Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘design’

06 JUNE, 2013

Taschen’s Jazz: An Illustrated Portrait of New York in the Roaring Twenties

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Band battles, brass classics, Cotton Club etiquette, and how to do the “double roll” like a pro.

“Jazz is the music of the body,” Anaïs Nin wrote in her diary, “…and the mystery of the withheld theme, known to jazz musicians alone, is like the mystery of our secret life.” From the fine folks of Taschen () — who have given us such visual gems as the world’s best infographics, the best illustrations from 130 years of Brothers Grimm, Harry Benson’s luminous photos of The Beatles, and the history of menu design — comes Jazz. New York in the Roaring Twenties (public library), a remarkable time-capsule of Gotham’s swinging golden age by music journalist Hans-Jürgen Schaal, edited and gloriously illustrated by German graphic designer, illustrator, and book artist Robert Nippoldt. The lavish large-format volume, which comes with a CD compilation of the era’s most celebrated songs, covers iconic venues like the Cotton Club and the Roseland Ballroom, legendary recording sessions, and the epic “band battles” that dominated the club scene, among other curious and lesser-known facets of the Roaring Twenties.

Also included are illustrated micro-biographies of twenty-four of the era’s greatest icons, alongside little-known and often amusing anecdotes.

But perhaps most delightful of all are the infographic-inspired maps and morphologies of the jazz scene and its geography, technology, and human topography:

Complement Jazz. New York in the Roaring Twenties with Herman Leonard’s rare portraits of jazz icons, W. Eugene Smith’s ambitious Jazz Loft Project, and William Gottlieb’s magnificent photos of jazz greats.

Images courtesy Taschen

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27 MAY, 2013

Marguerite Duras on Immortality, Life & the Art of Seeing, Illustrated

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“The art of seeing has to be learned.”

Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie,Stephen King proclaimed, and a beacon of this conviction is The Lover (public library) — a short and stirring 1984 autobiographical novel by Marguerite Duras, with a cover as iconic as the book itself, designed by the inimitable Louise Fili.

For this latest installment in the Brain Pickings artist series, designer and artist Kerri Augenstein has illustrated some of my marginalia from this masterpiece, including a poetic meditation on the recently explored question of immortality, in the style of her magnificent Dumb Dots Figure Studies series. Each is in reality a 10-foot drawing, so the screen does it little justice, but their elegant beauty still mesmerizes:

It’s while it’s being lived that life is immortal, while it’s still alive. Immortality is not a matter of more or less time, it’s not really a question of immortality but of something else that remains unknown. It’s as untrue to say it’s without beginning or end as to say it begins and ends with the life of the spirit, since it partakes both of the spirit and of the pursuit of the void.

The art of seeing has to be learned.

Both pieces are available on Etsy as limited-edition 5.5″ x 9.5″ prints in Kerri’s Etsy shop. You can find out about the philosophy behind her Figure Studies series here.

The Lover is a sublime and timeless read that, though semi-fictional, offers keen insight into the complex machinery of love on par with these 5 essential books on the art and science of love.

Previous artist series have included Susan Sontag on art and on love illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton, Anaïs Nin on love and more love illustrated by Debbie Millman, Salvador Dalí’s creative credo illustrated by Moly Crabapple, and Anaïs Nin on life illustrated by Lisa Congdon.

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24 MAY, 2013

Id-Grids and Ego-Graphs: A Typographic Confabulation with Finnegans Wake

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“First we feel. Then we fall.”

Long before the Tumblr era of visual quotes, long before the ubiquity of typographic treatments of famous words, long before the age of art and design projects inspired by literary classics, in 1978, to be precise, Brooklyn-born artist and poet Jacob Drachler (1909-1998) released Id-Grids and Ego-Graphs: A Confabulation With Finnegans Wake (public library) – a visually gripping suite of 44 graphics that captures in a beautifully abstract, ethereal yet tangibly coherent way the essence of the dense Joyce classic.

Drachler writes in the foreword:

I have mined the immense “Unterwealth” of Finnegans Wake, not with the aim of illustrating Joyce’s mythic narrative, but rather to tap into the energies of his truly protean language, and thus to bring about new contexts of word and image. Having been for many years a spellbound delver in the Wake, I began, for this project, a systematic culling out of hundreds of brief texts that spoke to me with particular resonance. I would then comb back and forth through these texts somewhat the way a water-douser follows his forked branch. Texts would call forth forms and forms would find their texts. The new contexts which were thus given shape are, to be sure, merely one man’s response to Joycean insights — a confabulation with a fabled work.

Thanks to Austin’s wonderful South Congress Books, where I found Joyce’s little-known poems, I got my hands on one of the few surviving copies — here is a glimpse of the deliciousness inside:

Though this gem is sadly long out of print, used copies can still be found. Happily, my limited-edition find includes this gorgeous original screenprint, signed by Drachler:

Take the abstraction level down a significant notch, but not the visual delight, with some illustrations from Joyce’s posthumously discovered children’s book.

Thanks to my friends at the School of Visual Arts for letting me use their large scanner.

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23 MAY, 2013

Delicious Vintage Food PSA Posters

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Save the sugar, eat your oatmeal, know your onions, and other tips from Uncle Sam.

Spending countless hours digging through archives isn’t without its rewards — namely, such semi-serendipitous finds as gorgeous black-and-white photos of NASA facilities, vintage ads for libraries and reading, yesteryear’s science ads, and mid-century posters from the Golden Age of Travel. My latest addition comes from the public domain images of the U.S. National Archives: a handful of delicious vintage food PSA posters, a number of which were later included in the book Eating with Uncle Sam: Recipes and Historical Bites from the National Archives (public library), based on the National Archive exhibition titled What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet.

Pair with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 13 uses for turkey leftovers.

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