Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Taxonomy Florentine

...that I mentioned yesterday just materialized through the digital ether, courtesy of Eric Portis, its composer. Ten years ago this January; a sophomore product. (Honestly, this is [part of] why I love where I teach: I get to work with students this smart.)

Eric has been busy over the past decade, especially making photographs and stop-motion animation. He works in Denver.

I remember gently trying to recruit Eric into entering the Communication Design program, as he struck me as an illustrator type. He became a printmaker instead–good for him!–but my impression wasn't all wrong...


Check out this lovely photograph of an installation: a miniature drive-in theater, installed in storefront, showing one of his animations on a screen. His site is worth your while. Link above. 

Thanks for the note, Eric!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Postcards from Amsterdam


A while back I posted about a wedding I attended as designated draftsman: an illustrated affair. The groom in that operation was Michael Hirshon, a web designer/illustrator and former student. At time I noted that Mike and Robin were moving to Amsterdam, on the strength of her Fulbright. Recently I got some nice notes via the comment section from family members. Of Mike I wrote at the time, "I'm already looking forward to [his] reportage drawing from that very picturesque city."

As expected, Mike has delivered some wonderfully seen images. At the top of this post, an earthmover working to shore up the sides of a canal. He writes:
At the end of every journey I have the pleasure of returning home through the massive construction project in front of my apartment. The walls of the canal need rebuilding and so half the street has been completely removed. It’s a fascinating process. The wall is dismantled, as layers of brick, dirt, wood, and pipes are stripped away. A temporary wall is installed outside of the newly created ditch, and all of the water is pumped out — this gives the workers a dry area to work on the new wall. I frequently find myself staring out my window to watch giant machines yank ancient polders from mud like teeth, and even more giant machines drive huge metal wall panels into the canal.
The spacing of the paving stones tells the tale. The open spot at left reads like a black abcess, an affront to masons everywhere.


A bike-friendly city.


A study in vehicles.

An aside: About ten years ago I taught a workshop in Florence to sophomore art students, a notoriously tricky cohort. They don't want instruction, exactly, but they don't know how to make anything yet. It seemed to me that the challenge was to come up with tricky/engaging project prompts. Mike's drawing of the various cars reminds me of one such attempt. I remember asking one student to create a taxonomic chart accounting for the evolution of wheeled vehicles in Florence. As if they had been bred. (I asked another to create an illustrated pamphlet or poster proving through diagrams that space aliens had built the duomo, or Florence's famous cathedral, topped by Brunelleschi's dome. Poor kid nearly had a nervous breakdown. He finished well a few years later, a graphic designer in our program.)

I'm a sucker for vehicles, myself. Readers of Spartan Holiday No. 1 will have learned of the Northeast Side Car Drawing Club I co-founded with Alan Reichel and Chris Midgeley in the third grade. It was awesome.


The spread in question,  from No. 1., "Shanghai Pictorial."

Great to see that Mike is busy drawing the world from his new vantage point. Keep it coming!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Visual Assessments


It's a busy season in academia. Classes ended this week just past, and end-of-term reviews begin Monday and run through Wednesday. It's an exhausting ritual, but rewarding, too, as my colleagues and I get a snapshot of how things are going in the program.

A digression concerning snapshots: for a while some years back it seemed I chaired or served on a hiring committee annually. However quaint it seems, in the late 1990s the quickest view of a candidate's work was a rapid scan of a sheet of 20 slides, gathered in a sleeve. "Scan" in the human sense, not a technological one. It probably sounds callous, but in those years I learned to read a slide sheet in about five seconds. Within that interval I could identify the MFA subcategory–e.g., college-town painter of rail yards, domestic tabletops and pensive half-naked brunettes; maker of symbolic house forms, sometimes on stilts, often attended by spirals, seemingly always characterized by high-keyed color and energetic "mark-making"; accretion specialist given to assembling large sets of weird though unremarkable bits of modified junk, typically mounted on a wall or otherwise installed–and gain a sense of whether the candidate (inevitably a member of some MFA creative subcategory) brought something distinctive to the given genre. (Yes, that was all one sentence. 89 words. So sue me.) Totally doable in five seconds if you have looked at hundreds of such slide sheets. Special folks jump off the page. They also write good cover letters. I always regarded the cover letter as a key indicator, and I still do.

Image: Robert Fawcett, cover illustration, Famous Artists Magazine, 1959. There's an essay waiting to be written comparing the Famous Artists School to university art departments of the same period. A meditation on social class, modernism, resentment, and mock-Jungian claptrap. Another day!