Sunday, January 31, 2016


 Soon I'll relocate to the farm belt and have the task of decorating the walls of my new house. For that I'll need pictures. I'm considering a big print of Basquiat's "Boy and His Dog" (above).

Also Gary Panter's "Elvis Zombie"...if there are prints of this. Are there?

Or Panter's "O Babaca."

Here's (above) a wall-worthy picture by Tim Burton.

I'd also like to put up caricatures of friends. I already have all the pictures I'll need...except for one. Maybe Mike will let me copy this one (above) that John, Marlo and Kali did of him.

I picture all these works of art in a living room a little like the set for "PeeWee's Playhouse (above)." Nice, huh?

Unfortunately my wife has decorating ideas of her own (gro-o-o-oan!). I swear, men and women are two different species.

She wants a dog, too.

We got along great with our last dogs. They really liked my wife and I. The problem is, they didn't like anyone else.

Even little dogs can be pretty feisty around strangers.

I told this to my wife, and she said what am I talking about...our dogs absolutely loved strangers! Hmmmmm.

Thursday, January 28, 2016


I'm still reading the book about Frances Glessner Lee's crime dioramas and I can tell you  that it's really creeping me out.  If you don't mind, I'll inflict some of my morbid thoughts about this on you, with the promise that this'll be my last post on the subject. 

The living room above caught my eye because it's so red. In nature red is always an accent. It never covers a whole field of view like it does here. When it does, in a man-made picture, it always conveys an idea or an emotion.  Here that idea seems to be evil and death. 

It's as if some supernatural force, not a person, has somehow become aware of the humans who live here, and is lying in wait for them. 

Something electric and malevolent is in the air. Even this picture of a stag seems to have bad intention. 

The model includes a view of the closet where the victim was killed while reaching for her coat, but I won't show it here.  There's more information in this one (above), in the sense that here, in this infernal red, the decision was made to kill another human being. The woman was a prostitute and the killer was a boyfriend or a client. They'd been drinking and arguing and I guess she decided to walk out on him.  Yikes!

Boy, this idea of evil rooms persuading people to murder is creepy in the extreme. That's what Stephen King's "The Shining" was all about. Even old ladies can fall prey to it.

Even kids!

I don't want to go out on a horrific note so I'll digress to talk some more about red for a moment.  Artists who use it frequently darken and dilute it with a bit of another color. That's odd when you think about it because once the red is muted and bludgeoned the next thing artists try to do is revive it again by running tendrils or dots of another color through it.

Interesting, eh?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Here's my new hero, Frances Glessner Lee, a wealthy self-taught crime scene investigator, a sort of forensic Miss Marple.  In the 40s and 50s she built dozens of dollhouse crime scenes based on real cases in order to train detectives to assess visual evidence. The models are still in use today.  Lee founded the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard and was even made a captain in the New Hampshire police. 

Wow! She was good at this!  I wonder how many detectives picked up on the clues that are in this scene (above). A woman wearing only a bathrobe has died here. How? Murder? Suicide? An accident? 

There's no sign of violence, and the window is closed making it unlikely that someone entered that way.  The stool under the top light fixture could indicate electrocution, but the bulb is still screwed in. The window shade being up, exposing the interior to the neighborhood, might indicate the kind of disregard of convention that characterizes suicides.  Note also the the dry towel and the slippers facing the mirror. She may not have come here to take a bath. 

The woman's body is found collapsed near the door and the cord of her robe is tied in a knot around her neck. If she hung herself where would the cord have been tied? A possibility was that it was wedged into the top of the closed door causing the body to fall when the door was opened later on.  

Most of the dioramas aren't "whodunnits." The set-ups are crime scenes as they were when the police first arrived and all the relevant people in the case hadn't been interviewed yet. The viewer of the model knows only what what he can see and what the person who found the body had to say. That person may or may not have told the truth.

Sometimes first impressions are misleading. In this case (above) the inebriated victim appears to have accidentally fallen backward while sitting on the edge of a bathtub. A closer look reveals that the right leg is stiff at the knee, which should have been bent, indicating rigor mortis had already taken place before the fall. This woman died before she was placed in the tub.

As in real life, not every item seen is important. The presence of a magazine (above) might mean nothing at all.

There's a terrible poignancy to some of these models. Here's (above) a man's bedroom which is dominated by a green dresser. On the dresser we see artifacts of the dead man's life: a tie, a pocket watch, a whisk broom.

Writer Paul Auster comments: "There is nothing more terrible than having to face the objects of a dead man.  They have meaning only in function of the life that makes use of them. When that life ends...they are condemned to survive in a world they no longer belong to. What is one to think, for example, of a dozen empty tubes of hair coloring hidden away in a leather traveling case?

In themselves the things mean nothing, like the cooking utensils of some vanished civilization. And yet they say something to us, standing there not as objects but as remnants of thought, of consciousness, emblems of the solitude in which a man comes to make decisions about himself, like whether to color his hair, whether to live, whether to die. And the futility of it all once there is death."

Lee endowed The Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard. Every graduating class was treated to a dinner party at the most posh restaurant in Boston.  She arranged for dinner jackets for all but instructed the wine steward to deny wine to anyone who spoke too loud...just what Miss Marple might have done!

BTW: I found out about all this in a book called "The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death" by Corinne May Botz.


Friday, January 15, 2016


One of the best war memorials I've ever seen is a German Expressionist sculpture (above) by Ernst Barlach. It was executed in clay in 1927 to commemorate the dead of WWI, but the Nazis didn't like it and WWII intervened with the result that it wasn't cast in bronze until 1952. It's a pity that it's not better known. The horror of war may never have been depicted as accurately.

Thinking about Barlach made me curious to know more about the Expressionist sculptors.

So far as I know the first Expressionist sculptor was Rodin, a Frenchman. For Rodin nature was a starting point but it always had to be modified by human bias. You could argue that sculpture was always like that but Rodin added exploration and risk and performance. Even humor.
Rodin worked in clay, marble and bronze but lots of later German sculptors preferred wood. Maybe that's because their African influences worked in that medium. Maybe it's because wood was cheap and the artists were poor. One sculptor (Kirchner, above) said he liked wood because the process of carving and creation were visible on the finished piece for all to see. Conventional sculpture was worked in clay and handed off to others
for casting. Only in wood could you say that the final product was produced by a single mind.

Incidentally, I like the way Kirchner frequently photographed his sculptures (above) against painted patterns. 

For all its beauty there's something wild and almost unhinged about early German Expressionism, as if the artists who did it were crazy or under a lot of stress. It was an odd discipline because in its early stage it seemed incapable of expressing happiness or sentimentality.

I don't know of any other medium that deliberately excluded a whole range of human emotion. Even so, there are ideas and insights it would be difficult to express if that kind of art didn't exist.

In order to illustrate this point I had to use a painting rather than sculpture. That's because sculpture rarely succeeded in isolating the negative emotions as well as painting. The same might be said of early Expressionist architecture. The first examples were somber and horrific (above).

Later the medium evolved into something that could convey humor and fun.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Art workplace designs are on my mind these days. I'm not hard to please. Mary Blair (above) has the essentials in this photo: adequate light and a big table to spread out on. I do wonder though, if there's some scheme that would work even better. Doing the blog about kids classrooms as adult work spaces made me wonder if there are other templates out there that might be worth trying. 

Like a kitchen for example. When you think about it, an average kitchen already resembles an art workspace. It's got a table, cabinets and drawers. Replace the stove and refrigerator with file containers and you're in business!

Of course, if you convert your kitchen to a studio where are you going to cook?  Hmmmm.

Well, how about drugstore counters? Make your basement look like a drugstore. An artist with lots of books could could work at a drugstore-type counter/desk with his books and supplies on shelves behind him.

Or diners...the ones made from old railroad cars. Each booth could be a separate desk containing a separate project. When you get tired of working on one thing you sit down at another desk and pick up what you were working on there. 

Or what about those big circular cash and wrap desks (above) that you see in stores like The Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel. Geez, they take up a lot of space, though. They're probably pricey, too.

I like the shelves you see in some stores. These shelves have concealed spotlights underneath, which use Hollywood-type lighting to show off what the store's selling. If I had a shelf like that at home I'd stack it with art supplies and works in progress.  The idea would be to sell myself on my own artwork by displaying it to myself with maximum advantage. An artist needs to have confidence that what he's done will appeal to people. Maybe you have to sell what you do to yourself before you can confidently sell it to others. 

Friday, January 08, 2016


One of the benefits of having a blog is that in the course of research I occasionally stumble on something really interesting that I would never have known about otherwise. Such is the case with Mary Kingsley, an influential but today little-known African explorer of the late 19th Century. I'm reading her book, "Travels in West Africa" right now and it's the best book on that continent that I've come across in years.

I'm guessing that Kingsley was the prim and proper Victorian model for Catherine Hepburn's character in "African Queen." She traveled for a while with an Irishman who its tempting to imagine was a bit like Humphrey Bogart. A coincidence? I don't know.

When Kingsley was a middle-class little girl in Victorian England her well-traveled father used to tell her stories about what was regarded as "Darkest Africa." Kingsley was so excited by these stories that she saved her money and threw herself on the continent as soon as she was able. That was a brave thing to do since West Africa was known as "The White Man's Burial Ground" due to the prevalence of disease and hostile natives. Another English woman who preceded her had her hands chopped off and was left for dead by guides who stole her supplies. Nevertheless, Kingsley was undaunted.

Kingsley had her own take on Africa. She believed in self rule for the Africans but also believed that they needed Britain's indirect guidance.  She disliked many of the village huts she saw which she regarded as unaesthetic. She was even critical of African birds which didn't tuck their wings firmly against their sides as Victorian birds should but were unkempt and slovenly.

It's fun to imagine what the natives must have thought of her. Lots of them had never seen a white person before. I picture her emerging unannounced from the leaves, arrayed in Victorian finery, and casting disdainful looks at the birds and huts she saw.

She talked about the "fan" who were nomadic tribes who were thrown off their traditional land by hostile neighbors and were forced to settle on some other tribe's land in order to survive. As you can imagine the different tribes sometimes hated each other. In order to survive men took wives in different nearby tribes in order to have friendly contacts there and meals that could be safely eaten without poison. For people in that position European monogamy must have seemed like a formula for suicide.

She met different traders, many of them town-influenced blacks, who had European goods to trade, but theirs was a dangerous profession. To raise the price of an item, regardless of the difficulty in obtaining it, was to invite a massacre. When the time for trading was near lots of tribesman came to the trader fort and just hung out for days, sneaking magical trading powder (a guess: lion's dung?) into the traders food and sometimes squatting on the dinner table and looking longingly at the trader's meal. He could shoo them away but he had to be careful not to offend lest he invite bloodshed.

I hope the reader will forgive me for writing about the negatives, which are always more fun to read about. She certainly encountered a lot of beauty and kindness as well. That's reflected in the last paragraph of the book, which I'll quote here:

Wednesday, January 06, 2016


I've been thinking about home workspaces lately and I'm wondering if kindergarten classrooms could serve as a template. That's because I remember how inspiring my kids schoolrooms used to be. All those clever mobiles and hamster cages and colorful bulletin boards...they were beautiful! I even liked the low tables...well, sort of. Seeing them made me want to nudge the kids aside and draw.

Here's a few of the ideas I've seen on the net so far. Most of them are from Reggio Emilia which is an Italian preschool of the Montessori/Waldorf sort. I have no idea if the theory behind Emilia has any merit...I just like the way some of their classrooms look.

I like their custom-made furniture. What do you think of the multiple easels combined with the long paint rack (above)? It's not a bad idea if you have more than one project going at a time.

I like some of their shelves (above), too. Also the idea of dividing the room into different work areas.

'Nice curved shelves! And I like the hanging branch and dangling...I dunno...stuff! The rest of this room (above) could be better, though.

A hanging swathe of blue cloth. Interesting!

Wow! A nice door surround!

Here's (above) an interesting supply shelf/room divider.

 Ni-i-i-i-ice!!!! It's a small bed sheet-type diorama/room light. It need only stand out from the wall a few inches, and it could be as small as 3' X 4'. Anything that would look good in silhouette could go behind it.

Here's an interesting idea for a basement studio. The rafters above are simply the exposed  floor boards supporting the room above. Only the trees and cheap old railroad ties are added. Pillars like these might be great places to display artwork in progress.

Nifty, eh?

BTW: what about my previous attraction to Julius Schulman's studio design (above)? The answer is that I like it as much I ever did. When the time comes to build my own workplace I'll commit to whatever scheme seems to fit the space I have to work with.