The Nutty Art of Jim Flora (1914 -1988)

Click on any image for a larger view.

(Above) This work, depicting an inscrutable panorama of disconnected facial features, headless quadrupeds, and someone’s nightmare of a fanged horse, is casually referred to as White Block Quadrupeds to differentiate it from other untitled Flora works. The original was painted in tempera on a thick rectangular block of wood the artist had first swathed in a coat of white. The stylized figures echo a number of motifs common to the artist’s work in the period 1942 to 1944, after he was hired by the Columbia Records art department.
I JUST DISCOVERED THE ILLUSTRATION OF JIM FLORA. IT IS FABULOUS. When I saw the illustration (the first one in this list) I thought it was incredibly contemporary. Come to find out, the work of Jim Flora has inspired a new generation of top illustrators and artists. In case you have never heard of him and don’t know his life story, you will want to read this NY TIMES 2004 art review by BEN SISARIO. It is just too good (and thorough) not to repeat for you here. There’s a lot to read on the web about Jim Flora—but one site is pretty good and even sells prints by him. Read on, my friends.

From the NY Times, 2004:
For many of the artists whose work decorates the jewel cases of today’s CD’s, a major influence is a man most have never heard of: an illustrator of record albums in the 1940’s and 50’s whose work can be found today in thrift shops and flea markets and hardly anyplace else.

For this generation of artists and illustrators, Jim Flora is sort of an unknown creative granddaddy. His atomic age album covers for Columbia and RCA featured grotesque yet comic Picasso-like figures rendered in a cartoonish, two-dimensional panic. They set a standard of fresh design, bringing Surrealism and geometric abstractions reminiscent of those of Stuart Davis to commercial art and were widely imitated at the time. But by the 60’s, with the arrival of rock ’n’ roll and a new aesthetic, Flora’s covers ended up in the dustbin of discarded pop culture.

And according to Irwin Chusid’s new book, The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora (Fantagraphics, $28.95), the dustbin is where numerous artists and pop-culture aficionados over the last several decades have encountered Flora’s work and discovered the origin of a style that has become irresistibly retro-chic.

One fan, the California artist Shag, made a thrift-store find 17 years ago, “Inside Sauter-Finegan,” a 1954 jazz album on RCA. It has a devilish Flora illustration of two men joined like Siamese twins and dancing madly, with mouths like dinosaurs’ and what seems to be an X-ray panel over their midsections, revealing a riot of confetti, musical instruments and maybe some organs.

“I pulled it out and looked at it all the time, long before I knew who he was,” Shag said, noting that he has still never listened to the record inside. “I was just amazed by the way everything was rendered. The hands and feet are so expressive. It has a bit of grotesqueness and otherworldliness that runs through my own work.”

Mr. Chusid, known to fans of musical scavengery as the chief force behind the rediscoveries of the music of Esquivel and Raymond Scott, and the author of “Songs in the Key of Z,” about outsider musicians, came across Flora’s work in much the same way. He found “Inside Sauter-Finegan” at a garage sale sometime in the 70’s and, like Shag, hung the record up without ever bothering to listen to it.

“I didn't even notice the name Flora on the cover,” he said by telephone from his home in Hoboken. “I just wanted to stare at it.”

Then in 1997, through illustrator friends, he found a group of Flora fans who had, with enterprising detective work, tracked down the artist to his home in Rowayton, Conn., and had begun pilgrimages there. Mr. Chusid began to collect Flora’s work, though there was no catalog and much of the original art had been lost or destroyed. Before Flora died in 1998 at 84, he gave Mr. Chusid a stash of his work.

As Flora’s rescued reputation has spread, artists already steeped in the 90’s retro trend discovered a founding father. After years of being buried anonymously in the collective memory of design, Flora began to have a palpable effect on artists.

“I came across his work in 1993,” said Michael Bartalos, a San Francisco-based illustrator who was among the first to locate Flora. “Our styles were very similar - strangely similar, actually - but after I met him I was even more influenced.”

Among the other prominent artists and illustrators today who are strongly influenced by Flora’s art are Tim Biskup, Gary Baseman, J. D. King and Melinda Beck, who all wrote appreciations for Mr. Chusid’s book, each praising his effortlessly jazzy spirit. Gene Deitch, a contemporary of Flora’s, admits that through the 40’s and 50’s he was “brazenly imitating his style.”

Mr. Bartalos said: “He's a cultural asset. His work lends a lot of flavor and joy to whatever he was working on, and he paved the way for that zaniness in illustration that still exists today.”

Flora’s designs are magically simple distillations of Cubism, Surrealism and cartoon madness, with playful figures and instruments floating in planes of color. From the smiling Beatnik kitties on “Mambo for Cats” (RCA, 1955) to the five-armed, four-legged Cubist Gene Krupa bashing away with his mouth open on a Columbia cover from 1947, each figure seems to be on a childlike tear.

Yet despite their apparent innocence, the images also have a jagged, volatile energy.

“You can cut your finger,” Mr. Chusid said, “touching a Flora illustration.”



Lies My Eyes Told Me

(Above) Are these red circles painted on the photograph? Looks like it to me.

THE FACT IS, these red circles are painted on the house, and their visualization as red circles only come together at the exact spot one would stand in the top photograph. To move away, even slightly, changes what you see dramatically.
I love it.

See more about this artist, Felice Varini here.



Painter Gottfried Helnwein: In Your Face

All paintings oil and mixed media on canvas. Click on any image for larger view.

Click on any image for larger view.

(Above) Painter Gottfried Helnwein at work.

(Above) Painter Gottfried Helnwein in front of a canvas.
(Above) Gottfried Helnwein at work.(Above) The artist’s palette.

AUSTRIAN-BORN ARTIST GOTTFRIED HELNWEIN paints pictures about childhood pain, and horrors seen or imagined. Large and powerful, intimate and disarming, Helnwein can twist reality to the fantastic or the painful, the sad or the horrible. The size of his paintings present something you cannot look away from, like the traffic accident on the highway. You don’t want to stare but you can’t help it. You want to touch, but you shouldn’t. Gottfried Helnwein mixes innocence with life, and he does it better and bigger than most.

See more here.



Watercolor With Life

Click image for much larger view.

Click image for much larger view.

Click image for much larger view.

I FIRST FELL IN LOVE WITH WATERCOLOR IN HIGH SCHOOL. I had one of those black metal flip open Prang watercolor sets, with the little ovals of pigment—just waiting to come alive with the addition of water. Watercolor allowed me to find translucency of color, spontaneity of application and a freedom I had never known. It was in college that I saw watercolor reemerge in the masterful hands of Edward Reep, our artist-in-residence at East Carolina University. Reep was an artist during the Second World War, and a damn good one. Check out my earlier post on Ed Reep on this blog here.

I recently discovered the work of Alvaro Castagnet, a watercolor painter from Montevideo, Uruguay who I delivers watercolor to white paper in a way I have not seen in quite some time. This man is a painter! He chooses watercolor because he innately understands the fact that only watercolor can deliver the kind of light one sees everyday. Using wet-on-wet and even a dry brush across dry paper—Castagnet has the amazing ability of interpretation. By that, I mean he is able to look at a crazy busy marketplace or city street (at night or day) and find the soul of the place. Castagnet is not interested in fussy details—things we do not see or remember anyway. He delivers the place—the moment—the essence.

See more about Alvaro Castagnet here.

With his talent, his strength, I wonder what his interpretation of say, the war in Afghanistan would be like? I wouldn’t blame him for not wanting to go there, because he would be putting his beautiful life on the line for a cause that is not his. Still, with his ability—I can see that this man could deliver to the world a view of that country—and the hell of the war—in a way that has not been seen.

It does make me wonder—where have the American war artist’s gone? Are the Ed Reep’s of the world not valued any more?



An Early Collectible

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A FRIEND OF MINE SHARED WITH ME a collection of authentic Park Drive Cigarette cards, a small illustrated card given away with a purchase of a pack of cigarettes in the 1930s. This series of cards was called “Champions,” cards illustrating British sports champions (including dogs!). Park Drive cigarettes was a brand from the Gallaher LTD. tobacco company based in Great Britain.



Convinced of Spirits

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(Above) Click on image for larger viewAn original glass lantern slide photograph, the same image reproduced in Ghosts in Photographs by Fred Gettings, plate 55, with the caption “Photographic Testimonial of Mr. & Mrs. Gibson with spirit image of their deceased child, taken by the Crewe Circle.” Slide size: 3.25” x 3.25”
(Above) Click on image for larger viewAn original 1930 spirit photo by the Falconer brothers of London. Image size: 2.5” x 2”

(Above) Click on image for larger view
An original circa 1900 photo by Robert Boursnell (1832 -1909) with a spirit resembling Jesus. Image size: 3.75” x 5”

(Above) Click on image for larger viewA glass lantern slide (with a diagonal crack) of a sand sediment face inscribed: “This face was formed in the sediment of sand water, after it had been stirred by a finger of the late Mrs. L. Lanchard of New Ulm Minnesota USA (died in 1873 after evaporation of water).” Slide size: 3.25” x 3.25”

GRIEF AND DESPAIR OVER THE LOST OF A LOVED ONE HAS BEEN AN ENTRY POINT for many an unscrupulous person to take advantage of another. Whether by “automatic spirit-driven” drawings, Ouija boards, tapping, voices, noises, bells, sounds and a host of other things, communicating with the dead continues to fool people and take their money even today.

In England, during the late 19th century, everyday people who had lost loved ones were easily fooled simply by not understanding the new medium of photography. They would sit for a photo in a seance-type setting, being told that if spirits were there they could often be seen by a special film. All you had to do was pay for the seance and the photo—come back the next day and Holy Mother of Mary! look who showed up!

The modern spiritualism movement actually began in March 1848 in Hydesville, NY with the Fox sisters who claimed they could communicate with a spirit inhabiting their house by tapping on the floor. Eventually, news of this made it to the great showman P.T. Barnum, who took the sisters on the road and made their “tapping with the dead” a stage act.

Others got into the act, including the Falconer brothers, a gentleman by the name of Robert Boursnell, and numerous others.

At the top of the post, you’ll see old newspaper and gazette articles from England actually attesting to the believability of these charlatans. It is quite revealing, and I hope that they enlarge well enough for you to read. I guess, even back then, these fakes had a good PR firm.



Adam Beane

WHEN MY SON LUKE WAS A KID, HE LOVED HIS ACTION HERO TOY FIGURES—X-MEN, WWF FIGURES, G.I. JOE’S, YOU NAME IT. In fact, tucked away in a back corner of our basement is a box, containing every toy figure he ever played with. One day, he discovered girls, or sports, or both—and that was it. I put them all in a box and took them away. He never gave it a second thought. One day, he’ll discover them, just as I left them. Old friends.

Most figures I bought for Luke were made of plastic or rubber, and when I think back about it, most all of them were well done. Realistic. Proportioned well. I never really gave much thought to who made the original—but maybe here’s an answer: Adam Beane.

Beane is an amazing sculptor who works with art directors of toy companies to create the original model from which mulitples are made for market. Beane uses a material that he calls CX5, a tremendously versatile material which molds like clay when warm but dries hard as plastic when cooled. I am impressed with his realism, attention to detail and the subtle nuances he is able to pull from the material.

Adam is also available for lectures and workshops.



A Rare and Beautiful Find

(Above) Americana and folk art dealer Tim Chambers stands next to his booth at the 2009 Queeny Park Antiques Show in St. Louis, Missouri. Click on image for larger view.

(Above) This 100-year old architectural gable caught my eye immediately. I had to learn more, and Tim Chambers obliged not only with an oral history, but a 100-year old photograph of the house it came from just outside of Rochester, Minnesota. Click on image for larger view.

(Above) Detail. Click on image for larger view.
(Above) Tim Chambers believes strongly that what you see of paint on this gable is the original paint and it was painted at the turn of the 20th century. Click on image for larger view.
(Above) Look at this beautiful detail, showing the tree of life at the center, with the rays of the sun extending from each side. Click on image for larger view.

(Above) This photo, dated 1906, is the holy grail of the architectural piece. If you click on the image, you can see the gable, right at the peak of the roof. This is a great photo, the Dee family, (Frank, John and Katharine and their Collie dog) standing proudly in front of their Minnesota homestead—a personification of the American dream. Definitely, click on this image!

WHENEVER I AM FORTUNATE TO SEE FOLK ART DEALER TIM CHAMBERS, you can bet he’ll have some great objects for sale. Tim is not only a great guy, he’s an expert in early American folk art game boards, and his book The Art of the Game is widely considered one of the finest books ever published on the subject. You can order it here (while it lasts!)

Now let me tell you about the find of the day. The architectural Victorian-styled gable from a Rochester, MN farmhouse was just outstanding. The piece is hand made and measures about 10’ long and 5’ tall overall. Gabled ends such as this were considered the crown jewel of these otherwise simple dwellings. This example is in a near perfect state of preservation. The design elements include the expected stick and ball as well a a center “tree of life” with sun bursts on either side. This beauty has survived well over one hundred freezing Minnesota winters and summers—so imagine the stories it could tell.

The house today is, unfortunately, near ruin. Tim says that some farm animals have been housed there—and hay is stored in the house as well. It is really a blessing that this particular architectural remnant could be saved, as the house is about to be torn down.

The piece is sold, but you can go to his Web site, Missouri Plain Folk here.



Brilliant Flying Bug

MikroKopter - HexaKopter from Holger Buss on Vimeo.

OK, I’LL BE HONEST WITH YOU. THIS VIDEO IS 12 MINUTES LONG. I KNOW—BUT TRUST ME HERE. I WATCHED EVERY MINUTE OF IT, fascinated by the brilliance of this home-made flying machine. If flight fascinates you— if “garage-built” ingenuity is something you find interesting, then you’ll like this video.

I’m a prankster at heart, and could really have some fun with this machine. Just imagine! :-)



The Marked On and Altered Photograph

(Above) Retouched press photo, c. 1920s. Click on image for larger view.

(Above) Penciled in eyebrows, painted lips by Ethel. c.1920s. Click on image for larger view.

(Above) Retouched press photo, c. 1940s. Click on image for larger view.

(Above) What do you do when the faces don’t turn out? Draw them in with a pen. c. 1930s. Click on image for larger view.

(Above) I call this image my “Cy Twombly Snapshot.” Click on image for larger view.

THESE IMAGES, FROM MY COLLECTION OF SNAPSHOTS, WERE SELECTED because they have all been altered by the human hand, in one way or the other. The image just above, the one I call “Cy Twombly” was altered on the negative, hence the white lines. It’s one of the more unusual, abstract images in the Accidental Mysteries collection.

Press photos that have been retouched (like images number 1 and 3 above) and readied for print is a lost art. With the digital age—you won’t see images like these anymore. Re-examined and re-contextualized by our eyes today, they look a bit like contemporary art. Word and image, it’s all the rage!

And you’ve got to love the 4th image, the one of the group of people. Early photoshop!



Pictures from a Drawer

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Click any image for a larger view.

Click any image for a larger view.

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WHEN I FIRST GAZED UPON THESE PRISON PHOTOGRAPHS, I COULD NOT HELP but feel the intense emotional and powerful impact they project. It is a miracle that they even survived, were it not for the foresight of Bruce Jackson, who stumbled upon them in a prison drawer when he was photographing a state prison farm in Cummings, Arkansas. The year was 1975, and old pictures like that were considered junk. Without question, had fate not put Mr. Jackson there at that moment, it would not have been long before they were tossed in the trash.

I have collected anonymous snapshots, including police mugshots, for nearly 15 years, and do so because of their honesty and directness. These portraits are incredible. Taken at the low point of someone’s life between the years of 1915 - 1940, they reveal a poignant struggle for survival during times of intense racism, economic and social despair. Prison is a horrible place. It always has been, it always will be.

For more than 40 years, Bruce Jackson has been documenting—in books, photographs, audio recording and film—inmates’ lives in American prisons. The 121 images are published together for the first time in a remarkable new book,
Pictures from a Drawer. As Jackson describes in an absorbing introduction, the function of these photos was not portraiture— their function was to “fold a person into the controlled space of a dossier.” Here, freed from their prison “jackets” and printed at sizes far larger than their originals, these one-time ID photos have now become portraits. Jackson’s restoration transforms what were small bureaucratic artifacts into moving images of real men and women. Pictures from a Drawer also contains an extraordinary description of everyday life at Cummins prison in the 1950s, written originally by hand and presented to Jackson in 1973 by its author, a longtime inmate.

Bruce Jackson is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Samuel P. Capen Professor of American Culture, University at Buffalo. He is the author of more than 20 other books, including
The Story Is True: The Art and Meaning of Telling Stories (Temple), a documentary filmmaker and photographer. The French government named him Chevalier in L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France’s highest honor in the arts and humanities.

To order the book and learn more, just go to Temple Press here.



The Bastard Chairs of China

MICHAEL WOLF’S PHOTOGRAPHS OF WHAT HE CALLS “the bastard chairs of China” challenge the notion of our standard definition of a chair. Cobbled together from whatever debris and flotsam is available, there is something to be learned here—that a chair is a chair is a chair. And while we can appreciate the beauty and art of what we call “designer” chairs throughout history and today, when all is said and done, what matters is that we have a place to rest our bones.

From the book “Sitting in China” published by Steidl in the fall of 2002, distributed by D.A.P. in the United States by Michael Wolf.

Via “An Ambitious Project Collapsing,” here.



Drew Friedman Rocks!

(Above) After decades in vaudeville and films with his madcap brothers, GROUCHO MARX moved to TV in the 1950s hosting a weekly comedy-quiz program, You Bet Your Life. The series was less a game show than a carny-booth showcase for Groucho's humorous quips, eye-rolling double-takes, and sarcastic asides. The contestants were total strangers seemingly introduced backstage (though some were cult celebs such as Lord Buckley and Tor Johnson, or savants with odd talents); their physical features, accents, and names were fair game for Groucho's ridicule. The show debuted on ABC radio in 1947, moved to CBS in '49, and jumped to NBC-TV in '50, where it remained for a decade.

Groucho had two sidekicks: handsome emcee
George Fenneman, who played the affable straight-man; and a marionette duck who bore a cartoonish resemblance to the host. The duck dropped from the ceiling on two occasions: 1) to reveal that episode's "secret word," and 2) clutching two $50 bills if either contestant uttered the word. In an era before puritanical tobacco bans, Groucho never appeared on-camera without a lit cigar.

(Above) Don Knotts portrayed high-strung Mayberry Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife in the 1960s sitcom The Andy Griffith Show. Fife was a quixotic small town crime-stopper projecting a veneer of situational command that didn't fool anyone (including his acting peers, who accorded him four Emmy Awards for the role). The Museum of Broadcast Communications described Fife as “self-important, romantic, and nearly always wrong. While Barney was forever frustrated that Mayberry was too small for the delusional ideas he had of himself, viewers got the sense that he couldn't have survived anywhere else.”

Knotts (b. Jesse Donald Knotts, July 21, 1924, Morgantown, W. VA.; d. Feb. 24, 2006) first teamed with Griffith in the 1958 film
No Time For Sergeants. In 1960, when Griffith signed to star in his own sitcom, Knotts was recruited as his sidekick. Knotts, believing the show would end after five years, signed a multi-picture deal with Universal in 1965. When Griffith announced the TV series would continue, Barney’s absence was explained on-camera as a “promotion” to the Raleigh NC police force.

The neurotic Knotts persona beguiled fans on the big screen in
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966), The Reluctant Astronaut (1967), The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968), and others. He later played landlord Ralph Furley on TV’s Three's Company. He even brought Barney back to the soundstage, reuniting with Griffith in the 1986 made-for-TV movie Return to Mayberry. In 2000, Knotts was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Disclaimer: The Drew Friedman portrait is a parody of LIFE magazine in the mid-1960s. This is NOT a replica of an actual LIFE cover.

(Above) Maestro of the Machine Age, RAYMOND SCOTT (b. Harry Warnow, Sept. 10, 1908, Brooklyn; d. Feb. 8, 1994, Los Angeles) was a perfectionist bandleader and quirky composer in the 1930s and ‘40s who evolved into a high-tech musical guru in the ‘50s and ‘60s. His early works, particularly Powerhouse” and The Toy Trumpet,” were immortalized in countless classic Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cartoon soundtracks. A half-century later his novelties spiced episodes of The Simpsons, Ren & Stimpy, Animaniacs, The Oblongs, and Duckman. The recordings of his 1937-39 six-man “Quintette” (depicted in the portrait) screamed animation—yet Scott never wrote a note for a cartoon in his life. He was creating what he termed “descriptive jazz,” typified by such wild titles as “New Year’s Eve in a Haunted House,” “War Dance for Wooden Indians,” and “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals.”

But control-freak Scott never seemed satisfied with real musicians expressing his musical ideas, so he used the electronic parts catalog to build the perfect sideman. From the late 1940s on he worked extensively in electronic music as an instrument inventor, jingle composer, and experimentalist. Owner of dozens of US patents, Scott was hired by
Berry Gordy in 1971 to head Motown’s electronic research department. His pièce de résistance was the Electronium. A linguini-tangle of circuitry housed in a wooden cabinet, it was Beethoven-in-a-box—a device that would compose using artificial intelligence.

Looking beyond, Scott thought that instruments themselves were merely an evolutionary stage. Writing in 1949, he foresaw a day when “science will perfect a process of thought transference from composer to listener. The composer will sit onstage and merely THINK his idealized conception of music. His brain waves will be picked up by mechanical equipment and channeled directly into the minds of his hearers, thus allowing no distortion of the original idea. Instead of recordings of actual music sound, recordings will carry the brainwaves of the composer.”

(Above) This work depicts Drew Friedman’s old friend (and favorite artist) Robert Crumb presenting his original Cheap Thrills comic strip album cover art to Janis Joplin (with members of her band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, milling around) in 1968. The (fictitious) incident is pictured taking place backstage at the Fillmore West concert hall in San Francisco.Interestingly, Crumb had originally intended his art for the LP back cover, with a portrait of Joplin to grace the front. But Joplin—an avid fan of underground comics, especially the work of Crumb—so loved the Cheap Thrills illustration that she demanded Columbia Records place it on the front cover. (Janis, a star at that point in her escalating career, had the authority to hire her own cover artist.)

Amusing side note: In the late 1960s, Crumb (an ardent fan of
1920s jazz and blues and a man who was never comfortable with psychedelic chic) briefly yielded to prevailing fashion and wore his hair fairly long (as depicted). Joplin encouraged her friend Crumb to “loosen up” and wear hippie clothes and beads,” but the legendary cartoonist just couldn’t get with the program.

Epilog: Robert Crumb, on Janis
(Nov. 2008): “She was my buddy—poor thing. She was a very talented, gifted singer, but she got sidetracked by fame and her life went into a disastrous tailspin. In her last days she was surrounded by sycophants and music business hustlers just full of bad advice. She was young, and in spite of her tough, hard-drinking exterior, innocent. She just wanted to please the crowds, who got excited when she screamed and stomped her feet and carried on histrionically onstage. Janis sweated blood to please the crowds. But I think she was a better singer years before that, when she sang old-time Country music and Blues in small clubs. She was great then, a natural-born country girl shouter and wailer in the good old-time way.”

(Above) Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Shemp Howard ahieved cinematic immortality portraying bumbling fools. In hundreds of shorts and feature films starting in 1934 at Columbia Pictures (with baby Howard brother Curly), every simple situation became insanely complicated, every sure-fire plan backfired. Their illogical, self-defeating antics inevitably provoked some nemesis to knock a little sense into their heads. Often the comic foil was veteran actor Vernon Dent, who made impatience a virtue. Dent logged more appearances in Stooge films than any supporting actor, playing detectives, hotel managers, fake foreigners, and salesmen.

Think of all the negative-role model behavior these three legendary “nitwits” showcased for American youth. In today’s risk-averse culture, in which kids must be shielded from even slapstick “violence,” these films—if made at all—would be required by PC moralists to run endless disclaimers and parental warnings.
Where’s Vernon Dent when you need him?

If you go to Drew Friedman’s web site, you can buy your favorite print here.

All descriptions of the characters above and the artwork is copyright © Drew Friedman.



Norman Rockwell Reference Material

Images © Copyright Norman Rockwell Museum; Click images for larger view.

Click images for larger view.
Images © Copyright Norman Rockwell Museum
Click images for larger view.

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ALMOST EVERY ILLUSTRATOR I HAVE EVER KNOWN USES SOURCE MATERIAL for reference. Norman Rockwell used his own original photographs to help guide his famous illustrations, which are part of the American fabric we know today. Sure, Rockwell’s “America” was romanticized, but that’s what he did. There were plenty of others out there (the WPA photographers, for example) who showed the gritty side of America.

Rockwell used photographs as a starting point. Sometimes he was very faithful to the picture, and other times he just used pieces. Norman Rockwell was an American original.

Via PDN.
All images © Copyright Norman Rockwell Museum.



Hiding in Plain Sight

(Above and below) Naturally, the best camouflage artists are found in nature.

Click any image for larger view.

(Above) The Lockheed Burbank aircraft factory in California just prior to WWII, before the need for camouflage. (Click image for larger view)

(Above) Same factory, after the Army Corp of Engineers layered camouflage netting over the entire factory to make it appear to be just another subdivision with small farm fields. (Click image for larger view)

(Above) The HRMS Abraham Crijnssen disguised as a tropical island, April, 1942. (Click image for larger view)

(Above) From Playboy Magazine, the model Veruschka. Though beautiful and statuesque, Veruschka spent most of her life attempting to change the way her body was perceived by others. She was, by all accounts, a conceptual artist who used the modeling platform as a means to showcase her art.

(Above) Veruschka, for Playboy, 1971.

(Above) Emma Hack goes a step further by introducing a new object, in this case the owl, to further throw off our eye to the camouflaged woman. (Click image for larger view)

(Above) Emma Hack, an artist involved in fashion, again uses patterned wallpaper as a foil in which to hide her model. (Click image for larger view)

(Above) Dutch artist Desiree Palmen, who lives in Rotterdam, takes photographs of a particular place, then uses a person dressed in clothes she has painted perfectly to blend into the background. (Click image for larger view)

(Above) Desiree Palmen, Park Bench, 1999. (Click image for larger view)

(Above) Liu Bolin, camouflage artist, China.

(Above) Liu Bolin, camouflage artist, China

(Above) Liu Bolin, a “camouflage artist” from China, says that his artwork about “hiding” is a political statement. (Click image for larger view)

(Above) Liu Bolin, camouflage artist, China, disappears in plain sight. (Click image for larger view)

(Above) Liu Bolin, China. (Click image for larger view)

I STARTED OUT THIS MORNING INTENT ON DOING A POST about the Chinese artist Liu Bolin. Now, midstream in my research, I realize that I cannot do a post just on him without attempting to put what he does into some sort of context. What does the idea of camouflage mean? How has it been used and how did the process become co-joined with art? Without question, Bolin’s art is powerful stuff, but I will attempt to explore the whole idea of camouflage and how his art fits into the idea of transformation.

Liu Bolin’s art is about camouflaging himself as a means of political protest in his own country. His political protest against the Chinese government is a statement against repression (the authorities shut down his studio in 2005). He has written that, in nature, many animals, insects and creatures have the ability to alter and adapt their physical appearance to their surroundings. This is a defensive measure to protect themselves from predators.

Chinese artist Liu Bolin desires to survive in a country that is a predator to him. Creatively, he is saying, “I must blend in to survive, I cannot be different.” His art is telling the western world about the repressive state in which he attempts to survive.

As an artistic statement, you have two things at work here. One, is the actual process and performance of creating the illusion. That in itself must be carefully orchestrated for the next and most important part—the photograph. In the end, it is the photograph that carries the weight of the process.

At the same time, Emma Hack is a talented Australian make up artist, stylist, hairdresser and artist who paints on the human body. No political statement here—just a way to work with fashion directors in a new, creative and fun way. Visually, the viewer must take extra care to disentangle the human being from the surroundings.

And, Dutch artist Desiree Palmen, is doing a thing that is quite akin to Liu Bolin’s art—except her art has more to do with being unseen and undetected. Palmen’s prior study was involved in biology and geology—so her work stems from her understanding of the natural world.

Mankind, on the other hand, even with his superior intellect—cannot alter his appearance naturally without creating a new physical covering of some kind (like ordinary hunting camouflage, etc.) And therein lies the connection between these images. With man, camouflage is an artificial thing, something brought in and applied. With nature, it just is.

“We live among its people now, hiding in plain sight, but watching over them in secret, waiting, protecting.” Optimus Prime, from the film “Transformers.”



The Prokudin-Gorskii Photos

(Above) B&W Photograph by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.

Steam Engine Kompaund with a Shmidt Super-heater, ca. 1910

Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress
(Above) Same photograph after digital color (digichromatography) added to match original early process. © Library of Congress

Image © Library of Congress

Prokudin-Gorskii created albums to serve as photographic records of his trips across the Russian Empire. Each album is composed of contact prints—created from his glass plate negatives—which were mounted in the order in which he traveled. The album page shown here was created in 1915 during his last known documentary trip.

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
Cotton textile Mill Interior, ca. 1907-1915
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
Factory Interior Showing Turbines, ca. 1907-1915
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
Cotton. In Sukhumi Botanical Garden, 1910
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
A Sart Old Man, 1911
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
Melon Vendor, 1911
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
Mills in lalutorovsk Uyezd of Tobol’sk Province, 1912
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
A Zindan (prison), ca. 1907-1915
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii
A Settler’s Family, ca. 1907-1915Digital color rendering.
© Library of Congress

(Above) Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii.
Austrian Prisoners of War Near a Barrack, 1915
Digital color rendering. Click on image for larger view.
© Library of Congress

In the early years of the First World War, Prokudin-Gorskii photographed a group of prisoners of war from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The men are probably Poles, Ukrainians, and members of other Slavic nationalities, imprisoned at an unidentified location in the far north of European Russia near the White Sea. This image escaped being confiscated by border guards—the fate of the vast majority of politically sensitive images—when Prokudin-Gorskii left Russia for good in 1918—probably because what is being represented is not immediately obvious.

THE PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVES OF SERGEI MIKHAILOVICH PROKUDIN-GORSKII (1863-1944) offer a vivid portrait of a lost world—the Russian Empire on the eve of World War I and the coming revolution. His subjects ranged from the medieval churches and monasteries of old Russia, to the railroads and factories of an emerging industrial power, to the daily life and work of Russia’s diverse population.

In the early 1900s Prokudin-Gorskii formulated an ambitious plan for a photographic survey of the Russian Empire that won the support of Tsar Nicholas II. Between 1909-1912, and again in 1915, he completed surveys of eleven regions, traveling in a specially equipped railroad car provided by the Ministry of Transportation.
Prokudin-Gorskii left Russia in 1918, going first to Norway and England before settling in France. By then, the tsar and his family had been murdered and the empire that Prokudin-Gorskii so carefully documented had been destroyed. His unique images of Russia on the eve of revolution—recorded on glass plates—were purchased by the Library of Congress in 1948 from his heirs. For this exhibition, the glass plates have been scanned and, through an innovative process known as digichromatography, brilliant color images have been produced. This exhibition features a sampling of Prokudin-Gorskii’s historic images produced through the new process; the digital technology that makes these superior color prints possible; and celebrates the fact that for the first time many of these wonderful images are available to the public.

We know that Prokudin-Gorskii intended his photographic images to be viewed in color because he developed an ingenious photographic technique in order for these images to be captured in black and white on glass plate negatives, using red, green and blue filters. He then presented these images in color in slide lectures using a light-projection system involving the same three filters. He did this by using a single, narrow glass plate about 3 inches wide by 9 inches long that was placed vertically into the camera by Prokudin-Gorskii . He then photographed the same scene three times in a fairly rapid sequence using a red filter, a green filter and a blue filter.

You can read the entire method for converting Prokudin-Gorskii’s B&W images to color by clicking here. As well, you can see many more images.

All copy and images above are copyright © Library of Congress.



Womb with a View

(Above) Baby elephant in womb.

(Above) Baby dolphin.
(Above) Baby shark. Yikes!
(Above) Baby penguin in egg.
(Above) Baby penguin #2.
(Above) Baby penguin #3.

(Above) Puppy in womb.
(Above) Puppy in womb, #2.
(Above) Puppy in womb, #3.
(Above) Puppy in womb, #4.
(Above) Puppy in womb, #5.

CHECK OUT THESE INCREDIBLE EMBRYONIC ANIMAL PHOTOGRAPHS OF dolphins, dogs, sharks, penguins and elephants. They are previews are from a new National Geographic documentary called “Extraordinary Animals in the Womb.” The producer of the show, David Chin, used a combination of three-dimensional ultrasound scans, computer graphics and tiny cameras to capture the process from conception to birth. Amazing!

Via ThisBlogRules.