Brain Pickings

Spotlight: Cherri Wood

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Newspaper cutout, hidden messages, and what Oliver Twist has to do with ink stains.

Cherri Wood is one of those rare nineteen-year-olds who manage to translate their mandatory teen angst into wonderful works of art. Her drawings combine that childish, messy quality of art with the intensity of adult reality.

Simple but rich like a haiku, Wood’s work reveals graphite kids standing in the watercolor dirt, daring you to fill in the wide white blanks of the world.

The Oliver Twists of her canvases, inspired by a lost fingernail or the freakish masks of her neighbors, speak volumes with their faceless melancholy.

The talented teenager can transform a newspaper cutout and a piece of duct tape into something much grander and more profound, into tiny pieces chipped away from on old soul.

Do check out Cherri Wood‘s extraordinary work. And if you happen to be in the San Francisco area, stop by Gallery 1988 by February 28th. Just be sure to look for the tiny messages buried between the ink stains — they make the whole experience that much more gratifying and personal.

Vintage Design: Innovation Lessons from the Past

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Bleeding-edge art direction, what Obama’s agricultural policy has to do with vintage graphic design, and why 2009 is exactly like 1939.

It all began in the 1980’s, when editorial entrepreneur Janet A. Ginsburg stumbled upon a wonderful series of illustrations on a roll of microfilm while researching a story in the Chicago Tribune‘s library. The illustrations, titled “Robert and Peggy in a Century of Progress,” chronicled the adventures of a little boy and his sister at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. Despite the poor quality of the microfilm, the artwork struck Janet with its aesthetic brilliance and intricacy, so she embarked upon a long journey to uncover the lost creative gems of the Chicago Tribune.

Art of The Message: The Story Behind the Chicago Tribune Collection captures Janet’s investigative expedition of trials and tribulations that eventually unearthed some of the 20th century’s most defining print design treasures. Gems like poster design so brave and groundbreaking it would be considered cutting-edge even by today’s jaded standards.

Pieces of history like the most pivotal moments of color photography — the first color photograph to be taken outdoors, away from the controlled environment of studio lights, which required elaborate three-plate filtering of the different colors and took technicians an entire night to get the engravings and half-tones just right.

From interactive inserts inviting the reader to play with the medium…

…to conceptually and aesthetically sophisticated advertising, complete with brilliant art direction and stellar typography, standing as an antithesis to the generic cliches flooding the pages of today’s print publications.

Then there was the editorial side, framing compelling op-eds in gripping visuals — literally, like in the story of the last emperor of China.

But most fascinating of all are the Tribune‘s striking data visualizations, a pinnacle of bleeding-edge journalism condensed in a vessel of stellar graphic design. Something that lives at the intersection of Al Jaffe’s iconic fold-ins and Chris Jordan’s gripping data representations. Something today’s magazines often try to do well and only rarely succeed —  you might find it in Wired‘s visual exposés or on the pages of GOOD, where our present-biased generation gawks at it in marvel of the innovation. Which, of course, is hardly novel, given such executions can be traced as far back as the late 1920’s — executions no less, if not more, visually and conceptually compelling, made with every bit as much thoughtfulness and wit and an aesthetic sensibility, yet made without any of today’s bells and whistles. (Adobe CS4 and $40,000-a-year graphic design schools, we’re looking at you.)

But here’s the most interesting part: At the closing of TED 2009 a couple of weeks ago, when the audience waved their iPhones into the air lighter-style to Jamie Cullum’s rendition of “Imagine,” we remarked what a metaphor this was for the times.

We’ve come a long way technologically, yet the social and cultural issues John Lennon sang about in 1971 are every bit as relevant and pressing today.

In a lot of ways, the Tribune‘s data visualizations are a similar reminder that those biggest burdens of yesteryear have not healed but swollen into social abscesses. Case in point: This dissection, circa 1938, of what a billion dollars is, trying to put economic scale in a culturally digestible context.

Remind you of something? Or of something else?

The same is true of this 1936 farm plan, a striking prequel to today’s most heated debates on agricultural subsidies and sustainable farming.

And as if it isn’t eye-opening enough to see two of today’s most hot-button issues — the economy and sustainability — make waves decades ago, there’s the matter of the truly biggest one of all: The tensions of international politics and their propensity for armed conflict tearing the world apart.

The moral of the story, of course, is that we did not invent the wheel — in design, in journalism, or in cultural concern, for that matter.

And while we may have honed our skills with new and better tools — better graphic design software, new media platforms for journalism to play out on, more awareness and philanthropy efforts — we still have a long, long way to go before we can declare ourselves truly innovative and claim real progress.

Explore The Art of The Message, it’s one of those rare fresh perspectives you won’t find on the regurgitated pages of today’s mass publications and info-recycling blogs.

via @TrackerNews

Monday Music Muse: Peter Buffett

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Something delightfully different.

In an effort to branch out of our typical indie-folk-rock niche, we’re doing something a little different today. Something a bit more mellow and grown-up and brimming with the settled contemplative power of an award-winning composer who’s lived through commercial jingles and critical acclaim.

That’s exactly the sort of vibe you’ll find in composer-turned-vocal-expérimentateur Peter Buffett‘s latest album, Imaginary Kingdom. It’s a hard-to-classify but rather successful intersection of seeming opposites – from the keyboard magic of Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of The Moon period to the dreamy tromp of Death Cab for Cutie.

Among the hidden gems up Buffett’s sleeve is the off-album Anything, featuring Akon, which even echoes some of Byrne & Eno‘s socially-conscious lyrical sensibility and ambient electronica.

(And from the department of interesting asides, a tidbit on the Imaginary Kingdom album cover: It was designed by LA-based artist, Lois Keller whose whimsical illustrations and paintings have graced the silos of such high-culture institutions as The Milwaukee Ballet and the Cincinnati Opera, as well as commercial darlings like Disney stores around the world.)

So go ahead, raise your own cultural brow with some music for grown-ups. It’s okay.

Revisiting the Retail Experience: BBlessing

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Absinthe, portraiture, and where a hipster-elitist can finally feel at home.

We’ve always been fascinated by shopping. How we use “things” in order to define ourselves, relate to others, and make sense of the world. And since consumption is such a major component of our capitalist ego, it’s only fitting that the retail experience itself be treated with the kind of attention to detail that its cultural status warrants.

bblessing That’s why we applaud inspired efforts to rethink and revolutionize the realm of retail. Case in point: BBlessing — a boutique-slash-gallery-slash-hangout in New York, dedicated to men’s fashion and all the lifestyle essentials that go along with the broader concept of personal style.

BBlessing is a boutique dedicated to redefining the retail experience as it pertains to modern life. BBlessing features a unique, tightly edited selection of bleeding edge men’s fashion, art, music, literature and film, all in a constantly evolving environment.

The retail interior, designed by artist Daniel Jackson, was inspired by a turn-of-the-century Parisian absinthe bar, which migrated to the Pacific Northwest via the Lower East Side.

Besides the selection of both up-and-coming and established menswear designers from New York, Japan and Europe, and the signature BBlessing collection, BBlessing offers a meticulously curated selection of art, film, literature and (really, really good) music, making for an experience the cultural antithesis of a trip to JC Penny.

Explore BBlessing and all its hidden gems.

We, for one, truly enjoyed photographer Danielle Levitt‘s wonderful portraiture in the current art selection.

Art of The Cover: Book Cover Design Inspiration

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Shepard Fairey on George Orwell, where we live, 8 decades of iconic cover designs, and what Banksy and a tranny have in common. Oh my!

Covers. Quite the underappreciated art form. And if no one judged a book by its cover, why does so much creative gruntwork go into designing the truly best ones? After doing a piece on books by famous designers recently, we got inspired to hunt down broader tributes to the art of book and magazine cover design. And here’s what we came up with.

YOUR EUSTACE

Ever since the very first issue of The New Yorker in the 1920’s, the peculiar Eustace Tilley character has been gracing its cover. Last week, The New Yorker wrapped up their second annual Your Eustace contest soliciting reader reimaginings of Eustace.

And as much as we like to think of New Yorker readers as unnecessarily self-righteous cultural elitists without so much as a smidgen of original thought, we have to admit they turned out to be a pretty creative crowd. At least that’s what the submissions, ranging from the bizarre to the brilliant, indicate.

eustace

As for the 12 winners, we can’t help appreciating the sheer audacity of the clever Banksy mock-up and the hopelessly hilarious trasvestite Eustace — after all, judgments of The New Yorker‘s merits aside, cultural relevance is the one thing this iconic publication has always stood for. And what more culturally relevant than Banksy and trannies?

ESQUIRE COVER GALLERY

Believe it or not, not every Esquire cover ever designed is a meticulously decorated storefront to Hollywood’s half-clad A-list. Back in the olden days, it was more about delightful Claymationeseque cartoonishness and less about Jessica Simpson’s plunging or altogether nonexistent neckline.

How do we know that? It has come to our attention that Esquire maintains a rich and extensive Cover Gallery, dating all the way back to 1933. And it’s quite extraordinary.

So spend a few minutes glimpsing back at 8 decades of cultural commentary by some of the 20th century’s most iconic artists, including illustrators like Abner Dean and George Petty, art directors like Jean-Paul Goude and Paul Rand, and even legendary adman George Lois.

via Coudal

FWIS

They do book cover designs. No, really. And they do them well.

fwis

The Fwis Covers collection is as broad and eclectic as it is creatively marvelous. It spans the entire spectrum of design — from the gaudy manga kitsch of Tezuka, to the delightfully somber minimalism of Against Happiness, to the appropriate retro-geekiness of Game Feel, to the unmistakable Shepard Fairey take on Animal Farm.

Go ahead, explore the Fwis Collection — you’ll find yourself curious and intrigued and hungry for books…judged entirely by the covers. It’s okay.

THIS IS WHERE WE LIVE

Granted, this isn’t really about covers — although it kind of is, implicitly, by way of being about something covers couldn’t exist without: The wonderful world of books. Easily one of the most wonderful stop-motion films we’ve ever seen, this one comes from Apt and Asylum Films, celebrating 4th Estate Publishers‘ 25th Anniversary.

And now we want to live there, too.

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