January 11, 2023

Alien Cities

         Today I have a few strange and alien cities to share with you.  In each case the artist’s style is radically different from anything I do, and yet in the first two cases I, too, have made a piece that I think reveals a bit of the same curiosity, fascination, and imagination at work.  First up is Toward the Sky by Yoshida Toshi (Japan, 1911-1995).  This has a wonderfully doodly 
sensibility, which reminds me of my own 
City I and City II (about which you can read more in prior post Cities of Dreams).  Yoshida’s piece has a playful vibe somewhere between mid-century atomic and psychedelic, which isn’t so surprising given that it was made in 1965.  At the same time, though, there’s a peaceful wistfulness about it, as the strange, towering structures stand all by themselves in a vast empty plain under a vast empty sky.  Do you think it’s sunrise or sunset?  Although the title doesn’t tell us where this city stands, I’m convinced it must be on an alien planet.  It’s also quite large for a block print, about two feet wide, which I think must make those open, luminous spaces even more dramatic, although I haven’t seen this in person.
        Next is a more abstract piece whose alien city designation comes more from the title than anything you might recognize at first glance.  Martian Worm Village is a relief block print by Alan Shields (USA, 1944-2005).  I love the suggestion of Martian worms making maps of their towns, complete with Martian symbols representing I don’t know what.  Do you have any idea what the different shapes and colors might mean?  Although it is visually and stylistically very different from my Symbiote City (about which you can read more in this prior post), still I think Shields and I were both fascinated by the idea of alien life forms going about their 
own alien lives, and how different their living spaces might be.  His are presumably underground while mine are up in the atmosphere, but I particularly love that I can imagine his being depicted by the Martian worms themselves, while mine is illustrated by an outside observer.
        In today’s final piece the alien city is just one element of a very surreal image by Marcel Molina (Cuba, b. 1987).  A person - if that’s what it is with a fingerprint for a face - reads some sort of magazine or newspaper.  On the back page are images like the icons for Olympic sports, but on the front is this view of a city with a huge figure atop a 
skyscraper like King Kong, and giant tentacles in the foreground like some alien or cthulu-monster.  What do any of these elements have to do with each other?  Where is this city?  Is it a disaster, or is this all perfectly normal for that city in that place?  The way the sky is portrayed as jags of light adds to a sense of doom, but you never know.  The block I’ve paired with this 
piece is not my own, but one made by a student in a summer class for children.  The difference in detail between wood engraving by a professional and rubber block print by a child is, of course, considerable, but I think both artists were inspired by the sense of dread and confusion of monstrous, uncontrollable forces.
        Do you imagine alien cities?  What do you think they’d be like?  Would you like to visit, or would you just as soon stay safely in more familiar places?

[Pictures: Toward the Sky, wood block print by Yoshida Toshi, 1965 (Image from Minneapolis Institute of Art);

City I and City II, rubber block prints by AEGN, 2019;

Martian Worm Village, color woodcut with stamp additions by Alan Shields, 1996 (Image from Kansas State Beach Museum of Art);

Symbiote City (Venusian Medusae), rubber block print by AEGN, 2020;

El diálogo, wood engraving by Marcel Molina, 2014 (Image from Universidad de Puerto Rico);

Kraken, rubber block print by PGN, 2015.]

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