Showing posts with label art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art. Show all posts

03 February 2015

A Quick Visit to the Renaissance

by Elizabeth Zelvin

One of the many advantages of living in the Big Apple is access to some of the great museums, and thus some of the great art, of the world. One exhibition I’m glad I didn’t miss was the giant show of Renaissance portraits that I saw back in early 2012.

The Met is a ten or fifteen minute jog across the park for me, though I don’t get there as often as I would like. I particularly like portraits, which feed the fascination with people, the curiosity about what they’re really like inside, that led me to my two careers of writer and therapist.

Getting your portrait painted was serious business back in the quattrocento, much like Victorian portrait photography, though more expensive, I imagine. No spontaneous poses, no “Say formaggio!”

In the early portraits, both men and women were invariably shown in profile (“Do you think they were familiar with Egyptian art?” my companion asked), unflattering as that view was to some of the sitters’ aquiline or otherwise generous noses.

Instead of wedding photos, couples of means had their portraits painted together to commemorate a marriage. I can imagine all sorts of stories about them, especially the gentleman in red and what must have been his much younger wife.

If you think 21st century hairstyles are weird, look at what the Florentine gentlemen were doing with their hair. The blurbs at the museum said this fetching style was called a zazzera. The glossary of the website florentine-persona.com defines zazzera as “a tuft or lock of hair on a man's head, especially in front.” In this case, I think a couple of pictures are worth a lot more than thirteen words of definition. The glossary makes up for its understatement by informing us that “a man with such a notable tuft or front lock” was called a zazzeruto. Notable, yes, that’s more like it. And “a very vain person, especially of his hair,” was called a zazzeatore. The older gentleman’s more conservative haircut makes him look, to my eyes, Roman—or almost modern.

Portraits have survived of some of the celebrities of the day. Here’s Giuliano de’ Medici, one of the family of merchant bankers who ruled Florence for three generations, painted by Botticelli. Considered a playboy compared to his brother Lorenzo, civic leader and patron of the arts, Giuliano was assassinated in the Cathedral (the Duomo) at the age of 25.
And here is Simonetta Vespucci, considered the most beautiful woman of her day and believed to be the model for Botticelli’s Venus on the Half Shell (no, that’s not what they really called it). Or perhaps it’s Simonetta, but not what she really looked like— the museum’s curators hedge their bets.

One of the most remarkable paintings in the exhibit was this one of an old man and his grandson, almost modern in the way it conveys their affection. While the expression “warts and all” would not be applied to portraiture for another three hundred years or so (it’s attributed to Oliver Cromwell in the seventeenth century), they’re such a prominent feature that if the artist had left them out, the painting would not have resembled the old man at all. The Met’s blurb kindly explained that he suffered from the disease of rhinophyma.

Wonderful as the paintings are, the portrait that fascinated me most, in a creepy kind of way, was a cast of the death mask of Lorenzo de’ Medici.
Known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, he was the most brilliant and celebrated member of a family that had it all: wealth, power, patronage of the arts. To whom can we compare them? The Kennedys? The Rockefellers? No, there’s no comparison, because the Medici weren’t hampered by electoral politics or income tax or the media. So here’s a man whose name and achievements are still remembered five hundred years after his death, and this is not a painting. It’s Lorenzo himself. It’s what the guy really looked like, stubble on chin and all.

Not only did I find this intimate glimpse of Lorenzo mesmerizing, but it also raised a lot of questions. Have we killed celebrity by glutting the market? Has the flood of new information and constantly emerging personalities made it a lot less likely for people’s reputations to live on? Would you want the world to be interested in what you look like five hundred years after you die? Would you want them to see you dead? How long a shelf life do you think today’s photographs will have? You post them on Facebook as soon as you take them, and then they're gone. For that matter, how long a shelf life does the planet have these days?

03 July 2014

Insulus Vitae

by Eve Fisher

I've been working for quite some time with a wonderful group of women artists, called JourneyWomen, in a series of collaborative projects.  We did Altars/Shrines/Boxes one year.  My piece was called "Cache" (accent on the "e"), and looks like this from above:


What we do is, each artist (there are 12 of us) takes a basic shape/thing to start and then passes it from artist to artist, everyone adding something to the work.  "Cache" started with a doll's trunk I found at the local flea market that was extremely old.  People added dried roses; a compass; a half a dollar bill; lace; messages; playing cards, etc.  (In case you're wondering, the woman is my second-favorite portrait by Van der Weyden.)

It's an interesting project, since we all have very different personalities and very different approaches to art. Some of us are darker than others.  One thing I added to a friend's piece was this little gem, lovingly photo-shopped by yours truly, of Anubis giving a massage:

It goes with this poem:
"The Body is a Temple":

          Quiet.  Calm.  Relaxed.
          The soft hiss of candles,
          the scent of wine and bread.
          Massaging hands.  Eyes closed.
          A light scent, sweet wood, rising.
         A thread of song:
                   "You belong to me like this plot of ground
                    that I planted with with flowers
                    and sweet-smelling herbs.
                    Sweet is its stream,
                    dug by my hand."
         Deep, deep, deeper.
         So many knots to be worked out.
                   "Dug by my hand.
                    A lovely place to wander in,
                    your hand in mine.
                   The body thrives,
                   the heart exults."                       
         Heart and mind, body and soul,          
         it takes so long to be made whole.      
                   "How beautiful is your face..."
         A dog barking in the distance.             
         A cry on the horizon.                          
                   "He who is on his mountain    
                    kisses you, caresses you..."  
          Look up:  your time is come.              
                                   Eve Fisher (c) 2011    
                                                       (Verses in quotation marks adapted from Poem 2, from IIc, The Third 
                                                        Collection, Papyrus Harris 500, circa 1000 BCE.)

This year, for one of the Spirit Boats, I photo-shopped (do you see a pattern here?) a variety of islands and named them Juventa, Fortunata, Marita, Aevus and Senecta, swirling around the Mare Memoriae:


With the following explanation:

"The Insulus Vitae, the Living Islands, a/k/a the Islands of Life, are known for their ease of access and their variety, in climate, terrain, flora, and fauna.  The following are some of the islands major sites, in alphabetical order:

  • The Broken Bridge
  • The Cliffs of Joy
  • The Caverns of Fear
  • The Dancing Pool
  • Heart's Desire
  • Hermitage
  • Mount Daybreak
  • The Mountains of Longing
  • The Overlook of Repose
  • Passion's Peak
  • The Sighing Shoals
  • The Slough of Despond
  • The Valley of Depression
  • Vanity Falls
  • Wadi Memoria
"The bewildering thing is that while these and many more sites exist, no one can confirm their exact location. Interestingly, bewilderingly, the location of each site changes with and for each visitor.  Legend says that every traveler will, at some point, reach at least one of these islands.
'Therefore pray, traveler, that thou mayest reach that most fortunate isle which is thine own.'"

Not bad advice, if I do say so myself.  




03 September 2013

Sing Me a Siren Song

by Terry Faherty

Dale Andrews' very enjoyable piece on the Hardy Boys from last Tuesday evoked a lot of memories for me.  My first completed story, written in the sixth grade, was an thinly disguised Hardy Boys mystery complete with illustrations.   I still have the one and only copy, and it's conclusive proof that my taste for run-on sentences is a congenital condition.


Motif the First
Motif the Second
Even more evocative than the book excerpts Dale included were the book covers he reproduced.  The Hardy Boys editions published in the 1950s and early 1960s had wonderful covers, siren songs done with a brush.  Those covers were always snapshots of some suspenseful moment, often night scenes.  Two recurring motifs were "Hardy Boys Observing Something From a Place of Concealment " and "Hardy Boys Engaged in Foolhardy Enterprise While Someone Sneaks Up Behind Them."   Examples of both types are reproduced here.

A favorite subject of discussion among mystery book authors is book covers.  I could just as easily have typed "subject of complaint."  Bestsellers can complain about the way their books are translated onto film.  The rest of us have to be content with complaining about how our characters are depicted on book jackets.  That's not to say that every author dislikes his or her covers, but it's a lucky writer who's never been let down once by a cover designer.

When my Owen Keane series started, St. Martin's commissioned covers that were dark, moody, and, I thought at the time, rather artsy.  Keane is a failed seminarian whose investigations often involve metaphysics, so I couldn't exactly blame them.  I liked the covers, but I still felt a nameless void.  I didn't diagnose it until Worldwide began bringing the books out as paperbacks.  Then I realized what I'd been longing for:  Hardy Boys book covers.  With the Worldwide editions, I got them.
 

Compare the two covers for Live To Regret.  They're very similar in subject and composition, but the cover on the right is recognizably from the Hardy Boys school.  The second figure, the follower, is represented only by a shadow.   The implication is that the first figure (a very small one at the top of the boardwalk) has someone sneaking up behind him, as in Hardy Boys Motif #2 described above. 




The sinister shadow would appear often on my subsequent Worldwide covers.  It's an authentic variation on Hardy Boys Motif #2, as the cover on the right demonstrates. 





Hardy Boys Motif #1 (see example on the left) was also represented in my Worldwide editions, by the cover for The Ordained.  That's Keane concealed behind the tree.  It could easily be the cover for The Twisted Claw or The Hooded Hawk.
 


I had one more brush (no pun intended) with a Hardy Boys cover, and that was when Hayakawa brought out a Japanese edition of The Lost Keats.  Its cover shows Keane leaning against his faithful Karmann-Ghia, which looks showroom new despite being described in the book as being equal parts rusted steel and body putty.  Keane doesn't look like his description, either, but when I saw him, I smiled.  He looks like a close relation of Joe Hardy after Joe had gotten his late '60s makeover.  Come to think of it, Keane is a relation.  Maybe a first cousin, once removed.  

Owen Keane returns to a book jacket this fall.  It will be wrapped round his first book-length adventure to be published in fourteen years.  I'll have more to say about that adventure, Eastward In Eden (and its cover), in a later post.  For now, thanks again, Dale, for the Memory Lane trip.  And, Frank and Joe, look out behind you!

06 March 2013

Portrait of a man who never lived

by Robert Lopresti

A few months ago I wrote a piece here about Rex Stout's most famous characters and I included wonderful illustrations of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.  I have since discovered that they are both the work of professional portraitist Kevin Gordon.

I have been in touch with Kevin and thought you might enjoy some of what he had to say.  Before he gets to talk I wanted to mention that he is a second generation portraitist (ain't that cool?) and the author/illustrator of many books. 

All right.  With no further ado:



Since painting people is my profession, as you've apparently seen from my website, I always thought it would be fun to paint Mr. Wolfe. But, all I had was my own mind's-eye version and I'm used to flesh-and-blood models.

So I corralled a fellow who had the requisite bulk, posed him with the required props and painted away. The face is strictly my own invention, since he didn't actually LOOK like Wolfe to me. But he was game, and I probably saved his life, since being told you resemble Nero Wolfe comes with a certain stigma and he lost about 90 pounds since he posed for me.

The original hangs on my dining room wall, glowering at my wife and I as we enjoy her Fritz-quality meals, until it finds a more appropriate and profitable (at least for me) home.

Both Tim Hutton and Bill Smitrovich (who played Archie and Cramer respectively on the A&E series) have the prints on their walls, as does Rex Stout's daughter Rebecca...

With Kevin's permission  I am including another of his works whose subject you may find familiar.

It's a very small oil painted as a trade for two Arthur Conan Doyle letters, one of my prized possessions. I did a little pencil drawing of Conan Doyle which is framed with the letters. Never being able to meet him, having that drawing of Conan Doyle framed with the pages that he held in his own hands is the next best thing.

I read my first Sherlock Holmes story when I was ten. I remember it clearly. It was an assignment for English class; “The Boscombe Valley Mystery”. I was hooked and then delighted to find out there were fifty-six more stories and four whole novels.  I read every one in order and then I read them again. Imagine my excitement when I found out they actually made movies about Holmes. Wow! Of course they were the Basil Rathbone features, so except for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles, the others were a little disappointing having been set in “modern” times, especially with Rathbone’s inexplicable upswept hairdo.  A thorough examination of Conan Doyle’s life followed and I’ve been a devoted Sherlockian ever since, having made the pilgrimage to Baker Street several times.

As for Rex Stout, the first story I read was in 1990. It was “Christmas Party”, in an anthology called Murder for Christmas and I got the same feeling I had as a ten year old with Holmes. I decided I’d better find out how it all started and began reading the Nero Wolfe stories in order. With Fer de Lance, I was off and running and read all the stories in order, which wasn’t as easy as with Holmes because there was no single volume which contained all the tales. Surely, I thought characters and stories as wonderful as these must have sparked some sort of fan club, like the Baker Street Irregulars, and that’s when I found the Wolfe Pack, and through the Pack, the Stout family. I spent a delightful afternoon at High Meadow with Barbara Stout and Liz Maroc and later with Rebecca Stout Bradbury. (Stout's daughters and (Liz) a granddaughter.)  Eating lunch at the same dining room table at which Rex Stout regaled his family with the witticisms that Archie had uttered that day, and then sitting at the desk upstairs where Stout actually created them was certainly a thrill for a ten-year-old middle-aged man.

I asked Kevin how he paints a person who doesn't actually exist.

Of course, painting a person I see only in my head poses a different problem than painting the chairman or president that’s sitting in front of me.  With Wolfe, it was more of a feeling that I tried to convey rather than his precise features. I suppose I could have used a photo of Orson Welles or someone like that, but I wanted Wolfe to be unrecognizable as anyone but Wolfe. That’s where an artist’s imagination and knowledge of the human face come in handy. The representation is how I feel about Wolfe. In all honesty, it’s still not exactly how I picture him, but it’s close enough.

As for the little head I did of Holmes that’s on my website, I used the photo of Sidney Paget’s brother Walter as my reference, because I felt that if Walter was a good enough model for Paget, he was good enough for me. I also find it interesting that Conan Doyle thought that Paget’s illustrations made Holmes too handsome and that in his own mind’s eye, Conan Doyle saw Holmes as rather ugly and that he resembled what he quaintly called a “red Indian”.

The question has also come up how I know when I’m done painting a picture, I agree with Leonardo Da Vinci who said “A painting is never finished, only abandoned.” An artist friend of mine put it this way: “It takes two people to paint a picture; one to do the painting and a second one to hit the first one over the head and make him stop.”


I guess Kevin paints real people for a living and fictional ones for fun.  He certainly does them both well.

29 August 2012

Limitation of Statues

by Robert Lopresti

I don't know if you have seen this picture of the statue Boston is planning to erect near the birthplace of Edgar Allan Poe.  It appears to show the founder of our field going for a stroll with his giant pet raven.

People have disagreed on the quality of this work.  I won't say more than this: it will never be my favorite statue of a bird in Boston.

But it got me wondering which other mystery authors have statues in their honor.  Frankly, I was surprised at how few I was able to locate.  But take a look:

This is Arthur Conan Doyle in Crowborough, England.  It's surprisingly recent, having been created by David Cornell in 2000.
 
And here is Dorothy L. Sayers standing opposite her home in Witham.  I like the cat, don't you?

This bust of Agatha Christie stands in her birthplace of Torquay (which I will forever remember as the location of Fawlty Towers).

Here is Georges Simenon as seen in Liege in Belgium.



And below you will find the creator of Father Brown standing proudly in Chesterton Square.  Can you guess what city this piece by David Wanner can be found in?  Would you believe New Orleans?

And now that we have made it to the United States I would like to show you some photos of sculptures of American mystery authors.  Unfortunately I can't because a search of the web turned up no statues or even busts of Hammett, Chandler, Gardner, or Stout.  What likely candidates am I missing?

I suppose creating sculptures of authors may be more of a European thing than an American, but frankly I was expecting to find at least a bust or two created by schools that had been honored with the archives of one or another author.  If anyone knows of some, let me know.

Meanwhile I have a pedestal just my size if anyone is feeling inspired.  And let me close with what has to be the most coveted sculpture of any mystery writer...


23 August 2012

Time with Art



 by Deborah Elliott-Upton

What's better than spending time with people you admire for their skills? Last week I had a leisurely lunch with a creative group of women. The assortment of talent ran the spectrum of the genres in the writing arena: one was a playwright, one a singer/songwriter, another a novel-length young adult writer, a children's author who handles novels and picture books, a historical fiction writer, a romance writer and me, the lone mystery author. (For some unknown to me reason, although my area in the state is known for its abundance of writers, few choose to write mystery.)

An eclectic gathering, we spoke of our current works in progress. A few won't discuss their work until it is finished, several only with their personal critique group members and a couple said it depended on which work at which specific time.

I am one that falls into the latter choice. At the beginning of  project, I tend to talk more about the basic idea with a few close individuals. This is more my way of seeing if the idea holds attention with the public as much as with me.

At that point, I tend to mull over the details of the plot and allow the characters to come to me with their own viewpoint. They need to talk to me!

Writing after this is usually kept more to myself until I am ready for someone else with a critical and unbiased eye to take a look.

This group -- like so many others in the writing community -- is less about stroking egos and more about supporting other artists in their artistic endeavors. Talking about writing to us is like finding a lifeline in a stormy sea.

Life hands out rejections like election ads during a campaign year: too many seem to bombard us at once. Many ads and rejections are too negative and lean on the nasty side. Negative remarks whether they are meant to received as such or not can bruise talent. I've heard each artist must suffer to find the truth in his work. Maybe. But I don't believe they must be beaten beyond recognition. Spread some of that random kindness around. Compliments are inexpensive and means much to the receiver.

Writers gathering to talk about writing is uplifting. It's good to hear what others are facing in their journey.

I enjoy spending time with people "new" to discovering their talents. Nothing is as contagious as passion.

The young playwright is reading every play she can find and attending avant-garde theatre productions. The singer is performing some new songs at a small town cafe. The young adult writer sings backup in the group. They're also collaborating on new songs together. The historian is finishing her novel and ready to take the next step to find a publisher. The children's author is finishing a six book series. The romance writer is new to writing and is fresh with anticipation. I advised her she is my newest protege and she didn't even laugh. (I like that in a writer!) I'm working on a hush-hush project I'm not ready to talk about to the masses. Soon though.

We laughed as we discussed introverts and extroverts and how even our small grouping was a combination of both. Writers don't come in one size fits all.

By the end of the lunch, we were full -- not just of the delicious food served (our singer is also a caterer -- lucky us!), but also of eagerness to get back to our own writings. Our own genres. Our own art.

Time spent with art and artists is never dull and always so very worthwhile. I think I just may mull on that thought for a few more days.