Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hex Signs










1 - 9. Hexes of traditional design about the turn of the century (Pennsylvania). To quote one authority: "The hexafoos are supposed to be a continuance of a very ancient tradition according to which these decorative marks were potent to protect the barns, or, more particularly, the cattle, from witches." They are preserved today only for their decorative value, or, in the local vernacular, "chust for nice."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thrice borrowing the plantain fan (illustrated by Ma De)


















Thrice borrowing the plantain fan - Illustrated and adapted by Ma De from the Chinese mythological novel, "The Pilgrimage to the West" attributed to Wu Cheng'en (Ming Dynasty). The story tells of the fantastic and perilous adventures of Sun Wukong, better known as the Monkey King and his brothers disciples led by the master Sanzang in search of the only fan that will extinguish the fire at Flaming Mountain.

 1. Princess has not kept his promise and runs away.

2. Sun Wukong and the Princess Iron Fan engage in a fierce battle.

3. Waving her fan, the Princess flies the monkey in the sky.

4. Sun Wukong lands on a mountaintop only the following morning.

5. Here Sun Wukong finds the Bodhisattva Ling Ji who gives him a magic pill that will stop all winds.

6. Princess, frightened, took refuge in the cave.

7. Sun Wukong turns into a fly to enter through a crack in the door.

8. Sun Wukong return to his party with the fan. 

9. Sanzang and his disciples decide to stop to rest.

10. Bull Demon and King Dragon are toasting.

11. The riding-beast of Bull Demon is tied to a pillar of the palace.

12. Bull Demon rides the Dragon.

13. Princess welcomes her husband.

14. The false Bull Demon, receives the confidences of the Princess.

15. Sun Wukong resumes its original shape and disappears in the clouds.

16. Sun Wukong arrived at the mountain, shaking her fan.

17. The people resume life as usual.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Arp - Moon fruits and dream animals














1. Animal de rêve (dream animal) 1947, bronze, h. 41 cm.

2. Figure mythique (mythical figure), 1950, original plaster, h. 110 cm.

3. Hurlou, 1951, pink granite, h. 50 cm.

4. Fruit de la lune (moon fruit), 1936, cement, 110 x 150 x 100 cm.

5. Aquatique (aquatic), 1953, white marble, h. 24 x 60 cm.

6. Fleur de reve au museau (dream flower with lips), 1954, white marble, h. 80 cm.

7. Outrance d'une outre mythique, 1952, pink limestone, 35 x 50 x 44 cm.

8. Culbute (somersault), 1942, bronze, h. 37 cm.

9. Pain de serpent (snake bread), 1942, black granite, 16 x 26 x 16 cm.

10. Orou, 1953, white marble, h. 25 cm.

11. Concrete sculpture "Mirr", 1936, black granite, h. 33 cm.

12. Cristal et feuille (leaf on crystal), 1954, white marble, h. 48 cm. 



Arp's Arcadia
In the year of grace 1917, as he was catching the last boat, Arp discovered that the world is round. A few years previously, in a wholly different part of the planet, Malevitch in a flash of insight had discovered that the world is square. Since that time, half the world has been round and the other square. And no one complains. For it is just and reasonable.
There are now these two fundamental principles and they are both right, like two sexes that oppose each other and join, oppose each other and join, oppose each other and join. And who indeed is going to reproach a woman for being a woman, a man for being a man? Between the two of them they remake the world round and square each day, they fight each day and each day they love each other. The children that they beget are little monsters of beauty and strength. Scholium. The earth is round because the magicwand has made it pregnant. It is pregnant because it is an apple. It is an apple because it buds. It buds because it is in the round. Sculpting hands never cease to feel the roundnesses of the earth, and the earth sharpens her buds. Feeling is like the sun. Feel, feel, feel, feel sun. Even as the sun feels, so do the hands of the sun feel to which the beautiful lady gives birth. And the sculptor receives into his hands a configuration, a human concretion, a matutinal geometry, a horn, a "hurlou" or a daily bread. And that is how the earth suddenly became filled with Arp's rounds. Open the curtains: Arp's rounds ; draw aside the laces: Arp's rounds; dispel the mists: Arp's rounds: look through key-holes: Arp's rounds; prospect the virgin beaches: Arp's rounds ; fracture the saint of saints: Arp's rounds. As for the square part of the world, it is invisible from here. It is known by learned calculations, by operations of squaring the circle. One had to be born with an intuitive knowledge of all mathematics in order to make Malevitch's discovery, but it is to him that we owe this presence of half the world. If we have architects and engineers, it is to him that we owe it. If we have highways and bridges, skyscrapers and drawing-pens, quincunxes and ultrasounds, camerae lucidae and rose-colored lives, it is to him that we owe it. The round picks the day ; the square plants. To pick is to care for, to conserve ; to plant is to compute, to conserve the future. The man Arp is Montaigne's man, "ever-changing and various." But he is also Arp's man, full of humor, of irreverent ideas. And he is, besides, a mystical man who attempts to read all mysteries in the reflections of his thumb-nail. This is why in Arp's work the firm and flexible form of his thumb-nail is so often found. There are many occult meanings in this elongated, rounded, precisely drawn form. It may be said, in a certain sense, that this thumb-nail is the world's navel. After having been Arp's navel. Not a few navels consider themselves the world's navel, but this one is an incarnated nail: Arp's thumb-nail incarnates a universal meaning. Now this universal meaning is in direct correlation with Arp's nose. Which nose looks at the thumbnail day and night, night and day, looks at it and pierces it in its middle, slightly to the side of the geometric middle, and from there accedes to the infinite. For such is the exceptional quality of this exceptional nose that to say of Arp that he sees as far as the end of his nose is to grant him second sight and the sixth sense and the penetration of all secrets. Scholium. For, when all is said and done, Arp too is an apple. He is like noneof us. His intelligence is not a plashing or a flashing, it is much closer to vegetative nature, slow, infinitely flexible, velvetfooted, massive, much surer than that of intellectuals. What do these do except shine with all their lights, what do they announce except the spectacular emptiness of their jargon? Do they ever fail to have an opinion on all things? Did anyone ever hear an intellectual utter the words, "I don't know"? Arp is concerned with having savor.
There is a good deal more knowledge in savor than in their science. There is a good deal more science in savor than in their eloquence. There is a good deal more wisdom in a fruit than in an intellectual. It is written: "Verily, verily I say unto you: unless ye become like unto an apple, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." This is why the shrewdest among us have left their warm traditional apartments and become plants on the sidewalk.
Take and eat, they say, and push us with your foot. For the life of plants is the apprenticeship of heaven. Their whole substance they manufacture with the sole fervor of light. Light holds them. There is no intermediary between an apple and the sun.
There is no intermediary between one of Arp's rounds and the sun, between one of Arp's reliefs and the stars. The sky holds them. The greatness of Arp is his simplicity. What he does everyone can do. Apparently. As everyone can do a Mondrian, or a Malevitch. But no one is Mondrian or Malevitch. They themselves did not become themselves without difficulty. One's self is the greatest conquest to be made. And the summit of one's self is in fact simplicity, so that simplicity is the least simple thing in the world. As far from simple as is recapturing the heart's innocence. Children know the secret of true simplicity. They draw and they paint exactly as they breathe, and what a wonderful world springs from their unskilled hands! A world wholly beautiful, because wholly true. They put no art into what they do and yet that is where we recognize true art that leaves us disconcerted and impotent. Alas! all is lost the moment the sense of value comes into play. There is no more play when that game begins, which first maneuvers for success and presently for profit. And that is when, for those who are born artists, for those who truly have a calling, there begins the long road of the reconquest of play, I mean of pure disinterestedness. Arp is one of the privileged few before whose work one wonders if they have ever ceased to be children. From original naiveté he seems to have passed to consciousness and maturity without ever having ceased to play innocently, to exercise the gift of spontaneity. He lets himself glide on the curved line of his toboggans that have feminine forms and graces of calligraphy. From time to time he stops them with a brief, rectilinear stroke. But immediately he again begins to roll on his gentle lakes of love, drifting from wave to wave. By way of diversion, from time to time, he crumples some paper to simulate anger, to contradict himself. He knows — he feels — that the sign of man is precisely this internal contradiction that leaves him no peace. Then the best thing to do is to crumple paper. Could there be an art to crumpling paper? There is a special art to everything. There is an art of shelling peas, there is an art of pouring liquor down one's throat, there is an art of saying good day, there is an art of crumpling paper: when you smooth it out again it reproduces the lines of your hand. What can one read in these lines, or rather what can one dream in them? Arp's lines are all of goodness and tenderness, all his forms are signs of grace and of generosity. Arp's lines are images of happiness, prefigurations of future harmonies, thinkable but not realized. This is why Arp's forms have, in their very elaboration, something timeless and classical. To reconstruct the world mentally through one of Arp's forms is in a sense to reintegrate Arcadia. An Arcadia holding, concealed beneath the guise of shepherds, all the refinements of Attica.
Arcadia! Arcadia! real or illusory Arcadia, past Arcadias and future Arcadias, it is not the least of your merits, Arp, to have made us dream of them in this iron century.  
Michel Seuphor
Paris, 1950-1956                  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bird-shaped artifacts from British Columbia














1. Zoomorphic miniature pestle 
Antler. H 11.1 cm
Marpole site, Fraser River Delta, British Columbia. 
Marpole phase.
Carving in the round of male Great Blue Heron.
University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

2. Grave monument
Wood.  H 60.5 cm, L 91 cm
Bella Koola,  British Columbia.
Bella Koola Indian. Collected by H.I. Smith, 1921.
Large carving of an eagle, made from one piece of wood, wings outspread, short tail behind. The undersides of the wings are painted black and white, the breast, throat and eyes white. The lower beak shows traces of black. The original legs of the eagle are missing and have been replaced with dowels. The ensemble probably represents the upper section of a funerary monument.
National Museum of Man, Ottawa.

3. Mask
Wood. L 71 cm 
British Columbia.
Haida Indian ? Collected by A.A. Aaronson.
Wooden mask, representing an eagle with long, hooked beak. The lower jaw is manipulated by strings. Eye-holes have been cut out. There are traces of blue paint around the eyes and along the beak. The nostrils and lip line are painted red. Nails protrude around the top of the head.
National Museum of Man, Ottawa.

4. Transformation mask
Wood. D 68,5 cm, Hawk L 33 cm
Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia.
Haida Indian. Collected by I.W. Powell, 1879.
The outer shell of this mask is in the form of a hawk painted black and white with red beak and brows. Eye pieces are of copper and there is a fringe of brown hair. The beak opens down the center and the crown folds out to reveal an interior human face painted green (brown hair, black brows and moustache). The double human - animal nature of this mask is probably associated with clan-origin myths.
National Museum of Man, Ottawa.

5, 6. Transformation mask
Wood. H 30 cm, L 44 cm, open L 99 cm
British Columbia.
Kwakiutl Indian, circa 1900.
When flaps are closed, it is a bird mask, probably representing the Thunderbird. The mask opens up in two side panels and one lower panel, all of red cedar, to reveal a human face inside, carved of alder. The inner surfaces of the side panels are painted with a bear design in red and black. Use unknown, but probably used in winter dances.
Centennial Museum, Vancouver.

7. Mask
Wood.   L  109 cm
Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia. 
Haida Indian. Collected by I.W. Powell, 1879.
Carved wooden mask representing bird's head with long, narrow movable beak. The edges of the beak are outlined in red, and there is a red, blue and black tail design at the widest end of the lower beak section. A bird's head projects from the crown. The beak is painted blue with black eyes and eyebrows. Two ear-like flaps are laced to bird's head with string and decorated with an animal head design in black and red on natural wood. 
The crown of natural wood is shaped to fit the head of the 
wearer. Two sets of thongs are knotted to the lower sides of crown which is perforated. There are traces of feathers and down inside the ear flaps, in front of the bird's head and on the crown.
National Museum of Man, Ottawa.

8. Zoomorphic club
Sandstone. L 34 cm
Hagwilget Village, Bulkley Canyon, British Columbia.
Prehistoric, Tsimshian (Gitksan)
Made of hard, fine sandstone, this club or baton was one of some thirty-five found together in a cache by Chief Johnny Muldoe of Hagwilget while he was digging a post-hole for a house in 1898. A local tradition held that some generations before, after a raid on the people of Gitanmaks (in whose territory the find was made), a woman of the village buried all the arms and insignias of the slain but was shortly thereafter killed herself. The front half of this specimen represents a bird's head, with a long pointed bill, the upper edge of which is perforated by grooves from either side to form a nostril. Upper and lower mandibles are completely divided for more than an inch, and the underside of the lower mandible has a deep groove dividing the jaws. Circular eyes are prominent. Beginning on the back of the head and extending back to the handle is a network pattern formed by a series of diamond-shaped depressions separated by diagonal ridges. The body tapers to a plain handle. 
There are traces of red paint on the body. Details of the beak and the feather pattern on the head and neck seem strikingly similar to those of a sandhill crane. It is of some interest that neither this club nor any of the others in this series shows any relationship in style to the classic Northwest Coast art which dominated the area in the historic period.
The Provincial Museum of British Columbia, Victoria.

9. Carved whale vertebrae
Bone. L 15 cm
Northern British Columbia and Alaska. 
Tlingit Indian, circa 1890.
Carved from one section of whale vertebrae. Convex surface has owl head designs. The top projections are carved to represent two raven heads. The concave under surface is drilled with twenty-four holes around the perimeter. The artist has skillfully adapted his design to the shape of the bone. This piece was probably used as a tobacco mortar.
Glenbow-Alberta Institute, Calgary.

10. Mortar
Stone. H 17.5 cm, L 31 cm 
British Columbia.
Haida Indian. Collected by Tolmie, circa 1852.
Stone mortar in the form of a bird, probably a raven. Evidence of the northern two-dimensional surface decoration is seen in the design on the wings of the bird. Although this particular piece is not documented as such, mortars of this type were used in pre-contact and early historic times to pulverize a native tobacco which was mixed with lime from burned clamshells and then chewed rather than smoked.
The Provincial Museum of British Columbia, Victoria.

11. Zoomorphic buckle (?) 
Antler.  L  6.4 cm
Beachgrove site, Fraser River Delta, British Columbia. 
Late Marpole phase, circa A.D. 200.
Outline carving of neck and head of predatory bird, projecting from ring.
University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

12. Zoomorphic miniature pestle 
Antler. H 6.8 cm
Marpole site, Fraser River Delta, British Columbia. 
Marpole phase.
Neck and head of female Great Blue Heron.
University of British Columbia, Vancouver.