Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Travel Agent

This one, a self-portrait from the discarded set of prints that preceded Mohicanland. As if I were a giant kid playing with airplanes. Which seems reasonable enough. How 'bout that phone? Also recovered from "the basement tapes," or my magic flat files. Also printed by Betsy Ruppa. 1995.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Kevin, Meet Myron

Spent some of my weekend trying to clear the clutter out of my studio. I'd taken a bunch of stuff out of flat files to reach something a few weeks ago, and had never gotten back to it. I had, in part, an archival challenge: putting things back with a little more forethought than the last time I dealt with my flat files, when we moved into the house, now about 16 months ago.

In the process I came across a set of prints I made years ago, in a first pass at the project that became Mohicanland. I finished three of these and had a fourth underway when I decided that both the palette and the pictorial logic were wrong for the project. The yellow for Mohicanland went ochre, as opposed to this fairly screaming yellow-orange, and the characters were presented in a more simplified, almost cartoon sort of way.

My old friend Kevin Garber sat for Myron. I miss the pair, Kevin and Kathy, who took off for parts east a few years ago, and seem happy. Kevin's new work, wooden signal flags, is reminiscent of his love affair with wooden boats, circa 1986 or 87, as well as the beautiful sport of barroom tabletop shuffleboard.

I had forgotten how observed these portraits were, especially this one. Truth be told, I had forgotten that this print existed at all.

Likewise I did not recall my nearly scholastic investment in these calligraphic passages and brush marks, visible in a detail.

These prints date to 1995. The sentence which includes "I am an exile from my own biography" was the first uttterance of the project. I wrote it in a ruled composition book while camping out for coffee at a Greek restaurant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 1994.

Tonight I'm thinking of Kevin and Kathy, as well as Mike Javernick, Patrick Renschen and my old printer pal Betsy Ruppa, all of whom enjoyed hanging out in our group studio in the Leather Trades Building in St. Louis during those years.

Betsy printed these images, the only explanation for the excellent registration...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rhetorical Pictures

It’s been quiet in this space the last few weeks. Work and travel have slowed me down. The business of the day is conceptual illustration. Our Word & Image 2 class is at work on an editorial project, based on an Economist article from last week on the possible effects of North African Turmoil on oil prices and the world economy.

As I was suggesting yesterday morning in class, the problem is really a rhetorical one. How can figurative devices be used to create visual ideas, as opposed to verbal ones?

These things are easier to show than explain, so here are a few examples. At the top of this post, Brian Cronin solves the problem of diabetes by using a visual pun of the bite mark to double things up. As the diner consumes his unhealthy food, he himself is consumed.

Above, a classic from the great-granddady of them all: Thomas Nast. The virulently anti-catholic Nast fuses a bishop’s mitre and alligator jaws to produce an ecclesiastical menace in the American River Ganges. He found a similarity of form and built a potent metaphor from it.

Next, a Craig Frazier illustration designed to communicate an increase in power. A simple scale shift (rhetorically, hyperbole) produces a striking contrast and potent image. We absorb the image as an idea, not a seascape.

And David Suter, a mainstay of the Times op-ed page in recent years, offers an elegant image from the days after 9-11, accompanying an op-ed by then-president George W. Bush. I suspect that the illustration will survive the text. (“Freedom” is one of those words nearly ruined by stentorian employment in the intervening years.)

Here’s a typographic solution: Christoph Niemann’s Risk builds a picture out of dimensional letterforms to dramatic effect.

Finally, an offering of my own, from some years back. The phrase “boots on the ground” literalized into an image. (Technically, this employs synecdoche, the use of a part for a whole.) I’m not particularly good at this work myself. I don’t pursue it, preferring reportage to pictorial metaphor-making. But it’s a great discipline, and an admirable craft.

Class, have at it. I’m already looking forward to Monday!

Images: Brian Cronin, 2002; Thomas Nast, 1876; Craig Frazier, 2002; David Suter, 2001; Christoph Niemann, 2004; D.B. Dowd, 2003.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pump It Up

Visual Geekdom, Chapter 99
: I love wooden puzzles of the sort designed and manufactured by Playskool and Sifo during the middle decades of the 20th century. My friend and colleague Linda Solovic tracked this one down for me as a 50th birthday present late last year. Linda has a nose for these things, and a sure sense of my taste, closely related to hers, but heavier on boy items, like vehicles.

I love this thing: the color, the beautifully controlled value progression, the play of edge and line, the chunky but self-aware drawing.

Linda sniffed out the Lotto game I posted about last fall, too. (Below.)

The Playskool garage puzzle suggests a relationship with one of my heroes, the redoubtable Stuart Davis. I am thinking of the edge/line investigation especially, but the puzzle also puts me in mind of the painter's seeming fixation with gasoline pumps in many of his works from the 1930s. New York–Paris No.3 (1931) provides an example.

Note the gas pumps center–left. Quite vertical, attenuated profile, ball or fattened disk shape on top (I remember these, vaguely, from the end of that era.) A detail of the left pump:

Now, a comparison with the wooden puzzle gasoline pumps:

Squatter, to be sure, but the glass globes (the round things that say "gas") are emphasized. Here's an example of a milk-glass globe from an estate in Oklahoma.

Anyway, I love my Playskool puzzle. Thanks, Linda!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Colonel Gets the Boot?

A quickie follow-up to the other day's musings about visual (and audiovisual) reportage from the Civil War on, which cited Al Jazeera English coverage about the Libyan revolt. I pulled this off a February 28 Huffington Post story about the opposition to Gaddafi. I could not find a photographer credit, nor one for the cartoonist-painter. Love the foot sticking out of Libya, not unlike the "foot" of a mollusk emerging from its shell. Of course the booting shoe signals deep contempt in this context, echoing the shaking of shoes at the despot's latest unhinged rant. The only citation available is that teeny little "AP" lower right.

Solid work. Love the juxtaposition of the quasi-modeled yellow-orange blast with the more calligraphic line and flat color. As an object, an unusual instance of a muralist's cartoon. (Vaguely reminiscent of passages in Orozco's Dartmouth murals, commented upon here.)

If anybody sees a photo or cartoonist's credit for this work, please let me know.