Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Barbie And The Crying Woman, Time of Their Lives

Barbie Roberts and Dora Maar as the Crying Woman, Pittsburgh, 2014

The end of 2014 is nigh upon us. Nigh!  Marking time, as we do, forces us to consider time as a thing, when it is really only a point of reference.  A nebulous point of reference at that, like raindrops in a thunderstorm, sand on the bottom of the ocean, all of the bones stacked beneath the streets of Paris.  I think back on the year that was, the events, the experiences, the people I love, all that I saw, the miles that I trekked, up early in the morning with the dog, predawn, finding Orion shimmering in the ink of the sky, and I think that there are those things outside of time, although technically they aren't, but they are. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Barbie & You Or Me

Barbie Roberts and Maria Lassnig in 'You or Me', Pittsburgh, 2014

This year the art world lost one of its boldest visionaries when Maria Lassnig died at the age of 94.  A towering genius of unrivaled talent, she explored techniques and themes more timid artists wouldn't dare attempt.  Never flinching in her desire to push boundaries and explore the human condition within her work, she was able to transcend the condescension of the term 'female artist' and was simply an 'artist'.  To say that she's influenced my work doesn't credit her enough with how deeply a chord she's struck.  She'll resonate well beyond her expiration date.
God's speed, Maria.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Joyous Festivus, Such As It Is!

While I don't personally observe Festivus, much preferring to air my grievances daily, I understand that others who wander into this space, do.  Enjoy the Feats of Strength!  Try not to break a hip while pinning the head of the house!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Bridge Of Sighs

Bridge Of Sighs, Pittsburgh, PA 2013

The bridge connects the old jailhouse with the  Allegheny County courthouse.  For more information go here.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Meaning of The Season

     I've never paid much attention to the ginned-up argument that there's a 'war' on Christmas just because some people might say 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas'.  It's an utterly meaningless position and completely indefensible given that the sole source of the holiday lies in the pagan observance of the Winter Solstice and Yuletide.  There, now don't you feel better?  It's impossible for there to be a war on Christmas because the true holiday is something quite different, and so lasting in its influence that by altering what's being celebrated, as in the birth of Jesus versus the lengthening of days, cannot change how the season is celebrated.  The tree is up and encircled many times with lights, there is a fire in the fireplace, garland spilling over the mantle, gifts for all beneath the tree.  All of these things are pagan, and despite the best efforts of the church, any church, people will not relinquish their hold on these traditions that date back to when my pagan European ancestors huddled in their halls or huts against the seemingly endless cold and dark.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Tales Of The Crypt

Leopold Vilsack Family Crpyt, St. Mary's Cemetery, Lawrenceville, Pgh, 2014

The thing about this crypt that caught my eye is the concrete seal covering the doorway, blocking entrance since the last child (Veronica) of Leopold and Dorothea Vilsack was laid to rest there in 1948.  All cities have their founders who amassed fortunes, and often they are known for generations because of philanthropic endeavors, but often there are those that slip through the cracks of time and if not for a creepy crypt in an already creepy old bone yard, they might be lost.
Leopold Vilsack was one of the founders of Iron City Brewery, which in and of itself is worth noting.  His wife Dorothea, who preceded him in death by only a month, bore 12 children that lived to adulthood.  While most of their children grew to be hard-working upstanding citizens, one son, August A. Vilsack served several months in prison for his role in a bribery and conspiracy scheme.
I wonder what the interior of that crypt is like, especially since there's virtually no way to gain access to it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Partial Reclining Figure

Reclining Figure, Close-Up, Columbus, 2014

Henry Moore's sculpture, "Three Piece Reclining Figure:  Draped", as it stands outside of the Columbus Museum of Art in Ohio.  Here I have seemingly cut off the head of the woman, but in truth the artist did not give the work a head.  Like so many pieces of art crafted by men, the female subject lacks a head.  Is this because the artists lacks the skill to render the fine facial features of the female form?  Or is it because he doesn't deem it necessary that she have a head?  It's the Praying Mantis effect in reverse.  While it doesn't always happen, it happens often enough for it to be noticeable. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Pianist's Hands

      The Pianist's Hands, Pittsburgh, 2013

My mother is a pianist, playing/practicing nearly everyday (except while on holiday) for the last 70 years.  It's taken quite the toll on her hands, worsening the arthritis that has settled in the joints.  Regardless, she still plays for the church.  Her rendition of "Angels We Have Heard On High" brings tears to my eyes.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Red Pole

          Trinity Episcopal Cathedral In Winter, Pittsburgh, Christmas 2012

This is Pittsburgh's oldest unreconstructed landmark, standing as it always has in the heart of downtown.  At one time it's cemetery was the resting place of over four thousand individuals, but now just has a smattering of a few prominent early settlers and natives, including Red Pole, chief of the local Shawnee.
Here is his head stone:

Friday, December 12, 2014

Primanti Brothers

Primanti Brothers, Southside Pittsburgh, 2014 and Beyond

Pittsburgh is somewhat famous for the Primanti Brothers restaurant sandwich which has fries and slaw piled on it.  It's an ok sandwich, I mean, it's not poison, but it's nothing special.  I would never, ever go out of my way to have one.  In fact, the only time we eat there is when people from out of town visit and they demand - yes DEMAND - that we suffer through the experience with them.
My primary complaint comes from exactly how the sandwich is delivered to you.  It's wrapped in thin paper, not even so much as a paper plate.  And if you dare ask for a knife and fork, you get the flimsiest utensils that Chinese convict labor can produce.  That knife aint cutting nothing, and the tines on the fork bend when you try to spear anything.  Forget asking for your fries or slaw on the side.  They'll laugh in your face.  You end up contending with a mountain high sandwich with soggy fries and bread.  Unless your a champion speed eater, the whole concoction loses integrity when you're about half way finished, falling to pieces on your now soggy and torn serving paper.  It's a mess, and an embarrassment.  All of the structural/serving faults could be forgiven if it was the best sandwich that you ever had, but it isn't.  I can, and do, make a better sandwich at home.
My advice is:  Beware.  You might want to bring your own utensils and plate.  Who knew you could long so much for a plate?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Touching The Art And It Touching Back

Casey Jane Ellison is the mastermind, and I do truly mean a mastermind, behind the web series, Touching The Art.  When I first discovered this youtube channel a few months ago, I was struck by how it's both serious and seriously funny.  Art (people in art, not the works themselves, because that would be impossible) so often takes itself so f*cking seriously that whimsy, humor, any sort of lightness of being, immediately discredits you.  What 'Touching the Art' does is address very real issues within the art community, large and small scale, and how women and people of color are always given the identifiers of: Female Artist (white), African-American Artist (male), Female African-American Artist, Hispanic Artist (male), etc.  We live in a world where 'white male' is the default, and the rest of the art world has to be segregated into their proper categories lest there be chaos.  This makes me not just a female artist, but a lesbian female artist.  Given that I'm a woman, my persona could be further broken down by age because our male dominated society is also ageist, making me a middle-aged, lesbian, female artist.  The lesbian and female may seem redundant, but trust me, it isn't. 
        Rosbro Cigar Smoking Snowmen, Pittsburgh 2014

To wrap things up I've included a pic of my favorite vintage cigar smoking plastic snowmen from the 1950s.  Take it away, guys!  I love me some inappropriate whimsy.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Refracted Reflection

     Polar Vortex, Connoquenessing Creek, January 2014

I am working on a water themed portfolio, so of course I revisited the photographs I took last winter of the bankside trees reflected in the above mentioned creek.  I didn't notice this at the time I was taking the pictures, but later, while working on them on the computer, I noticed that as the temperatures quickly plummeted it caused the water to begin to thicken, gelling into ice crystals, that then not only reflected the trees, but refracted them as well.  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Close Up In Contrast

Miniature Olive Tree Roots, Pittsburgh, 2014

Olea europaea, this miniature olive tree only grows to be about four to five feet tall and can easily be managed in a pot.  That is, until or unless your cat decides to LAY on the tiny tree and systematically undermine the integrity of the main branches and trunk of the tree.  Simply, Peep's killed the olive tree last winter.  Hopefully I'll be able to keep him off the replacement one I got over the summer.  Olive leaf tea is very therapeutic and refreshing.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Grand View

     Pittsburgh From Mt. Washington, 2014

I have lived places other than here (or very near here), but not for long.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Barbie & Woman Dressing Her Hair

     Barbie & Woman Dressing Her Hair, Pittsburgh, 2014

A bit of tinkering, integrating cubism along with Barbie's selfies and Picasso's tireless denigration of women, especially those he'd grown weary of.  This may be a too obvious use of pixelation...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Late Autumn

     Woods In Late Fall, Fombell, PA, 2014

The snow might be flying and all of the leaves have yielded to gravity, but it's not winter yet.  Yet, it feels like winter in late autumn.  There's no getting around it, despite the calendar.  The failed arbitrary nature of how we try and ascribe order to 'time' is  evidenced in every November day.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Lab Rat

                                                       Alcoholic Rat, Pittsburgh, 2014

If I was a lab rat, and experiments were going to be conducted on me, I guess there are worse things than being force fed booze.  Although, it does sort of remind me of the ironic punishment realm of hell as defined by The Simpsons in "Treehouse of Horror IV" .  That aside, the importance and history of specifically bred strains of lab rats to study alcoholism has proven to help researchers understand the disease in humans.  It all boils down to your genes as to whether or not you are more susceptible to becoming an alcoholic, or whether you'll be able to set that bottle down and walk away after one or two.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Whores of Boiled Leather

16th Century German Halberd, Cleveland Museum of Art, 2014

I recently finished reading - actually listening to while I drove or puttered around the house - George R.R. (because one 'r' isn't enough!!!!) Martin's 5 book opus (so far, with more books to follow, eventually), "Game of Thrones: A Song of Fire and Ice".  While I am a HUGE fan of the HBO show, Game of Thrones, I am less enthralled by its work of origin.  Martin's insistence on repeating himself endlessly, describing each detail over and over again as if it were new, taking up pages and pages with tiresome minutiae that detracts more than it adds to the overall narrative.  When you trim off the fat you have what the show presents, which is lean, fast-paced storytelling at its best.
But what I found most disturbing about the 5 books came about  in the last two: "A Feast For Crows" and "A Dance With Dragons".  In both books the female characters are treated even more violently than in the previous three, and are nearly universally referred to as either 'whores' or 'cunts'.   This was shocking.  I applaud Martin's abilities in world-building, of which he is a master, but he is a wretched writer, or has become a wretched writer.  Despite the conflated verbosity of the first 3 books, the writing isn't so laborious that you want to throw the book across the room with great force, but there were enormous sections of the last 2 books when I left the room while the CDs spun their tales of boiled leather and whores.  I folded laundry, I went to the post office, I took the dog for a walk.  Never once did I lose the thread of the story because precious little was happening.  Whores!  Boiled leather!  Corn!
My only interest at this point in seeing Martin finish the series is for the sake of the show.  Although if he doesn't, at this point, I trust the show runners, D. B. Weiss and David Benioff, to finish the story of Westeros for him, and us. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Looking Along Broadway Towards Grace Church, 1981

Streetview, Cleveland, 2014

Red Grooms created this piece that now hangs in the Cleveland Museum of Art, a painting-like sculpture depicting the hustle and bustle of lower Manhattan as he experienced it.  At once crowded and colorful, noisy and diverse, there's a mastery in how he constructs the sense of depth and place.

Friday, November 21, 2014

My Little Pony and Death of a Toreador

My Little Pony and Death of a Toreador, Pittsburgh, 2014

Unbeknownst to me, while I was researching some of Picasso's paintings and the inspirations behind them, My Little Pony wandered into the scene, witnessing first hand the gore and brutality that takes place within the lurid confines of the bullfighting ring.  Traumatized beyond all comprehension, she then withdrew, stage right, and has not been  seen since. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Urban Living Fossil

Ginkgo biloba Leaves, Pittsburgh, 2014

Those times when I start to feel depressed, for whatever reason, I try to remind myself that I am not just surrounded by wonder, I am immersed in it.  Such was the day today while walking down Fifth Ave in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, I looked down and immediately recognized the distinctive fan-like shape of the ginkgo leaf.  Possibly one of the most fascinating trees on the planet, if the fossil record is to be believed (and I'm a believer), the ginkgo has existed for well over 200 million years, placing it in the Mesozoic Era alongside the dinosaurs.  The first deciduous seed producing tree, the ginkgo has witnessed the waxing and waning of countless species.  It's hard to imagine any form of life being able to adapt to various changes in climate over deep time, but the ginkgo has proven to be extremely resilient.  Today it's a popular urban tree for its tolerance of pollution. 
Those shed leaves cheered me a bit this morning as I made my way through the bitter cold.  All hail the mighty ginkgo!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Murder of Crows

Roosting Crows, Millvale, PA, 2014

While driving through Millvale the other evening on our way to somewheres else, we witnessed a large number of crows gathering to roost in the nearly barren treetops on a hill near a desanctified church.  The whole thing was more than a tad spooky and surreal.  But, it seems, that crows congregating to roost in huge numbers is very common during the fall and winter months.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hollywood Film Awards And Other Misrepresentations

Godzilla Backdrop, Pittsburgh, 2014

We, I, had the misfortune last evening of having left the channel on CBS and then being subjected to their phony Hollywood Film Awards.  These awards carry about as much weight as those trophies handed out to every kid who participated in t-ball.  Worse than meaningless, they are an insult to both the movie going public and the myriad of people who toil so hard* to create entertaining, engaging, thought-provoking cinema.  The HFA are the opposite of all of that.  It seems that the winners (there are no nominees, only winners) are chosen by a secret junta comprised of publicists.  The winning movie, actor, screenplay needn't have even premiered or been screened!  As long as the junta is in agreement, then okey dokey.
A few  lowlights:
Hillary Swank not told that writer Gillian Flynn's first name is pronounced with a hard 'G' as in 'gill' not 'jill'.  This is an honest mistake and one that we made up until I listened to an interview with Flynn on NPR.
Robert Duval, after receiving the Best Supporting Actor Award, delivered a nonsensical (what was not, sadly, to be the only nonsensical) speech about God only knows what.  Where is Meryl Streep when you need her?  No where near this hot mess, that's for sure.
It was painful to behold Queen Latifah trying to justify the very existence of these awards and lend them some semblance of credence.  She failed because there was no other option.
Career Achievement Award goes to...Michael Keaton.  Apart from the upcoming movie 'Birdman', Mr. Keaton hasn't made a film that I've been aware of since....I don't know when.  'Batman Returns', maybe.  That was another uncomfortable moment as they tried to justify giving him that sort of award.
The most uncomfortable moment came when a completely and utterly wasted drunken Johnny Depp took to the stage and rambled and cursed, rambled some more and then cursed up a storm.  This might be a bit amusing, except to see someone this inebriated is always sad, because you know they have a real problem, not just a tiny manageable problem like me.
All of this added up to the sort of embarrassment that one seldom sees, and doesn't necessarily ever want to witness again.
*Excludes anything by Tyler Perry or Kirk Cameron

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Eyes In The Sky

Helicopter Over Landscape & Highway, Cranberry Twp, PA 2014

At least with a helicopter, you know you're being watched.  With the camera drones, as they become more sophisticated and cheaper, you likely would have no idea.  recently when we were in Cleveland someone was flying a camera drone over a busy intersection just off the Ohio Turnpike.  I couldn't see who was controlling it and have no idea why they were doing it.
The larger issue is, of course, privacy, and how much privacy we can expect out in the world.  Constitutionally as Americans we have the right to privacy, but where that right applies is ever shrinking, and we're not pushing back enough to demand that this right be safeguarded.  No, our constitutional loons are all consumed with the 2nd amendment and their precious guns, sometimes they throw a bone toward the 1st amendment in defense of their tendency to threaten people or say hideous things on message boards and then scream "It was a joke!  Freedom of speech, y'all!!!".  Tools and douches, one and all.
The fact remains that as great as all of our technology is, it spies on us.  I tape over the camera on my computer because I'm not skyping and it's been shown that your camera can be hacked and controlled from the outside.  I don't want to think about what sort of desperate shut-in would even want to spy on a middle-aged would be crone such as myself, but we all know they're out there.  Living in their parents' cellar, drinking Monsters, eating Cheetos and not wiping the cheese dust off their fingers so their keyboards are all gummed up, hoping to gain a following of fellow losers on 4chan.  You know the type.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Image by : Michelle

Whilst raking leaves yesterday (I love trees, but every fall...when comes the sloughing off of their leaves, a curse is ever present on my chapped lips, long tines rasping over red and gold...) I found a few blue jay feathers, and then a few more, and then finally a pile of down that could only mean one thing:  A bad end.  It's not uncommon to find a dead robin in the yard, or evidence of a dead robin, but a blue jay is a new discovery.  Maybe he wanted to miss the upcoming polar vortex.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Eye In Its Wild State

Photogram, Cleveland, OH, 2014

Recently I viewed the Cleveland Museum of Art's Forbidden Games, their exhibition on modernist and surrealist photography.  They also have an interactive photogram display where you can create your own work and email it to yourself, which I did with the above image.  I find surrealist photography to be an exploration - an attempt - to understand how and why humanity is capable of such colossal inhumanity.  Think war, and how the public's view and understanding of war was forever altered with the advent of photography.  Mathew Brady's chronicling of the American Civil War, and then the horror in the trenches of World War I personalized the death and destruction.  It stripped away whatever 'noble cause' jingoism that someone might try to ascribe it.  Never have the dead spoken so loudly as when photographs of the corpses were published and the common person could see for themselves.  Reading about atrocities is one thing, seeing is believing.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Amusement Is Control

The Simpson's Opening Sept. 29, 2014, "Clown In The Dumps"

Somewhere in time, a distance future dystopia looms where humankind is even more dependent on constant visual distraction than we are now.  WooHoo!  While I am not so divine as to profess to know the future, I do recognize that we as a species do tend toward amusement and distraction, unless and until circumstances become such that we have absolutely no choice but to turn away from it.  That's a fairly grim assessment, but nonetheless all too often accurate.  When I was a kid the television was the opiate of the masses, now it is obviously the internet.  Everything at our fingertips.  All of the knowledge we have gained in thousands of years of civilization ready to be shared at the click of a link!  And yet we watch cat videos, engage with trolls on message boards, and post crap pictures from middle school on fb for throw back thursdays.  It's who and what we are, and one aspect of being human that seems to transcend whatever other differences we may share as a people.  Not that that is a positive take away in all of this, that there is a pervasive weakness underpinning our humanity to distraction, and the shiny that seems to retreat from us at the very pace we set to pursue it.  We are the fools who do not know we are foolish.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Hipster Doofus, 1837

Portrait of Nathaniel Olds, 1837, by Industrialist Jeptha Homer Wade
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH

I would like to state right from the start that admission to the Cleveland Museum of Art is free.  Their collection is varied with some first-rate pieces, and some of spurious worth and origin.  I view this portrait by industrialist and philanthropist Jeptha H. Wade to be in the latter category.   But then Wade donated the land on which the museum, along with the Museum of Natural History, Western Reserve Historical Society, and Cleveland Botanical Gardens, sits.  Perhaps someone felt like they 'owed' him something and hanging one of works would pay that debt.
All artistic talent aside, the best thing about this portrait is the subject, perhaps the earliest expression of the phenomenon of the Hipster.  Here N. Olds is wearing dark glasses to protect his eyes from the harsh light cast by whale oil lamps.  There is no mention made that he had a condition that demanded this, although one could assume that...if not for his hair, to say nothing of his open and upturned collar.  I need say nothing of the collar because the hair will suffice to bolster my argument.  That seemingly haphazardly tussled hair that took 45 minutes to get juuuuuust right.  There is no greater identifier of the Hipster than the hair, not even the clothes, though we have the clothes here as well.
I present you with the first rendering of a hipster doofus.  Thank you, Cleveland!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Space Invaders

HOX-altered Mice (with extra ribs and no ribs), Pittsburgh, 2014

Last weekend people who are not us came to visit.  They stayed four days and were here to look at colleges in the area.  It was a nightmare.  Their teenage daughter took 40 minute showers ("Don't worry, Larry and I take short showers," the mother offered as apology/explanation), and every morning I was given specific breakfast requests, which essentially turned me into a short-order cook.  I partially blame myself for the latter thing because I had picked up a variety of breakfast foods (never once did any of them choose fruit or cereal).  In retrospect I should've only had fruit and cereal.  Then, to top it off, no one ever asked to help clean up.  Actually, none of them even brought their dishes to the kitchen.
Believe it or not, despite these people being Caty's friends, she was even more fed up with them than I was, and has sworn - NEVER AGAIN!  If the daughter does end up going to one of the many and varied local institutions of higher learning, the parents are just going to have to spring for other accommodations. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Toys R Us Sexist Bullshit 2014 Christmas Catalog

                 Sexist Bullshit Toys R Us Catalog, Pittsburgh, PA 2014

This morning in the Sunday newspaper there arrived 'The Great Big Christmas Book', or the Toys R Us 2014 Christmas catalog.  For whatever reasons the really cool science-y or action toys are still all associated with boys, and the girls are stuck with pink crap and tiaras because Princess.  Even the Lego spread associates the girls with fucking Disney and their version of Cinderella.  Really?  The boys are building a Star Wars Lego Death Star and the girls are waiting in the Lego castle for Lego Prince Charming.  The boys are shown with telescopes and dinosaurs and privacy violating camera drones, while the girls are playing house or crafting and that's just about it.  It detracts nothing from a boy's masculinity or a girl's femininity to have a girl peering into a microscope.  Why not show that then?  Instead of sticking the girl in a faux kitchen or beauty shop, which is just a tired cliche at this point and has no meaning or relevance.
It felt good to rant about all of that and I look forward to buying my future granddaughters super cool stuff with total disregard for what seems gender specific.  They are kids, who cares?  Plenty of guys end up in the kitchen and plenty of women end up in the lab.
UPDATE:  Despite being called out on their sexist catalog last year and promising to reexamine how they market toys,  nothing has changed in the Toys R Us corporate echo chamber.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 10, Issue 8

                                         BtVS, 10.8, Cover Art by Steve Morris

     Since I posted the cover art, I listed the artist, but really, what this post is about is the genius team of  writer Christos Gage and artist Rebekah Isaacs.  This pair consistently produces a book that feels and seems like an episode of my favorite, yet defunct, show.
Dark Horse initially brought Gage and Isaacs on board for season 9 of the "Angel & Faith"  comic and right from the very first issue I could tell that they really had a handle on the voice and presentation of these characters.  Meanwhile over at the Buffy comic, season 9 proved to be uneven, even by season 8 standards.  The "Angel & Faith" had a clear vision of what story it was telling, and made it the book I must looked forward to each month.  I'll be honest, I was a little peeved when I learned that Gage and Isaacs had been shifted to Buffy for season 10.  I'm a big fan of the problematic Faith, and something of a fan of the ever brooding and long-suffering Angel.  I didn't want Buffy to improve at the expense of Angel & Faith...And 8 issues into season 10 I can say that while the Buffy book is the best it's ever been, Angel & Faith haven't disappeared down a hellmouth either.
There.  I wrote the whole thing without a single spoiler!
SPOILER!!!!!!!  ALERT!!!!!!!

Giles dies and is resurrected as an adolescent

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Babs & Pabs: A Very Special Collaboration

      Barbie & Pablo, Pittsburgh, 2014

In a rare stroke of pure and utter genius, I have paired Barbie with Picasso to create an entire portfolio inspired by the cultural impact these two 20th century icons left on history.  Actually, anyone following this blog at all has surely noticed that I have been tinkering with Barbie and the selfie.  For now I'm going to veer off from that exploration and instead focus in on what might've been had Barbie and Pablo collaborated, if Barbie had been the inspiration for the crying woman instead of Dora Maar.  Can Barbie cry?  Maybe more importantly I should ask; would Barbie cry?  Even or especially if she fell prey to Pablo's charms as so many women did, only to be jilted after a few years for a younger version.  The disposable muse.  Would Barbie cry then?  Or would she keep on smiling through the pain and rejection? 
Stay tuned for all the heartache and drama a plastic doll and man dead since 1973 can muster!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Queer Part Of Germany

                                St. George and The Dragon, Cleveland Museum of Art, 2014

The plaque that accompanies this sculpture indicates that this piece is from the early 16th century, made of wood and leather, and originated in either southern Germany or Austria.   Oh Lord, I thought after I'd read that last bit.  Like most Pennsylvanians, I have German ancestry, quite a lot, actually.  My paternal grandmother would loudly tell all and sundry that she was 100% German, and proud of it!  Her first husband, my father's father, was zero percent German and that marriage ended in tears when my father was but five years old.  Next my grandmother married a fellow German, but one that she always claimed cryptically was from 'the queer part of Germany'.  I had no idea what that meant and when we'd press her for clarification she'd yell that we (my siblings and I) didn't know nothin', and that the answer was somehow obvious.   We were blind idiots.
I suppose the answer was obvious, once I had the answer.  My grandfather, technically step-grandfather, but I grew up with him, so he was my real grandfather, for reasons relating to my father being something of a no-account swindler, left me in charge of his estate when he died.  While writing grandpa's obituary for the local newspaper, I discovered amongst his documents that his parents had immigrated from....Austria.  So, in my grandmother's thinking, this was the 'queer part of Germany'.  Austria. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Cup Is Already Broken

Sometimes I wonder what Schrodinger's cat would make of the shadows in Plato's cave.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Blue Speak

         Blue Speak, Acrylic on Canvas, 2014

My oldest son is an artist.  There's something about the blue in this painting that calms me.  Everything else about the painting brings to mind destruction, but the blue still makes it all ok.
The Artist has a group show opening reception this week and, *fingers crossed*, I won't have to haul any of his work back home.
UPDATE 10/27/14:  SOLD

Monday, October 20, 2014

Vanitas, Ephemera, Calliope

     Stellula calliope, Calliope Hummingbird, Female, October, 2015

Friends of mine living in Montana, and very familiar with my photographic studies of dead things, thought of me when they found this dessicated bird in their home.  The calliope hummingbird is the smallest bird in the United Sates and Canada, tipping the scales at only a tenth of an ounce.  Despite the small size, it still migrates over 5,500 miles from the western US/Canada to winter in southern Mexico.  Typical of birds, the male is much more colorful and visually striking, but also typical of hummingbirds, the female retains enough of the iridescent plumage to be spectacular too.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Death Trail, North Park

North Park Mountain Bike Trail, Pittsburgh, 2012

Some things are entirely self evident.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Barbie and 'Les Demoiselles D'Avignon'

Barbie Insinuates Herself Into 'Les Demoiselles D'Avignon', 2014

Considered one of Picasso's pivotal early masterpieces, 'Les Demoiselles D'Avignon'  portrays five prostitutes (only four are visible here because of Barbie's antics) posing for the male eye, with two of the hookers wearing masks, to represent the fear and horror that Picasso had for sexually transmitted diseases.   I do realize, of course, that I am supposed to view this work on its own merit of unquestionable genius, and ignore the blatant sexism, but the hell with that.  This painting is base, approaching pornography, and so misogynistic that I can't believe no one has thrown a bucket of menstrual blood on it.  
At least with the addition of Barbie there is an element of objectified capitalistic empowerment that Picasso so clearly denies his sex workers, diseased women on the fringes of a patriarchal society that both created them and marginalized them.
As a final observation I would like to point out that Picasso, who was not a master of form, often hid or obscured the hands and feet of his subjects because his hand lacked the finesse to render these in a true manner.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Study in Detritus

South Side, Monongahela River, Pittsburgh, October 2014

It was an insanely clear day.  Not even the barest hint of haze in the air.  Early in the morning we found ourselves gathering with other volunteers to assist Friends of the Riverfront  in cleaning up and beautifying the trail along this section of the Monongahela River.  We were given the choices of either mulching the trees, planting daffodil bulbs, weeding, or picking up trash.  We opted for trash pick up because it would afford us the greatest freedom of movement.  There are so many things that you don't anticipate (put you should) when confronting urban litter.
By the time we found the second syringe we decided to interpret the entirety* of what we'd encountered through the filter of an anthropological study.
Lots and lots, too many to count, McDonald's bags, cups, boxes and wrappers.  Apart from one Burger King drink cup, no other fast food restaurant was represented in the assemblage.
5 stray socks
2 condoms (used)
2 syringes (used)
The theory my partner and I formulated postulates that two unknown actors of indeterminate gender and origin purchased McDonald's value meals, consumed them, then threw the trash on the ground instead of utilizing one of the garbage cans placed every 600 feet.  Afterwards they had protected sex in the parking lot behind a Toyota Corolla.  It is believed that at this point they procured heroin and shot up under the 10th Street Bridge and discarded their needles near the chain link fence that separates the rail from the railroad tracks.  At some point one or both of our actors goes into the weeds to poop, instead of using one of the Port-a-Johns situated on the trail.  Not having toilet paper to wipe with, they each remove a single sock and use it for that purpose, discarding the sock afterwards.  It is possible that they have protected sex again and one or both of them poops again.

Giving the experience a narrative sort of helped to soften the reality of the drug addicted homeless people we were both picking up after and intruding upon.  I can't pretend to know what happens in someone's life to lead them down that rabbit hole, to be in the grip of something so much bigger than yourself that all you do is wrestle with it forever.  You, I, want to be compassionate, but not an enabler...It's a slippery slope.

*Does not include the entirety of what we discovered.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Non-poisonous With A Caveat, and Then Poisonous

Laetiporus sulphureus, Sulphur Shelf Mushroom, and Deroceras reticulatum, Grey Garden Slug (immature), Pittsburgh, 2014

Sunday morning my wife and I, along with our ever intrepid beagle, took a stroll down to the convenience store to pick up the newspaper.  We used to get the Sunday paper delivered, but then Caty had a run-in with their circulation or billing department, words were said (at least I think words were said), we cancelled our subscription in a huff.  Ever since then we've been on our own securing the newspaper.  Usually we pick-up the early Sunday edition on Saturday so that we have more time to work on the New York Times crossword puzzle, a puzzle, I might add, that it used to take us jointly all week to finish.  Now, one of us can finish it in a day, if we devote enough time to it.  I miss us working together on it, bonding over the cringe-worthy punny clues/answers.
So it was, that on this past Sunday on our way to fetch the paper we happened upon this mushroom and its resident slug.  I am no mycologist, but I can identify some mushrooms, especially the obvious ones with no look-alikes.  The sulphur shelf, or chicken, is one such mushroom.  A stemless polypor, it can grow on either living or dead wood.  It is edible and it is, in fact, the very first wild mushroom that Caty and I ever ate.  We were out collecting with friends of ours, the husband, Al, being the expert and guide, and he found a clutch of Laetiporus sulphureus sprouting out of an oak tree.  He cut some off with a knife and the four of us retired to their house were he proceeded to clean the mushrooms gently with a brush first, and then water, patting the pieces dry, slicing them into moderately thin strips, and then sauteing them in olive oil.  When they were done he layered them on homemade pizza along with sun dried tomatoes and slabs of mozzarella.  It was really divine.
Since then we've eaten other wild mushrooms, but always with Al serving as our guide.  Finally, last year I found a huge outcrop of L. sulphureus growing literally in our backyard.  Our neighbor had cut down a tree on the border of our properties, and from the stump grew the fungi.  I cut the whole of it free with my pocket knife and brought it into the house.  I was ecstatic because I knew how delicious and edible the mushroom was...or did I?  I went to the trusty google to make sure that I was indeed in possession of the delicious and edible L. sulphureus.  I was reassured that yes, it was a sulphur mushroom.  But then I read the entire accompanying article.

Before I say anything else about the Sulphur Shelf or Chicken Mushroom (Laetiporus sulphureus, see photos above and below), I need to emphasize that it is very important to know what kind of tree it is growing on! Since the tree is often dead, this can be a bit tricky—but it's important because when the Chicken Mushroom or Sulphur Shelf grows on certain kinds of trees, it should be avoided! (There are actually distinct species, such as L. gilbertsonii which found on various hardwoods, primarily in California; L. conifericola, which grows on various conifers; and L. huronensis, which grows primarily on Eastern hemlock and is especially common during springtime.) Fortunately, the Chicken Mushroom or Sulphur Shelf is usually found on trunks, stumps and logs that still bear some bark, which can be the vital clue to identifying the tree—IF you can identify trees on this basis. The bottom line is that if you cannot tell the bark of a black cherry tree from that of an Eastern hemlock tree, for example, you ought to steer clear of the Chicken Mushroom or Sulphur Shelf unless it is growing on a living tree that you can identify.

SULPHUR SHELF MUSHROOMS GROWING ON ANY CONIFER TREE (PINE, HEMLOCK, SPRUCE, FIR, LARCH/TAMARACK, ETC.), EUCALYPTUS, OR LOCUST TREES SHOULD NOT BE EATEN! Also, as with a number of wild mushrooms and many other foods (e.g. shellfish, peanuts, and milk products), some individuals have allergic reactions to this particular species.

I was well aware that the stump upon which this mushroom was growing was a black locust.  I not only threw out the mushroom, but I scrubbed down the kitchen counter lest poison kooties be lingering there.  When we came upon this latest growth of L. sulphureus it was growing seemingly from nothing, just in the yard, which means that it was growing off the roots of a dead tree, an unidentifiable tree.  If I cannot ID the tree, then we can't eat it.  It didn't help that when I poked at the slug with the stem of a dried leaf it didn't react, and when I knocked it off it appeared to be dead.  Well, that's good enough to indicate deadly poison to me!  If it kills slugs, we are outta here.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Center for PostNatural History

           Freckles, a BioSteel transgenic goat, Pittsburgh, 2014

Along a torn up section of Penn Avenue in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, there is a place unlike any place else in all of the world.  The Center for PostNatural History is in a nondescript building that houses its collection of all that man intends, and hadn't planned on, in genetically manipulating plant and animal life.  One may be inclined to think of genetically modifying an organism as something new, or newer, but it has been around for thousands of years, since the first wolf approached a campfire and bonded with those humans, since the first grasses could be coaxed into yielding larger grains and their seeds sown and the process repeated.  The former of these arguments is represented at the Center in the form of anatomical dimorphism in their assemblage of canine skulls.  I'll be honest, I never thought to compare and contrast a Chihuahua skull with that of a German Shepherd.  To me they are not just dogs, but pets, beloved members of the family unit.  Ah, but my naive prejudice borne out of my love of dogs prevented me from thinking meaningfully about the transition of wolf to dog.  Not a single dog, though, thousands of breeds of every size, shape, and color.  A wolf, generally, is a wolf.  The color may vary depending on climate, but the size and frame are so similar between wolves that they are what they are.
Pictured above is Freckles, the only BioSteel goat on public display in the world.  What is a BioSteel goat?  To quote from the FAQ posted by Freckles:  " A BioSteel goat has been genetically modified to produce the protein from Golden Orb Weaver spider silk in their milk".  Spider silk is one of the strongest fibers known to man, though the process by which the spider silk is gleaned from the milk is rather intensive, so I think it's going to be awhile before any sort of application of the stuff is seen beyond the prototype stage.  Still, the research was funded by the United States Department of Defense, so you know it's going to trot down a path best not taken.
The Center is a fascinating place and is highly recommended.  I hope that they're able to expand and add more exhibits in the future.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Self and Selfie

Topless Barbie Bathroom Selfie, With Assault Rifle, Pittsburgh, 2014

What does the selfie say about us as a society?   If I was forced at gunpoint to give a short reply, I'd venture that we're an incredibly insecure bunch of self-obsessed narcissists.  A longer answer would involve examining how we lost our sense of self to such an extent that we need, no DEMAND!, constant reinforcement from a variety of social media outlets.  I might also insist that the selfie means nothing.  Although, I don't believe that the selfie is nothing.  I believe that the selfie is the obvious point from which to examine the psychological fissures that are emerging from/through constant contact.  It's sort of like the phenomenon that occurs when you stare into a mirror too long and begin to suffer from the Troxler Effect.  There is an aspect of our psyche that cannot tolerate reflecting on our reflection (appearance), literally, for too long.  The selfie feeds into this desire to peer deeply, to gain some measure of reassurance of who and what we are, but there's no there there, and the next thing you know you're suffering from monsterism.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Centre Cannot Hold

      St. Paul's Cathedral Reflected in Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Building, Pittsburgh, 2013

I am on the verge of submitting my proposal for a photography fellowship.  The above image is from last year's failed submission, which included a Venn Diagram in the artist statement, with the overriding theme being heavily influenced by the Yeats poem, 'The Second Coming'.   And even though I wasn't awarded the fellowship, I was very proud of my work.
I will keep you posted on any and all future rejections as they become relevant.

Monday, September 29, 2014

An Open Letter To Chipmunks

Rare sighting of a chipmunk up a tree.  Not the chipmunk, necessarily, being addressed in this letter.

     At 9:14 am yesterday morning, while driving on Roosevelt Circle, I had to brake for a chipmunk.  I didn't want to kill it, and I'm still a little bitter about that.  The braking and the giving a damn.  A sham of caring on my part, my perimenopausal self ever quick to cry, a brittle exterior barely containing a fragile interior.  It's a conundrum, wrapped in a beach towel, surrounded by a nightmare.
     But, I daresay, Sir Chipmunk, that should we cross paths again, I will not be so kind.  I'm not saying that I will run you over, but I might wait longer to brake.  Yes, brake late to send the message that "I" am in control here!  That your lingering in the road could have most unfortunate consequences, and not by my design or intent!  Oh no.  You could find yourself ushered into Rodentia Eternity, a place teeming with lemmings desperately in search of a cliff...and the sea.  Oh, the crushing waves and cold caress of the North Atlantic.  Is that what you want?  Is it?  For that is what you shall have should you choose to challenge me in the open street again.  As God is my witness, my foot shall not budge from the accelerator, nor the pressure applied to the pedal ease!!!11!
You have been warned.

Yours in Christ,

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Man and Mermaid Man

The social significance of a cartoon character can either be grossly overblown, or discounted to the point of missing the obvious.  Those who have scrutinized the show Spongebob Squarepants in the past have focused so much on the titular character and his sidekick, Patrick, that they've missed what is surely  one of the strongest feminist statements ever to emerge from cartoonland:  Mermaid Man.  Not Merman, Mermaid Man.  Cast as a semi-retired superhero, Mermaid Man and his sidekick, Barnacle Boy, sometimes foist themselves out of their rocking chairs to fight crime and right wrongs in Bikini Bottom. 
When, if ever, has a male character, especially a hero male character, had such a female component attached to their name?  A mermaid is a mythical temptress of the sea, a creature of beauty and mystery, a seductress who lures unsuspecting sailors unable to resist her charms, to their doom in her watery Queendom.  To call Mermaid Man, Mermaid Man, is the equivalent of referring to Batman as Batgirl Man.  Can you imagine?  It's certainly exciting to ponder.  So, what was the creator of Spongebob, Stephen Hillenburg's, intention?  Many aspects of the show do turn norms on their head, was it nothing more than that?  Perhaps just a joke?  If it was meant as a joke it's a darned sly one because for all of the groups who railed against Spongebob because he was perceived as gay, along with Patrick, and the show was also accused of promoting a pro-climate change agenda, never has there been a peep of discord about Mermaid Man.  The internet is a huge, oftentimes angry place, you'd think that some crank would've spewed hate by now.  But no.  Mermaid Man in his teeny bra-top worn over his leotard remains unscathed, and a champion of gender identity, whatever form that may take.  He is both maid and man, now and forever.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Maxo Vanka Murals

Justice, Croatian Church of St. Nicholas, Millvale, PA, 2014

Atop a steep hill in a Pittsburgh neighborhood just north of the city, sits a small church built by immigrant steelworkers in 1900.  The church itself is unremarkable architecturally.  Your eye could sweep over the landscape and never come to rest upon it.  But inside the church there are murals painted by Maxo Vanka on every available bit of wall and ceiling space.  The most astounding murals I have ever seen in a place of worship.  The first part of the mural was painted in 1937, just as Hitler was preparing to lead the world into hell, again, and then the murals were finished in 1941, with the world at war. 
Vanka himself was an agnostic, which leads one to wonder how he was allowed, and encouraged, by this small church to create such shattering imagery in a place of worship.  Born in Croatia in 1889, he'd served in the Belgian Red Cross during WWI, witnessing firsthand the brutality and suffering of war.  While not a socialist, he definitely was not a capitalist either, wedding many religious and social themes together in these murals to highlight the plight of millworkers and miners, men perishing on the job the same as a soldier dies on the battlefield.  The common man losing his life for the will of forces and powers that he could never hope to influence.
The experience of viewing these murals is nothing short of visceral.  Whether it's the Mother Mary breaking bayonets with her bare hands, or an industrialist going over his ledgers at the dinner table while children beg for food, each scene demands your attention. 
There are guided tours of the murals every Saturday at 11am, noon, and 1pm.  Don't miss it.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Best Alias Ever

Actual unadulterated advertisement.  O the humanity.

I belong to a secret society on facebook.  It's a group of women who post and share things that are most unfortunate, otherwise I doubt that I would've seen the above 1950s British ad.  If I had to profile the individual who cooked up this offensive campaign I would venture that he was probably a closeted gay man who harbored a deep horror of the female body while at the same time was insanely jealous of a woman's ability to attract (straight) male attention.  That would be my official guess on this one.
Despite the fact that this advert oozes misogyny like a festering wound, it does provide one of the greatest online identities in the history of the internet:  Mimsy Kipper, a name as brilliant as Anastasia Beaverhausen or Ida Blankenship.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I must tend to my mimsy lest it get kippered.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Weather Formerly Known As The Polar Vortex

                                           Connoquenessing Creek, January 2014

      As our relatively cool summer draws to a close, autumn awaits, and winter looms.  I am not one of those people who wishes she lived in the south.  Not at all.  It's not because I love winter and winter activities like skiing (falling) or ice skating (more falling), but I don't mind winter.  That stillness that can only be had when it's utterly frigid outside, the air like needles on any exposed skin, and perhaps best of all, the anticipation of spring.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Angels and Gender

                    Calvary United Methodist Church, North Side, Pittsburgh, PA 2014

     As of late I've been looking at a lot of stained glass windows and couldn't help but be struck by how almost always angels are portrayed as female.  Given how the Christian church has relegated women to a secondary, if not completely submissive role, for much of its history, I found this curious.  Indeed, others have asked this question as well, and there doesn't seem to be much of an answer, at least not a clear one.  But there it is, for all to see, in church after church, window after window, from the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany to that of Charles J. Connick, and everyone else in between.  It seems to have been a standard practice for artists creating these masterpieces to default to the female angel.