Drawing the line ~ from forgettable to memorable

I’m going back in time. I have to, for if this blog is to continue doubling up as my journal, I can’t be skipping events. Even the not so memorable ones like those two, almost back-to-back performances at BAM.

First, the utterly forgettable performance by Doug Varone and Dancers, emphatically described as: ”Doug Varone and Dancers celebrate 30 years of impassioned choreography with three works representing the past, present, and future of this peerless company.” By the third work I was convinced I’m never watching another Doug Varone performance again. Art is subjective and a matter of chemistry, and unfortunately it didn’t work for me this time.

Next, ”A Nonesuch Celebration, a stellar lineup of musical luminaries” that came together ‘‘for one night only to pay tribute to Bob Hurwitz, who for the past three decades has served as the visionary architect of Nonesuch Records”. I had not heard of Mr Hurwitz before, but the idea of watching live performances by (among others) Pat Metheny, Kronos Quartet, k.d. lang and Mandy Patinkin all in one evening, seemed very appealing. I did enjoy myself but it seemed like the hosts were enjoying themselves much more which made me feel a bit awkward, like crashing a private party.

But then, on 1-2 April, it was time for the annual MoCCA Arts Festival. A multimedia event organised by the Society of Illustrators with workshops, film screenings, exhibitions and panels, MoCCA is Manhattan’s largest independent comics, cartoon and animation festival and my first chance to meet two rather brilliant gentlemen, artists and friends: Blutch in Conversation with David Mazzucchelli – and the weekend couldn’t get any better.

But wait… there’s more! Here come the real superheroes, those early comic book creators from the industry’s early years  (1935-1955), lovingly depicted by their colleague, American cartoonist Drew Friedman in his two recent books Heroes of the Comics and More Heroes of the Comics. 

The Society of Illustrators presented 100 original colour illustrations by the artist, who was also featured as a guest of honour at the MoCCA 2017.

Bernard Krigstein, 1919-1990
He approached comics as a serious art form and his innovative, beautifully composed, almost cinematic use of panels have never been equaled in comics. Following Harvey Kurtzman’s invitation to illustrate one of his EC war stories, Krigstein became a regular contributor to EC, illustrating a total of 47 stories for them, including several pieces for MAD, highlighting his brilliant gift for caricature. 1955’s ”Master Race”, appeared in the debut issue of EC’s ”New Direction” comic Impact and was his masterpiece, a groundbreaking triumph of sequential storytelling.

Harvey Kurtzman (1924-1993)
Cartoonist, writer, editor, satirist and teacher, he was the founder and creator of MAD – as well as Trump, Humbug, Help, etc. Along with his long-time partner, cartoonist Will Elder, he spent almost 30 years producing the lushly painted comic strip ”Little Annie Fanny” for Playboy. Kurtzman has had a huge, almost unmeasurable influence on several generations of cartoonists and humorists, among them Robert Crumb and the (Monty) Pythons.

Norman Maurer (1926-1986)
Born in Brooklyn, he started working in comic books while still a teenager. His marriage to Joan Howard, daughter of Moe Howard of the Three Stooges, in 1947 kicked-off his lifelong association with the comedy team.

Carl Barks (1901-2000)
His cartoon adventures of Donald Duck were published anonymously for decades. Barks drew the Donald Duck story for the front of Walt Disney’s Comics, the most popular post-War II comic book being published. In 1935 he has hired as a full-time writer at the Disney film studios only to quit in 1942 and become a full-time artist for their comic book line – which included the bimonthly Donald Duck. In his later years, Barks would recreate in oil large paintings of his beloved ducks, some of them now fetching hundreds of thousands of dollars.

William Erwin ”Will” Eisner (1917-2005)
Eisner grew up in the Bronx dreaming of someday becoming a successful cartoonist. In 1936, Eisner’s friend from Dewitt Clinton high school, Bob Kane, suggested he sell some of his cartoons to a new tabloid-sized magazine called WOW, What a Magazine!, edited by cartoonist and letterer Jerry Iger. Although Iger was 12 years older than the 19-year old Eisner, they both clicked. They opened together the Eisner-Iger studio in New York, a mass production comic book factory in 1937. It was a great financial success but Eisner, who was more interested in concentrating on his writing and drawing, would sell his interest in the shop in 1939 to pursue an offer to create a syndicated newspaper comics section of his own. His first 16-page The Spirit insert episode ran in 1940.

William Moulton Marston (1893-1947)
Marston’s relatively short life was filled with fascinating, seemingly at first, unrelated accomplishments. He attended Harvard and received a Ph.D in Psychology, became a teacher and briefly, in 1929, the director of public services for Universal Studios in Hollywood. Marston was also a lawyer and inventor, and is credited as the creator of the Systolic Blood Pressure Test, which would help lead to the invention of the modern Polygraph machine. He also authored several self-help books and was a champion of women’s causes, writing that he was convinced that women were ”more honest and reliable than men, and could work faster and more accurately.” He also recognized and wrote of the ”great educational potential” of the new medium of comic books and in the early forties he was hired by publisher Max Gaines to be an ”educational consultant” for National Periodicals and All-American Publications which would soon merge into DC comics. Marston’s wife Elizabeth gave him the idea to create a female superhero in the then male dominated world of comics; he developed the character ”Suprema” soon called ”Wonder Woman” basing her to an extend on his own wife and her appearance on his polyamorous partner, a former student of his who now lived with the couple in an open marriage, named Olive Byrne.

Whitney Ellsworth (1908-1980)
Writer and artist for DC comics, he became their Hollywood liaison. He had a hands-on role in script and production for the 1951 feature Superman and the Mole Men which led directly to 1952’s The Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves.

Joe Shuster (1914-1992) & Jerry Siegel (1914-1996)
They met at 16 at Glendale high school in Cleveland, Ohio. The two young, shy Jewish teenagers discovered they shared much in common, Siegel dreaming of writing science fiction stories for Pulp magazines and the shy, bespectacled Shuster also sharing a love for science fiction and dreaming of working as a Pulp artist. Siegel conceived a superhero character he called ”The Superman” and together with Shuster’s art, began a frustrating four-year quest to get it published as a comic. Another of their characters, Slam Bradley, debuted in National’s Detective Comics #1 in 1937. In 1938 Max Gaines urged National’s new publishers, Harry Donefeld and Jack Liebowitz to publish Superman, and after four years of submissions and rejections, the character finally debuted as the cover feature for National’s Action Comics #1 in June 1938. It was an instant sensation. By endorsing a check for $130 (the total amount of the check was for more than $400, other monies owed to the team was padded on to no doubt make the signing more enticing), assuring them that they would be the primary artist and writer for Superman and the upcoming syndicated Superman newspaper comic, and without any advice from a lawyer, Siegel & Shuster forever signed away all their rights to a character that would soon become one of the most commercially successful and iconic characters of the 20th century.

Bill Finger (1914-1974)

Bob Kane (1915-1988)
He was the controversial artist who posed for almost half a century as the sole creator of Batman. In 1938, after the character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster named Superman caused a sensation in Action Comics #1, National sought more super-heroes to add to their roster and Kane soon conceived a character he called ”The Batman”. He showed his flimsy conception drawings to his writer Bill Finger, who he had hired to work for him and Finger suggested specific changes to redesign the character into the now familiar Dark Knight persona. The completed Batman debut finally appeared in Detective Comics #27, in May 1939. It became a hit and was soon starring in his own series, featuring his sidekick ”Robin”, conceived by Finger and artist Jerry Robinson. Kane worked out a cozy deal with National where he would receive sole credit as the writer and artist behind Batman, even though the character was essentially created by Bill Finger

Wally Wood (1927-1981)
“Wally may have been our most troubled artist, but he may have been our most brilliant” – William M. Gaines

Marie Severin (b. 1929)
As EC’s colorist and the only creative woman on staff, and a very moral catholic, she was known for often colouring a particularly gruesome panel dark blue to help tone down the gore. Marie Severin’s older brother John first invited her to work as his colourist at EC in 1949 and soon she was colouring all of their comics, including the notorious horror titles.

Doug  Varone and Dancers, BAM
March 30th, 2017

A Nonesuch Celebration, BAM
April 1st, 2017

MoCCA Arts Festival
April 1st, 2017

887 @ BAM

887 Murray Avenue, Quebec City, Canada.The apartment block where the play’s main – and only – character actually grew up becomes alive, with the help of an incredible off-stage crew, in the form of a giant dollhouse.
Robert Lepage, who also wrote and directed this deeply personal, autobiographical play,  invites us to join him on a journey into the realm of memory. On the way, he revisits his childhood home; shares anecdotes about his friends and family; commemorates names of parks, streets and monuments – places often forgotten or no longer noticed; recalls Charles De Gaulle’s call for a Free Quebec, the time he famously ended his July 24, 1967 speech with a loud and clear ”Vive le Québec libre!”, in Montreal.

The same words that were used as a slogan by Front de Libération du Québec, the separatist group that had launched a series of terror attacks in 1963, a campaign that culminated with the kidnapping and killing of Minister of Labour Pierre Laporte, in October 1970.
The trip starts with a struggle: Lepage is invited to recite ”Speak White”, a poem by the Quebecoise Michèle Lalonde, in an evening commemorating the anniversary of a poetry event that first took place in Montreal, in 1970. But, for reasons that he cannot explain, the more he tries to memorize the worlds, the more they elude him. 

So he turns to the method of loci, an ancient technique in which the items to be remembered are placed in specific places (”palace rooms”) one associates with past experiences or childhood memories. In order to retrieve them, all Lepage had to do was revisit the right ”palace room”. And we were only too happy to follow him along.

”Speak White” refers to the oppressive orders shouted at the enslaved across North American plantations, forbidding them to speak their own languages, incomprehensible to their masters. ”Speak White” was also used to shame francophone Canadians and force them to adopt the language of the British Empire.
The ”palace room” method worked; in the end, Lepage did recite the poem and it was powerful, emotional – flawless. Ironically, the most compelling performance we’d seen thus far in New York was by a francophone Canadian, translated into English.

Speak White by Michèle Lalonde: original in French and translation in English.

Speak white
Tell us again about Freedom and Democracy

We know that liberty is a black word
Just as poverty is black
And just as blood mixes with dust in the streets of Algiers
And Little Rock

All images by Erick Labbé.

887 @ BAM

March 25th, 2017

A Madman Distilling his Brains

The Robert Lehman Wing was built not only to showcase the vast Lehman Collection – donated to the museum by the family – but parts of it were made to look like rooms recreating the Lehman family residence. 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos)
Saint Jerome as Scholar, 
ca. 1610

Oil on canvas

Goya (Francisco de Goya y Lucientes) 
Condesa de Altamira and Her Daughter, María Agustina – 1787–88
Oil on canvas

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres  
Joséphine-Éléonore-Marie-Pauline de Galard de Brassac de Béarn (1825–1860), Princesse de Broglie
Oil on canvas

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, the neo-classical French artist par excellence, painted this masterpiece toward the end of his life when his reputation as a portraitist to prominent citizens and Orléanist aristocrats had been long established. Pauline de Broglie sat for the artist’s final commission. Ingres captures the shy reserve of his subject while illuminating through seamless brushwork the material quality of her many fine attributes: her rich blue satin and lace ball gown, the gold embroidered shawl, and silk damask chair, together with finely tooled jewels of pearl, enamel, and gold. The portrait was commissioned by the sitter’s husband, Albert de Broglie, a few years after their ill-fated marriage. Pauline was stricken with tuberculosis soon after completion of the exquisite portrait, leaving five sons and a grieving husband. Through Albert’s lifetime, it was draped in fabric on the walls of the family residence. The portrait remained in the de Broglie family until shortly before Robert Lehman acquired it.

The collection also comprises some extravagant, utterly amusing objects:Inkstand with Apollo and the Muses
Workshop of the Patanazzi family (Italian, active ca. 1580–1620)
Probably after Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio or Santi) (Italian, Urbino 1483–1520 Rome)
Date: 1584
Medium: Maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware)

This extravagant desk set celebrates the art of poetry while providing a writer with storage for the tools of his craft. The exterior decorations evoke ancient Roman art and honor the divine sources of creativity. Gods and muses perch beside famous poets atop an elaborate confection of drawers and removable containers, including inkwells and a sand-shaker (for drying fresh text). Inside, the compartments are decorated with images denoting their contents, such as scissors and quills.

Among which my personal favourite:
Inkstand with A Madman Distilling His Brains, ca. 1600
Maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware)

In this whimsical maiolica sculpture, a well-dressed man leans forward in his seat with his head in a covered pot set above a fiery hearth. The vessel beside the hearth almost certainly held ink. The man’s actions are explained by an inscription on the chair: “I distill my brain and am totally happy.” Thus the task of the writer is equated with distillation—the process through which a liquid is purified by heating and cooling, extracting its essence.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
March 19th, 2017

Maria in the wings

Her black velvet eyes, captivating. More than the nude bodies of her friends. Or the chubby cheeks of Madame Roulin’s baby. I wonder if Madame would have approved. Maria, 1907-10
Kees van Dongen
Oil on canvas

Tahitian Women Bathing, 1892
Paul Gauguin
Oil on paper laid down on canvas

Madame Roulin and Her Baby, 1888
Vincent van Gogh
Oil on canvas

Reclining Nude, 1928
Suzanne Valadon
Oil on canvas (lined)

Suzanne Valadon posed as a model for Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec before she began painting herself in 1893. While she favoured still lifes and portraits, Valadon is best known for her paintings of female nudes – a subject rarely chosen by women artists at the time. 

The Robert Lehman Wing,
Metropolitan Museum of Art

March 19th, 2017