Saturday, July 31, 2010

10 List: Funky bunch

Costumes are supposed to make a performer larger than life. Still, some costumes are better than others, and for the very worst, the memory lingers on.

Angus Young's school uniform; especially effective for his onstage headbanging and spasms.

Rick James works his corner in red thigh-high boots.

Axl Rose in lycra, aerobic high tops and a spangled jacket.

The ever-outrageous Sir Elton John channelling Donald Duck.

The entire village of the Village People.

Friday, July 30, 2010


The Isis radio (circa 1970) was inexpensively produced and intentionally cute. It has such graphic appeal, it manages to kick any kitschiness to the curb.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Francis Wolff

Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.
--Miles Davis

Wilbur Ware

John Coltrane

Ornette Coleman

Miles Davis

Francis Wolff was an executive at Blue Note Records, and often photographed musicians during their recording sessions. Crisp, graphic, and atmospheric begin to describe his lush portraits, even juicy. Even if the subjects weren't the embodiment of 'cool', the photos are sublime.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Apples, a memoir

Over the course of one year, Jonathan Gerken explored the many varieties of apples available from orchards and farmer's markets in California. In his book, Apples I Have Eaten, the compilation of photographs of the fruit of his labor. I love the simplicity of the images and minimalist design of the book.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


"I would rather be ashes than dust. I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow,
than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The proper function of man is to live, not to exist."

—Jack London

In 1907, writer Jack London visited Hawaii and was introduced to the joy of surfing. That same year, he wrote A Royal Sport: Surfing in Waikiki. Instrumental in his surf eduction was one Hawaiian young man, George Freeth, who impressed London and other visitors with his dazzling skill and poise on his customized surfboard. London's glowing promotion of Freeth inspired California real estate baron Henry Huntington, who was looking for a way to draw visitors to the Redondo Beach area he was developing. Huntington hired Freeth to demonstrate the sport in front of his Hotel Redondo, sparking a surfing revolution. Freeth developed his surfing prowess while in California, and also his skills in water rescue. He became Redondo's first lifeguard and is credited with designing the torpedo-shaped buoys still used in water rescue today. In 1919, at the young age of 35, he died from the flu, during one of the worst global pandemics in history.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Fantastic vintage footage of dancers performing variations of the 'backslide'--otherwise known as the 'moonwalk.' Some of the footage is from the 1943 film, Cabin in the Sky, that features the remarkable talent of John Bubbles. Bubbles was an instructor to Fred Astaire, who considered him the greatest tap dancer of his generation. Michael Jackson was a fan of both Astaire and Bubbles, and pays homage to their gestures and movement in his choreography.

Cabin in the Sky

Georgia Brown: You're gonna be filthy rich!
Little Joe: I am? How filthy?

The 1943 MGM film, Cabin in the Sky, was the directorial debut of Vincente Minnelli, the screen debut of Lena Horne, and headlined performances by Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, as well as song lyrics by Harold Arlen. An adaptation of a successful Broadway musical, it was groundbreaking for being one of only a few films made by a major studio at that time that featured an all-black cast.

A version of the Faust legend, the story follows the gambler Little Joe, who has been shot during a night of gambling. The henchmen for Lucifer and the general of the Good Lord battle over his soul during the six months he is given to redeem himself. Horne plays lovely Georgia Brown, a temptress agent of Lucifer, and Ethel Waters plays his long-suffering, pious wife who prays for their 'cabin in the sky.'

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mad man

"But I don't want to go among mad people, " Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that, " said the Cat: "we're all mad here. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat,
"or you wouldn't have come here."
--Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

The fourth season of Mad Men begins tonight, and the question remains, "Who is Don Draper?" The enigmatic main character is a study in contradictions; he's a family man and philanderer, he defends one colleague's alcoholism, but dismisses another for being gay, he's a savvy, ambitious executive and a reckless, tormented deserter. We know from the title sequence that Don Draper's carefully constructed reality verges on catastrophic collapse. From the first episode he is established as tightly wound, with dangerous secrets. As the stories unfold for each of the other characters, we realize Don is neither alone in his angst nor the only imposter.

"You are what you repeatedly do," a quote attributed to Aristotle, begins to describe the true nature of the characters within the world of Mad Men. The audience is privy to the infinitely interesting, strangely complex, secret lives and lies of Don and his family and co-workers; they are mysterious only to each other.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Taxi Driver

I ride around most nights - subways, buses - but you know, if I'm gonna do that
I might as well get paid for it.
--Travis Bickle

Recently, I watched Martin Scorsese's excellent 1976 film, Taxi Driver. It's been about ten years since the last time I saw it; dazzling and intense as ever, but especially crisp having been digitally remastered.

In the first few minutes, the audience is immediately drawn into the lonely isolation of the main character, Travis Bickle. From the opening shots: New York City at night, traffic, run-down neighborhoods, a windshield, a taxicab slowly cutting though the steam that rises from the sewer, we are seeing the world through Travis Bickle's point of view. Scorsese transports us inside a troubled mind so expertly, there is no room to doubt or question any action as it takes place. The transference from the viewer to Travis is seamless, and takes only a few minutes, which is an amazing feat.

Paul Schrader was 26 years old and destitute when he wrote the superb screenplay, supposedly in five days. Robert De Niro lost 35 pounds and drove a taxi for a month to prepare for his role as Travis Bickle.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.
--Helen Gurley Brown

John Collier, Lilith

John Waterhouse, The Magic Circle

Luis Falero, The Departure of the Witches

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Witches in the Air

John Waterhouse, Circe

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A cake by any other name

Pastry chef and artist Sharon Core painstakingly recreates the appetizing paintings of Wayne Thiebaud in her photographs. In each set of images, the painting is above its photo clone.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mind the gap

The London Transport roundel was designed in 1918. It has remained virtually unchanged.

Abram Games 1937

Man Ray 1938

E. McKnight Kauffer 1930

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Hair care in a handy little tin.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Force of nature

The languid female police officers in the paintings by Jansson Stegner are captivating.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


We've all experienced it; standing there as someone tries to describe the really weird/terrifying/amazing dream they had. It begins with a vague storyline, follows with large gaps in sequencing, people appear and disappear randomly and the dream abruptly ends. The very nature of dreams, that they express a person's subconscious with visuals uniquely marked as threatening or pleasurable, assure that the dream is really only amazing or interesting to the respective dreamer.

In films, the sketchy, fragile, incoherent aspects of dreams are given weight and continuity. In his new film, Inception, writer/director Christopher Nolan weaves a tale of espionage within the the boundless territory of the subconscious. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, who is able to enter the dream of any given target, and design the world of the dream for the purpose of extracting top secrets. Cobb is serious (the kind of serious that sucks the life out of a room) and expects the same from his team of agents. He is a widower, misses his children and seems bored with the labyrinths he is able to construct. There are special effects, it's a summer release after all, but no matter whose subconscious we're exploring, it appears to have been dressed by the same set designer. It is loosely explained in the movie, only the most gifted architects are recruited to construct the layout and details of a dream. Good to know, in case you're looking to spruce up the dark recesses of your mind.

Ellen Page plays Ariadne, introduced as a 'brilliant architect', who impresses Cobb with three quick mazes she doodles on her notepad on command. Cillian Murphy plays their corporate target, Robert Fischer. Unusually thrifty for a billionaire, he travels on a commercial airplane, without an assistant or bodyguard, and waits at the baggage conveyor to collect his luggage. Those moments weren't written to be funny, but I had to laugh.

The concept of dream espionage is imaginative and complex, but the writing is heavy with with exposition. The extent of the dialogue among the team explains what has happened in the past, or just happened or is going to happen next. Inception explores the subconscious with too much consciousness.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ed Emberley

Opening today (through August 7), the Scion Space presents the work of beloved children's book author Ed Emberley and also the work of five other artists whom he influenced. There are serious children's books, and sweet ones, and the ones that are oh-so-pretty their stories are overshadowed. But Emberley's books, particularly his drawing books, are inspiring because they are so accessible and joyful.

Friday, July 16, 2010

After disaster

In this excellent interview , the photographer Richard Mosse discusses his images of airplane wrecks featured in his 2009 solo exhibition titled The Fall.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The highest height

Empire State Building, New York City

Eiffel Tower, Paris

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

I thought of an idea for a children's book: wouldn't it be great to flip through photos of places most people could never get to? Not just famous buildings and bridges, but images of what it's like to be up there. Maybe you've visited the safe, gated observation deck of a building and looked out over the city. But what about the tower above the deck that shoots up another 10 stories? The one that only the occasional worker (who drew the short straw) climbs in order to paint, change a lightbulb or restore an antenna? I began researching images, found a few and decided the idea was far from cozy night reading for kids. No, the images are pretty terrifying. Whatever they're paying those workers on the Empire State Building, it isn't enough.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Drawing outdoors

Nazca Lines, Peru

Crop circle, United Kingdom

Sand art, Jim Denevan