Sunday, July 20, 2008

Animation News

I'm a huge animation fan. Some of my all-time favorite movies and tv shows are animated, and there's always a couple of cartoons on my Tivo's to do list. This weekend saw a couple of animation related events that I'm excited about.

First, here's the trailer for Ponyo On The Cliff, the latest film by Hayao Miyazaki, which opened this weekend in Japan.

I'm a huge fan of Miyazaki's work, his Studio Ghibli is arguably making the best animation in the world right now (OK, maybe it's tied with Pixar). If you haven't seen any of Miyazaki's work, drop everything, run to your nearest video store, and rent a copy of Spirited Away. Ponyo On The Cliff looks like another great film. I haven't heard when it will be released in the USA, but I'm hoping it won't be too long.

As long as I'm on the subject of animation, the final episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender aired this weekend on the cable channel Nickelodeon. I was out of town, and didn't catch them, but I have them on my Tivo and will finish them soon.

I must admit I'm a total Avatar fanboy. I could go on at length (and have, just ask my friends), but let me just say that it's no hyperbole that Avatar: The Last Airbender is the best animated series in at least a decade, and will likely be considered one of the best animated shows of all time. Trust me, it's that good. I wouldn't have named this blog after it otherwise!

If you haven't seen this show, I can't recommend it highly enough. The animation, writing, and art direction are of a quality rarely attempted in a children's cartoon program. Even the music is exceptional (I'm hoping for a soundtrack cd). Start with the first season, and watch the episodes in order. The story builds over the three seasons, and some of the characters go through significant development as the series progresses.
Avatar wasn't cancelled, by the way. It was planned from the beginning as a three season series with a finite number of episodes.

One more thing: If you haven't yet, go see Wall-E. It's excellent.

Friday, July 11, 2008

From The Archives II

I have a couple of gum bichromate prints nearly finished (I’m hoping to print the final layer today). I’m pretty sure they won’t turn out well, which has been the case with all the gum prints I’m attempting this summer. I have a few more images I’m working on, but they are still in the digital stage, and haven’t even been printed as negatives yet.

With work progressing slowly, it seems like a good time for the second installment of From the Archives, wherein I post an old piece of work and write some comments about how it was made and what I was thinking about (you can read the first installment here.

Altarpiece was made in the fall of 1996. It’s the first piece I made while in graduate school at Cranbrook Academy of Art (technically, it’s a revision of that piece. When first made, it was prints only, I didn't have the bowling ball and pins yet). While it looks like a first graduate school piece (it’s a little overambitious, and could have been thought through a little better), I still really like the piece. It’s one of the few times I’ve ventured into installation-type work, which I appreciate, but don’t feel very compelled to produce. It’s also funny, and the humor in the piece seems natural and isn’t forced.

Here’s a short statement I wrote after completing the piece:
Altarpiece unites the iconography of two very different American cultural institutions, religion and sports. Bowling is the quintessential American sport, being a pastime for the masses and recreation for the non-fit and non-elite. The imposition of bowling imagery onto the basic triptych form of an altarpiece comments on the fervor and passion felt for sports in general and also on the elevation of sports in our culture to an almost religious station.
Altarpiece is a mixed-media work, combining hand-colored black and white photographs with gold leaf, a wooden pedestal, bowling ball, and bowling pins. The negatives used to print the photographs were created digitally from various appropriated and original source images.

The digital negatives made for Altarpiece aren’t like the ones I make now for alternative process photography. Back in 1996, inkjet printers did not lay down enough ink to make a useable negative. For this project, I had to take my digital files to a commercial printer and have 4X5 transparencies made (at about $15 each). I used those transparencies to print real photographs. The images came from a book on bowling instruction, and a history of altarpieces checked out of Cranbrook’s library. The photo of the bowling trophy I took myself (see below).

I’ll finish with a couple anecdotal stories about gathering the bowling paraphernalia.
I needed a bowling trophy to photograph for the center panel, and couldn't find one anywhere. At the time, my sister was living across the street from a thrift store in Chicago, and went there to look for one. She misunderstood what I needed, and ended up buying about 15 bowling trophies that happened to be in the store. I used them to decorate my studio at school, and all year long, people thought I was a bowling fanatic. I kept the one I used for the center panel (It’s still in my studio, on top of a bookcase), but I don’t know what happened to the rest of them. They’re probably still decorating student studios at Cranbrook.
I also had trouble finding a bowling ball (I didn’t want to spend money on a new one), but a friend at school said she would bring one back when she went home for the holidays. Turns out, home was Fresno, CA, and the purple bowling ball (in a tacky baby-blue case) was her carryon luggage for the flight back to Michigan. I wonder if you could carry a bowling ball onto a plane today with all the ridiculous new ‘security’ measures?

Altarpiece won a juror award at an exhibit titled Myth America at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, MI in 1997. I also exhibited it at the annual faculty art exhibit at Moraine Valley Community College in 2006 (the show’s theme was showing older work alongside current work), where it received many interesting comments.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Road Trip To Milwaukee

If you read the last post, you'll know that I'm busy with home remodeling this summer. Not so busy that I can't take a couple of weekend trips, however, and one of those weekenders is going to be to Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Art Museum has two exhibits this summer that look really interesting. Gilbert & George are a British art (and life) partnership that make immense, brightly colored photo mosaic/collage pieces with provocative content. Some of their work is really great, and it's all worth seeing.
The Sensory Overload exhibit of Kinetic and Op art looks interesting as well. Both exhibits look infinitely more interesting than the Jeff Koons show at the Museum of Contemporary Art here in Chicago.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Return Of The Son Of Bookmarks Strike Again Part IV

I haven't done much with my gum prints in progress for the past few days. I haven't been terribly motivated, to be honest, after getting crappy results every time I try lately. I'm also busy with other (non-art) things.

We're adding a bathroom to the house, to replace a tiny one off of the kitchen that will eventually become a pantry. I've been to more tile stores, bath fixture shops, and Home Depots in the past couple of weeks than I'd like, and I'm not done yet. Part of that project will be adding a darkroom to my basement, which is great, but the construction is likely to shut down my basement workspace (and the ability to print) for a couple of weeks.

It's not all been tedious trips to look at sinks and toilets. An old friend from college, whom I haven't seen for ten years, passed through Chicago while taking the Amtrak to visit relatives in Michigan. I met her at Union Station downtown last week (her train was over five hours late-mass transit really sucks in the US), and again yesterday when she was making her return trip to South Carolina.
I have friends coming into town for July 4th weekend as well, which will be fun, but I won't be doing much in the studio while they are here.

So, here's more of the bookmarks I've been making and selling on I've actually been selling a few-right after my last post, someone bought four of them. I've got a few more ready to print, but probably won't do so for a little while.