"...a surgeon operating on the fluid body of time."

In 1931, Walker Evans and his friend Lincoln Kirstein set out to document in photographs the Victorian architecture of Kirstein's native Boston. As related in James Mellow's Walker Evans, Kirstein admitted their process was complicated...

"...even aside from the actual sighting, clicking etc. of the camera itself. The sun had to be just right and more often than not we would have to come back to the same place two or even three times for the light to be hard and bright. I felt like a surgeon's assistant to Walker. Cleaning up neatly after him, and he a surgeon operating on the fluid body of time. Some satisfaction in exhausting a given locale of its definite formal atmosphere - so rich, exuberant, gracious and redolent of a distinguished past..."

That meticulous nature - returning several times to get the lighting just right - is one of the things that sets Evans' photographs apart, into the realm of greatness.

February 20, 2020 in Art, Books, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

“...we would do poetry a favor..."

During a long-ago panel discussion involving Robert Duncan, Philip Levine and an unnamed third poet, the latter bemoaned those who didn't embrace poetry, believing they lacked any sense of beauty or even a reason for being. Duncan disagreed, saying:

"Some people do not twig to poetry, they may be inspired by things others don't care for - the operas of Wagner, the novels of Proust, the ballets of Merce Cunningham, the stories of Katherine Mansfield, the philosophical writing of Schopenhauer, the paintings of Francis Bacon. Perhaps they love the beauty of design, of Tiffany vases or of machinery, V-8 engines or drop forges. I think we would do poetry a favor if we stopped trying to shove it down the throats of those for whom it has no connection or resonance. But don't forget, if absolutely nothing turns you on, stirs you body and soul, you are in trouble."

I appreciate Duncan's sentiment, and especially his inclusion of "V-8 engines or drop forges" as objects worthy of aesthetic admiration. And I respect the warning he delivered in that final sentence.

(Quoted from Levine's My Lost Poets: A Life in Poetry.)

June 10, 2019 in Art, Books | Permalink | Comments (3)


“Comedy is the highest order of art, because it has to encompass tragedy or it’s not funny. You’re uplifted, but not in a saccharine way. You see all these truths of life, big and small, in their routines. In allowing us that, clowning is like the greatest sacrifice.” - Geoff Sobelle

August 14, 2018 in Art | Permalink | Comments (0)


"Don't worry about cool, make your own uncool." - Sol LeWitt

July 6, 2015 in Art | Permalink | Comments (0)

The imaginary libraries of Old London



This is wonderful: British artist Adam Dant has created a series of illustrations that fancifully imagine old London as being full of arcane libraries. The illustration above is his "The Subterranean Bovine Archive," followed by a current photograph of the same street. (Note that the building on the left is identical in both the illustration and photo. The implication is that the newer buildings on the right in the photo were built on the site of the Archive.) More pairings are on display at Spitalfields Life, from Dant's new book, Bibliopolis: Imaginary Libraries in the City of London. The spirit of these illustrations, and especially the quirky names of the libraries, remind me of Ben Katchor's not-quite-New York City; "Library on a Pole" could easily have come, in more modernized form, straight from Katchor's pen.

February 19, 2014 in Art, Books, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fitzpatrick on Shay

At Newcity, Tony Fitzpatrick writes a fine tribute to the great photographer Art Shay, who's still alive and kicking at 91, and currently has an exhibition at Ann Nathan Gallery.

His images of Wicker Park and Algren have no cheap sentiment in them. This was a neighborhood of immigrants, of the poor, of working people, of junkies and hustlers and whores—and Shay romanticizes none of it. For as unsparing as Algren’s prose was regarding this place, Shay matches him note for note. There was despair. There was grinding poverty. And there were transcendent moments of grace. None of it escaped Shay’s lens.

I really need to buy Shay's collection Chicago's Nelson Algren. ("Read Algren and you'll see Shay's pictures; look at Shay's photos and you'll hear Nelson's words.") One of my favorite photographers, and my favorite writer.

January 22, 2014 in Art, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Michelangelo's grocery list


This is pretty wonderful: Michelangelo's handwritten, illustrated grocery list. Illustrated, because his servants were illiterate, and couldn't read the words. I often joke about favorite writers, saying I'd gladly read anything of theirs, even their grocery lists. But Michelangelo's list is surely one of the few that qualifies as a priceless relic.

(Via Austin Kleon.)

January 10, 2014 in Art, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Distressed Poet...or Reader...or...


I love this painting by Hogarth, called "The Distressed Poet." I can totally sympathize with the poet's frustration over his concentration being destroyed by chatter. I felt the same way on my train, when either writing or reading, before Metra blessedly instituted their Quiet Cars which I've religiously ridden in ever since.

(Image via Better Living Through Beowulf.)

March 17, 2013 in Art, Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Boy's gotta have it.


What a fantastic bit of local ephemera: a tape box cover from Chicago's Universal Recording Studios, circa 1960. Music-related, vivid artwork, and a Bertrand Goldberg-designed building that still stands. What's not to love?

March 6, 2013 in Art, Chicago Observations, History, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Boy's gotta have it.


Fifty of Alvin Lustig's book covers for New Directions, in postcards. Sweet.

(Via Vol. 1 Brooklyn.)

February 14, 2013 in Art, Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Great War


BibliOdyssey has a striking gallery of World War One propaganda posters. The one shown above (by Fred W. Cooper) is the most subtle of the lot and, to me, the most effective. Though I suspect the more shocking ones would have been better at spurring people to action.

January 7, 2013 in Art, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Twee apen maken muziek"


I love this collection of Flemish anthropomorphic engravings by Quirin Boel and David Teniers, from 1635. I couldn't help noticing that the monkey musicians shown above are creating their art, as have musicians since the beginning of civilization, with libations within easy reach.

November 18, 2012 in Art, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Word portraits


I really like John Sokol's word portraits - famous writers drawn with the words of their writings. That's Walt Whitman shown above. However, I wouldn't be in the market for any of these, since I would only hang a portrait of one of my biggest literary heroes on my wall, and none of the writers in this collection quite qualifies. Ibsen probably comes the closest.

(Via The Paris Review.)

October 17, 2012 in Art, Books | Permalink | Comments (0)



Besides the anachronistic Gay Nineties imagery of this 1957 Schlitz ad, I have to admire the sheer chutzpah behind all of the Schlitz neologisms: Schlitzfest, Schlitzfellows, Schlitzchums, Schlitzlight ("Sits light because it's Schlitzlight"), Schlitzfestive, Schlitzkept, Schlitzness and Schlitzer. Interestingly, in the company's mania to propogate a catchphrase, they push the hard-earned Schlitz brand name dangerously close to meaninglessness.

(Via Today's Inspiration.)

June 29, 2012 in Art, Ephemera, History | Permalink | Comments (1)

"Chicago Interior"


I admire this painting by J. Theodore Johnson (1902-63). But I have to disagree with this commentary:
Outside, a gray sky provides a backdrop for snow-dusted buildings. But Johnson's wife wears a short-sleeve top, suggesting that the artist painted this scene from memory, in a warmer season.
Anyone who's ever lived with radiator heat (and especially in a small hotel room, as depicted in the painting) would know that short sleeves can comfortably be worn all winter long. My last rental apartment had a total of five radiators, but I only had to open the valve on two or three of them to make the entire apartment downright balmy. A cursory search also reveals that the Oak Park post office is adorned with Johnson's WPA murals, which I'll definitely check out next time I'm in the area.

(Via Calumet 412.)

June 11, 2012 in Art, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)



Delightful collection of artwork at BibliOdyssey by Charles H. Bennett, which slyly reveal what peoples' shadows may say about them. The image above is titled, not surprisingly, "Bantam." Bennett's book is digitized in full by the Widener Library at Harvard University.

April 15, 2012 in Art | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Orners


At Beatrice, Peter Orner reflects on his brother, the comix artist Eric Orner.

"My whole life I’ve pretty much been in awe of what [Eric] is able to do with his pen," Orner emailed me. "In some ways maybe my writing stories is a response what he does and I can’t do, which is make human beings and situations so alive on the page."

That image above is Eric Orner's lovely depiction of a Chicago water intake crib which, based on Peter's comment, was drawn entirely from memory. Impressive. I'm envious of visual artists too - I can't draw at all, but I can picture my stories very vividly in my mind. And it's very frustrating not being able to fully translate those images into words.

March 28, 2012 in Art, Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Carl Kock


Love these industrial illustrations by the artist Carl Kock. The immense, almost inhuman scale of the machinery in the above image reminds me of Bohumil Hrabal's Too Loud a Solitude, and the protagonist Hanta's tour of the modern paper compacting plant.

March 13, 2012 in Art, Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lynd Ward


Today's Inspiration has a great batch of woodcuts by Lynd Ward, who is generally considered to be the first graphic novelist. (I've been meaning to peruse his Library of America omnibus, Six Novels in Woodcuts, hopefully from my local library. It's expensive and not necessarily the sort of thing I'd ever "read" a second time, so I might go the library route as a trial run.) Intriguingly, that blogger says that while Ward's better known woodcuts leave him cold, "there is another side to Ward's work - one less well known," which he'll begin presenting tomorrow. Looking forward to that.

February 21, 2012 in Art, Books | Permalink | Comments (1)



Behold Harry Clarke's 1919-23 illustrations for Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination, at The Public Domain Review. The above image is for "Descent Into the Maelstrom" and, indeed, makes me feel like I'm descending. Plummeting, even.

January 19, 2012 in Art, Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Emil Nolde


My high school German teacher, Fraulein Seeliger, fought a perpetually hopeless battle to instill interest in German culture to our mostly indifferent class. Although most of the avant-garde literature and classical symphonies she exposed us to have long since slipped my memory, the one thing that stuck with me was the Expressionist art, particulary that of Emil Nolde. My favorite Nolde is "Vierwaldstätter See" (shown above), which she had clipped from a calendar and taped onto the wall behind my back-row desk. I always admired it, so much so that one day she took it down and gave it to me. But the print was somehow misplaced sometime after that, and I still miss it.

November 10, 2011 in Art | Permalink | Comments (1)

Dijsselhof woodcuts

Dijsselhof Vignette, 1893 j

I haven't posted about the marvelous BibliOdyssey in a while, an omission which I'll now correct by pointing to this great set of woodcuts by Dutch artist Gerrit Willem Dijsselhof. Lovely.

June 22, 2011 in Art, Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tony and the Nevilles


I first knew Tony Fitzpatrick as a poet, specifically for Bum Town, his book-length ode to his beloved hometown of Chicago. It wasn't until after I read (and loved) that book that I realized Fitzpatrick is even better known as a visual artist, specializing in collage pieces that draw heavily on Chicago history and also incorporate his own vast collection of matchbook covers and other ephemera.

I follow Tony on Facebook and noticed his recent status update in which he mentioned that he happened to be working (that is, creating an artwork) while cranking the Neville Brothers at high volume. I slowly began to consider how much Tony's work reminded me of New Orleans folk art and then, prompted by that status update, I fetched from my shelf the Nevilles' Yellow Moon, a terrific album that I hadn't listened to in quite a while. As I glanced at the lovely cover art (shown above), I was struck by how much it resembled Tony's work. So I checked the liner notes, and there it was: "Cover Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick." One of my favorite artists, and a favorite album, intimately and unexpectedly linked. Quite the serendipitous moment.

September 8, 2010 in Art, Books, Chicago Observations, Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

"These Are Their Stories"


This is fantastic. The artist Brandon Bird has compiled a list of one-sentence plot summaries of Law & Order ("A toy collector is accidentally shot", "A video-game player goes missing", etc.) from DirecTV, and solicited various artists to create works of art around them. Bird has published a handful of them at "These Are Their Stories" and is also curating a one-week exhibition of the works at Gallery Meltdown in Los Angeles. L&O is one of my favorite shows ever, and this is a truly wonderful tribute.

The image shown above is "Lawyer is Secretly a Stripper" by Brigid McCabe, my favorite of the online works.

(Via Wondermark.)

July 20, 2010 in Art | Permalink | Comments (0)

Dostoevsky in the subway


I heard this story on NPR last night about murals that were installed in a Moscow subway station which included scenes from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and The Devils. Seems there's some controversy, in which some are claiming that the violence-themed works are too depressing and might compel people to commit suicide. (Obviously not the artist's intent, or else he would have depicted the climactic scene from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina instead.) At first I scoffed at the idea, figuring that anybody who committed suicide after seeing the murals probably would have done so anyway - it seems unlikely that mere murals could finally push someone over the edge.

And now, after seeing some images of the murals, I'm even more convinced. The murals are quite stylish and somewhat abstract - not the graphic, lurid, blood-and-gore spectacle that I would have expected. Makes me wonder what those critics are getting all worked up about. I wouldn't even mind having one of these on my wall at home.

June 24, 2010 in Art, Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

Michael Tanzer


The art historian Albert Boime wrote "Michael Tanzer: An Artist Searching For His Routes", a lovely appreciation for the art and life of Michael Tanzer (the late father of my great friend Ben) which variously discusses the artist's interests in Jewish folklore, the concept of the outsider, and tattooing as fine art. Sounds like he was quite a man, and clearly a great artist.

The image shown above is Tanzer's Enigma (Kafka Enigma No. 1) which is one of many examples of his passion for Franz Kafka.

June 4, 2010 in Art | Permalink | Comments (1)

Love It Love It Love It!


Here's a fantastic gallery of background artwork from various Warner Brothers/Looney Tunes cartoons from way back in the day. I was heavily into Looney Tunes when I was growing up (weekdays on The Ray Rayner Show and Saturday mornings on CBS) and always loved the artwork. These stills show that even the backgrounds were wonderful.

(Via Drawn!.)

May 28, 2010 in Art, Personal | Permalink | Comments (2)

Pat Wright


That lovely painting above ("View From 18th Street Bridge") is the work of Chicago artist Pat Wright. I see this railroad bridge (at roughly 16th and Canal) twice a day from my train, and the building on the left also happens to be a paper recycler that is a client of the bank I work for.

May 23, 2010 in Art, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

MoMA in 125 Seconds

Wondering what's on exhibit right now at the Museum of Modern Art, but can't swing a trip to Manhattan? No problem. Click on the above, sit back, and for the next 125 seconds MoMA is yours.

(Via Paste.)

April 25, 2010 in Art | Permalink | Comments (0)

Carl Erickson, the local boy unexpectedly done good

I regularly follow the illustration blog Today's Inspiration but was particularly struck by this quote that appeared there this week:
"There is no reason, of course, why the suave delineator of chic femininity, whose drawings for twenty years have given poignance to America's smartest fashion magazine, should not have been born in Joliet, Illinois."
The quote is about Carl Erickson, who was born in Joliet in 1891 and went on to a celebrated career as illustrator, under the oh-so-chic singular name "Eric", in the fashion industry. I had never heard of him before but now am quite impressed by his work. The blog has been running a series on Eric this week, which I encourage you to check out:

Carl (Eric) Erickson (1891-1958)
Eric: "the suave delineator of chic femininity"
The Extent of Eric's Influence
Carl Erickson: The "Deceptively Simple Line" of the "Lifestyle Illustrator"
The Art of Carl Erickson: "Easy or Impossible"

From everything I've read about Joliet in the late 19th and early 20th centuries - rough and tumble, blue collar, pervaded by heavy industry - I'd say it's indeed remarkable that the "suave delineator of chic femininity" hailed from here. Yesterday I found this bio on his father, Per Erickson, who, quite true to the city's rough image, was the "keeper" (warden? jailer?) at the Joliet Penitentiary.

March 29, 2009 in Art, Ephemera, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

W. David Shaw


Throwback that I am [1], I find myself increasingly drawn to mid-century art and design. I particularly love this illustration of San Francisco by W. David Shaw, from the mid 1950s, which beautifully captures the color and bustle of the city. Check out the full-size magazine spread here, as well as a biographic piece on Shaw at Today's Inspiration.

[1] No, I haven't seen Mad Men yet, though I've been meaning to. I strongly suspect that the show might suddenly inspire in me an overwhelming passion for Manhattans, Brylcreem and boat-sized automobiles with tailfins.

November 23, 2008 in Art | Permalink | Comments (3)

Chicago Cultural Center

This month's art exhibitions at the Chicago Cultural Center look quite interesting, especially these three:


Petronele Gerlikiene: Embroidered Myths and Everyday Stories
through April 6, 2008
Chicago Cultural Center, Michigan Avenue Galleries
78 E. Washington Street

One of the most acclaimed, self-taught Lithuanian-American artists, Petronele Gerlikiene was born in Chicago in 1905 and died in Vilnius, Lithuania in 1979. She spent most of her life working in the countryside but, after retiring in 1972, she moved to the capital to live with her artist son. Fond of needlework and embroidery, she started to create her own compositions on curtains and rugs, with different trees as the central motifs, often surrounded by people and animals, sometimes referring to Lithuanian myths or simple daily life experiences. Organized by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs in cooperation with the Lithuanian Art Gallery Ciurlionis, Inc. and the Lithuanian Consulate in Chicago.


Women of Islam: Photographs by Rania Matar
through March 30, 2008
Chicago Cultural Center, Michigan Avenue Galleries
78 E. Washington St., Chicago

Boston area photographer Rania Matar originally hails from Lebanon, where she has repeatedly returned in pursuit of images of her homeland. This newest body of black and white work provides an insightful, inter-generational study of women and the volatile issue of the head scarf in Muslim culture. Organized by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.


Marcelino Stuhmer: The Recurring Dream
through March 23, 2008
Chicago Cultural Center, Michigan Avenue Galleries
78 E. Washington St., Chicago

Marcelino Stuhmer's new installation of paintings presents a 12-foot diameter panoramic painting depicting the famous dream sequence from the Cold War film classic, The Manchurian Candidate (1962). In this scene, the camera pans 360º around the room, transforming an elderly women’s meeting on hydrangeas into a brutal Communist display of mind-control. As part of the installation, Stuhmer is also exhibiting a series of portraits of the American character actor Henry Silva, who has consistently been typecast in movies as an ethnic bad guy. While Silva's Korean Communist character Chunjin actually appears in the panoramic dream sequence, the portrait series entitled The Silva Screen, consists of manifestations of the actor, drawn from the numerous minority menaces he's played throughout his career. Organized by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs.

And I also see there's an upcoming exhibition by one of my favorite artists, Tony Fitzpatrick, starting in May that I'll be sure to attend as well. When I first starting working downtown, over five years ago, I was very diligent about regularly attending art exhibitions in the Loop (including the Cultural Center, the Illinois Gallery at the Thompson Center, and Columbia College) but even though I saw some great shows early on (most notably Gary Stochl and Jay Ryan) I haven't done much of that lately. I'll certainly be rectifying that soon, starting with these shows.

March 1, 2008 in Art, Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Weekend Multimedia

The Clash in 1981, on Tom Snyder's show, being interviewed and performing "The Magnificent Seven". Damn, we'll likely never see the likes of the Clash again.

Chin Up Chin Up is one of the more interesting bands in Chicago, and anywhere in fact. Here's the video for "This Harness Can't Ride Anything", from their most recent release of the same name. An enjoyable artist's depiction of the band - at first it made me think of the Simpsons, but later it did indeed invoke Yellow Submarine. It's always nice to see bands branch out from the conventional "live video of the band performing" format.

I don't know if still images truly qualify as "multimedia", but you know what? This is my blog, and I don't care about such petty distinctions. Hence, witness these gorgeous illustrations by Pascal Blanchet. And while all of them are very much worth browsing, I'd particularly like to point out this one, which quite perfectly captures my Monday mornings.

(Clash link via Coudal, Blanchet link via Drawn!.)

September 22, 2007 in Art, Music | Permalink | Comments (1)