Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

The Ascent of Man

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009


The same design is available on all sorts of other things from the seller at CafePress. I think I still like these “53 miles per burrito” shirts even more.

Bird of Prey

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Bird of Steel

I shot this near the Oakland waterfront on my way home from work today. You can click the image for a larger version.

Boxing Out Joseph Cornell

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

A lot of prominent names appear in the Bill Grimes’s New York Times obituary of Leila Hadley, the author and socialite: Vanderbilt, Luce, Brando, and so on. One person whose name does not appear is the artist Joseph Cornell. Hadley appears to have been the closest thing Cornell ever had to a lover, and superficially, you can’t imagine a less likely couple: Hadley was a world traveler and sexually free, while Cornell almost never left the city limits of New York and seems to have died a virgin.

It would be a mistake to dismiss their intimate relationship with a shrug and the cliche that “opposites attract,”  because Hadley was in fact precisely the kind of woman that you would expect Cornell to fall for. While Cornell never travelled farther than Massachusetts (and not even that far in adulthood), he frequently conjured up European hotels — or the entire solar system — in the magical shadow boxes that he created in his basement in Queens. While Cornell never had a proper girlfriend, he was an obsessive observer of women, and often turned his boxes into little shrines to the women he admired from afar, such as Lauren Bacall. or 19th century ballerina Marie Taglioni.

Leila Hadley, sexually alluring and worldly, might have seemed to Cornell like all of his lifelong fantasies turned into flesh and blood. Hadley told Deborah Solomon, Cornell’s biographer, that he even spoke about marrying her and traveling together, although those musings could simply have been more fantasies spun by a fantasist, one who ultimately could not bring himself to consummate his relationship with Hadley.

Joseph Cornell is a lot more interesting (and historically important) than most of the people mentioned in the Times obituary, including her four husbands and various lovers. It’s sad, but not altogether surprising, that Hadley’s affair with Cornell didn’t even merit a small mention in her obit. For while she was a figure who looms very large in Cornell’s life story, his place in hers, amid the marriages and affairs, looks negligible — although it probably wasn’t, from her point of view — and you can understand why an Obit writer almost 40 years later would not deem Cornell worth mentioning at all.

Fair Use

Monday, February 9th, 2009


Okay, so it’s a bit rough around the edges. I’m no artist — or lawyer, for that matter.

(In case anyone is unfamiliar with the legal jousting between the AP and Shepard Fairey, who created the iconic Obama “HOPE” posters, you can get up to speed here.)

Capturing Shadows

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Later this month, a project by Joe Penrod called Orange and Blue will be opening at Oakland’s Swarm Gallery along with works by Jared Clark and Jake Watling as part of the ENTER/EXIT exhibition. I’m not especially tuned into Oakland’s thriving arts community, but I have known Watling for several years (I may have occasion to write more about some of his nice Oakland-inspired work in the future), so I happened to be looking at info about this show in advance. Penrod is based in Olympia, Washington, and much of his work has been devoted to the quixotic pursuit of shadowcatching, using blue painter’s tape and photography. Here is one nice example (images reproduced with the gracious permission of the artist):

10 and 4 by Joe Penrod

10 and 4 by Joe Penrod

I assume that the title requires no explanation. Shadows have long had a somewhat uncertain ontological status, dating back to Plato’s cave allegory, and probably before. There’s no doubt that shadows are real — we can see them with our own eyes, after all — but good luck trying to touch one, or pack it up and take it home with you.

Penrod certainly isn’t the first artist to try to preserve shadows — one might argue that the history of photography has been one long inquiry into the preservation of shadows — but I love the playfulness of the bright blue tape, and the whimsy involved in trying to finish the taping and photographing before the shadow has moved. The movement of the shadows enables some of my favorite pieces, like this one on a Williamsburg street corner:

by Joe Penrod

by Joe Penrod

Sometimes, too, it’s not the shadow that moves. These images are great fun (trying to catch shadows could be an amusing game for small children), but then you realize that most of these tape outlines will hardly outlast the shadows they are capturing, whether because they will be worn away, or deteriorate in the weather, or be removed by diligent city workers. Thus the need to photograph the outlines after they are complete. Is the blue tape outline the artwork, or is the photograph of the outline the work of art?

Both, surely, but how long will a digital photograph last? Forever, we hope, but in the grand scheme of things, those digital files may be as fleeting as the blue tape, which is as fleeting as the shadows themselves.

Stop Shadow by Joe Penrod

Stop Shadow by Joe Penrod

I was particularly interested in these works because my friend Pablo Manga, an artist here in Oakland, also works with tape, but with dramatically different results. You might think that tape would be a limiting medium, but Pablo’s works achieve very different effects depending on the kind of tape and the colors he chooses. Even variations in the manufacturing quality of the tape can create some fascinating effects. And that’s all before any decisions about how to place the tape, which produce an entirely different set of possibilities.

I don’t want to deprive Penrod’s work of its charm by spewing a lot of commentary about it, so I will spare my readers any additional thoughts. The best response to art like this, in my opinion, is summed up by this woman at Pike’s Place in Seattle:

By Joe Penrod

By Joe Penrod

If you can make at least one person stop, smile, and point, then that’s an artistic success as far as I’m concerned. The Swarm Gallery exhibition, at 560 2nd Street near Jack London Square, will last from February 20th to March 29th. Among the many objects whose shadows Penrod has tried to snare are orange traffic cones, and his Swarm installation will involve traffic cones as well. You can also find more work on Penrod’s blog or his Flickr portfolio (there’s more than just the tape outlines, even though that’s all I’ve mentioned here.) Good stuff, I think, and I definitely plan to check it out in person when the show opens.