Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You Can't Shake This

If you Tweet or Facebook much, there's a good chance you've heard about the August issue of Vogue Italia by now, featuring 45-year-old model Kristen McMenamy covered in black crude and couture on the rocky shore of a devastated coastline.

The shoot is quickly becoming a controversial symbol of the fashion industry's response to the devastating Deep Water Horizon oil spill. It's easy to understand why this may be seen as tasteless exploitation. The spill was just recently capped and we are far from understanding the longterm effects of so much crude in the ocean. And Vogue is a for-profit magazine. Shame on Vogue, right? Not so fast.

Fashion designers and photographers are undeniably artists. Savvy business people too, no doubt. Still, no one questions a designer's line influenced by nature, but draw inspiration from politics and the accusations start flying. Yet that's the role of an artist: to communicate, to provoke. And let's face it, our current political, environmental and economic landscape is so rich with subject matter, I think it's only natural that Italian Vogue and a celebrated photographer such as Steven Meisel would capitalize on a disaster like the oil spill to further penetrate the zeitgeist in a meaningful way.

Will they profit from this issue? Absolutely. Will Vogue Italia readers care about the oil spill more or will they simply buy more shiny black clothing and accessories as a result? I don't know, but I think Meisel's pictures make it very hard to think about the clothes without noticing model McMenamy's long gray mermaid tresses and body, which mimic the silvery scales of a washed up fish; the black sludge of crude co-mingling with shiny black beaded dresses that coat her skin. McMenamy vomiting black feathers. They're not aiming for subtlety here. They're not mincing words. They're not asking you to notice, they're telling you to.

If they profit from this, does this taint the political message? Maybe, but I can accept this if it increases debate on the subject, which it will. Google "oil & water" or "Vogue Italia," and you'll find that this debate is being discussed all over mass- and social media outlets. Let's get angry. Let's talk. Then finally, maybe we can do something about this horrible mess created by corporations and perpetuated by our own thirst for more and more oil.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Courage to See

"Tug on anything at all and you'll find it connected to everything else in the universe. " - John Muir

Over/under, or split photography is the convergence of two worlds as one in a single image. Half the camera is submerged underwater, while the upper half chronicles life above the water line. A great over/under photo provides viewers with that rare and vital glimpse that there really is no division between these "two" worlds.

Kim Kasabian
Over Under 1 Acrylic on Canvas 18" x 24"

When you consider that 71% of Earth is covered in water, it's safe to say that we really don't know what goes on in the natural world on a daily basis. And as such, we often don't understand the impact underwater of what we do above and vice versa. There's been more talk of this lately in the wake of global warming, what with islands disappearing, storms increasing in strength, temperatures rising. But for the most part, when it comes to understanding and respecting our world underwater, we're like children - what we don't see doesn't exist and therefore doesn't concern us.

That is, until something happens that is so big, it's impossible to ignore it. I'm not talking about the sleeping giants like overfishing, dead zones or the Northern Pacific Gyre. I'm speaking, of course, about the BP oil spill. Roughly 2.5 million gallons per day. That's 150,000,000 gallons as of Sunday, June 20, 2010 the 60th day of the oil spill. Officials estimate that every four days, the amount gushing from the Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico is equal to a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez. Every four days. To make matters worse, beach clean-up of Louisiana's marshy, sandy shore will be exponentially more difficult than that of the rocky Alaskan coastline in Prince William Sound. Disaster of this magnitude is hard to imagine. It's too big. Too terrible. Too important not to be front page news every single day. Too devastating to ignore. Right? Right?

I know there have been protests, demonstrations, stories about the poor Louisiana oyster fisherman whose prey is dying by the day. But go ahead and Google "oil spill" and "protest" and you'll find a sprinkling of stories about how hundreds or dozens of people stood in protest to the BP oil spill. Hundreds? In a country of 309,000,000? Where are we? What do we stand for? And more importantly, what kind of future do we want to see for ourselves?

I know what I want. I want to to walk on a beach in Louisiana and not see brown crude oil oozing up from my footprints in the sand. I want to one day swim in the Gulf and see seahorses, bluefin tuna and oysters thriving in their natural environment, while brown pelicans gracefully fly overhead. When I walk out of the water, I want to see my skin glisten with beads of salty seawater, not slick from reddish-brown sludge oozing down my arm.

BP drilled a hole in the ocean and started this mess. But they can not shoulder the blame alone. If we have the courage to open our eyes and look underwater, we can begin to forge connections between land and sea. Our car and its dependence upon fossil fuel energy. Our plate of sushi and the cleanliness of the water the tuna swam in before it became our dinner. Our lush, nitrogen-hungry lawns and depleted oxygen levels in the oceans. Tomatoes in January that came from a hothouse in in Chile. The list is so long, it's overwhelming.

So here's an idea. Maybe you already bring canvas bags to the grocery store or you've replaced your tungsten bulbs for more energy efficient ones. What are three more things you can do to put a little less pressure on the grid? A small composter for your table scraps, maybe. Taking public transportation once a week or carpooling with colleagues. Putting pressure on your congressmen to support alternative energy methods. Buying local fruits and vegetables from a farmer's market. Vacationing closer to home. Stop buying bottled water.

There are so many opportunities to make better choices for ourselves, and by extension, our Earth. Over and under the sea.

Monday, June 14, 2010

On the Nightstand

I occasionally receive copies of books for review from Amazon and was thrilled to find this in my mailbox recently. I haven't finished it yet, but I'm already eager to put this on the "must, must read" list for all those who create for a living.

Kick Ass Creativity is a great tool for inspiring not just artists, but anyone interested in identifying and sharing their unique contributions with the world. Lately I've been thinking and reading a lot about how when we engage in a symbiotic relationship with our world, our world takes care of us. A very simple example is a home garden. I grow vegetables that my family eats. The peels and leftovers go into the compost pile, which decompose and turn into nutrient rich soil. That soil is mixed with the existing soil and feeds new plants the following year, which in turn feed us.

This is true of creativity. When we open ourselves up to new experiences, we nourish our creative souls and are in a better position to both create and share the fruits of our inspiration with the world. KAC helps readers to gently quiet the negative thoughts and gives us permission to both visualize and pursue a future with our artistic dreams fulfilled. Sign me up.

A Collage A Day

Here's a brilliant idea: collage artist Randel Plowman has embarked upon an ongoing art project/business endeavor to make one 4" x 4" collage every day, then offer it for sale for $25. I like the aesthetic very much and when I find one I can't live without, I'll be sure to snap it up and quick...'cause they sell like hotcakes.

I like the idea so much because it's a fantastic creative exercise and it offers original art to people on a fixed budget. Many collages could be grouped into small frames to display as a series, but they stand alone very well.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Sight to Behold

I wear glasses all day and just got a new prescription. Because glasses are an extension of one's face, choosing a frame is an important undertaking - are you a statement maker? Conservative? Whimsical? Feminine? For me the aesthetic is very important, so you'd think I love shopping for frames. You would be incorrect. As soon as I take my glasses off, I can't see, so trying on frames is like listening to music with the mute button on. Maybe I exaggerate a little. But only a little.

Today, I tried on too many frames to count and at the end of it all, I had a headache and no frames. Dejected, I started to walk out when I spied a strange pair of frames on the counter that I hadn't asked to look at. Nobody knew why they were there, but they were like nothing I'd seen before. I popped them on, looked in the mirror and voila, my search was over. Here they are!

I love how they have the rimless part of the frame at the top rather than the bottom, where it usually is. They're by Parisian frame maker Lafont. They specialize in slightly off-center (in a good way) frames in colors ranging from black to flourescent green. And the styles...oh la la. I was in love with their wearable works of art. Best of all, the shockingly high price had been slashed to less than half the cost. Sold! Here are some other models they dreamed up.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Journalist and the Painter

I read a remarkable essay by the great Joan Didion on the painter Georgia O'Keeffe. Didion's razor-sharp observations reveal a feminist soul whose "hard" character juxtaposed brilliantly with her delicate and decidedly feminine blooms. Have a read here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

On the Nightstand

I've been consuming books this spring, all non-fiction; there's a sense of urgency to my reading, as if I suddenly realized that hmm, one day I'll simply run out of time and I'll die, having never learned how to use a circular saw or make a souffle. Somehow it seems less tragic to say, "Dang, I have days to live and I never read any Pushkin." But enough of my mortal angst, I'd rather share some of my current reads that are inspiring all kinds of new ideas.

The Vital Gesture: Franz Kline

One of my heroes from the abstract expressionist movement in the mid-20th century. I'm intrigued by the process by which Kline found his style late in his career and worked humbly, tirelessly in search of his artistic voice. His journey is as inspiring (and complex) as his paintings, which seem so spare at a glance, but reveal themselves slowly under closer inspection. Highly recommended.

Hans Hofmann

I love how his bold color blocks both explore spatial tension and convey profound energy (or inertia, or both, as with Pompeii, above). His influence as both a painter and teacher inspired generations and continue to influence artists today. Plus his painting are just so beautiful.

Rethinking Acrylics by Patti Brady

This is a really fresh look at the flexibility of the acrylic medium. Brady encourages readers to think beyond acrylic, canvas and brush by exploring the use of acrylic mediums, less conventional applications (such as pouring, lifting, dripping and faux encaustic methods), acrylic transfers and watermedia effects. This book takes an already versatile medium to new, exciting levels. My head is bursting with too many ideas to count. It's a lovely dilemma.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Underpass Study

I have been meaning to photograph these underpass pillars for more than a year, but never had the camera along. I love the colors, the fragments of lost messages, the vain attempts to return the pillars back to their original state. In the process, they have become an ever-changing urban collage.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Rachel T. Robertson

I love minimalism. The art of making something seem whole by using less is a real talent and Rachel T. Robertson's art succeeds in that capacity. I love her palette and her preference for drawing things from the natural world. It just feels so spacious, like an open sky with just enough clouds to make you realize how big it really is.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rush Hour Hymn

I am not a fan of driving. Having lived in California nearly all my life, though, means it's a necessity. The numbers 5, 101, 99 and 405 are a permanent part of the California driver's lexicon. That said, I'll never get used to traffic and saw nothing redeeming about it until I came upon this video recently. Seen through the right lens, anything can become beautiful.

Blank Blue "Eyes Closed" from hsugi on Vimeo.