We Are an Observer

Basquiat smooches his last girlfriend, Kelle Inman, in 1987 in his studio. Inman and Basquiat met when she was working as a waitress at Nell’s; two days later, she was living with him.

 
 

COSMOPOLITAN GREETINGS

(Fragment)

“…Advise only yourself.

Don’t drink yourself to death.

Two molecules clanking against each other requires an observer to become
scientific data.

The measuring instrument determines the appearance of the phenomenal
world after Einstein.

The universe is subjective.
Walt Whitman celebrated Person.
We Are an observer, measuring instrument, eye, subject, Person.
Universe is person.

Inside skull vast as outside skull.
Mind is outer space.
“Each on his bed spoke to himself alone, making no sound.”
First thought, best thought.

Mind is shapely, Art is shapely…”

Allen Ginsberg

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Still Life in Motion

“We have to remember that what we observe is not nature herself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning”
Werner Heisenberg

 
 

Naturaleza muerta viviente (Living Still Life), Salvador Dalí, 1956

 
 

Living Still Life, or Nature Morte Vivante (1956) is a hand oil painting on canvas by the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí. The painting was originally known as Nature Morte Vivante and is considered to be one of Dalí’s masterworks. It is his sixth grand masterpiece. Dalí described the work as illustrating “the decomposition of a fruit dish”. The painting is a variation of Floris van Schooten‘s Table with Food (1617).

 
 

A Dutch Breakfast, Floris Gerritsz van Schhoten, date unknown

 
 

Schooten’s work is rearranged into objects that rotate and float across the piece. While the picture can be termed a still life, Dalí incorporates irony by making it evident that nothing in the image is actually still. Even the knife on the table, for example, although not seemingly moving at all, is interpreted by the human brain to be in motion. The Heisenberg Principle of Uncertainty is referenced in the piece. The mind infers that no everyday object can simply hover in the air and that gravity must be pulling down on it; therefore, the knife must be in a falling motion.

This painting also depicts the importance of the spiral, which Dali believed was nature’s most perfect form, using it as a symbol of cosmic order. Spiral structures can be found throughout this work, from the rhinoceros horn in the upper left, to the twisting fruit dish in the center, to the meteor-like head of cauliflower on the right. While working on this painting, Dali was thrilled to hear of the discovery that the DNA molecule – the blueprint for all life – had a spiral shape. The double spiral balcony railing to the left is Dali’s acknowledgment of DNA. “For the first time in the history of science,” Dali said, “physics was providing proof of the existence of God.”

By the time Dali painted this work, he had left Surrealism behind and was fully immersed in what he called “Nuclear Mysticism.” Dali felt that the art of his contemporaries was spiritually barren, and he was determined to reanimate art with spirituality. He was convinced that the emerging theories of physics and molecular biology could reveal the mysteries of religion.

The Half Life of Gregor Samsa

 
 

Insect Dreams: The Half Life of Gregor Samsa is a sequel to Franz Kafka‘s short-story The Metamorphosis, written in 2002 by Marc Estrin.

Rather than being thrown away like trash, Gregor Samsa was secretly sold to a Viennese sideshow by the Samsas’ chambermaid. He then met various figures like Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein, Oswald Spengler and Albert Einstein and witnessed American Prohibition, the Scopes trial, was involved in Alice Paul‘s feminist movement, encountered the Ku Klux Klan, and conferred with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Robert Oppenheimer. The novel made allusions to post-World War I Vienna through the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Reciting Rainer Maria Rilke and discoursing on Spengler’s Decline of the West, Gregor attracts the attention of writer Robert Musil, who tells him that although western humanity is finished, that “Society…is in a larval state. What it needs is a larval model to lead it onward, upward, and out of the corral,” and Gregor is that larval model, his ironic task being to teach us what it means to be human.

Estrin was born in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Queens College, studying chemistry and biology, then studied theater directing at UCLA. Estrin came to novel-writing late. In the fall of 1998, he and his wife Donna were on holiday in Prague and decided to visit the grave of Franz Kafka, whose work had always been important to him. His father had challenged him to read Thomas Mann‘s The Magic Mountain during the summer before he attended college. He left a note on the grave, inviting Kafka to drop by if he ever found himself in Burlington. Estrin said that the concept, an outline and the opening episodes of Insect Dreams arrived in Vermont one morning at 3 AM, three weeks after he visited Kafka’s grave. Insect Dreams appeared from BlueHen/Putnam in 2002. Since then it has been re-released (by Unbridled Books). Through the 1960s he worked in various repertory theaters in the United States, including the Pittsburgh Playhouse and the San Francisco Actor’s Workshop. But the Vietnam War and Bertold Brecht inspired him to become politically active.

Portrait of One of the Jewish Geniuses

Franz Kafka, from Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century, Andy Warhol, 1980

 
 

In October 1980, an exhibit featuring portraits of “famous Jews” opened at the Jewish Museum in New York; in June of the following year, a scaled-down version of the show had its “West Coast Premiere” at the Judah Magnes Museum in Berkeley, California. Entitled Andy Warhol: Ten Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century, the exhibit featured silk-screen prints and acrylic paintings — the Berkeley museum showed only the serigraphs — based largely on known photographs of a variety of Jewish figures no longer alive. In 1979, reviewers disliked his exhibits of portraits of 1970s personalities and celebrities, calling them superficial, facile and commercial, with no depth or indication of the significance of the subjects. They also criticized his 1980 exhibit of 10 portraits at the Jewish Museum in New York, which Warhol —who was uninterested in Judaism and Jews— had described in his diary as “They’re going to sell.” In hindsight, however, some critics have come to view Warhol’s superficiality and commerciality as “the most brilliant mirror of our times,” contending that “Warhol had captured something irresistible about the zeitgeist of American culture in the 1970s.”

Andy Warhol became fascinated with a group of influential Jewish figures – a pantheon of great thinkers, politicians, performers, musicians and writers including French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923); the first Jewish judge of the United States Supreme Court, Louis Brandeis (1856-1941); renowned philosopher and educator Martin Buber (1878-1965); the theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein (1897-1955), widely regarded as the greatest scientist of the twentieth century; the hugely influential founder of the psychoanalytic school of psychology, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939); vaudeville, stage and film comedians, the Marx Brothers: Chico (1887-1961), Groucho (1890-1977), and Harpo (1888-1964); Israel fourth Prime Minister and one of the founders of the State of Israel, Golda Meir (1898-1978); distinguished American composer George Gershwin (1898-1937); the eminent novelist, Franz Kafka (1883-1924); and avant-garde American writer, poet and playwright Gertrude Stein (1874-1946). The collective achievements of this group changed the course of the twentieth century and may be said to have influenced every aspect of human experience.

For the most part, Warhol’s standard techniques of cropping photographs, outlining faces and figures, and overlaying collage-like blocks of color onto them seem to have little specific connection with the particular character or significance of either the portraits or the represented figures. The multicolored, fragmented surfaces Warhol applied in the 1960s and 1970s to portraits of celebrities in the world of entertainment and politics usually complemented or enhanced the poses and public images of those represented — think of his portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger, Mao Tse-tung, or Richard Nixon.

With the possible exception of the Marx Brothers, the “famous Jews” display none of the star quality of many of Warhol’s other portraits; yet the cliché seems to rule in a similarly superficial, commercialized effort to lend the portraits a veneer of flamboyance or “modern” hip. In a rather quirky review of the New York exhibit, Carrie Rickey found in the paintings of Jews “an unexpected mix of cultural anthropology, portraiture, celebration of celebrity, and study of intelligentsia,” but she also observes that “Warhol had recast their visages to make them fit his pop iconology.” Roberta Bernstein, who has a fine critical appreciation of Warhol’s artistic abilities, notes in a discussion of his printmaking that, though his talent as portraitist functioned primarily to reveal only the surface and therefore was “entirely suitable for his portraits of glamorous celebrities and socialites, its appropriateness for historical figures of the type in this portfolio [of the ten twentieth-century Jews] is questionable,” and, she adds, his “unique ability to make insightful selections is not as apparent here as it is in other works.”

The Sculptor of Images

Originally published on February 11, 2013

 
 

Self-Portrait. Yousuf Karsh (1908-2002)

 
 

“On the stormy New Year’s Eve of 1925, the liner Versailles reached Halifax from Beirut. After a voyage of twenty-nine days, her most excited passenger in the steerage class must have been a seventeen-year-old Armenian boy who spoke little French, and less English. I was that boy.

My first glimpse of the New World on a steely cold, sunny winter day was the Halifax wharf, covered with snow. I could not yet begin to imagine the infinite promise of this new land. For the moment, it was enough to find myself safe, the massacres, torture, and heartbreak of Armenia behind me. I had no money and little schooling, but I had an uncle, my mother’s brother, who was waiting for me and recognized me from a crude family snapshot as I stepped from the gangplank. George Nakash, whom I had not seen before, sponsored me as an immigrant, guaranteed that I would not be a “public charge,” and traveled all the way from his home in Sherbrooke, Quebec, for our meeting — the first of his many great kindnesses.

We went up from the dock to the station in a taxi, the likes of which I had never seen — a sleigh-taxi drawn by horses. The bells on their harnesses never stopped jingling; the bells of the city rang joyously to mark a new year. The sparkling decorations on the windows of shops and houses, the laughing crowds — for me it was an unbelievable fantasy come true. On the two-day journey to my uncle’s home, I marveled at the vast distances. The train stalled in a deep snowdrift; we ran out of food; this situation, at least, was no novelty for me.

I was born in Mardin, Armenia, on December 23, 1908, of Armenian parents. My father could neither read nor write, but had exquisite taste. He traveled to distant lands to buy and sell rare and beautiful things — furniture, rugs, spices. My mother was an educated woman, a rarity in those days, and was extremely well read, particularly in her beloved Bible. Of their three living children, I was the eldest. My brothers Malak and Jamil, today in Canada and the United States, were born in Armenia. My youngest brother, Salim, born later in Aleppo, Syria, alone escaped the persecution soon to reach its climax in our birthplace.

It was the bitterest of ironies that Mardin, whose tiers of rising buildings were said to resemble the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and whose succulent fruits convinced its inhabitants it was the original Garden of Eden, should have been the scene of the Turkish atrocities against the Armenians in 1915. Cruelty and torture were everywhere; nevertheless, life had to go on — albeit fearfully — all the while. Ruthless and hideous persecution and illness form part of my earliest memories: taking food parcels to two beloved uncles torn from their homes, cast into prison for no reason, and later thrown alive into a well to perish; the severe typhus epidemic in which my sister died, in spite of my mother’s gentle nursing. My recollections of those days comprise a strange mixture of blood and beauty, of persecution and peace.

I remember finding brief solace in my young cousin relating her Thousand and One Nights tales of fantastic ships and voyages and faraway people, and always, solace in the example of my mother, who taught me not to hate, even as the oppression continued.

One day, I returned from school, my forehead bleeding. I had been stoned by Turkish boys who tried to take away my only playthings, a few marbles. “Wait,” I told my mother defiantly, “from now on I am the one who will carry stones.” My mother took me in her arms and said, “My son, they do not know what they are doing. However, if you must retaliate — be sure you miss!”

My mother’s generosity, strength, and hope sustained our family. She took into our home a young Armenian girl, shared our few morsels of food with her, and encouraged her to use her hands instead of her eyes, which had been cruelly mutilated. My mother herself seemed tireless. She had to go every day to the distant mountain spring which was the one source of water for the whole community. Allowed only one small pail, she would wait patiently in line for hours to get enough water for her children. Running water, to me, is still a great blessing.

In 1922, our family was allowed to flee. We had to leave our doors open — with us we took no baggage, only our lives. And we had to flee on foot. During our month-long journey with a Bedouin and Kurdish caravan, which would have taken only two days by the forbidden train, my parents lost every valuable they had managed to save. My father’s last silver coin went to rescue me after I was caught foolishly making a sketch of piled-up human bones and skulls, the last bitter landmark of my country.

In the safety of Aleppo, Syria, my father painstakingly tried to rebuild our lives. Only those who have seen their savings and possessions of a lifetime destroyed can understand how great were the spiritual resources upon which my father must have drawn. Despite the continual struggle, day after day, he somehow found the means to send me to my Uncle Nakash, and to a continent then to me no more than a vague space on a schoolboy’s map.

Uncle Nakash was a photographer of established reputation, still a bachelor when I went to live with him, and a man of generous heart. If my first day at Sherbrooke High School proved a dilemma for the teachers—in what grade did one place a seventeen-year-old Armenian boy who spoke no English, who wanted to be a doctor, and who came armed only with good manners? — the school was for me a haven where I found my first friends. They not only played with me instead of stoning me, but allowed me to keep the marbles I had won. My formal education was over almost before it began, but the warmth of my reception made me love my adopted land.

I roamed the fields and woods around Sherbrooke every weekend with a small camera, one of my uncle’s many gifts. I developed the pictures myself and showed them to him for criticism. I am sure they had no merit, but I was learning, and Uncle Nakash was a valuable and patient critic.

It was with this camera that I scored my first photographic success. I photographed a landscape with children playing and gave it to a classmate as a Christmas gift. Secretly, he entered it in a contest. To my amazement, it won first prize, the then munificent sum of fifty dollars. I gave ten dollars to my friend and happily sent the rest to my parents in Aleppo, the first money I could send to them.

Shortly afterward my uncle arranged my apprenticeship with his friend John H. Garo of Boston, a fellow Armenian, who was recognized as the outstanding portraitist in the eastern states. Garo was a wise counselor; he encouraged me to attend evening classes in art and to study the work of the great masters, especially Rembrandt and Velázquez. Although I never learned to paint, or to make even a fair drawing, I learned about lighting, design, and composition. At the Public Library, which was my other home in Boston, I became a voracious reader in the humanities and began to appreciate the greater dimensions of photography.

My interest lay in the personalities that influenced all our lives, rather than merely in portraiture. Fostered by Garo’s teachings, I was yearning for adventure, to express myself, to experiment in photography. With all my possessions packed in two suitcases, I moved to Ottawa. In the capital of Canada, a crossroads of world travel, I hoped I would have the opportunity to photograph its leading figures and many foreign international visitors.

My life had been enriched by meeting many remarkable personalities on this photographic odyssey, the first of many, to record those men and women who leave their mark on our era. It would set a pattern of working away from my studio. Any room in the world where I could set up my portable lights and camera—from Buckingham Palace to a Zulu kraal, from miniature Zen Buddhist temples in Japan to the splendid Renaissance chambers of the Vatican — would become my studio.”

 
 

Tennessee Williams

 
 

Wystan Hugh Auden

 
 

Albert Camus

 
 

Sir George Bernard Shaw

 
 

Ernest Hemingway

 
 

Vladimir Nabokov

 
 

Sir John Buchan, Governor of Canada

 
 

Jacques Cousteau

 
 

Martin Luther King Jr.

 
 

Muhammad Ali

 
 

Nelson Mandela

 
 

Albert Einstein

 
 

Jackie & John Fitzgerald Kennedy

 
 

Queen Elizabeth II & Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

 
 

Rainier III Grimaldi, Prince of Monaco & Princess Grace Kelly

 
 

Audrey Hepburn & Mel Ferrer

 
 

Humphrey Bogart

 
 

Lauren Bacall

 
 

Audrey Hepburn

 
 

Grace Kelly

 
 

Anita Ekberg

 
 

Ana Magnani

 
 

Brigitte Bardot

 
 

Jacqueline Lee Bouvier

 
 

Elizabeth Taylor

 
 

Joan Crawford

 
 

Sophia Loren with her son Edoardo

 
 

Martha Graham

 
 

Alberto Giacometti

 
 

Max Ernst

 
 

Alexander Calder

 
 

Isamu Noguchi

 
 

Josef Albers

 
 

Henry Moore

 
 

Man Ray

 
 

Joan Miró

 
 

Andy Warhol

 
 

Georgia O´Keeffe

 
 

Pablo Picasso

 
 

Norman Rockwell

 
 

Walt Disney

 
 

Frank Lloyd Wright

 
 

Mies van der Rohe

 
 

Charles Édouard Jeanneret-Gris (Le Corbusier)

 
 

Alfred Hitchcock

 
 

Christian Dior

Lines Carved with Passion

Mark Summers is a talented illustrator who was born in Canada. He usually draws by means of the long-established but uncommonly, scratchboard. Scratchboard or scraperboard refers to a burdensome illustrative technique using sharp knives and tools for engraving into a thin layer of white China Clay that is coated with black India ink.
 
It can also be made with several layers of multi-colored clay, so the pressure exerted on the instrument used determines the color that is revealed. Modern scratchboard originated in the 19th century in Britain and France. As printing methods developed, scratchboard became a popular medium for reproduction because it replaced wood, metal and linoleum engraving. It allowed for a fine line appearance that could be photographically reduced for reproduction without losing quality. It was most effective and expeditious for use in single-color book and newspaper printing. From the 1930s to 1950s, it was one of the preferred techniques for medical, scientific and product illustration.
 
There is just something about the balance between black and white tones and the characteristics of the scratched lines that provides well-done scratchboard drawings a exacting appeal. Mark Summers is one of the best modern practitioners of the art.
He has done illustrations for major publications like Time and The Atlantic Monthly and has received three gold medals from the Society of Illustrators and was the recipient of the Hamilton King Award in 2000 and in 2002 he was nominated to David Greenwich Workshop Award.

 
 

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