August 27, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Jean Pagliuso takes pictures of chickens. It’s a risky subject—to hear about it, you’d worry you were dealing with the same kitschy, quasi-ironic veneration of farm and fowl that animates many an Etsy shop—but there’s nothing decorative or trite about these portraits. On the contrary, they’re warm and almost perturbingly sincere. In part you can thank the artist’s pedigree for that; Pagliuso has enjoyed long career in fashion photography, having shot everyone from Richard Gere to Sophia Loren for Vogue and Rolling Stone, and she worked with Robert Altman for a while, too. Having shown these pictures in galleries the past few years, she’s now assembled a book, Poultry Suite, out this month.
Pagliuso was inspired in all this by memories of her late father’s avocation: he raised show chickens, and after he died, she wanted to photograph one in memoriam. One, it turned out, did not suffice. She uses Thai Mulberry paper and a silver gelatin emulsion technique to confer a jarring dignity on her subjects, which seem paradoxically more alive than they would in full color. They’re chickens and owls, sure. But they’re—elegant? That’s it. They’re elegant. And in the time of “Put a Bird on It!”, that’s a remarkable thing.
August 24, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Compared to other aspects of the book arts—typography, binding, tooling—the dust jacket is a pretty recent innovation. Depending on whom you ask, it was born either in 1833, to adorn an English novel called Heath’s Keepsake, or it was an earlier, French invention, a maturation of the yellow paper jackets their softcover books often came wrapped in.
In any case, the dust jacket didn’t come to Germany until around 1900—but by the birth of the Weimar Republic, nineteen years later, German artists were doing incredible things with the medium. The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic is a catalogue of the Jürgen and Waltraud Holstein collection, comprising the covers of a thousand books published between 1919 and 1933 by some 250 houses in Berlin. Between the two world wars, the city enjoyed an astonishing expansion in its book production and its libraries: from 1920 to 1927, about three hundred new publishing houses emerged, many of them intent on printing books that experimented with the latest advances in art and design. As Steven Heller explains at Design Observer, there was a practical reason for the design boom, too: Read More »
August 21, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Illustrations by Aubrey Beardsley, made to accompany Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. Beardsley, born on August 21, 1872, favored the grotesque and the erotic in his drawings and had a large influence on the developing the Art Nouveau style, though he lived only to twenty-five. He also illustrated work by Oscar Wilde and Alexander Pope and helped found The Yellow Book.
August 17, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Titus Andronicus is a hideous play. Harold Bloom called it “a poetic atrocity”; Samuel Johnson refused to believe that Shakespeare was its author, writing that “the barbarity of the spectacles, and the general massacre, which are here exhibited, can scarcely be conceived tolerable to any audience … That Shakespeare wrote any part, though Theobald declares it incontestable, I see no reason for believing.” In its five grisly acts, fourteen people die; at least one is raped; throats are cut; hands, tongues, and heads are cut off; blood spurts “as from a conduit with three issuing spouts”; bodies are thrown to beasts and into pits, dragged into forests, buried alive chest-deep and left to starve; the bones of two men are ground “to powder small” and baked, with heads, into pies, which are then fed to their mother.
In other words, it’s one of those tragedies that was just crying out for an illustrated edition. Read More »
August 11, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Among the selections recently added to Cambridge’s Digital Library is Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu, or Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, a seventeenth-century Chinese book by the Ten Bamboo Studio, based in Nanjing. First published in 1633, it’s believed to be the earliest surviving example of multicolor printing—specifically, of a woodcut technique known as douban in which inks of varying colors are applied in succession, giving the finished print the look of a hand-painted watercolor.
The book’s butterfly binding—an early Chinese process in which the pages are printed on only one side, and then pasted together and folded—made it so fragile that the university forbade anyone to open it until it had been digitized. It comprises eight sections: birds, plums, orchids, bamboos, fruit, stones, ink drawings, and (that perennial favorite) miscellany. You can see some of the woodcuts below, and read more about the book at Hyperallergic.
August 6, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
The Hungarian artist Lajos Vajda died in 1941, when he was only thirty-three—having long suffered from tuberculosis, he’d fallen ill during a compulsory stint in the Labour Service, the government’s antisemitic substitute for military conscription. Vajda’s paintings had garnered him a reputation among the avant-garde from a young age: an early critic called them “modern catacomb art.” As a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, one of his exhibitions met with such disdain among the conservative faculty that he was expelled. By the end of the twenties, he’d allied himself with the Munka Kör, a revolutionary group of artists, intellectuals, and workers.
Vajda spent the early thirties moving from hostel to hostel in Paris, where he developed a fascination with film that led to a prolific period as a collagist. You can see a number of his photomontages from this time below—like his paintings and works in charcoal, they exude a fear of fascism and prefigure the violence of the Second World War. Ironically enough, a posthumous show of his work in 1943 at the Budapest Alkotás House of Art had to be evacuated. It was interrupted by an air raid.Read More »