Natalie was awarded a certificate as the Best Artist in her second grade class last week. It was no surprise to those of us who have been following her awesome creative output for some time. The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, and Natalie definitely has taken her Mom's inspiring example as a point of departure for her own original way of seeing the world and expressing herself in a visual medium.
In fact, Natalie's talents are so precocious that at times it has been intimidating for Diego, whose challenges with autism included a delayed ability to grasp a pencil and write or draw. For years he didn't express much interest in Art, ceding that territory entirely to his older sister, and when he did engage it was often only to demand of her to be a gun-for-hire executing his ideas for drawings (rows of tools and lists of numbers being his favorites). Natalie happily obliged, and the status quo side-stepped any typical sibling competition or rivalry.
But all that has changed as Diego has made such amazing progress this last year, really coming into his own and finding it easier and more comfortable to express his own unique independent ideas and to communicate with others, including his interest in picking up pencil and paper and drawing his own artwork.
This explosion has been exciting to watch, and has mushroomed as Elsa and I decided to enroll both Diego and Natalie in separate weekend art classes at a wonderful local studio this Fall. Natalie's Panda painting and Diego's pencil character sketch are just the tip of the iceberg of their prodigious output which is rapidly filling up our home.
It's funny how the onset of their sibling rivalry, which can be intense and competitive and at times conflict-filled and is usually a headache for parents, has been such a pleasure for Elsa and I to witness. At least for now we just can't complain or be annoyed by the kids' typical power struggles, as it is the very fact that they ARE typical, and the huge change that represents, that we celebrate.
The kids get mad at us as sometimes we can't help but laugh when they turn up the heat on their artistic rivalry like some pint-sized Van Gogh and Gauguin, and of course we should be taking their feelings seriously.
Yet the real artistry of these two is how they have figured out a way to get along so well in spite of all of the challenges and obstacles that come along with having a child with special needs as a brother and a child with special talents as an older sister. I wish we could take more credit for it, but these two usually show us the way when it comes to the Art of having a loving family.
Elsa was a guest speaker last year at a Doll Convention for makers and collectors of artistic dolls. Lately she has started to make her own handmade dolls of original design including clothing, hair, and accessories. Its fun to come home every day and find these new additions to the household, sometimes just heads or limbs or body parts, and sometimes fully assembled and kitted out.
I remember growing up we had these beautiful Kachina Dolls that were handmade by American Indians. My Dad brought them home one time from a trip to the Southwest, and they sat on the mantle in our living room. They were carved wood and covered in feathers and paint. We weren't allowed to play with them which of course made them all the more desirable.
The dolls on this post are also wooden; handpainted and designed by Alexander Girard. He was a famous mid-century designer, mostly of textiles, who worked for Herman Miller and Georg Jensen and Charles and Ray Eames and other iconic figures of Modern design. This vintage Girard doll collection has been reproduced and they are individually available here.
In the spirit of UPA, Natalie too has developed a special artistic vocabulary to express her ideas. Here is her "inverted world" with a super cold blue sun, rain falling upward, a tree with green roots and brown leaves, and a yellow tree that is glowing warm like the sun.
And here are some of the unique creatures that live on this imaginary world.
When I asked her what she was drawing, she said: "The Magical World of My Imagination", so that is what you are looking at here!
I found this striking vintage digest of science fiction stories at the flea market recently.
Naturally, I was curious to find out more about the cover artist, only credited by his last name "Kley".
Heinrich Kley was born in the 1860's and reportedly died in Munich near the end of World War 2. He was a master of line illustration, and supposedly his published work in Germany was brought to the attention of Walt Disney and was an inspiration for some of the animation of the "Dance of the Hours" sequence in "Fantasia".
I loved learning this fun fact from a website which has a short biographical sketch of Kley:
Heinrich Kley was first introduced to the American audience by the then new Coronet Magazine in three consecutive issues in 1937. A few of his satirical line drawings were reproduced. In its introduction to Kley, Coronet said that he had "died in a mad house a few years back." In 1937 Kley still had eight years to live, and he had never been in a mental institution.
I wonder what he would have thought about his art being used posthumously to illustrate the work of American science fiction writers in the small pulp digest format that graced the newsstands of our postwar metropolis? He might have ended up in that madhouse, after all!!
An anagram for MESH?
One interesting thing about working on my first horror film "don't Be Afraid of the Dark" is that it has given me the curiousity to go back and dig into some of the history of the horrific in art and literature, to reread some of the stories of Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood, the films of Polanski and Franju and Murnau - to find the artists that were interested in the poetic expression and the psychological truth of that which we are truly afraid of.
That search led me to James Ensor, an artist I was not previously familiar with but whose work I really admire.
The National Gallery of Victoria here in Melbourne has a stunning exhibition of work by Salvador Dali called Liquid Desire. Although some of his most famous paintings such as The Persistence of Memory are not in the show, it is the breadth of his work over seven decades in so many mediums including painting, drawing, watercolour, etchings, sculpture, fashion, jewelry, cinema, photography, as well as book illustrations, that make this show so spectacular.
I was familiar with his famous film collaborations with Luis Bunuel as well as Alfred Hitchcock (the dream sequence in Spellbound) and Walt Disney - the amazing cartoon Destino that was shelved back in the day, but recovered and restored a few years ago.
Equally cool and less known to me were the illustrations that Dali did for The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, a book that many years ago John Patrick Shanley told me was one of the most amazing stories he had ever read.
I was also unfamiliar with the Dream of Venus pavilion that Dali created for the 1939 World's Fair, pictured below.
According to the museum's literature, although it was torn down after the fair, the surviving photographs of Dali's creation mean that is now recognized as one of the earliest full-scale installation pieces. Lured by a siren's recorded chant (sung by B-movie legend Ruth Ford) visitors purchased twenty-five cent tickets from a fish-headed booth, and then passed through an entrance flanked by two towering legs clad in stockings and high-heels. Inside the building, visitors entered a lavish grotto, the centerpiece of which was a nude sleeping Venus, who reclined in a 36 foot-long bed covered in white and red satin, flowers, and leaves. Her dream was staged underwater in the adjacent aquarium, where women wearing revealing costumes adorned with fins and spikes milked a mummified cow, tapped on giant typewriter keys, and answered oversized submerged telephones.
I also learned about Dali's friendship with Harpo Marx, who he sought out as "the most surrealist figure in Hollywood" and saw as a kindred spirit. He even gifted him a surrealist harp with barbed wire strings and teaspoons and forks for tuning knobs.
From the website of the Centre for Dalinian Studies we learn that:
If you haven't seen it yet, there is a cool site called Polanoid that is dedicated to all things Polaroid and is amassing a database of old polaroids posted by fans of instant photography worldwide.
They have a ton of different images to browse, from more traditional portraits or landscapes or tourist souvenir shots, to more artistic images like this one titled "The Same Deep Water As You".
It is definitely inspiring, and motivated me to dig into some old albums and unearth a few shots from back in my own Polaroid-taking days.
Here is a street shot of the old Cicero Lounge in what was purportedly a mobbed-up neighborhood on Chicago's western fringe, taken sometime back in the early 1980's. The picture cannot possibly convey how cold it was standing outside on that blustery winter day!
And here is a photo I call "Too Fast" which is a typical portrait of my oldest son, who hated having his picture taken and was lightening quick, so most of my attempts ended up feeling like deliberately arty compositions like this one.
More than thirty-three years ago my friend Kevin Riordan was creating Stare magazine, one of the first and best art/punk magazines reflecting the late '70's Chicago art scene, of which he was both a member and trenchant observer.