Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Raymond Booth


Barn Owl

Blue Poppy



Cradle Orchid

Emperor Moth on Heather

Pasque Flower

Autumn Crocus


Red Admiral on Hawthorn

Japanese Tree Peony

Sycamore Trunks

Landscape with Apples
(background detail)

The botanical painter Raymond Booth was 70 years old when the first large-scale book devoted to his work was published in 2000 by Callaway – An Artist's Garden.

According to the text by Peyton Skipwith, Booth rarely leave his native Yorkshire, and grows most of the plants he paints in his garden there. He typically keeps paintings in the studio for years and releases them in batches to the London gallery that represents him only when his painting room is so crowded with work that he can barely squeeze into it. He released large groups of pictures in 1975, 1982, 1991 and 2000, "with little new work ever leaving his studio in the intervals."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Local Posters

The top one is from a telephone pole in the Mission. The bottom one is from a bus shelter in the Castro. Nobody ever needs to spend a night at home in San Francisco, though some of us do manage it.

Dawn's Early Light

Nobody takes any care of this large messy 20-year-old eucalyptus rising unselfconsciously out of the neighbor's backyard, but it pretty much fills up the west-facing view from Spencer Alley, and occasionally the early morning San Francisco sunlight will vouchsafe it a blessing. I noticed yesterday that the plane trees and maples along the sidewalks in the Mission are just beginning to lose their leaves, even though we haven't yet had any cold weather. But the eucalyptus looks the same all year round, although it looks happiest of all being battered and blasted in a rainstorm.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Alison Bechdel started her comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For in 1983. By the time she went "on sabbatical" in May 2008 she had published 527 episodes. The recent Essential collection contains 390 of those (74% of the total, according to Bechdel's blog, and I trust her math). I had never read the strips as they originally appeared in the gay/alternative press, but did read every word in every frame of the compilation and finished it with real regret that this long book wasn't even longer.

I think it is necessary that every reader who doesn't already have a copy hurries over and buys one.

Alison Bechdel is using her time away from the strip to work on "a new graphic memoir"  – highly promising news, considering that her previous graphic memoir Fun Home (centering on the story of her parents' complicated marriage) won a list of awards as long as my arm. My daughter gave me Fun Home when it came out in 2006, and nobody can deny that my daughter eminently deserves the fame she has gained for her clairvoyant gift-giving skills.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Wise Man

I admired this Wise Man statue at Mystic Haircutting in San Francisco and my barber said yes when I asked to take its picture.

Then with freshly cut hair I walked over to the MUNI stop on Market Street and watched the white-aproned workers inside Zuni Cafe laying fresh tables in preparation for the weekend lunch rush.

Rode the street car up to Golden Produce at Church and Market, where I admired the about-to-be-recycled cardboard box (below) that once held 22 cantaloupes. A certain amount of Forced Air Cooling would have been welcome from my point of view (even though I am not a cantaloupe) with the weather as hot as it was this weekend.

Later walked from the Mission over to Japantown along Fillmore, and noticed that all the pedestrians were walking on the shady side of the street in an effort to keep as cool as possible.

The two pictures above show the parking-lot-cum-outdoor-social-area of a big busy community church at Fillmore and McAllister. That elongated display of artificial flowers conceals picnic tables where one fancies many potluck meals are enjoyed, weather permitting.

A bonanza today in the way of artificial flowers. And just like those at the church, the ones above are supplemented with living plants. A happy symbiosis.

And these four lucky tenants get to see the polyester orchids and plastic lilies as they go out and come in every day, but Kathleen is the only one we are encouraged to call by name.

My Japantown destination was the Kabuki, where I got an outstanding massage from an old friend named Giovanni, the best in the business.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Anne Boleyn

Thinking back over my museum-indulgences in Manhattan the week before last, I am a little surprised to discover that one of the strongest, longest-lasting impressions was made by the pair of Holbein portraits on either side of the sitting room fireplace at the Frick, where Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More have faced each other for decades under the tightest possible security.

Back home in San Francisco poking around online I discovered this Holbein drawing of Anne Boleyn, whose interests Cromwell served so well, helping her advance in the power game that eventually brought about More's execution. I think this is the most believable likeness of Anne Boleyn that I have seen, partly because of the complex character expressed in the face, but mainly because of the strong resemblance to her famous daughter Elizabeth.

The earliest fact I learned about Anne Boleyn was that she had six fingers on each hand. Later I found out that this intriguing factoid could be traced back to the popular belief in her own time that Anne's power over Henry VIII could only be explained if she were a witch, and it was widely believed then that witches tended to have extra body parts -- fingers, toes, breasts, etc.

Even later I came to know the Donizetti opera Anna Bolena, and for a while could only think of Anne in terms of Maria Callas.

Donizetti's Anna is an empty-headed maiden undone by her own purity and innocence. This means that the correspondence between the heroine of the opera and the documented historical personage is weak, but the music is thrilling. Beverly Sills was probably the next great Anna after Callas. Many others (among them Sutherland, Caballe and Gruberova) also took up the role, but they all tended, in my opinion, to overstress the sweetness. If a Queen on the operatic stage is not a Drama Queen there is not much point to the whole exercise.

Speaking of Drama Queens, there was a movie version in 2008 of The Anne Boleyn Story with Natalie Portman as Anne and Scarlett Johansson as her sister Mary who was kept around to service King Henry sexually and spare Anne his attentions during her first pregnancy.

An even more anachronistic version is presently ongoing from Showtime on cable TV: The Tudors, source of the publicity still below (easily mistaken for a depilatory ad with that marvelous computer-generated 21st-century leg and a chaise longue about three centuries off the mark, but an unexpected touch of verisimilitude in the green draperies lifted from Holbein's Thomas More portrait at top).

FUIT DECOLLATA LONDINI 19 MAY ANNO 1536 reads the inscription on this engraving made about a hundred years after Anne's death by Wenceslas Hollar. WAS BEHEADED IN LONDON 19 MAY 1536, it reads. Most of the representations through the ages seem to emphasize that vulnerable neck.