Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO
Eye Magazine posted an interesting article on their blog, Back in the USSR, about film posters from Lithuania’s Soviet years. I just couldn’t help taking note of this wonderful Japanese-print-inspired poster for a film called ‘Jausmai’ (Feelings):
Feelings (Jausmai), dir. Algirdas Dausa and Almantas Grikevičius, 1968. Designed by Vytautas Valius.
Watercolouring is probably the hardest painting or drawing technique to master, as it allows few mistakes. It is, however, one of my favourites, as no other technique can rival its wonderful portrayal of light and transparency. Too bad my skills in using watercolours are more than rusty these days. Well, no use in feeling sorry, we all make our own choices, after all. Here is one creative fellow that has stayed on the beautiful path of watercolouring. Nigel Gilbert is a seasoned British architectural painter — an award winning one, actually, but he’s at least equally good in painting less architectural landscapes and even comics. Definitely check out his website and his blog.
Here are some of my favourites:
By the way, if you’re in London till mid-August, do yourself a favour and check out the Watercolour exhibition at Tate Britain.
Street art, graffiti in particular, is more or less an ephemeral form of art, threatened all the time by weather, unhappy landlords, neighbourhood-cleaning raids or, most of the time, other street artists in search of a space to express themselves. There may still be around graffitis from the ancient times, but few are so lucky.
Shoreditch is by definition the cool centre of London, the place to be if you’re involved in any creative business. Almost every street has its own ‘work of art’, if not more. My favourite was this one, a rather unusual, monochromatic graffiti, as it was more a painting than a “wall sketch” (click for the full-size version):
The first time I saw it, I thought the wall was just dirty, as I could only see a small part from the right-hand side. The guys standing with their backs at the road seemed so natural, waiting for something, maybe just killing time. And of course, the smartest touch, the bike tied to the street light added even more depth to the confusion (each time I walked past the wall, at least one bike would be there, almost part of the painting). Details were beautiful, each character having quite a lot of stuff going on, plus there were one or two small bits to discover, like the plane right under the windows, usually hidden by the tree. And last but not least, the background was beautiful as well, an abstract, random-stripes-nonsense at first sight, an interesting city sky-line on closer inspection.
Here’s a closer-taken photo of the left side, taken last fall — the others are taken later on, during the winter (click for the full-size version):
Sadly, or naturally, as all things have an end sooner or later, the painting was replaced a few weeks ago by this less unconventional graffiti (click for the full-size version):
It’s most likely a continuation of the work on the other side of the building, on Curtain Road (which also went through its share of changes):
Unfortunately, I don’t know the [nick]names of any of the creators, so if you know something, drop me a line and I’ll happily add the credits. My favourite wall painting might not be there anymore, but if you’re walking on Great Eastern Road towards Old Street, make a left on Curtain Road to see what’s on.
A year or so after Saul’s death in 1996, I got a call from a headhunter in the States saying that she had a brief to find someone to take over the Saul Bass studio in Los Angeles. Herb Yager, Saul’s partner, no longer wanted to run it himself, but was keen for the business to continue. Since we had been looking to set up an office in the US, this seemed like a real opportunity. After Herb was reassured that he had found suitable inheritors, the business was acquired. We celebrated the event at a dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel with Herb, Elaine Bass (Saul’s widow) and some of the team.
A few months later we found we had inherited something else. A travelling exhibition of Saul’s film posters had been doing the rounds of film festivals all over the world. One day it arrived back in London. We had to store it and look after it. We soon realised it was too big and expensive a task to keep it properly, so we handed it on to the British Film Institute, requesting that it should not be lost from public view, and hopefully shown from time to time.
The posters on show, thanks to the BFI, are the very same ones that formed part of the travelling exhibit. They were produced by the Saul Bass studio in the 1990s to celebrate Saul’s work. Many air miles later these historic originals are now on show here.
There are 19 posters on show including: Anatomy of a Murder (1955), The Man with a Golden Arm (1955), Saint Joan, Bonjour Tristesse (1958), Vertigo (1958), Exodus (1960), Spartacus (1960), The Magnificent Seven (1960), and a selection of storyboards (the ones from Psycho being a real treat) and title sequences. The exhibition is on till March 17, open Mon–Sat 10.00–18.00, so if you’re in London, don’t miss it.
It is a rare and beautiful thing to hold your breath while watching a human body in motion, dancing, telling a story. “Sacred Monsters” is an internationally-acclaimed contemporary dance production, presented by a mesmerizing dancing duo, Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem.
Just leave everything and watch this:
and here is another one, a bit longer:
I just hope they’ll show it again someday in London — or somewhere close in Europe. There is a 2009-recorded version on Amazon, but I’m sure it can only give you a glimpse of the real thing.
Few of the ‘normal’ people don’t feel their soul cringe when they see a disabled person. Whether out of pity, guilt, fear, anger towards fate or just because of the strange gut feeling, you can’t feel comfortable unless you take some time to get used to it. It’s actually quite a natural, biological reaction. We are ‘set’ to search for the genetically-best representative of the opposite sex, more or less. Anyone that looks different gives us a sense of discomfort, usually requiring quite some will power to overcome it. Unlike animals, who let their disabled to die or be eaten, humans do benefit from the “mind over body” thing — or at least try to.
Biological ‘settings’ are not the only ones to blame. Most human societies have outcasted handicapped people for most of our history (in spite of the recent 20th and 21st century ‘enlightenment’, everyday life is still far from easy and ‘normal’ for a disabled person). Also, thousands of years of art are more than enough proof of our cultural & social notions of beauty. Ancient greeks, the Renaissance (to name just a few) tried to portray the perfect human, homo universalis. Even if art from the last two centuries has taken more abstract forms, we still strive for the “greek standard”, more or less. Just take a look through most magazines: 100-m-athletes-like and 90-60-90 models everywhere — no wonder anorexia and bulimia are some of the most common problems these days. Even regular people feel disabled when comparing themselves to ‘society’s standards’.
So it’s no wonder that art (or sports) performed by disabled people seems so strange, almost out of this world, sometimes.
Meet David Toole, a professional dancer — don’t be fooled by the absence of his legs (of which he says the only good thing is that they come in pairs):
David Toole, CandoCo dancer.
And that’s just a hint, watch this promo for “The Cost of Living” film, made by the DV8 Physical Theatre (definitely wait for the second part):
No matter how awkward it first seems, you can’t deny the artistic value. It might look different, you might even find it hard to watch, but by the end, it surely does make you think that beauty might lie outside the comfort zone as well.
And how about Aimee Mullins? Yes, her TED talks are inspiring, to say the least. But you can’t help wondering, would she had come so far if she wasn’t such a hot babe beautiful woman? Of course her looks didn’t help her olympic career or learn walking at the age of two in spite of her handicap, but I doubt Alexander McQueen used her as a model because of her performances. Nevertheless, her story is fascinating and makes you think that it might not be long before the existence of Motoko-Kusanagi-like cyborgs (the Ghost in the Shell series is one of the few franchises that really explore the idea of a technologically-enhanced human society, with its social and psychological implications).
Aimee Mullins (athlete, actress and fashion model)
Come to think of it, would Venus de Milo be just as beautiful if she hadn’t lost her arms? Would she look more ordinary?
Venus / Aphrodite of Milos, (created somewhere between 130, 100 BC).
So what is beauty? How normal or human should it be?
Would we be able to acknowledge ‘alien’ beauty?
Let’s not forget that even for fellow humans, a Zulu for example, beauty might mean something completely different, almost like from another planet for the rest of us. Impressionists had to hold their ground for a some years before they were taken seriously; Pollock‘s paintings might look just like mindless splashes of paint; Christo‘s environmental works of art might seem just like the wrappings of a big child that somehow managed to get the funding for his play. Or even Warhol‘s works — are they actually beautiful? Or just strange enough to be considered art?
There is no final answer. No undeniable truth. Saying the old “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder” is just politically-correct bullshit — trying to be nice to everybody. Beauty exists, just as ugliness. They just come in so many different shapes that it’s sometimes impossible to tell them apart.
And why should we need answers anyway?
It’s the questions that got us humans so far, haven’t they? We just have to keep our eyes (and minds, of course) wide open — you never know where beauty might come from, least its form.
Last year I had the pleasure of visiting both Tate Modern in London and The Pompidou Centre in Paris. The overall feeling that I got was that most of the modern art is born out neglecting the classic art, by going against it, breaking ‘the others” rules. Only few of the modern artists have come up with new, different takes on art. The rest are tied to the context, many times their art being nothing more than unestethic junk unless you know the artist’s historic background.
Such an artist is Kumi Yamashita, from Earth’s sister planet, Japan. Her work impresses through the gentleness of the subjects and especially through the maddening techniques used. Playing with light and shadows, thread, paper and many other materials, her installations manage to surprise, to awe the viewers. Take a look yourself:
Light, Aluminum, Shadow Permanent display at the 2nd floor of Nanba Parks Tower, Osaka, Japan.
Light, Aluminum, Shadow Permanent display at the entrance hall of Takikawa Hall, Hokkaido, Japan.
Constellation (Boy), 2007
Brads and Thread on Board
(the child is a young Muhammad Ali, all made from one uncut thread!)
Light, Aluminum, Shadow
Permanent display at the 3rd floor of Stellar Place Sapporo JR Tower
aluminum sheet, light, cast shadow
You can see more works on her website. There is also a japanese show (hosted by Takeshi Kitano :P) that had her as a guest, you can see it here, on Youtube.
This year, Wolverine celebrated his 35th anniversary — even though he is famed to be a lot older than that, he fought in the first world war, remember? Anyway, Marvel pulled a nice one, producing a lot of covers with Wolverine as if he were drawn by some of the most fameous artists in history: Van Gogh, Klimt, Utamaro, Dali and many more. Read more about it here: Wolverine Art Appreciation Month.
I can’t help but feel envy each time I see an asian artist that manages to express so well and so differently the light’s glow and its playfulness, nature’s vast array of colours, the shadows in their multitude of tints and shades, the feel of tranquility while looking around on a simple, normal day. All I know is her name, Jun, from the blog ii-ne-kore. Her website is in japanese, and sadly, in spite of the tons of anime that I’ve watched to this day, I still can’t read or speak the language :) But little does that matter, all you have to do is admire her work—no words are necessary.
Soul-stirring art by a free individual: S.K. Thoth‘s street performance (“prayformance”, as he likes to call it, and for good reasons) is out of this world (both literally and metaphorically). Weird and intriguing at first, resembling native american dances combined with countertenor-voice and an ambidextrous violin, it grips you shortly after, taking you to the magical lands of his imagination. The short documentary on his life and performance won an Academy Award in 2002. After watching it you easily understand the depths of his craft, the sincerity of his art. He definitely has a touch of genius (for more information check out his site, his MySpace or Wikipedia—you can buy the dvd on Amazon)
You can watch the full documentary on Youtube (42 min). Make sure you’re watching and listening in HD: