You might think that having the likes of Dylan Thomas (he of, “Do not go gentle into that good night”) drop by at Christmas would be tantamount to exclusively broaching Scrooge’s Christmas Eves prior to that special one. Just in case our unlikely courier of charm might, to some, fixedly and unwelcomely portend a variation of The Nightmare before Christmas, we also have in our sack the sure-fire James Herriot and his just-right reminiscence about The Christmas Day Kitten. I’ll keep my enthusing, about Thomas’ visit, to a minimum, whereupon there is the YouTube of the author’s 1952 reading; and, then, to some hints about Herriot’s doing so much more than damage control. Continue reading
Over the past few years, there have been several exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Ontario which excitingly provided close-ups of a plunge into a massive, disturbing and thrilling change in orientation from that of a longstanding mainstream rationality. Efforts ranging from Picasso to David Bowie have staged for us a perhaps very puzzling eschewal of embracing the ambitions of discrete figures joining with other such bounded players in order to cannily foster understanding and well-being. There we saw, by contrast, a cadre of those outsiders engaged by uncanny possibilities which seem to have little chance of meaningfully connecting to generally understood respectable ways and means.Another show, called “Surreal Things,” sought to indicate how the worlds of fashion and industrial and graphic design had become noticeably infiltrated by such initiatives. But the tenor was such as to allow for an easy assumption that only well-heeled neurotics were taking that path. However, with the current show, “The Great Upheaval,” put together by the Guggenheim Museum in New York, from out of a bravado spate of acquisitions by industrialist, Solomon R. Guggenheim, in the early years of the twentieth century, the focus has been very much sharpened in order to, as it were, give us an X-ray of processes generally eclipsed by everyday chores and pleasures.In the work above, “The Smokers” (1911-1912), by Fernand Leger, the mundane pastime becomes engulfed by the neighborhood’s own drift. Continue reading
Sometimes we learn more from what disappoints us than from what excites us. For instance, there is a pop music phenomenon, recently lauded by the Smithsonian Magazine (and awarded, by them, an America Ingenuity recognition, in Performance Arts), who calls herself St. Vincent and fetchingly distributes a melange of lush melody and abrasive, often cornball jingles.
The deluxe cruise ship of a magazine that was L’Illustration, 80 or so years ago, was not simply a tireless and generous repository of visual arts and belles-lettres, but it was also a testing ground for modernists—especially graphic designers— looking to discover how far from Old France they could nudge a mainstream clientele.
The “Numero de Noel” (Christmas) editions were particularly heavy on the Louvre-level satisfactions; and in the number for 1924, with a cover showing a reproduction of a portrait-painting by Fragonard, that elegant and witty design provocateur, George Barbier, gives us a fascinating ride into visual irony. Purporting to be a document from the pre-Revolutionary period (by someone called Andre le Breton—Andre Breton being the notorious Dadaist and Surrealist firebrand; but at the same time there is remarking of an Andre le Breton who was a notorious censor, in the eighteenth century)— the rather daffy text punches out twists and turns of the love affair of one of Marie Antoinette’s confidantes. The main thing, though, is Barbier’s presenting the actors in this imbroglio as if they had become present-day, deco-era Parisians. Continue reading
Paris’ reputation as the center of brilliant elegance was the upshot of a long history of ruthless efforts to, if not obviate a critical mass of rustic obtuseness, at least circumvent it. Versailles and the chateaux of the Loire valley were, to a significant extent a, not very effective, attempt to place a cordon sanitaire between intentions of profane power (the aristocracy) and intentions of more stolid, pious power.
With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, economic wealth began to foster strivings for a Belle Epoque of increasingly gratifying comfort and excitement. Paris, then, became the scene of inventions to attract those intent on unprecedented wonders of sensual discovery. There, in particular, decorative activities of fashion design and graphic design promotion of such a metier caught fire.
These days, in Toronto, we have, in a ponderous chateau-facsimile, namely, the University of Toronto Robarts Library, an exhibit of the output of a major exponent of that Paris phenomenon. Continue reading
For a number of decades, graphic artist. Norman Rockwell, sent forth a large quantity of illustrations which seemed— to most Americans and most non-Americans— to capture the essence of the Republic. This was a portrayal (to a great extent emanating from the widely-read periodical, The Saturday Evening Post) involving richly observed vignettes of a population of down-to-earth and buoyant folks. Continue reading
Architects and industrial designers, Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu, have managed, ever so quietly (in a field not known for its diffidence), to provide us with a fascinating new slant on design’s speaking to questions of innovative cogency. Having been educated and having launched careers in the U.S., they quite recently (9 years ago) decamped back to the Orient, settling in that most historically glamorous and mysterious of Chinese cities, Shanghai.
The factor they decided they could not live without was Shanghai’s legacy of dark, narrow streets and corridors. From a North American standpoint that would seem to be an odd attraction, given the premium here upon expansive, uncluttered configuration. In the photo above, the heaviness of the stairways drags down the lightness of the room’s context. What could they be thinking of? Continue reading
16,000 water-traversing creatures can affect you in surprising ways. There is their out-of-this-world cadence, configuration and color. And there are juxtapositions galore! Continue reading
The Art Gallery of Ontario, deftly following up on its Surreal Things show, has tapped into London’s Victoria and Albert Museum’s rampage of a show, a wild and wonderful bundle of entities, pertaining to singer/songwriter PLUS, David Bowie (b. 1947). Like stumbling upon a fun house that fights your instincts to concentrate in calm, this friendly assault is more of a challenge than most of us had bargained for. Continue reading