Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

03 APRIL, 2012

Abstract City: Christoph Niemann’s Visual Essays

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What a transatlantic red eye flight has to do with biodiversity and charting the love of coffee.

Since 2008, Christoph NiemannLEGO-lover, imagination instigator, metaphorical chicken-chaser — has been delighting us with his visual blog for The New York Times, in which he has explored everything from his love-hate relationship with coffee to the fall of the Berlin Wall to his obsession with maps to the familiar drudgery of red-eye flights. Abstract City gathers sixteen of his visual essays, infused with his signature blend of humor, thoughtfulness, and exquisite conceptual freshness. An additional chapter on his creative process, echoing his excellent Creative Mornings talk on the same subject, presents the ultimate cherry on top.

'Our building in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn had no buzzer, and I would have to run downstairs to let friends in, accept deliveries, etc. After some training — and thanks to my six four height — I perfected a maneuver I like to refer to as 'the Northside Eagle': Place your left foot in the middle of the vestibule, lower your upper body to precisely 90 degrees until you reach the front door, while sticking out your right foot to keep the vestibule door from closing shut.'

'One of the most frustrating things in New York is that everything is always much more expensive than (a) you think and (b) what the price tag says. One way to come up with a reliable budget is to use the following Price-vs.-What-You-Actually-End-Up-Paying-Ratios.

Digital camera: Add 30 percent. (Because the particular model you picked is out of stock, and the one that’s left is more expensive. Plus sales tax.)

Burger and beer: Add 60 percent. (Tax and tip for you and for that friend from Europe who left early and 'didn’t know' that you have to pay tax and tip.)

Phone plans: Add 130 percent. (To cover F.C.C., U.S.F., T.R.S., A.B.C., C.I.A. and LOL.)'

'I must have been 5 when I first discovered the taste of coffee, when I was accidentally given a scoop of coffee ice cream. I was inconsolable: how could grown-ups ruin something as wonderful as ice cream with something as disgusting as coffee?

A few years later I was similarly devastated when my parents announced that for our big summer vacation we would go . . . hiking.'

'Here’s a chart that shows my coffee bias over the years.

For good measure I have added my bagel preferences over the same period. (1) Drip coffee, (2) Starbucks, (3) blueberry bagels, (4) sesame bagels, (5) poppy-seed bagels, (6) everything bagels

Please don’t hold my brief affair with blueberry bagels against me. I cured myself of this aberration.'

'On the evening of November 9, 1989, I was watching TV. The Berlin Wall was coming down, and I was flabbergasted.'

'From my 18-year-old perspective, the wall had always been there, and I had no reason to doubt that it would remain there forever. The news of the wall coming down was like somebody telling me that the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates had reversed course overnight, and that from now on you could stroll from Hamburg to Boston.'

'While I try to get in touch with history through museums, books and TV, 20 years ago history was actually being made, just a few blocks east in the church communities of the Prenzlauer Berg district. People risked losing their jobs, ruining their children’s prospects and even being taken to one of the notorious Stasi prisons, yet they still worked in opposition groups for years. Like similar groups in Leipzig, they began organizing open demonstrations in the fall of 1989. Within weeks, these grew from a few dozen brave men and women to hundreds of thousands across the country, ultimately leading to the collapse of the socialist regime.'

Germany, with a history so full of iron-fisted terror, war and wanton violence, had finally experienced a revolution without a single bullet being fired.

'Getting a good night’s sleep is actually a lot more complicated than one would think.'

'To describe different phenomena, physicists use various units.

PASCALS, for example, measure the pressure applied to a certain area.

COULOMBS measure electric charge (that can occur if said area is a synthetic carpet)

DECIBELS measure the intensity of the trouble the physicist gets into because he didn't take off his shoes first.'

Entertaining and enlightening, Abstract City is an exquisite feat of visual storytelling, at once endlessly refreshing and endlessly familiar in the universality of the human condition at the heart of Niemann’s illustrations.

BONUS: If you’re in New York this month, I’m moderating an AIGA talk with Christoph on April 18, exploring the evolution of illustration in the Information Age — join us!

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02 APRIL, 2012

London Unfurled: An Obsessive 37-Foot Accordion Drawing

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Along the River Thames in pen and ink.

There’s something endlessly alluring about drawing a city in fastidious detail, from Stephen Wiltshire’s astoundingly accurate hand-drawn 360º panoramas to James Gulliver Hancock’s quest to draw every building in New York City to French autistic savant Gilles Trehin’s imaginary megacity. Now, from Italian artist Matteo Pericoli comes London Unfurled — a remarkable 37-foot-long accordion-format book, following in the footsteps of Pericoli’s celebrated Manhattan Unfurled.

Over the course of two weeks, Pericoli walked more than 60 miles, or 100 kilometers, and traveled 20 miles along the Thames from Hammersmith Bridge to the Millennium Dome and back again, taking some 6,100 photos, which he spent the following two years recreating in his obsessive pen-and-ink drawings. But what makes the project all the more unusual is its vantage point — it “unfurls” the complexity of London from the river that both divides it and seals it together, using the city’s north and south banks as gateways to its dozen boroughs, hundreds of buildings, countless landmarks like the Houses of Parliament, Tate Modern, Battersea Power Station, and Millennium Wheel, and 41 bridges.

Pericoli breaks down his epic journey by the numbers for Abitare:

Length of each of the two originals: 11.50 m
Height of the each of the two originals: 30 cm
Number of bridges
Total: 41 (of which, North: 21, South: 20)
Number of waves
Total: 3,262 (of which, North: 1,842, South: 1,420, i.e. bigger waves in the South drawing.)
Number of cranes
Total: 58 (of which, North: 29, South: 29 – amazing, same number!)
Number of buildings
Total: 1,343 (of which, North: 766, South: 577, Houses of Parliament: 823)
Approximate number of windows
Total (approx.): 27,180 (of which, North: 14,955, South: 12,225)
Approximate length walked along the river for the actual drawings (i.e. not grand total and without the zig-zags, and not counting that I also walked all the way to the London Barrier and beyond, both sides)
Total: 36.7 miles (of which, North: 17.5 miles, South: 19.2 miles)
Total number of photos taken: 6,100

This process drawing will give you an idea of Pericoli’s signature blend of a documentarian’s precision and an artist’s whimsy:

See him literally unfurl his sketch for the north side drawing, complete with rolling-paper sound:

London Unfurled also comes as an iPad app that lets you seamlessly scroll the entire drawing, find specific landmarks, flip from north to south, and zoom into Pericoli’s astonishing detail.

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30 MARCH, 2012

Love Is Walking Hand In Hand: The Peanuts Gang Defines Love, 1965

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“Love is being happy knowing that she’s happy… but that isn’t so easy.”

The Peanuts series by Charles M. Schulz endures as one of the most beloved cartoons of all time, partly because of Schulz’s gift for capturing the great, tender truths of human existence through remarkably simple, sometimes poetic, often humorous, always profound vignettes. Hardly does it get more profound and poetic, however, than in Schulz’s 1965 book, Love is Walking Hand In Hand — an utterly lovely tiny treasure, in which Lucy and Snoopy and Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang define love through the simple acts and moments of everyday life.

I recently managed to snag a used copy of the long-out-of-print gem, in which I found a living testament to the joy of second-hand books: Tucked inside it, on the second page, was the greatest treat of all — a loving, heartfelt inscription by a man (a boy?) named Bob to his sweetheart:

‘Love is buying someone a present with your own money.’

My Sweetheart,

Just a little ‘present’ to you, who taught me the meaning of the word this little book is about — Love.

I shall always love you more than yesterday but — less than tomorrow.

Bob.

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