Wednesday, January 25, 2017


I'm writing this to make a point about the purpose of the best pictorial art, but I'll need to set up an example first, and for that I offer the Moulin Rouge (above), the famous Parisian dance hall and theater as it was around the late 1890s.

The MR promoted itself as the birthplace of the Can Can. Some say it wasn't, that "kicking the Moon" had been around for decades. I dunno. What I do know is that lots of people believe this combination of Offenbach-type high energy music and eroticism was as good as entertainment gets.

 Anyway, here's (above) the outdoor beer garden in the back. Nice, eh?

To promote the Moulin the management contracted with well-known artists to turn out a series of posters which were pasted on fences and billboards all over Paris. Surely the greatest of all these artists was Lautrec. That's his very first poster for the Moulin, above. Geez, he was smoking hot right out of the starting gate.

It didn't hurt that he was working in an inventive new style that seemed to underline the hipness of the club.

The man had stiff competition. Jules Cheret (above) turned out charming posters that were dynamic and colorful.

Steinlen, the creator of the Chat Noir cat posters, emphasized the joy of people watching, of being shoulder to shoulder with dangerous, unpredictable, fun loving people (the poster above wasn't done for the Moulin but was typical of Steinlen's later work for the club).

Even so, I'll bet that for most people the laurel goes to Lautrec. Where other artists simply promised a good time, Lautrec seemed to promise something transcendent, something approaching insight and ecstasy. How the heck did he achieve that?

By way of an answer I offer two Lautrec drawings commissioned by performers at the Moulin. Both are close-ups showing a Moulin actress sitting in a carriage, but only one possesses the Lautrec magic.

 That's the second one, above. Here the actress is also in a carriage but she's unaccountably underlit as if by theatrical footlights, and she's elegant and accompanied by what looks like a rich man.

More than simple admiration it creates a yearning in the viewer to be there in that special time and place, to witness a confident performer in an exotic club in the world's most interesting city. You're induced to feel that if you miss this magical night you'll regret it for the rest of your life.

The point I'm trying to make is that Lautrec was selling adventure and a Utopian vision. He was selling dream fulfillment. In the case of the poster above he was selling the thumping of dancers on floorboards and eroticism and wild music played in blinding light.

Monday, January 16, 2017


Shocking!  How did he ever think of adding all that mass to the shoulders? 

"Headless Nude Torso: Study for Balzac, 38", plaster, 1893-95.  I love the earthy solidity of this figure. It would have been nice to see a bronze of this.

"Man With a Broken Nose," 1863-64. How do you like the "can of worms" technique? It's a powerful portrait that also pays homage to the medium. All the best art is like that. It celebrates the possibilities of its medium at the same time it drives home its  overt message.

Above, 'The Crouching Woman," 1880-82. Okay, this isn't what you'd call a "lesser known" piece but most people are only familiar with the 33" high bronze.

Here's (above) the 12 inch terra cotta that the larger bronze was based on. I'm glad we have both versions; you can see more detail here.

It looks like Rodin modified the shoulder when he scaled it up.

Above, a brooding Victor Hugo. Wow!

Here's (above) Flying Figure" from 1890-91. It's from the same year that he did the similar but even more iconic "Isis, Messenger of the Gods."

Above, Isis.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


I just found some more caricatures! Here's one of me by Lenard Robinson. Not bad, eh?

This (above) isn't a caricature but I want to include it anyway. It was a gift from Katie Rice! It was meant to be a fridge magnet but it looked so good on black paper that I hung it on my black bulletin board instead.

Oops! I just noticed that the legs bowed when I took the picture. they're supposed to be straight. 

Here's my kid when he was a toddler, drawn by John K.  John was fascinated by the size of little kids' heads.

Finally, here's a doodle I made of John for an old Theory Corner blog post. Haw! I can't remember why I gave him surfer hair.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


If I have a basement rec room in my new home then I'd like to have a wide, square coffee table like the one above.  I like to work while I watch TV and I like to spread out when I'm working, so a table like this facing a wall mounted TV would be perfect.  I picture a sofa where the wooden bench is now.

In back of the sofa (above, lower left) I'd have a long, shallow table or desk that would enable me to peek over the sofa and work or eat a meal while watching TV. The picture from a book that illustrates this only shows a corner of the table so I'm so I hope the idea gets across okay.

In the part of the country I'll be moving to it's common to leave basements unfinished, so the ceilings of rec rooms are often made of exposed wood. If that's the case then I'll sand and varnish the ceiling and add natural wood pillars like the ones shown in this Reggio Emilia school room above.

Friday, January 06, 2017


It's amazing but true: it's possible to create a house where about a third or a fourth of the elements are fake. By that I mean fake landscaping...including fake trees, grass and hedges..., fake porch, fake fireplace, fake gables and dormers, fake windows, fake bookshelves, fake floors and ceilings, fake name it. 

This practice is so common now that what I have to say about it will hardly raise an eyebrow in some quarters, but it still surprises me, so I'll talk about it here.  

I started thinking about this when I researched stone fireplaces on the net. I found the ads for fakes almost outnumbered the ads for real ones.

Geez, those fake fireplaces (above) looked so real. I'll bet even the wooden mantle is fake. Some fake rocks are cut veneers of genuine rock...some are cardboard and plaster.

That's because real stone walls require a skilled stone mason. Real stone walls...with potato-shaped stones... are made of irregular- shaped rocks and are supported by nothing but gravity. The mortar's there just to keep the weather and bugs out. It requires someone with a good eye to make a wall like that.

To build it a mason will bring in three times more rocks than he'll actually use, because filling in each new spot requires just the right shape to fit. Even that will have to be chipped with a pick axe to get a snug fit.

The best stones usually have a relatively flat side and that allows the mason to make roughly linear rows. They have a flat side because they were probably sheared off something bigger by earth quakes or erosion. If the mason can't find a flat enough stone he'll throw in a man-made brick.

Believe it or not, few people ever notice.

But faux fireplaces are just the beginning. There's faux ceiling beams, faux floors, faux dormers, faux eaves, faux gables, faux windows....wait a minute, I need some pictures here.

Here's (above) a 5 meter high faux fig tree with silk leaves. The price? I don't know about this particular tree but things like this generally go for anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 depending on wether or not they're used to disguise phone towers. 

Here's a faux aluminum balcony, but if that's too pricey then get a plastic one instead. Just don't lean on it.

Here's the cheapest faux dormer I could find (no, it's not mine). When it's finished it won't connect to a real bedroom or attic, or contain a real window.

Last but not least, here's (above) a fake bookshelf. Appalling, eh? But maybe not.  After I saw the next picture below I almost warmed to the idea...well, sort of.

And here's (above) the reason...putting a fake bookshelf on an ordinary bedroom door turns that room into...A SECRET ROOM! Yeah!  Something right out of the 30s horror films!

Wednesday, January 04, 2017


I don't know what kind of house I'll end up with. I'm hoping that I can find something the town eccentric used to live in, or a house made from a barn or an old workshop. If so, I can have a living room like the one above, which is a place to work as well as relax.

I love the way the loft creates a dark shadow space which makes for a great contrast with the white light in the rest of the room.

 In my fantasies the town eccentric also left behind a large, cozy, old-fashion kitchen like the one above.

 Of course there's some nice modern kitchens, too.

I have a lot of books and papers so a hallway like this one (above) would be much appreciated.

It would be nice to have a lawn with old-growth trees in front. I'm a big believer in front gardens rather than front lawns.

But what am I talking about? I can't afford the kind of architecturally sophisticated house you see above. The likelihood is that I'll end up in a tract house that simply has more square footage than the place I'm living in now. *Sigh.*

Well, the one thing I can afford to control is the lighting. Wherever I end up rest assured that it'll be lit like a Hollywood set. It'll be a place to park the lamps I've been accumulating over the years.

How do you like the hanging lamp above? It's a one-of-a-kind item I got from a library book.