Thursday, March 22, 2012

New Illustration, Interesting Music

"Radium Girl" (c) Savannah Schroll Guz, all rights reserved
Savannah Schroll Guz, "Radium Girl" (2012)
ink, watercolor, colored pencil, gold leaf on paper
Above is a new work I completed yesterday and is now in my shop. I'm on the fence about how it turned out because I can see its flaws, and it has many flaws to my eye. However, Michael, who saw it sitting on the kitchen table when he came home (since I kept trying to get a fresh-eyed look at it as I was making dinner--to see if the image had the right visual impact), said, totally unprompted by any questioning, "I like that. It's got a Helene Bohnam Carter look to it.' So, okay then. It passes muster for me, too. What I did gain from the experience is a new-found enthusiasm for gold leaf as an, albeit expensive, collage element. I had a tiny bit just lying around (literally, under a side table in the living room) from having gilded a picture frame. So I used the rest of it as an experiment, which I've been wanting to do for weeks now. I just hadn't previously found the right work to apply my experiment to.
Speaking of experiments...I've mentioned Lemon Jelly before, likely a half dozen times. I found them by way of Lastfm, when I play Blockhead radio. When you play a particular artist radio, it chooses not music by that artist  but by bands that have a similar sound. They were a happy discovery, since they have the kind of retro/scientific weirdness I like and make musical collages of sampled sound bytes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Drive director, Nicholas Winding Refn. Genius.
Last night, Michael and I watched Drive. Honestly, I have a hard time getting into popular movies because their impact is usually fleeting; I watch once, and eh, I don't carry anything significant away from it. (I express this effect a little more coherently in this essay: "Palahniuk's Fight Club Punch". )
And yet, like Fight Club, every once in awhile, there's a movie that completely floors me. Usually, it's because there's something more powerful underpinning the narrative than violence or love interests. Drive has this amazing impact, on a variety of levels.

None of this has to do with the gore factor. Michael and I were joking after the movie was over that they must have spent a great deal of their budget on fake blood because there is arterial spatter or outright purple puddles of it in almost every one of the closing scenes. And while it's purposefully gratuitous (indicating just how metaphorically messy this man's life gets) and appeals to those who expect their movies to come with a heaping helping of violence, it doesn't make the movie bad, as gore often does.

I'll admit, too, that I don't find Ryan Gosling fall-over-and-have-a-fit attractive, so his physical appeal actually has little to do with what lit me up about the movie. It's his attitude and demeanor, the inability to tell just what he's thinking, and the tremor and sweating that comes after a rush of adrenaline. He is a believable bad a$$, both tough and remorseful. I'll admit that I sympathize more with Gosling (as the protagonist) than desire him simply because part of me, perhaps surprisingly to those who know me now, is a double-barrelled, squinting-into-the-future vigilante. Don't believe it? Ask my elementary school teachers: I was a tomboy, hard to control, and in trouble--if not each day--then four out of every five. I calmed down by middle school and became a model citizen by high school. However, I still carry that robust vein of outlaw to which Drive appeals.

But yes, there's so much more than that to Refn's film: there's the framing, the tension, the long silences, the purposeful absence of dialogue and music, and finally the inclusion of music. What appears below is not the actual opening of the movie, which occurs after Gosling has exhibited his skill and acumen as a get-away driver. Instead, it is a montage of movie moments. I don't find this as powerful as what Refn uses to roll the opening credits, which is simply Gosling driving through LA, his dash dials glowing, his driving gloves on, a tooth pick hanging from his mouth, while gazing quietly into the stop lights and street lights. The original Refn opening (with music by Kavinsky) is what got me looking in the direction of Michael's computer in the first place (I was working on something else entirely), and it's what lit my synapses up so that I continued watching. It's proof, too, that electronica is incredibly alluring.

Refn's cinematic vision is genius. Honestly, I'd like to step inside his head and see what else resides there.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Impressionists and the Wall of Exclusion

Edgar Degas, "Singer with a Glove"
1878 (pastel on paper)
What are we listening to this morning? Why, Lemon Jelly (Experiment #6  it's the musical log of an in-vivo experiment; neither freaky nor hokey, but weirdly cool), David Gray, and a Sparkle Horse-Danger Mouse remix. Right, and Royksopp because my ears have a steady diet of Royksopp, especially Royksopp Forever. Slow to start, I know. But gorgeous once it gets going.

I'm about 26% (according to my Kindle) through Private Lives of the Impressionists. It's an impressive book, filled with specific details on the travails of each member in the group. At left and just below, I include some images of Degas' work, some of which I remember studying in college (a period when I was far more interested in 20th century Modernism--the Futurists' dynamism, the Expressionists' angsty goodness--than looking at flowers or landscapes or women in frilly outfits). Still, I appreciated the women illuminated by theatrical footlights (like the performer at left), since gas light always gave a ghoulishly freaky cast to everything. I recall a discussion in my Impressionism course about the woman's black glove operating as a kind of visual exclamation mark to this work, while the sound wave that appears to be coming from her mouth is almost auditory.

I'm now fascinated by Degas' ability to create texture and replicate the drama of stage lighting by way of a few broad patches of pink and white against the greyish purple meant to indicate shadow. I'm assuming he used chalk pastel rather than oil pastel, which is more like a creamy crayon. But his application perfectly simulates the airy quality of tulle.  
Edgar Degas, "Dancers"
(pastel on paper)

Interesting to me, too, is the backstory to Berthe Morisot, who was, by all accounts, beautiful and restless. Although the book doesn't go into extensive details on the subject--perhaps because there is not sufficient concrete evidence--she was a genuine threat to Manet's wife, Suzanne. Manet, who apparently recognized his own magnetism, was flirtatious with many women, while his wife (once his mistress, who'd born his child out of wedlock, until he finally married her) brooked his womanizing with a quiet anxiety. She attempted to befriend Berthe, but Berthe had a thinly-veiled contempt for Suzanne, whom she regarded as an unequal rival for Manet's attention. Even though Morisot was every bit as engulfed in the difficulties of the Impressionists and their public vilification, she was never given this kind of attention in my Impressionism courses. More attention was paid to paintings for which she posed than paintings she executed herself.

I'm to the point in Private Lives of the Impressionists where they have organized the independent society, a move perceived as markedly political, specifically leftist in a society scarred by recent war with Prussia and ruinous civil in-fighting percipitated by rebels hoping to sieze power in Paris. Any organized group seeking to dissociate themselves from the accepted system (in this case, the Academic Salon), like the Independents (soon know by their derisively intentioned nickname, "Impressionists," thanks to a satirical article by Louis LeRoy in Charivari) was considered an expression of leftist political ideals. To add insult to injury (or so the public believed), the Impressionists did not depict edifying or didactic subjects but instead painted from real life, using what looked like unfinished brushwork. Some didn't even paint recognizable subjects, but tended towards "the primitive", like fringe-Impressionist Cezanne--who was nearly kept out of the Independents exhibition for his technique and, interestingly enough, later in life accused Van Gogh of painting like a mad man.

Sales for all of them ceased after they made this unified act of individuation from the salon system, and they and their families (many of them still growing baby by baby, year by year) all suffered for it in the short term. Unless you've studied the public reception of the Impressionists, it's hard to imagine now the height of the wall of exclusion they ran against. Again and again and again.

Savannah Schroll Guz, "Girl with
Green Eyes" 2012
(ink and colored pencil on paper)

Fall down seven times; get up eight.  Look at them now. Dead, I know, the lot of them, and if they got up now, we'd be killing zombies. I meant that metaphorically. Their paintings are on tote bags, umbrellas, and puzzle boxes in every major museum of the western world. Take that, Louis Leroy. Posterity remembers you only for your relation to the Impressionists. I wonder, though, at the mental desparation this exclusion caused the painters at the time, the depth of sadness that descended on them when they saw that rebellion came with such severe punishment (their dealer Duran-Ruel, who had been keeping many of them solvent on the most basic level, had over-purchased their work and was himself in financial straits, having to stop paying each of the artists he represented and making matters worse for all). And yet they painted on. But I suppose, what else could they do at the point? One foot in front of the other keeps you from going down all together. 

For my part, I've been doing some general doodling by the light of the TV. Here's the most recent illustration, "Girl with Green Eyes", which I started before Doc Martin (awesomeness, truly) and ended by 9 a.m. this morning.    

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Now Serving....Pie and Yellow Houses

"Cherry Pie", an art pin in progress...

...another view of "Cherry Pie" and "The Yellow House",
an art pin depicting the 1888 Arles residence of
painters Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.

Both will be in my art store soon!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Of Drawers and Shorts....

So, I just have time for a short post today, as I'm in the throes of an article revision, making lecture notes for two composition classes that begin on Saturday, and working through my book review column (four down, four to go!). However, I finished the calla lily box last week. I've begun a few new painted works, but I have to finish applying outdoor latex paint to two columns of bee hive boxes before our new bee packages arrive in April, so it may be a few days before I can get back to the other painted furniture. On an exciting note, spring break is next week, so I'll get a little time to catch up then.
See the Calla Lily Box in my art store!
I call it "Box of Drawers" in my shop, and while that's accurate, since
it is very literally a box of drawers, it does sound like a bunch of
men's briefs will darting out of any available opening.
Michael and I were fortunate to see the Oscar-nominated short animated movies last Thursday at the Harris Theater. (We actually got to be in the same balcony seats we sat in on our second date, when we saw The World's Fastest Indian way back in November of 2005--magic!) Our two favorites were likely the most poignant as well, Wild Life, a Canadian film that was simultaneously funny and profoundly sad. (I won't spoil the ending for you, if you haven't seen it.)

Still from Wild Life by Calgary animators Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis
They worked seven years on this short animated film.
You can read more about them in this article.
 Our other favorite was The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which bears an allegorical message on the ways in which books can save and give meaning to life. The allegory is expressed by way of one man's life following a storm comparable to Hurricane Katrina. The ending, however, was so sad, it made both of us cry. It was not a desolation kind of sad, but a sadness that grows out of understanding the trajectory of life and not wanting to part with the character.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
(Photo Credit: the Tartan)
Find Morris Lessmore and see more of the film here.
 That's all for now...more to come soon, soon....

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Publications and Pictures

First, some great news: the March 1, 2012 edition of my "Reference Short Takes" is now online at Library Journal. I'm especially excited about this because my column had previously been lumped in with all the other online reference reviews. To now have it as a separate online component, printed much as it is in the magazine itself, is really nice.

This morning, I also finished an article for American Craft (slated to run in the June/July issue) about the Society for Contemporary Craft's biennial exhibition Transformation 8. For the article, I had a chance to interview Raphael Prize winning jewelry designer Meghan Patrice Riley.

Instead of a substantial post right now, I'll save that for later, since Michael and I will be seeing the Oscar-nominated animated shorts in Pittsburgh's Harris Theatre tonight. In the meantime, some pictures:

Exhibit A: Yellow Cupcakes with Rootbeer Frosting

Exhibit B: My upstairs illustration studio/home office. Drawings happen here...often.
On the window ledge is a Steve McQueen action figure. On a chest of drawers on the
other side of the room, hiding behind a potted plant, is a similarly sized GI Joe, who is
taking aim at McQueen.

Exhibit C: In the basement studio is the calla lily box.
This is the top, coated with sealer.

Exhibit D: More of the calla lily box without its drawers. Um, ha! Funny.
Apologies. I do have a childish sense of humor...frequently.

Exhibit E: 4 of the 6 calla lily box drawers, sealed with a first
coat of varnish

A new watercolor, colored pencil, and ink illustration, part of a new series.
I'm not totally excited by how it turned out, but it's part of
this autodidact's  illustration curriculum