Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘illustration’

16 FEBRUARY, 2012

Urville: An Autistic Savant’s Remarkable Imaginary City, 20 Years in the Making

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A rare glimpse of the extreme frontiers of human ability and imagination.

With its population of 12 million, its formidable architecture, and its extensive infrastructure, Urville, the capital of a large island province, is one of Europe’s most important cities. If your geographic confidence is beginning to quiver and crumble, you can exhale — Urville is entirely imaginary.

For the past 20 years, French autistic savant Gilles Trehin has been devising and developing this fanciful megacity, from the remarkable architectural detail to the thoughtful cultural context rooted in real world history, including WWII’s impact on the city and how the forces of globalization are changing its fabric. For instance, on the French Revolution:

In 1789, during the French Revolution, Urville has 2.8 millions inhabitants, but the number of habitations became too limited to host the huge population growth due to the Industrial Revolution. In order to cope, the authorities of Urville call upon the famous town-planner Oscar Laballière (1803/ 1883) to start gigantic urban projects which are still outlining Urville even today.”

Urville gathers 300 of Trehin’s meticulous, obsessive drawings and sets the door ajar to this complex and intricately woven alternate reality, inviting you in. It’s part Stephen Wiltshire’s panoramas, part Gregory Blackstock’s lists, part Jerry’s Map — an utterly original.

At its heart, Urville offers a rare glimpse into the mind of a savant, the artistic equivalent of Daniel Tammet’s linguistic and mathematical prowess.

Thanks, Wy

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08 FEBRUARY, 2012

Da Vinci’s Ghost: How The Vitruvian Man Came To Be

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Fifteen centuries of combinatorial creativity, or what Leonardo’s to-do list has to do with ancient Rome.

In the first century B.C., at the dawn of the Roman imperial age, the architect and thinker Vitruvius proposed that the human body could fit inside a circle, symbolic of the divine, and a square, associated with the earthly and secular — an idea that later became known as the theory of the microcosm, and came to power European religious, scientific, and artistic ideologies for centuries. Some fifteen hundred years later, in 1487, Leonardo da Vinci rediscovered Vitruvius’s theories and put them into form. Thus, the Vitruvian Man was born — one of humanity’s most powerful, iconic, and enduring images, and a cornerstone of mapping the body, dominating visual culture in everything from books to billboards. Yet its story is far more complex than that, and its enigma far richer than a handful of historical factoids. This is exactly what Toby Lester unravels in Da Vinci’s Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image — a fascinating century-wide saga that explores how Leonardo set out to expand the metaphysical horizons of his art by studying the proportions and anatomy of the human body and its relationship with the cosmos, and ultimately created a visceral impression of Renaissance thought itself in the process.

Lester observes:

At a superficial level, [Vitruvian Man] is simply a study of individual proportions. But it’s also something far more subtle and complex. It’s a profound act of philosophical speculation. It’s an idealized portrait in which Leonardo, stripped down to his essence, takes his own measure and, in doing so, embodies a timeless human hope: that we just might have the power of mind to figure out how we fit into the grand scheme of things.”

The story, spanning a wealth of disciplines, cultures, and eras, unfolds through two parallel threads — one tracing Leonardo’s individual journey, and one weaving together the collective narrative of the people and ideas who filled and filtered the fifteen centuries between Vitruvius and Da Vinci. Among them are ancient Greek sculptors, early Christian and Muslim philosophers, Renaissance architects and anatomists, and Poggio Bracciolini, the book-hunter credited with starting the Renaissance.

Leonardo was also a voracious information omnivore, a quality so fundamental to the very networked knowledge and combinatorial creativity that no doubt enabled him to create the Vitruvian Man. He always carried a notebook with him and was known to have owned at least 45. Lester writes of the journals:

These notes reveal Leonardo in his perpetually ravenous information-gathering mode. Benedictine monks, obscure medieval treatises, university professors, popular guidebooks, accountants, itinerant merchants, foreign diplomats, artillerymen, military engineers, waterworks experts: all are fair game to him as he hunts for information about subjects that interest him.”

To complement Robert Krulwich’s NPR story about the book, my supremely talented friend Wendy MacNaughton (remember her?) drew this lovely illustrated to-do list based on a page from one of Da Vinci’s notebooks circa the 1490s:

More than a treasure trove of historical ephemera — though it certainly is that, with its generous selection of rare archival images that capture the evolution of Vitruvian Man — Da Vinci’s Ghost is also a profound reflection on humanity’s timeless obsession with untangling the intricate relationship between the physical and the metaphysical in our quest to better understand what we are and where we belong in the universe.

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31 JANUARY, 2012

Paris vs. New York: Minimalist Illustrated Parallels of Culture

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Macaron vs. cupcake, Proust vs. Salinger, bobo vs. hipster, bordeaux vs. cosmo.

For the past two years, graphic designer Vahram Muratyan, a self-described “lover of Paris wandering through New York,” has been chronicling the peculiarities and contradictions of the two cities through “a friendly visual match” of minimalist illustrated parallel portraits. Today, Muratyan joins the finest blog-turned-books with Paris versus New York: A Tally of Two Cities — an absolutely charming collection of these vibrant visual dichotomies and likenesses. From beverages to beards, hands to houses, Muratyan captures the intricacies of cultural difference in a way that blends the minimalist and playful visual whimsy of Noma Bar’s Guess Who? with the side-by-side parallelism of Mark Laita’s Created Equal to deliver something entirely new and entirely delightful.

la romantique

le café

l'obsession

(You might recall the above from the excellent Visual Storytelling: Inspiring a New Visual Language.)

le roman

la barbe

le matin

les mains

la façade

le réalisateur

l'apéro

Many of these gems are available as prints on Society6, one of the best places to find affordable art. A set of postcards is being released shortly.

Images courtesy of Vahram Muratyan / Penguin

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