Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

02 NOVEMBER, 2010

Bark: An Intimate Look at the World’s Trees

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Tree bark may not sound like the most exciting or relatable of subjects but, in fact, it is both. Not only do we come in contact with it constantly in our daily lives, from cinnamon to cork to chewing gum to rubber, but it’s also a hauntingly beautiful, textured piece of living matter that looks like the skin of some magnificent mythical dragon. French photographer Cedric Pollet travels the world to capture this beauty and has documented it in his gorgeous new book, Bark: An Intimate Look at the World’s Trees.

To whet people’s enthusiasm, I thought it was important to find ways to surprise and move them, by treating bark in a completely new way, at once aesthetic and playful.” ~ Cedric Pollet

Ocotillo tree, a shrub-like plant found in the Southeast United States

Image by Cedric Pollet

Silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa), a flowering deciduous tree native to South America's tropical forests

Image by Cedric Pollet

The sap of birch is used as a tonic in Northern Europe and Russia, as well as in syrup, beer and candy flavoring

Image by Cedric Pollet

The Pachypodia palm (meaning 'thick foot') is indigenous to Madagascar; its name refers to its thick, bottle-shaped trunk

Image by Cedric Pollet

From the vibrant, ruffled bark of the manzanita tree, the color of the sunset in this small evergreen’s native California, to the lush green-and-brown colors of the rainbow eucalyptus, which resemble the thoughtful palette of a contemporary designer, the big, bold and beautiful 190-page tome captures the world’s most breathtaking barks, including those of trees indigenous to some of Earth’s most remote regions.

Mindanoan gum (or rainbow eucalyptus) found in the Philippines, where the bark is used as a traditional remedy against fatigue

Image by Cedric Pollet

Japanese Stewartia, a close relative to the tea plant

Image by Cedric Pollet

A type of manzanita endemic to the San Luis Obispo region of California

Image by Cedric Pollet

Bark is as much a stunning visual treat for color and photography lovers alike as it is a visceral manifesto for biodiversity and reforestation, two of today’s most pressing issues in preserving the amazing world we inherited.

Images courtesy of NPR / Cedric Pollet

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01 NOVEMBER, 2010

Marvelous Movember

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What Frida Kahlo has to do with Lance Armstrong and neo-hippie jewelry.

2010 has been the year of the mustache. And now it’s the month: We’ve been longtime supporters of Movember, the global monthlong mustache-growing movement raising awareness about prostate cancer. Since 2003, Movember has been encouraging guys to grow “sponsored” mustaches for 30 days, just like one would do a charity run or marathon. Funds raised through Movember benefit the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Lance Armstrong’s LIVESTRONG.

We’ve already seen some stellar efforts, but if you happen to lack the necessary Y chromosome for joining the movement directly — or you’re already sporting a ‘stache — you could still have some mustachey fun while benefiting a good cause. We love these Movember plugs and wooden Movember pendant by Denver-based indie eco-jewelery handcraft studio Omerica Organic.

This black-and-pink mustache wallet is a gem and the Mellow mustache tote made of all-vintage fabric from the same Etsy seller is just delightful.

Lastly, for some quasi-literary fun, The Little Book of Beards: …and a couple of mustaches! by illustrator and hardcore pogologist (that’s beard nerd for the uninitiated) O. S. Belgie is an absolute treat. And for those truly serious about the cultural heritage of the good ol’ ‘stache, Sweet ‘Stache: 50 Badass Mustaches and the Faces Who Sport Them offers an analysis of history’s best mustaches and the men (and women!) who wore them, from Gandhi to Frida Kahlo to Salvador Dali.

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26 OCTOBER, 2010

RxArt: Healing Children Through Contemporary Art

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What blood transfusions have to do with modern art and coloring between the lines.

The relationship between art and healing has been the subject of increasing interest for scholars and researchers. On an anecdotal, intuitive level, hardly any of us can deny the uplifting effect looking at a beautiful piece of art can have. Nonprofit RxArt aims to harness this effect in children’s healthcare facilities by placing contemporary art in patient, procedure and exam rooms in an effort to transform these sterile environments into comforting havens, inspiring healing and hope in kids, their families and the tireless medical staff that takes care of them.

RxArt works with some of today’s most exciting artists, including Will Cotton, Ryan McGinness and many more, who create bespoke artwork for each facility. From a CAT scanner by Jeff Koons to Jason Middlebrook‘s homage to nature in a bone marrow transplant unit to a clever light painting by Mary Temple in a center for blood disorders, RxArt can be found in over 18 hospitals across New York, Boston, Tennessee, Houston, New Orleans, San Francisco and Chicago. Though they’re currently focusing on children’s hospitals, they’re looking to eventually expand to outpatient facilities and VA hospitals.

“The artists we work with really speak to the audience, they really create art that’s site-specific and appropriate but also not so serene that it becomes boring.” ~ Nicki Sebastian, Director of Operations

Our favorite RxArt initiative, however, is the absolutely wonderful Between The Lines coloring book, currently in its second volume. (Volume 1 sold out completely in no time.) The book features over 50 original line drawings by some of today’s most celebrated contemporary artists, including Takashi Murakami, Ed Ruscha and Cynthia Rowley, plus a series of delightfully vibrant stickers designed by Nate Lowman and Mickalene Thomas.

The best part? 100% of proceeds from the book fund the RxArt hospital projects. So go ahead and grab a copy before Volume 2 sells out as well — it’s a rare opportunity not only to support the healing and well-being of tiny humans, but also to own something that will no doubt be a treasured collector’s item on day.

RxArt is also currently looking for a volunteer iPad developer, so if you happen to be a talented code-slinger, here’s your chance to use your powers for good.

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22 OCTOBER, 2010

Obsolete Occupations: 7 Cinematic Short Films

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What fruit machines have to do with the last samurai armer and Louis Armstrong.

Buckminster Fuller famously said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” And the new models of the digital age have been making increasingly more old-timey crafts obsolete. But there seems to be something remarkably poetic about these dying professions. In recent years, there has been a groundswell of cinematic microdocumentaries romanticizing this impending obsolescence. Here are seven favorites.

THE ARCHIVE

Paul Mawhinney has the world’s largest record collection. And 83% of the music he owns is so rare you can’t find it anywhere else, at any price. But due to health issues and the general decline of the record industry, he is being forced to sell it. The Archive captures his touching and heartbreaking story, hinting at the tragic loss of something very real and rich as we rush all too hastily into our digital lust.

The music is a hundred times better on a vinyl album. And I’ve had problems with the kids, because they don’t believe me, they don’t believe that’s true. First of all, imagine this: They move the music by computers and what they do is they chop off the highs, they chop off the lows, and then they compress everything. How could that possibly be equal to the open sound you get on a record with the basses and the highs and the fullness in the middle?”

THE SHOE BLACK

Assen Ivanov Yordanov has been a shoe black for 40 years. The Roma widower he has been working at the Central Train Station in Sofia, Bulgaria, since the early 1990’s, supporting his three daughters, eight grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. Despite the inaccurate translation, which waters down some of the most poetic undertones of Yordanov’s words, The Shoe Black offers a fascinating glimpse of a lifestyle so remote to most of us, both geographically and ideologically, that it seems almost otherworldly.

I thank God for my children, who grew up even though I was just a shoe black.

FACTS ABOUT PROJECTION

We’ve been longtime fans of British filmmaker Temujin Doran. In Facts About Projection, he takes us behind the scenes of his day job as a projectionist, which he truly loves and celebrates as the fulfillment of a childhood dream yet recognizes for its imminent obsolescence.

I switch on the neon lights, which turn on like a fruit machine, and then we let the customers in and try to self them embarrassingly overpriced drinks and snacks that apparently can double their enjoyment of the film.

TAIWAN’S LAST SWORD-MAKER

Once considered the work of God, sword-making in Taiwan has today been reduced to one 65-year-old man. He spends months on end refining a single blade, earning $20-30 a month. Best known for crafting the Green Destiny Sword in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the skilled sword-maker cares less about fame than he does about passing on the ancient tradition.

I was only about 13 when I started learning from my father, who learned from his. Every day, I’ve tried to better the skills passed down through the generations.

PRINTER’S BLOCK

We love all things letterpress. (Even though Apple may have just made the fringe craft painfully mainstream.) Naturally, anyone who makes a career out of not only doing it but also preserving its heritage is our hero. Printer’s Block is the story of Master Printer Robert Warner, who prints with the famous 1901 clamshell press, The Golding Jobber, out of his studio in Lower Manhattan’s historic South Street Seaport district.

If I’m printing a hundred cards, they’ll be seen by at least a thousand people because they’ll be sent out into the world. And to be able to send letterpress-printed images through the mail is just my idea of heaven.”

DAVID SMITH: SIGN ARTIST

Glass embosser David Smith is one of Britain’s last remaining glass artists. His reverse glass signs and decorative mirrors are a thing of beauty. In this short documentary, Smith takes us behind the scenes of his creative process and offers a fascinating glimpse of his truly masterful technique, bespeaking a level of patience rare, if not extinct, in the productivity-obsessed, multitasking-manic timescale of today.

You gotta have patience to do the word. Especially when you get to the cutting — you get one chance, really. You can tell when the cut’s going well and just hearing the noises, you get used to certain cuts the wheels make.

WILL

Will Gains was born in Detroit and spent half a century in England. In his eighties, he remains one of the best tap dancers in the world, having danced alongside some of history’s most iconic musicians — Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk, Sarah Vaughan. Will is part of a Channel 4 series of three-minute shorts titled My Home Is My Shoes, documenting how dance has shaped different people’s lives.

Everything haven’t gotta be right, everything can come right when I’m dancing. My home is my shoes.

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