dig deep down into the day to day.
Detail from 'Sea Change,' drawing in charcoal on paper by Laurie Lipton, 2000.

The images above are details of drawings reproduced in a ‘press book’ (simply entitled Laurie Lipton) compiled by the artist’s agents in 2003. The quartet of details below were scanned from the catalogue of a 2005 exhibition of Lipton’s drawings on the subject of the Mexican Día de Muertos (‘Day of the Dead’). These books, together with a variety of limited-edition prints, are available for purchase from the artist’s official website, which also features a comprehensive gallery of her drawings.

Detail from 'Los Paragüeros,' drawing in charcoal and pencil on paper by Laurie Lipton, 2004.
I envied the Mexican approach [to death]. The dead were always with them, visiting annually, getting up to all kinds of mischief, a reason for celebration. Families gathered on graves, picknicking with the dead, whole villages turned up to give offerings to households in mourning, and tourists arrived by the busload from all over the world to party with the Mexicans and their ghosts. Death was incorporated into their lives and ‘normalized.’ In the profound words of a TV commercial: they made it a ‘totally organic experience.’
Detail from 'Family Reunion,' drawing in charcoal and pencil on paper by Laurie Lipton, 2005.
Mexicans embrace death in their culture, whereas my culture runs from it, screaming. We encourage youth, beauty and the illusion that we have all the time in the world and will never, ever end. We frantically face-lift, botox, throw vitamins, creams and money at death. Death only happens to other people. Only losers die. Skiulls always look like they’re laughing; maybe the joke is on us.
Detail from 'Madonna of the Sacred Bones,' drawing in charcoal, pencil and ink on paper by Laurie Lipton, 2005.

Each one of Lipton’s drawings can take weeks, or, in some cases, months to complete. Of the last image, below, she writes:

The lovely Lady Death appears frequently in Mexican folk art. This is my painstaking version. If I had painted this image, it would have taken me half the amount of time it took to draw. I had to draw around the white lace. It took eons. It nearly killed me, which would have been very appropriate.
Detail from 'Lady Death,' drawing in pencil on paper by Laurie Lipton, 2005.

The images above are all copyright © Laurie Lipton, and are reproduced here with permission: click on them to see them enlarged, and in full.

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Date: Tuesday, 22 May 2007 07:02

Shoreham landscape by Samuel Palmer, 1824

Note, that when you go to Dulwich it is not enough on coming home to make recollections in which shall be united the scattered parts about those sweet fields into a sentimental Dulwich looking whole No But considering Dulwich as the gate into the world of vision one must try behind the hills to bring up a mystic glimmer like that which lights our dreams. And those same hills, (hard task) should give us promise that the country behind them is Paradise.[1]

English painter Samuel Palmer (1805-1881) was nineteen years old when he filled the pages of this sketchbook. These drawings belong to what is generally regarded as the most important period in Palmer’s career; a time that is marked by a revolt against the modern world and the art it produced. Writings and drawings from this period are relatively rare for the simple reason that Herbert, the artist’s son, misguidedly destroyed a great deal of them. ‘Knowing that no one would be able to make head or tail of what I burnt […] I wished to save it from a more humiliating fate […T]he fire lasted for days’[2].

Mule, a drawing by Samuel Palmer, 1824.

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Mule in landscape, a drawing by Samuel Palmer, 1824.

A key influence on the young Palmer was English landscape painter John Linnell. Linnell exposed Palmer to the Northern European primitives and instilled in him a love of careful observation of nature, which shines through these pages.

[…] it pleased God to send Mr. Linnell as a good angel from Heaven to pluck me from the pit of modern art; and after struggling to get out for the space of a year and a half, I have just enough cleared my eyes from the slime of the pit to see what a miserable state I am now in.[3]

Through Linnell, Palmer met William Blake, whom he greatly admired and whose influence is evident in the sketchbook. Rather than the terrifying visionary, it is the Blake of the Pastorals of Virgil that left his mark on Palmer’s work.

Old Testament scene by Samuel Palmer, 1824.

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‘He Made Great Lights’ by Samuel Palmer, 1824

The sketchbook contains detailed studies from nature, sketches for compositions and single figures, annotations on art, extracts from Milton and Fuseli, various notes and draft verses. All the drawings are executed in pen and ink, sometimes over pencil, occasionally highlighted in watercolour and even gold ink.

Study of a tree by Samuel Palmer, 1824.

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Study of trees by Samuel Palmer, 1824.

Palmer’s Sketchbook of 1824 was initially published by the William Blake Trust in 1962. A new edition in collaboration with Thames and Hudson on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the artist’s birth is the source of all the illustrations in this post. These images are all copyright © The William Blake Trust, and have been reproduced without permission, only for as long as no-one objects to their presence on this site.

Notes for a polyptych and studies of foliage by Samuel Palmer, 1824.
  1. Palmer, Samuel, Sketchbook of 1824, London 2005, p.81 ^
  2. Grigson, Geoffrey, Samuel Palmer, the Visionary Years, London 1947 ^
  3. Palmer, A.H., The Life and Letters of Samuel Palmer, London 1892 ^
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Date: Monday, 21 May 2007 12:38

Exhibition news: Kahn & Selesnick’s latest project Eisbergfreistadt is currently on show at the Pepper Gallery, Boston, and will run there until June 9th.

Eisbergfreistadt documents the creation of this principality which is inspired by an actual incident in 1923, when a mammoth iceberg ran aground in the Baltic port of Lübeck, towering over the town and terrifying the populace. Many decided (not unreasonably) that the iceberg caps were melting and the apocalypse coming. This event inspired gloomy cafe songs and penny dreadfuls, even a deck of playing cards.
Detail from 'Snake Boat,' archival pigmented print, by Kahn & Selesnick, 2007.
Many notgeld and inflationary currencies were issed for the Eisbergfreistadt. Manifestos were published, and posters put up declaring the state's new ideals, citizenship requirements, etc. Products started appearing: butter, lard, chocolate (of surprisingly high quality) etc, all stamped with the Eisbergfreistadt logo. Although the creation of the Eisbergfreistadt is an actual historical incident, it is not clear to what extent it actually existed.
'The King of Birds,' playing card design by Kahn & Selesnick, 2006. 'The One of Smokestacks,' playing card design by Kahn & Selesnick, 2006.
'The One of Thorns,' playing card design by Kahn & Selesnick, 2006. 'The King of Icebergs,' playing card design by Kahn & Selesnick, 2006.

Copies of the playing cards designed for the exhibition, four of which are shown above (the King of Birds, & One of Smokestacks; the One of Thorns, & King of Icebergs) can be purchased from the duo’s website. A booklet containing the same designs is also available. See also my previous entries about K&S;’s Scotlandfuturebog and Apollo Prophecies projects, and last year’s brief mention of Eisbergfreistadt, here. These images are all copyright © Kahn & Selesnick, 2006-07, and are reproduced here with permission.

'Funfzig Millionen Mark,' (Fifty Million Mark) banknote design in casein on paper by Kahn & Selesnick, 2007.

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Date: Thursday, 17 May 2007 09:45

Detai from a sheet from the British Museum album of Arent van Bolten's drawings.I’d never heard the name Arent van Bolten until I saw this post at the excellent Monster Brains weblog, with an intriguing photograph of a grotesque bronze statuette, and a similarly weird engraving. My subsequent searches turned up very little useful information about this artist, except for some notices of exhibitions in which his work had been featured. I gathered that the catalogue of one such exhibition (Dawn of the Golden Age—Northern Netherlandish Art 1580-1620: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Dec. ’93 - Mar. ’94), contained some reproductions of van Bolten’s work (and a great deal else besides—this was supposedly one of the largest exhibitions ever staged in Holland), and I hastened to order a copy of it. The images that follow were scanned from its pages.

Print by Pierre Firens(?) after a design by Arent van Bolten, ca. 1604-16.

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Print by Pierre Firens(?) after a design by Arent van Bolten, ca. 1604-16.

The known facts of van Bolten’s life and work are few. He was born at Zwolle ca. 1573. He is known to have been in Italy in 1596 and 1602. By 1603 he was back in his home-town, where he married one Birgitta Lantinck. The couple had eight children. He was a silversmith by profession. At some point he moved with his family from Zwolle to Leeuwarden, where he died, ca. 1633.

Van Bolten’s reputation, however, rests mainly on his drawings, and in particular on the album in the British Museum that bears the title “BOLTEN VAN SWOL/TEEKENINGE” The drawings range from ornament, objects in precious metals, grotesque figures and monsters, to figural scenes from the Bible and mythology, the Shrovetide carnival, the commedia dell’arte and peasant life.
Print by Pierre Firens(?) after a design by Arent van Bolten, ca. 1604-16.

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Print by Pierre Firens(?) after a design by Arent van Bolten, ca. 1604-16.

This album was compiled by an unknown collector ca. 1637, who had the drawings numbered, and grouped into thematic sections. ‘Some of van Bolten’s drawings of monsters and fanciful animals bear a resemblance to those in the prints of Christoph Jamnitzer […] and Wendel Dietterlin the Younger.’ Several of the designs in the album had been ‘turned into meticulously-faithful prints’ and published in Paris (between 1604 and 1616) by a Flemish-born printseller named Pierre Firens. The four images above are examples of these engravings. The last of them combines two of van Bolten’s drawings (nos. 151 and 152 in the album, shown below), into a single composition, embellished with farting monkeys.

Drawing #151 by Arent van Bolten, from the British Museum album.

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Drawing #152 by Arent van Bolten, from the British Museum album.

‘A number of fantastic bronze animals have been attributed to van Bolten on the basis of stylistic similarities to his designs known from the drawings and the prints.’ Four different models have been documented. At least ten examples of the birdlike creature (the first image below) are known. Some of them seem to have been designed as novelty lamps, where the wick (and the flame) would come out of the creature’s mouth. Another figurine, of which just a single example is recorded, depicts a monster with a reptile’s head, a bird’s body and legs, with snail-shells in place of wings. The second image below shows a statuette with the head of a buffalo, the body of a frog, with stylised wings in place of forelegs, and the hind legs of a hoofed animal. It is not known whether these bronzes were van Bolten’s own work, or whether they were modelled from his drawings, or the engraved copies thereof.

Grotesque bronze after a design by Arent van Bolten, ca. 1610-30.

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Grotesque bronze after a design by Arent van Bolten, ca. 1610-30.

The present images are all scans from the catalogue Dawn of the Golden age—Northern Netherlandish Art 1580-1620, edited by Ger Luijten, Ariane van Suchtelen, Reinier Baarsen, Wouter Kloek and Marijn Schapelhouman, and published by the Rijksmuseum in association with Waanders Uitgevers, Zwolle, in 1993. The information I’ve quoted and paraphrased comes from Peter Fuhring’s outline biography of van Bolten, and from the same author’s individual catalogue entries about the artist’s work.

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