Emily Hughes – WILD

Emily Hughes - Wild

Emily Hughes – Wild

 

Wild”. Liked the title and that happy cheerful girl on the cover with big curious eyes, bright smile, and that huge wild hair with intertwined forest flowers. This is an illustration of ourselves many years ago, before we grow up, become boring and adapted to the rules of the society. And this is an illustration of our children before we gradually build them a frame in the name of their well-being.

The young Emily Hughes (like Ella Frances Sanders, she is also in the beginning of her twentieth), has already realized that to be really happy in life, you have to stay true to yourself.

Her debut both as an author and illustrator tells a story about a girl, who grew up in the woods, surrounded by the love of nature. Animals, trees, flowers – they all are friends taking care of her. She is free, without complexes, and absolutely happy. One fine day however some concerned adults all of a sudden appeared in her life and turned it upside down. Worrying about her future, they decided to take her with them in the big city to raise her properly. What a lucky girl! Now in the civilization world she will learn to read, to eat with manners, to talk in an established way and most importantly, to comb her hair! The issue is not in knowledge. It is actually praiseworthy and highly appreciated. The problem is in the way we are enforced to acquire it. The expansion of our horizons is always connected with inner changes. And when it is against our will but in accordance to the others’ will, we lose our own road and start walking their paths. Instead to flourish in a wild colouful blossom, the grain of our originality wilts.

I do love books that contain message both for children and for adults. The lovely illustrated book of Emily with few precise words is exactly that type. Like that one of Oliver Jeffers. They are mainly addressed to children to convey them valuable life lessons but I think that such stories are always welcomed to adults too. To clean a little the dust from the wardrobe where we collect our experiences gathered through the years and recall some basic truths about life.

Don’t follow the rules of others. They may look more progressive, but this doesn’t mean they are more suitable for you. Be yourself, be wild!

 

Ferdinand Bauer – Flora Graeca

Blame it on the spring, but I’ll stay tuned on the same floral theme.

And this post is about a book proclaimed as “the greatest botanical work that has ever appeared” – the magnificent “Flora Graeca”.

Ferdinand Bauer - Flora Graeca

Ferdinand Bauer – Flora Graeca

 

It actually is not just a single book but a monumental compilation of 10 volumes of floral specimens previously unknown to science. They were collected by the English botanist John Sibthorp (1758 – 1796) from the flora of Greece during his two trips in 1786-87 and in 1794-95. With respect and admiration to his enormous work, but what catch the eye are the beautiful drawings of the Austrian illustrator Ferdinand Βauer (1760 – 1826). Bauer’s work is now regarded as one of the finest examples of botanical illustration and is highly appreciated by all plant lovers, not only by the specialists.

In reality, Bauer accompanied Sibthorp only on his first journey. Unable to carry with him on a field the range of colours needed, he made accurate preliminary sketches with a pencil filling them with a lot of numbers. These figures were his mysterious code to re-create afterwards the exact tones, colours and shades of the specimens. Upon returning in England he stayed a few years in Oxford producing 966 superbly water-coloured illustrations, all of them included subsequently in “Flora Graeca”.

Sibthorp died at a young age of 37 and accordingly to his will, he bequeathed his whole property to the Oxford University on condition that the income which would come from the exploitation of his fortune would be allocated to the publication of ‘Flora Graeca’ in 10 volumes.

The publishing of the first two volumes of this labour-intensive work started in 1806 and it took 34 years to complete it. Until 1828 gradually followed another four, the 7th appeared in 1830 and finally in 1840 this unique collection was finished with the last three.

Bauer created illustrations superior to anything of their kind in existence then, and his work was to become one of the most valuable treasures of the University of Oxford. The originals are now safely kept in the Bodleian Libraries in the Department of Plant Sciences.

For a closer look, see this short video from the series Treasures of the Bodleian, Flora Graeca.

 

Katsushika Hokusai – Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji

Look well at the first image with the threatening wave. Isn’t it a breathtaking drawing? I was mesmerized by it seeing it years ago. You can almost feel the very last moment of your life, just before it submerges you in its embrace.

This is the famous “Great Wave off Kanagawa” – probably the most iconic work of the Japanese art – and was created by Katsushika Hokusai. It is a part of a series of woodblock prints titled “36 views of Mount Fuji” made between 1830-1833 but due to its popularity and commercial success it was expanded with another 10 prints, thus the total actually adds up to 46.

The choice of Mount Fuji as a major theme was not accidental. It is the highest mountain in Japan and its beautiful shape with the snowy peak for long time had been infusing with a mythical aura the imagination of the Japanese. It was considered a sacred place where everybody should go on a pilgrimage at least once in his lifetime. Its presence in all of the prints conveys the idea of eternity and how insignificant we are to the passage of time, and the beauty of nature. Besides of the main subject itself, the way it is depicted with a constantly changing angle of focusing our attention upon it and combined with the daily activities of the Japanese from different classes, creates an impression of seeing a documentary about the life in pre-industrial Japan.

The mountain could be observed in varies viewpoints – from occupying an enormous space in the frame to a tiny detail in the background even barely noticeable. Nevertheless of its place and size it is always well incorporated to the portrayed fragments from life of the local people. In some its magnificence stands out poetically in the distance admired by the wealthier circles of society. In others is like a silent witness to the daily routine for survival of the ordinarily people. This dance with the viewer’s eye explores the relationship between man and his natural environment. This technique applied by the artist, Katsushika Hokusai, was an innovation for the ukiyo-e prints within the times he lived.

Ukiyo-e is a genre of woodblock prints which flourished in Japan during the Edo Period from the 17th to the 19th century. It means “a floating world” and its aim was to entertain the public with subjects like courtesans, kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers and erotica. With his works in the late Edo period, Hokusai moved away from these customary themes and refocused the attention to the landscape, flora and fauna, and to the people’s everyday activities.

Katsushika Hokusai was born 1760 and died in 1849 at the remarkable age of 88. He did not stop working through his whole life. The masterpieces however were created  after the age of 60. The series “36 views of Mount Fuji”  is among them.

During his life Japan had put itself in an isolation to the outside world, but still there were some trade relations with the Dutch who introduced the Western art to the Japanese. Hokusai was deeply influenced by these works from which he adopted the linear perspective but converted it in his own Japanese variation. A few years after his death, the Americans forced Japan to open to the west and in his turn his compositional genius was started to be admired on the west by the prominent artists, and especially by the impressionists.

 

Oliver Jeffers – How to Catch a Star

Oliver Jeffers is one of those artists you can’t resist buying all his books. It is that combination of his talent to tell stories with the paint brush and just a few words as final strokes, that you can’t have enough of reading them. Though his illustrations are so expressive that even alone can narrate the stories, the unique sparkle of his tales is due to their fine coherence with a handful ingenious words.

His first illustrated book is called “How to Catch a Star” and was published in 2004. It was created as a project for his final year course work. He explained that it took him about a year, but obviously it was worth the effort, as he got a positive reply from the publishers Philomel Books right away as he had sent it.

Oliver Jeffers - How to catch a star

Oliver Jeffers – How to catch a star

 

And what it is about? It is a story of a boy who desires to have his own star. He tireless chases his dream figuring plans one after the other how to catch it. Climbing to the top of the tallest tree? Not tall enough. Use his rocket ship? It had run out of petrol last Tuesday when he flew to the moon. And so on, but unfortunately all of them with no success. When finally, just when the boy is ready to give up, he learns that sometimes things aren’t where, or what, we expect them to be. He finds a starfish instead, floating in the waters, and became friends with it.

Though in general, Oliver Jeffers is ‘considered’ a children’s author/illustrator, I definitely recommend his works to the adults too. Exploring subjects like friendship, loneliness, independence, imagination and creativity, they bring back to mind some simple truths about life, we have left behind in the childhood.

If interested further on the book, check also these two sites: http://www.oliverjeffersanniversary.com/ and http://oliverjeffersworld.com/. The first gives more information on the 10th Anniversary of the book and the second is a funny game for children to find objects.

 

Lorenzo Mattotti – ‘Hansel and Gretel’

The black and white eerie illustrations of Lorenzo Mattotti in Neil Gaiman’s version of the Brothers Grimm story of Hansel and Gretel are what pinned my eyes on the book. They are so overly inky that you hardly recognize what is actually depicted on some of them. But if you looked them from a distance, suddenly the details take shape and you can feel the dark vibe that characterizes this scaring story. The illustrations are so dramatic and powerful due to the depth, the artist accomplished with the careful use of the white.

Lorenzo Mattotti - Hansel and Gretel

Lorenzo Mattotti – Hansel and Gretel

 

Lorenzo Mattotti explained that the inspiration for these expressive drawings came from a walk in the unique forests in Patagonia during one of his trips a decade ago. Trying to reproduce on his canvas the atmosphere he felt there, he simply limited the palette to abundant black outlined by a little white. In 2007 the artist was asked to present his vision of Hensel and Gretel for an exhibition at the Metropolitan Opera celebrating the performance of the Humperdinck’s eponymous opera, and without a second thought, he used his newly discovered technique to convey the dark theme of the tale. Two years later the images were published in books in France and Italy, in collaboration with French and Italian writers who followed the classic story.

Years later Neil Gaimen, who was also appealed by these drawings, narrated the tale, but true to himself in his ominous style. He discusses his grounds in this short video – “If you are protected from dark things then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up. I think it is really important to show dark things to kids—and in the showing, to also show that dark things can be beaten, that you have power. Tell them you can fight back. Tell them you can win”. The book was published in October, 2014 by Toon Books.

 

The Botanical Anthology of KARL BLOSSFELDT (1865-1932) – part 2

What was so unique in the works of Blossfeldt?

Karl Blossfeldt

Karl Blossfeldt

 

Obviously he had adopted the Meurer’s conception and was inspired by the artistic structure and architectural elegance of the plants. He was intrigued with every component of the plant – flowers, buds, seed capsules, roots, tendrils, pods, twigs.

“The plant never lapses into mere arid functionalism; it fashions and shapes according to logic and suitability, and with its primeval force compels everything to attain the highest artistic form,” he said.

But reviewing the diverse art movements at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th the use of botanical motifs was not something innovative. Actually they were very popular, especially in the Art Nouveau designs.

Karl Blossfeldt

Karl Blossfeldt

 

The uniqueness is in the original way he captured them: magnification, sharp focus, balanced arrangement, neutral background, high contrast and diffused lightening with only slightest grey shadows beneath the objects.

With his homemade camera he could reach a magnification up to 30x times of the genuine size; an amplification common for what is called now macro photography. This along with the sharp focus reveal extraordinary details of a plant natural structure and shape and provides a visual access to its beauty and lucidity. The trend in photography that time was for elaborate backgrounds, but Blossfeldt’s compositions distinguished with centered plants against a plain monochromatic ground. The viewer should not have to be destructed in his investigation of the object. Showing the finest features of a plant in an isolated contest emphasize their inwardness and expose the individuality and the character of each of them.

Karl Blossfeldt

Karl Blossfeldt

 

After the success of his 1st book in 1928, Blossfeldt was persuaded by Nierendorf to collect another 120 of his photos and in 1932 was published his 2nd book – Wundergarten der Natur (Magic Garden of Nature), again making a phenomenal impact as the previous one and winning him a recognition as one of the key photographers of the 20th century.

Karl Blossfeldt

Karl Blossfeldt

 

Returning to that student exhibition we started… Through the eyes of the past years what else we could add to ‘captivating, outstanding, breathtaking’ when describing the Blossfeldt’s works? Surely a lot, but only one stands out – ‘classical’. Though almost a century has been passed, these graphic black and white photos continue to excite and impress the public. They remain unique and at the same time modern as if they were created nowadays. And apart of their artistic value, they haven’t lost their main purpose and still could be used as teaching materials. Something that probably for Blossfeldt would be the greatest reward.

Karl Blossfeldt

Karl Blossfeldt

 

Karl Blossfeld’s photographs nowadays are published in many photo books.

 

 

The Botanical Anthology of KARL BLOSSFELDT (1865-1932) – part 1

Imagine you are an art dealer and as you are viewing a student exhibition, suddenly you face to these photographs…

Karl Blossfeldt

Karl Blossfeldt

 

‘Captivating, outstanding, breathtaking!’ That was probably what Karl Nierendorf, an art dealer and owner of a gallery in Berlin, thought that moment almost a century ago, in 1926. He was so impressed by what he saw, that immediately arranged with the artist who had created them, an exhibition at his own gallery. And two years later, in 1928, a book followed. It was called Unformen der Kunst (Archetypes of Art), composed of 120 photos and turned out a bestseller. The book was highly praised both by the art critics and the public and still is considered as one of the most influential books of photography ever.

But who was that artist who all of a sudden amazed the world with his unique vision?

Karl Blossfeldt

Karl Blossfeldt

 

His name is Karl Blossfeldt, a German teacher of art and a self-thought photographer, who that time was going into his 60s. Of course, he did not become a famous overnight but a long professional experience stood behind him. And here is the story …

Karl Blossfeldt was born on the 13th of June 1865, in Schielo, Harz Mountains, in central Germany. In 1881, at the age of 16, until 1884, he was sent as an apprentice to Magdesprung to study the craft in the local ironworks and foundry. Afterwards, until 1890, he studied art at the Kunstgewerbeschule (school of arts and crafts) in Berlin.

And it is from 1890 when his perception about his artistic expression started to form.

That year Blossfeldt was hired by Professor Moritz Meurer (1839-1916) to assist him in assembling a collection of botanical illustrations to be used as teaching materials in guiding the designers in their production of innovative motifs.

Professor Moritz Meurer was a recognized botanist and a decorative artist. His concept was that only through the study of the forms of nature, particularly of the plants, the artist can acquire the understanding of the design. In 1889 the Prussian Board of Trade assigned him a project about the improvement of the technical drawings in the state schools. Because the visual images were an integral part of documenting the diversity of plants, Meurer employed nine different artists to assist him in the production of the illustrations. They travelled within Germany and also to Italy and Greece collecting specimens. One of them was Karl Blossfeldt who photographed the local plants with a camera he had built himself. These photographs were published later in Meurer’s books and were used by the latter for the drawing classes he taught in Rome.

Karl Blossfeldt

Karl Blossfeldt

 

In 1898 Blossfeldt was offered a teaching post as an assistant professor of drawing and modeling at the very same Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin he had graduated. Highly influenced by the Meurer’s vision, Blossfeldt continued to employ it until his retirement in 1930. For all those years he created an impressive archive of plant photographs. These images were made as nothing more than a teaching tool for educating his students about the design elements that could be found in the nature.

On the 9th of December, 1932, Karl Blossfeldt passed away.

Karl Blossfeldt

Karl Blossfeldt

 

to be continued

 

Tod McLellan – Things Come Apart

Todd McLellan‘s series ‘Things come apart‘ presents dismantled products from our daily life in motion as air-explosion and in stillness, meticulously arranged revealing a great sense of design.  All the particles are neatly organized not omitting even the smallest ones like nuts and bolts, showing the beauty of the product from another perspective.

All these ordinarily products like typewriter, wall clock, telephone, camera, iPod, printer, and so many others, are not only portraits of our technology time, but also showing that there is a whole hidden world of functioning most of us have no idea about it. We have learned how to use and serve with the tools and usually not interested in delving into the deeper layers of how exactly they were made. A reminder not to take for granted the world we have created.

Todd McLellan - Things Come Apart

Todd McLellan – Things Come Apart

 

The series is available as a photobook published by Thames & Hudson and to learn about the working process watch this short video

 

Sonja Hinrichsen – Snow Drawings

Sonja Hinrichsen - Snow Drawings

Sonja Hinrichsen – Snow Drawings

 

Sonja Hinrichsen is an artist who is interested in engaging the audience. As she explains in the statement in her website, she feels “the responsibility to address subject matters our society tends to neglect or deny, including adverse impacts to the natural environment, social inequality and injustice, and human exploitation. I am not interested in creating lasting artworks, as I believe that our world is over-saturated with man-made products. I like to unfold my work into large immersive experiences, however I prefer that it live on in its documentation only, and – hopefully – in the memories of my audiences.”

The series “Snow Drawings” started in 2009 during her 3-month residence in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. It was at first just a few snowshoes walks but gradually evolved into art projects. The last one, in 2014, with the title “We are water“, was composed with the assistance of a team of 50-60 volunteers from the local residents.  She only gave basic instructions to the participants in view of the idea which was going to be drawn and then the creation was all up to them. Each of the performers presented a drop of water and how he/she imagined the movement of this drop – slow, fast, swirling, lingering, straight, curving. On the following day, Sonja Hinrichsen, photographed them from an airplane.

 

Sonja Hinrichsen - Snow Drawings

Sonja Hinrichsen – Snow Drawings

 

 

Pawel Kuczynski – the cruel side of the reality

The works of the Polish artist Pawel Kuczynski are powerful portraits of the social, political and cultural reality we are living in. And sadly, this is the reality we have been living in for centuries. Nothing has changed in the human relationships – wars, money, poverty, hunger, greed, political power and so on. We haven’t learned from our mistakes at all. These works are created exactly to show us the “Matrix” we are still part of and provoke us to question it.

Pawel Kuczynski

Pawel Kuczynski