Monday, September 29, 2008

A Few Airport Characters

Once the plane gets ready to leave people start milling around more, and shuffling into line. More hurried to capture them, especially when you're worried about missing the flight yourself. It would be great to spend a whole day in an airport, just to get the proper amount of variation. Hmm...maybe I'll do just that. Assuming I can get the TSA folks to go along with it.

More Airport Drawings

Change is afoot over here at GT. More soon. But in the meantime, here are a few more airport drawings from earlier this month.

At the Denver airport, then onboard over Kansas looking at the day's New York Times coverage of the financial meltdown.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Travel Drawing

I love to draw in airports. The inside/outside relationships and relative scale issues are really fun to work with. Characterization, too. The second woman bit her thumbnail two or three times in the ten to fifteen minutes that I spent working with this scene. Her left hand was pretty active, so it was fun to try to anticipate the move and work to get it very quickly when it went into this position.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Goofing Off in Colorado

Staying with old friends in Denver. Demonstrating how this blog post thing works.

Back in St. Louis soon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gas Station Girl

This small squat woman was about seven months pregnant. Sad, arresting image at the time. Not finished [obviously], but still exploring the sweet spot between a thing that feels like a sketch and final art. I think the journalistic sensibility of the sketch is turning out to be a decisive issue, even as I want the the mosaic-tight design presence. Goodbye, Adobe Illustrator...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Less Than Swimmingly

The Masters Swimming Discussion Forum moderator deleted my comment for political content. The message read:
Your posts on the Obama T Shirt thread have been deleted. Political discussion is not acceptable here, and it is also not acceptable to try to skirt the rules by posting a link to your external blog where such discussion takes place.
Fair enough. I did not object, but did observe that such controversies in these exasperated times of ours were often politics dressed up as something else. Like "culture."

The local organizers of the event have had their hands slapped for giving out the Obama shirts, and now two discussion threads on the USMS forums are being shut down.

Time for a big chill pill. But after you're done chewing wait at least 45 minutes before going in the water, because otherwise you'll get a cramp and drown.

Image: Al Parker, Mother and Daughter Swimming, Ladies Home Journal cover illustration, August 1946.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Potentially Incendiary Aquatic Afterthoughts

As a follow up to the Obama-in-Goggles controversy [see previous post], Chip Sheean posted on the USMS discussion forum:
Wow. I had no idea that this shirt would create such a stir. Being the creator and designer of the Obama Swim t-shirt I can only say that there are a lot of people getting quite heated about something so trivial.

I am a creative director in a large agency in Los Angeles and have been designing the Big Shoulders shirts for over 10 years. Each year we try to come up with something unique, fun and different. I have been a swimmer for 40 of my 45 years and can think of nothing else that brings so much to the body and spirit. I LIVE it and LOVE it. While brainstorming for this years shirt - I spotted a poster created by a popular local street artist Shepard Fariey.
Shepard has made a career of taking that which is familiar and giving it a clever twist. He got his start from creating an iconic image that was a parody of the "Big Brother is Watching" poster mentioned in a book by George Orwell's "1984".

This was in no way an endorsement or a clever way to push Barack Obama but, rather push the idea taking taking the HOPE from the ubiquitous Obama poster and place the word SWIM. The fact that he is a Chicago icon made it even better. Seriously - If everyone jumped into the pool and did some laps I think the world would be a better place.

Everyday, I am challenged to create something new and engaging. The graphic is nothing more than an Andy Warhol soup can or Bicycle Wheel by Duchamp. Hell, if the poster had McCain or Mickey Mouse I would have used them. The big idea is to inject a bit of levity and thought to promote a great thing - SWIMMING!!!! Yeah Swimming - yahooo!!! (splash!)

So, if you were offended and feel that this is a sneaky trick, sorry. And if you hate the shirt - great! Sell it on Ebay or line your birdcage with it. I don't care. Just get out there and get some laps in and have some fun!

I am already working on next years shirt which will feature a unicorn with cap and swim goggles leaping over a rainbow and splashing his little hooves in gumdrops all set against Chicago's majestic skyline at sunset. Yikes! I only hope that I don't hear from PETA...

nuff said. Peace.

Three thoughts:

1) This is a perfect example of the intentionalist fallacy: I think I am doing X therefore I am doing X. While the Warholian reference may have been prominent in Chip Sheean's mind, his viewers, mostly operating without that art historical framework [at least in any active interpretive way], saw something different. As in: an endorsement. Which, on reflection, is not the most ridiculous thing to surmise from the image. Lesson of the day: Irony is a currency of the like-minded. Even armed with his famous valise, Marcel Duchamp may not travel to all districts, or do so with equal intelligibility.

2) Tangent warning! I know (in several dimensions) what it is like to operate from a minority perspective in a mostly clueless majority environment. If you're not careful, you can find your whole system running on bile and its resentment-derived byproducts. That said, the cries of persecution emanating from the right side of our spectrum [speaking generally] are not extremely credible at this late date. The alleged "oppressed" have been calling the shots while exaggerating exquisitely refined fabricated slights on a professional level for far too long to stay credible. A resultant "Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf" effect may now be in play, producing a pervasive and potentially unattractive irritability in situations like these. I plead guilty. I am especially sick of wounded faith-based sensibilities, particularly having plead such cases among my more skeptical friends and colleagues for the better part of the last two decades. Shut up already. Accept the fact that we live in a modern, secular, scientifically-oriented society. If you want to define yourselves in opposition to that reality, fine. Great. But don't seek to run the government, and lose the special pleading. Be crazy in the fundamentally crazy aspect of all sound [because kooky & contradictory] religion.

3) It is impossible to avoid a final observation: how long has it been since "negroes" have even been allowed in the public pool [or given free access to the formerly "white" side of the pool, not to mention the exclusion from private pools by a systematic application of graciously expressed but nonetheless apartheid social codes]? The subtext is unavoidable. Is it not possible, even likely, that some inchoate discomfort expresses itself in response to the image of the goggled African-American [pace, Cullen Jones]? How shall we process the fact that the offended parties on the USMS discussion forum self-identify as persons living in Georgia and Indiana, both reliably "red" states for many years? [Yes, this rhetorical question surmises that "the Southern Strategy" of the GOP remains in play, even though it has become increasingly awkward to acknowledge on the national level.]

Does my question imply racism on the part of the offended parties? Not in a specific, biographical accusational way: certainly not. But statistically, and more broadly, atmospherically speaking, we can posit the likelihood that racist or at a minimum racialist notions are more freely expressed and thus mutually reinforced in strongly "red" states than "blue"ones, though there are significant limits to the usefulness of such statements.

Despite all the qualifiers, it is striking that no such sentiments have been expressed by, say, swimmers from Massachusetts.

Commenters, have at it.

Image: David Hockney, A Bigger Splash, 1967.

The Senator & The Life Aquatic

A chlorinated Obama? Do explain...
Readers of this blog will recognize the subject map above: a set of concerns that occupy territory outside the traditional realms of art history, but which are fundamentally engaged with visual-cultural material with a base in cartooning and illustration, including the professional cultures of same.

Only recently
have I opened up a teeny window into my decidedly non-professional engagement with swimming, primary sport of a now-distant youth.

Very rarely you get a happy convergence which integrates your professional activities with your personal ones.

Case in point: the annual Master's Swimming Open Water event in Chicago, the Big Shoulders 5K Swim. [I do not swim open water events--this is why God invented swimming pools.] At any rate, the event was held on September 6, last Saturday, and the organizers provided shirts to all registered swimmers as part of the $50 event fee [$70 if same day registration].

The whole shirt design is shown below, complete with typographic additions beneath the image.

United States Masters Swimming [USMS] sanctions all sorts of competitions all over the country, which are organized at the local and regional level. The Illinois Masters Swimming Association [ILMSA] is getting all sorts of grief about the shirts. ILMSA sanctioned the event but did not approve the shirt, which has been taken as a political statement of endorsement of Senator Obama's candidacy for President. The apolitical nature of sport is taken very seriously by some, and I agree, although I tend to think that this was more a cultural statement more than a political one.

I posted the following on the USMS discussion board:

I think this is a hilarious shirt. It trades on the famous print image of
Obama by Shephard Fairey, who might turn out to be the one with a case to be pissed off. He's a designer and illustrator with a fondness for propaganda, and specifically the visual signature of social realist stuff from the 1930s and later.

However I seem to be in the minority. The discussion thread can be reviewed here.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Cassiopeia Does the Twist

Drawing has been fetishized in the modern period. Drawing--the act of marking a surface, not the imitation of an appearance--is an extraordinarily ancient activity, as old as tracing a path through the dirt with a stick, or even the early human equivalent of "drawing" pass routes on the palm of one's hand while in the huddle of a pickup football game:

"You streak left, you run a five step out, you run a buttonhook--like this --curl to the inside and look for the ball."

The idea of a drawing that serves as a work of art is a new and somewhat peculiar thing.

That is, drawing is first and foremost a tool to facilitate the acquisition, consolidation and communication of knowledge, typically in the service of an anticipated action.

Case in point: The star drawing at the top of this post grew out of my own lack of knowledge. While in Utah I spent parts of an evening out on the patio. It was apparent to me that the stars were moving, and of course the most basic understanding of the solar system and Earth's operations in it anticipate the rotation of Earth. The stars rise and fall. But on the night in question my intermittent viewing created a little confusion about just how much they had moved, and where.

So I resolved to gather a data set the next night. I drew in the murk in color-coded colored pencil, and added the paint later to make it clearer for the viewer.

All day on August 10th I was excited, anticipating my observations. Ultimately, the data I gathered was minimal, just enough to establish basic patterns. I was surprised to discover that the effect of polar rotation was so pronounced at Moab's latitude, a little above the 38th parallel, and south of Washington DC. I thought about the ancient astronomers from "primitive" cultures who tracked the heavens, and about their hunter-gathering friends. They would have been so alert to their environments, so knowledgeable about plants, animals, rocks, stars. Fascinating, in certain ways, how much we know today--the rate of knowledge acquisition since 1700, 1800 and 1900 has been much commented upon--but we know very little in other respects. We observe little and poorly. Mostly we look at screens, at representations of things, not things-in-and-of-themselves, or things truly in situ.

Something about tracking these positions brought me joy, and repositioned me in the physical world as well as in the history of human culture. I could have Googled it, and in fact I did, just long enough to identify the constellations. The "chaise lounge" shape is Cassiopeia, and the house-shaped one is Cepheus. The Big Dipper (a chunk of Ursa Major) starts off left and slowly works its way into the visual field [at least I did not have to look that up]. With that modest amount of knowledge I was in a position to group some stars and answer my basic question: what is the patter of movement looking north from my patio?

The product of this activity might be called an "infographic." But the reason it exists has to do with my need for information, not the viewer's. The same is true for Leonardo's water drawings. Knowledge acquisition is often at the root of drawing. The formatting of that data into something a viewer can understand is often a second step. But you can't present something you don't actually know.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I'm Paying Through the Nose, and Wolf Blitzer Will Not Shut Up

I leave the Southwest for the Midwest today. A very productive interlude. Last week I had to replace my brakes and buy new tires in Las Vegas. It took hours, so I sat there and drew. Added gouache to give it some heft and experimented with textual reportage to amplify the picture. I'm beginning to think I will just plan to make a certain percentage of my work in sketchbooks with goauche and prismacolor. So what if the books fall apart? Scan-N-Go!

Goonight Utes! Goodnight Boots!