Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Robert Boyd's Book Report: Frank Herbert, Doris Lessing, Primo Levi and Willie Morris

 Robert Boyd

Today I looked at several books from my library.

I report on Dune by Frank Herbert, The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, If This is a Man, The Truce, The Periodic Table, and The Monkey's Wrench by Primo Levi, and North Toward Home by Willie Morris

These are books from my bookshelves that I've read at different points in my life. They all come from the "literature" shelf. 

By the way, you may notice a new button on this site: a Patreon button. It's on the right side of the screen (if you are looking at this one a computer) at the top of the right-hand column. I'd like to invite you to support this blog.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Fifth Ward Salute

 Robert Boyd

About 10 years ago, I wrote a very brief post about a odd piece of public art in the Fifth Ward. If you read the piece, you will see that I knew nothing about this piece. There was no plaque or sign identifying the sculpture. The only marking on the sculpture was some crudely engraved letters reading "Tanya." 

Today I got an email from an artist named Michael Boot. He told me that when he was an art student at UH, he had assisted in this sculpture's fabrication. The artist is named Tanya Preminger.

Tanya Preminger, Salute, bricks, concrete, iron, trees, 400 x 260 x 70 cm., 2002

This photo is from Preminger's website. What I notice immediately are the trees growing out of the fingers. They weren't there in 2011. (I'll have to go check it out again sometime this week to see if the trees have been replaced.)

Preminger is an interesting artist. Born and trained in the Soviet Union, she immigrated to Israel in 1972. Her sculptures have been installed all over the world, with most being in Israel. Some of the work feels kind of jokey (which is how I would characterize Salute.) But she obviously can handle stone sculpture as a plastic medium. Here are a couple of sculptures from her website, which is well-worth exploring. 

Tanya Preminger, Stone Mother, granite, 90 x 200 x 90 cm., 1999

Tanya Preminger, Simple Relations, stone, iron 150 x 110 x 70 cm, 1992

Salute is located at the intersection of Lyons and Sydnor.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Homologous Cartoons

Robert Boyd

In the 19th century, mathematicians invented a new branch of mathematics, topology, the mathematics of shapes. They turned ways of thinking about shapes into a kind of algebra. One of the most important concepts in topology is "homology". Without getting into the technical aspects (which I can't claim to understand), if a shape has a certain characteristic, as long as it maintains that characteristic, that shape can be extremely deformed but remain homologous. A famous example is that a donut shape (known as a torus) is homologous to a teacup, in that they are both shapes with one hole. 

Another homologous shape to a torus is a drinking straw. 

I thought about homology when I saw Russell Etchen's exhibit, About Six Thousand Five Hundred Rocks, About One Thousand Five Hundred People, and Some Clover, at Bill Arning Exhibition. Etchen, who lives in Los Angeles, was a well-known figure in the Houston scene for several years, belonging to the drawing club Sketch Klubb (I'm not sure they were ever organized enough to be a "collective"), operating the great alternative bookstore Domy, and designing publications for artist Mark Flood. I first met Etchen when I moved back to Houston and worked for ADVision, the long-defunct anime company. He was a designer on their slick magazine, Newtype. In 2016, Etchen painted a mural on the north exterior wall of Lawndale Art Center consisting of hundreds of grey, cartoony rocks with white google eyes. His current exhibit seems to be a direct descendant of this earlier project. 

Russell Etchen, some faces surrounded by rocks

The show consists of drawings of faces and rocks (with eyes). Some are drawn on paper, some are painted in the wall of the gallery, and a bunch are printed in a zine titled About 3400 People

So where does homology come in? What Etchen shows is that if you have a certain consistent elements in a face, it can be almost endlessly warped and still be recognizable. This is especially apparent in the the zine. 

For example, the faces on the right-hand page reproduced above all read as the same face, even though the have drastically different shapes. The Beatles-esque haircut, the little round sunglasses, the triangle nose, the open mouth with top teeth showing, and three red dimples are repeated in every face, and it is the repetitions of these elements that work on us to make all the faces the same. Every page of his zine works the same way. Despite their obvious variety, we recognize all faces on each page as the same.

This exercise demonstrates a truth about cartooning--that it is inherently different from naturalistic drawing. A cartoon character, in order to be recognizable, has to maintain certain design elements, but beyond that, the cartoonist can do just about anything. This is easy to see when you look at how popular cartoon characters have changed over time, yet remained instantly recognizable.

Charles Schulz, Charlie Brown though the years

If you are Charles Schulz, as long as you draw a figure with a round head, a tuft of hair, and a zig-zag stripe on his shirt, he is always Charlie Brown. It doesn't matter how shaky Schulz's lines got toward the end of his life.

Etchen's exercise of drawing faces this way is a perfect example of the power of cartooning. I don't know if he intended this or not, but to me, this is one of the best demonstrations of the difference between cartooning and drawing I've ever seen. I've mentioned in earlier blog posts that a lot of contemporary artists make use of characters that they go back to over and over again. For example, Trenton Doyle Hancock and JooYoung Choi. This requires that they develop homologous characteristics so that we can always recognize the characters. 

Etchen's exhibit is up through the end of August, and you can buy his 'zine there for $6 (cheap!).

Saturday, July 3, 2021

I Have a New Article Up at Glasstire

graffiti in the Media Center movie theater after the last movie was displayed

 I wrote about the last few times I went to the Rice Media Center before it closed. Check it out!