Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Work of Art in the Age of My Cell Phone

Sunday's New York Times magazine had an interesting article about museums making digital versions of masterpieces. The article turned on the idea of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts' new fund raising idea: they sell little images of their artworks as cell phone wallpapers. I thought it sounded pretty cheesy when I read about it, but then I went to the site and saw this image.

Oni at a Barbershop from the series The Popularization of Civilization
Kitazawa Rakuten

Late Meiji era, 1905
Color lithograph; ink on card stock
Overall: 8.8 x 13.8 cm (3 7/16 x 5 7/16 in.)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Leonard A. Lauder Collection of Japanese Postcards

I want it. And it's not the only one I want, to tell the truth- there are lots of nice ones, and I want them all. It turns out I have no problem with having a tiny digitized masterpiece on my cellphone.

I don't feel as sanguine about the other example of masterpiece digitization cited in the article. The image in question, The Last Supper, is one that I've never seen outside of a reproduction in any case, but this latest reproduction has gone too far. There is a website that shows DaVinci's Last Supper in amazing fly-eye-view high resolution: one can zoom in to an astounding degree and see individual paint flakes. It's fun, but it definitely offends the original. But that's because of the music. Check it out.

Rakuten Kitazawa, who made the image that I need for my cell phone, is called the father of anime. He was an early cartoonist in Japan who, among other things, worked for an American comic magazine called "Box of Curious." You can read more about him here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I recently posted a new drawing, Suspense, on my website. It's going to Aqua Art Miami with Gallery Joe this December.

There are details on the site that show the way the images play with the idea of narrative suspense, but it's better if you can see the piece in person. There is a plot that flows through the large S that involves insects, birds, childbirth, water, falling objects and people I know.

These little arrows at the end of the S say "Narrative", "Rhythm" and "Symmetry."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mr. Fruit Face

The New York Times today has a lovely slideshow of Giuseppe Arcimboldo's work, which is on exhibit at the Luxembourg Museum in Paris.

From the article:

"Mr. Fruit Face, as a friend of mine disdainfully calls him, has always been a guaranteed hit with the Transformer-age crowd. But his art is more serious and self-important than that. You can imagine him to have been the sort of initially jocular, learned dinner party companion whose arrogance makes itself known by the salad course. That he inspired thousands of appalling 20th-century Surrealists, apparently shocked at the genius of conceiving a gherkin to replace a nose, or a rose a cheek, isn’t his fault."

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Maira Kalman

This week the New York Times made its special "Times Select" features available to everyone for free. So now people can see Maira Kalman's monthly illustrated columns on the web. Check them out!

Monday, September 10, 2007

All work and no play makes Monkey Fur a dull blog?

Oh, Finland. This weekend the Finns hosted the finals of the International Air Guitar contest. My favorite was last year's defending champion. But he came in second.

The french guy, "Moshe Pitt" (pronounced "Moe-she Peet") won. Maybe because his routine featured a really spectacular ending. Which you can see here.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Our little human lives

“Why does anybody tell a story?” Ms. L’Engle once asked, even though she knew the answer.

“It does indeed have something to do with faith,” she said, “faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.”

Dang. Madeline L'Engle died. She was one of my favorites when I was growing up. The quote is from a New York Times Article about her.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Sense of Scale

I just posted a new piece on the website: it's a drawing called Scale.

You can see the piece larger on my website here, and if you scroll down on that page it will take you through some details that show more of the text, which can get pretty tiny.

The little person in the banner is a self portrait.

The leaning skeleton and the following images function as letters. I'm hoping people get it. (Do you get it? Can you read the word between "what" and "me"?)

While I was trying to find reference material for this piece I came across lots of interesting odds and ends that I didn't use in the text of the piece.

I learned a great deal about dragonfly eyes. They're amazing. The most complicated eyes in the world, apparently, and they give the insects nearly 360 degree vision. They're also very beautiful.

This is the "Female Beautiful Demoiselle" (aka Calopteryx virgo) from the Dragons and Damsels blog . (You can see more here.) I love that blog, and am excited every time there's a new post. I got the reference image for the giant dragonfly image from that site.

I learned about the dragonfly eyes from a very long winded website that turned out to be devoted to the idea that dragonflies, because they are so amazing, are living arguments for creationism.

They are pretty fabulous. They can fly 65 mph and stop on a dime, they move in a peculiarly efficient fashion, and they've been around for thousands of years. Evolution, according to that site, was just not up to the dragonfly. (Although the military, according to the same site, was. Apparently helicopters are based on dragonfly flight research.)

I also wanted to get some morning glory facts.
I remembered reading somewhere that Charles Darwin had observed the twining of a morning glory from his sickbed, and while I was trying to find that reference I came across some work he did on self-fertilized morning glories. Most of his self-fertilized morning glory plants failed, but one, which was a sixth generation plant, grew taller than the others and produced strong, tough offspring. He named it "Hero" and referred to it as such in the transcripts of his work.

I never did find the sickbed reference, but I remember that Darwin and his son timed the average time it takes a morning glory to rotate around a support. It's fast.
Morning glories grow outside my studio window and I often watch them move while I'm working. The tops of the plants are like little snake heads that twirl around until they reach a support that will sustain them.

If one sits in one place long enough to watch one twine around a support one gets the idea that the plant is making choices. They do seem to try to avoid twining around their own vines, and they always turn clockwise, which can give a group of them the air of all looking at the same thing at the same time. They seem, as I wrote in the piece, to be moving just slowly enough that one could catch them at it.

Here's how that thought looked in the piece.

Notice the bug eyes.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Ink reviews

I just got back from a trip to Canada. While I was away I got the news that some lovely person bought my Spring piece and that the Ink exhibition at Gallery Joe was written up in lots of Philadelphia newspapers! Reviews of the show were written by Edith Newhall at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Lori Hill of the Philadelphia City Paper, and Roberta Fallon in the Philadelphia Weekly and on artblog. Too cool.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How! How!

The Megatherium Club, circa 1850s. From the Smithsonian Institute Archives.

Members of the Megatherium Club greeted each other by shouting "How! How!" This, besides being pretty fun, was supposed to be the cry of the ancient megatherium, below.

The megatherium was a prehistoric giant sloth that was about as big as a modern elephant. Members of the Megatherium Club were also big on serenading the ladies, which one hopes was also based on the behavior of the ancient animal.

According to the New York Times, indigenous people in the amazon jungles say that the giant sloth a) still exists b) prefers to be referred to as the "mapinguary" and c) smells really terrible.

The article emphasizes the mythological hoo-doo aspect of these assertions until you get to the very end, where the continued existence of the megatherium begins to seem rather credible.

Megatherium skeleton sterograph from the British Museum, 1857

I think I'm going to put a megatherium in my new drawing, and I wish I could put one in my back yard. Although they might not be so great for the landscape.

When one searches the internet for images of the megatherium one comes up with an inordinate number of attacks on innocent trees.

Megatherium by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1889) from Johnsons Natural History, 1871 United States

And occasionally worse.

I have no idea what's going on in this image, but that's a megatherium skeleton, and I assume the bikini girl has something to do with the serenade.

As interesting as megatheriums are, what I really like is looking at images of them on the internet. The megatherium seems to have developed its own peculiar pictorial traditions over the years. In the 19th century images they have pointy noses and attack trees.

Megatherium by Joseph Smit (1836-1929) from Extinct Monsters 1892 England

In the modern era the nose has shunk, the hair is hairier and the settings are pure technicolor.

(This image is fantastic, and it's even better when it's huge.)

I did find one atypical visual incarnation of the giant sloth from an Italian webpage full of fantastic paintings that deal with evolution. This image makes the megatherium look less like a fierce twenty-first century yeti-rat than a gentle giant.

Who, perhaps, has just finished serenading his armadillo, and is now wondering,"Why? Why?"

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Ink at Gallery Joe

Last night was the opening for Ink, the summer group show I'm in at Gallery Joe. The place was packed, and it was great to see so many people who I like at the opening. There is some beautiful work in the gallery right now.

I especially like this little piece by Roland Flexner.

While I was at the opening I talked about rapidographs with Astrid Bowlby while I looked at one of her fabulous obsessive drawings, and then I moved over to look at another piece and found myself reading the text of a conversation about pens. "Is that a rapidograph?" I read. It was drawn in a cartoon speech bubble on the last page of a huge accordion book that was full of text and partial sketches that were done by an artist I wasn't familiar with.

It turns out that the book is one of many that Martin Wilner made while he recorded conversations he hears on the public transportation in New York. Martin has volumes and volumes of transit drawings. The one I saw is, I think, number 134. Collectively, they're called The Journal of Evidence Weekly.

I asked him about the problems of drawing in public and he said modestly that he has figured out how to be unobtrusive and that he hasn't been hassled for years. At least not in the last seven years, he added. Before that, he said...(insert gruesome story here.)

His work is amazing. You can see pictures of other journals in the project here, but it's much better to check out the piece in person at Gallery Joe if you get a chance. There is tons of lovely stuff on view- it's a swelligant show. The exhibition is up until July 28th.

Journal of Evidence Weekly Vol. 127.

In addition to seeing lots of nice people and experiencing an odd pen coincidence at the opening, I found out that Lori Hill of the Philadelphia City Paper said nice things about my work in her preview of the exhibition. Which is always swell.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Thanks Liberta!

Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosoff complimented my Possesions piece on artblog! Neat!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Upcoming show details

The following is the press release for a group show I'm in at Gallery Joe in Philadelphia next month. I have two pieces in the show, Spring, which I just wrote about, and Possessions, which is pictured below on the press release. Come to the opening if you're in town!

Samantha Simpson, Possessions, 2007, Ball point pen on paper, 24 x 18 inches

June 22, 2007


Philadelphia, PA—Gallery Joe will open INK!, this year’s summer group show curated by Sarah Holloran, on First Friday, July 6. There will be an opening reception on Friday evening from 6 – 8 pm, and the show will continue through July 28.

Eleven artists will exhibit ink drawings in the show. All of these artists have selected ink as their primary medium drastically shifting away from its previous associations with preparatory work or the banal markings of our everyday lists. From the calligraphic washes of Gil Kerlin’s work, to the intimate books of Sharyn O’Mara and Martin Wilner, to the miniaturized markings of Jacob El Hanani. Roland Flexner’s work even appears to float across the surface of the page, while Samantha Simpson employs a ballpoint pen to create elaborate drawings that integrate text and imaginative illustrations of nature and figures. Ink takes on many colors, forms, and even textures in this show.

Artists exhibiting include:

William Anastasi
Astrid Bowlby
Emily Brown
Jacob El Hanani
Roland Flexner
Simon Frost
Gil Kerlin
Linn Meyers
Sharyn O’Mara
Samantha Simpson
Martin Wilner

INK! will run from July 6 – July 28, 2007. The gallery will be closed in August.

For additional information or to schedule an appointment, contact Sarah Holloran, 215.592.7752, FAX 215.238.6923, or email

Friday, June 15, 2007

Farewell painting, sucks to you!

Samuel Morse worked on this painting of his daughter Susan WHILE he was inventing Morse code. It was his last painting; he had decided to give up art in favor of inventing because it looked like the pay might be better.

These ancient painters are so inspiring. I think I'll spend my spare time cloning stuff.

(You can read more about this painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; it's their artwork of the day. The Met's front page features a new piece from their collection every day, so it makes a swell home page for art weenies like me.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


I just finished a new piece, Spring, that is going to be in a summer group show at Gallery Joe. If you're in Philadelphia, stop by the opening on first Friday, July 6th.

Another piece that I've written about on this blog, Possessions, will also be included in the exhibition.

Spring is up on my website here if you want to take a closer look.

I like this piece, not least because I think it includes my best skeleton ever.

Who, incidentally, is getting up to no good with the very same ballpoint pens that I use to make these drawings..

The piece includes references to the stuff that's happening right outside my studio window lately: there are raspberry leaves, morning glories, bees, wasps and irises. This iris lasted for exactly as long as I needed to get it in the drawing.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Clara the rhino

Today's New York Times has an article about the restoration of a painting of Clara, a world famous rhinoceros who toured Europe in the 1700s.

Clara, by Jean Baptiste Oudry

The painting is at the Getty Museum, and it shows a life sized Clara looking newly dapper after languishing for years in the basement of the Staatliches Museum in Holland.

(The article mentions that the conservator wore a tie the whole time he was working on the painting.)

Clara the rhinoceros was adopted by a director of the Dutch East India Company, Jan Sichterman, when she was one month old. Clara was described as a "hideous animal of the female gender" but Sichterman, who raised her after her mother had been killed by hunters, let Clara move freely around his house- she navigated around the furniture without a problem and ate her food from a plate.

When she got too big for the house, she was sold to Douwemout Van der Meer, a 36 year old sea captain who hoped to make a living exhibiting her around the world. It's important to note that at this time- Clara was sold in 1741- the rhino was a very exotic animal.

The rhino was classed as a semi-mythological beast. In bestiaries in the 1500s it was confused with the unicorn, which was called the monocerous. People in Europe had heard of them, but weren't sure they really existed. This is the first known image of a rhino- it was published in 1515 in Lisbon, where a live rhino had arrived by ship eight weeks earlier.

Durer's famous rhino is a woodcut made in the same year from written descriptions of the Lisbon rhino, which accounts for its relative accuracy- but check out the horn on its back.

Durer drew this rhino too- it's much more feral looking.

The horn on its back was part of the mythology about rhinos, as was the fact, promulgated by Pliny the Elder in 23 CE, that the rhino was deadly enemy of the elephant, which it was said to gore with its horn.

The Lisbon rhino from 1515 was a gift for a pope. Before he got to the pope he spent time in the menagerie of a king who happened to have an albino elephant on hand. The king wanted to test Pliny's theory, so he set the rhino and the elephant up for a showdown. The elephant, terrified, turned tail and ran. The elephant's name was Hanno.

Woodcut of Hanno on pamphlet by Philomathes (Rome, c. 1514)

The Lisbon rhino died in a shipwreck off the coast of Italy. There were other attempts to give rhinos to European royalty but the difficulty of getting them across the ocean alive made them pretty rare. If you're interested in the history of rhino migration to Europe until 1515 (I know I am!) you can check out a detailed history here.

Clara was to become a far more successful traveler. Captain Van der Meer sailed with Clara from Calcutta to Rotterdam, keeping her skin from drying out by slathering her with fish oil and feeding her what he correctly estimated as her daily nutritional requirement of 150 pounds of vegetable matter a day. He did very well exhibiting her across Europe. Empress Maria Teresa, of the royal family of the Holy Roman Empire, was particularly fond of her private audiences with Clara.

Captain Van der Meer became Baron Van der Meer. He not only exhibited Clara, but did a swift trade in Clara souvenirs, which were proudly displayed by members of the nobility and the general public who had been fortunate enough to see Clara. Here she is in Vienna in a 1746 engraving by Elias Baeck.

One year later Mannheim made this image of Clara, das Nashorn . Note that Clara, despite her tolerance for Empress Maria Teresa, is fiercely goring an elephant in the background. Click here to see a bigger image.)

Poems and songs were written about Clara, french naval boats were named after her (Rhinocéros, not Clara) and in Paris men could have their wigs styled à la rhinocéros.

She even made it into anatomy books.

Clara the rhinoceros (1742)
Engraving by Jan Wandelaar for Bernhard Siegfried Albinus' book: Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani. Printed in Leyden by James and Henry Verbeek, 1747.

Eventually Clara made it to Rome, where she either rubbed off her horn or it was removed. In any case it didn't stop her from being painted, this time by Pietro Longhi in 1751.

She continued to travel around Europe until she ended up in London, where she died at around 20 years old.

Jean Goujon: Obelisk

There's more about Clara in a recent Chicago Sun Times Article, and I got a lot of my information from Wikipedia. There's also a book I'm going to have to get, Clara's Grand Tour, by Glynis Ridley. While I was researching Clara I came across another famous rhino, Cornelius the first, who ran for a seat in the Canadian House of Commons in 1965. If anyone can tell me more about Cornelius I'll be very happy.