Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

29 JULY, 2011

Own a Warhol for $5: Warhol’s Obscure 1959 Children’s Book

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Priceless art at a petty price, or what spades have to do with the secret nooks of the art world.

Andy Warhol may be one of only seven artists in the world to have ever sold a canvas for $100 million, but it turns out you don’t have to be a billionaire to own “a Warhol.” In fact, you can do so for about $5.

In the late 1950s, Warhol belonged to Doubleday’s stable of freelance artists, making a living designing book covers and illustrating dry business books. Shortly before halting his love affair with the corporate world in fear of compromising his flirtations with the art world, he illustrated six stories for the excellent Best In Children’s Books. (Cue in our recent review of little-known children’s books by famous “adult” authors.) Among them was the story “Card Games Are Fun,” from Best of Children’s Books #27, published in 1959.

What’s most striking about this artwork isn’t only its complete lack of resemblance to Warhol’s most iconic pop art, but also the fact that it remains largely unacknowledged by art historians and virtually absent from most Warhol biographies. Yet something about its honesty, of style and of circumstance, makes it a rare treat of creative history.

via We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie

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28 JULY, 2011

Noma Bar’s Minimalist Vector Portraits of Cultural Icons

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What Shakespeare’s unanswered questions have to do with Einstein’s unkempt hair and Britpop.

Israeli illustrator Noma Bar, he of Negative Space fame, is a longtime Brain Pickings favorite. Turns out, our friends at Mark Batty (previously) have had a soft spot for him for a while as well. In 2007, they released a fantastic volume of Bar’s most iconic negative space portraits of cultural icons. Guess Who?: The Many Faces of Noma Bar features over 50 minimalist vector illustrations that encapsulate, with brilliant subtlety and visual eloquence, the essence of famous politicians, philosophers and pop culture legends — a masterpiece of capturing character and sentiment with uncanny precision.

The book is divided into four parts — Cultural Icons, Hollywood Heads, Political Figures, Britpop Stars, and The Musicians — with an introduction by Steven Heller. (Previously: I II III.) Though the captions for each image leave much to be desired in tone and style, they do give an appropriate context of allusions and symbolism, making Bar’s creative feats all the more palpable.

CULTURAL ICONS

Albert Einstein

Commissioned by The Economist for a cover story about 100 years of Einstein. Though the illustration was never printed, Bar considers this a perfect example of combining two icons, which results in something that is 'almost like a logo.' Einstein's famously unkempt hair and the atomic symbol, with the molecules as eyes, for this famous face.

William Shakespeare

The first face Bar ever published, a full page for Time Out London related to a feature article about a BBC program called 'The Search for Shakespeare.'

['The Search for Shakespeare'] revolved around new biographical discoveries and all the questions these raised. I received this commission about 5 hours before a flight to Italy. All of a sudden the question mark idea linked the theme of the program to one of the most significant philosophical questions of all time: To be or not to be? I chose ‘to be’ and sent the final portrait off about two hours after receiving the assignment.” ~ Noma Bar

Harry Potter

We've all been exposed to the Harry Potter hype. The success of this image is how it speaks directly to the fictional Harry Potter story, as well as the reality of this multi-million dollar industry. The centerpiece of the illustration is the wand, which evokes fanciful magic, as well as the almighty dollar.

HOLLYWOOD HEADS

Woody Allen

This illustration was done for an article about Woody Allen's Film Match Point, which was shot in London. Bar's use of London architectural landmarks for the legend's already iconic face is a unique and effective touch. Nicknamed the gherkin, for its resemblance to a pickle, this noticeable Norman Foster building replaces Allen's nose, the Tate Modern forms an eyebrow over one of the skyline's newest structural icons, the London Eye.

Bill Murray

As Bar started work on Bill Murray, he was pleased to discover that in profile, Murray's face created a ghoulish figure in the negative space. The Ghostbusters icon for an eye is a rather obvious, but effective choice.

John Travolta + Samuel L. Jackson

Two faces may not be better than one, but they are harder to draw. Illustrating a duo like these two Pulp Fiction characters is a challenge for Barr because he still needs to render them as a single connected unit. Clearly, in this example, Bar conjoins the two with the gun. Travolta's mouth, Jackson's eyebrow and nose.

Charlie Chaplin

When Bar works with black and white, he relies on negative space to 'create forms that allow elements to float.' Here, Bar uses one of Charlie Chaplin's most famous on-screen moments to define his face, though there are few actual lines . Inspired by Chaplin's shoe-eating scene in The Gold Rush, Bar turns a shoelace sum spaghetti strand into Chaplin's eye and nose; the shoe works double duty as both moustache and mouth.

POLITICAL FIGURES

Joseph Stalin

The hammer and sickle get rearranged into Joseph Stalin's nose and mouth. That these two icons can be taken out of context, but remain in context in that they possess such associative power that the viewer will know who this feature face is, bolsters the effectiveness of Bar's approach to illustration.

Nelson Mandela

Many of Bar's subjects become his subjects because of dubious behavior. Nelson Mandela's anti-apartheid activism, however, i s a story of incredible strength in the ace of imprisonment and injustice that concluded with triumph. Mandela was South Africa's first president to be voted into office in a representative democratic election. Mandela figuratively broke the shackles that imprisoned him for 27 years, and it is this strength that Bar celebrates with this illustration.

Adolf Hitler

This portrait of Hitler accompanied James Delingpole's article 'Mein Kash: Milking the Third Reich,' written for Esquire UK. The piece examined the publishing trend to release books about Hitler (which number close to 1,000 on Amazon). For such an article, Bar's choice to convert the moustache into a barcode was spot-on.

Margaret Thatcher

The smoking torch that defines Margaret Thatcher's face in this illustration remarks on the fading political power of her Conservative Party, descended from the Tory Party. Equally adored and maligned as England's Prime Minister from `975 to 1990, the end of her tenure was spurred by internal struggle within the party. In assessing her legacy, Bar appropriated the old Tory logo to give a visual representation of flagging power. The old Tory logo was a flaming torch, while Bar's interpretation smolders.

Kim Jong-Il

Known the world over for his cavalier rhetoric about North Korea's nuclear capability, missile contrails make for the glasses of Kim Jong-Il. Commissioned by the Guardian, Bar was under a deadline, and to this day when he looks at this illustration, he wishes he had had the time to use only one missile. Be that as it may, the illustration works, as it looks like Kim and also incorporates what he is known for, weaponry and antagonizing the United States.

BRITPOP STARS

Ricky Gervais

Through his roles in shows like The Office and Extras, Ricky Gervais, for Bar, embodies the black humor of 'loser culture.' Using smiley faces in a truly ironic fashion, Bar provides a portrait of a 'contemporary, classic sad clown.'

Jamie Oliver

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has probably spent as much time on TV and book tours as in the kitchen. An advocate of simple, healthy home cooking, a mortar for a mouth and a pestle for a nose make this face recognizable.

David Beckham

These days, the dollar sign would be just as appropriate for David Beckham's face as the British pound symbol. The soccer star and money -making machine that is Beckham now spans across the Atlantic Ocean, all the way to Los Angeles. We'll see if one man can make Americans soccer fans, but even if he can't, he'll still be rich.

THE MUSICIANS

Michael Jackson

Over the years, Michael Jackson has made headlines for an array of reasons, from number one hits to run-ins with the law. Here, Bar riffs on Jackson's purported pedophilic tendencies, by placing an image of a young child in the pop star's face. Jackson has never been found guilty of these accusations in a court of law, though the media frenzy that surrounded the case seems to have made the eccentric icon that much more reclusive.

Bob Dylan

A true cultural icon, Bob Dylan is no stranger to being interpreted. Bar keeps this one simple, using three of Dylan's tools of the trade: musical notations, guitar, harmonica. That Bar can invest such age and mystery into a face that is primarily white negative space is yet another example of his ability to see subjects as more than just people -- they are their careers.

Delightful and timeless, Guess Who? captures some of modernity’s most famous and infamous characters through the eyes of one of the most original artists of our time.

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28 JULY, 2011

A Field Guide to the North American Family: A Meditation on Humanness

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A poetic reflection on the human condition, or what fiscal responsibility has to do with freedom.

It doesn’t take long to realize fiction isn’t exactly a fixture on Brain Pickings. But A Field Guide to the North American Family, the literary debut of Garth Risk Hallberg, is a genre-bender that makes it delightfully uncomfortable to classify it as strict fiction. Through 63 interlinked fictional vignettes, each accompanied by a visual interpretation by a different artist, Hallberg tells the story of two struggling suburban Long Island neighbor families, the Hungates and the Harrisons, who are forced to adapt to a new reality when the patriarch of one family dies unexpectedly — but he uses the allegory of their specific circumstances to explore general, universally human concepts like love, happiness, belonging, freedom, and a wealth more, with equal parts poetic contemplation and ironic humor. Part photoessay, part Choose Your Own Adventure novel, part meditation on human nature, it’s a fine piece of literary innovation rare to come by and bound to stick around, the kind of book you keep returning to over and over again until it begins to feel like an intimate part of your own family.

Each double-page spread covers a specific facet of the human condition — from mortgage to mythology to midlife crisis — and features a short, poignant textual vignette on the left, with a cleverly captioned image on the right, treating each phenomenon as the subject of a National Geographic nature documentary for an effect that’s both humorous and deeply human.

Optimism

'Optimism lives so long as to seem, to the human observer, practically immortal -- but unlike that of other creatures, the development of Optimism proceeds in reverse. That is, Optimism is enormous at birth, and gradually shrinks to its microscopic adult size.'

Adulthood

'Adulthood can be distinguished from Maturity by its tendency to cling to the chrysalis. On occasion, Adulthood has even been known to disappear back into Adolescence following an unsettling foray out into the world.'

Midlife Crisis

'An erratic Maturity pattern characterizes the Midlife Crisis: it may remain a manageable size for years, only to reach its full stature in a few turbulent days.'

Holiday

'Holiday may be observed as many as eight times a year. A peaceable creature, it abhors confrontation; all conflicts within the pack are settled via high-frequency communications inaudible to the human ear.'

Depression

'Having evolved from a ruminant species known as Melancholia, Depression now dominates the animal kingdom. Its explosive growth curve remains unaccounted for, but some Family-watchers have pointed to a concurrent surge in Search for Meaning.'

Divorce

'Due to a growth curve similar to that of Depression, a robust Divorce population has become common wherever Love dwells in large numbers.'

Boredom

'Once thought to be nonexistent where Entertainment was present, this harmless parasite is now known to be present, to some degree, in every ecosystem.'

Love

'Though hardly the most visible member of its kingdom, Love has never been as endangered as alarmists would have us believe. Without it, new research confirms, the entire Family would cease to function.'

Sibling Rivalry

'The Sibling Rivalry hunts in groups of two or more. With its tremendous longevity, it may hibernate for years between periods of activity. This Rivalry, like species on other continents, tends to lose some of its vitality with age.'

Grief

'Slow to adapt to the ecological upheavals of the American century, Grief now thrives only in isolation. The study of Grief is further complicated by its nocturnal Habits, and by the fact that no Grief is like any other.'

Almost as interesting and thought-provoking as the book itself is Hallberg’s discussion of the economics of Amazon reviews over on Slate, triggered by his discovery of a strange subculture of power-reviewers through the Amazon page of his own book, namely one Grady Harp.

A Field Guide to the North American Family comes from Mark Batty Publisher, the latest chapter of our love affair with the indie powerhouse.

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