Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

19 MARCH, 2014

Collect Raindrops: The Rhythm of the Seasons, in Gorgeous Cut-Paper Illustrations

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“There is always something to celebrate…”

There is something enormously enchanting about exploring the seasonability of life — of human life, of all life — in visual narratives, from French graphic artist Blexbolex’s thoughtful Seasons to Italian illustrator Alessandro Sanna’s The River, one of the most breathtaking books I’ve ever seen. In Collect Raindrops: The Seasons Gathered (public library), cut-paper artist Nikki McClure extends her singular sensibility of stark yet sensitive illustrations to the question of how we flow through life, how life flows through us, and how we flow together. McClure captures the essence of each season by pairing word and image in subtle, minimalist vignettes exploring the rhythms of community, solitude, parenting, planting, reaping, and all the other everyday ways in which we anchor ourselves to the present.

The book, sixteen years in the making, is based on the calendars McClure has been publishing since 1998 as “necessary, yet gentle reminders, made for kitchens and breakfast conversation.” She makes her pictures by cutting away black paper with a knife, creating an intricate black-and-white lace, to which she later adds color and words. McClure writes of the spirit behind the project:

There is always something to celebrate, whether it is the first green tip of a snowdrop pushing up or the gathering of sun-crisped shirts fresh off the clothesline. There are flowers to count and fruit to harvest.

Be conscious and hold on as we spin around the sun one more time.

McClure, more than a spectacular artist, is also a beautiful writer. Here is a taste of that enchanted spin, beginning with Winter:

Begin to search for a new direction, but first keep the warm air trapped under the comforter for a few more sleepy minutes. Eyes open and close and open. Branches slowly come into focus and a list is made of all the things to make and do for the next 1,000 years. . . .

From Spring:

The sky opens up and the world is winged. . . . Listen! The air is alive with flight.

From Summer:

We welcome the world. A bounty of light is received: strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, black. . . . The outside becomes inside. Tables are set in the shade of trees and we cook outside. We wander, hiking, picnicking, exploring the terrain. We search for the best watermelon, the most perfect nectarine. Summer is canned, frozen, preserved to remember.

From Fall:

There is a quickness to everything now. First slippers, first sweater, first blankets wrapped around while reading. . . . Close the windows, turn on the stove, brew hot tea to hold. Winter is coming, winter dark, winter cold, winter hunger. Harvest the moon and be prepared.

Collect Raindrops: The Seasons Gathered, published by Abrams — who also gave us Mapping Manhattan, Much Loved, and The Art of Rube Goldberg — is absolutely beautiful in its entirety. Complement it with Alessandro Sanna’s The River.

Images © 2007, 2014 Nikki McClure courtesy of Abrams

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18 MARCH, 2014

Meanwhile: An Illustrated Love Letter to the Living Fabric of a City and Our Shared Human Longing to Be Understood

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A tender reminder that however vast our differences, we are bonded by the yearning to feel seen for who we are.

I’ve written before that every city needs a love letter. Though Meanwhile, in San Francisco: The City in Its Own Words (public library) by illustrator extraordinaire and frequent Brain Pickings contributor Wendy MacNaughton — who gave us the wonderful Lost Cat, one of the best books of 2013 — may be “about” a city, in the sense that the raw inspiration was drawn from the streets of San Francisco, it is really about the city, any city — about community, about subcultures and belonging, about the complexities of gentrification, about what it means to have individual dignity and shared identity.

Like a modern-day Margaret Mead armed with ink and watercolor, not a critic or commentator but an observer and amplifier of voice, MacNaughton plunges into the living fabric of the city with equal parts curiosity and compassion, gentleness and generosity, wit and wisdom, and emerges with a dimensional portrait painted with honesty, humor, and humility.

Beneath the individual stories — of the bus driver, of the hipsters, of the old men in Chinatown, of the librarian, of the street preacher — lies a glimpse of our shared humanity, those most vulnerable and earnest parts of the human soul that we often overlook and dismiss as we reduce people to their demographic and psychographic variables, be those race or gender or socioeconomic status or subcultural identification. Embedded in these simple, moving stories is MacNaughton’s tender reminder that there is no greater gift we can give each other than the gift of understanding, of looking and really seeing, of peering beyond the persona and into the person with an awareness that however different our struggles and circumstances may be, we are inextricably bonded by the great human longing to be truly seen for who we are.

We meet the Mission Hipsters, who might as well be the Williamsburg Hipsters*, or the Insert-Any-City’s-Neighborhood-That-Has-Become-Synonymous-With-Hipsters Hipsters, an affectionate portrait of the cultural trope, down to “hand-knit dog sweater #62″:

And speaking of dogs, any dog-lover would relate to MacNaughton when she writes, “I don’t know any of the dog owners’ names, but I know all their dogs.’”

Many of the stories, which were originally created for MacNaughton’s column Meanwhile in The Rumpus, are also a meditation on the realities, often tragicomic realities, of modern life:

Others offer a lens on the invisible and often misunderstood threads that hold a community together, like the board games people play on the sidewalks of Chinatown, any Chinatown.

We’re reminded, too, of the heartening resurgence of maker culture in the digital age.

One of the most poignant stories is that of two intersections “a block away [yet] a universe away”: 5th and Mission streets on the one hand, a mecca for rapid gentrification and $6 soy lattes, and 6th and Mission on the other, a land of homelessness and produce scarcity. There are, MacNaughton writes, four types of people on 6th and Mission: residents of single-room occupancies, folks who sleep in a shelter and hang out on 6th street during the day, those who work on 6th street, and passers-by. On 5th and Mission, the four archetypes come from a different world: programmers, tourists, business people, and … Australians. (Among the book’s many gifts is MacNaughton’s penchant for infusing even the most uncomfortable of subjects with warm and amicable wit.)

Then there are the old-school Dolphin Club Swimmers, who plunge into the freezing waters of the Bay to swim alongside the dolphins as an eccentric yet immensely life-affirming antidote to the bystander quality of modern life.

But as a lover of libraries, I found the most heartwarming section to be the one about the San Francisco Public Library, where we meet Leah, “the first and only full-time social worker dedicated to a library, anywhere,” Charles, a formerly homeless man now employed at the library’s health and safety division, and the library’s colorful patrons, a microcosm of the city itself.

Mostly, however, Meanwhile is a gentle invitation to do as the title implies — pause and spend some time with those invisible, in-between moments that often slip unnoticed as we float in the trance of our big-plan-making lives. Because, after all, John Lennon was right when he sang that “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” in Double Fantasy. It is in those meanwhile-moments, captured in MacNaughton’s beautiful ink-and-watercolor illustrations, that the fantasy collapses and the dizzying vibrancy of reality springs to life.

Bonus joy: A number of the spreads from the book are available as prints.

Images courtesy of Wendy MacNaughton / Chronicle Books

* This illustration is the only one from the book not from the Rumpus series — it was originally created for a Bold Italic piece by Stuart Schuffman.

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13 MARCH, 2014

In Pieces: French Illustrator Marion Fayolle’s Wordless Narratives About Human Relationships

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Fragmentary glimpses of humanity at the intersection of the funny, the philosophical, and the confounding.

In Pieces (public library) is an uncommon piece of visual poetry by French illustrator and comic artist Marion Fayolle that calls to mind at once the surrealist whimsy of Codex Seraphinianus, the visual neatness of Gregory Blackstock’s illustrated lists, and the vignettes of Blexbolex — and yet Fayolle’s is a sensibility unlike anything that ever existed.

Sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes light, and sometimes deeply philosophical, Fayolle’s beautiful wordless narratives are anything but silent, speaking of love and loss, passion and betrayal, longing and lust. They are fragmentary yet meaningful, much like the brain fuses together disjointed pieces of the world into a cohesive image, an impression, a story. There are no panels, no speech bubbles, no backgrounds — just tenderly illustrated, meticulously textured, neatly arranged figures who explore the microcosm of human relations through subtle yet expressive body language that whispers to the back of the mind.

In Pieces comes from the wonderful British independent press Nobrow, which also gave us Freud’s life and legacy in a comic, Blexbolex’s brilliant No Man’s Land, and some gorgeous illustrated chronicles of aviation and the Space Race.

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Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.





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