Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘design’

18 APRIL, 2012

Yayoi Kusama, Japan’s Most Celebrated Contemporary Artist, Illustrates Alice in Wonderland

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Down the rabbit hole in colorful dots, twisted typography, and strange eye conditions.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass endure as some of history’s most beloved children’s storytelling, full of timeless philosophy for grown-ups and inspiration for computing pioneers. The illustrations that have accompanied Lewis Carroll’s classics over the ages have become iconic in their own right, from Leonard Weisgard’s stunning artwork for the first color edition of the book to Salvador Dali’s little-known but breathtaking version. Now, from Penguin UK and Yayoi Kusama, Japan’s most celebrated contemporary artist, comes a striking contender for the most visually captivating take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland yet.

Since childhood, Kusama has had a rare condition that makes her see colorful spots on everything she looks at. Her vision, both literally and creatively, is thus naturally surreal, almost hallucinogenic. Her vibrant artwork, sewn together in a magnificent fabric-bound hardcover tome, becomes an exquisite embodiment of Carroll’s story and his fascination with the extraordinary way in which children see and explore the ordinary world.

A breathtaking piece of visual philosophy to complement Carroll’s timeless vision, Kusama’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is the latest affirmation of what appears to be the season of exceptionally beautiful books.

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17 APRIL, 2012

Magnificent Maps: Cartography as Power, Propaganda, and Art

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What the feats of Marco Polo have to do with medieval political propaganda and the history of tea.

Three of my great fascinations — cartography as art, propaganda design, and antique maps — converge in Magnificent Maps: Power, Propaganda and Art. The lavish tome collects cartographic curiosities from the golden age of display maps — the period between 1450 and 1800, when maps were as much a practical tool for navigation as they were works of art and affirmations of cultural hegemony or social status — culled from the formidable collection of the British Library.

Peter Barber, who heads the map collections at the British Library, and Tom Harper, BL’s Curator of Antiquarian Mapping, contextualize the maps with detailed descriptions of how and where they were used, from schoolrooms to bedchambers, and explore their parallel role as art and propaganda.

Fra Mauro World Map, 1450

This is an 1804 copy of perhaps the first ‘modern’ world map, made by the Venetian monk Fra Mauro in about 1450. It points south because 15th-century compasses were south-pointing. It shows the Portuguese discoveries in Africa and questioned the authority of medieval and classical sources. Intended for display in Venice, it emphasizes the feats of Marco Polo. The British East India Company commissioned this copy, thus implying that Britain was heir to the Portuguese empire.

The Americas by Diego Gutiérrez, 1562

This is a powerful celebration of Spain's New World Empire, beginning in the late 15th century. In the upper left-hand corner is the arms of King Philip II (reigned 1554-1598). In the sea, Philip appears on a chariot, riding through a turbulent Atlantic. The map aimed to strengthen Spain's political image in Europe and its claim to the Americas.

Psalter World Map (mappa mundi), 1265

Despite its small size, this is one of the ‘great’ medieval world maps. It is probably a copy of the lost map which adorned King Henry III's bedchamber in Westminster Palace from the mid-1230s. The original colors are intact. Showing east at the top, it is a visual encyclopedia, embracing ancient history, politics, scripture and ethnography as well as geography.

'The Island' by Stephen Walter, 2008

The Island satirizes the London-centric view of the English capital and its commuter towns as independent from the rest of the country. The artist, a Londoner with a love of his native city, offers up a huge range of local and personal information in words and symbols. Walter speaks in the dialect of today, focusing on what he deems interesting or mundane.

'Tea Revives the World' by MacDonald Gill, 1940

Commissioned by the International Tea Market Expansion Board, this map aimed to promote wartime strength, Allied resolve, and international trade during WWII through a celebration of Britain’s adopted national beverage and its pictorial history of tea.

Complementing Magnificent Maps is an interactive site from the British Library that lets you explore some of the maps with curatorial context.

For a related treat, see BBC’s fantastic The Beauty of Maps, which visits the British Library to explore five of the world’s most beautiful maps and their sociocultural context.

Images and captions courtesy of the British Library; thanks, Sonja

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16 APRIL, 2012

The Geometry of God: The Striking Kaleidoscopic Patterns of European Cathedral Ceilings

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Photographer David Stephenson captures architectural triumphs at the intersection of art and mathematics.

If you’ve ever set foot in one of Europe’s Gothic or Romanesque cathedrals and looked up, you likely found yourself spellbound by the striking vaulted ceilings. If you haven’t, photographer David Stephenson allows you to do so vicariously with his Heavenly Vaults project — a series of magnificent kaleidoscopic photos that capture the singular blend of ethereal magic and patterned precision in these architectural triumphs at the intersection of art and mathematics, flattening the vaulted ceilings and distilling them to their essential shapes, recurring fractal-like patterns, and intricate detailing.

Many of these structures, particularly the Gothic cathedrals, were constructed in an era actively occupied with ordering the heavens and expressed in their mathematical nature was a microcosm model of the universe — perhaps a paradoxical proposition that rationality and logic could explain or convey the might of God to which these temples of worship aimed to attest.

Heavenly Vaults is a follow-up to Stephenson’s 2005 book, Visions of Heaven: The Dome in European Architecture. More of Stephenson’s stunning images can be seen on his site.

Visual News It’s Nice That

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