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Resolutions

January 4, 2016 | by

Jason Novak, whose drawings accompany Chris Bachelder’s The Throwback Special in our Winter issue, is working on an illustrated edition of Ron Padgett’s poem “How to Be Perfect.” The first ten lines are below. 

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East of the Sun and West of the Moon

December 3, 2015 | by

Kay Nielsen, illustration from “The Three Princesses in the Blue Mountain” ("No sooner had he whistled ... ”), 1914. All images © Courtesy of TASCHEN

If you’ve seen Fantasia, you are, whether you know it or not, familiar with the work of Kay Nielsen, a Danish artist whose illustrations collide light and dark in sublime, often disquieting quantities, with patterns of feverish detail abutting vast stretches of negative space. His work was used in Fantasia’s “Ave Maria” and “Night on Bald Mountain” sequences, but his stint at Disney came late in his career. It’s worth, instead, seeking out his work as a book illustrator, especially 1914’s East of the Sun and West of the Moon, which Taschen has just reissued in a lavish new edition.

East of the Sun comprises fifteen stoical and weirdly moving Norwegian folktales, boasting names like “Prince Lindworm,” and “The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body.” The stories came hard-won from the folklorists Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Engebretsen Moe, who had spent years in the mid-nineteenth century journeying across the fjords to remote fishing, farming, and mining villages to transcribe the local lore. A cast of trolls, ogres, and witches roots the stories clearly in Norse pagan mythology, but what makes them distinctly Scandinavian, Taschen’s editor Noel Daniel told me, is the outsized, often personified role of the natural world: the North Wind is a character, brawny and menacing, and nature itself is a character, alternately gloomy and glowing. After a four-hundred-year sleep in which Norway had been subjugated to Denmark, tales from the vernacular like these helped to form the country’s national identity. As the art historian Colin White writes in an introduction to the new edition, “Snow, ice, and brittleness determined the character of these northern legends. The clash of sword blades echoed the crack of ice. The crunch of frozen ground was all the more sinister when it was made with an armored foot or a heavily shod battle charger.” Read More »

We Are Unable to Use the Enclosed Material

November 23, 2015 | by

An artist’s quixotic attempt to convince The New Yorker to embrace photography.

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From “The New Yorker Project.” Courtesy Institute 193

Nina Howell Starr’s “The New Yorker Project,” currently on view at Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky, is a collection of photos and archival material never intended for publication—it began as a sort of letter to the editor, intended to convince her favorite magazine of the power of photography.

Starr, born in 1903, was a fan of The New Yorker from the beginning: she subscribed from the magazine’s inception in 1925 until her death in 2000. She came to photography much later, earning her M.F.A. from University of Florida in Gainesville, in 1963, at the age of sixty. Her husband was an English professor, which meant that the couple lived an itinerant academic life; when he retired, they relocated to New York City, where Nina’s career began in earnest. Read More »

Paradise Fire

November 19, 2015 | by

Ghost Forest, Eatonville, Washington, August 2015, 2015, archival pigment print, 48" x 61". Courtesy of the artist and Moran Bondaroff, Los Angeles.

David Benjamin Sherry’s exhibition “Paradise Fire” is at Moran Bondaroff Gallery, in Los Angeles, through December 12. Sherry photographs the American West using an unwieldy 8x10 field camera. “My interest lays in the changing American landscape, and this new series of pictures reflects my unease,” he wrote in a statement for the exhibition. He told Opening Ceremony, “I was drawn into the desert for its sheer brilliance of fossilized time, the blinding luminosity of its stones and rocks, the infinite desolate space, the wildly varied and brightly colored sun-bleached palettes, the supernatural light, the invisibility of space and surroundings, the supreme silence like no other natural landscape, and the infinite horizon and endless repetition in minimal form.” —D. P. Read More »

Paint to End Painting

November 13, 2015 | by

Brice Marden’s notebooks.

An installation view from Karma. All images courtesy Karma Gallery

On a page of his 1964–67 journal, underneath a small cutout of Manet’s 1862 painting of Victorine Meurent, Brice Marden wrote, “Cézanne tried to kill painting by denying forms for the sake of painting. He seems to have come closest to painting painting out … I think a painter should paint to end painting for himself and some others. With this in mind and man in mind it seems inevitable that painting will go on.”

Now two of Marden’s journals have been exquisitely printed by the New York–based publishing imprint Karma, in whose gallery space the drawings, the journals, and a monochrome painting—Portrait (1964–65)—are on display. With their daily ephemera and cogitations, the notebooks provide an instructive and often amusing counterpart to Marden’s most recent body of work, which opened at Matthew Marks Gallery last week. There is an inevitable link between Marden’s early work and now. Read More »

Letter from Mitla

November 10, 2015 | by

Visiting the altars for Dia de los Muertos.

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All photographs by Shona Sanzgiri.

Thirty miles from the city of Oaxaca is San Pablo Villa de Mitla, where, according to Mesoamerican lore, the dead go to rest. It’s a small town surrounded by mountains and distinguished by an arid climate, which has preserved relics up to ten thousand years old and attracted archaeologists from all over the world. During the days around Dia de los Muertos, Mitla transforms into a gateway for the deceased lured by the town’s many altars, built by their loved ones, still living here in this world.

The ornate displays are abundant with ofrendas, offerings of food and drink. Pyramids of fruit, bursting marigolds, packs of Marlboros—or Camels or Chesterfields, depending on one’s preference—ripe plantains, candles of all sizes, meticulously decorated loaves of pan de muertos, and clay gourds of mescal and water (even the dead suffer from hangovers) comprise most offerings. Pictures of the deceased, typically unsmiling, feature in the center of the room, encircled by votives and depictions of different Catholic saints and apostates. The room often smells of woodsy black and white copal, an incense made from tree resin. Read More »