Thursday, April 28, 2011

Everywhere artists are born free and everywhere they live in chains

It's time for a brief hiatus from my Snark GN and instead … a rant!

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of talking to a young writer who showed a surprising interest and knowledge of the finer points of mechanical reproduction, cross-hatching and illustration. His questions made me realize how much of this sort of knowledge is slipping away into oblivion. In 50 years crosshatching, and draftsmanship in general, will probably be completely automated.

Crosshatching is ornamentation. It began with metalworkers and artists devising a way to utilize the printing technologies of the 15th-century and it did well for itself until the mid 20th-century. It is no longer needed for good print work, it is now a blatant affectation, a flourish, a queerly crypto-Platonic system of obsessive arpeggios and trills and runs based upon the melody of form and the counterpoint of line.

Crosshatching is not a career enhancing strategy these days. It's not sporting anymore to employ a hundred lines where one would do. An illustrator will rarely hop onto the rolodex of an art director if they insist on utilizing a historical style that carries too much cultural and technical baggage. Stick figures, flat cutouts, vector dreck and their minimal ilk are all the rage, or at least, a style of rendering which leaves everything to the imagination, including the imagination.

When I look at what most artists do to illustrate steampunk themes, for example, their work is usually amusingly anachronistic or just public domain collages. The Victorian era's visual look is a bit of a stretch for most artists now, they no longer know how to do black and white textures, much less how to illustrate by drawing alone. And this is why most art directors and illustrators can never reach further back into their historical bag of tricks than the Victorian era — they simply can't handle much more of their own backstory.

In particular, the visual style and ethos of the Baroque & the High Renaissance is now beyond many of us for two reasons:
1. It is technically arduous and requires what we used to call an "eye"
2. It requires a deep understanding of ornamentation, of the unique rhetoric of form and function combined — not separate. This also implies a genuine, visceral love of beauty, with all that implies.

The Baroque was the last period in western history when all of the arts were still of a piece with the society around them. All distancing techniques were rhetorical and fiendishly difficult to pull off without careful preparation and training. The entire process of artifice, distance, ornament and rhetoric (emotional and formal) was perfectly synthetic, on both the artist & the viewer's part.

Which is why, in addition to the many other lost causes that I have nurtured so obsessively in the dismal shambles of my professional career, the cause of the Baroque & the Renaissance is especially dear to my heart. A call to arms? Yes, a call to arms for the Neo-Baroque! A call to arms for ornament, for the acceptance that ornament and draftsmanship go hand in hand, that we owe our audience's eyes the opportunity to derive pleasure from simply looking.

Why do so many illustrators avoid skillful ornament? It is the essence of all the arts. Why are they so hesitant to betray the physical presence of the educated intellect, the synthesized rhetorical statement of hand and mind and paper? The mark of the trained hand and discerning eye is always beautiful. Hogarth's Line of Beauty is not a museum piece, it is the practical secret of classical crosshatching and contour work … it will never betray the attentive draftsman (beauty, draftsmanship … is he being serious some readers will wonder).*

We illustrators should stop pretending that financial pressures are the real issue here because our profession is mostly doomed anyway. Why not go out with a bang? Since when has illustration become a "practice" (god, what a mealy-mouthed, gutless way to describe making art)? Behaving like dentists won't impress publishers, they'll still pay us a pittance, if even that.**

Why not draw? Why not draw as if your life and soul depended on it?

Why not draw with happiness instead of making this lifeless, joyless dreck, these timid diagrams that festoon the few remaining print pages left to us? Since when has the spirit of North American illustration become such a fumbling, mawkish business of narcissism and studied vacancy?

Much of modern illustration (and comix work) is really Mannerism but what makes it depressing is that it is Mannerism which has evolved in reaction to unadulterated rubbish. This is not Mannerism building upon Raphael or Dürer, it is Mannerism building upon breakfast cereal cartoon characters and high-school yearbook doodlings.

My version of Lewis Carroll's Snark was meant to expose young people to the fact that art, history, culture, philosophy, music and literature are an organic whole, a constellation of meaning which has become nearly invisible to many artists. I did this because artists who look at rubbish will always draw rubbish and I prefer to provide an alternative, no matter how flawed my work has been.

It's visual karma, really: we are what what we look at. Do what you please, but I shall be drawing in the gutter (or garret) while I look up at the stars …

I shall walk upright, I shall strike the stars with my forehead.


Attention all shoppers! Pay no attention to the sour-pussed intellectual blather above … instead, rush over to CafePress where you can still purchase this stunning technicolored 16"x20" poster from Martin Olson's Encyclopaedia of Hell
All profits from the sale of this poster will be donated to the Drinking Fund of the Distressed Artists' League.


*As a surly aside, I insist that draftsmanship is the essence of good typography and that the latter craft should be taught to young designers from that standpoint. I also insist that typography is, and always will be, the god of design. And finally, you kids get off of my lawn or I'll call the cops. I mean it.

**I suggest that illustrators all over the world swear a secret pact, a contract sealed with human blood, Pro White and cheap whiskey, in which we swear to cunningly conceal the phrase "generation of swine" somewhere in each piece of artwork we submit to our most deserving clients.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Snark Whisperer

This explication of my GN version of Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark resumes its Jubjubian subplot for yet another stanzel … we are in the midst of Fit the Fifth and discussing the ways of the Jubjub Bird …

Lewis Carroll regales us here with a spirited description of a Jubjub being tortured by a variety of methods whose diabolical ingenuity and inventive discomfort seem uncomfortably redolent of an impromptu herd of schoolboys possessing the usual cretinous surplus of high spirits and moral pygmyism.

Carroll’s closest associate, C.L. Dodgson, would have been quite familiar with such goings-on, both as grim memories of his own public-schooling at Rugby and more to the point, as part of his quotidian duties as a maths tutor at Christ Church, where we can have little doubt that the vast majority of his students possessed a similar burning enthusiasm to make things hot for all creatures great and small.

This implicit connection twixt torture and mathematics must have troubled Dodgson’s gentle soul; no doubt he shared his unease with the more worldly Carroll, who then incorporated all of the above into this snappy bit of verse which we are chewing over right now.

In his Annotated Snark, Martin Gardner briefly discussed Prof. John Leech’s observations upon the mathematical implications of this stanza. Leech noted that by substituting locuses (or loci) for locusts, and tape measure for tape, one is then provided with the rudimentary instructions for the sawing and gluing together of the various wooden rods necessary for the skeletal framework of a regular polyhedron.

One can have little doubt that these instructions for the construction of a geometric solid would have provided Dodgson’s students with some considerable discomfort! From their 19th-century British discomfort they would have slipped, inevitably, into the very graphic slough of a fullblown 16th-century German melancholia, with all its attendant polyhedronal tortures!

Huzzah for the symmetrical mathematical-moral shape of things in our cozy world of boiled and salted Jubjubs-cum-schoolboys, ‘tis all very well thought out, Messers Carroll and Dodgson! The morally high-minded reader can chuckle appreciatively at all this, the rest of you just rattle your jewelry in a passing gust of old-fashioned schadenfreude.

NB. I must draw your attention, my dear Watson, to the curious incident of the dog barking at the moon. It is a Catalonian, 20th-century dog prone to bouts of selenic melancolia originating from its anachronistic exile to Nuremberg.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Eat, prey, snark

This panel of our GN version of Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark brings the story to a fever pitch of culinary suspense. Let's have a look, shall we …

One can never have enough of a jolly, good Snark hunt, don’t you agree? The fresh country air, the Protosurrealist scenery, the anapaestic hurly-burly of one’s fellow Snarquistadores baying after their prey, it all gives one such an appetite!

Naturally, no Snark hunt is complete without a bit of Jubjub taken al fresco whilst in the saddle. Cooked Jubjub is both palatable and highly nutritious, coyly hinting as it does to three-quarters of the Classical Four Elements : earth in the form of mutton, water in the form of oysters and air in the form of the eggs of some unspecified bird. The fourth and final element of fire could easily be supplied by the judicious application of some spicy condiment or chutney.

If Lewis Carroll were alive, he would certainly agree with you when you assert that this poetic reference (a milestone in Victorian Table Verse) to mutton, oyster and eggs makes these gustatorially implicit items into allegorical symbols of themselves. This is a subtle point indeed, so subtle that I’ll skip over the boring old meat-and-two-vegs-reasoning and head straight for the more exciting porto-and-coffee-conclusion, as it were.

Symbols which refer to themselves are called "reality" by certain smarty-pants metaphysicans. These sort of crackerjack thinkers would point out that the mutton-oysters-eggs-thingy is subset within a Jubjub which is itself subset within the ivory jars and mahogany kegs, the latter containers being diametrically opposed in coloring, another indication that Something Fishy Is Going On Here.

Unfortunately, Lewis Carroll is not alive and hence unable to agree with all of the above. In fact, his lack of Reality makes him feel a bit unagreeable and even disagreeable with all this alimentontological twaddle you’re going on with. In fact, he’s feeling rather queasy and unsettled with the whole business and my goodness, I think that he’s going to faint! Quick, call the management while I relieve Mr. Carroll of the weight of his wallet upon his chest.

Poor fellow, struck down in his prime and not a moment too soon! It must have been the Jubjub — look at the expiration date! Good lord, man, this Jubjub’s nearly 133 years old! Why, it’s not even second-grade-fresh! Slow food, indeed! Criminally slow, I’d say!

NB. In an earlier posting, I gave out the recipe for Snark Curry. This posting was the most popular posting I've ever done, so in honor of my non sequitur quest to get some utterly gullible reader to purchase a copy of my GN Snark, here is the recipe in its original form:

Genuine Assamese Snark Curry

Mix the following together:
1 kilo of Snark meat, cubed (if no Snark is to be had, use beef, goat or lamb, preferably with bones)
6 medium onions, minced
small head of garlic, minced
an inch of fresh ginger, grated
tablespoon of turmeric
one cinnamon stick
one cup of oil
tablespoon of salt
• a sufficient amount of genuinely hot green chilis, slit
• if you wish to "Indianize" this curry, also add a tablespoon of ground cumin, a tablespoon of ground coriander and a tablespoon of garam masala. This might be preferable for those who are accustomed to the somewhat ubiquitious flavors of Northern Indian cuisine and enjoy a certain familiarity in their curry. However, the authentic Assamese version has a delicious simplicity which is worth trying!

Mix and let sit overnight. Cook on low heat, with the lid on and stirring occasionally for 30 minutes. Add one cup of water, bring to boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer. The curry should finish up with a thick gravy, not at all runny. Cook for about 90 minutes or until meat is tender. Taste for salt, etc. The curry can be garnished with ghee and/or tamarind water. If beef, lamb or goat meat was used, serve with rice, vegetables and dahl.

However, if you used Snark, serve with greens, using forks and hope. Wash it all down with copious amounts of Golden Eagle beer and the stimulating gyrations of two dissipated nautch girls named Anna and Paisa. What ho, my cut-rate memsahibs!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Atom heart snark

This picture of a giant bee chasing an English bride through Tom Quad is a classic example of what we like to call the world's first and only GN version of Lewis Carroll's Hunting of the Snark.

If you wish to read a lengthy and quite interesting essay upon the relationship of this rather unsettling drawing with the Czech Snark translation of Václav Pinkava, click here. I promise that it will intrigue anyone with a penchant for languages.

Anyone who has ever taken a crack at translating poetry will appreciate Veaclav's comments upon the intractability of anapestic bathing machines and the many prosodic uses of soap in Czech.

The rest of you can mill about uselessly and ask each other if this is all there is to hunting Snark … a thousand blobs of ink and the white noise of the papery anti-ink to keep everything from lapsing into liminal grey.

Or you can decode the wedding scene above. Weddings! Along with courtroom histrionics, they are the staple of both Bollywood films and Snark poems alike.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

how hollow heart and full of snark thou art

We're explaining this GN version of Lewis Carroll's Hunting of the Snark, every panel and page. We're in the midst of Fit the Fifth, the so-called Antonine Fit of which the scribbler Gibbons made so much of. Harrumph … anyway, today I present you with two entirely different interpretations of the above stanzel (stanza+panel) …

Explanation Number 1:

We are very pleased to bring you this startling mental picture of a Jubjub, fleshed out, as it were, from the grease-stained and tattered blueprints provided to us by the engineering firm of Dodgson, Carroll & Associates. This once reputable British firm of snarkwrights, headquartered in Guildford, Surrey, had utterly cornered both the domestic and export trade in British Nonsense by the end of the 19th century.

Their patented Jubjub Bird, shown above, started out as a commoner’s garden-variety hoopoe-cum-popinjay but Carroll, a mad and impulsive boy at heart, kept adding on a bit here and bit there until he had invented what came to be known as "the bird of perpetual passion". Too spicy for staid British tastes, it enjoyed a certain vogue in France until the advent of lurid mass-produced, paperback novels rendered it obsolete.

This particular example is a fine example of the classic Victorian penchant for thick-ankled avians swaddled in the finest watered gutta-percha silk. It was discovered by this artist, roosting in the most meager, luxury suite of the Ritz-Carleton, subsisting on a paltry diet of sugar daddies and hot buttered toffs until it was lovingly restored to its original bird-brained splendor by a poultice of blank checks and a strict regimen of breakfast at Tiffanys.

I think it would look rather fetching hanging on your arm, whenever you appear at the Drones Club or wherever it is that you roost at night.

Explanation Number 2:

The other explanation is pretty good but this one is better because it's shorter.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Time's golden thigh upholds the flowery body of the snark

This GN version of Lewis Carroll's Hunting of the Snark is perfectly safe for both kids and adults but the Truth-In-Illustrating Act does require me to point out certain facts …

Lewis Carroll is too polite to say so but I’m going to give the kiddies a scare by telling ‘em that Natural History is an unnatural construct. It’s a False Boojum hatched by the machinations of a power-hungry 19th-century bourgeois patriarchy determined to crush the legitimate political and social aspirations of a downtrodden proletariat animal, vegetable and mineral kingdom.

Just look at ‘em, this riffraff of the finest art museums of Europe and the Americas, the lumpenproletariat of Hieronymous Bosch's Judeo-Christian-Mathusian nightmares (see The Temptation of St. Anthony below) …

… forced to rub shoulders with the decadent, antisocial pictosemiotic propaganda of René Magritte (see The Betrayal of Images below).

Scandalous! And has anyone noticed that both of these so-called artistes hailed from the Low Countries? Coincidence? I think not!

It is indeed low, ‘tis very low indeed when the legitimate hopes and aspirations of an entire roomful of creepy-crawly delirium tremens-type kids get a snootful of this kind of pseudoscience at the sweaty hands of a boisterously glandular, Polynesian moai afflicted with a pseudoclerical penchant for faith-based crossdressing.

Boo, hiss, boo! Have you ever heard such a thing? This is not the sort of Hunting of the Snark for which our gallant forefathers shed their precious blood on distant, foreign shores! It’s something else entirely and if I had but the time and you had but the brain, we’d sort it out, you betcha!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

No Snark Left Behind

This baffling stanzel of my GN version of The Hunting of the Snark ( a stanzel known to Continental snarkologists as the Pons Asinorum) presents the illustrator of all things Lewis Carrollian with a genuine head-scratcher.

Unlike some illustrators who like to resort to a stylistic and conceptual flight behind the faux-ironic concealment of an adorably semi-infantile aesthetic when confronted by any text more complex than, let us say, the plot précis of a sharp blow to the head, this illustrator (pauses to take a deep breath and a swift gulp of the restorative gin gimlet splashed upon him by the nubile Assamese hootch-kootchie girl languishing pool-side at his every beck and call), this illustrator likes to give his public some honest value for their hard-earned money.

And since this Hunting of the Snark is being offered to the general public for roughly the price of a movie ticket in most bookstores and the internets, I think you better just much your popcorn in sullen silence and listen to whatever malarkey I'm about to come up with as an explanation for the above panel.

Frankly, it’s all hokum, every last bit of it. Lewis Carroll has clearly described some sort of mathematical thingum-a-jig and all I’ve come up with is a hazy, second-hand memory of an obscure Magritte semiopictulum of Edward James (see above) going through a looking glass and finding that the more you turn around to face oneself, the more you must turn one’s back on all that.

Or something like that. Mirrors and mathematics alike give me a headache with their slavish devotion to reality and all that sort of thing, each claiming to demonstrate only that which is perfectly and exactly true. There's more true mathematics to be found in a well-made gin gimlet than in any of your so-called books, sirrah!

The creepily eagle-eyed reader will notice that a copy of E.A. Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym is lurking in Magritte’s painting, a novel which this author boldly and a bit drunkenly asserts to be the Great American Novel. Take that, you big fat white whale! And if this opinion does not please you, sirrah, my Assamese spitfire is perfectly willing to fight you upon any terms you please!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Principia Snarkiana

Here's what a certain illustrator had to say about this particular panel of my GN version of Lewis Carroll's Hunting of the Snark … please note the cryptic tone of voice, the snide insinuations of mental superiority, the blatant appeal to the reader's sense of megalomania … aren't you lucky that I've let you in on this insufferably haughty literary-cum-illustrative joke we call Snark Hunting?

This is not a medically approved mathematical operation …

This is not an insight into the Essence of the Number Three …

This is not the Royal Road to 19840 …

This is not a comment upon the intractable unreality of all Numbers …

This is not a jaded Christ Church don’s comment upon the futility of impressing the intractable unreality of all Numbers upon his all-too-real thickheaded students …

This is not a jaded Montreal illustrator’s comment upon the futility of impressing his long-suffering wife with yet another impecunious display of his useless facility* in mimicking the Victorian wood engraving style …

This is not an image of an image which is not what it seems to be …

This is not the sort of thing which the general public has come to expect, thank god …

This is not the unexpected work of a far better artist …

This is not a clue to the fabled and elusive meaning of The Hunting of the Snark, for this is not really clairvoyance.


* Nor is this a pathetic attempt to gain the attentions of a publisher willing to finance my surrealist-cum-baroque, illustrated translation of Jean de la Fontaine's Fables choisies … nor my ongoing rendition of Kalidasa's Shakuntala into skaldic chant-meter.

Monday, April 4, 2011

When the going gets wierd, the wierd turn snark

I apologize for missing a posting last weekend, the sudden cessation of snow across southern Quebec completely discombulated me … here, without further ado, is the latest episode in our explication of my GN version of Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark …

It’s not often that one finds Lewis Carroll, St. Anthony the Great, Hieronymus Bosch and the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson mentioned in the very same breath but such are the rarified quiddities of this inkster’s inspiration.

The Butcher is shown here writing a footnote, two of ‘em since he’s ambipedextrous, an affectation rampant amongst Liberians and Americans, both of whom share an affinity for feet over meters, the rascals! One of the most prodigal of these American metrophobes was the journalist, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, who gained a considerable notoriety for "explaining it all in a popular style" to an otherwise unsuspecting American public.

Thompson’s most notorious national apologia was the jeremiad, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which detailed (in an autohagio-cum-psychedelic style known as gonzo) his quest for spiritual enlightenment in the nearest available desert. Having no recourse to any secluded grottos, Thompson pursued his ascetic devotions in the general direction of Las Vegas with astonishing success, and like St. Anthony, he quickly attracted quite an entourage of devilish phantoms in a variety of tormenting styles and sizes.

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert … suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming, 'Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?'"

The well-gargled Flemish painter, Hieronymus Bosch, whilst under the influence of an anachronistic plagiarism, had already worked up a police identification sketch of some of Thompson’s assailants, of which I have made the above drawing of a fax of a snapshot of a xerox. This startling image of a group of out-of-town snarkhunters taking in Wayne Newton and the lobster special at Circus Circus bears an eerie and uncanny resemblance to both the turgid cerebral froth of Messers Anthony, Bosch and Thompson, Esq., and a certain little stanza of The Hunting of the Snark which we’ve been seeing far too much of around here lately!

As your attorney, dear readers, I advise you to avoid eye contact with all these suspect, hallucinatory inhabitants of weirdo drawings brandishing their trippy, second-hand anapaests and uncomfortably reminding us that when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. We are but amateurs of the Snark, you and I, and as such, cuddly little fluffy things ill-suited to the rigors of modern life and all that other mental stuff.