Sunday, January 31, 2010

just passing through

I haven't been able to decide where I'm going with this one but here it is anyway. I don't know if something like it will get painted but the sheer silliness appealed to me on this last weekend of January. Are they passing a line of snarled traffic? Is it day? night? winter? summer? desert? beach? Does anyone remember the pogo stick? Nasty things designed for ridding the world of children as I remember.

Sometimes the simplest things can be the most difficult. Is it Spring yet?

Friday, January 29, 2010

back on earth

I suspect we were the last people in Portland to go and see what all the hoopla was about when we got all dressed up and ready for Avatar in 3D. Considering our natural range of interests I can't say either of us were prepared to be impressed but I have to admit, here and now and right up front, we'd been wrong. It's a very cool experience. I don't even like going to the movies anymore since I hate having to sit still for hours without being able to put a movie on pause while going for ice cream, using the bathroom or just talking to each other about our views up to that point. Nevertheless, we sat enthralled for nearly three hours.

I'm sure you all know the story by now or have experienced for yourselves the fabulous visuals. The ability to actualize on screen an environment and a people who live in complete harmony with their environment is a pretty powerful message to those who aren't inclined to spend time in their imaginations and moreover, have lost whatever connection they may once have had with tribal mythology.

The story itself bore a lot of similarities to a Japanese video game we enjoyed ten years ago, Final Fantasy IX, where a world tree is annihilated by enemies seeking to destroy the innate strength of a society they wish to conquer. It's an ancient theme. The hero of that story, Zidane, is also a kind of avatar since he's a manufactured being sent to infiltrate a society his master wishes to destroy but ends up falling in love with a princess and her people. Strangely enough, he always wore blue and had a prehensile tail. Baba Ganoosh pictured above has no tail but he too is sky-hued.

In this day and age as we're fed hard realities on television and in the news any hints of natural magic and sacredness come as a welcome surprise. Take, for instance, that one of the commercials we were forced to sit through before the film began was this ad for the National Guard. Besides the fact that I'm not a war supporter, the depiction that war is a valiant, heroic effort is just offensive when put into context of the current US foreign policy. That humans were the invading aliens in Avatar made an all too noticeable cognitive dissonance with the message of the commercial that we protect our country by attacking others. Yes, it was like getting hit over the head with a brick but it seems that's what it takes these days.

Meanwhile, I'm still seeing the world in 3D. Do you suppose this is just a natural aftereffect that will dissipate in time?

Monday, January 25, 2010

look what I found!

No, I didn't find this in an old suitcase or dusty portfolio. The title of the post is the name of the painting - the fourth one I've done since the Christmas weekend and I'm beginning to get the hang of it now. If you think I'm having a good time you'd be right but I believe my decision to keep them small until I'm either feeling very inspired or have more daylight hours was a good one.

Does the picture tell a story? I hope so. One of my favorite things is having people tell me what tales my paintings evoke for them.

There are some who paint one a day. I can't do that but one a week is satisfactory. Now I have to get back to work on a new drawing.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Q-birds walk

I hope you'll excuse my laziness but a couple of days ago when Gfid posted a couple of pictures of a loom I found myself writing a very long comment where I reminisced about a weaver:

I have pleasant memories of warping but it's been a long time since I last touched a heddle or enjoyed the thrill of beating against multiple shafts. The language of weaving is oddly erotic, isn't it? I've looked at the loom a number of times now but can't tell if it's a Leclerc or something European.

One of my closest friends was a master weaver from Sweden when we first met in Montreal. She'd trained for seven years before coming to Canada with the equivalent of a doctorate to design and oversee the upholstery and other fabrics that were to be woven for the newly refurbished CNR trains. Once the project was over she stayed. She taught me to card, spin, dye and weave over the course of the 5 or 6 years we lived in close proximity. We both designed and made clothes but I was in charge of the sewing :-) She even had lace making pillows and some very old patterns so I got to try that too - a dozen pairs of bobbins to make lace just an inch wide was a pretty intense experience. One of my favorites of her stories was the year she spent planting a field of flax, harvesting, soaking, beating, spinning and weaving her former field into a damask tablecloth and napkins. You don't see a lot of that anymore.

She had two Canadian Leclerc looms for teaching on but the one she used was something like an antique Glimakra counterbalance loom that was huge - almost like a small cottage to look at and touch with an eight foot beam and 16 shafts and treadles. No metal anywhere either - it was all carved wood and had strings for heddles. Weaving on it was similar to learning how to play a full size pipe organ and reason enough to plan on staying in the same place for a long time.

She taught me how to look at hand made carpets from the middle east and to know by the subtle bends at the edges how many seasons it had taken to make by how often it had been cut down from a loom and restrung when the nomads moved from summer to winter lands and back. I learned about identifying carpets by the shades of the natural dyes they used and the design elements specific to certain tribes. It's amazing what you could learn from looking at a rug. We both despaired the loss of hand-made traditions long before most people were noticing.

I still have several of her pieces but the neatest ones are very small - two little bird bags she wove for me. Maybe it's time to take their pictures and do a post so I can show you.

So here are the two little bird bags as promised, opened to show the larger design. The fibers (wool, linen and chenille) were dyed using vegetable and flower essences. Inside each bag is a silk lining - pink for the pink bird and dark red for the other, both carefully hand stitched. The art schools taught me to draw but it was my friend who taught me to see and to take the same wild gambles with color that nature does. She is still around and is still my friend but lives in Philadelphia as a full-time Sufi practitioner and teacher. The weaver died un-mourned long ago.

Don't let your flying shuttles get out of hand.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

got a map?

If you have a few minutes this is a pretty astounding little video I saw first thing this morning. Since a trip to NYC is unlikely before summer (or for a good while after) I thought I'd link to this sample and share it with any of you who might be interested in even longer distance travel. Once again we can put a few things in perspective before getting back to hitting each other.

'The Known Universe takes viewers from the Himalayas through our atmosphere and the inky black of space to the afterglow of the Big Bang. Every star, planet, and quasar seen in the film is possible because of the world's most complete four-dimensional map of the universe, the Digital Universe Atlas that is maintained and updated by astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History. The new film, created by the Museum, is part of an exhibition, Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to an Evolving Universe, at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan through May 2010.'

Back soon and hopefully with another little painting to show you but if not, I'll think of something :-)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

imitation's the best praise

Just so you don't think I've been sitting around doing nothing here's the next in the series of little paintings I've been playing around with recently. I go through periods of packing up the watercolors, paper and brushes (which are separate to the silk painting ones) and thinking I may never do another. Well, none of us really knows if we'll wake up in the morning either but we still make plans and act as though our days are endless. So I've returned to painting in watercolor and just like every other time it's a matter of learning all over again. They're small so I don't have to go off to work in the midst of one and forget what I was planning to do when I have the time and light to continue.

Happily, it's a long weekend so I'll start another tomorrow and maybe one of these days there'll be one I find very pleasing. The best presents are the ones we give ourselves so don't forget to treat yourself kindly.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

inside story - Weasel & Crow

One day last summer la Belette Rouge asked if I could do a portrait of Weasel & Crow so I drew this picture and sent it off the next day. She liked it and so did I - and so did Crow.
Then some time went by (as it usually does) until the day came when I mixed up some colors and my table looked like this and continued looking like this for a while.
The painting was begun and it looked like this. Then there was more painting (lots more) then steaming and washing and sewing and beading until one day it was finally done.
On the inside there is another little painting. You see She-Weasel has a dear little friend called Lily (a West Highland White Terrier) who is always there to keep la Belette company no matter who flies by for a visit and flies away again. Crow never stays anywhere long - except here.. sometimes.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Crow in color

Last time I saw Crow he presented me with a portrait painted by an artist who's obviously very skilled and sensitive.. a veritable Renoir of Corvid Classicism was my first thought. My second thought was, 'Now I know why he asked me to press those weird pants'. He still hasn't told me who the lady is.

Friday, January 8, 2010

still in space

Have you ever wondered how amazing total eclipses are? Some weeks ago I ran across this photograph taken last summer during the total solar eclipse that was visible in southern India and parts of China and wondered, not for the first time, about the possible meanings of something we marvel at when it occurs locally but generally don't consider much at all. I remember hearing it said that if one found a watch one immediately knows it was made by a watchmaker and if one found a watch on Mars we would look for a watchmaker there.

It is very strange that the disc of the Moon should seem, from an Earthly perspective, to be exactly the same size as the Sun. Although we take it for granted that the two main bodies seen in Earth's skies look the same size, it is actually something of a miracle. Most people are fully aware that the Moon is tiny compared to the Sun but that it is much, much closer to us causing them to appear as equal discs. To be precise the Moon is 400 times smaller than the star at the center of our solar system, yet it is also just one 400th of the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

The odds against this optical illusion happening at all are simply huge - but how bizarre that both values are the same, perfectly round number. It's very puzzling. Isaac Asimov described this perfect visual alignment as being:

"The most unlikely coincidence imaginable".

This perfect fit of the lunar and solar discs is a very human perspective because it only works from the viewpoint of someone standing on the Earth's surface. I'm sure there are many wonderful sights in the galaxy but it seems to me that if there were aliens doing a Grand Tour of this particular spiral arm of the Milky Way stopping by the earth to watch a total solar eclipse and that magical diamond effect might be a high point. Perhaps we should watch out for 'people' wearing very bulky suits or viewers who stay inside large vehicles next time there's one occurring in the neighborhood.

An even more amazing thing that's true about the Moon's movements above our heads is that by some absolutely strange mechanism of nature, the Moon also manages to very precisely imitate the movements of the Sun. The full Moon is at its highest and brightest at midwinter, mirroring the Sun at midsummer and at lowest and weakest at midsummer when the Sun is at its highest and brightest.

I don't know about you but I'm beginning to think something weird is going on around here. I may have to go and look for a Watchmaker.. or maybe I'll go and do something useful like making chocolate brownies.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

past future dreaming

Considering the fact we just moved another step into the future I thought I'd take one more quick peek into the past to see what it was supposed to by by now. In the 1970's lots of people were very excited by the possibilities that had been made to seem reasonable by the moon landings. The ideas are still far from dead but for the most part they have been either forgotten (ie, by NASA which has become very much a political entity) or simply tossed into the sci-fi 'how could they have been so dumb?' trash heap. Still, it's worth noting there were some very fine minds devoted envisioning how humans could live and work in space colonies as early as 1990 (!).

One of them was Princeton physicist Gerard K. O'Neill who developed the concept of the O'Neill Cylinder with 'Island 3' envisioned as pairs of large rotating space habitats with an Earth-like environment on the inner surfaces with artificial gravity produced by the rotation. O'Neill was one of the first people to ask the question: given current technology (in 1969), how large could such a structure be built in zero gravity? When the calculations came back with an answer in the tens of miles, O'Neill knew he'd found something significant. A key idea in his thinking was that such large structures could be built out of material mined from the Moon or asteroids to avoid the high cost of launching out of Earth's much larger gravity well. The configuration consists of a pair of cylinders, each 20 miles long and 4 miles in diameter. Each cylinder has three land areas alternating with three windows, and three mirrors that open and close to form a day-night cycle inside. The total land area inside a pair of cylinders is about 500 square miles and can house several million people. The cylinders are always in pairs which rotate in opposite directions, canceling out any gyroscopic effect that would otherwise make it difficult to keep them aimed toward the sun.

In 1973, George Hazelrigg, also of Princeton, suggested to O'Neill that the L4 and L5 Lagrangian liberation points might be ideal locations for the large habitats that O'Neill envisioned. L4 and L5 are points of gravitational equilibrium located on the Moon's orbit at equal distances from both the Earth and the Moon. An object placed in orbit around L5 (or L4) would remain there indefinitely without having to expend fuel to keep it in position. Since the orbit around L5 has an average radius of about 90,000 miles there's room for a very large number of space settlements even at this one location.

Abundant solar energy and large amounts of matter from the Moon are keys to successfully establishing a community in space. Not only does the sunshine foster agriculture of unusual productivity, but also it provides energy for industries needed by the colony. Using solar energy to generate electricity and to power solar furnaces the colonists could refine aluminum, titanium and silicon from lunar ores shippped inexpensively into space. With these materials they would be able to manufacture satellite solar power stations and even more new colonies. Power stations would be placed in orbit around the Earth to which they could deliver pretty much limitless electrical energy. In the 60's neither an energy crisis or global climate change had been imagined. Now we're very close to having reached the limit of what the planet will bear from our continued use of fossil fuels so the economic value of space power stations would go far to justify the existence of the colony and the construction of more colonies.

In his 1973 science fiction novel Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke provided a vivid description of a rotating cylindrical spaceship that is about 50% larger than the classic 20-mile long O'Neill Cylinder. Artist Eric Bruneton has created this striking 3D animation of Rama.

In a caption under the famous drawing of an O'Neill cylinder it says, “Human colonies in space — not a luxury, but a necessity. Earth is overcrowded, running out of raw materials, in desperate need of a growing energy supply, and being ecologically destroyed. The problems are worse with each passing day, and there are no solutions to be found on Earth itself. Mankind's destiny — its very survival — is in space.… But a commitment is needed, a decision to go for it and the determination to see it through.”

O'Neill died from leukemia in 1992 but there are still those who continue to be energized by his dreams of a future we could make happen. Of course, it wouldn't be easy but I believe a collective vision is one we need if we're to have any future at all. We have the brains, we have the capacity - all we need is to get our collective heads on straight.