Sunday, June 16, 2013

Superman "Man of Steel"

The “Man of Steel” has been around for many, many extravagant, entertaining and extraordinary years certainly longer than you or I. He was originally conceived by teen agers Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938. Within his unique history he has been envisioned in every possible medium since his comic book birth; radio, theatre, novels, games, toys, music, television and film. He is certainly the stuff of legend both as a character and as a production icon of society. Ask anyone if they remember being introduced to Superman and overwhelmingly people will answer that they can’t recall “The Man of Steel” as a new concept. We learn about Superman as we learn of language itself. With so much history and saturation into the American psyche and hearts it is next to impossible to change or revamp the temperament and tone of the character for our contemporary times. Batman his partner, foil and diametric opposite is much more flexible for rewrites and reworks. Spiderman, Dare Devil, Iron Man and even Hell Boy are crafted for our dystopian modern existence. Superman; the “Grand-Daddy” of them all is in most ways just that; the “Grand-Dadd
As Superman is known there are some definite things that he can do such as to leap a tall building in a single bound (it would take the rest of us at least three or four bounds.) He is faster than a speeding bullet (there are benefits to this ability; ask just about anyone.) He is more powerful than a locomotive (this refers to a train; something most Americans under the age of thirty probably have never heard of.)  Now; there are also some things that he cannot do. He cannot and has no right to doubt himself. When you can fly purely as a result of your own will power, bend steel in your bare hands, see through walls etc. you do not have any time or reason for petty insecurities. When using said powers you cannot do anything wrong. This means any selfish thing or anything that hurts anyone else (even the bad guy or gal.) You’re the opposite of the baddie and that‘s what makes you the hero; not your powers.   


“Man of Steel” opened this weekend in theatres across the country and world-wide. The reviews are mixed; the consensus at this point is “Man of Steel” is at best a descent effort but nothing special. This is the fourth big screen incarnation for Superman. Christopher Reeves set an impossibly high bar for anyone to reach in the Donner films. They will never be surpassed. Reeves personified Superman on screen and he proved to have an amazing amount of courage and resilience in real life. Reeves was an inspiration. This new film comes to us over blown, dark and repetitive. These days the source materials for the super hero “Block-Busters” are known as Graphic Novels. Originally the book’s genre was classified and considered Comic or Funny Books. There has to be a sense of humor; a joyfulness in the equation for anything relating to a comic book creation like Superman, again he is the original. Superman doesn’t need to imitate the kids. He only needs to be himself.      

                                                 All Images of Superman by the Stellar Alex Ross

Sunday, June 9, 2013

"The Greedy Child"

Mrs. Wonderley was everything her name suggested. She was joyful, energetic, vibrant…she taught with a passion and love of the thing; Art. Her knowledge of the subject ran deep. Art’s history, movements and techniques were all introduced to her students. Her classes ranged from pottery to macramé and from mixed-medium to painting, drawing and graphics. Mrs. Wonderley taught from her head but she taught mostly from her heart and love. Her gift to us was a richer understanding and meaning to what art was and could be. She inspired and was wonderful!
The methods of teaching she choose were tried and true and from the respected scientific laws of seeing. Drawings from plaster models and life were done in her art room as we learned the importance of symmetry, perspective, form and composition. There was little she missed but one of the simplest and yet most extraordinary things she did was after instruction and background on our assignments she would jump in and do her own version of the topic. There was no competition in this but she knew as did Leonardo that working with a superior more experienced artist would only make us better. The reality is that she truly enjoyed expressing herself as she continued her own learning and artistic growth. At these times she would most often create originals but copies would sometimes be her choice of expression, depending on her whim. 
On one occasion as we students worked on assignment Mrs. Wonderley chose to copy something from Picasso’s Blue Period, “The Greedy Child.” To see her copying as a drawing this master piece of 20th century painting, this modernist marvel from a master’s hand was a thing of beauty onto itself.  She worked with a relaxed diligence that showcased her talent and ability to see and reproduce both the detail, depth of feeling and nuance of the original. It was impossible to discern any real difference between the graphic structure of the image she copied from and the image we saw unfold on Mrs. Wonderley’s paper. Her choice to copy “The Greedy Child” would increase my admiration for my teacher as well as for the masterful, Pablo Picasso.
Forty years later while walking, relaxing, passing through the National Gallery in Washington, DC my grandchildren and I would stop to sit before a work from the museum’s permanent collection. This was an opportunity to study and further enjoy a painting of beauty, worthy of deeper reflection. It was a gift of sort from me to them. I felt something wholly unique and special as we look at the miraculous, this original work of art “The Greedy Child.” I thought about Mrs. Wonderley and as we looked; the wheel turned. Within this rarest of moments I somehow knew the essence and meaning of art.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Bitches Brew

There was a time when music was saved or recorded onto vinyl discs; the discs were packaged and sold in wrappings that were decorated as works of art. Artist including Andy Warhol, Frank Frazetta, Salvador Dali and Roger Dean would be commissioned and their works reproduced for these designs. One of the most radical and innovative works of cover art was for a new music by musician Miles Davis. The Davis recording of what he referenced as “New Directions in Music” was titled “Bitches Brew.” It was a landmark and pivotal work in that it changed perceptions of the nature of music itself; particularly Jazz. What the music really was is still being argued. The cover art was by artist Mati Klarwein. He would produce several famous works for recording artists/performers like Miles including an incredible rendition of “The Annunciation” that Carlos Santana would see and use for his opus; “Abraxas.”

The cover for “Bitches Brew” was a painting somewhat surreal in nature featuring an African couple; lovers, standing on a beach gazing at a stormy sea and beyond into infinity. To the left of the couple is a flower erupting in flame as it begins to ignite the woman’s hair filling the sky with smoke. Above the couple to their left is an extreme close up of another African profile with large beads of sweat strategically placed adding intensity to the portrait. The cover wraps around to the back and becomes a sort of a mirror/reversal of the front. The large dark tone face morphs into pink or extremely lighted skin on the back. The images of the facial profiles snake into two joined hands; one black the other white which could be seen as a form of commonality and unity reflected in humanity even with the obvious differences in skin hue. The stars of night subtly illumine the darkness of the reversed back cover. A figure seemingly in a fit of rage or pain grimaces.  A woman of resolve or quiet hope rounds out the composition as we are left to ponder.

Klarwein's original piece for “Bitches Brew” was much admired and sought out by Miles but he was unable to acquire the piece. It would have been an amazing addition to Davis’ art collection but it was not meant to be. Miles was himself a water color and pen & ink artist. His tastes ran from fine sculpture to French and European graphic novels.   

Davis and Klarwein were immensely creative.  Their admirers were and remain many. “Bitches Brew” an achievement for both men and all from a time when music albums were vinyl and the covers were works of art.