Thursday, September 28, 2006


Last week the Citypaper asked me to write a little piece on something I'm interested in for them. I was totally flattered, of course, and I had a swell time pretending to be an ace reporter chasing down the story of the minute. Which wasn't really that hard, since my subject was a hundred-and-something year old stuffed bird who lives in a glass case. The piece came out today in their very shiny anniversary edition, and they ran the picture I took as well. I'm as smug as a bug in a smug rug.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Sans Fairy Ann

Yesterday while I was working on my new text piece Thom reminded me of one of my favorite people. Miclosch Smolnar. Michlosh Smolnar, according to his Lithuanian relatives, is the little man who lives in our skull. "Miclosch Smolnar sick upstairs," he says, in his grandfathers' mush mouthed accent.

Speaking of which, I was reading about the detainee protection act this morning and wanted to make sure I knew what a dog's breakfast was. I looked it up and got lost in a dictionary of phrases, which confirmed that the dog's breakfast was, in fact, a mess, but that the dog's dinner is what you are when you're all dressed up.

And if you take me to dinner and you have short arms and long pockets, then I guess I'm paying. And if the meal is bad enough we might say it is Sweet Fanny Adams. In which case we could do the technicolor yawn, and leave Sweet Fanny Adams for a tip.

Fanny Adams was a darling young lady who was murdered and chopped up in 1867. Sailors used her name to talk about their horrible meals, and everyone else used it to mean nothing, in the sense of nothing in ones' pockets. If you mean that something means nothing, you can say Sans Fairy Ann, which is a corruption of "c'est ne fait rien."

If you're sick of being a monkey's uncle, you might try these other expressions of amazement: "I'll go to the foot of our stairs", "strike me pink", "stone the crows" or "if that don't take the rag off the bush."

If you just want to get out of this backwater, this middle of nowhere, this back of beyond, and you're sure you're going someplace better, you can say 23 skidoo. There are lots of theories about how that phrase came about, but here's my favorite.

"23-skidoo" came from an expression that construction workers used while building the Flatiron Building on 23rd Street in N.Y.C. 23rd Street is one of the wider streets in New York that is like an uninterrupted wind-tunnel between the East and Hudson Rivers. Frequently, when one is walking north or south on the avenues and comes to such an intersection, they can experience a sudden blast of wind as soon as they pass the wall of a corner building. Apparently, when the workers sat on the sidewalk to eat their lunches, they would watch women's skirts blow up from the sudden gusts."

The phrase dictionary also has a list of funny minced oaths, which we know as Flanderisms, and mondegreens, which are misheard lyrics. Like "The ants are my friend, they're blowing in the wind..." and "The girl with colitis goes by..."

Friday, September 22, 2006

First Scratch-Offs, then the Nation...

Dr. Koza, the geneticist who invented the scratch off lottery ticket, has a plan to take down the electoral college. The man's a genius!

From today's NY Times...

“When people complain that it’s an end run,” Dr. Koza said, “I just tell them, ‘Hey, an end run is a legal play in football.’ ’’

The first fruit of his effort, a bill approved by the California legislature that would allocate the state’s 55 electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, sits on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk. The governor has to decide by Sept. 30 whether to sign it, a decision that may well determine whether Dr. Koza’s scheme takes flight or becomes another relic in the history of efforts to kill the Electoral College."

This would have prevented Bush in 2000 and the presidencies of those other monsters, Benjamin Harrison and Rutherford B. Hayes.

I'd love to pretend I know all about those two but of course I don't. Although I am a googling kind of girl. The real reason I'm looking them up, though, is that I want to know why Rutherford B. Hayes is always known as Rutherford B. Was it to distinguish him from that other Rutherford Hayes, the baby stabbing cad?

In case you don't know anything about Rutherford B. either, here's the deal. He was the last president to hold the office wearing a beard (further evidence that beards are sneaky) and the first one to visit California. He had close relatives named Sophia, Lorenzo, Sardis and Fanny, and his father, sadly, was Rutherford without an initial. Paraguayans love him. He was elected to congress without campaigning, and he almost became our first one-armed president when he was shot in the civil war. He was known as "Old Granny" and it was said about him that he was "a third rate nonentity, whose only recommendation is that he is obnoxious to no one." You can read other, less exciting facts about him here.

Benjamin Harrison, though, was the boring one.

The only exciting things about him are that he was called "Little Ben" and that he tried to get us Hawaii, but Grover Cleveland gave it back.

In other news, Congress decided yesterday not to gut the Geneva Conventions and the War Crimes Act. Which is great news, but, you know, the kind of great news where the bully gets sent home from school for a few days but not expelled.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Genius Next Friday

I don't have time to scan and post all my new drawings! I've done a few, though, as you can see. And I finished the laborious animal drawing that got me thinking about manatees and rock hyraxes all the time. I've tentatively titled the piece Not Properly Respecting Otherness.

Man. It's irritating to see a huge drawing ensmallened on the web. Here's a detail. There's a bigger image on my site.

I'm working on another large text piece right now- they're very slow, but they're satisfying when they're done. I spent all day today carefully lettering the words "It's Not That It's So Bad to be Declarative" and "Just Because I Was An Idiot Last Tuesday Does Not Mean I Won't Be A Genius Next Friday." The latter phrase was spoken by a rock hyrax with a long ratlike tail.

These pieces are all done on cream paper, but I'll be damned if I can get the color accurate on the web. These drawings don't reproduce fabulously well anyways because there's so much fine detail, but they have a weird nostalgic engraved quality that's fun to look at in person. I'm getting this effect by using carefully selected ballpoint pens in various specific states of disrepair that I use for particular kinds of lines, and I go insane if Thom borrows one I'm working with and just, you know, writes with it.

I'll post a bunch more new drawings soon. I've made a few nice insect visitation pieces that involve bugs with striking camoflaugue. In the meantime, check out the plaid wings on the bug in the top image.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The best painting in the world doesn't make you drool.

"The food arrives, it is described briefly — “waffles of sea lettuce and white sesame,” or “pumpkin oil caramel” — and you eat it.

Then your head explodes."

When I was in high school I went through an egg period. I would sit at lunch with a hard boiled egg and the remains of a carefully collected salad and distract myself when I lost interest in the conversation by making the egg serve as the body of a little bird with lettuce feathers and carrot feet. Or a little businessman with pants made of peppers and googly pea eyes. When I was done I'd cover my creation with a napkin and leave it sitting there in front of me until the moment came when I could most effectively whip off the napkin and reveal my egg Pygmalion to my friends. I was a sucker for their reaction, and I like to think that the egg man gained further adoration when I left him on my tray and sent him on his journey along the moving belt to the kitchen staff, who were beleaguered that year by another kid who had learned to turn a full glass of water upside down against a tray.*

There's a guy in the New York Times who I can imagine might have started out like I did. (And no, it's not that Play With Your Food guy. That guy irritates me. I could kick that guy's ass at a Denny's with no fork.)

This guy is like the best possible outcome of my egghead artistic impulse. His food is postmodern, witty, conceptual, technically astounding...

For instance...

"The olive is made by a process Mr. Adrià calls spherification, a result of three years of steady work with the goal of containing liquids in their own microthin skin. Thus it is olive juice — puréed olive, strained and formed into an olive shape — that holds itself together just until you press it between your tongue and palate.

What else is there? The olive in yet another guise: a silvery coiled spring of salted olive oil, looking like a mini-Slinky and as crunchy as a hard candy, which it effectively is. Also, a thin, brittle basket of solidified passion fruit juice, filled with the essence of tangerine, as floral as a basket of lilies; a bed of savory pine nut ice cream topped with the liquid of nascent pine nuts (a result, in part, of the work of 20 or 30 members of the kitchen staff who spend 30 minutes or more in the morning, cleaning freshly gathered local pine cones); the Parmesan snow, served in a stylishly wrapped plastic-foam box — the better to keep it cold — and topped with, of all things, muesli with dried fruits; a frozen sugar eggshell filled with crunchy coconut and ice cream flavored with the wood from barrels used to make bourbon; and about 25 others."

I so want to go to Barcelona to pay $250 for dinner.


* The upside down cup on the tray was an amazing trick, and it really caught on in my year. The deal was to grab a cup of water and flip it so quickly that you had time to smash the cup down on the tray before the water fell out of the cup. If you did it right the cup would sit there, stuck to the tray like something out of the Guinness Book of World Records. If not, well, you got a full cup of water all over yourself.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Capturing the Present in the Past's Clubhouse

This Saturday morning at 9:30 I hauled my insufficiently caffienated butt up the stairs of the Philadelphia Sketch Club. The club is housed in a beautiful old building in an alley midway between City Hall and my house. There's a great little sign and a website that says that members of the public are invited to open figure drawing sessions. I checked the website more than once: it's one of those places that looks like it's only open to men with cigars.

The club was founded in 1860. It has lots of famous alums, notably Thomas Eakins, who taught there until he ripped the loincloth off a male model in front of a female student, which got him banned from Sketch Club, the Pennsylvania Academy, and Drexel University.

Look at him laughing.

My mother and some other artist friends of hers do figure drawing at her printmaking studio in Texas every Sunday afternoon. I often wish I spent Sundays drawing with my mom, but that not being quite within the budget, I bought myself one of those dopey masonite boards and a big pad of unprecious paper and arrived at the club with charcoal stuffed into the least probable pocket of my cargo pants. The door was just barely open. I went in and climbed up some stairs, charcoal banging on my ankle, to the second floor. Once I was at the top of the stairs I was sure I was in the right place. The place looks like it's right out of the 18th century, but that's not too far from what any drawing studio looks like today.

There were easels all over the place, about ten other sleepy people setting up their sketchpads, and tea. The walls were plastered with framed art that seems to have been selected according to some mysterious standard - it's not inconcievable that this was the "Artists whose names start with P" exhibit. There were a bunch of pleasant looking women sipping tea and waiting for the model to show up and a man who was dropping the names of 19th century artists like they were shiny pennies. A member of the club gave me free graphite leads in a sweetly ribboned box, just for showing up.

We started drawing and I felt like the tin woodman coming to life. I'd forgotten how to use charcoal, to draw on an easel, and to see human proportions. Last year I did a lot of drawing at the zoo, which has paid off in my drawing hand, but monkey drawing, it turns out, is a lot easier than people drawing, because when you're drawing a weird looking monkey foot you think, "Monkey feet are really weird" and draw what you see, and when you see a weird angle of a human foot you say, "That can't be right" and mess up your drawing. It was tremendously difficult. And interesting, and addictive, and eternal.

There is something great about the fact that from 9:30 to 12:30 on Saturdays, a bunch of people show up and try to figure out how to draw a nose. They've been doing it for over a hundred years in that same room.

I'm not sure what figure drawing has to do with my art, but I'm going to keep at it. It feels vital- in the sense that it feels like life, like it's healthy, like it's basic. It's trying, for three hours, to commemmorate the face of a stranger who is sitting still in front of you. It's trying to make something that looks like what your hands and eyes are doing right now, in this place.

It strikes me as like action painting, but in a funny way, as more honest than action painting. There's still a quick formal dialogue with the materials, but there's an acknowledgement of the outside world. It's working in the in-between place of Cezanne, where it's not all your intention and your forethought- it's your hand and your eye and your skill in a limited time frame. Which is not to say that it's all about what's in front of you, but it's a lot more about what's in front of me than what I usually paint.

Figure drawing pushes one into the present. And I'm not sure there's any better place to be in the present, failing to get the eyes right because they've moved since you last drew them than in Eakins' old rooms, ...