Blogs: Arts

Waterfalls plunge through darkness, glowing white, blue, neon against the void. Mist rises from hidden pools, its tendrils reaching into nothingness. A wash of thundering infrasound, felt as much as heard, seems to be just at the edge of perception. You could get lost here, immersed deep within these cold curtains of light.

This is what it feels like when I look at the  mysterious and atmospheric paintings of Hiroshi Senju, one of Japan’s foremost contemporary artists. Besides waterfalls, he’s painted glaciers, lava, rock faces, and forests, all possessed of the same quiet radiance. I love the powerful delicacy of his images, how they hover between abstract and figurative, traditional and contemporary.

While at a distance his paintings may appear to be works of modern abstraction, a closer examination reveals that they are also representations of the natural world, created with pigment and mulberry paper. As such, they are a continuation of the long lineage of nihonga, or traditional Japanese painting, though not without some new twists, including paint that fluoresces in UV light! It’s really worth a look, at both the book Hiroshi Senju, and at his website.

Hiroshi Senju, by Rachel Baum, Michaël Amy.
Milan : Skira ; New York : Distributed in North America by Rizzoli, 2009

Central Library: 759.952 B3473h 2009

 

 

RisePlanetofApesDVDImage
The original 1968 Planet of the Apes attempted (somewhat clunkily in retrospect) to speak to the politics of its time - particularly the ongoing civil rights struggles in the US.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes - not so much remake as re-imagined prequel - more cannily embodies and plays out a more viscerally destructive politics:  the refusal of cooperation - and even love - in a world structurally predicated on species difference and exploitation.  Ape leader Caesar's incremental "NOs" finalize in a rejection of the possibility of love between masters (humans) and captors (apes) but this series of refusals also begins to construct a revolutionary solidarity among the apes.  

Director Rupert Wyatt does a nice job of projecting the film's human personalities as monochromatic 'types' (including James Franco's protagonist - perhaps the most sympathetic of the humans, but also perhaps the most capable of betrayal), while drawing out layers of personality, depth and passion in the apes (who - apart from Caesar - hardly speak).  The film's final battle along the Golden Gate Bridge is cinematically stunning but also politically inspired as a representation of strategic resistance.  Rise's release coincided with the summer 2011 UK riots and Occupy's global eruption was just around the corner.  Rise is certainly special in that it reflected and challenged its historical moment - but it is Caesar's equation of "home" with permanent revolution that underscores the truly radical power of the film.





 

Siqueiros Mural

I came back from my yearly trip to Mexico recently: it’s always refreshing to walk around the city of Cuernavaca where I’m from, visiting historical sites as I do year after year. This city is privileged to host the work of two great Mexican muralists. Diego Rivera painted the history of the city at El Palacio de Cortés or the Palace of Cortés and David Alfaro Siqueiros’ mural ”The March of Humanity” is found at La Tallera cultural center. If you want to know more about this kind art, follow me!

Muralism was practiced long ago when indigenous groups painted their ideas and important events in big displays on the sides of ceremonial and burial buildings. The splendid Maya murals of Bonampak are a simple example of this kind of art.

This artistic manifestation gained more importance in Mexico during the 20th century. The first murals were created in 1921 and the last were created in 1955, when murals lost the essence of an articulated artistic movement. There were several artists who brought a diversity of aesthetics and political influences; at times the artists' were severely criticized and censured, and even destroyed, as happened with one Diego Revera's murals at the Rockefeller Center in New York.

The movement is characterized by the artists' great need to express the social and political events of their times using huge platforms. In the murals, Mexicans have the opportunity to appreciate the content of their own reality and identity. The Mexican Revolution, political radicalism as an international proposal, agrarian reform, and oil expropriation inspired nationalistic artists who presented the reality of a Mexican society so devastated by these events. A group of muralist artists created the movement using the walls of important public buildings as canvases, to exalt the art and rescue indigenous and popular traditions. The three great figures of this artistic era were Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Would you like to learn more about this great art movement? Take a look at the video lecture on Maya murals below, or explore my list for further reading.

 

Rivera's mural

 

 

 

Obsessive Consumption by Kate Bingaman-BurtWhat’s a zine? Generally, we think of zines as little, inexpensively produced, most often handmade print items. Is a zine a book? Well, it’s a kind of book - a self-published book that’s usually not distributed very widely, and tends toward  the ephemeral. Zines have often been made by people whose viewpoints or experiences may not have been well represented by traditional publishing. Many of them are personal. They can be mostly text, or mostly image, or anywhere in between. Anyone can make a zine! And the author of a zine is in charge of the whole process - the content, production, and distribution of the publication.

And sometimes, a person makes not just one zine, but many - zine after zine! And sometimes, the work that they’ve self-published in zine form takes new form as a book published by a publisher, whether small or large. Ok, now it’s still a zine, and also a book. 

Big Plans by Aron Nels Steinke

Here's an example: Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States, once a zine and now a book-length memoir by Pete Jordan that has been described as “part adventure, part parody, and part miraculous journey of self-discovery.” Or Obsessive Consumption: What Did You Buy Today? by Portland artist Kate Bingaman-Burt, whose zine What Did You Buy Today? Daily Drawings of Purchases documents, well, everything she purchased. Plenty of graphic novels have their origins in zines, such as Henry & Glen Forever & Ever (the fictitious cartoon adventures of Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig, available in a series of zines), and Big Plans by another local cartoonist, Aron Nels Steinke.

At the library, we have zines, and we also have books that began as zines:

Zines Become Books, Part 1

Zines Become Books, Part 2

We also have an event coming up at Central Library on February 7th at 2pm, featuring local authors who make zines, people who’ve made zines and also books, and folks who have worn all sorts of other hats in the process: small publishers, educators, community connectors. Please join us at Zinesters Talking: From Zines to Publishing!

 

When it seems like the rain is never (ever) going to stop, don’t despair! Multnomah County has a lot of hidden art to see that will get you out of the house and won’t cost you anything.

The area’s colleges and universities are a treasure trove of free art galleries! Here are links to some all over town:

Government buildings are a great place to see rotating exhibits, usually by local artists. Experience interactive and experimental media installations in the Portland Building Installation Space; visit the art gallery in the Gresham City Council Chamber Foyer; and check out the current exhibition at Central Library’s Collins Gallery.

The Regional Arts & Culture Council has a searchable database of public art around the county. (Tip: Click on Advanced Options to search by Collection and Discipline.)

View work by local photographers at Blue Sky Gallery, originally founded as the Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts.

Learn more about contemporary art in the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art’s Resource Room. It is both an archive and library, housing over 3,500 artist publications, magazines, and audio and video recordings, as well as a video archive of performances and lectures presented by PICA over the span of the organization's history.

But wait, there's more! Check out Rainy Days, Part 2: Free Museums!

There are a lot of writers out there. Portland alone seems to have one slouching in every coffee shop or slumped on a bar stool or monotoning into a microphone... have you ever been to Wordstock? Willamette Writers? With so much competition for publishers’ and readers’ attention, what’s a person to do who has a story to tell, and wants to share it with everyone?

The writer’s life is by no means easy; first there’s the writing part - -how to write the story? Where to find the time? Should I subscribe to Poets & Writers magazine? What’s that word for….? Do I need Facebook to be a writer? But if I’m on Facebook promoting my writing, when will I ever find time to write?

Then there’s publication - -get an agent? Focus on small presses? Self-publish?

And then the boogie men that infect the hopes and confidence and resolve of any would-be (or accomplished!) author -- self doubt, loneliness, writer’s block, disappointment, poverty, envy, obscurity. Too many barbarians at the gate! It’s enough to make a person ask, ‘is it worth it?’

Of course, it could always be worse... you could want to be a poet.

Sometimes we take comfort in the idea we’re not the only ones suffering for -- or because of -- a dream. That is, if you’ve contemplated giving up on writing, you’re not alone.

Should you give up? Here's some company:

Or should you keep going?

“But the writing life can be such a lonely, solitary existence! How can I connect with others who feel the way I do, and feel like I’m not alone?”

And even if you “make it,” and get your book published, it doesn’t mean you’ll be any more famous than before you got your work out there -- at least not during your lifetime! Can you handle that?:

Check out these well-regarded titles you probably never heard of:

And these works it would be laughable to call obscure:

Local or community resources, for support, writing groups, education, and even workspace:

Or maybe you just need to nurture your craft by getting away from your daily life long enough to think, use your imagination, to write -- to breathe! and maybe a requisite chore or two:

 -- by Kass

alebrijesNot long ago I went through my collection of family photos and found a very special one of my mother. It was taken during a visit to Mexico.  I can see her and my cousin in a small stand of colorful “alebrijes” in the small town of Tepoztlan Morelos. Let me tell you more about the craft of alebrijes.

The origins of these peculiar creations began in 1936 with an artisan, Pedro Linares, who worked at “La Merced” market in Mexico City creating these fantastic characters. Pedro was a “cartonero” (cardboarding maker) who worked mainly with paper mache making piñatas and other pieces. The alebrijes were attributed to a time when he was very sick. During the fever hallucinations he found himself in a forest full of rare creatures that shouted loudly “alebrijes”, “alebrijes!” When he got better he dedicated the rest of his life to recreating those images with cardboard using the papel mache technique. His talent was recognized first by the owner of a gallery and then by the artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera among others. His alebrije technique was passed to new generations of artisans, mainly in Oaxaca. In Oaxaca, Pedro's technique has become popular with wood carvers.

The dream of such a singular person has transcended time and now these magical characters are enjoyed by people around the world. If you have the opportunity to visit an art craft market in Mexico, don’t forget to ask where to find the alebrijes. I’ll always remember how Pedro Linares dignified Mexican creativity with his work when I look at the photo of my mother admiring the magical pieces one rainy fall afternoon.

I think it was in the late 1980s when I became a Remedios Varo admirer. It might be that her close relationship with Frida Kahlo and Leonora Carrington made me aware of her contextual Celestial Pablum by Remedios Varoexistence. Born in Spain in 1908, this surrealist artist was strongly influenced by her father, a hydraulic engineer, her second husband Benjamin Beret a French dadaist, and her friend André Breton.

When living in Paris she was forced into exile during WWII and settled down in Mexico City. She found refuge in Mexico until she died in 1963. Graduated from the prestigious San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid, she created around 150 art pieces, 110 of them created in Mexico using oils on masonite panels she prepared herself. Her art is full of ambiguous characters; the elements of her painting are mostly biographical, and her art is allegorical, humorous, fantastic, and oriented to science, the spiritual and the psychological.  

From the very beginning I was fascinated and intrigued with her peculiar style and wanted to know who she was. Back in the days before the internet, information was very limited so I couldn't pursue my research; but I held in my mind some images of her artwork that I saw in books and postcards. Then one day, I was reading the newspaper and discovered that the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City would be hosting one of her exhibitions -- what an opportunity! I went and spent and entire afternoon contemplating her creations and trying to digest every single image. Among my favorite paintings were "Celestial Pablum," "Creation of the Birds," and "The Cats Paradise." Her potential and her creative mind were not recognized as she deserved; you probably won't find much information about her. For me, the afternoon I spent in the company of this forgotten surreal artist will always remain in my mind. Learn more about her work in The Magic of Remedios Varo.

Perpetual calendar NaNoWriMo is a funny abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month, when deadline-driven novelists find community in trying to bust out a 50,000-word novel between November 1 and November 30. The online nonprofit site NaNoWriMo.org coordinates this effort and serves as a kind of social network for writers. In 2013, there were 1574 participating novelists in Portland!

Are you planning to participate in NaNoWriMo this year? What are you doing to prepare? You might take a look at our list of resources containing creative writing prompts, if you’d like a little help getting the creativity bubbling or would like to read some advice about the craft of fiction.

Do any of these NaNoWriMo novels ever get published? Well, yes! Many are self-published (you can do this!), and quite a few are published by publishers large and small. Some NaNoWriMo novels meet with quite a bit of success, such as Erin Morgenstern’s The Night CircusStephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss, and Anna Gruen’s Water for Elephants!

 

Two of my favorite things to do around town when I can’t be at the Maker Faire PDX are going out to listen to music and watching movies. While I’m not bad at making music (yay cellos!) and I can take cute videos of my dogs, I can’t really claim to be great at making either. But not to fear! We do live in a great town for making things, from chairs to computers to art and we can all learn together.

Yellow record player

Are you feeling musical? Explore the science of music with your own musical creations, and learn to make your own instruments from maracas to didgeridoos. (This website is set up as lessons for teachers, but there’s no reason for teachers to have all the fun.) Once you have made (or chosen) your instrument it’s time to make some music: Indulge your inner rocker girl or you can check out the Community Music Center for lessons, concerts, workshops and practice space. Or just find some friends and start playing--it’s how all the greats got started.

 

 

strip of film cels

Visual arts more your thing? You can play with your films at the Hollywood Theater with B Movie Bingo and Hecklevison and other series.  The Portland Art Museum’s nwFilm Center has films you won’t find at the mall and classes on how to make your own. If you prefer things to be more non-fiction, head over to Northwest Documentary. They come complete with classes, lab time, opportunities to work with other filmmakers and a great library, all at your creating and making disposal. And if the slow and methodical isn’t your way, maybe The 48 Hour Film Project will be more to your liking.

 

 

Do want to make and learn more? Contact a Librarian!

Hey, We're going to be at the Maker Faire on September 13 and 14 at OMSI. Come see us!

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