art

folks at the bar



Last night I started sketching people at O' Hanlon's. I decided to sketch ugly people, because I'm good at making pretty people look grotesque. I figured that my propensity for deformation would work in my favour if I stuck to the strange.

The first picture features a guy who was just stunningly ugly. No matter how he turned his face, he was startlngly unattractive. I don't believe he said "So fucking pretty" at any point in the night. The scarred pinhead guy above him is a fanciful redrawing with an emphasis on getting ahead in today's tough singles scene.

The second picture is of the "funny table" that sat across from our table at one point in the evening. They weren't particularly ugly, but they all had a strange unfocused quality, as if they'd dressed and styled themselves with the aid of a random number generator. They were like a pile of mismatched socks in a drawer. If I had to guess, I'd say they were a group of live action role playing gamers who first met at a call centre.

if you meet this barista on the road, kill him


After the indignity to my coffee, I sat down and sketched while he took his diseased hands and scooped coffee beans into a bag for some soon-to-be-ill customer. This was the point where I "whipped out my notepad," just like all the exciting artists and intrepid journalists do.

I've been wanting to sketch this guy for a while because of his extraordinary face. He has a forehead that borders on the hydrocephalic, set off by eyebrows that belong to a fashion model twice his size, all narrowing down to a ridiculously pointed little chin. I haven't done justice to the eyes, which are large, clouded grey-green affairs that bulge out over the most hollow cheeks I've ever seen. The black ink has made him look a bit more affable and attractive than he really is, with a fuller goatee and thicker hair. In truth his hair is a light mousy brown, almost feathery.

And you see where the text in the picture trails past the margin? That's the flaw that sets off the perfection of the whole. That's what makes it art, sucka.

Sucka.

Here's something I drew one night at the bar. A table of RCMP cadets shaking off their aggression with Guinness. Yeah, that'll work. And don't draw drunk.

cartooning the news

Here's a little something I thought up this morning where I take some cartoon characters I've drawn in my notebook and have them say things that apply to today's most up-to-the-minute breakingest headlines. I'm hoping that the illustration will point out, in a humorous way, some of the foibles of the men and women in power. I can't figure out what to call it yet, so if you hear of anything similar, just let me know.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that people in the US are no longer hungry. Instead, they are experiencing "very low food security". I don't quite get that phrase - are people allowing liquids and gels into their stomachs? At any rate, it appears that the number of people experiencing low food security has been rising for the last five years, now totalling around 35 million, or 12% of the population. Is there a Department of Food Security in the offing? Maybe that's going to be the new name for the USDA.

That fish is a real hater.

fish fashions summer '71

Good news for everyone who likes good news! At the urging of lots of people, or maybe three people, I'm putting my Die Lungbreathers fish on a line of apparel. T-shirts, infant onesies, mugs, thongs and boxers - you name it, a Die Lungbreathers fish can adorn it. With special guest appearances by Terrible Fish Machines and Whale Propaganda (also makes a fine screensaver).

In the meantime, while I'm hashing out the details and making sure that you all get my finest art on the most sweatshop-free clothing available, here are some Die Lungbreathers fashion sketches I've whipped up, in homage to the Sears catalogues of my youth.


I call it "Sharp Poly Pant Look" (with discreet pant spigot).


"Night Action Look"


"Street or Shower"

Were the Sears catalogues of my youth really filled with streetwise young hustlers lounging against brick walls? It must have been so.

a friday night out with the folks

Some Friday evenings you stay in, watch repeats of CSI, threaten the cats and think about repainting the living room. Other Fridays you spit an entire mouthful of beer in your wife's hair and end up in a pointless conversation about combining polka with eighties goth music. I am here to tell you (hell, this may be the reason I was brought to Earth) that the latter makes for a better night.

Tonight we went out to the Queer City Cinema fundraiser (unused slogan: Queer City Cinema, For If'n You Want Your Films Gayed Up - I can't believe they tossed my suggestion) at The Exchange to see the finest in bent musical entertainment, Kelly and the Kelly Girls (warning: myspace music assault) and Intergalactic Virgin (warning: more of assault on you ear).* I didn't do any sketches of tonight's gig, but I did take some notes.

I often take impromptu cryptic notes to anchor little moments in my memory. When I looked tonight's notes over, though, I discovered that I'd written the following:

- Keynote speech for annual meeting for the Advancement of Progress of Robots - 2032?
- audience: Humans? Robots? Mixed? And is there a difference at that point?
- effects of peak oil on robot society
- Matrix viewed as romantic comedy?
Apparently I think there's still comedy to be dredged out of a movie franchise now three years in the past. Somebody come up with another turgid sci-fi trilogy quick. I guess this is what happens when you take notes in a darkened club. On the plus side, you can expect a really daft post about robots sometime soon. Here, by the way, is the first google image result for "robot progress".

Despite the bleak outlook for robot progress in this image - check out the dejected slouch as the ship in the background departs for the next robot-friendly planet - I really dig this picture. Although I'd like to know what a robot's doing in the country. Everyone knows that robots belong in gleaming art deco cities with vaults and arches of inhuman scale and unfathomable intent. Go visit http://penguinx.org and let the artist know that he's misplaced a robot in bucolic idyll.

Hey. Was I trying to talk about a night out with my wife and friend? And the spitting of beer into my wife's hair? I was, wasn't I? I had just funnelled a mouthful of Black Amber Ale into my mouth when the lead singer of The Kelly Girls made an offhand fart joke. The beer ejected from my mouth in arc that almost, but not quite, sailed just over my wife's head. She gave me an exasperated but kind look that said You are a total spaz, a specialized, gracious expression that acknowledged my unfitness for public display, forgave me completely and let the night proceed. I married well, as the busybodies in Jane Austen novels like to say.

*I'm really hoping that someone will come to my site by googling "assault on you ear".

the sketchy entry (my shady life)

NaBloPoMo, I hate you. When I agreed to post every day, I never thought I'd be scanning in lame-ass sketches from my notebook instead of going to bed. Where it's warm, and my wife is. Instead I'm in the 'office' (still can't think of a home space as an office) with my weblog. Argh. If you want an indication of my mood, look to the top right of my page. See me there? That's how I feel.

Enough of the volcano of the rage. Last night I went to Panurge and Memphis with Schmutzie and Friday. Schmutzie bailed early. Friday promised me that the opening band would start at eight, which meant that I could probably see both and be home by 10:30. Why did I think that a couple of out-of-town bands would follow the schedule my friend set out for me? If last night were a term paper, I'd be getting comments like "Did not think this through" in licorice red.

Panurge started around ten o' clock. They turned out to be one of those bands that constantly swapped instruments and microphone places. It made my intermittent ADD brand of drawing really difficult. Here are two quick sketches of them, made in darkness and drunkenness:


Forgive their excessive size and verticality. They actually played like that, all sideways and stacked on top of each other.

If I were some kind of rock critic, I'd say that Panurge blended Bauhaus-style vocals with surprisingly folky harmonies over propulsive rhythms, post-rock bass lines and cold keyboard sounds. But since I'm not nearly that much of a wanker, I'll just say that they were really good. The best part of the performance was the guy on keyboards, who looked like he was fixing and fine-tuning his gear instead of actually playing.

Memphis came on around twenty to twelve. By this time I could already see the shape of my coming workday, truncated at front and back by me sleeping in and leaving early. Too late to worry now; I was committed. The lead singer (Torquil Campbell of Stars fame) decided that the gig would be something between a campfire and a cuddle puddle, encouraging the mini-crowd of us to huddle close to the stage and lie on the floor. When the floor remained empty, he sat and sang, hunched up while the band played onstage.

During the next song, he came over and looked at my sketches as he sang. He smiled and nodded, I smiled and nodded, we all felt good about ourselves. Here's the rest of the band.

Matt Barber on bass:
Chris Dumont on guitar and a guy with glasses on the saxophone. Didn't catch his name. Unless by sheer coincidence his name really is Mr. Saxophone Guy.

Eventually the floor started filling up with bodies. Bodies sitting, bodies lying on the hardwood with their heads in people's laps, bodies kind of leaning gently into one another and swaying back and forth. If the gig had gone another half hour, the whole thing probably would have turned into a slow, absentminded orgy. Which is kind of what Memphis' music is intended to produce: like Stars and Broken Social Scene, their songs induce a pleasant, achy trance in the listener. It's a bit like being a teenager, alone in your bedroom with the lights off, playing one particular song over and over until the cassette starts to drag.

Lastly, here's a hairy headed hipster either staring at the starry dynamo of heaven or waiting for a beer. You can't really tell from the drawing. But you can tell I screwed up my first attempt.

high culture, or what happens when I try to write a serious critical piece

In my last entry detailing a walk through the aisles of Liquidation World, I promised to follow up with a description of my subsequent trip to the MacKenzie Art Gallery to see the works of Dominique Blain. In other words, the high-culture portion of the bloggaberry pie. Can you believe my spellcheck flagged 'blogaberry'? Ridiculous. It also flagged 'spellcheck'. Actually, let's not call it a pie. Let's call it 'In High Art's Vaulted Halls: The Palinode Story'. No, let's not call it that either. Wait, let's.

EXT -- Day – MacKenzie Gallery Walkway

PALINODE
(Direct to camera)
Good afternoon! It's a beautiful day here at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, where we're going to take a little tour and talk about Dominique Blain's touring exhibition “Poetic Meets Political”. I'm here with my friend Mark Hamill.

MARK
I live in a condemned bungalow and drive a cab.

PALINODE
Yes you do, Mark. Yes you do. And if you'll forgive me for intruding on the sunny warmth of this day with some weighty matters, Mark, wouldn't you say that some institutions exist in tiny offices and locked basement rooms in the bland grey buildings of every city on earth, insinuating themselves like rhizomes into our lives even as they hide from view, becoming microscopic in size even as their scope is universal?

MARK
That's right, Palinode.

PALINODE
They're fungus, folks! But public institutions like museums, libraries, and art galleries take the form of monolithic slabs of building, modernist blocks and upended chunks of stone and concrete emerging from their foundations like chthonic gods raised to earth.

[CUT TO streeter interviews here, pedestrians laughing and saying “Chthonic gods?” etc.]

PALINODE
Like any building that grants State-sanctioned access to collective memory, it must impress by means of scale. That's why the building is set several hundred feet from the sidewalk, to force pedestrians to watch the building grow slowly larger as they approach, until it fills their entire field of vision. By these unsubtle means the architect hopes to impress upon you the notion that what is held within is sacred. Mark, do you pray at a gallery or a museum?

MARK
Ha ha, no I don't. I pray in the chapel at my local Sam's Club. [There is actually no chapel at Sam's Club. At least I don't think so.]

PALINODE
They sell those chapel-in-a-box kits there too. [No they don't. Or maybe they do.]

[CUT TO streeter interviews, pedestrians laughing and saying “Chapel in a box?” etc.]

PALINODE
Hey Mark, let's take a look inside the gallery, what say?

MARK
You're... on.

[Transition with needlessly sped-up footage of PALINODE and MARK HAMILL walking up to doors, crossing through atrium, waving to security guards and going up stairs to gallery space]

INT – DAY – MacKenzie Gallery

PALINODE
Okay, here we are in the MacKenzie Gallery, tall-ceilinged and friendly, where Dominique Blain's art is on display. What can you tell us about the artist, Mark?

MARK
Plenty, Palinode. Dominique Blain is an internationally renowned artist based in Montreal. Her work deals with the often controversial subject matter of 20th century social relations: injustice, racial and social inequality, fanaticism and oppression. It may come as a surprise, then, to see that her work is poetic in its beauty and poignancy. The viewer is awed by the elegance of her installations while being struck by the impact of the message being delivered. For example, what from a distance looks like a traditional handmade carpet is, in fact, made up of rows of life-size landmines.

PALINODE
Whoah!

MARK
Yeah.

PALINODE
What, you mean real land mines?

MARK
No, the motifs woven into the rug depict twenty-six different kinds of mines. The rug was actually woven by a cooperative in Pakistan, where these land mines represent a real danger.

PALINODE
You could have been a bit clearer on that.

MARK
I'm just repeating the sloppily written copy from the website.

PALINODE
Let's take a look at one of her most impressive and important works first, called “Traces,” which consists of – hey Mark, look at this.

MARK
What are we looking at, Palinode?

PALINODE
What we're looking at here is not “Traces” but "Balance," a small piece made out of an old-fashioned balance with some rusty chains at one end of the balance and a mass of fluffy white cotton on the other end.

MARK
Palinode, there's something weird going on with this piece.

PALINODE
There sure is, Mark. Somehow the airy white cotton is outweighing the pile of rusty chains. Why do you think that is, Mark?

MARK
Palinode, I have no idea.

PALINODE
Well, given the artist's focus on politics and injustice, I might surmise that "Balance" is attempting to tell us something about the privileging of the commodity over abstracter notions of human dignity and freedom. I think that this piece may well be commenting on the institution of slavery, familiar to all of us from nineteenth century America. Or perhaps it's commenting on our familiarity with these items?

MARK
This one explores the issue with nuance and subtlety.

PALINODE
Are you sure? Because it feels about as nuanced as a roundhouse kick to the jaw.

JANELLE
I like this piece.

PALINODE
Hi Janelle! Mark, this is my friend Janelle. I invited her here to discuss "Balance," because she likes it and I don't, and I feel this particular piece deserves explanation from a more sympathetic viewer.

MARK
Hi Janelle. I live in a condemned bungalow and drive a cab. My evenings are free and my house is paid off.

JANELLE
Palinode thinks this piece is a relatively lazy attempt at generating meaning in an otherwise engaging show. But I think that it exemplifies Blain's ability to take huge ideas and distill them into a series of objects, achieving something like poetry in the process. Her true skill emerges from her ability to exploit the tacit cultural relationships between the objects. Take a look at Untitled from 1999, a series of photographs set into the panels of a peaked frame, giving the appearance of a window in a Gothic church. Each pair of frames counterposes an image of a person engaged in religious worship and another engaged in scientific inquiry. The paired images suggest that the quests for empirical and spiritual knowledge are part of the same impulse, the same hunger for meaning. We understand this by drawing the connections in our mind between the images.

At the same time, an object on the floor with the same shape as the 'window' resembles an upside-down boat or broken-off piece of architecture. What this means is [At this point the boom mic cable got pulled and we lost audio. The cameraman forgot to plug in the shotgun mic, so the rest of Janelle's explanation was lost, which is a pity.]

PALINODE
It's kind of like a rebus puzzle in a way.

JANELLE
Yeah, I guess you could say that.

PALINODE
I guess you could say what?

JANELLE
That it's kind of like a rebus.

MARK
She said rebus!

PALINODE
That's right, Mark, she sure did. Rebus is today's 'Crazy Word'! And you know what that means!

JANELLE
What does it mean?

PALINODE
You get to knifefight Ernest Borgnine on the front lawn!

[OFF CAMERA VOICE bellows incoherently]

PALINODE
You hear that? It's Ernest Borgnine's challenge. Mark, you give Janelle the knife and tie it securely to her palm. Janelle, that's a double-bladed sucker, so watch yourself. And remember, Borgnine tends to feint with a jab and then sweep your legs out from under you with his foot, so don't forget to jump up and come down with a stabbing motion. Piece of cake.

JANELLE
I want to talk about the "Traces" piece.

PALINODE
We're running low on time here, Janelle, so you head out to the lawn and we'll catch up with you later.

EXEC. PRODUCER
Aidan?

PALINODE
Folks, this is an executive producer showing up for a surprise visit!

EXEC. PROD.
You need to shut this unit down right now and come back to the office. We sent you out to get some exterior shots of city landmarks for a commercial.

PALINODE
We shot that stuff already. Now We're creating an exciting new show about contemporary art, combining the feel of a hosted lifestyle show with a dash of A&E-style culture and that edgy in situ format so in demand with networks today.

EXEC. PROD.
All that without developmental approval, broadcaster agreement, a production schedule, a series breakdown, or even a single deal memo signed. And how did you hire Mark Hamill?

PALINODE
That's not the real Mark Hamill.

MARK
Yes I am.

PALINODE
Wow. I thought you were some homeless outpatient from the mental hospital.

MARK
I am also Mark Hamill.

PALINODE
At least let's get some footage of the knife fight. I worked hard to get the Event Permit from the city.

EXEC. PROD.
Who's fighting?

PALINODE
My friend Janelle is taking on Ernest Borgnine in a grudge match. She'll wipe the floor with him.

EXEC. PROD.
What? She can't kill Ernest Borgnine - he's already dead.

THE END ALREADY.

70 Buttons!


70 Buttons, by Bernard Rudofsky.



This piece appeared in Rudolfsky's 1944 show "Are Clothes Modern?" which appeared at the Modern Museum of Art. This image sucked through the straw of my scanner from the December 2004 issue of Harpers. According to the caption, "the press release described the project as a 'simulated X-ray examination of the layers upon layers of useless buttons and pockets man considers necessary to preserve dignity'".



What I find intriguing and a bit creepy about the piece is the way in which the buttons express a slightly skewed bilateral symmetry, looking like a pointillist's version of the endochrine system, or maybe a diagram of chakras major and minor. See the vital verebrae? The thyroid neatly marked at the throat? That little mandala radiating from the abdomen? The trouser button at the groin? Best of all are the military formations at each sleeve bracketing the whole affair.



After the eye gets tired of tracing the outlines and mentally matching the clothing to the points of colour, you start looking at the body. No doubt that style of sketching the body has some pedigree, but I don't recognize it. From those thalydomide-manatee feet to the smooth barrel of a body and the tilted profile of a head, what you get is a kind of embryonic merman with a pensive attitude. Maybe he's standing on the ocean bed, decorated with the buttons of drowned gentlemen, watching the surface for someone with an suitable set of boots.



Bernard Rudofsky is best known for his book Architecture Without Architects, recently reprinted by the always-outnumbered-never-outgunned University of New Mexico Press. Rudofsky died in 1998.