Monday, January 25, 2010

It looks good!

I was just forwarded this link by Yuko Shimizu. The art director and/or stylist for Crate & Barrel's CB2 used Krister Flodin's cover for Issue 12 on this new magazine rack!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Taxali 300

As many of you probably know Gary Taxali has a show coming in Toronto, The Taxali 300, the opening reception is Thursday, January 28th, 6 - 9 pm. Gary was hoping to get a catalog printed in time for the show and had asked me to do the foreward for it, as it is there will be a small book for the show but a monograph coming out later this year from the Narwhal Art Projects that will have my Foreward in it.

I was deeply honored to be invited to write the foreward for Gary's book especially in light of the fact that Gary's work propelled me to the status I find myself in today. The date was somewhere in the year 2002, I was working as co-publisher at Graphis and trying to get Marty Pedersen more interested in illustration. I myself had slipped away from illustration in the late 90s gravitating towards more use of photography but I stumbled onto the work of Gary Taxali, the Clayton Brothers, Marc Burckhardt and the like and was totally re-energized by what I was seeing. To me a renaissance was happening and I wanted to be a part of promoting the work of these new artists. Gary helped open my eyes to what was possible in illustration, how unique it could be, how unlike photography it was and how the personal voice of the artist rang true in every piece. So yes I was more than happy to write Gary's foreward, Gary gets the biggest credit for my starting 3x3 in 2003.

Here's my Foreward:

Artists have been making marks on surfaces for centuries, as any art history major knows the first evidence of such mark making is found near Vallon-Pont-d’Arc at the Grotte Chauvet in southern France. Dating back 32,000 years these cave walls display hundreds of animal paintings depicting at least 13 different species, including those rarely found in ice age paintings—all done in the limited palette of red ochre and black. Also, rather than depicting only the familiar animals of the hunt these walls are covered with predatory animals: lions, panthers, bears, owls, rhinos and hyenas. Figures are a rarity, one represents a woman’s legs and genitalia, another the lower body of a woman and the upper body of a bison. There are also a variety of red ochre handprints along with other abstract features of dots and lines.

What makes the caves near Vallon-Pont-d’Arc so interesting is the preparation of the surface. Time was spent chipping away the rock to make a smooth and much lighter background. It also made it easier to incise lines around selected images drawing them into the foreground. In a certain light these figures have a three dimensional quality. This was no passing fancy, the intention was clear: to represent their day and time, the why is the mystery. Many feel there were spiritual or shamanic reasons for such paintings. The fact that they’ve lasted for centuries without abuse, without modifications, additions or deletions gives them a power all their own. Once their mark was made it stayed.

Even as young children we are compelled to use our hands to make art, to describe visually what is around us. Long before we are able to write we draw. Our first feeble efforts may be nothing more than scribbles on paper; later efforts add circles, oblongs and squares. Our primitive drawings are meant to portray family, friends and basic elements of our environments. Backgrounds are minimal. Perhaps a simple horizon line, a tree, a house with mom out in front and a few clouds against an otherwise blank sky. There is no perspective, things are flattened, one-dimensional. There is no shading, things are filled-in in flat colors or left blank so the paper shows through. There is no directional lighting; frontal full lighting is the style of these early drawings. As children we’re strictly two-dimensional.

Artists have always searched out surfaces to draw, paint, carve or etch. It could be wax or clay tablets, silk and later papyrus and finally paper. The preparation of these surfaces could be a process in itself. Take papyrus for instance, a thick paper-like material is made by weaving the steams of the papyrus plant then pounding the sheets with mallets and then gluing them together as scrolls. Introduced in Egypt’s First Dynasty, the actual evidence has been traced back to 2400 BC. We have the Han Court eunuch Cai Lan to thank for developing the first papermaking process in the 2nd Century AD. The use of paper spread from China through the Islamic world, where the first paper mills were built, and entered production in Europe in the early 12th century. The mechanized production of papermaking in the early 19th century caused significant cultural changes worldwide, allowing for relatively cheap exchange of information in the form of letters, newspapers and books for the first time. In 1844, both Canadian inventor Charles Fenerty and German inventor F.G. Keller invented the machine and process for pulping wood for the use in papermaking. This would end the nearly 2000-year use of pulped rags and start a new era for the production of newsprint and eventually all paper out of pulped wood.

Whether made from papyrus, parchment, or paper in East Asia, scrolls were the dominant form of book in the Hellenistic, Roman, Chinese and Hebrew cultures.

The first written mention of the modern codex book format form is from Martial, in his Apophoreta CLXXXIV at the end of the century, where he praises its compactness. However the codex never gained much popularity in the Hellenistic world though the Christian community embraced its use during the third and fourth centuries. The reasons: the format is more economical as both sides of the writing material can be used, it’s portable, searchable and most importantly for the Christians, easy to conceal. The Christian authors may also have wanted to distinguish their writings from the pagan texts written on scrolls.

Before the invention and adoption of the printing press, books were copied by hand, which made books both expensive and rare. In the Middle Ages, monasteries, even the largest ones held a mere 500 volumes while it is said that the papal library in Avignon and Paris library at the Sorbonne held only 2,000 volumes. Bookmaking was laborious, each copy was made by hand by an assembled crew made up of five types of scribes: Calligraphers, who dealt in fine book production; Copyists, who dealt with basic production and correspondence; Correctors, who collated and compared a finished book with the manuscript from which it had been produced; Illuminators, who painted illustrations and Rubricators, who painted in the red letters. The parchment had to be prepared, then the unbound pages were planned and ruled with a blunt tool, after which the text was written by the scribe, who usually left blank areas for illustration and rubrication. Finally, the book was bound by the bookbinder.

The Arabs revolutionized the book's production and its binding in the medieval Islamic world and became the first to produce paper books—sewn with silk and bound with leather covered pasteboards with a flap that wrapped the book up when not in use. The production of books became a real industry, walk down a certain street in Marrakech and you’d find more than 100 bookshops. Other advances included moveable type, first introduced in 1045 AD by Chinese inventor Pi Sheng who made the first moveable type from earthenware followed by metal movable type invented in Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty around 1230 AD. But it was Johannes Gutenberg who is credited with inventing movable type in 1450 AD along with innovations in casting the type based on a matrix and hand mould. Book production increased as the cost to produce the book went down. Books were no longer treasure but an object to be read and treasured.

The artist has always contributed to the visual imagery of text throughout the ages whether it was a 15th Century woodcut illustration, a 16th Century engraving or the advent of lithography in the 18th Century, there were artists, illuminators or illustrators—mostly anonymous—who told stories through pictures.

What may have started as a cave painting is today found on every surface and screen in the world. While the Golden Age of illustration may have come and gone there is a renewed vigor in the sources and styles of illustration we find today. The younger generation has found new life in this profession and the examples are as varied as the artists themselves.

One never likes to talk about style, after all what is style? It sounds so trendy and can be. True style is really a personal vision that the artist has that is his or her own. No one can claim the rights to any one style other than their own. Each is unique. Impactful. Realized. Emphatic. It comes from within, from a person’s culture, his background, surroundings and influences large and small. No truer example of this is the work of Gary Taxali. Born in Chandigarh, India in 1968 the Taxali family moved to Toronto one year later. His father worked for the Ministry of Transportation but also liked to draw and paint and write poetry and would be the first to encourage Gary’s early drawings. Drawing since age four, Gary’s focus never varied graduating from the Ontario College of Art and Design he began a fruitful career as an illustrator/artist.

What distinguishes Gary’s work is his use of surface. While other artists gravitate towards a clean, smooth surface of vellum or paper or canvas Taxali searches out found papers, old textbooks, and antique books to draw upon. Purposefully leaving the marks that come with age and not resorting to adding textures commonly found in today’s Photoshop, there is certain spirituality to the work surfaces. Someone before this artist has made their marks—dates, signatures, addresses, stains, doodles, which force the artist to be sensitive to their presence thus keeping his additions minimal. While the source of the book or paper isn’t important to the concept of the drawing it does import a sense of the past not found in other artist’s drawings or illustrations. There is a sense of history and reflection in this work, a reliance of things past—comics, advertising ephemera, graphics, typography, icons—you sense the gravitational pull of the pompadoured Bob’s Big Boy. There’s a bit of Barney Google to his portraits, the comic feel of the Katzenjammer Kids in his toys and a sense of Everyman in his figures just as you find in the works of Saul Steinberg or Jean-Michel Folon. Yet there is no specific date to his work, you don’t look at it and think the 30s, 40s or 50s, though you know it wasn’t done yesterday, or was it?

Like the ancient artists in the Grotte Chauvet, surface is key. But Gary’s work is the antithesis of their approach, Taxali would be more likely to leave the drawings alone and simply add his figure and hand-drawn type as homage to their ancient marks. He would revere their touch to the surface yet make it his own.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Dare Mighty Things

I'm reminded of my time as a young illustrator, designer and ad agency principal back in Austin, Texas. Our little agency was sweeping the annual shows, winning every gold medal there was, CA was writing about us, it was all good we were having fun but not making much money. It was then that I learned that winning gold doesn't mean a whole lot when the rent comes due--if only the award were actual gold! Times got so tough that I had to give up my apartment and move into what was the conference room--my first live/work space--my partners had spouses or significant others to room with thank goodness otherwise we'd all been living in the office. Ramen noodles were often lunch, now I love Ramen noodles but not everyday.

We were really doing exceptional work especially in that market, our clients loved us and we loved them even though their budgets were low--thank goodness we could use lots of illustration which I could do. And we did use photography on occasion but rarely and by far one of my best art direction assignments was actually my first one working with a dear friend of mine for just the cost of film and processing. It was a simple shot of a group of kids our age all friends of ours seated in a living room--the client was a local radio station. I'm not sure exactly how it happened but there was a magic to the image that is haunting even today.

It was during this time that I volunteered to do a newsletter for the local Ad Club, a writer who had seen our work asked if I was interested and I said sure. His name was Forrest Preece--an exceptional writer and an extremely funny guy so working on the newsletter with him was always something to look forward to. We became friends and working on one of the issues he brought me this quote by Theodore Roosevelt to use on the cover of the newsletter that also spoke to me in a special way and has guided my every move, figuratively and literally from that day forward: Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Year End

January is a wonderful time to reflect on the past year and look forward to the adventure that awaits in the new. Thankfully, all the projects got out the door and we were able to leave for a week upstate in a lovely rental outside Rhinebeck. A great time to relax, rest and read. Some of the highlights of the trip were getting a chance to catch up on reading and running across Lara Tomlin's beautiful drawing of the late Robet Altman she did for The New Yorker--such grace of line, perfect likeness all tucked away in a neat little space, smaller but no less elegant than her usual larger work.

Reading mostly consisted of catching up on past New Yorkers, New York, GQ, Esquire, Vogue and the New York Times Magazine though I was finally able to read Maira Kalman's book The Principles of Uncertainty--a true treasure of sites and scenes that only Maira could bring us. Then I picked up R.O. Blechman's little book, Dear James: Letters to a Young Illustrator and fell in love with its simple but oh so true messages. I urge you if you haven't already, pick up a copy, it really speaks to the illustrator and creative person in all of us. Using his own personal experiences as well as quoting famous authors, scientists, teachers, artists and others about the common things we all encounter in our creative lives. A must-read.

Most of the time was spent on the couch in front of the fireplace but we did get a chance for a lovely lunch with Istvan Banyai and his charming wife at Gigi's in Rhinebeck. Lunch lasted all afternoon, from beers to whiskey-loaded tea, pizza to salmon--nice meal, great company and always a treat to get to spend some time with them both. We're used to seeing celebrities in Manhattan and Brooklyn but in walks Matt Frei the anchor from BBC World News Rhinebeck, he looked like he was on vaca.

Looking forward to spending more time out of the city in the woods, it's a great way to recharge the batteries, to reflect and recount and plan for the future. What new exciting projects and promise await? Happy New Year to you All!