A little hubris in the night: dabbling in a redesign of the CHi-Rho to make my own “I Rule” monogram.
So there I was, watching another Waldemar Januszczak Art/History documentary; this one exploring the emerging art around early Christianity. Before there was a single image of Christ, there were symbols. The fish, of course, we know from ancient Rome, when it was illegal to be part of Jesus’ disruptive little one-god cult. Then, after Constantine came the Chi-Rho, a monogram formed from the first two letters of the Greek word for Christos.
It was often supplemented with the Greek letterforms, alpha and omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, to signify the beginning and the end of all things. The combination of these four letterforms created the word ARCO which, in the Roman language, translated to “I Rule.” This is powerful logo making; and powerful propaganda on Constantine’s part, who adopted the new religion, and transformed the Roman Empire forever. Drawing hands is fun.
Anyway, check out the series. As with all WJ’s films, it’s terrifically illuminating (pun intended)— a fascinating exploration of the branding and marketing of an entire religion, using all that had come before, and remaking it to serve new times, new purposes.
Here is my other treasure from the Antiquarian Book Fair (which was fairly well-stocked with so-called Ephemera, that I obv adore)— a stellar and skilled portrait, the likes of this level I’ve rarely seen in my years of collecting Cabinet Card pictures as they’re called when mounted and ‘framed’ on cards like this.
This is a true photographic portrait; staged and lighted with an astute level of skill for the age of early photographs. Lighting and composition are informed by both Dutch and Renaissance masters, that much is clear. Mother was surely holding her breath (as well as her babe) to allow for such a sharp portrait. I’d wager they may have been situated near a window with a cheesecloth or similar scrim to diffuse the available light. Beautifully executed. A+
Here’s a page from an antique journal or diary of sorts— it’s from an old “Autographs” book that I purchased at the Antiquarian Book Fair last Sunday at the Brooklyn Expo in Greenpoint, and the majority of dates found within are between 1879-1884. It was a sacred collection of sentiments, photographs, and drawings of one Antoinette Reisse from St Louis, MO.
Above is a sentiment written to her by one of her true friends, Ida. The penmanship initially made a confounding mess of this, as it seems to read—
In the golden chaise of friendship, Regard me as a Sink.
What are you on, Ida? That’s just nonsense!
On closer inspection, it appears Tony used a pencil to correct or clarify poor Ida’s handwriting, so that on balance one can see that it is meant to read—
In the golden chain of friendship, Regard me as a link.
Ah, yes, much better. That makes sense. For a moment I thought Ida was an early surrealist or dada enthusiast, before such things were named.
Monica Forsythe wrote an an article on Medium regarding my visiting artist talk for UMBC at the Spark Gallery during the Light City Festival in Baltimore. I’m honored and gratified to have made such an impression. It was a curious and enlightening endeavor. The preparation for the talk took me backwards through time, and reminded me where I came from. In college I was, oddly, a technophobe about computers— I was all about physical media.
In recent years, conversely, I’ve found the opposite to be true. The blank page or canvas can hold a terror it never did when I was younger; a result of reliance upon ‘save as’ and ‘undo.’ Yet I’ve never given up on the analog. I found ways to incorporate the flexibility of digital into my analog works. Scan, scan, scan; add, edit, layer.
The preparation for this talk had me go through years of process; recalling how I got from one place to the next. It was a revelation of remembrance; a kind of rejuvenation. It also reinforced how quickly things tend to change (the thesis for my whole talk)— how that’s more true than ever.
Thank you, Monica! I’ll be reading more Between the Frames in future, and keeping an eye out for your work.
Below: some selects from the presentation, for fun.
One of the aspects I’ve long understood about getting more engagement on a blog (or any interactive medium) is the importance of directly addressing one’s audience, and asking questions or requesting feedback.
Anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time knows that I rarely employ either of these strategies. The main reason for this is that I began this as a kind of archive, or a conversation with myself, so I rarely have an ‘audience’ in my mind.
Another reason is that no one wants to address an audience to the deafening sound of crickets.
According to my stats, the most consistently searched and viewed posts here continue to be a series of How-To posts I published in 2010 and 2011 regarding printmaking processes. Yet for all that they are viewed, they receive little or no interaction. This is a curious thing.
But, as anyone who is on twitter, for example, knows: a post can garner thousands of views and receive only a few or a few tens of likes or retweets. You can see the same phenomenon on Medium. I believe this has to do with vulnerability, among other things.
This winter I embarked on a journey into audio media— a podcast to be precise. The idea happened one night when James and I were leafing through a stack of vintage magazines, finding outlandish ad copy or headlines, and reading them aloud, trying not to laugh.
Some of the content of course is meant to be provocative, for example in magazines like Hush Hush, The Lowdown, or Suppressed. But much of the most surprising copy can be found in the advertisements, which are true barometers of the culture of an era.
Last summer I posted a tease of the two illustrations above, as they were in progress. These were two of a series of ten illustrations I was commissioned to create for the Cocktail Guide to the Galaxy, a recipe book written by R.A. Heidel (also the proprietor of The Way Station, famous for its Tardis).
The book will be published by MacMillan, to be forthcoming in the autumn of this year here in the States. It will have 40+ illustrations, crafted by four of us in total. I’ll post news of this as I receive it.
Process notes and more illustrations after the jump…
But first a note re: this blog— This year I will be regularly posting every Monday and Thursday. There may be random posts on other days as well, but Mon and Thur will be regular like clockwork (barring unforeseen events).
Today the weather suits the mood here in NY; grey and rainy; cold. I can barely think; can hardly process last night’s results. A friend of mine wrote this morning—
“The reign of media is over. It has to be. There are more important things to do. I will find ways to monitor the plans and actions of the new government that don’t involve glitz and ratings, that aren’t about hairdos and cheap wonder. The 24-hour news cycle can only be a downward spiral when people in the aggregate want mostly drama and reassurance by turns. We were seeking idols. There are no idols but false ones. That’s how this happened. In part.”
The phrase ‘cheap wonder’ has the ring of truth. This has been an election cycle whose every moment was shaped by what we may call contemporary American Culture, perhaps our shabbiest export, but a glittering one. It has been treated like a game, a reality show of us v. them, and The Establishment, including the Media, persisted in and perpetrated the belief that what we think of as Reason would win the day— treated it as a foregone conclusion, and condescendingly so. Perhaps we all (on the left) did to some extent. Foolish when one considers how widespread anti-intellectual and anti-diversity sentiment really is.
Our country in distress, and in lieu of dialing 911, in lieu of triage, We the People texted and tweeted our divided votes for the contestants that remained on the bloodied stage.
The true nature of the outcome (vague at best right now, policy-wise, campaign-promise-wise) has perhaps been little thought of by many voters— winning was the goal. The upset by a Washington ‘outsider’ of American Politics as we’ve come to know them was the goal. And for now, this has been achieved, however marginally.
As a proponent of progressive politics who lives in in New York City, in Brooklyn— I am harshly reminded again of what a gentle and reasoned, diverse and thoughtful bubble I live in within these United States. But a bubble nonetheless. There was hubris in the assumption that Trump simply could not be a credible threat, and that’s a bitter pill.
It’s been a seething thing, this whole contentious race; between Trump and the GOP; between Bernie and Hillary; between Hillary and Trump. A seething, anguished game of grenade-tossing between two very different Americas. Both of which, broadly speaking, perhaps ultimately want quite similar things in the day to day sense— in what they want for their families and loved ones; in what they want for the future of their children. A longing for some time that did not feel like the ground was ever threatening to fall away from beneath our feet, fictional as it may be.
But the differences— idealogical; large and wavering like heat off summer pavement, yet unmistakable— the differences are the field on which every battle is fought. Fear took the form of hatred and grabbed the wheel somewhere during the cycle, and wouldn’t give it back. We are all victims of it, now, winners and losers.
This is America’s Brexit. This is real. Now we must hope the sentiment proves true, that his supporters have ‘taken him seriously, but not literally.’
There is so much work to be done now, as ever. Perhaps more than ever.
Gonna get a little political, just for a minute, because it’s important, damnit.
The election is still months away, I realize, but the smallish faction of Bernie-or-Bust people out there being loud has gone too far, considering at this point they are going against their beloved Bernie.
Look, I’ve been a great fan of Mr Sanders for years, since long before his run for presidency seemed possible. I voted for him in the Primaries. But through the unbelievability of the American public, Trump is now not only the Republican candidate— Nate Silver has crunched the numbers and he’s a viable candidate. Terrifying.
So, can we cease and desist the in-fighting until after the Democratic party’s candidate — Hillary— has been unequivocally voted into the White House? Please?
Remember: Supreme Court justice tenures last far longer than four to eight years.
Here is the latest in my “Don’t See Don’t Speak” (or the Red Hand of Shut It) series— something more topical in response to the tragic and avoidable events of last week. Please feel free to share this widely and repost (as is).
Below are some progress scans of the pencilling. One again, I forgot to do process while painting.
Layers of pencil beginning with HB and working up to 2B then 4B (softer, darker shades from the medium grey HB) using woodless pencils and workable fixative in between to avoid smudges and to compound the layers. Same basic technique with the watercolor.