Thursday, April 28, 2011

Oh Sallie!

Quiet lately. Today I gave the final exam in my Commercial Modernism class. I asked three bonus questions, one of which was, "Who was Sallie Gardner?"

As this image reveals, Sallie Gardner was a subject of Eadward Muybridge's famous high speed photography session which proved that all four of a horse's hooves leave the ground at the same time at a gallop.

That is, Sallie was a horse.

I showed the slide and included it in a pdf of that day's lecture, but it's hardly surprising if noboby noticed the horse's name. We'll see if anybody got it right when I grade the exam...

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Stony Saints, in Copenhagen

Several weeks ago, over spring break I traveled to Copenhagen to look at a study abroad program at the Danish Institute of Foreign Study. A totally charming city; an impressive organization. I have every intention of returning. The Danes enjoyed their Renaissance in the late 16th century, while the rest of Europe was ripping itself apart in the religious wars which characterized that unhappy century. The exuberance of the southern Baroque seems tempered by reforming restraint, producing an admirable architectural equipoise which nonetheless (here and there) erupts into giddiness. More on that some other time.

My colleague Belinda Lee and I spent a few hours walking the city one day, early on stopping in the Cathedral of Copenhagen, a Lutheran outfit. The Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) presents a severe exterior, fronted by a Doric temple facade. The nave of that church is lined on both sides by larger-than-life statues of the apostles. Belinda and I each had brought sketch pads, which we promptly whipped out and put to use while a magnificent pipe organ rehearsal accompanied us. A wonderful interlude.

The only drawing instrument I could find in my bag was a ball-point pen, hardly a favored tool. I adapted.

My sketchbook was a hand-made affair, produced by my former student Molly Brooks, who had very kindly sent me several of them a few months before. I love the size, small, which fits in my jacket pocket easily and lends itself to drawing and making notes onsite.

I scanned a few of the drawings I made that day. Gospel writers and disciples. Thanks, Molly, for the excellent sketchbook!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Grocery Game

My fellow estate sale stalker Linda Solovic scored a crazy grocery store board game a few weeks ago. She was kind enough give me these cards, which are the size of postage stamps: tiny little things. I post them here for the edification of all.

Colorful Comic Detective

I am up to my eyeballs in curriculum reform and other academic duties, but I am chugging along in the classroom (and in the studio, if in a holding pattern sort of way for the next few weeks). My Commercial Modernism course has moved into cartooning and animation, which provides a nice complement to the history of illustration.

The digital projector bulb in my classroom is an underperformer, shall we say. Vivid colors sour into dark patches. Vexing. Hence I'm using this format to show a set of stills from Warren Beatty's film Dick Tracy (1990), which is characterized by nothing if not vivid color. The palette of the film is extremely self-conscious, an explicit attempt to capture the garish signature of the Sunday supplement in days of yore.

The film also makes use of highly schematic spatial compositions, juxtaposing a figurative pairing in the middle ground with an object in extreme close up.

These cinematic devices dominate the experience of watching the film, which is visually engaging but emotionally distant. A certain methodism dogs the project. Nonetheless I am fond of it.

Beatty honors the spirit of the strip in many ways, including a loving assembly of Gould's crazy ensemble of villains. For example, The Brow (above, in a strip; below, played by Chuck Hicks)

and Flattop, in a strip

and in the film, played by William Forsythe.

My affections are tied to the ghastly-goofy foam rubber villain makeup. I love these guys for three reasons: 1) they bring campy pre-digital physicality to the film, 2) they embody the crypto-moral imagination of Chester Gould, the comic strip's creator, and 3) fine actors inhabit them, including Al Pacino, the late Paul Sorvino, Dustin Hoffman, and others. Below, Little Face (Lawrence Steven Myers). Toward the top of this post, Pruneface (R.G. Armstrong).

Litigation pitting Beatty against the Tribune Company (owners of the Chicago Trib; the LA Times; and Tribune Media Services, the syndicate that distributed Gould's strip) was only recently concluded. Tribune had claimed that Beatty did not jump through the proper hoops to retain rights to the character for a long-planned sequel.

Recent press reports show that late last month, Beatty won.

Will the crime-fighting Man in the Yellow Hat return? Given Tracy's durability as a character and a property, the answer is almost certainly yes, whether or not Beatty is involved...