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Art: Horace Pippin
Sunday Morning Breakfast, 1943

Recently I read an interesting piece on a little-known African American artist, Horace Pippin. Art critic Michelle Aldredge wrote about him on her delightfully named blog, Gwarlingo. (“Gwarlingo,” she explains, is Welsh for the moment before the clock strikes.)

Aldredge had been visiting the Barnes collection in Philadelphia when she was startled by a small, powerful painting.

She reports, “Last summer I was strolling through the galleries of the new Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, surrounded by the exquisite paintings of Matisse, Modigliani, Cézanne, when a small painting of Abraham Lincoln and his father building a log cabin caught my eye. …

“That day in Philadelphia I opened my notebook and wrote the following: ‘HORACE PIPPIN!’ And just so I wouldn’t forget, I underlined Pippin’s name three times. And then I starred it for good measure.

“A descendant of slaves, Horace Pippin’s biography is a compelling one. Here is an excerpt from his Wikipedia entry:

He was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Goshen, New York. There he attended segregated schools until he was 15, when he went to work to support his ailing mother. As a boy, Horace responded to an art supply company’s advertising contest and won his first set of crayons and a box of watercolors. As a youngster, Pippin made drawings of racehorses and jockeys from Goshen’s celebrated racetrack. Prior to 1917, Pippin variously toiled in a coal yard, in an iron foundry, as a hotel porter and as a used-clothing peddler.

“Pippin enlisted in the army in 1917 and fought in the famous, all-black 369th Infantry regiment in France during World War I. Less than a month before the war ended, he was shot in the right shoulder.

“ ‘When I was a boy I loved to make pictures,’ he once wrote, but war ‘brought out all the art in me. … I can never forget suffering and I will never forget sunsets. So I came home with all of it in my mind and I paint from it today.’ …

“One website on Pennsylvania history describes the evolution of Pippin’s brief career:

After the war, the handicapped Pippin devised a way of supporting his right hand with his left. Using a hot poker to burn in the outlines of his figures and objects onto wood (a technique called pyrography) and then filling them in, he was able to resume painting by the mid-1920s. …

“Words like ‘toiled’ appear frequently in Pippin’s biographies and give some hint at the reverential tone that has been used to describe the artist over the decades. His personal story is so riveting that Melissa Sweet and Jen Bryant have just written a new children’s book about the artist called A Splash of Red. …

“By the time of Pippin’s death in 1946 at the age of 58, he had completed 140-odd paintings, drawings and wood panels. In his obituary in the New York Times they called him the ‘most important Negro painter’ to have appeared in America. …

“Pippin’s paintings are in the tradition of other New-Deal artists like Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, whose murals and canvases depicted ordinary rural life. …

“During his life, Pippin was best known for his landscapes, domestic scenes, and religious paintings. Today, it is his historical scenes showing John Brown and Abraham Lincoln that receive the most attention. (Artist Jacob Lawrence said this his own series on John Brown was inspired by Pippin.) …

“Art critics struggle with Pippin because he does not fit neatly into a category or school. But Pippin didn’t need to buy into some pre-defined idea about what art should or shouldn’t be — he didn’t need to hitch himself to a specific art movement in order to get his work into the public eye. He earned critical acclaim the hard way: by creating outstanding art.

“ ‘Pictures just come to my mind,’ Pippin famously said, ‘and I tell my heart to go ahead.’ ”

More at Gwarlingo, where Aldredge has posted an impressive array of Pippin’s works.

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Photo: Tokyo Five, via Gwarlingo

Back in the early days of this blog (nearly five years ago), I posted about the imaginative Japanese manhole covers that I had seen at the Gwarlingo website. Now Asakiyume has clued me in to collectable cards made from the designs.

The Japan Times has the story. “The cards will be distributed for free to anyone who wants one at sewage plants and other facilities. Pictures of the manholes will be on one side of the cards, which are roughly business card size, while explanations about their designs will feature on the reverse side.

“The manhole designs differ from area to area, and often feature flowers and animals used as symbols in respective communities, or yuru kyara (local mascots). …

“The manhole cover designs are decided after asking the public for ideas, or through a competition among manufacturers of manhole covers. [Hideto Yamada of the GKP, a group including officials from local governments and the infrastructure ministry’s sewage management department] said he hoped the cards will help lift public interest in the sewage system.”

An even better way, I think, would be create greeting cards and postcards that could be sold widely and sent around the world.

More at the Japan Times, here.

Photo: Remo Camerota, via Gwarlingo
A design for a new drain cover.

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I checked Gwarlingo not long ago to catch up on Michelle Aldredge’s thorough, sensitive meditations on art and literature.

What caught my attention was her review of a movie about restoring an old house in Japan.

“It is rare to find a film that is pitch-perfect in its cinematography, story, pacing, and length,” Aldredge writes, “but Davina Pardo’s short film Minka is such a gem. (I owe writer Craig Mod a thank you for turning me onto this quiet masterpiece.)

“Based on journalist John Roderick’s book Minka: My Farmhouse in Japan, the film is a moving meditation on place, memory, friendship, family, and the meaning of home. Most remarkable, this haunting story plays out in a mere 15 minutes.

Minka is the Japanese name for the dwellings of 18th-century farmers, merchants, and artisans (i.e., the three non samurai-castes), but as Wikipedia explains, this caste-connotation no longer exists in the modern Japanese language, and any traditional Japanese style residence of an appropriate age could be referred to as minka. The word minka literally means ‘a house of the people.’

“The story of how AP foreign correspondent John Roderick and his adopted Japanese son Yoshihiro Takishita met, and then rescued a massive, timber minka by moving it from the Japanese Alps to the Tokyo suburb of Kamakura is full of small surprises and revelations (the biggest one comes at the end of the film).

Minka is a film that celebrates stillness. Pardo’s camera lovingly lingers on sun, shadows, and dust. But the peaceful home is not just a restored space full of beautiful, personal objects, it is also an expression of the deep connection between Roderick and Takishita and of familial love.”

Read about that at Gwarlingo, where the filmmaker will let you watch the entire 15-minute movie.

Photo: Davina Pardo & Birdlings LLC
A still from the film
Minka

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Michelle Aldredge runs an outstanding arts blog called Gwarlingo. Recently, she wrote about snowflake art by the identical twins who created the Big Bambú installation at the Met. (I wrote here about the second life of Big Bambú when it was done being art.)

Asks Aldredge on December 21. “What do photographs of snow have to teach us about artistic originality?

“Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and snowflakes have been on my mind, specifically the snowflakes of Doug and Mike Starn.

“Born in New Jersey in 1961, Mike and Doug Starn have worked collaboratively in photography since the age of thirteen. …

“The Starns’ approach [to snowflakes] is partly science, but mostly art. It took the brothers years to hammer out the logistics that would allow them to capture flakes during their fleeting existence — there were microscopic lenses, plasma-emitting lights, snowstorm photo sessions. But the results speak for themselves. There is a poetic quality about their flakes.” More.

The twins called Os Gemeos, whom I wrote about here are an artistic team, too. In fact, they say, they always know what the other twin is thinking as they work on giant murals like the one they did in Dewey Square, Boston.

After seeing the musical Sideshow, I became aware that even Siamese twins may have very different personalities, but it’s intriguing to think about the close communication many twins have.

 Art: Doug + Mike Starn, from the series alleverythingthatisyou, 2006-2007.

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In addition to poetry, art often brings comfort. (Artists don’t usually want to make anyone “comfortable,” which has a different connotation.)

One reason art brings comfort is that creativity generates surprises, and surprises may bring delight.

So although I’m still preoccupied with Boston, I’ll leave Boston for today and write about Cleveland.

Thank you, Mary Ann, for pointing to the Gwarlingo blog, which recently said of the art scene in Cleveland,”prepare to be surprised.”

Blogger Michelle Aldredge writes in part, “It is possible to experience the best of Cleveland culture entirely on foot. …

“According to Ann Craddock Albano, the director of The Sculpture Center in Cleveland, the 550-acre area that encompasses the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Botanical Garden, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Cleveland Symphony, the Cleveland Institute of Art, the Cleveland Cinematheque, Cleveland Institute of Music, and numerous university and medical facilities is the most concentrated neighborhood of world-class cultural institutions in the country. …

“The latest jewel in the Circle’s crown is Farshid Moussavi’s new building for the Museum of Contemporary Art. MOCA is Moussavi’s first museum design, and also the first American project by the Iranian architect, whose firm, Farshid Moussavi Architecture, is based in London.

“A few blocks away from MOCA, at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management building, silver planes slice through red brick like paper in a windstorm. While Frank Gehry opted for flamboyance, Moussavi wisely chose a simpler, less ostentatious design for MOCA—one that is unique and engages the surrounding neighborhood.” More.

BTW, I wouldn’t mind hearing what other folks do for comfort.

Photo: Michelle Aldredge
The zigzagging stairwell is the most eye-catching feature inside the new MOCA Cleveland

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Thank you, Gwarlingo, for tweeting this. Looks like there’s hope for us all.

“All your excuses are invalid,” says Dustin Kurtz in an article at the Melville House site about “the seventy-five year old winner of a prize for emerging writers.

“The semiannual Akutagawa prize was awarded in Japan this past Wednesday, and this season’s winner was Natsuko Kuroda. The Akutagawa prize, begun in 1935, is awarded for stories published in newspapers or magazines by new or emerging authors. Kuroda is seventy-five years old.

“Her story, ‘ab Sango’ (it can be previewed and purchased here) is unusual in that it uses no pronouns for its young principle characters, and is written horizontally across the page from left to right, rather than the standard top to bottom. The result is strange and beautiful, and hints at a genealogy of Popper-esque fairy tale formulae, of mathematics or of sociology, and all of which is given subtle cultural freight by Kuroda’s horizontal lines. But again — because it bears repeating — this intriguing emerging writer is seventy-five years old.

“Kuroda is in fact the oldest writer ever to be given the Akutagawa prize, and she is nearly as old as the prize itself. Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the award’s namesake and perhaps Japan’s most celebrated story writer, famously killed himself when he was less than half her current age.

“Upon receiving the prize, Kuroda said, ‘Thank you for discovering me while I am still alive.’ ” More.

Photograph: Melville House, an independent book publisher in Brooklyn, NY.

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Michelle Aldredge once again introduces me to an artist I knew nothing about. Check out her wonderful post about the artist Slinkachu at her blog, Gwarlingo.

Like Banksy, Slinkachu is part of the London street art scene, Aldredge writes, but  “is everything Banksy is not — subtle, empathic, poignant, contemplative.”

I won’t try to replicate her post but will just mention that I especially like “The House of God” and “Dreams of Packing it All In.”

The photos are copyrighted by Slinkachu. If he doesn’t consider this “fair use,” I can take them down.

Update: He is in NYC until tomorrow, Oct. 7, 2012. Read up, here.

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