Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

21 MARCH, 2014

Salvador Dalí’s Sinister and Sensual Paintings for Dante’s Divine Comedy

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From Heaven to Hell in melting faces and flying bones.

Something magical happens when a prominent artist interprets a literary classic visually, from William Blake’s paintings for Milton’s Paradise Lost to Picasso’s 1934 drawings for a naughty ancient Greek comedy to Matisse’s 1935 etchings for Ulysses. But the celebrated artist most prolific in illustrating literary classics was undoubtedly Salvador Dalí, who illustrated Don Quixote in 1946, the essays of Montaigne in 1947, Alice in Wonderland in 1969, and Romeo and Juliet in 1975.

At the height of his fame in 1957, more than a century after William Blake had done the same, Salvador Dalí began working on a series of 100 paintings based on Dante’s epic poem The Divine Comedy, commissioned by the Italian government. He was given eight years to complete the artwork, which was then to be released as limited-edition prints in 1965 to mark the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth. But when word got out that one of Italy’s greatest literary legacies had been entrusted to a Spaniard, the public outcry led the government to pull out. Dalí, however, forged forward on his own to complete the series in 1964, then enlisted two engravers who spent five years hand-carving 3,500 wooden blocks to be used for reproductions of Dalí’s paintings.

Somewhat surprisingly, the series was never published as an official English edition of the classic book, but reproductions of the individual paintings can still be purchased online — often for outrageous amounts — and found in an obscure out-of-print book released by the Park West Gallery in 1993.

From Sordello drawing a line in the sand of Purgatory to demarcate his freedom after nightfall to the outstretched grasping arms of the Wood of Suicides to the gruesomely melted and stretched skulls of The Blasphemers, Dalí’s surrealist tour of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory blends the sinister and the sensual to a haunting effect.

For a curious counterpoint, see William Blake’s take on the Dante classic.

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20 MARCH, 2014

Hello, New York: Julia Rothman’s Illustrated Love Letter to Gotham’s Five Boroughs

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From bodegas to bras, a visual serenade to Gotham’s emblems and eccentricities.

On the heels of Wendy MacNaughton’s magnificent Meanwhile in San Francisco (which is less about San Francisco than about the human soul) comes Hello, New York: An Illustrated Love Letter to the Five Boroughs (public library) from Brooklyn-based illustrator Julia Rothman, who has previously given us such charming treats as The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science, Drawn In, and Farm Anatomy.

Rothman takes us on a tour of New York’s hidden treasures and traces the little-known, fascinating stories and personalities behind the city’s most iconic landmarks and places, from the rare books curator at The New York Public Library to the Hasidic Jewish couple that runs New York’s go-to store for bras, from standbys like the ubiquitous bodega and the yellow taxi cab to curiosities like the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, an extraordinary time-capsule of working-class immigrant life in the 19th century, to cultural icons like the ghostly beams illuminating the skies where the Twin Towers used to be.

Just like San Francisco’s Dolphin Club Swimmers, New York has its own brave souls who plunge into the East River — here they are, mere minutes from my own abode in Brooklyn:

Then there are the buildings, reminiscent in spirit of James Gulliver Hancock’s illustrated architectural tour of Gotham, but bent through the lens of Rothman’s distinctive style:

But my favorite section, perhaps predictably, is an homage to one of the city’s greatest cultural institutions, the New York Public Library, guarded by its famous lions, Patience and Fortitude:

Complement Hello, New York with two very different love letters to Gotham: a photographic one, honoring its humans and a literary one, celebrating Central Park.

Images courtesy of Julia Rothman / Chronicle Books

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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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