This silly little guy is Tommy Tucker. In the 1940’s, he became mildly famous when LIFE magazine photographer Nina Leen decided to turn her lens on Tommy. His owner made him some sharp new outfits (all dresses, because, I have to assume, squirrels hate pants as much as I do) and a rodent star was born.
When a man in a German village approached Paul Koudounaris during a 2008 research trip and asked something along the lines of, “Are you interested in seeing a dilapidated old church in the forest with a skeleton standing there covered in jewels and holding a cup of blood in his left hand like he’s offering you a toast?” Koudounaris’ answer was, “Yes, of course.”
I’ve been waiting my entire life for someone to ask me that question! Preferably an old crone with chicken feet that poke from beneath her skirt. She’ll ask me to come with her in cackling tones, then she’ll lower her voice and lean forward. “My name is Baba Yaga,” she will whisper, her breath smelling of burnt sage and rotting meat. “I know,” I’ll say. “I’ve been waiting for you.” She will nod, folds of her red calico headscarf falling around her wrinkled face and glinting eyes. “Come with me, child. Into the forest.”
But dang, some people have all the luck. Koudounaris is a photographer, author, and art historian. He has a really rad website called Empire de la Mort that you can check out here. For a more intellectual take on his work, go read the piece at Smithsonian.com.
This 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: That 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
This year, instead of making resolutions, I decided to think about who has inspired me in 2014. I have a bad tendency to compare myself to others, and it usually makes me feel horrible, lacking in some way. But it doesn’t have to! When I slow down and think about the people I love, and the traits I admire in them, I don’t feel lacking. I feel lucky. Lucky to know them. Lucky to learn from them.
Here are just a few people who inspired me in 2014. Every year, I resolve to be braver, to be kinder. This year, I want to be brave, kind, compassionate, ambitious, creative, and to see the sparkles that light up every day.
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.”
Your 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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.)
Admittedly, 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.
If you asked me to name my favorite sculpture, the answer would be easy: Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne. While baroque painting was never my favorite—except Caravaggio, because it is impossible not to adore Caravaggio and his bloody, beautiful youths—baroque sculpture and architecture is truly amazing. And what Bernini could do with a slab of marble is particularly amazing.
Just look at the way her limbs change into trees! It’s like looking at music. It’s so poetic and deeply alive. This sculpture shows the culmination of the myth of Daphne, a river nymph (and thus a woman after my own waterlogged heart) who is chased by the god Apollo, who seeks to possess her after being hit with Cupid’s mischievous arrow. Daphne calls out to her father, the god Poseidon, and begs for some way to avoid the seemingly inevitable rape. He decides the best thing to do is to turn her into a tree, because this is before we had words for everything and dendrophilia hadn’t yet been invented. Bernini, like all baroque artists, seemed drunk with drama, and so he chose to depict the “couple” at the moment of her transformation.
Yes, it’s a statue of a woman escaping her rapist by becoming a plant. It is dark and a little terrible, but it’s also breathtakingly beautiful and amazingly detailed. I hope someday I get to see it in person.
I decided I need a bit more consistency in my posts, so I’m going to start a series where I highlight my favorite artists from history. It’s one part review (I learned so much wonderful stuff in college and then never used it again) and one part blogging exercise. Two parts futile? Perhaps! But does one really need an excuse to look at Mucha’s gorgeous ladies? If your answer is yes, you’re wasting my time, then I really just don’t know why you’re reading my blog.
Mucha was a Czech artist who lived during the late 19th, early 20th century. As you can see from his works, he was pretty invested in the whole Art Nouveau thing—in fact, he practically invented this particular poster style, which went on to become immensely popular in fin de siecle Paris. But Mucha was also crazy popular in his motherland. Following his international success at the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris, he returned to Prague to create art that he felt was truly reflective of the Czech history and character.
While a lot of people know him for his pretty posters that adorn dorm rooms of quasi-artsy young adults all over the world, I have always loved his pieces that depict the “Czech woman.” He idealized the Czech peasant ladies, with their strong bodies and long, flowing hair. He wanted to capture the spirit of his small country, and he often did this through allegories. Sure, he also did plenty of advertisements, but I’ll never forget seeing pieces from “The Slav Epic” and his seasons series at the Mucha Museum in Prague. While his style is stamped all over the city, from twisty, organic-inspired light fixtures to hand-painted flowering vines that adorn the exterior of an otherwise unremarkable building, it was fascinating to see so much of one artist’s work in one place. I brought home a poster, which has since been crushed and wrinkled out of shape. But I don’t think I’ll ever throw it out.