Britta Marakatt-Labba’s embroidered scenes of Sami life.

embroidery art
Tomorrow I arrive in Hammerfest to begin my residency in the Arctic. I will be studying Norwegian myths and stories, including legends from the Sami people. Traditionally a nomadic culture with an economy that centers around reindeer herding and harvesting, the Sami are the only indigenous people recognized and protected in Scandinavia. I’ll be staying in Lapland, where many Sami still make their living off the land.britta_2-1024x366

However, like Native Americans living in America, the Sami aren’t some ancient tribe that exists in a time capsule. Many Sami lead thoroughly modern lives, while others combine elements of twenty-first century technology with ancient customs, beliefs, and practices. Admittedly, I’m still learning about their culture (and I hope to learn a lot more) but from everything I’ve read, Sami society, literature, and art seems utterly fascinating.

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Today, I spent a few hours in Tromsø at the Center for Contemporary Art. There was an arresting exhibit of video art on view by Uzbek filmmaker Saodat Ismailova about the extermination of the Turkistan Tiger. While I was there, I also picked up a book on contemporary Sami art. This book featured works by Britta Marakatt-Laba, a Swedish artist who makes abstract yet precise images of her northern landscape. I love embroidery art (I love any “feminine” coded genre that transcends the purely decorative) and Britta’s pieces are so cool. Gestural. Tonal. She says a lot with thread and cloth.

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Over the next month, I hope to feature more Scandinavian and Sami artists on my blog. It’s one of my many goals for this writer’s residency. Since I won’t be sharing my fiction (yet), I’m going to use my site as a place to highlight works by artists that are entirely new to me, like Britta.

See more of Britta Marakatt-Labba’s work here.

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Everything she wants to say: Some paintings by Helen Lundeberg.

yas-queen-helen-lundeberg“My paintings and drawings say everything I want to say,” artist Helen Lundeberg once famously said. I’ve got a lot of thoughts about why her minimalist work is so visually appealing, but since she since she was a lady of few words, I’ll keep my commentary short, too.

Here is a dope landscape: helen-lundebergHere is a painting that made me go YAS QUEEN: here-for-it-helen-lundebergI’m HERE FOR IT, Helen Lundeberg! i-like-you-helen-lundebergIf you’re a New Yorker (which you probably aren’t since my blog is weirdly popular in Finland and Portugal but not NYC) go see her work at the Cristin Tierny gallery as part of an exhibit titled “Classic Attitude.”

Plus, here’s a NY Mag slideshow of her works. I have always liked Alex Katz, but I love Helen Lundeberg (they’ve got similar vibes going on). So flat! So minimal! Such colors!

This is exactly how I want to look on my wedding day.

1897804_Except I’d like to be a little less angry. She looks pissed.

Anyway, I’m engaged and have been for a bit. I have no wedding date set yet nor any real plans. We might do a courthouse thing. We might do a backyard wedding. Whatever. Until recently, I thought I didn’t care too much about the dress… but damn, I want to look like this queen. Black and gold and crown and antlers and a fierce-as-hell armband? Yes, please. I never thought I wanted a “fairy tale” wedding… but I do! In the traditional sense, however, which means I want heads to roll and fairies to dance with and piles and heaps and piles of magical gifts. Sounds do-able.

The above image is by the amazing Artus Scheiner, who was a Czech illustrator and Bohemian painter. His work is considered part of the Secessionist movement, alongside my personal favorite artist, Egon Schile, and my second favorite artist, Gustav Klimt. I really do love me some Secessionists!

Learn more about Secessionism as an artistic movement here. See more of Artus Scheiner’s amazing work here (he illustrated lots and lots of fairytales, and the results are stunning and strange). Learn more about my wedding nowhere. Because this is probably the first and last time I blog about it.

Shooting the moon: early lunar photography.

First Photograph of the Moon This photograph is believed to be the earliest picture captured of the moon. The mirror-reversed daguerreotype was taken by Josh W. Draper from his rooftop observatory at NYC on March 26, 1840. Early Moon Photography by DraperHere is another one of Draper’s early moon pictures. (Photo by J. W. Draper/London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images). According to this article, Draper wasn’t the first photographer to shoot the moon. Several Frenchmen may have beaten him to it, but he was the first photographer to capture it in any detail. He was also definitely the first to shoot a full moon, so he gets credit for that. First image of the far side of the moonThe Soviets beat us to the opposite side of the moon. This picture was captured by Zond-3, the second spaceship to view the far side of the lunar surface. Lots more here.First picture of the earth from th emoonOne of the first pictures of the earth shot from the surface of the moon. Via National Geographic: “This photo reveals the first view of Earth from the moon, taken by Lunar Orbiter 1 on August 23, 1966. Shot from a distance of about 236,000 miles (380,000 kilometers), this image shows half of Earth, from Istanbul to Cape Town and areas east, shrouded in night.”

Because they’re beautiful: Here are three neon love letters.

fionna banner be there saturday
1. Fionna Banner – “Be There Saturday Sweetheart” 

This 30-foot-tall neon sign was constructed in 2000 on the top of the New Art Gallery in Walsall, UK. I don’t think it’s there anymore, but I don’t know for sure. What I do know is this: The simple statement comes from the love letters of artist Jacob Epstein to Kathleen Garman. Although she was married to another man when she met Jacob, Kathleen fell in love with the sculptor and eventually left her husband for him. They stayed together until his death. Despite the rocky start (or perhaps because of it?) their letters are filled with sweetness and light. “With you I have every joy and every happiness,” Jacob wrote to his lover. “My nights are my worst time. I lie awake and think of you. Last night, Sunday, was wonderful moonlight and I thought of you, picturing how you were, how fascinating you looked on the balcony beside the lake in the moonlight and the lantern lights… I am always yours Kitty. Be there Saturday sweetheart.” Neon art about ghosts
2. Robert Montgomery – “The People You Love”
 

Truth time: I’m making this list today because I’m in a melancholy mood. I have a migraine hangover and my brain is fuzzy and unwilling to focus. I feel like a ghost of myself. I’m being lazy and wallowing—I’ll admit that.

But don’t let that take away from the art, because all three of these pieces are wonderful, lovely and haunting, modern and retro, sweet and sad. Artist Robert Montgomery created this piece after the death of a close friend. For him, ghosts are a positive force, a way of keeping in touch with the people he has lost. “I find the idea that love can somehow triumph over death an idea I need to keep sane,” he said.

But you know what I really love about this piece? It’s not just the ghost-y-ness or the eerie setting or the sparse and square font. It’s the way it turns light into a metaphor for humanity, for that elusive thing we call the soul or the spirit. Stare at a neon sign, then look away. The afterglow remains, spots on our vision. An imprint of what was. A visual ghost. More than a memory, less than a presence.

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3. Tracey Emin – “I Listen To The Ocean And All I Hear Is You”

I saved my favorite for the finale. I find Tracey Emin so inspiring, both as an artist and as a human being. I love her brash attitude and her feminist message. I love her sensitive, neurotic, erotic works (I stumbled across “Everyone I’ve Ever Slept With” when I was in college and that piece blew my freaking mind). I particularly love her neon ladies, all naked and glowing with legs spread and toes pointed. I would have shared one of those, but I try to keep my blog SFW, so instead here is one of her text-based pieces (another good one reads: “People like you need to fuck people like me”—not as poetic, but pretty damn funny). Emin’s extremely prolific and likes to work with light-up letters, so if you like this as much as I do, you can see more of her work here.

And you know what? After writing all this and doing the work of inserting images and googling details, I find myself feeling much, much better. I think it’s Tracey’s good influence (or I’m just going to pretend that’s it and not the glass-and-a-half of wine I drank while waiting for my internet to catch up to my thoughts). Thanks, lady.

The ultimate mombod.

great mothers of the stone ageIn honor of Mother’s Day (and since my mom reads my blog more than anyone else, probably) here’s a very cool graphic of mombods compiled by the smart ladies at etsi-ketsi. (Don’t know what a “mombod” is? It’s cool, it’s a stupid made-up thing that happened on the internet.)

It’s also interesting to note that these aren’t all Stone Age sex symbols as some might assume. “Erroneously, perhaps even cynically, many of the statues and sculptures shown here have been named Venus statuettes by patriarchal archeologists, as in Venus of Willendorf and Venus of Laussel; names based on the well-known nude depictions of the much later and slender Roman Venus,” explains scholar Eva Sawada.

Here’s another amazing graphic, this one shows “Goddess Sculptures” from the early Bronze Age. There’s something so amazingly modern about these, so geometric and cool, especially the top row.  With their sharp angles and big shoulders, these femmes remind me of 80’s business ladies in power suits. How would you worship a boss-bitch goddess? By burring a pyre of vintage Vogues? By using lipstick as warpaint and reenacting the ancient ritual of the power lunch? By sacrificing your toes to the torture of a pointy heel? One can only imagine. goddess sculpturesAnyway, happy Mother’s Day or whatever. Enjoy the history lesson.

Things that I wrote: A Dress to Die For, published on The Hairpin.

V0042226 Two skeletons dressed as lady and gentleman. Etching, 1862. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Two skeletons dressed as lady and gentleman. Etching, 1862. 1862 Published: February 8, 1862 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 2.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Like other narrative arcs that replay over and over in our fairy tales and myths, the poison dress resonates for a reason. Clothing is intended to shelter us, to provide a firm barrier between the squishy stuff of our personhood and the sharp edges of the outside world. Clothing should protect us and shield our nervous parts from the thorns of Eden.

But despite its intended function, clothing is often harmful—particularly to the women who wear it and the workers who make it. Beauty is pain. And it’s a pain that begins far before Glauce tightens the strings on her golden bodice, long before ladies shimmied into their arsenic-laced gowns, long before we stepped into our Forever 21 high heels and stumbled towards the nearest bar. It’s a pain that begins in production.

I keep forgetting to post this, but it’s one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever written. Support your local freelance writer! At the very least, you’ll learn that there is a shoe museum in Toronto which is amazing and filled with gorgeous old things. It’s a bit like my hair art piece… but even more fun to research. Go read it!

History of Pretty: Albrecht Dürer, the reason I studied art history in the first place.

durer-a-young-hareThis watercolor paintings, Dürer’s “Young Hare” (or in German, Feldhase), is one of my all-time favorite pieces of art. Painted in 1502, this image is iconic for its insane level of detail. Can you believe that picture is only approximately eight inches wide? Yet somehow, Dürer, that master of precision, was able to create a lifelike image, complete with hair that goes this way and that, and lovely golden undertones that gives the wild rabbit warm vibes.

Let’s get a bit closer: durer detailThat bunny looks a little mean, if I’m being totally honest. Or perhaps mean isn’t the right word—feral. Wild. But still, I would love to stroke its fur. Continue reading

The History of Pretty: Ophelia, the girl who just couldn’t catch a break.

Poor Ophelia. Life wasn’t kind to you. And by life, I mean Hamlet—or rather, Shakespeare, because he’s the one who gave you so few lines to speak, so little personality. Faded, lost, mad, drowned. No wonder painters couldn’t stop painting you—who doesn’t love a tragic ingenue? In the words of your brother: “Thought and affliction, passion, hell itself, She turns to favor and to prettiness.

John_Everett_Millais_-_Ophelia_-_Google_Art_ProjectYour youth and beauty made madness appealing and your virginity made it all the more intoxicating. Artists went wild, turning your tragic character into fodder for their romantic paintings. This (above) is perhaps the best known Ophelia image, pained by John Everett Mills in 1852. It even inspired my own flower-bathing experience.

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Gather Ye Rosebuds or Ophelia – John William Waterhouse, 1908.

Here is Ophelia looking alive and rosy, holding some posies. I love the expression on her face here—she looks strong, almost defiant. This painting is titled “Gather Ye Rosebuds or Ophelia,” which references both the famous Robert Herrick poem and Shakespeare’s doomed character for a lit nerd double-hitter.

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Ophelia – Arthur Hughes, 1852

While not as famous as many of the other Ophelia depictions, this painting by Arthur Hughes is my personal favorite. She looks so frail and so childlike. Look at that vibrant, sinister, poisonous green! And the cute little toadstool. I find this piece enchanting and strange in a surprisingly modern way (doesn’t it look like it could be by a contemporary artist?). Also, do you ever wonder why Ophelia is always depicted with flowers? It’s not just because she’s a wilted, fragile symbol of femininity…

Ophelia waterhouse
Ophelia – John William Waterhouse, 1889

Ophelia had relatively few lines in Hamlet, but her madness is marked by gibbering about flowers, herbs, and their meanings. She sings and babbles to her brother Laertes:

“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts… There’s fennel for you, and columbines.—There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it “herb of grace” o’ Sundays.—Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference.—There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.”

The Death of Ophelia - Eugene Delacroix, 1843
The Death of Ophelia – Eugene Delacroix, 1843

There are some modern renditions of Ophelia, but she seemed to be most popular during the mid-1800s, which makes perfect sense. This was a time of Romanticism and Impressionism, of experimenting with new forms while reawakening old stories.

Ophelia - Claire Rosen, 2008
Ophelia – Claire Rosen, 2008

The rich visual language of Ophelia creates an instantly recognizable figure. Who else would be swathed in a white dress, floating in water, surrounded by greenery and flowers? Contemporary artists seem to prefer to photograph Ophelia rather than paint her. It’s an easy shoot to set up, and the results are made all the more dramatic by the literary references. (Plus her fate is really tailor-made for modern feminists, since her madness is predicated by a very real virgin/whore dichotomy set up by her father and her lover. Ouch.)

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 1.32.44 PMAdmittedly, this last picture has nothing to do with Ophelia, except that it was shot by Claire Rosen (same photographer as the one above) and it is gloriously awesome. Rosen has an entire series of Fantastic Feasts with beasts, as well as a series of fairy tale-inspired images. They’re all lovely. Go take a look.

More in History of Pretty: 
I love Alphonse Mucha
The most beautiful sculpture I have never seen. 

Oh, Louise.

louiseIt’s very late and though I have lots to say about Louise Bourgeois (some of which I’ve already said), I’ll keep it short and sweet for now. Here is a picture of her sculpture “Arch of Hysteria.” Like most of her work, it’s scary and eerie and yet…somehow beautiful. To me, it speaks to that feeling of dread that settles in the pit of my stomach after I make a life changing, supposedly freeing move (for further reference, see the ending of The Graduate). This figure is trapped, yet fluid. It’s the combination of anxiety and bravery made physical in a sweeping motion of the human form. It’s how I feel whenever I stand on top of a mountain: terrified, but terribly alive.