Thursday, May 31, 2012

Running Ahead

Photo of Mabel Watson Payne from the East Coast trip.
Used initially (this morning) on Silas & Eppie by my daughter.
Lifted from there for my own celebratory purposes.
The far-wandering family has made its safe return.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Supernatural Knitting

Later this year the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego will be staging a show by internationally-marketed, Dutch-based photographer, Ruud van Empel. His super-manipulated pictures of children and nature create a mood of queasy fascination when first viewed – but personally I find that the fascination-aspect quickly fades while the queasiness-aspect takes over altogether. Yet I can already see how this celebration of seemingly-green artificiality will in one form or another remain a mainstream aesthetic stance for the foreseeable future, and can see even better that I will always be too old and cantankerous to embrace (or even comprehend) pictorial work that aims in its heart to mimic video-games and 3-D movies.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Wedding Cobwebs

I was stunned when I saw the photo above – those faded, pale-green walls hung about with fully believable period embellishments and matrimonial trimmings, under all the equally credible dust. This was Miss Havisham's dining room (where the wedding feast had never been removed) in last year's BBC production of Great Expectations.

Of course then I had to look up an image of the same room in David Lean's justly famous production of 1946. Skillful lighting went a long way toward concealing the fact that the set itself was pretty meager. 

Persistent Minimalism

It seems as if I am forever discovering another elderly male Minimalist who has continued to work persistently in the genre for a long lifetime, quite unperceived by my own inadequate radar.

So it is with Swiss painter Olivier Mosset. The images here are from his recent show at Indipendenza Studio in Rome, a selection of large canvases made with industrial-purpose rubber-polymer paints.

It may well be that I'm inappropriately influenced to favor (and feature) this work because I especially like seeing those typically sharp Minimalist corners and flat Minimalist surfaces set against traditional Italian interiors with elaborately ornamented floor and ceilings.

Monday, May 28, 2012


I did a lot of gardening today in the East Bay. Apparently I was (for once) too occupied with the work in hand to take many pictures. But I did manage to make time for the photogenic assemblage above.

That big blue-glazed pot has by now been a fixture of the front porch for several seasons. Basically it seems to need replanting about three times a year. For the past few weeks the leftover winter arrangement was in the process of becoming a a cautionary tale about mortality, clusters of striped carnations growing leggier and limper day by day..

Purple, silver, scarlet-pink, pale green, dark green, bronzy-orange. Those were the colors I packed in quite tightly (feeling guilty for the unavoidable roughness of touch) – but they had to be ultra-snug to be consistent with the story they're telling this season. It is called: Co-ordinated Gaudy Overabundance. They have the whole summer, these flowers, to ascend and extend and  spill over in every direction.

Meanwhile, the roses were gradually closing down their spring cycle. Blossoms on this climber are golden yellow when they open, then gradually age into these buffs and pinks. It is the one rose in the garden that looks most beautiful in decline.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sepia Mother's Day

Lacking any new pictures of Mabel Watson Payne (still on her East Coast sightseeing and people-seeing trip) I decided to try and salvage a few more of the pictures I took during the Mother's Day outing to Tilden Park. These semi-rescued ones had the sort of color problems or lighting problems that sepia tinting was invented to at least mitigate.

Next time there is a chance to photograph a carousel ride I will make sure to buy a ticket and get on that carousel myself, positioned in front of the Holy Family on one of those non-moving bench/sleigh/chariot conveyances  – carousel-makers always provide a few of those – where I can find a level surface to stabilize the camera pointed backwards toward the subjects.

At this stage Mabel regards carousel-riding as a serious and mysterious business. She does not think of it so much as a form of amusement, but more as a complex multi-sensory object of study.

And in the car seat at the end – when all the Tilden adventures had played themselves out – she rapidly and soundly fell asleep.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Floral Violence

This fierce blossom was caught yesterday in mid-act, bursting out of its pod on the green trunk of a palm at the Arboretum in Golden Gate Park. A similar exotic palm flourishes at sidewalk's edge on 16th Street in the Mission near Spencer Alley. I photographed one of its blooming-cycles a couple of years ago here. But that specimen was nothing so vigorous as the one above, which puts me strongly in mind (I can't help it) of the baby monster bursting out of the human's chest in Ridley Scott's Alien (1979).

Friday, May 25, 2012

Gunnera tinctoria

 As a calming start to the long weekend, I walked across Golden Gate Park after finishing at the library and spent some time in the Arboretum. Large swathes of Gunnera tinctoria (Chilean rhubarb) were coming into insistent bloom. A little sign claimed that this is one of the most ancient plant forms still surviving. Each gigantic leaf grows on a separate stalk. Each blossom-cluster rises on its own stalk, as well.

The embryo leaf in the foreground {above) looked like it had risen from under the ground only about five minutes before I arrived.  

I can see why this plant has survived for zillions more years than most others.  It is so ambitious and it keeps itself so busy.

Be One

This BE ONE panel-ad from the Gap Be Bright campaign – with two boys inside one t-shirt – has been floating around San Francisco on buses for the past several weeks. It features actor Rory O'Malley with his real-life boyfriend Gerold Schroeder.  This morning on the way to the library I finally found a workable opportunity to capture it (before it disappears). There is a piece here about the controversy this particular photo is causing.

Thursday, May 24, 2012


I do not have a settled opinion about Robert Pinsky's new Selected Poems. The only thing I have an opinion about is the blurbs.

The two blurbs on the front flap are by Robert Lowell and Louise Glück. The six blurbs on the back of the jacket are all by far less eminent poets.

Lowell and Glück represent absolutely nothing but the marketing power of name-recognition. They are logos. This fact is proved by the tautologies that float as quotes above their names –

"It is refreshing to find a poet who is intellectually interesting and technically first-rate." Robert Lowell

"Simply said, Robert Pinsky is one of the few literary artists working in our language whose work is unquestionably major work." Louise Glück

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mostly Roses

I briefly visited Dearborn Community Garden in the Mission on this bright windy afternoon.The flowers were moving around more rapidly than Mabel Watson Payne and I found them difficult to pin down as images.

The gardener was cutting some of these white roses when I asked to take their picture and after I had done that she gave me some of them "to take home." It often has amazed me the generosity gardeners will show, delighting to give away what they labored to bring about.

I arranged the white roses in a glazed blue-green vase that entered my life as a flowerpot containing a living succulent (a gift from my daughter) which I took to my office at the library, where the plant eventually died, so I brought the empty pot home and now it is a vase.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Steven Arnold

In Search of Benvenuto Cellini

Mechanical Theatre

I only just discovered unfamous, long-gone California artist Steven Arnold (1943-1994), "one of the most prolific unsung forefathers of the burgeoning high art subculture of the '60s, '70s, and '80s." He was (until his early death) remarkably active in a dozen different genres, styles, modes. From what I have seen so far, the extensive series of black-and-white tableaux vivants sampled here represent the strand of Arnold's work that interests me the most.

The Sovereign Right of Self-Discovery

The Card Reading

Prayer for the Cure

Inseminating the Marvelous

Connecting to the Infinite

Apogee of the Idea

Wreaking with Inclinations

"Sometimes I’m not sure I like being nailed to the word tableaux, even though it’s the one I myself use most often in referring to these pieces.  I also think of them as magical Rorschach tonkas.  The word tonka implies a certain usefulness as an object for meditation.  I like that.  What the hell.  Call them tablonkas!  Or tongleaux!  Whatever they are, I’ve found a great happiness in this form.  It uses every part of me.” 

Images and quotes -- Steven Arnold Archive 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Painting Silence

Girl Reading a Letter at a Window, ca. 1657

The Milkmaid, ca. 1660

Lady with Pearl Necklace, ca. 1662

Lady Reading a Letter, ca. 1662

Lady Writing a Letter, ca. 1665

Lady Holding a Balance, ca. 1665

Lady Writing a Letter with her Maid, ca. 1670

Lady Standing at a Virginal, ca. 1670

These paintings by Vermeer were not in the Fitzwilliam exhibition whose catalog Desmond Shawe-Taylor was discussing in Apollo when I quoted him yesterday. I chose this group myself to test another, different point brought out in his essay, as follows 

"There was one concept much used in this book that I would suggest belongs in the viewer and not the work: the notion of silence. Paintings, of course, are intrinsically silent, but how can they positively suggest this attribute? They can create a contrast between rowdy and decorous behaviour; they can evoke sounds (and were often commended for doing so): but 'silence' is difficult to separate from concentration, diligence or even the mere fact of being alone. The use of the quality to suggest the emotional core of Vermeer images seems to owe more to an English-speaking collective memory of Keats's famous Ode on a Grecian Urn (1819)  'Thou still unravished bride of quietness, / Thou foster-child of silence and slow time' – than to anything tangible in Dutch art. Perhaps the beauty and fascination of Vermeer is indeed a 'silent form' that 'dost lease us out of thought / As doth eternity', but in saying this we are trying to find words to describe our feelings, not his paintings."

Desmond Shawe-Taylor makes his point eloquently. On the other hand, Simone Weil (1909-1943) made an equally convincing endorsement of silence as an active spiritual quality dwelling within the painting itself – and not merely a subjective attribution by viewers. "All great painting," she wrote, "gives the following impression: that God is in contact with its point of view regarding the world, with the perspective of it, without either the painter or the person admiring the picture being there to disturb the tête-à-tête. Whence comes the silence of all great painting."