Monday, March 9, 2009

More Books (& Cupcakes) of Wonder + Anyone Know This Painting?

Let me get straight to the point: this painting is the one referred to in the title. Does anyone recognize the artist and/or title? If all else fails, I'll just go back to Books of Wonder and check the tag, but I seriously want to save myself from the temptations that place presents.

Below follows some more amazingness from the Neil Gaiman & Charles Vess signing session. And yes, from the cupcake store too.

The line was half a block long - even hours before the actual event took place. I "only" had to wait for 45 minutes or so, during which time I had ample opportunity to observe the girl in front of me tear the cover of her book into tiny pieces as she was reading. Later I found out she is an artist.


Irreversibly damaging 1) a work of art, 2) something a fellow artist labored on, 3) something she herself could have made / will probably make for a living at some point in the future. Not to mention the fact that she was hurting a book in public.

Now that I have moderately let some steam off, let us move on to more pleasant realms -- more of Neil and Charles, as well as outrageously funny advertising within the Cupcake Store.

Doesn't it look like that guy in the middle is an alien of some sorts?

Cupcakers and patient people (2 hours after the scheduled ending)

Yes, this is unbelievable but real.

Real Blueberry Girls - and Growing like a Weed

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess Signing

At the Book of Wonders
07 March 2009, 1 PM - 4 PM [- 8 PM]

Today, on what felt like the first real day of Spring there was an exceptional chance to purchase Bluberry Girl ahead of time in Books of Wonder and have it signed by the creator duo along with other Gaiman/Vess titles. The book will only hit Amazon on the 10th, still, most of the 450+ people who gathered at the reading, slideshow, and Q&A cum signing session today were already delighted by the soulful words and illustrations of the award winning illustrator and author.

Charles Vess and Neil Gaiman, signing

The idea of the picture book started out long ago as a poem Neil Gaiman wrote for Tori Amos' then yet unborn child and developed into a wonderful tribute to mother and daughterhood with the intimate and touching illustrations of Charles Vess. I only heard the end of the Q&A in the doorway as I was waiting to be let in, but the rest of the event was quite amazing and worth every minute of the wait. The originals were on display as well, and the exhibition will be open for the public until the 29th of March. Some of the proceeds from the purchased artwork go towards the RAINN organization, in keeping with the womanhood theme.

Click to enlarge

I was especially very very happy to see all the people "camping" between the aisles, all reading, reading, reading. The children were fascinated about the books and it was very good to see that some of them couldn't be dragged away from the words and pictures. (I might add, the audience was overwhelmingly adult.)

Click to enlarge

Besides, the Cupcake Store conveniently sharing the space with the bookstore had the most outrageously attractive cupcakes I have ever seen. It was pure meanness the way those cupcakes were advertised and displayed. I'm sure I'm not the only one who gave in to the temptation more than once.

You don't want to click this

Some personal stories: I overheard one of the girls working in the Cupcake Store confess that she had been working all day and was afraid she would miss having her book signed. I was amazed at her stamina: even just loitering around was terribly exhausting, let alone taking orders from hundreds of people all day. I really hope she got her personalized copy. (I also strongly hope Neil and Charles were fed at some point.)

A graver one: It was sad and shocking to find out late in the evening that Neil Gaiman went through a difficult time just prior the show. Still, he didn't let the hundreds of fans down and decided to conceal his grief and do the event. His smile was radiant and his geniality endearing even 6 hours into the session. I would like to honestly thank him for making it such a wonderful experience for us, and for taking some personal time with each and every fan in line. I hope he received back some of the energy and warmth he invested today. A long day, a long way. I wish him much strength.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Snow White :: Disney vs. Grimms, Round 5

About Disney's modern self-parody and the Grimms' male chauvinism

The DreamWorks production Shrek features a scene strongly reminiscent of Snow White’s forest song with the animals ("With a Smile and a Song"), in which Snow White seems to bind especially strongly with a small bird singing with its full might and sounding off key in the effort.

Shrek's wink at the famous forest idyll possesses less of a romantic charm. Due to Fiona’s artistic enthusiasm the Princess-Bird response aria comes to a tragic end. (Sorry I had to link to the video, embedding was disabled.)

Enchanted is clearly another laudable attempt at self-parody. The most recognizable original Walt Disney elements include the cleaning scene with the help of the animals featuring the "Happy Working Song," a parody of the 1937 Snow White’s "Whistle While You Work".

In Enchanted, the Princess lovingly enlists the help of the most repulsive city critters, including dirty pigeons, rats, and cockroaches as a parody of the “zoo” surrounding Snow White.

In Enchanted, similarly to Snow White, the heroine’s single goal in life is also to be wed and take up her role as housewife and mother. Needless to say, the happy ending consists in the fulfillment of this dream, even if the Prince does not turn out to be The One. It is easy to explain this desire as the ultimate success for the pre-19th-century women, the traditional storytellers (and even for most American women of the 30s and the two subsequent decades). As Zipes encapsulates the idea: “the classical fairy tale for children and adults reinforced the patriarchal symbolic order based on rigid notions of sexuality and gender.”

The Brothers Grimm, who apparently shared the popular notion that women should maintain the household and make sure all the men's desires are fulfilled, reinforced this model of happiness in Snow White--and many other tales. Their body of work, but especially their own biography gives ample evidence of their patriarchal attitude. As they collected their fairy tales, their most often used and most trusted sources were women. These women very often did all the footwork and wrote down different versions of fairy tales, then sent it by post to the Brothers, whose work as collectors was thus greatly facilitated.

However, other than a brief mention of one of them, Frau Viehmännin, in their introduction to the Kinder-und Hausmärchen, these diligent and devoted sources were overlooked and all credit was given to the Brothers. The women’s efforts were all the more laudable, seeing as female education of the times was lacking at best, and for the same reason many withdrew from contributing. As cited by Valerie Paradiz, a formerly devoted contributor suddenly ceased to show interest in the project and turned her full attention toward “her husband, and [was] afraid, like most females, about her writing mistakes”. On the same page she makes mention of another valuable source withdrawing from submitting tales because “she was embarrassed when she learned that male scholars would be scrutinizing the stories she told” (emphasis added).

The 1796 death of Dorothea Grimm, the mother of the Brothers, was a huge loss for the already fatherless family, and the five adolescents remained alone in the world, dependent on each other only. The weight of household chores, according to the age’s standards, now had to be shouldered by the only girl, the 15-year-old Lotte. However, according to Valerie Paradiz, she refused “to replace their mother as the family nurturer” and sunk into deep agony upon being considered little but “a domestic servant”. Her resistance outraged the brothers but this did not change the girl’s mind:

"Her resentment was strong. Jacob and Wilhelm had their privileged status as educated men of letters to make up for whatever material lack the family suffered, but Lotte had nothing. She faced this painful fact every day in a house of brothers who acknowledged her for little more than her utilitarian purposes."

It is then of little surprise that Snow White is only allowed to stay in the house of the dwarfs as long as she cooks, cleans, sews, and does all housework as needed. In the Grimm version the dwarfs make this the condition of her stay, and she diligently attends to her chores. Disney, however, made the girl start working voluntarily as soon as she’s stepped over the threshold. She even voices her hope, prior to the arrival of the dwarfs, that if she offers to “be their mother,” they might let her stay. When they discover her sleeping across the beds, she repeats the offer and it is, of course, readily accepted.

Even though not in this particular tale, the Grimm brothers frequently use the expression “sich verdingen” for stepping into such services, which in literal translation means “to make a thing out of oneself”, “to reify” oneself. Understandably, Lotte Grimm did not want to make an object of herself in a household of four men. It is little surprise, then, that Snow White’s ready self-sacrifice was much more desirable in the Brothers’ eyes than their sister's resistance.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

In the Tiger's Mouth

I often have the weirdest, most peculiar, most vivid, creepiest dreams - in other words, the kind of horror movie I would never watch... They often leave a strong fingerprint on the days following but last night's adventure wasn't 100% unpleasant. I mean, as long as you don't consider your head being clenched by a tiger's jaws unpleasant.

The beginning of the dream eludes me but let's fast-forward to the moment where a good friend and I were walking in the spring woods in thick undergrowth of ferns. Suddenly a tiger cub popped up, with a face resembling a human child's features (??) and started to play with us. My friend warned me that cub = mother around, and sure enough, in a second a huge female tiger was leaping towards us.

We started running. I'm sure you know how running feels in dreams. Let's just say I'm glad it took relatively little effort to make a huge distance this time, unlike in other dreams. After we've decided that we were out of the ear and "nose shot" of the tiger, we started playing with the cub again, forgetting about the menacing mother -- who appeared right next to my friend out of the blue.

"There's nothing to do but wait it out, she will only lick your face," he said as I watched his head disappear in the mouth of the tigress. That didn't exactly set my mind at ease but the tiger was already upon me. I saw its snout twist into a funny grimace before I felt the fangs on my temple and the coarse tongue on the top of my head. It was a pressing feeling and I was careful not to move. Then the tigress sensed that I submitted to her completely, so she sat back and turned her attention toward the cub. We were no longer considered threatening intruders.

"Now it's safe to run," advised my friend, and not even waiting for him I just took off in a crazy frenzy of speed, passing by pleasant landscapes and finally coming to a pier on a beautiful lakeshore. Forests surrounded the green waters and the surface was barely rippled by the tiniest waves.

I took off. With a bolt I shot off into the sky and light as a feather but with enough substance to handle my movements, I flew fast above beautiful lands. I felt relief and happiness. I came to a wooden village that was clearly not one of our time and something directed me towards a sort of bridge between two houses, with the light blue sky ever in the background. I slowed down and hovered towards the ground. It was a steady mountain slope that the wooden houses were erected on, one glued onto the other, but not in a chaotic fashion. They had blue and red shapes painted on some of the beams. The one that I was approaching looked like an abstract lily, and as I came close a mouth with huge fangs appeared. It was purple inside and I ascended into it. Even in my dream I thought the scene was something Hayao Miyazaki would come up with, and I was also reminded of the tiger's jaws. I thought, well, it seems I am not meant to escape this, without fear now.

After my descent I came to what seemed like another pier, an elongation of the wooden structures atop the mountain. A father and two children were playing here. A cute little boy was just going into the water, but the girl threw a book away and started drawing X's on her father's bare back as he took her into the lake. I knew she was a witch and saw from the red gleam in her eye that she was cursing the father. There was no way to warn him. I was only seen by the girl.

The evil book fell into the lake and the little boy swam after it. "That's it, grab it with your little hands and bring it to the shore," the girl directed as she was being carried by her father onto the wooden structure again. The boy was very innocent and obedient. She opened the book again but luckily, I never found out what happened afterward because I woke up.

I wish I could draw everything as I saw it. Draw the emotions, too. You'd be amazed.

The pier image is © Marcin Gabryelczyk, and a print of it is available here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Illustrators 51: Sequential Awards Gala

In a series of exhibition openings in conjunction with Illustrators 51, the Sequential exhibit was the first to open its doors and hold the awards gala. The Silver and Gold Medals of the Society of Illustrators were given to the artists and art directors whose work was judged salient in their respective categories. The subjects ranged from political to historical reproductions, touching fields from corporate to personal, including traditional and digital media as well as animation. The recipients present agreed that the award was a high honor and looking at the work hung in the gallery, humbly asked: "What were you guys thinking?"

Having introduced the electronic submission portal, the Society was proud to announce that the number of incoming artwork increased by 30% compared to last year. With such high-niveau and diverse artwork submitted, it is no wonder the jury had a hard time to choose the awardees.

John Cuneo, creator of the fabulous and witty call for entries poster doubled as MC for the event, which role he fulfilled brilliantly. He had the guests in fits of laughter with his impressions of himself as the prototypical antisocial artist struggling with stage fright. His quick-rolling tongue and sense of humor provided an additional entertainment for the night.

The Gala in pictures:

A Website Close to Perfection

There is much debate going on about what qualifies as a good website in the art and publishing world. The dialog includes points on how to create a strong and unique voice without distracting attention from the work on display, what features make the user experience gratifying, and what facilitates the work of selective professionals, ready to be bought by the presentation.

Twitterrific icon creator David Lanham's website seems to unite all of these positive features. An inviting design that is easy on the eye provides extremely convenient navigation. There is no clicking through wittily (and obscurely) named sections in futile search of the gallery: the portfolio is always but one click away, wherever you find yourself on the site. And the chances of getting lost are slim: rich but not overbearing content guarantees that your dynamism won't be suffocated by too may bits and pieces. Coherence and ingenuity are the key words when it comes to describing Lanham's website.

The Home page gives an instantaneous overview of what's new and what's important. The About section offers a succinctly worded bio and contact information with just the bare necessities, letting the work speak for itself. For those eager to find out more about the artist, there is no shortage of interviews linked to. Sketches constitute a separate section, ranging from life drawings to fantastic creatures with a sense of cuteness.

And now the gallery. The touchy point of all sites. In one word, it is brilliant. The quirky* cartoonish style is nicely complemented by the simple layout, while the photo album framing adds a personal touch to the display. This creates an interesting contrast with the mostly digital, futuristic / sci-fi themed pictures. The designs and their themes are not uninfluenced by animators such as Hayao Miyazaki and illustrators like James Jean. Lanham takes advantage of the features of vector art: tiny icons (details of images) serve as thumbnails on the navigation panel discreetly and decoratively placed on the left. Another advantage of this is that you can size up the gallery with one glance.

Each picture has its own separate page and individual URL. (Halleluiah!) Far from being paranoid, Lanham released wallpapers of varying resolutions for many of his pictures, varying from widescreen to iPhone displays. Download, whether as PDF or JPG, for Mac or PC, has never been easier. Ordering prints, regular or mini, takes a single click from the image's own page with a built-in PayPal feature, but visiting the shop is also worth a click. Fabulous animations and rotatable vinyl figures spice the gallery.

Lanham works at Iconfactory and has also released icon packs with a touch of "crazy" and attractive themes for computer and iPhone. It is no wonder that the popular Twitter API Twitterriffic has his bird as its emblem as well.

In one word, much consideration went into this website, and it is obvious that the maker has had to deal with less pleasantly structured ones. The only point to criticize is the small gray font used for the News and the menu throughout the site. However, the build-up is so intuitive that reading is almost unnecessary for navigation.

*By "quirky" I mean images worthy of descriptions such as "The strange love-child of a jet pilot, a bee and an unsuspecting vacuum cleaner."

The "Painter of the People" Left Us

I feel a need to interrupt the Disney/Grimm essay sequence to honor the memory of a decisive figure and painter par excellence in modern art. Andrew Wyeth, son of N.C. Wyeth and not any less legendary than his father, passed away last night in his sleep. The news shocked the art world: there have been many difficult goodbyes in the recent past.

A realist painter who elevated even the mundane beauty of his hometown to the heights of timeless and transcendental art, he was one of the most popular artists of the century. And indeed, he has lived through it: he fell asleep for eternity at the age of 91, after a rich and accomplished life. However, recognition not only came from the general public but also in the form of official awards. In 2007 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts, while two decades earlier he obtained the highest honor of the Congressional Gold Medal. He was also the first painter to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from none other than President Kennedy.

He received his primary artistic instruction from his father, a great educator and iconic illustrator himself. N.C. Wyeth was one of the artists active in the Golden Age of American Illustration, a period that has shaped visual culture and artistic trends ever since. He was educated directly by Howard Pyle, the "Father of American Illustration" and founder of the Brandywine School. Generations of artists replaced each other in this institution of broad academic freedom that established a new tradition. N.C. Wyeth passed on this formative knowledge to his son, who did not fail at implementing and broadening it.

He couldn't have wished for a richer life or a more peaceful passing, but it still feels like with his death a great instance of American illustration, one that started with Howard Pyle, is gone forever.