October 29, 2019

Words of the Month - Busy Be-

        Marie Antoinette was bewigged, bejeweled, beribboned, and beheaded.  I consider this one of my better bon mots, and what makes it interesting is that despite the same prefix on all four words, the queen was amply adorned with the wigs, jewels, and ribbons, but the head no longer adorned her at all.  So what’s going on here?
        The prefix be- most commonly means something like “to make a certain way, to cause a certain state, to provide with.”  Examples of this include
bewig, beribbon, bespectacle - meaning to provide with these accoutrements
bespatter, bedaub, befoul, becloud, - meaning not just to provide but to completely cover or surround with spattering, daubing, foulness, clouds…
becalm, befuddle, bewilder, betroth, benight, besot - to cause to be in the state of calm, fuddlement, wilderness, being pledged in troth, night’s darkness, sottedness…
bewitch, bedevil, becat - to cause to be in a state of being covered or surrounded, indeed
beset, by witchery, devils, the cat…  (You will not find becat in the dictionary, but it is a word in common use in our household.  “Can you please hand me my book?  I can’t get up because I’m becatted.”)
        There are also words in which be- seems to make a verb transitive, as in
begrudge, belabor, bemoan, bewail - in which you grudge something, labor at something, moan or wail about something…
        But none of these seems to cover behead.  One theory is that the be- in behead is “privative.”  In other words, rather than meaning “to provide with,” in this case it means “to deprive of.”  Far be it from me to say that the busy be- prefix can’t have multiple and even seemingly contradictory meanings - certainly there are other prefixes that do.  But this one seems a little odd to me, as I can’t think of a single other case of such a meaning.  So another theory is that be- is an intensifier (see the post on disgruntled for more on another intensifier).  If we take be- as an intensifier, then the verb head can be taken to mean “to remove the head” and behead means “seriously, the head was totally removed.” (See the posts on contronyms and controphonic synonyms for other verbs used in this way.)  This seems plausible because there are other examples in which be- can be interpreted as an intensifier, including
betray, berate, betroth, behave, bewilder, bedazzle - consider that these mean completely dazzling, being utterly lost in the wilds, being pledged solely and thoroughly, and so on…
        However, the be- in all of these words could also be explained simply with its other meanings, so I don’t know.  I think behead remains a bit of a mystery.

[Pictures: Maria Antoinetta, Queen of France, engraving by anon. British artist (Image from Smithsonian Institution);
Napping Cat, reduction block print by Jane Grant Tentas (Image from her Etsy shop JGTentas).]

October 25, 2019

Cities of Dreams

        I’ve been on a bit of an architecture kick, perhaps as a reaction to all those imaginary creatures.  One recent piece is a real building, which I’ll share some other time, but here are a couple of others, just as imaginary as the creatures, but with a refreshing dose of geometry.  There’s no particular rhyme or reason to these cities; they’re really just doodles of whatever struck my fancy, but I’ll share a few of the things I was thinking about.
     1. Variety is the spice of life.  I was enjoying trying to throw in a little of everything, but especially towers: steeples, skyscrapers, minarets, turrets, spires, from different architectural styles of different times and places…
     2. We’re better together.  I didn’t want the buildings separate, each on their own; I wanted them to be connected so that imaginary people can easily go from one to the next, visit their neighbors, attend events in any building, and really consider the whole city their home…
     3. Grey is beautiful.  I don’t have pre-made grey ink, but mix it from black and white.  For each of these pieces I had printed another black block first, and then added white ink without cleaning the plate and brayer in between.  As I printed each edition and added more and more white as I went along, the grey got lighter and lighter.  I found that I quite liked the very pale grey, like a mist (or perhaps a smog, but hopefully not!), but I also liked the variations.  You could try to make a matched set, or choose to pair different shades to keep things interesting.
     4. Everything’s better with dirigibles.  I knew right away I wanted the dirigible in the second city, partly to add a contrasting horizontal shape and partly to add a steampunk vibe, but also as evidence of inhabitants and movement.  When disembarking from the dirigible, you can slide down the long chute to the lower levels.  Or perhaps it’s got an escalator inside for those who like things a little more sedate, which would also make it possible to get up the same way.  But of course you can also use the elevator in the docking building.
        In a real city I’d definitely want trees, parks, and lots and lots of rooftop gardens, but these blocks were all about the straight lines and stark contrasts.  A major inspiration for the idea was an installation at the Tate Modern in London this summer “by” artist Olafur Eliasson, in which visitors were provided with 1000 kilograms of white Legos and invited to contribute whatever they wanted to the “Cubic Structural Evolution Project.”  Many of the elements listed above were present in this collaborative art project: huge variety of unrelated architectural styles, ad hoc connections between structures, and monochromatic palette.  But no dirigibles.

[Pictures: City I, rubber block  print by AEGN, 2019;
City II, rubber block  print by AEGN, 2019;
T at Olafur Eliasson’s Cubic Structural Evolution Project, photo by AEGN, 2019.]

October 22, 2019

Here's Something Cool: Hobbit Holes

        Have you ever wanted your own hobbit-hole?  Of course you have, for that, as Tolkien says, means comfort.  And now you can - or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.  There’s a company in Maine (Wooden Wonders) that makes sheds with rounded roofs and round windows and doors.  They can be used as playhouses, tool sheds, chicken coops… These are already pretty cute, but what makes the possibility of really enticing a hobbit is that there is an option for a sod roof, so that you can landscape the whole thing to look like a tunnel into a hill.  And that’s Something Cool.
        There’s really nothing more to say.  How much analysis do you need?  But I include another picture that’s perhaps what you get when you cross hobbits with elves: no longer a hobbit hole, but equally magical.  How I would have loved either of these options as a playhouse when I was little!  And I would be more than happy to have either of them now as a shed or… No, who am I kidding?  I still want it as a playhouse.

[Pictures: photos of “Hobbit Holes” from Wooden Wonders.]

October 18, 2019

Cat and Dog Show

        This weekend I will be at Roslindale Open Studios, and everyone is invited!  I have spent the last two days trying to restock cards and other such bits and bobs, while doing battle with recalcitrant printers, but I think I’m in good shape now.  The car is mostly packed, and I’ll set off bright and early tomorrow to get set up before we open at eleven.
        Two weeks ago was another show, the first annual “Taste of Needham Open Studios.”  I’ve remarked before how amused I am when shows take on themes for me, and the theme of that last show was definitely Cats and Dogs.  Almost everything I sold was cats  and a few dogs: cat cards, cat bookplates, cat necklaces, my new cat magnets, and original prints of cats, dogs - and one honey bee.  Among those purchased were two of the edition of one of my pieces that had its debut there.  I had carved it over the summer during my classes, and printed it a little later, and this was the first show since.  The pattern on the paper bag was a bit of an experiment, since I was trying to get a medium value halfway between the black of the cat and the “white” of the paper.  Of course, I didn’t print on white paper, but instead used brown-paper-bag paper, to keep with the theme just for fun.  It’s not quite a mini-print, but it is quite small and inexpensive.
        We’ll see whether the strangely narrow felicentric theme continues tomorrow, or whether the love gets shared a little more widely in Roslindale!  Plus, this is the last weekend of "re/seeing HUMDRUM" a large exhibit at Gallery Twist in which I have four pieces showing.  It's a fun exhibit to see.

[Picture: Curiosity, rubber block print by AEGN, 2019 (sold out).]

October 15, 2019

Rainbows and Other Obstacles

        Here are some quirky bits of SFF from Austrian graphic artist Moriz Jung (1885-1915).  At some point I’d like to share some of his wood block prints, but until I can track down a few more images for those, these are lithographs.  They were designed as post cards for the Wiener Werkstätte, and you can see that Jung had a whimsical but slightly dark sense of humor.  His images of airplanes date from 1911, when airplane flight was still a novelty and a wonder… and still quite experimental and highly dangerous.  He clearly had a grand time letting his sci fi imagination play with the possibilities of this new technology and how it might fit into the world.  Imagine the airplane inadvertently discovering that the rainbow is in fact solid (as witnessed by a comical photographer), the airplane arrogating the divine role of Pegasus (aka the Aeroplegasus), the airplane allowing a man to reach the
lofty heights of the giraffes (and note that the pilot is an ape)… 

        Jung began designing postcards while himself a student at the Wiener Werkstätte in 1907, and these next two examples date from that period.  Even cars were still quite new and exciting in 1907, and you can see that this idea of cutting-edge technologies interacting in amusing ways with the rainbow was a recurring one for Jung.  Many of his ideas seem to me in the category of “tall tales,” which I think of as stories that include fantastical elements, but presented not as if they are caused by magic but rather as “plain facts.”  Of course they’re really humorous exaggerations and embroideries on
possibilities.  This last one is an excellent example of the type: “Variety Act Number 9: Aldo Mario Brasso, Artist of the Death Leap.”  I tried to look up whether Aldo Mario Brasso was a real person, and if so what sort of actual leaping he did, but I could find nothing.  Nor could I find anything about “Variety Act Number 11: Mac Bull of Philadelphia in His Frightful Loop-the-loop Ride in His Automobile.”  The text goes on to give the car brand as Crash, tire brand Burstish, and general representation for Austria as Vienna Carinthian.  (As Vienna is far from the Carinthian region, I assume this is a further joke.)  So I suppose that Jung must have made them up entirely.  I think he’s a lot of fun.
        Sadly, Jung was killed in World War I, like so many promising young men, so we cannot see what other wonderful things he might have imagined if he had had the chance.

[Pictures: Hindernis Regenbogen (Rainbow Obstacle), lithograph by Moriz Jung, 1911;
Der Aeroplegasus, lithograph by Jung, 1911;
Unblutige Jagd auf Giraffen (Bloodless Giraffe Hunt), lithograph by Jung, 1911;
Varietenummer 11: Mac Bull aus Philadelphia…lithograph by Jung, 1907;
Varietenummer 9: Aldo Mario Brasso, Todessprungkünstler, lithograph by Jung, 1907 (Images from The Met).]

October 11, 2019

The Grand Marhoot

        As of this morning 68% of my Kickstarter rewards are delivered or consigned to the post.  I’ve been going to the post office every day or two with 10-12 packages at a time, and am getting to be best buddies with Michael and Marc at my local post office.  I should be able to get all the rest of the packages on their way next week, so if yours hasn’t arrived yet, it won’t be too much longer.  And while you wait, let me tell you a bit about one of the most special creatures in the book…
        This is the Grand Marhoot.  The Grand Marhoot is, as the note in the book explains, “a particularly gentle, thoughtful creature who loves to be surrounded by books.”  She was requested by one of my most generous backers who suggested that I invent a creature inspired by a mutual friend of ours, who is herself an inspiration.  I placed the Grand Marhoot among books, which is how the real person has lived her entire life, as far as I know, with knitted wings to represent her own knitting and the knitted gifts bestowed on her by friends.  She is also shown laughing, because one of the things I find most endearing about her is that despite her increasing forgetfulness, rather than getting frustrated or angry she just laughs gently.  The timing of this print is meaningful, too, because she’s just had to move out of her apartment into assisted living, and her books have all had to be sorted, and packed up, and given away.  She seems to be resigning herself to this, too, but there’s no doubt that it's a difficult transition.
        As an art assignment, I’ve never done anything quite like this before: inventing a mythical creature inspired by a real person.  I hope it serves as a cheerful reminder of all the real person’s most lovable traits, and that we can indeed learn from her “that gentleness and laughter bring light wherever they rest.”
        By the way, “Grand Marhoot” is an anagram of the real person’s name, so extra credit points to anyone who can guess it!

[Picture: The Grand Marhoot, rubber block print by AEGN, from On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination, 2017.]

October 8, 2019

Walk to a Park

        October 10 is National Walk to a Park Day (not to be confused with National Take a Walk In a Park Day on March 30).  The point of this day is to highlight the importance of having  accessible parks, as measured by being within a ten minute walk of home.  Where I live we have one wooded natural park about 10 minutes away, plus two school playgrounds and some playing fields in other directions.  It is a rare day that I don’t walk through or past one of them, and we also have about 4 larger parks within a 5 minute drive.  To highlight the importance these parks have for me, today I’m sharing just a few of the many pieces I’ve made over the years based on photos or sketches taken at parks.
        We’ll start with a fern, commemorating the fact that I learned to identify dozens of species of ferns while walking through parks, and have always loved ferns.  This is a beech fern, which can be seen in parks and natural areas throughout the US and much of Canada.  It never fails to be lovely.
        I confess that I don’t remember whether this particular dragonfly was spotted in my own yard or at our nearby park.  For years I took my camera to the park and photographed dozens and dozens of dragonflies of all colors and patterns, as well as photographing them in my garden.  One (or more?) of those photos became the basis of this wood block print.  I also photographed all manner of other bugs, birds, plants, and flowers.  That was before I had a phone with camera, and if you have a phone camera with you all the time there’s really no excuse for failing to stop and admire all the small natural happenings that are busy at even the smallest, most urban park.
        Sometimes some of the nature even follows you home -- but hopefully not ticks!  I really hate ticks, even if they are part of Nature, but I am rather fond of cockleburs, which some people consider to be just as much of a pest.  I made this print as an X for my botanical alphabet, because the cocklebur’s scientific genus is xanthium, and I enjoy seeing them growing in more overgrown, meadowy parkland.
        Finally, one of my favorite denizens of our local park, the painted turtle.  I always look for them, especially on sunny days in the spring, and they never fail to cheer me up if I see them on their log poking out of the water.  Some of the reference photos for this print were actually taken at a couple of other parks in eastern Massachusetts that we visited at various times.  I especially love the ones with boardwalk paths that go through wetlands so that I can get a little closer into the turtles’ favored habitats.
        These are far from my only pieces inspired by parks.  I’ve done many wildflowers and birds, a frog, a bee, a grasshopper, park benches, and more.  The fact is that people need parks.  We need to be able to get amongst some plants, from grass, to flowers, to trees, and to feel bedrock and dirt underfoot.  It may seem like a minor thing, but it really is important that everyone have convenient access to local parks.  Think about it, walk to your local park on the 10th (or maybe on the weekend, if that’s when you get a chance), and be sure to speak up to save the parks you have, and create new ones for those who have none.

[Pictures: Broad Beech Fern, wood block print with chine collé by AEGN, 1997;
Dragonfly, wood block print by AEGN, 2006;
Cocklebur, rubber block print by AEGN, 2007;
Ten Turtles, rubber block print by AEGN, 2013 (sold out).]

October 1, 2019

Prints by Kentridge

        William Kentridge (South Africa, b. 1955) is one of South Africa’s biggest-name artists, famous for prints, drawings, and animated films.  His prints, however, are not generally relief prints, and thus I do not generally take much interest in his work!  I do have a few interesting things for you today, however.  First are two prints that are drypoint etchings, not relief prints.  The image is carved (or scratched) into the surface, but the ink is pushed down into those scratches,  wiped away from the raised areas, and then printed.  So, unlike a relief print, the lines that are carved print in black (ink) rather than white (no ink).  I find these interesting, though, because of the printing plates: old vinyl records.  This just goes to show once again that anything that can be carved can be printed.  I even snagged a couple of old records at the reuse-it shed at our town dump to experiment with what they might look like printed in relief, but I haven’t actually tried anything yet.  [Here is the piece I finally did.]  As for Kentridge’s prints, the cat is rather fun, and there does seem to be some sort of logical connection between a cat, scratching, a record, and making noise!  One other interesting note about these is that the record labels have printed with a sort of lithography effect, in which the ink clearly stuck to the paper of the label more than to the printed words on the label.
        While I’m at it, I will also offer you two linoleum block prints by Kentridge.  These are large scale, 7 and 8 feet tall, and must come across as quite monumental, although I have not seen them in person myself.  The man/tree is clearly uprooted, but I can’t tell you why the woman is a telephone!  They have a sort of fantasy transformation vibe, and I’m sorry to confess that I find them whimsical, although given Kentridge’s own statements about his work, they are undoubtedly intended to be about themes of loss, conflict, and oppression, and almost certainly not “whimsical”.  I like the contrast of the very bold, simple silhouettes against distant textured backgrounds.  As I mentioned, lino is an uncommon medium for Kentridge, but he clearly can use it to strong effect when he wants to!

[Pictures: Living Language (Cat), and Living Language (Panic Picnic), drypoints by William Kentridge, 1999 (photo by AEGN at the Davis Museum at Wellesley College);
Telephone Lady, linocut by Kentridge, 2000 (Image from David Krut Projects);
Walking Man, linocut by Kentridge, 2000 (Image from Art Gallery NSW).]