Saturday, October 08, 2011

Information. In Formation.



Prologue: A note to my family regular readers: This post is an assignment for a class I’m taking. The subject is my information sources. I apologize for not posting lately, but like I say, I’m taking a class. End prologue.








The day begins with the alarm clock and the cat in a photo finish: one is programmed to wake me at a predetermined time, the other is inclined to wake me because he’s out of food, or there’s a cat outside, or I rolled on him, or whatever else motivates cats to do what they do.

(image swiped from Same Hat.)

One is a planned mechanical info source while the other is an unpredictable organic info source. They both wake me to deliver information, and while the information varies the result is the same: I’m getting up.

Information pervades the house. Multiple clocks remind us of the time. Sunlight slants in the windows, giving us a running commentary on time and weather. Books on bookshelves in every room. Look, there’s a novel resting on its side, perched on the ledge of the shelf!


I guess someone’s planning to get back to it. This implicit information suggests I’d best not reshelve it.

A side note: the painting that, for me, best represents the way information pervades our mental landscape is On The Balcony by Peter Blake:

(Image pillaged from The Tate.)


The artist is best known for a related information-saturated image, the cover art for Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Blake visualized a hypertextual augmented reality decades before these cyberbuzzwords existed. Although I suppose Medieval artists beat him to it, with those multiple-windows-onscreen illuminated manuscripts.

(Image five-fingered from Bibliodyssey.)
One can gather so much info about a household from its bookshelves. One of my favorite bloggers, Tom Spurgeon, talks about the pleasures of shelf-porn: photos of peoples’ bookshelves. Here’s some of ours:

A blend of brow levels and a clutter of subjects.

Uh oh! Is someone an embittered ex-actor? The fact that this shelf of theatrical texts is tucked away in an alcove of a little used hallway may be relevant info.





Here's some of my wife's books, as organized by her. Note that these books, unlike mine, are alphabetized. Maybe SHE should be the librarian.

But let’s be honest: a ton of my info-gathering happens at the computer. There are paper printouts scattered about my desk because onscreen I can’t quite bring myself to read anything more demanding than a message board. I’m well aware of the trees I’m killing with these comfort printouts, and I’m aware because my buddy Charlie is the kind of data-rich conservationist who keeps me abreast of such issues via:

• Facebook, natch

• A private message board (specifically a Yahoogroup) for my college friends to stay in touch. It’s been online since 2001. Post-Facebook it’s used less, but that’s because all our passing joke links have migrated to Facebook. We mostly save the messboard for important announcements, in-jokes, and bull sessions.

• Actual face-to-face conversation. On the Fourth of July we went to Charlie’s house to meet a passel of college friends I hadn’t seen in years, along with their children. My college friends’ children! I’d been informed that these children existed, but that information had only come to me via text on a screen, along with a few photos on the same screen. Here the children were in the flesh, building ornate Lego spaceships, informing me via words and Lego demonstrations of all the latest advances in Lego spaceship technology (and, by extension, their film/video game consumption).

• Another face-to-face meeting. A couple months ago Charlie and family made an impromptu stop at our house on a vacation return leg. This time I was able to give him some information: the local birds (he’s a birdwatcher and works for Audubon) keep eating our tomatoes. He countered with the information that he’s never heard of such a thing. Only later I realized that the birds weren’t so much eating our tomatoes as drinking them: pecking holes and sipping the tasty juice. Or so I assume; my info source on this is direct observation of the tiny holes the birds peck in the tomatoes. Not big enough to get much vegetable flesh, but enough to slip a beak in and sip.

Back to the Internet: I use my iGoogle page to keep up with my favorite pages for

news,




• and portraiture.

Let’s move on to how I actively seek information about important topics, like one of my recurring guilty pleasures: kitsch fantasy art. I could, of course, go to fine websites like




but today I’m going to pick up a book. A musty old coffee table book I bought when I was in high school.


The Flights of Icarus! (Image ganked from Digital Waterfalls.)

(Flights, plural? I’ve been well informed on the subject of Icarus’s infamous single flight via a blend of books (Bulfinch’s Mythology was the first), filmstrips, and lectures in school. Perhaps the title is meant to suggest a happier alternate ending to the cautionary tale; an idealistic hope of brighter possibilities for those who fly close to the sun. Appropriate, I suppose, for a collection of fantasy art.)

I found it in an old-fashioned paper catalogue from Paper Tiger/Dragon’s Dream, a dual publishing imprint founded by record cover artist Roger Dean.  I was enamored of Dean’s covers for bands like Yes:

(I have no I dea where I swiped this image of the gatefold sleeve Dean pained for Yes's best album, Close To The Edge.


and Asia:

Who knows where I found this image of Asia's second-least-crappy album, Alpha?

so I bought one of his coffee table art books.  It included a catalog of related offerings, and I bought most of those offerings, though memory fails me about how I could afford such silly expenditure.  One of those books was Flights of Icarus, a grab-bag survey of fantasy artists.

The book consists in large measure of nerd favorites and imitators of nerd favorites, but there are a few standout artists who aren’t likely to ever join the nerd gestalt, and they’re the one’s I’m curious about.
So let’s cruise Google with a copy of the book in hand, shall we?
Say, Jim Fitzpatrick looks interesting!  The works reproduced in the book are an amalgam of Celtic-ish Kell-ish elements (my first info source on Kells: another college friend, who dabbled in reproducing them on graph paper in colored pencil) and Barry Windsor-Smith (another of those nerd faves one learns about through nerd osmosis).

Thanks to Google I found his website immediately.

Holy smoke, he did the Che Guevara poster?
Grabbed from Jim's website.
  And album covers for: 
  Thin Lizzy (about which my initial info source was a photo of the lead singer in some magazine, probably Musician: I thought he looked cool but never followed up on the band.  Years later I listened to a guy sing “The Boys are Back in Town” in a gloomy karaoke club and learned from the onscreen title info that the Boys in question were Thin Lizzy. ) 

and Sinead O’Conner (whom I first learned about from a friend (a Catholic, ironically) who told me I had to check out O’Conner’s video of Nothing Compares 2 You (which I never did, though I saw a short excerpt on one of those ads for compilation albums they used to hawk on TV; all the info I got on the video involves a closeup of a head against a black background singing real wide-mouthed. Let's take a closer look:

)).

So, after those nested parentheses, do you remember where we left off? If so you’ve got a useful skill: not losing the thread after a trip down the digressive hyperlink rabbit hole. Anyway, Jim Fitzpatrick.

Here’s a sample-spoon of what he had in my book:


Obviously this teensy reproduction doesn’t do justice to all the intricate detail in this image.

  So, what’s he up to now?
Purty.  And stands up better to image shrinkage.

Whose next on my tour of Icarus's flights? John Ridgewell, whose photorealistic yet imaginative landscapes of Green and Pleasant Land remind me of the overgrown yet not-quite-wild backroads I’ve seen all my life in Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina.

(Image "liberated" from the below-linked website.)

(I crib "Green and pleasant land" from William Blake’s poem Jerusalem (Which I first discovered on a cassette of Emerson Lake and Palmer’s bombastic arrangement of the song version:


))


Sad info on that website; we lost him to cancer. The website protests that reproductions cannot do his work justice. I’m aware of the problem, having once seen Renoir‘s famous Luncheon of the Boating Party in a traveling exhibition.

(Image "borrowed" from Phillips collection.)

You’ve probably seen it in reproductions, but none of them prepared me for the luminous, breathing realness of the people represented in the painting. Somehow the way light springs off that painted canvas seems closer to the way light springs off living flesh than the way it reflects from conventional canvases.  Renoir takes us back to the Seine of the 19th century, giving us an astonishing amount of information about what it was like to be young and alive in that time and place. Looks like it beat hanging out at the mall. Anyway, standing before the art itself I felt like I could  step through the portal-frame and join the party; that’s how perfect Renoir’s illusionism was.

Back to Flights of Icarus: David O’Connor contributes a lushly colored illustration of a fearsome looking middle-aged woman in a room full of birds. Could she be bird-crazed Gertrude Groan, from my favorite fantasy series, Gormenghast?  I'd scan the illustration if I had a scanner.  I'd post it if I could find it online.  This image, this information, must remain locked in the book.   Score one minor victory for books over Dubbleyu Dubbleyu Dubbleyu.

So let’s Google David. I immediately misspell his name O’Conner and Google wraps my knuckles:

• Showing results for david o'connor artist


Search instead for david o'conner artist.

Ya got me there. So, whattaya got on David O’ConnOr?  C’mon Goog, inform me. 


This more or less abstract multi-media work is actually more interesting to 38-year-old me than slick fantasy illustration, but it’s clearly the result of a more austere aesthetic. I like it, but sculpture suffers even more in photographic reproduction than does painting, and besides, I’m on a mission here, with my internal 17-year-old self in charge.  Internal 17-year-old just likes slick fantasy art.

I switch to Google Images, and after trawling through the usual collage of off-topic pictures (including many, many faces, a rear-view of a naked muscleman, some embossed hieroglyphs, a man stroking a horse’s muzzle, a cute boy adjusting his collar) I spot a bunch of Magic: The Gathering cards that look to be by the O’Connor I’m seeking.

(Think I found this at http://www.starcitygames.com/)


Remember Magic, the Gathering? A collectible card game that I learned about exclusively from one kind of info source: M:tG crazed college friends, all of whom shared a missionary zeal for this game. It's a game which blended the pleasures of baseball card collection, Mille Bornes and hack fantasy. Word of mouth was both the game’s primary marketing and its primary anti-marketing, since the game’s fans were even nerdier than me, and down that path, I knew even then, lies madness. O’Connor’s card illustrations are rather dull compared to the prismatic lushness of his images in my book, but I suppose one has to keep it simple if it’s for a cheap card; otherwise you end up looking like this:
 

Oh, sorry, were you hoping for some female artists? Well, editors Martyn and Roger Dean have graciously allowed one. At least she’s a nice one: Una Woodruff.

(Image nicked from the above Una Woodruff site.)



Fits in with the work in the book, which parodies botanical illustration, but features imaginary plants whose blooms resemble animals. Reminds me of the art of John Trest, with whom I went to college.

(Image snagged from John Trest's website without even asking.  Hope he'll accept it as free publicity, but I'll delete if if he asks.  Ditto for the other images and their respective sources/rightsholders.)

I got John's website off a business card he handed me at an art festival. One of those situations where one hopscotches from a face to face info source, to paper-and-print info source, to Internet info source. Perhaps the reverse order is becoming more common.

Next flight of Icarus: Dick French contributes some images that look like Francis Bacon
trying his hand at landscapes after reading Ballard’s Crash.

(I first learned about Bacon from trawling school library art books.  I was proud to recognize his art in the opening credits of Last Tango In Paris:

 

(and then there's Crash:

))

Oh look, the BBC has a piece by a Dick French!

(Tooked from the Beeb.)

Not sure what to make of that. All the lavender makes it look like Thomas Kinkaide on a drunken spree. (Speaking of Kinkaide, I went Googling for info on how he works his magic, and behold.)
 
But I didn’t know until I just now stumbled across it that BBC has an online art reproduction gallery. I’ll waste a bit of time on this, I daresay. I like this.

And this

and this here

and also this,

which last reminds me a bit of Diebenkorn, whose work I saw in SFMOMA, where a guard served as an information source. The information he provided was that I better turn off the flash on my camera. I couldn’t seem to do this, since I’d borrowed the camera from my wife and hadn’t read the relevant information source known as the manual. The guard turned flash off for me; he’d presumably had to figure this stuff out in order to help clueless tourists like me. Sadly the camera kept turning the flash back on, so I didn’t get many SFMOMA photos. But I did get these Diebenkorn detail shots:






To finish up with Flights of Icarus, there’s some nice images from 

Bruce Pennington (my first info source on whom was my friend Doug, who had a book of Pennington’s apocalyptic work. Doug, who was and remains an evangelical Christian and gifted painter, was very taken with Pennington’s imaginative Book of Revelation-fired imagery, but was irked by an painting which purported to show the Rapture, but showed people being tractor-beamed into a spaceship. Doug informed me that some New Agers believe the Rapture is a true prophecy but that it will in fact be a removing of Christians by Wise Alien Overseers so New Age types can get on with their New Age business without Christians interfering. Not sure what Doug’s info source on this was.)

and
 
Ian Miller.  (Doug introduced me to Miller’s work as well, after I expressed a nervousness about Satanic art (I was kind of young).  I believe Doug’s words were “Ian Miller, that’s as close to Satanic art as anything you’ll find in this house.” Now I think Miller is magnificent, and I don’t feel Satanic for it.)
 
Enough of this. I’m not the kind of hikikomori who lives like a fly in the Web. I’m going for a walk. Let’s see what information we can suss out from the neighborhood.
 

Until recently the word Espresso was lovingly lettered over this door. That information has been removed, because the coffee shop within has been removed.  It was the only coffee shop in town.


Here’s one of North Carolina’s many proud furniture shops!

We’ve been informed by locals of a saying: Japan buys its furniture from North Carolina, and North Carolina buys its furniture from Japan. Despite the way the doorframe intrudes on the lettering (arguably causing some information loss) I see they sell La-Z-Boys.


Or not.  Reflected in this broken window one can make out one of the buildings of the biotech research campus that is the great hope of the community.  If the campus fulfills the hopes behind it, then in a year or three I'll be able to retake this photo in an unbroken pane to a prosperous new shop.  Let us hope. 
 
Next door stands this furniture outlet. 

Just read the sign. You’ll have to fill in the gaps, though the missing letters are as informative, in their way, as the ones that remain.

What’s the coming attraction at the local movie theatre?


Just take a gander at the poster. It’s The Disney Muppets! “Muppet Domination,” it says down below, and we can see who’s dominating the Muppets; the new owners have smeared their corporate logo over the title so thoroughly that it appears to be part of the title.



Here’s a house for sale.


Looks like it was proud once. A neighbor, who is busy fixing up another local old house, casually informed us that the house you see here was a boarding school, then a flophouse full of junkies. 
That was long ago. 

Now no one lives there.

OR DO THEY?

Get me outta here.  I was planning to go around back and get some more photos, but the information I’ve gleaned from a quick peek inside suggests I might want to be on my way. As a lover of fine film I’ve been informed about what can happen to inquisitive neighbors:

 
Though I also know not to take such warnings too seriously, thanks to this deeply informative clip a friend sent me on Facebook:

 
Oh, did I mention the house is for sale? 



Having cross-referenced between a musty old lobrow coffee-table book and Google, then strolled around browsing the info on offer in my neighborhood, I suspect I’ve mostly exhausted my info sources. Sure, there’s my phone, but it’s not one of them there smartphones. I mostly use it as an actual phone, talking to my family and friends, one of whom I see every day, most of whom I haven’t seen in at least a year. If I had a smartphone I’d be too busy with stuff like this.

I’ve touched briefly on face-to-face communication as an info source, but in the interest of protecting the privacy of local family and friends I think I'll draw a curtain over the specifics of our face-to-face dealings. In place of such personal information, please enjoy this song about face to face communication:











(Finished with a nick from http://annyas.com/screenshots/)