Blogs: Visual Arts

I read a new graphic novel that is so compelling I couldn’t put it down. It’s definitely a page turner!  March is an autobiography by congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis. It is filled with stunning visuals by award-winning Nate Powell. The story starts with the family chickens. His care of the flock helps him build his moral core. As a reader it  helped me get to know him and care about him. At the same time, this comic book is a biography of our civil rights movement in the United States. Important issue, important man: Fantastic read. Don’t miss it.

If you are interested in more comic books about history they can be found in the History through graphic novels list.

Street photography according to Wikipedia is “photography that features the human condition within public places.” I realized I love street photography with the discovery of photographer Vivian Maier’s work. She took a lot of photos of children that were very tender. Maier also took many thought-provoking photos of the poor. She seemed to be looking to capture moments of comfort, like holding hands or cuddling together on the train.

There are a few websites devoted to this style of photography. There’s the Sunday Styles section column On The Street in the New York Times featuring Bill Cunningham's street photography. I’ve been a fan this column for years. There is also a series of videos derived from Bill’s photography. Sometimes the Willamette Week covers local fashion that intersects with street photography.

This type of photography is sprinkled throughout images of our popular culture. And of course our library has many books on the topic. A great photographer takes great photos. Great photos make me pause and wonder what happened before and what happened after that moment in time was captured on film. What about you? Do you wonder?


Do you like stories where families go away for the summer? Author Elin Hilderbrand takes her characters to Nantucket for the summer. OH to have a long vacation every summer! Where weeks bleed into months. Sometimes boredom sets in. Sometimes the need for fun causes tension. All of these elements are evident in this great new graphic novel This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. Two families go to Awago Beach every summer. Rose and Windy have been friends who play together all summer while at their families’ vacation homes. Tensions rise a little bit because of the slight age differences of the girls in this coming-of-age tale. But like the waves on the shore they rise and fall.

Rose’s Mother has come to heal, the girls to grow and the Awago residents to cause sensation. If you like stories about friendship and families and beautiful brushwork illustrations like Craig Thompson’s, then you might like This One Summer. It might be your beach read. It might be your long exhale for vacation. Let the Tamiki creators sweep you away.

Can you guess what was the first Western television series to air on Soviet Television?  Here’s a hint:  it was also the first series to air on HBO - still stumped?   Fraggle Rock starring Jim Henson's Muppets. Yes, before The Sopranos, before the Game of Thrones, there was Fraggle Rock.


In Jim Henson, a biography, by Brian Jay Jones, we see how Jim was born into a big family  where holidays and birthday gatherings were marked by laughter and stories of growing up.  His creativity and ideas were encouraged by his family- especially by  his Grandma Dear.  But he knew from  the time he was a young man he knew he wanted to work in television.  He  mourned the fact that television’s great potential was  was used to sell products and to dull minds. It  was important to him that television be used 

 to educate and excite people- adults as well as children. Jim had  that  type of single- mindedness that showed him what to do, and the  tireless creativity to do it.

 Hence his creations- muppet and otherwise, reach out  to us like real living breathing people. He also had that rare gift of attracting innovative  and inventive artists like himself and giving them the power and opportunity as well, to be experiment, to dream, to create.

  Jim  saw television as a mighty instrument for change.  And change it did - Sesame Street helped to change the way children were taught- in fun short segments that kept them engaged and attentive.  It was entertaining to adults as well as children, so  it encouraged the whole family to sit and watch together. It mixed sophisticated humor with just plain sillieness that was hard to resist.  Sesame Street was such  a wild success that it led to the prime time program The Muppet Show and then to HBO’s Fraggle Rock. They all shared the  value  of inspiration through entertainment- pure and simple-but again appealing to both adults and children.

If  Jim Henson were still alive now what would he be doing?  Something tells me that he wouldn’t be putting  the muppets on Survivor unless it was to show how they could all live on a desert island together.  But best of all we would still  be experiencing the fresh  creativity of a  man who was able to achieve what no amount of political  diplomacy has achieved before or since-stimulating our  minds by  touching our hearts with laughter and song and love.  As it is, he left us with a unique legacy.   One that his favorite invention allows us to still enjoy.  As Uncle Matt says in Fraggle Rock:   "The magic is always there."

Studio Olafur Eliasson Encyclopedia bookcover A glowing orb hangs in a dense mist. You descend a ramp and enter a great hall. Golden light fills the heavy air. Your mirror image swims far above you, along with the images of hundreds of other viewers of the spectacle. You sink to the floor, waving and gesturing, watching the limbs of the crowd as they wave and gesture far above, like the feathery tongues of sea creatures trapped at the bottom of some deep ocean pool.


This unusual scene is what you might have encountered if you saw Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s installation, The Weather Project, which can be glimpsed on the artist’s website . Eliasson and his studio create sculptures and installations that combine architectural elements with natural materials such as light, mist, water, ice, wind, scent, even lichen. The Weather Project so enraptured viewers that they lay on the floor of the Tate museum basking in the radiance of its strange sun, and even inspired a recent Marc Jacobs fashion show. Of the installation’s allure, the artist says,

"I don't mind making things that look great or seem very seductive, because to me, rationality and seduction are not mutually exclusive. For instance, you can be rational about your seduction, as in The Weather Project [2004], or in Beauty [1993]. The quality of the experience really depends on the combined performativity of the installation and the person; if the situation allows for a very individual experience, I'm not afraid of the work being called "beautiful." I don't think beauty can be generalized, even though many people seem to suggest just that by insisting on a type of beauty that would be immanent to the works. "Beauty" is a very complex term..." - Olafur Eliasson [p. 75].


Find out more in Studio Olafur Eliasson.




Portland has a new illustration and comics festival called Linework NW - it aims to highlight the dynamic energy of creators of comics, prints, graphic novels, and original art. The first-ever event took place on April 12, and we went in search of self-published minicomics and zines for the library’s zine collection. Portland’s Norse Hall was packed to the gills with art, comics, artists and appreciators. The atmosphere was super friendly and excited; I noticed a trend of folks getting their copies of zines signed with personalized illustrations. Of course, we found many wonderful things to add to the library’s zine collection! Here are a few of them:

I Made This to Impress a Boy by Jeannette Langmead consists of lovely color comics about the author's life spanning several years during which she moves to Japan and back to the U.S., ends a relationship, and does some self-reflection.




Mr Wolf #2 by Aron Nels Steinke is about an elementary school teacher in a charter school. In this volume, Mr. Wolf embarks on his second year of teaching.




Cover image for Falling Rock National Park #1

Falling Rock National Park by Josh Shalek is a series set in a National Park in the southwest. In volume 1, Ernesto the lizard introduces readers to Ranger Dee and various animal characters, then heads into the Uncanny Valley, where everything gets weird. We picked up #1, 2, and 3 at Linework!




Cover image for Henry & Glenn Forever & Ever #4

The most recent volume in the humorous series Henry & Glenn Forever and Everabout boyfriends Henry Rollins and Glenn Danzig, includes an epic story about zombie mayhem, family relations, and the dark arts while guest starring Hall and Oates.



Cover image for Abyss

Abyss by Saman Bemel-Benrud is a moody comic about burritos, construction sites, and the Internet.




Cover image for Cat People

Cat People / Dog People by Hannah Blumenreich is a two-in-one zine - one side is Cat People, and you flip it over to read Dog People. It contains some true and not-so-true stories of famous people and their pets.




Cover image for Never Forgets

In Never Forgets by Yumi Sakugawa, a character recovers from facial reconstructive surgery, while her best friend and her parents have different reactions.




Cover image for Comics for Change

Each volume in the Comics for Changeseries celebrates a community organizer who is making Oregon a better place for everyone: Alex Brown, Polo Catalani, Walter Cole, Dan Handelman, Cheryl Johnson, Paul Knauls, Ibrahim Mubarak, Genny Nelson, Kathleen Saadat, and Wilbur Slockish. The series is written and illustrated by a collection of talented Portland comic writers and illustrators.


Self portrait paintingBefore I became a parent, I was a painter. When my son was born, I imagined a mini easel propped up next to mine, where we would paint together. If anybody has actually made this work for longer than three minutes, I’d love to hear about it. I will also suspect you are lying through your teeth.Book Jacket: One Painting a Day by Timothy Callaghan

Now that my son is more self-sufficient, I think I’ve simply stalled out and I need an assignment to help jump start my art.  I already went back to art school in my thirties, so this time I'm taking a different and less costly approach.  My first course is One Painting a Day by Timothy Callaghan. The 42 exercises in this book center around painting ordinary things, but the examples from contributing artists are far from mundane. There is no muse more accessible than your every day surroundings and I am already looking ahead to day 11: Paint a storage still life.

Next quarter, I'm considering How to be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith.  I bought this book for my (then) 12-year-old niece with the intention of hanging on to it until she was a little older. In theBook Jacket: How to Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith end, I gave it to her anyway because I’m disorganized and found myself otherwise empty-handed on her birthday. It turned out not to matter that Exploration #26: Becoming Leonard Cohen, didn’t strike a familiar chord. Her interpretations of Exploration #9: Case of Curiosities and #34 Interesting Garbage, completely blew me away.

I hope to graduate this time, with a renewed and regular art habit. Feel free to join me. Admission is open year-round and you only need to dust off your art supplies and pull out your library card to get started with your first assigment!

As a child, I spent a lot of time with animals. My family had dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, lizards, assorted tropical birds, and even a herd of 13 goats. Moose visited the yard once or twice a week, and when the snow was deep sometimes ermine (those little weaselly-looking white critters with the black-tipped tails) peeked in our windows. To while away the dark winter nights we would check out a film projector from the local library, tack a white sheet up on the wall of the log cabin, and watch films (on reels!) of wildebeests stampeding across Africa, bears fishing in Canada, warthogs wallowing in the mud… somewhere far warmer than where we were. To this day, I can’t resist checking out lavish books of animal photography, big expensive books that would be awkward to own but that are a treat to look at for a few weeks.

Across the Ravaged Land book jacketAcross the Ravaged Land by Nick Brandt. is my favorite of these. When it arrived on hold, I was shocked by its size. Opening it revealed majestic and ominous black and white photos of elephants, lions, hyenas, and other African wildlife, created without a telephoto lens or digital camera. Apparently Brandt is gutsy enough to walk right up to a hyena to take its portrait. Especially striking are the eerie shots of animals whose every last feather and hoof have been preserved by the mineral waters of a natron lake, including a bat perched among thorns that looks like it belongs on the cover of some long lost apocalyptic folk album. But the heart of the book is with the elephants, so monumental and solemn - fittingly so, since some were killed by poachers not long after their portraits were taken. A beautiful but sometimes bleak book, well worth a look.

For imagery, it may prove elusive to locate just exactly the idea you are looking for on the internet, or by searching for books in the Library Catalog. Long before the invention of the internet, Central Library staff created the Picture Files to help solve this problem. For many years, books beyond repair, outdated calendars, and discarded magazines were reviewed by librarians and organized by volunteers into massive file cabinets of pictures, all by subject. 

Multnomah County Library picture file collection sampleThe composite picture shown here is from the file of womens' fashion from 1950, just the single year 1950. Womens' fashion design is one of the most extensive sections, with a file for each year from 1900-2005. There are picture files for hundreds of topics from the arts, history, social sciences and natural sciences.

Pictures can be checked out just like books. To use this collection, ask for picture files at the Central Library 3rd floor, Art and Music Reference Desk. You can check out up to 50 images selected from multiple folders.

The individual pictures are all protected by copyright laws of the US, since they are from printed books and magazines, published after 1922. As such, the goal of the collection is for helping people shape the ideas for their projects.

Questions about the Picture Files?
Contact Central Library Information Services:

Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits bookcover

Dorothea Lange : a life beyond limits / Linda Gordon. London ; New York : W.W. Norton & Co., c2009.
A fascinating book of the stories behind Dorothea Lange's powerful photographs.
Scene 3, excerpt:
"We found our way in, slid in on the edges. The people who are garrulous and tell you everything, that's one kind of person, but the fellow who's hiding behind a tree, is the fellow that you'd better find out why. So often it's just sticking around, not swooping in and swooping out in a cloud of dust; sitting down on the ground with people, letting the children look at your camera with their dirty, grimy little hands, and putting their fingers on the lens, and you let them, because you know that if you will behave in a generous manner, you're very apt to receive it. I don't mean to say that I did that all the time, but I have done it, and I have asked for a drink of water and taken a long time to drink it, and have told everything about myself long before I asked any question. 'What are you doing here?' they'd say. 'What do you want to take pictures of us for?' I've taken a long time to explain, and as truthfully as I could. They knew that you are telling the truth."  - Dorothea Lange [p. 191-192]


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