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Monday, February 18, 2019

Snow Globes

Though long associated with Christmas, the snow globe is really as much or more an emblem of winter.
It's mid-February and so far, we've had a relatively mild winter--cold, but no blizzards or major accumulations of snow--while some areas have had more than their fill of the white stuff already. We do get a quickly-melting inch or so from time to time, what my wife calls "decorative" snowfalls, but seldom anything worth shoveling. (Hurray for global warming!) Regardless of the depth, snow makes an otherwise brown, gray, dreary landscape into an exquisitely beautiful winter wonderland. About a 130 years ago a company in Paris came out with a much smaller, more manageable "decorative snowfall" in the form of a glass orb filled with water and tiny white flakes featuring a miniature figure of a man holding an umbrella (in a snowstorm?). They promoted and sold them at the Paris World Exhibition in 1887.

A self-portrait by the inventor?
Probably not.
Be that as it may, the real "inventor" of the snow globe was an Austrian man named Erwin Perzy, though he apparently did so accidentally. In 1900, while living outside Vienna, where he ran a medical instrument supply business, Perzy was asked by a local surgeon to improve upon Thomas Edison’s then-new lightbulb, which the surgeon want-ed made brighter for his operating room. Drawing upon a method used by shoe-makers to make quasi-“spotlights,” Perzy placed a water-filled glass globe in front of a candle, which increased the light’s magni-fication. Then he sprinkled tiny bits of re-flective glitter into the globe to help brighten it. But the glitter sank too quickly, so Perzy tried semolina flakes (commonly found in baby food) instead. They didn’t quite work, either, but the appearance of the small, white particles drifting around the globe reminded Perzy of snowfall. Wasting no time, he quickly filed the first official patent for a snow globe, or Schneekugel (in German). By 1905, he was churning out handmade snow globes by the dozens. Often they featured small church figurines made from pewter—through his company, Firm Perzy. They became so popular among well-to-do Austrians that in 1908, Perzy was officially honored for his treasured item by Emperor Franz Joseph I.
Typical of the content, style, and decoration of late-19th-Century snow globes. Notice, it makes no reference whatsoever to either Christmas or winter.
The snow globe appeared at a time when upper-middle-class families, newly wealthy from the Industrial Revolution, began collecting intricate, artistic objects and displaying them in their homes. Though it’s unclear exactly how much these early globes cost, they were expensive due to the amount of time necessary to paint, mold, and assemble them. After World War I concluded in 1918, a boost in tourism led to greater demand for eye-catching souvenirs—especially snow globes. Gradually, news of the whimsical trinket reached America. In 1927, a Pittsburgh man named Joseph Garaja applied for the first snow globe patent in the U.S. and with it, he introduced a radical new means of production: underwater assembly. This ensured that each globe would be fully filled with liquid and saved a significant amount of time and money—transforming the snow globe from an expensive indulgence into the affordable commodity we know today. Within a few years, snow globes were being sold for as little as $1 (around $19 today).
Orson Wells/Citizen Kane's fragile, if somewhat melodramatic, snow globe.
Hollywood discovered the snow globe around 1940. The 1940 Oscar-nominated drama Kitty Foyle, used one as a plot device to trigger flashback scenes. And in 1941, the Orson Welles epic film, Citizen Kane, also featured a snow globe, (made by none other than Erwin Perzy) in its now-legendary opening sequence, wherein Charles Kane dies while holding a glass sphere containing a wintery miniature log cabin, which falls and shatters on the ground. Sales of snow globes increased 200-percent. By the 1950s, snow globes had become an American phenomenon employed for advertising, having been used to promote civilian morale during World War II featuring tiny soldiers. The introduction of plastics and injection-molding further improved the snow globe with pricey particles used for the “snow” replaced with cheap plastic “flitter.” Adding glycol to the water helped it fall more slowly. Snow globes could be found in gift shops across the country, becoming a highly sought-after souvenir during the post-war tourism boom. Walt Disney’s earliest-known snow globe, with its miniature Bambi, dates to 1959.
When arranged in a grouping, the impact of artisan snow globes is often greater than the sum of its parts.
As collectors' items or art objects, snow globes have since became so common they've earned the designation as "kitsch," a term reserved for art that has become too successful. Quite frankly, the label is often well-deserved. However, the key factor is not the globe itself, or even the "snow," but the tired, trite content commonly depicted. Notwithstanding Citizen Kane, when you've seen one stylized church, one Alpine village, or grove of woodland firs, you've pretty much seen them all. Yet, as illustrated in the snow globes above and below, there is room for a considerable range of uniquely original content if an artist takes the time to seek it out. (As seen in the video at the bottom.)
Snow globes evoke memories of childhood before snow became a shoveling nuisance.

The polar bear in a snowstorm.
Trite? Or cleverly humorous.
In recent years, artists have employed words within the snow globe as a medium to proclaim a message, or perhaps illustrate periods of art history as seen below. As an art instructor, I used to refer to a blank sheet of drawing paper as a "polar bear in a snowstorm" (right). Despite their century-long period of development, snow globes are not hard to make. In fact, they are ideal as DIY projects for both adults and children (under close supervision by adults, of course). 
The snow globe as a message medium--funny, educational, sometimes even obscene.
Amazon offers an empty snow globe kit priced at $32 (with free shipping). The kit includes easy to assemble instructions, floating bits of "snow," a dark cherry wood base, and a six-inch clear glass globe. Just add water and stir. For the more economy minded, materials needed are a glass or plastic jar (with screw-on lid), waterproof glue, plastic figures, trees, or other decorations, distilled water, glycerin, white glitter (available at craft stores) and an optional ribbon with an optional bow to cover up the base (lid). Be sure to remove the label from the jar.

The form is not important, it's what's inside that counts.


Monday, February 11, 2019

Kathy Drago

Sofía, 2018, Kathy Drago
Almost from the time cavemen first put pigment to stone walls, one of the most consistent content areas in painting has been the human figure. It's hard to say which gender predominated going back that far, but not difficult to contend that since then images of the female figure have far outstripped those of men by (I'm guessing here) a factor of at least two to one. Given the fact that most paintings which survive today were painted by men and that men are stimulated by what they see, rather than what the feel, the reason for this lopsided emphasis on women down through the ages almost certainly has to do with the male sensual/sexual attraction inherent (and vital) in human relations. Strangely though, when women began to paint figures and portraits shortly after the Renaissance, they did not paint the opposite sex to any great extent but rather other women. Yet the one consistency painters of both genders shared in painting women (whether nude or clothed) was that they were invariably young women inasmuch as beauty and youth have long been equated.
Kathy Drago in her studio located in Houston's museum district.
Kathy Drago is a contemporary female painter living in Texas. Photos of her would suggest she's "middle-aged" beyond which I'm not willing to conjecture. And, like her historic counterparts, she paints women almost exclusively (she does a few nearly non-representational abstracts too). There, however, any vestige of traditional female renderings grinds to a screeching halt. Kathy Drago paints only elderly women, or as she puts it, women from "late life." She defines this period in a woman's life as between 75 and 100 years of age; and finds it very satisfying to paint a face of a completely lived life. As we view each old woman, she intends for us to think about her inner life, her story, who she used to be, and who she is now.
Kathy Drago bucks the tendency of contemporary artists to paint HUGE works. These are on panels approximately life-size.
Kathy Drago finds the physical part of painting aging to be the most compelling with its topography of eyelid drapes, droopy jowls, neck flab, and the asymmetry of the wrinkled face. Kathy's interest in painting elderly women began as she was reading Women in Late Life by Martha Holstein, a college professor who teaches gender and geriatric studies. She wrote that when you get old, unless you have some sort of debilitating, painful disease, you’re usually happy. Most elders say they’re the happiest they have ever been. Although some of Kathy Drago's women look none too happy, I would heartily agree. I'm nearing her chosen age group and I've never been happier.
Esther, Kathy Drago
A retired school principal, Kathy had long been painting abstracts (below). When she retired in 2012, she ordered a number of small, square, 10-inch wood panels upon which to practice. One of her first was Miss B, an old friend who had also been a school principal. That turned out to be the first of a long series. After having painted the first few, she came to realize why she was doing them. Her mother had died recently, leaving her the last of her childhood family alive. She asked herself: “How do I get old?” She was also thinking about women politically, as with the #MeToo movement. It’s like women become invisible when they’re no longer sexually attractive.
The artist insists it’s hard to paint a young woman. "There’s nothing you can do with the face. With the elderly, there’s so much going on—a whole lifetime on a face." Kathy notes that with these "old gals", there’s nothing symmetrical anymore. Their faces are like landscapes. Some of her portraits derive from photos found in obituary columns. In other cases, women have stop by her studio asking to be painted. The urge to be immortalized grows with advancing age. Other images are those of her mother's friends. They're not faithful portraits. One of her subjects in seeing her painted self complained, "Why did you give me so many wrinkles?" Kathy reminded her that she had left out many more. The woman was 93. When photographing women to paint, Kathy urges them to tell their story. Then while they’re talking, she takes a photo-burst. She notes that people make the best expressions when they’re talking. Later, when she paints, Kathy tries to build a character. She tries to visually discover what’s in her heart. What does she want? How does her voice sound? When finished, she gives them all names.
I Am So Upset, Kathy Drago. After several hours posing the model's patience was wearing thin. It shows.
Kathy Drago has a background in improvisational theater. It shows in her work, in the spontaneity and fearless exploration she exhibits. Like jazz, improvisational theater actually has an essential structure underlying the performance--something immediate and wonderful right away. This structure gives coherence and allows artistic choices to gain clarity by building upon each other. Her theatrical background speaks as to how she paints her abstracts: big, bold, somewhat figurative abstracts; cartoonish and flirty drawings that become paintings with masses of color and fearless brush work--figurative beginnings improvised to abstraction. Kathy explains that it’s a process of answering questions and improvising solutions, acknowledging the original figure by observing the lines and shapes and then playing with the motion and rhythm and how the shapes fit together, pushing and pulling on each other, all the time wrestling with how to address the drama and the calm. When people look at her paintings, the eye is urged to follow the lines, colors and shapes and be curious as they discover figurative and non-objective elements and surprises. Likewise in her female faces, Kathy hopes viewers will enjoy the expressive lines, notice the movement and texture of the brush strokes, and be thrilled with the colors. It's an effort to entertain as well as seeing spontaneity through a new lens.
I Tell You What..., Kathy Drago
In summing up her work, Kathy Drago makes the point that very old people, the majority of whom are women, make us uncomfortable: "They unnerve us; not only because their bodies are frail and slow, but because they remind us that, if we are lucky, we will be just like them someday. This fear makes us wary to engage and see them as they really are; we'd rather dismiss the inevitable and convince ourselves that our own aging will be different. It’s easier to ignore them and make them invisible. Yet they deserve to be painted. These women are living the old, old life and figuring it out. They are our guides. Almost all of them are looking directly at us and nudging us, the 'not yet old,' to see what’s next, and face up to the coming attraction."

Well, This Is a Deal, Kathy Drago


Monday, February 4, 2019

Decoding Holbein's Ambassadors

The Ambassadors, 1533, Hans Holbein (the younger).
For centuries it has been the job of artists to enlighten, educate, and elucidate. Artists were called upon to make the complex seem simple. The Catholic church, faced with widespread illiteracy among believers as a result of what we call the "dark ages" relied heavily upon artists to illustrate scriptures....or at least their papal-authorized version of them. Painters, sculptors, manuscript-illustrating monks, even architects were enlisted in the effort to bring religion to the uneducated masses. That is, until the advent of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation around 1517,followed by the Counter Reformation around 1548.In the years and centuries from then on, painters especially found themselves in gradually decreasing demand as the printed Word in local translations spread to the growing population of literate parishioners. This caused artists to seek the financial support and to reflect the tastes of the burgeoning upper and middle classes. One important result was the advent of modern-day portraiture, not to mention the growing popularity of secular domestic art content--still-lifes, landscapes, animals, etc. Even today, illustrators continue to be utilized for much the same talents as those during the Renaissance--to make the complex seem simple.

Self-portrait, Hans Holbein
(the younger), 1542
However, freed from the con-fines of ancient Catholic dog-ma, artists' work began to be less "transparent" as to con-tent and meaning. Science began to rise toward its pre-mier position today largely re-placing religion as the ultimate savior of mankind. One of the earliest and best of these "unleashed" artists was the German painter, Hans Holbein (the younger). Several years ago I wrote about the elder Hans Holbein, but only mentioned the son, (and his brother, Sigismund) in pas-sing. The contrast between the orthodox art of the father and that of the son as seen in his The Ambassadors (top), paint-ed by the younger Holbein in 1533, is a near-perfect example contrasting the two eras I spoke of earlier.

Jean de Dinteville, (detail), The Ambassadors.
When Holbein's The Ambassadors was acquired by London's National Gallery in 1890, the identity of the two stately figures was a mystery. It wasn’t until ten years later, with the publication of Mary F. S. Hervey’s book, Holbein's "Ambassadors": The Picture and the Men, that they were identified as Jean de Dinteville (above) and Georges de Selve (below). De Dinteville was a French ambassador to the court of Henry VIII, and de Selve was Bishop of Lavaur. The two young men were close friends of distinction. There’s an air of fraternal pride in their expressions. De Dinteville’s letters from the period attest to his joy at the visit of his friend. Tiny details inscribed on the scabbard of de Dinteville’s dagger and on de Selve’s book tell us that both men are in their twenties.

Georges de Selve (detail) The Ambassadors.
Apart from all else, the most famous aspect of Holbein's portrait masterpiece is what appears to be a "smear" in the lower center foreground, as if the artist had unsuccessfully attempted to "erase" some detail of the painting before it fully dried. Actually, it's anything but that. It's Anamorphosis. If that word causes you to head for Google's dictionary, let me save you the bother. Anamorphosis is the depiction of an object in a way that purposely distorts its perspective, requiring a specific viewing point to see it properly. Examples of anamorphic art date back to the 15th century, and include a Leonardo da Vinci sketch known today as Leonardo's Eye. If you look at The Ambassadors at an acute angle, the white and black smudge that cuts across the bottom of the painting becomes a fully realized human skull (below).

Holbein's apparent "smudge."
When people first looked at this picture in the 19th century, they quickly noticed the whiteish blur. Some thought it might be a cuttlefish bone. It took a while to work out that Holbein had very cleverly hidden a skull image on the front of his painting. The skull is believed to be a reference to "memento mori," the medieval Latin theory which focuses on man's inescapable mortality as a means of urging practitioners to reject vanity and the short-lived joys of earthly goods. Thus the "hidden" skull (below) was a symbol of the inevitability of death. A skull might seem like an ominous sign to place between two young gentlemen, who were draped in luxury, but Dinteville, who commissioned the painting, was a memento mori admirer. His personal motto was "Remember, thou shalt die."

Memento mori, "...thou shalt die."
Now, with that relatively well-known element out of the way, we can begin to look at some of the other exquisitely rendered details as well as the painting itself. Following in the footsteps of his father, the Bavarian-born artist-son made his name by dedicating his talents to religious subjects like The Body of the Dead Christ In The Tomb. As he neared his 30s, Holbein was making a successful living in this oeuvre, but he still decided to take a chance on new subject matter. Holbein painted The Ambassadors during a particularly tense period marked by rivalries between the Kings of England and France, the Roman Emperor, and the Pope. Furthermore, the French church was split over the question of the Reformation. The religious and political strife was reflected symbolically in the details of the painting. The work was commissioned to commemorate the visit to London of his friend de Selve. The two men were on a complex and ultimately unsuccessful diplomatic mission to heal the rift between Henry VIII and the Church of Rome. It may be, therefore, that the main theme of the painting comes down to the fact that no amount of material wealth, power or learning can prevent death--no man, including the pope, had any real power to halt what was inevitable. In this case, the 'inevitable' was Henry's decision to create his own Church. Dinteville commissioned the piece to immortalize himself and his friend. Following the tradition of such portraits, Holbein presented them in finery and furs and surrounded the duo with symbols of knowledge, such as books, globes, and musical instruments. However, the thoughtful painter also included symbols that pointed to the troubles these men faced.

A shepherd's dial
A polyhedral sundial.

The Ambassadors is also a still life painting featuring numerous meticulously rendered objects. Of course many sixteenth century portraits of learned men contain objects that reflect their occupations and interests, but Holbein's picture is particularly impressive owing to its extraordinary attention to detail, and the sheer amount of information it contains. It shows quite clearly that, as well as Gothic and Renaissance art, Holbein was also strongly influenced by the meticulous realism of early Flemish painting, exemplified by Jan van Eyck and Robert Campin.

Incredible details

Some experts also point to de Dinteville's secular roots and de Selve's clerical roots as symbolizing the dysfunctional nature of the alliance between France and the Vatican, as well as the general conflict between Church (the Pope) and State (King Henry VIII). The image of the lute, for instance, (upper image, above) with a broken string is a popular symbol of discord, either reinforcing the idea of a conflict between England and Rome, or alluding to the Continental schism between Protestants and Catholics. Laid out on the two shelves between the figures are numerous other objects with which they and their era are associated. They feature a mixture of navigational, astrological, and musical instruments, including two globes (one celestial, one terrestrial), a quadrant (below), a torque tum, a polyhedral shepherd's sundial (above, right), a T-square, a German math book, and a Lutheran hymn book.

The quadrant.
The setting for the portrait is an area of relatively shallow depth, curtained off by green-colored drapes decorated with complex, heraldic-style pattern work. The floor is covered with mosaic tiles, based on the design of the 'Cosmati pavement' (top image) in front of the High Altar in Westminster Abbey, suggesting the paramount nature of the English liturgy. Although The Ambassadors is a clear reminder of human mortality, a state which overrides all earthly matters, it is not a pessimistic picture. Tucked away in the top-left corner is a crucifix, a clear symbol that faith in Jesus Christ helps us to escape death and secure everlasting salvation.

Lutheran Psalms (detail) The Ambassadors.



Monday, January 28, 2019

21st Century Architecture (part II)

Milwaukee Art Museum--weird for the sake of weirdness--a disturbing trend, especially with regard to art museums.
About three years ago I wrote regarding the incredible 21st-Century Architecture I could see rising now and just over the horizon. In rereading the first installment on the subject, it struck me that I may have slighted domestic architecture in favor of massive high-rise edifices. Moreover I seem to have been infatuated with some of the "weirder" manifestations of such works. More recently I wrote regarding the sprouting skyline of Doha, Qatar (most of which is definitely on the weird side). I can accept the fact that structures designed now and in the future will be significantly different from what we commonly see now; but all too often architects seem predisposed to be "different" for the sake of being different as might be noted in the new Milwaukee Art Museum (above). That I find indefensible except perhaps with regard to such designers/engineers as being artists with creative impulses tinkering in a billion-dollar art medium. Today I hope to steer clear of the "weird for the sake of weirdness" and to explore in greater depth a few of the more outstanding examples of domestic architecture (homes) being designed and built today.
A glimpse into the future (today).
Weird or not, all architecture has precedence and past influences, even the postmodern designs of our present era. It's not hard to notice both in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater (1935) and John Lautner's Chemosphere (1960). Both architects and their work are excellent role models in the area of domestic architecture (above). However an influence we may not bring to mind is that which many of us enjoyed in the brief Hanna-Barbera's TV cartoon series The Jetsons (below). It ran for just one season (September 1962 to March 1963), but the architectural influence of this futuristic counterpart to their much-more-successful Flintsones, seems to have had an inordinate impact of the impressionable young minds of Today's architects. Whether the creators foresaw global climate change and the resulting rise in sea level, or simply to facilitate their flying cars, in the Jetson's world, everything seems to have been built on stilts.

Funny looking, yes, but Hanna-Barbera provided a more accurate peek into the future of architecture than we realized
--then or now.
Before launching into three of the best examples of 21st-century domestic architecture, let me briefly highlight two of the better examples of large-scale works I came upon. They range from the simply eye-catching to the borderline weirdness mentioned earlier. The first, designed by the firm of Neutelings Riedijk, is the City of Antwerp (Belgium) Museum of Art (below) which seems to buck the trend toward creating art museums which compete in their design with the art they house. Opened in 2010, the museum is situated in the heart of the old harbor area, close to the city center. It is a 60 meters (197 feet) tall tower of stacked exhibition spaces. Each level is twisted 90 degrees to form a giant spiral. The glassed spaces become vertical galleries. Escalators guide the visitors to the top of the building in a journey through the history of Antwerp as seen in panoramas of the city. On the upper floor is a restaurant, conference room, and a sky deck. The tower is designed to form one continuous space for exhibitions and events.

21st-century museum architecture at its best--different without being weird.
A second example of what's happening today can be found in Montpelier, France. Designed by Nolas Lisne Associates of Paris, the multi-functional White Tree (below) is a 17-story mixed-use tower designed to accommodate residential units, office space, an art gallery, restaurant, and panoramic bar. The 10,000 square meter (108,000 square foot) structure seems to grow organically out of the ground, with a natural form that appears to have been sculpted over time. The scheme’s various branches also provide selected areas of shade for adjacent properties. Influenced by the city’s fondness for outdoor living, balconies gravitate toward the exterior, like leaves fanning out to absorb sunlight. A generous provision of vegetation sees hanging gardens, plants and trees positioned throughout the residential units, imagined as a vertical garden. The tower devises passive strategies throughout its design in order to ensure a comfortable and livable environment that feeds off locally available resources.

From afar, White Tree might seem pretty far up the "weirdness" scale, but up-close, being "different" has its practical advantages.
Presently under construction, as seen above in computer renderings, each of the high-rise’s residents can select a preferred floor plan from a list of possible layouts (below), encouraging ‘free choice architecture’ through a series of modular spaces.

The lower-level "branches" of the White Tree.
Though having the appearance of a manicured bush, White Tree is actually a multi-angled vertical tower with cantilevered balconies of various sizes.
On the domestic front, I came upon the Herrero House in Alella, Spain, near Barcelona (below). Minimalism is, admittedly, not a style everyone could live with. Its largely white expanses of unadorned walls and hard edges strike some as quite cold and dehumanizing. Others find the same features with their uncluttered simplicity a welcome relief from the maniacal complexities of modern life. Personally, I'd fall into the latter group. Herrero House is a luxury Mediterranean villa that has an unique combination of 20th-century design and 21st century technologies. At almost 500 square meters (5,400 square foot) in area spread over three floors, Herrero House boasts a technical basement, a living area on the ground level, and the sleeping areas upstairs. The use of newly developed insulating materials exponentially improves energy efficiency. Home automation can control the whole house through a Smartphone. Rainwater is used to irrigate the Mediterranean garden and fill the pool. The amazingly white infinity pool is linked with the house which allows changing the color of its waters. The garden area surrounding the house combines Mediterranean native species with a Japanese Zen spirit, balancing tradition and serenity in nature to create an ideal home environment.

I could learn to live with this, but I doubt if my wife could.
Gracing the English countryside is the Serenity Passive House by Baca Architects (below). Built at a cost of $11-million, this is a prime example that the cutting edge doesn't come cheap. Certified as a passive house, it sips energy like a fine Chardonnay. This means that it has good solar orientation, triple pane windows, little if no heat loss from thermal bridging, and lots of insulation. The house can't forgo all heating and cooling, though. It relies on two systems that are integrated to not only keep the house cozy, but efficiently heat the pool nestled in the middle of the courtyard. The first is a ground source heat pump which utilizes 490-foot deep wells--far beyond standard depths--for this technology. The heat pump uses the ground as a sort of thermal battery by dumping excess heat in the summer and retrieving it again in the winter. The system is expected to balances itself out through the year. Engineering aside, the interior is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the architecture with its sweeping spaces that connect at the garden courtyard. The centerpiece is a waterfall cascading from the roof into a pool. The house itself at some 16,000 square feet, may take some getting used to. The sumptuous curves and bulbous look are akin to a racing car sculpted to speed through the air. The house is similarly shaped to reach peak performance in its environment.

One-of-a-kind luxury and technology at a price.
(Too rich for my blood.)
And finally, the Japanese architecture firm, ARTechnic, has designed and completed this unusual-but-beautiful minimalist concrete ovoid home in Karuizawa, Japan. Built in two sections, around a fir tree, it is nestled in a forest and is as amazing inside as it is on the outside. The Shell House is a house remodeled with a combination of minimalisn and nature. With the profile of a shell and an aerial appearance of some alien spacecraft, the futuristic Shell House is a two-story, concrete abode comprising two tubes with oval sections, arranged around a fir tree. The floor is raised 1.4 meters (5 feet) from the ground, The architects intended to minimize time spent on maintaining the property by separating the house from its natural surroundings. "Being in sync with nature isn’t about yielding to nature, it’s about coexistence," explains Kotaro Ide of ARTechnic. The regions’ low temperatures and high humidity level makes for a harsh climate. As a result, many houses in the area that have taken on traditional structures are decaying. Consequently, a large numbers of villas have not been in use for many years allowing them to become dilapidated. Despite the general avoidance of concrete material in the region, its usage and the lifting structure have helped the villa protect itself from the humidity.

Curvilinear minimalism, a design inspired by a tree.
Leaving the boundary between human life and nature ambiguous is a Japanese virtue. Yet, this ideal can only be achieved through meticulous attention and care of the wilderness on a daily basis. This might be attainable at our homes, but isn’t a practical theory when applied to villas. If a visit to a vacation villa inevitably leads to hours and days of maintenance, why bother going? Having a type of living space that merges with nature can be appealing, but it seems natural to consider this option only when one is ready to devote a large amount of time solely on maintenance. Villas should not only be functional spaces for the weekend, but good for rest, leisure, and picturesque views that never become dull. In the style of many modern sculptures, Shell House aims to enhance the surrounding nature by incorporating it within the spatial structure. Let's hope this, not the Jetsons, is the 21st-century future of architecture.

Costs, aesthetics, engineering, lifestyles, and nature all play a role in the evolution of a 21st-century home design.


Monday, January 21, 2019

Climate Change Art

Waco (Texas) Friends of Peace/Climate art exhibit banner, 2018.
About 1988, our family visited the James Deering estate he called Vizcaya, situated on Biscayne Bay, in Miami. Located a few yards off shore behind the mansion is a stone breakwater known as Cleopatra's Barge (below). I recall that the steps and central section were roughly three feet above sea level. In 2015 when we again visited the estate, the steps and center deck were under about eight inches of water. Even allowing for a tidal range of as much as 2.5 feet (we visited about the same time of day both times) there was left little doubt in my mind that what I was seeing first hand was the sea level rise associated with what we're now calling climate change (as opposed to "global warming".) Until then this controversial phenomena was something I'd only read about. Today, the scientific data is indisputable. And the's pretty indisputable too...even in Waco, Texas (above).
Sea level rise in just 30 years. The water level was actually higher than seen above (several inches over the steps) when we last visited Vizcaya in 2015.
Though Waco, Texas, is a relatively small, local, art community, there is nothing small or local about climate change or its art. And just as the effects of climate change, now and in the future, are quite diverse, so too is the work artists from all over the world are now creating to attract attention to this looming disaster, as well as to enlighten and change public opinion on its significance. Sometimes the message is quite subtle and really quite beautiful, as in the CD album cover designed by Iago Pico & Michel Sult Condition for the Icelandic band, Deathwalking (below). The imagery evolves from hellish to heavenly, though a reversal of that transition might be considered more accurate.

Condition, Iago Pico and Michel Sult

American Gothic Underwater,
Though quite beautiful in its own way, there's nothing subtle about the image and messaging of American Gothic Underwater by Mandrak (right). Grant Wood is probably rolling over in his grave, but if art from the past serves any purpose at all, no higher calling could be imagined than keeping the world as we know it (and its art) high and dry. The artist here takes the familiar and (with a touch of humor) then attempts to shock the viewer by marrying it with the unfamiliar. The old farmer must be pretty good at holding his breath. Equally attractive, but from a left-brain statistical point of departure is the seven-piece watercolor series by Jill Pelto (below). Whereas other climate change artists rely on humor or an emotional awakening to bear their message, Jill presents graphic charts to support her remarkable images. Pelto holds two degrees from the University of Maine, one in earth science the other in studio art, thus allowing her to create paintings based on graphs of data on the environmental effects of climate change. Pelto’s paintings (below) are based on several different data sets that measure glacial melt, animal populations, and forest fires, among others. Each set focuses on the ways that climate change has affected these aspects of the environment.
The effects of climate change by the numbers.
When creating a piece, Pelto looks for something important that is happening but isn’t well-publicized--something people aren’t paying much attention to. Most of her data comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Climate Central and other researchers whose work she has studied. Pelto hopes that her pieces can work as a visual link to the data, grabbing the attention of people for whom those numbers aren’t enough. “As someone who’s interested in science, I’m intrigued by a graph in an article,” she said. “But I know the majority of people aren’t. They’re going to just skim over a graph. I think a much bigger percentage of people are attracted to the visuals of art.”

Climate Change art, Stephanie Granada
Climate change data has its problems. It's often seen as lofty and complicated, hard to digest, and even harder to conjure into feelings of urgency. But artists like Jill Pelto and Stephanie Granada (above) are stepping in to marry data with their crafts, bridging the gap between scientific information and human connection. Recognizing that people often act by heart rather than logic, these two artists aim to help viewers understand the data while developing an emotional attachment that convinces them to do something about it—now.

I Don't Believe in Global Warming, Banksy. Rhetoric versus reality.
Meanwhile, some artists, such as the famed New York graffiti painter, Banksy (above), have taken to street art to make their point. Rather than rely on graphic imagery, street art is all about placement in the (usually urban) environment. Though seeming to echo climate change deniers Banksy, in fact, pokes fun at their obstinance. Quite apart from statistics, how many floods, fires, super storms, and high tides will it take to shake loose such scientific ignorance? Ask those in North Carolina, Florida, or Paradise, California. Banksy's climate change art is often about as subtle as a bulldozer.

Street art from Uganda--nothing subtle, beautiful, statistical, or unemotional here.
Street art can be found on the bare walls of streets all over the would. With all the other problems Africa endures, and particularly the country of Uganda, it might surprise some to find that artists of this third-world country are so deeply involved and emotionally committed to art exposing climate change. Communicating climate change is complicated, and forecasting the impacts even more so. How do you communicate uncertainty? Using jargon and technical language often leaves audiences switched off. In 2012, the Kabarole Research and Resource Centre, along with private sector partners in Uganda, started to organize an Annual Street Art Festivals on Climate Change in the town of Fort-Portal, by profiling artists communicating about climate change. Participants take part in street debates broadcast live on radio, they watch films on climate change, and present musical and dramatic performances. The festivals have so far been quite successful. The events are interactive and fun, and participant numbers grew from 300 in 2012 to over 1,000 the following year.

It almost goes without saying, not all climate change artists paint. In fact some of the most effective works in this genre come from sculptors such as Spanish street artist Isaac Cordal. One of the best known of his cement sculpture installations is Waiting for Climate Change (below), created for the Château des Ducs de Bretagne in Nantes, France. Designed for the moat of the château, the 14 floating sculptures move with the wind and the water currents. Wearing business suit, impassive and blasé about the coming cataclysm – they absently watch the water level rise. This fascinating, and increasingly popular street artist, calls his works “interventions.”
Waiting for Climate Change, Isaac Cordal, Château des Ducs de Bretagne in Nantes, France.
Masterplan, Chad Wright
--sand castle art
Californian designer Chad Wright has made a sandcastle mold of a typical American house to recreate post-war suburbia on the beach (left). For this project he created a plastic mold that could be filled with sand and lifted off to reveal simplified L-shaped bungalow forms, complete with chimney breasts. Rows of these sand sculptures were constructed on a beach to mimic layouts of sprawling communities across the US. As the tide came in the sandcastles were slowly eroded by the waves, leaving them cracked, crumbling and unrecognizable as homes. Sometimes social and global issues are so pressing that they reflect in art of the times. A recent climate change cam-paign in Berlin by Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo was extremely creative and dark. It was an instal-lation art consisting of 1000 tiny ice sculptures of men sitting on the steps of Berlin Concert Hall (below). Though the original idea behind this installation art of melting men sculptures was to question the role of monuments in the cities, the work has a stronger impact as climate change art. Environmental activists could never put the message across more subtly and explicitly. The melting ice sculptures symbolize the possible impact melting of Arctic ice on the entire planet. It could trigger ultimate meltdown and disappearance of life on earth.

Melting Men, Nele Azevedo, Berlin Concert Hall.
Meanwhile in England, Eden TV, a new UK-based natural history TV channel, recently began broadcasting. To celebrate their launch, the network built a 16-foot-high sculpture of a mother polar bear and her cub stranded on an iceberg (below). Also meant to increase awareness about the plight of the polar bear and their dwindling habitat as a result of climate change, the sculpture was sent to float down the Thames river. The event took place on January 26, 2019, and started at Greenwich, South East London. traveling to the Tower Bridge and then to the House of Parliament. The 1.5-ton sculpture was created by a team of 15 artists, who worked for 2 months to build the 20-feet by 20-feet sculpture.

Climate change art floating down the Thames. No, it was not an ice sculpture.
Quite apart from the work of painters and sculptors, perhaps the most influential climate change art comes from the pens and brushes of political cartoonists such as Horsey and Feggo (below). Theirs is often in the form of dark humor--clever and thought-provoking, but seldom funny. Frequently such artists can get away with saying things in a cartoon modality writers and painters art reluctant to render (for various reasons). I could do an entire discourse on such art and the men and women who create it but I'm already running long here. So finally, to add insult to injury, I've included my own entry into the flood and firestorm of such art (bottom).

These were two of the milder examples of the social and political brands of climate change cartoons.

Copyright, Jim Lane
"It's a hoax, I tell you. It's all a HOAX!"