Category Archives: art

No Swimming, Wading, Dog-Bathing or Skateboarding

A very specific sign outside the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton.

A very specific sign outside the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton.

If the rather disparate ideas of swimming, wading, dog-bathing, or skateboarding in an empty, frigid, December fountain plaza in the middle of an Ivy League campus ever occur to you:  please don’t.

First of all, the nice people in charge here at Princeton have put up a very explicit sign forbidding such conduct.  (Note the word PROHIBITED is in all-caps.)

Second, they’ve erected an enormous procession of Chinese Zodiac-themed statues overlooking the potential location of your chicanery.  Leering and toothy, these figures seem like they have been placed here just to ensure, in case you’ve missed the sign, that the bejesus will be scared out you.  Any crazy thoughts of splashing around in the waterless fountain will safely subside after you glance up from your frolic to notice twelve sets of beady eyes and bronzed teeth (is the rabbit the scariest of them all?) staring at you.

However you look at it, it’s a little weird, a little NQR.

Just in case you missed the sign.

Just in case you missed the sign and feel like taking a dip.

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Architectural Masterpiece on Post-It Notes

Although I certainly appreciate how far my boy has come in his artistic endeavors since the episode, earlier this summer, now known as “Offspring of Lightning and Pure Darkness,” something rather NQR about these architectural sketches remains, be it the choice of media (Post-It Notes? — come on, kid!) or the presumption of fabulous wealth certainly necessary to fulfill this lovely dream of a house, either personally or on behalf of a rather childish and bourgeois clientele if, in his mind, he has designed this home for some third party rather than for himeself.  As such, I’ll share these sketches and give my ballpark for the associated costs (though I’m no home contractor myself!), not as a way to crush his dreams but more with the mind to preserve these little images, someday to show them to him when and if he does ever build a home of his own.

First, the overview (found under the work-light of his bunkbed desk, left here exactly in situ):

What rich client wouldn’t want to see the creativity here, the artiste’s obviously taking oreintal inspiration from the trivet tile from a Moroccan souq and the cartouche of the architect’s own name, made sentimentally in 4th grade art?

Next, a slightly closer view of the work-in-progress, here focusing on the kitchen — to include vintage ‘egg chairs’ along with a marble countertop, plus a supplementary sketch, ala Frank Lloyd Wright, for the patterning of tilework — yielding up in rough estimate a very preliminary construction cost of perhaps $80,000.  Second floor layout seems to allude pleasantly to the shape of a coffee-mug, perhaps in the artiste’s thinking a way to ‘welcome the day’ with Folger’s in his cup.

Sketch of the kitchen, along with some very rough initial ‘thoughts’ on the layout of the second floor.

Next, the indoor pool with a ballpark construction cost-estimate of $200,000, including the slide from the master bedroom.

Indoor pool, with slide coming from bedroom closet (see bedroom diagram below).

Next the master bedroom, with slide to the indoor waterpool coming out of the closet, estimate for cost:  $40,000?

Bedroom: interesting features include woodwork behind bed (in the closet?) sliding doors that lead to a ‘padio,’ window overlooking indoor pool.

Next, the connection between the two levels of the house.  Looks like there is a hallway and at least one set of stairs.  Hard to assign a cost to this segment of the house, but since it must be built we can arbitrarily say, maybe, $10,000?  If the roof of the pool, shown here, is glassed-in or decorative, then maybe another $30,000 should be added.

Concept is unclear in this sketch, presumably will be thrashed out in more detail in the final blueprint.

An alternate, more costly version, including a curving stair, probably runs closer to $25,000.

Another (competing?) concept for the stairs between the two levels of the house, this one more expensive and showing some antebellum influences. Architect’s shorthand for “Bird’s I” amusing. . .

Next, the rather boxy but efficient layout of the complete first floor.  Discounting the cost of the kitchen and the pool (which were figured above) the remainder of this probably comes to another $250,000 in construction and design costs.

Complete diagram for first level of the house: tennis/basketball court, pool, kitchen, and a rather open-concept living area testify to the owner’s enthusiasm for Sport.

Finally, and blurrily (whether it was laughter on the part of the photographer or sudden furtiveness at the sound of approaching steps outside the architect’s door, I can offer no valid excuse for taking such a poor photo) the living room.  Given its rather empty and square construction, this one portion of the building project probably does not require a separate cost estimate, although I strongly suspect that a large flatscreen TV is intended to remedy the architect’s childhood bitterness at always having owned the smallest and oldest TV on the block.

The least ‘clear’ of the early sketches for this building project, a close-up on the quadrant of the lower-level designated to serve as ‘living room.’

TOTAL COST ESTIMATE FOR CONSTRUCTION:  $355,000 – $500,000 depending on improvements to the lot, municiple fees, etc.

TOTAL VALUE PRESERVED FOR (FUTURE) ARCHITECTURAL CAREER:  Priceless, baby.


Offspring of Lightning and Pure Darkness

So, my ten year old son asked me to take him to the local library last week to get some ‘how to draw’ books.  He chose five:

“Wildlife Sketching”
“Drawing Life in Motion”
“How to Improve at Drawing”
“Drawing Birds,”

. . . and, with a little nudge from me, “Michaelangelo and His Drawings.”
(The proud parent never knows when his well-timed hint might cause latent genius to flower.)

We returned with books in hand and my boy immediately locked himself in his room for the better part of a day, working away feverishly, burning through several pencils, scattering eraser dust and crumpled printer paper all around him like some sort of gigantic nest.

The product of all this work?  A couple of nice sketches of robins, a rabbit or two in motion, a deer, a bit of birch forest, an attempt at a hand (with no noticeable Sistine influence) and, in true NQR fashion, this lovely gem . . .

Do ten year-old artists go through a ‘black’ period?

The brushstrokes are nice, though I’m not sure whether the pronounced black splotches under Night Fury‘s wings(?) are some sort of black webbing or armpit hair.


Self-critique through Sudanese Art

While staying in Khartoum last year the lobby of my hotel was liberally sprinkled with very nice oil paintings, all floor-mounted like some sort of temporary bazaar, though without the artist there personally hawking his wares.

The particular piece below intrigued me more than any other and I stopped in front of it at least four or five separate times, contemplating it as a purchase — how to ship it back to Oman, whether the meagre price of $300 justified it (certainly, in retrospect, the price seems right!) — and contemplating also, at the same time, though more subliminally, the reasons I felt so drawn to it.  In the end I merely took a picture of it, wanting to look at it again in the future, like now.  Perhaps, during this coming summer, I’ll try my hand at painting a version of it myself (though in acrylics rather than the touchier, more drawn-out oils).  For now, I find it interesting to once more look at it and, having gained a bit of time and distance for self-study and for processing the experience of Sudan, I’d like to list the reasons (some of them NQR) that this particular image engrosses me.

Oil painting of a Sudanese market.

Reasons I like this painting:

1.  Color scheme — First, and most obvious from a distance, the color-scheme is a cooling one.  It contrasts markedly against the actual experience of Sudan, which is (or was for me) one of incredible bustle, dust, noise, and heat.  As such, this scene reveals the artist’s fantasy of what Sudan should be, not what it actually is.  Perhaps that is the primary attraction for me, a romanticized, Oriental idea of what Sudan might be.  On the other hand, just maybe on some perfect spring or winter evening with the light diminished, slanting through massed urbanity, a person might actually witness these shades.  Also, beneath the purples and blues and blacks, a latent heat remains, or I am reminded of this heat’s presence by the very fact of its absence, like a heart grown suddenly fond of what it would, when subjected to full and direct confrontation, undoubtedly consider a blinding and hurtful truth.

2.  Perspective — The thoroughfare in the foreground spreads horizontally while the maze of the market, the depths of the market, open with the single focus of a grade-schooler’s first attempts at perspective art, buildings getting smaller, smaller, as they recede toward a central vanishing point, people reduced in the crowd to heads and shoulders and shapes that subjectively might mean ‘human’ or ’emptiness’ or ‘wall’ depending on the way the eye sees each particular blotch of color, each shape and thrust of flattened object.  This again brings me toward the Orientalist fantasy of standing outside yet being permitted to gaze at the interior, to wander the maze, to drown oneself in the thriving exotica of a place ultimately foreign.  It is voyeurism taken to a second remove, the first being the situation of the canvas vis-a-vis the captured scene, outside the market; the second being the even more comfortable distance between viewing art and standing in actual living reality in such a scene, having that scene transformed, robbed of its grosser sounds and visions, simplified, idealized.

3.  Homogeneity / Anonymity — The people are faceless.  The buidlings largely nondescript.  And each of these, building or human, seems constructed on a theme, of one part, one mold, variation but only within defined parameters.  In truth, Sudan (and Khartoum especially) vibrate with advertising, with striving, with differentiation, everything from Bob Marley t-shirts to traditional dishdashas like those the people in this market painting wear.  Does such a market actually exist, still devoid (or ever devoid) of the capitalist slogan, the Coca-Cola sign, the Marlboro horseman, the vendor calling out to each pedestrian so that he might sell his kebabs, his falafel, his magazines, his boxes of cheap tissue?  With the self so foremost in every Western mind, the idea of this anonymity is yet another fantasy:  who am I to think myself different, unique, and better?

4.  Shadow — This might have been the first thing to draw me to the photo.  The short shadows at the feet of the marketgoers.  They speak to a noonday business, to heat, betraying heat despite the change of the color to purple and black.  The shadows quaver on the ground.  They seem to move, illusions, mirages.  And the dusty ground drinks each shadow into itself, not letting it spill further than a few feet, not letting it spread a black and definite edge to the height of the shadow-maker’s head.  A sense of comfort hides in these shadows, so different than the Western mentality, which wants nothing to be left mysterious, everything to be exposed to the glare of science.   The Arabic expression itself, which is — contrary to our version of “Shed some light on the subject” — usually rendered “In the shade of that . . .” speaks to this altered perception of shade=good, sun=bad; secrets=good, too-much-truth=bad, dangerous, and absent of the very stuff that makes life worth living — surprise, serendipity, mystery, awe, love, abode.

5.  Texture — The whole paiting has a smoothness to it, empty planes, empty shapes that slide one into another.  Yet there is another texture at work too, on the edges, the faces of the buildings.  This texture nods toward Klimt, enlivening while also reducing the buildings to abstractions, to canvasses themselves, to dreams.  These textures capture dirt, graffiti, mildew, and decay and turn them into art, which is, I believe, a higher purpose for the artist, to ennoble sight, to turn sight into a better seeing.  It makes me take a step back, when I recoil at an old and worn-out metropolitan’ filth, to see in it the marks of so many people, incessantly worrying, hurrying, to-ing and fro-ing, but in art made still and made to behave as if each mark of passage has become a hieroglyph, a telltale sign, a signature, a sweetness.  These textures occur on the edges of the painting, leaving the inside, the maze, pure and empty, an unwritten page for the mind’s eye.

I could look at this painting all day, which is a criterion for greatness in my book.  All its portions of NQR — the fantasy, the unreality, the untruth — add up to a whole for me far greater than any one individual lie.