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Thursday Night Art: Chinese Restaurant, John Sloan (1909) May 10, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art.
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John Sloan is one of the better known members of the “Ashcan School” of early 20th century urban-themed art, pretty much the heirs to the Thomas Eakins wing of American painting. Sloan painted everyday life in the New York City of his day, mostly.

Sloan’s view of the city usually contains hustle ‘n’ bustle. He likes crowds, both small and large, and the people in his cityscapes go about their business quite pleasantly. Maybe not with the dreamy beatitude of Renoir’s Parisian cityfolk. Certainly not with the quiet alienation of Hopper’s subjects. Sloan’s city dwellers are a mix of attitudes, but everyone looks like they actually like living in the city on a daily basis.

I made some chinese shrimp tonight for dinner. Maybe that’s why I thought of this.

I’m sure you’ve guessed – I want to go to a Chinese restaurant where I can share my dinner with a cat, like the woman in Sloan’s painting does.

And keep those jokes about what’s really the main ingredient of the strange flavor chicken to yourself, mac. Nobody’s hurting that kitty!

But an hour later, you’ll have an urge to pet him again. Hiyo!

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Saturday Roundup: Patriots Draft Picks, Cat Petting And A Book Safari April 28, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, Books, Cats, Football.
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Today I went on a quest for cheap furniture – combing through a bunch of thrift stores in search of a replacement comfy corner chair for my classroom, as the old one is on its last legs, literally. Came up empty there, but found a couple of good books as long as I was there.

One looks like a nice true narrative of a major art forgery scandal called Provenance, about a forger & conman who managed to get the forgeries into collections and museums all over Europe where they remain to this day.

If forgeries sell tickets, they’ll say on the walls. It’s not like the public can ever tell the difference.

I read a lot of books on art forgery and theft rings while working out story elements for Wagstaff & Meatballs, and I continue to enjoy reading about the topic.

I also picked up a copy of The Truth Will Out: Unmasking The Real Shakespeare, a 2005 book that put forth a Shakesperean authorship theory I’m not as familiar with, making the case for Sir Henry Neville as the actual author of the plays & poems. CONFESSION: I am a confirmed skeptic as to the accepted idea that the Stratford actor Shakepeare wrote all that material, and I lean towards the Oxfordian theories. I think there’s a much stronger case to be made against Shakespeare than any positive case can be made for the different supposed authors, but I’m open to reading anything as well researched as this thing seems to be from my first skims. And it was only a buck!

And a brief Wagstaffesque synchronicity moment: As I browsed the racks of books coming up empty, some old dude who looked WAY too much like Scott Adams of “Dilbert” fame browsed the shelves over my shoulder, and he carried a couple of big volumes he’d scooped up. One of ’em was some enormous compendium all about Shakespeare performances in America. I always get annoyed every time I see other people holding onto books I didn’t get a crack at whenever I’m at some thrift store or library sale or whatever, and I thought to myself how it’d be cool if I found another Shakespeare book, especially on the author conspiracy theory.

Before I left the store, I figured I’d check the unsorted new-old-junk racks they’d just wheeled out…. and that’s where I found The Truth Will Out book.

On top of that? The Shakespeare authorship mischigoss is one of the elements in the third Wagstaff book I’m currently writing.

So I guess it immediately goes to the top of my reading list.

I got rewarded for visiting the thrift store in the same shopping center as a pet supply place with a big black store cat who I like to visit and pet whenever I’m jonesin’ for kitty. He’s easily found napping on one of his many dedicated cat trees around the store. Today I learned his name – Carlos the cat. I already knew he preferred chin rubs to damn near everything else. I didn’t disappoint him.

Then I came home and reviewed the rest of the Patriots draft picks in the final rounds today. It looks like they plugged all the position holes left by departing players. They scored a couple of cornerbacks who might replace Malcolm Butler. They got a wide receiver whose physicality and stats suggest a replacement for Danny Amendola, both in the slot and in punt returns. They picked up a couple of linebackers who will hopefully make good pass rushers, something they need badly. And, they did indeed draft a quarterback, Danny Etling out of LSU, a kid who doesn’t turn the ball over but clearly needs a lot of work. Can THE SYSTEM that made Cassell and Garroppolo into NFL quarterbacks work its magic on this kid? I certainly hope so, but who knows?

My realistic & cynical heart tells me that the Pats will be in a bad place psychologically next year. Losing the Superbowl despite what the offense accomplished and the controversy around the benching of Butler will hang over the psyche of the team akin to how the Seahawks were dogged by “Why didn’t we just run it into the end zone?” and how the Falcons were dogged by “Why didn’t we run down the clock and kick a field goal?” when they respectively blew both of their Superbowls against the Pats. Now it’s the Pats turn, I fear, and some of the stuff said by departing players about the overall not-fun and overly-regimented atmosphere within the team culture only bolsters my feelings. It all has that win-the-division-by-default but then go out in the first round as the third seed vibe. You heard it here first, sports fans. And I hope I’m wrong.

Now I’m throwing a soup & potstickers light dinner together and watching the Yankees pounding the Angels, at least so far. THIS IS THE YEAR!

New theory: Aaron Judge wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays. I’ll get back to you on my research.

 

This Looks Like A Renaissance Painting April 22, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art.
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Friday Art: “The Magpie” Claude Monet (1869) April 20, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art.
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Claude_Monet_-_The_Magpie_-_Google_Art_Project

Monet did well over 100 snowscapes, but this one, to me, really stands out. He gets the snow sticking to the tree branches and the unevenness of the blanket of snow over the various elements of the countryside. The snow has real texture to it, all brought out with subtle dabs of various colors on top of & blended with the white.

But it’s the shadows that are the true genius. The color of the shadows on snow, something Monet and many of his impressionist peers like Sisley would experiment with over and over again, is just PERFECT here.

I grew up in New England. Saw lots of snow. Saw lots of snow shadows, various times of the day, various cloud conditions, various heights of the sun in the sky depending on the time of year…. and that shade of gray/lavender/whatever it is in the Crayola 64 box (Periwinkle, maybe) just NAILS it.

He nails the sky, too. A gray/white overcast winter sky.

Oh yeah, the magpie? The poor little guy, sitting there on the rickety wattle fence, wondering when spring will finally arrive…. just like everyone else in the northeast about now, I bet.

Reading about that weather from out here in sunny SoCal & watching baseball games get postponed made me think of this painting.

I miss the beauty of snow.

But I sure as hell don’t miss shoveling it.

Journeying Through Some Old Mystery/Horror Comics, Part 1 April 8, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, Books, Cats.
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I recently bought a boatload of old 1960s-1970s Gold Key horror/mystery comic book scans from this guy’s online store, and have been plowing through them.

It’s been a lot of childhood nostalgia, as well as a lot of memory-poking of old stories and the actual old comic books I’ve got boxed up & totally unorganized (perhaps a summer project might be going through them all & fixing that). The actual copies of these things are pretty tough to find and aren’t too cheap, so the digitized deal is quite the good one, if you enjoy this sort of crap.

And I certainly do!

I started out reading the complete run of the Dark Shadows series, all 35 of ’em. I have one actual issue of the thing, bought by my mom since we were both fans of the actual show at the time, and it disappointed both of us.

And in reading the rest, the reasons for that disappointment so many years ago still stand – while the Gold Key DS series reproduces a few of the characters from the show & utilizes vampire/werewolf/witchcraft plotlines, it doesn’t have the tone of the show at all. The art is also poor – the only character who looks like her TV counterpart is Joan Bennett’s Elizabeth. Barnabas the vampire is the main character & hero of the thing, but Julia’s role from the TV show is reduced to nothing, and Angelique only turns up a few times to torment him as a ghost. And they don’t look anything like Grayson Hall and Lara Parker, nor does Barnabas look like Jonathan Frid.

Later comic book versions of the thing I perused on Amazon are far truer to the look & feel of the 1966 TV series, and anything beats the forced campiness of the Tim Burton movie. I trudged through them, a couple of the stories weren’t too bad, but overall, weak tea.

Then I started on two different comics I had a few issues of back in the day – The Twilight Zone and Ripley’s True Ghost Stories. Both of these titles began in the early 1960s and ended around 1980 or so.

The T-Zones have a wider range of stories, from offbeat scifi to eerie revenge tales, similar to the TV show. A comic Rod Serling serves as narrator, and while the art is generic, there are clear attempts by the artists to crib the look of some characters from familiar faces of TV actors who you’d expect to turn up on the show. While many of the stories are formulaic and hit a real dead spot in the mid 1970s before recovering somewhat before the title ended, a lot of them are pretty good. Much like the show, you can categorize the stories into various sub-genres: someone changes identity (either via clothes, bodies, faces, masks, etc) and things go right or more often wrong; someone gets wishes granted and things go wrong; someone enters the past/alternate dimension/reality and must escape;weird unreal stuff happens to someone ordinary and then we find out we’re not in an ordinary world, a la “Eye of the Beholder,” etc.

The Ripley’s stories are all along similar lines – someone in the present or the past comes across some place that’s haunted, some local or creepy caretaker tells them the sad story of some wrongful death that resulted in the ghost, and they either GTFO or find a way to put the spirit to rest. The best of these are either the creepiest, such as one tale of a voodoo shaman with a sugar cane harvesting zombie army who try to dig their way back into their own graves, or ones where the “believe it or not” aspect is most likely true – like the story of two graverobbers who accidentally revive the “corpse” whose jewels they try to steal – a young woman who then returns home after being mistaken for dead and several years later gives birth to Sir Walter Scott.

I’m moving through the Grimm’s Ghost Stories series and the Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery ones now, more on those later. In the meantime, here’s one of my favorite stories from the collection so far… read it & you’ll see why I’ve always liked it.  It’s written (uncredited) by the legendary comic writer Len Wein. Link to PDF: A Thing About Cats

Baseball Card Of The Day: 1992 Robin Yount (Fleer) March 21, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, Baseball, Baseball Cards.
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Not sure what the graphic designers of this beauty were thinking. “Let’s give Robin a longer neck, and put him into a CONCEPT LANDSCAPE! I can SEE IT NOW!!!! A UNIVERSE OF BASEBALLS!!!! With Robin Yount, all-star shortstop, first ballot hall of famer, SURVEYING THE PLANETARY UNIVERSE OF BASEBALLS LIKE A HAPPY GREEK GOD…”

Seriously, wtf is up with this card?

I like the idea of surrealist influenced baseball card art, though. They should have done more of it, or hired Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte and so forth to design their cards. Yount’s ’92 Fleer bizarro card reminds me of Dali’s Galatea with all those floating spheres, maybe a little of a Magritte sky of fluffy clouds.

Or just replace that green apple in front of the guy’s face with a baseball, perhaps.

Baseball cards would be a lot more interesting if they were done in styles of great artists and well known paintings. A team photo staged as Velazquez’ “Las Meninas.” Michaelangelo’s God giving life to Adam as one of those “Casey Teaches” type cards with Reggie Jackson in heaven with the ’77 Yanks touching Aaron Judge’s finger in Eden. Perhaps Clayton Kershaw could pose as the “Dodger Blue Boy.”

I’d start buying bubblegum packs again, for what that’s worth.

 

A Rainy Day Post March 21, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, General.
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Gustave_Caillebotte_-_Paris_Street;_Rainy_Day_-_Google_Art_Project

What I assume will be the final big ol’ rainstorm for this rainy season in SoCal is underway. I’ll get about 5 inches where I live (which is what Stormy Daniels said, HIYO!) but some of those burn areas are gonna get a lot more, and mudslides loom. Ugh.

Earlier this year, I had my drains retrofitted and added a back-up drain line from low laying yard to street, one that would NOT pass through a rather invasive network of pepper tree roots. Last year’s version of this storm only lasted 1 day and not 2 like this one will, but it produced a small lake in my backyard that I do not want repeated. I look forward to my new system passing this test. Though being EXTRA PARANOID, I also have the back-up safety valve option of this pump ready to go, if somehow the roots previously clogging my gutter drains all grew back in the last couple of months.

My freeway drive in this mess won’t be as pleasant as Caillebotte’s pleasant stroll through Paris. I love how he gets the little puddles between the cobblestones, especially versus the shine on the sidewalk, and the overall cloudy/rainy day dullness of the colors.

Take five minutes, JUST FIVE LOUSY MINUTES, COME ON, DAMN YOU, and watch this:

 

It’s a lot less crowded than my drive home will be.

An Artist For A Friday: Raoul Dufy March 16, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art.
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vence-1923

“Venice 1923” by Raoul Dufy

Dufy (1877-1953) was a wonderful painter of bright and colorful scenes. Go to different sites and see how he’s categorized in all sorts of different ways since he mixes styles and doesn’t go through set time periods where he concentrates on any one, a la Picasso. He mixes elements of Post-Impressionism with Fauvism and Cubism, along with tell-tale influences of other artists like Monet, Matisse, and Pissarro.

Look at those those trees in the Venice painting and you’ll see the Van Gogh in him.  I love the universe depicted in his Venice. I love how the buildings appear stacked upon each other in false perspective, the way a Medieval town would be depicted in a Medieval painting before true mathematical linear perspective was developed.  Only the colors wouldn’t be so bright and lively. I love the simple wavy lines of the clouds, something I’d expect in a watercolor by a 2nd grader. And I love the feel of it all, a depiction of Venice from the outside, emphasizing ground and trees and greenery and buildings, instead of what we always see and always expect – canals, bridges and gondolas. The only hint of a canal here bends around the city, as a border of sorts – and it’s in the distance.

I want to go there right now and eat pasta and drink wine and pet Italian cats. Thanks, Raoul.

He’s got lots more to show you, too. Enjoy.

Let’s Hear It For Cris Shapan February 25, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, Art, Movies, Music, Television.
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Perhaps while surfing online,  you’ve come across some amazingly campy magazine cover, or album cover, maybe it was a pulp book from a long-ago celeb and couldn’t believe it existed…

Well, that’s because it probably doesn’t, except in the work of graphic artist Cris Shapan.

I highly recommend following Shapan’s Facebook Page where he regularly posts this stuff, as well as his Funny Or Die page.

The style of humor reminds me a lot of Drew Friedman, who loves to pick out his favorite childhood celebrities and illustrate them all too realistically in bizarre settings. Check out “Jimmy Durante Boffs Young Starlets” for example.

I’m surprised he doesn’t maintain some sort of regular website containing all this stuff, it looks like he’s content to use Facebook. My other theory is that this guy clearly gets his jollies posting this stuff & then kicking back to watch people repost it thinking it’s real. Shapan’s handle on the recognizable & realistic graphic designs of the stuff he’s goofing on from yesteryear is amazing. The colors, fonts, details of wear & tear, etc. are absolutely wonderful. Look at the wax paper lighting effects on that Avery Schreiber bubble gum pack (I wish I had one of those!) giving it real texture and depth. Great stuff.

Nice to see he gets work in Hollywood, hopefully they’l let him apply his comedy genius somewhere.

“They don’t write like that anymore…” – Greg Kihn

Good Morning: Feb 21,2018 February 21, 2018

Posted by Jim Berkin in Art, General, Uncategorized.
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A quote for the day:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and hence clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.  The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false face for the urge to rule it.

– H.L. Mencken

That’s why I only deal with REAL hobgoblins on this blog, baby.

How about some fighting cats from Baroque-era Antwerp? Some things never change….

still-life-with-fighting-cats-workshop-of-frans-snyders

Frans Snyders was a wonderful Dutch painter of still lifes, mostly with lots n’ lots of dead animals all over them. And I’m guessing he was a cat lover, judging from the numbers of cats he depicts in his work.

All his animals look ANGRY, dead or alive. I guess that’s one way of getting drama out of a still life.

Those cats are probably just playing, tho.

Study-of-a-Cat-s-Head

I love this one… it’s like when Satan decided Cerberus needed a playmate and got another pet.

Now don’t scratch the couch, Mr. Tibbles, I’ll move you….OH MY GOD, HE’S GOT MY ARM, HELP HELP HELP NOT MY NECK OHGODITSTHEJUGULAR ARRGGGHHHHHH…..

Meh. Cat’s probably just playing.