A secret photographer #2

The enigmatic Vivian Maier may be the most street photographer to hide her work from the world, and a while ago I shared an article about Masha Ivashintsova, a Russian equivalent. Here’s another, though Saul Leiter might be a little different; he was still around to see his work finally recognised.

Why Saul Leiter kept his colorful street photography secret for decadesArtsy
Yet except for his inner circle, no one saw Leiter’s personal color work until toward the end of his life. He adopted the nascent medium in the 1940s, when it was relegated to splashy advertisements and amateur shooters, not fine artists. Walker Evans called color photography “vulgar,” and his contemporaries like Robert Frank and Ansel Adams agreed. When William Eggleston, Helen Levitt, and Stephen Shore ushered in the era of color in the 1970s, Leiter, a private man who never sought fame, was barely a footnote. He had made a living shooting fashion during the heyday of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, but by the ’80s, he was deep in debt and nearly forgotten.

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Leiter wasn’t interested in the human condition, like Frank or Diane Arbus; instead he understood the simple poetry of a stranger’s silhouette, or raindrops on a window pane. “I may be old-fashioned, but I believe there is such a thing as a search for beauty—a delight in the nice things in the world. And I don’t think one should have to apologize for it.”

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An unsettling self-portrait

Another reminder of what Van Gogh went through.

Not a fake: Van Gogh self-portrait is his only work painted while suffering psychosis, experts sayThe Art Newspaper
Van Tilborgh believes that the self-portrait was painted in late August 1889, in the asylum just outside Saint-Rémy: “The somewhat unusual type of canvas, the pigments, the sombre palette and the brushwork are all in keeping with his output in the late summer and autumn of that year.”

The painting is now linked to a letter in which Van Gogh wrote that he had made a self-portrait which was “an attempt from when I was ill”. The artist had suffered a severe mental attack at the asylum in mid July 1889, when he tried to swallow paints, but by 22 August he had recovered sufficiently to write to his brother Theo, asking that he be allowed access to his painting materials. Van Tilborgh argues that the artist made the self-portrait a few days later, before he suffered a minor setback and was ill for a short period at the beginning of September.

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It’s an arresting image, though I think the version of it that appears in this article, being somewhat darker, feels much deeper.

Leading you through the street art of London

There’s more to street art than Banksy, of course, especially in London. You’d be forgiven for thinking the place was one giant, open air art gallery, going by the number of locations highlighted in this tour of street art hotspots: Brixton, Camden, Dulwich, Hackney, Shoreditch, Walthamstow … (Via London Life With Liz)

10 best places to see street art in LondonDutch Girl in London
Is street art in London legal?’ people often ask me on my history & street art tours in East London. Technically, street art in London is very much illegal. However, having become one of the world’s leading cities to feature such high-quality urban artworks, some local authorities condone it. You won’t be able to find street art in all London neighbourhoods so to help you, I’ve compiled a guide with the best places to see street art in London.

So many wonderful paintings here. I love the contrast between the traditional murals …

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… the photorealistic portraits …

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… and the punchy, graphic work from Stik.

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Happy New Decade

Happy New Year, and all that. At last, we’re in a decade with a normal name.

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2020 is such a futuristic-sounding year.

It’s 2020 and you’re in the futureWait But Why
It’s also weird that to us, the 2020s sounds like such a rad futuristic decade—and that’s how the 1920s seemed to people 100 years ago today. They were all used to the 19-teens, and suddenly they were like, “whoa cool we’re in the twenties!” Then they got upset thinking about how much farther along in life their 1910 self thought they’d be by 1920.

To give us a sense of the decade we’ve just left behind, here, via Kottke, is a list of all the best ‘best of’ lists, if that makes sense.

Lists: Best of the 2010s decade
This page, compiled by @fimoculous, aggregates all of the lists related to 2010s decade.

As well as what you’d expect to find (34 lists in the Books category, and 120 lists in the Film category), there are a few more interesting ones.

Here’s an extra one to add to the list, before our futuristic hubris catches up with us.

From Glass to Fire Phone, these were the decade’s top tech flopsWired UK
Facebook Portal: In 2018, though, a scandal-infected Facebook was attempting to put out fire after fire – the Cambridge Analytica breach, Russian troll ads, the UN’s report on its role in Myanmar. With Facebook the absolute worst word in privacy and trust, no-one wanted a Facebook camera and microphone in their homes, especially one which the company admitted would track call data in order to serve ads to users.

Lend him a hand—or an ear

Cyborgs. So much promise, so little follow-through.

Transhumanism is tempting—until you remember Inspector GadgetWired
It’s comforting to think of the body as a machine we can trick out. It helps us ignore the strange fleshy aches that come with having a meat cage. It makes a fickle system—one we truly don’t understand—feel conquerable. To admit that the body (and mind that sits within it) might be far more complex than our most delicate, intricate inventions endangers all kinds of things: the medical industrial complex, the wellness industry, countless startups. But it might also open up new doors for better relationships with our bodies too: Disability scholars have long argued that the way we see bodies as “fixable” ultimately serves to further marginalize people who will never have the “standard operating system,” no matter how many times their parts are replaced or tinkered with.

In the movies, they’re heroic, philosophical, scary, goofy. In real life? Well.

I remember Professor Reading from Warwick University/Professor Warwick from Reading University being the talk of the town back in the 90s, when I was a student researching interactive art.

The Cyborg: Kevin Warwick is the world’s first human-robot hybridVice
This isn’t just for fun: Warwick is certain that without upgrading, humans will someday fall behind the advances of the robots they’re building – or worse. “Someday we’ll switch on that machine, and we won’t be able to switch it off.” That might explain why he has very little technology at home, and counts The Terminator among his biggest influences. He doesn’t want to become a robot; he wants to be a better human.

It got me thinking about Stelarc, the Cypriot/Australian performance artist who visited our campus one day to deliver a must bizarre lecture. He demoed his extra hand and talked about the new ear he was planning on installing/implanting/growing.

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Here’s Wired’s profile of him, from 2012.

For extreme artist Stelarc, body mods hint at humans’ possible futureWired
He speaks excitedly about potential future applications for the ear. “The ear also might be a kind of distributed Bluetooth system, where if you telephone me on your cellphone, I’ll be able to speak to you through my ear,” Stelarc said. “But because the small speaker and the small receiver would be implanted in a gap between my teeth, I would hear your voice in my head. If I keep my mouth closed, only I hear your voice. If I open my mouth and someone else is close by, they might hear your voice seemingly coming from my mouth. And if I lip-sync, I’d look like some bad foreign movie.”

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Several years and surgical procedures later, and he’s still battling away.

Stelarc — Making art out of the human bodyLabiotech
The final procedure will re-implant the microphone, which will be wirelessly connected to the Internet. The goal is to use it to listen in to what’s happening in other places of the world. “The ear is not for me. I’ve got two good ears to hear with,” the artist says. “For example, someone in Venice could listen to what my ear is hearing in Melbourne.”

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Redefining the human body as “meat, metal and code”: An interview with StelarcSleek Magazine
I left our meeting in awe of a man that, at the age of 71, is still at the foreground of technological art and posthumanist thought. Stelarc was making interactive internet art before the invention of Google (and dare I say it, before I could talk). Decades into his work and exploration of the limits of the human body, Stelarc continues to break and bend our conceptions of what constitutes a body, and fundamentally, what it means to be human.

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Art to remind us what’s at stake

From Madrid and Miami, art that asks us to reflect on the ongoing climate crisis in a visually striking way.

Paintings from Prado Museum Collection given climate change makeoversColossal
Museo del Prado (Prado Museum) recently collaborated on a project with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) designed to coincide with the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid. Paintings from the museum’s collection were digitally modified to reflect a future world destroyed by inaction. Rising sea levels, barren rivers, and refugee camps transform works by European painters into a campaign to save the environment.

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A traffic jam of sand cars by Leandro Erlich is blocking Miami BeachColossal
Erlich’s installation, titled “Order of Importance,” is an effort to put conversations surrounding climate change front and center. Commissioned by the city of Miami Beach and curated by Ximena Caminos and Brandi Reddick, the installation features 66 life-sized cars and trucks erected on the beach at Lincoln Road. Made of sand, the vehicles blend in with the surrounding beach and highlight the temporary nature of their construction.

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Leandro Erlich raises climate change awareness with traffic jam installation in MiamiVimeo

Christmas comes early for art book lovers

In 2014, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles launched its Virtual Library, a project to breathe new life into its extensive archive of art books, some of which are now out of print. It started with 250 titles, but has kept growing.

Over 300 books are available for free download in the Getty Museum’s Virtual LibraryHyperallergic
“As a publisher, when you run out of copies of a book you can basically either reprint it and keep selling it, or you can retire the title, declaring it out of print,” said Greg Albers, Digital Publications Manager for Getty Publications, in an email interview with Hyperallergic. “If it doesn’t make financial sense to reprint and the book goes out of print, the original author or another publisher may choose to pick up the reins and publish a new edition, but more often than not, the book will just sort of disappear. This isn’t a fate anyone wants to see for their books and luckily at the Getty, a decidedly mission-driven organization, we were able to pursue an alternate option. We worked though some legal/copyright issues and released PDFs of the original books, for anyone to read and download, 100% for free.”

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Add those to this collection from last year, and keep your digital bookshelves very well stocked.

Download 569 free art books from the Metropolitan Museum of ArtOpen Culture
You may remember that we featured the site a few years ago, back when it offered 397 whole books free for the reading, including American Impressionism and Realism: The Painting of Modern Life, 1885–1915; Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomical Drawings from the Royal Library; and Wisdom Embodied: Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But the Met has kept adding to their digital trove since then, and, as a result, you can now find there no fewer than 569 art catalogs and other books besides. Those sit alongside the 400,000 free art images the museum put online last year.

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A welcome video art refresher

I enjoyed this trip down memory lane, care of the BBC and Vic Reeves.

Kill Your TV: Jim Moir’s Weird World of Video ArtBBC iPlayer
With contributions from leading British artists such as Isaac Julien and Rachel Maclean, Jim shows how the arrival of the portable video camera in the 1960s allowed artists to create work that set out to take on the power of corporate media. New York-based artist Nam June Paik, credited as video art’s inventor, once declared, ‘television has been attacking us all our lives – now we can attack it back.’

It took me back to my student days, messing around with sound and video in an attempt to forge a new ‘interactive’ art. The work of Brian Eno featured quite heavily in those days (he was an ex-student of our Head of Programme, as our Head of Programme was always keen to point out), and I see he was in the news again the other day.

Brian Eno’s latest composition: A giant Christmas card with Julian Assange on itThe Register
Acclaimed lift music composer Brian Eno is orchestrating a mass mail-in to Brit home secretary Priti Patel so the great unwashed can tell her: “Don’t Extradite Assange.”

At 3pm on 3 December, the background muzak technician will pull the sheets off an oversized digital Christmas card (pictured) outside the Home Office’s Westminster premises, featuring a snap of white-haired WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and emblazoned with the cheery message: “This Christmas journalism is on trial.”

Up our street

A strange juxtaposition — a sophisticated New York arts magazine highlighting some very familiar terraced streets from the north of England.

Shirley Baker’s half century of street photographyThe New Yorker
Shirley Baker was born in Kersal, North Salford, England, in 1932. The body of work for which she is remembered is fairly limited, encompassing her street photography of Manchester and Salford, shot between the 1960 and 1973 (and including early experiments with color, beginning in 1965). The images reflect on a time of rapid economic and social change, when the British-built environment, and ideals of home and community, were upturned. In the wake of the Housing Repairs and Rents Act, of 1954, 1.3 million homes were demolished between 1955 and 1973. In Baker’s images, we see the clash of old and new as sooty children play in front of decrepit houses, with tower blocks emerging in the distance. “I did know that fundamental changes were taking place … and nobody seemed to be interested in recording the face of the people or anything in their lives,” Baker wrote in “Street Photographs: Manchester and Salford,” in 1989. “My interest grew into a compulsion even though the notion of someone wandering the unpicturesque streets of Manchester and Salford with a camera seemed quite crazy to most people then.”

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As Colin Ford, the first director of the National Museum of Photography, wrote, of Baker, “Not since the photographs of the Farm Security Administration in America in the thirties have I seen someone photographing people in deprived states and getting herself so involved.”

(See this earlier post for more about the Farm Security Administration project.)

VICE has an interview with Lou Stoppard, the editor of a new book showcasing her work.

Glorious photos of life up northVICE
She was born in Salford, so it was her stomping ground. These terraced houses are being cleared and she was aware that no one was documenting that process. She very much sees herself as one of her subjects, too, and she talks about all the energy that would have gone into putting those homes together, and how no one was really documenting it. All of those lives that had been destroyed and those narratives that had been acted out, and that was all going to be swept away. So she started wandering around and making pictures, and the people there came to know her and trust her. So there’s definitely a connection in the sense of: this is her hometown.

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Meanwhile, across the Atlantic.

Vancouver street photographer Fred Herzog has died, age 88The Art Newspaper
The passing of the Vancouver-based photographer Fred Herzog on Monday, at age 88, marked not only the loss of a great artist, but also the end of an era, since the city he documented over more than half a century has itself vanished. The Kodachrome images of mid-century street life he became famous for late in his career show Vancouver before it became overrun by luxury apartment towers and international real estate speculation.

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But if you’re wanting a little more glamour with your street photography, try these.

Bill Cunningham: On the StreetKottke
Until his death in 2016, Bill Cunningham captured the fashions of people walking the streets and catwalks of NYC and elsewhere, mostly for the NY Times over the past five decades. A new book, Bill Cunningham: On the Street, is the first published collection of his work and includes more than 700 photos along with a number of essays by friends, subjects, and cultural critics.

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Back to the Futurists

We’ve seen that the impact of AI on the art world has been quite transformative. Here’s how another new technology is changing what’s possible.

Umberto Boccioni: Recreating the lost sculptures
The destruction, in 1927, of a number of plaster and mixed-media sculptures by the Futurist artist Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) was a tragic loss for avant-garde art. Of the many ground-breaking sculptures he created between c.1913 and 1915, only a handful remain in existence today. Now, using a combination of vintage photographic material and cutting-edge 3D printing techniques, digital artists Matt Smith and Anders Rådén have recreated four of Boccioni’s destroyed works: a volumetric study of a human face titled Empty and Full Abstracts of a Head, and three of the artist’s iconic striding figures. This ground-breaking display enables modern audiences to ‘see’ these lost masterpieces for the very first time.

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Boccioni’s best-known three-dimensional work is Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, the original plaster version of which belongs to the University of São Paulo’s Museum of Contemporary Art. One of the most instantly recognisable of all modernist sculptures, it appears on the Italian 20c coin. Dating from 1913, the work represents an aerodynamic figure – part man, part machine – racing energetically towards the brave new world envisioned by the Futurist movement. It was preceded by three sculptures on the same theme: Synthesis of Human Dynamism, Speeding Muscles and Spiral Expansion of Muscles in Movement. Until now, all that remained of these earlier works were a number of photographs taken in Boccioni’s studio and at three exhibitions around the world from 1913 to 1917. Careful study and comparison of these images has now enabled the creation of highly accurate 3D reconstructions of the original works, which were entrusted to a sculptor named Piero da Verona following the artist’s death, who subsequently disposed of them.

Here’s more on his most famous piece, from New York’s MoMA. It’s very striking.

Umberto Boccioni. Unique Forms of Continuity in Space. 1913 (cast 1931 or 1934)
Unique Forms of Continuity in Space integrates trajectories of speed and force into the representation of a striding figure. It does not depict a particular person at a specific moment, but rather synthesizes the process of walking into a single body. For Boccioni, one of the key figures in the Italian Futurist movement, this was an ideal form: a figure in constant motion, immersed in space, engaged with the forces acting upon it.

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It reminded me of Universal Everything’s Walking City, but I think I prefer this version they did for Hyundai. More dynamic, and the merging of figures with speed and transport is definitely a key Futurist theme.

Running Man
Building upon Universal Everything’s series of films exploring human movement and digital costumes, Running Man is an expression of Resource Circulation, the automotive company’s eco-friendly production process – from steel to car to steel. The digital artwork’s sequence of costumes is inspired by this looping production cycle, as it evolves from scrap metal to molten and rolled steel, before being formed into a car frame, designed body and the fully realised car. The process is completed as the car is streamlined and recycled into the raw materials.

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You’ve had long enough

I loved the photograph chosen to head up this witty and insightful article by Jason Farago, art critic for The New York Times, about that Parisian “security hazard, educational obstacle and unsatisfying bucket-list item”.

It’s time to take down the Mona Lisa
Some 80 percent of visitors, according to the Louvre’s research, are here for the Mona Lisa — and most of them leave unhappy. Content in the 20th century to be merely famous, she has become, in this age of mass tourism and digital narcissism, a black hole of anti-art who has turned the museum inside out. …

In a poll of British tourists earlier this year, the Mona Lisa was voted the “world’s most disappointing attraction,” beating out Checkpoint Charlie, the Spanish Steps, and that urinating boy in Brussels. If curators think that they are inspiring the next generation of art lovers, they are in fact doing the opposite. People come out of obligation, and leave discouraged. …

The Louvre does not have an overcrowding problem per se. It has a Mona Lisa problem. No other iconic painting — not Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” at the Uffizi in Florence, not Klimt’s “Kiss” at the Belvedere in Vienna, not “Starry Night” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York — comes anywhere close to monopolizing its institution like she does. And if tourist numbers continue to rise, if last year’s 10 million visitors become next year’s 11 or 12, the place is going to crack.

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I love photos of people taking photos, and there are more in a previous Times article from when the painting was recently moved.

Want to see the Mona Lisa? Get in line
Once they get past the metal detectors, ticket holders are herded like sheep in a long, coiling line. They shuffle up escalators until they reach the Mona Lisa’s skylit new digs: the Medici Gallery, named after a striking series of wall-to-wall paintings by Rubens also on display there.

Not that anybody notices the Rubens works. As if in an airport check-in area, dozens of visitors rowdily wait their turn in another snaking line. Armed with smartphones, selfie sticks and cameras, they then rush into the final stretch — the Mona Lisa viewing pen. They have roughly one minute there before the guards shoo them away.

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Back inside the Mona Lisa viewing pen, Gregory Jimenez, 25, a college student from Chile, lifted his fancy camera above the heads of a row of people in front of him and took a shot. “You have to take a photo to be able to appreciate her,” he said as he walked out.

Photographs may be a solution, but they’re also part of the problem. People don’t just want to see the Mona Lisa: they want the picture for social media to prove it. Many don’t look at her at all; they focus on their smartphone screens. Some even turn their backs, beam their finest Mona Lisa smile, and take a selfie, as she grins right back.

Update 12/11/2019

News of a different approach from the Louvre.

The ‘Mona Lisa’ Experience: how the Louvre’s first VR project, a 7-minute immersive da Vinci odyssey, works
Visitors can strap themselves into the state-of-the-art headsets and learn snippets of information about Leonardo’s famous sitter, Lisa del Giocondo, as well as his artistic method and the history of the painting. It will immerse them in what could be the surroundings beyond the frame of what is depicted in Leonardo’s masterpiece, and, at the end, invite them to climb aboard an imagined version of Leonardo’s visionary flying machine—a sketch of which is also included in the exhibition—and soar across the landscape surrounding Mona Lisa’s luxuriant loggia.

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The artists behind the names

Can you ever really know someone? Are we more than just a name?

The many faces of Rembrandt van Rijn
In the 350 years since his death in 1669, Rembrandt van Rijn has been reinterpreted time and again. The Victorians considered him a reclusive genius. Critics in the mid-20th century thought he was a misunderstood experimentalist. In the 1980s there was a fashion for seeing him as a brilliant businessman. More recently, he has been depicted as an empath, the supreme explorer of human emotion in paint. …

Curators seeking to shore up their characterisations of the artist have often done so by hanging him alongside other painters. Put Rembrandt alongside Caravaggio and he looks like a realist, alongside Auerbach and he looks almost expressionistic. … In these strange and turbulent times, it seems that the organisers could not help but show off Rembrandt’s comic sensibilities. The effect of pairing “Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul”—from which Rembrandt gazes out in exhausted forbearance—with Velázquez’s portrait of a Court bufón, scholarly and self-possessed, is humorous. Velázquez understands the dignity of a comedian, while Rembrandt demonstrates the comedy of dignitaries.

It is an insight that reaches its raucous climax in the Rijksmuseum’s prize Rembrandt, “The Night Watch”, which is currently undergoing the first stage of a public restoration. The painting depicts an Amsterdam militia company, the men’s gazes shooting off like misfired bullets, their gestures obscuring each other’s faces. The uniforms are mismatched, some a century older than others. The Rembrandt who painted it is an artist of political disorder—undoubtedly a Rembrandt that resonates in 2019.

From an artist with many faces to one who keeps his hidden.

Banksy caught on camera: New photo book documents street artist’s early years
More than 12,000 film negatives of his time with the artist “sat in files for years because I had no contact sheets,” Lazarides said. Then, he finally decided to start scanning them into a computer. The painstaking process took more than two years.

“It was a very strange period of time,” said Lazarides. “Film cameras were on their way out. It was incredibly expensive. But digital cameras hadn’t really come in. The internet wasn’t really that up and running. There was no social media, so you’re in a period in time when I suddenly realised, ‘Oh fuck, I’m the only person in the world with these pictures.’”

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Do not erase

For a number of weekends now, my son and I have attended several university open days, touring facilities and listening to presentations in lecture theatres up and down the land. These photos of blackboards by Jessica Wynne look quite familiar—and equally incomprehensible.

A photographic survey by Jessica Wynne of chalkboards filled by mathematicians
Wynne tells Colossal that she enjoys photographing the dusty work surfaces because of “their beauty, mystery and the pleasure of creating a permanent document of something that is ephemeral.” The “Do Not Erase” photo series, soon to be published in a book by Princeton University Press for release in 2020, includes boards from institutions and universities around the world. Wynne hopes that viewers can appreciate the aesthetic of the worked surfaces while “simultaneously appreciating that the work on the board represents something much deeper, beyond the surface.”

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Where’s your head at?

These drawings by Adam Riches caught my eye — they’re like the analogue equivalent of Espen Kluge’s generative portraits.

Scribbled portraits of brooding figures by Adam Riches
Artist Adam Riches uses pen and ink to create frenetic portraits of brooding anonymous figures. The monochrome illustrations emerge out of blank backgrounds, with broad, gestural lines skittering and looping across the paper … In a recent video interview with BBC, the artist explains, “the drawings are quite intuitive and are done spontaneously. They reveal themselves as I’m making them.”

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Happy shopper

Remember Banksy’s new shop? It’s closed now, though it was never really open. But now it is open. Er.

Gross Domestic Product
The homewares brand from Banksy™

It does look odd, seeing that little ™ symbol after his name everywhere. But before we get distracted about why he’s seeking to protect trademarks rather than copyright, let’s get shopping!

banksy opens online store selling limited edition pieces and items starting at £10
a few weeks after setting up a showroom ‘for display purposes only’ in south london, banksy has now officially launched his own online store. titled ‘gross domestic product’, or ‘GDP’, the shop counts the stab vest worn by stormzy at glastonbury festival and branded T-shirts tagged by the artist among its products. other items include a clutch bag, made from a ‘genuine real life house brick’, and a rug painted to resemble the ‘diabetes riddled corpse of tony the tiger’.

Everything’s bound to be sold out by now, right? Not necessarily.

Banksy opens online store to sell iconic items from just £10
To deal with demand outstripping supply and to give everyone a fair chance, potential buyers are asked to register their details and “prove you are not a robot” by answering the question “Why does art matter?” Their response will then be judged by comedian Adam Bloom, who is urging customers to make their answer as “amusing, informative or enlightening as possible”.

Hoping this measure will help restrict sales to genuine art fans, Banksy adds: “We can’t ever weed out all the people who just want to flip for profit, but we can weed out the unfunny ones.”

Worth a punt?

A new Picasso?

It’s not unknown for artists to change their mind and paint over part of their work as their ideas develop. Earlier, I came across an article about a long-lost Vermeer cupid that conservationists had restored. He wasn’t the only one with mysteries to uncover.

Blue on Blue: Picasso blockbuster comes to Toronto in 2020
The show came together after the AGO, with the assistance of other institutions, including the National Gallery of Art, Northwestern University and the Art Institute of Chicago, used cutting-edge technology to scan several Blue Period paintings in its collection to reveal lost works underneath, namely La Soupe (1902) and La Miséreuse accroupie (also 1902).

More on that.

New research reveals secrets beneath the surface of Picasso paintings
Secrets beneath the surface of two Pablo Picasso paintings in the collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto have been unearthed through an in-depth research project, which combined technical analysis and art historical digging to determine probable influences for the pieces and changes made by the artist.

But x-ray and infrared analyses can only go so far. What if we roped in some neural networks to help bring these restored images to life?

This Picasso painting had never been seen before. Until a neural network painted it.
But from an aesthetic point of view, what the researchers managed to retrieve is disappointing. Infrared and x-ray images show only the faintest outlines, and while they can be used to infer the amount of paint the artist used, they do not show color or style. So a way to reconstruct the lost painting more realistically would be of huge interest …

This is where Bourached and Cann come in. They have taken a manually edited version of the x-ray images of the ghostly woman beneath The Old Guitarist and passed it through a neural style transfer network. This network was trained to convert images into the style of another artwork from Picasso’s Blue Period.

The result is a full-color version of the painting in exactly the style Picasso was exploring when he painted it. “We present a novel method of reconstructing lost artwork, by applying neural style transfer to x-radiographs of artwork with secondary interior artwork beneath a primary exterior, so as to reconstruct lost artwork,” they say.

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Rothko on the cheap

I’ve mentioned Sedition here before, turning screens into art™. I quite like the way it allows me to feel like an art snob for a while, building up my own art collection albeit very slowly we’re not made of money what with university fees and mortgages and Brexit and all that goodness me.

Here’s one alternative, though, if Rothko‘s mid-century abstract expressionism is your thing and the prices at Christie’s or even John Lewis are a little out of your range.

One Rothko per hour

The title says it all, really. You could always have a go yourself, of course.

Mark Rothko’s genius imitated on an iPhone by Derek Brahney
Why has he created them? Presumably to demonstrate the fast-decreasing level of skill required to create visual material in the digital age (depressing), or perhaps his motivations are less sinister. Either way we’re enjoying them very much.

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Generating art

Some more generative art. First, here’s Thomas Lin Pedersen, a “former bioinformatician / computational biologist turned data scientist turned software engineer”. Quite a mouthful.

Generative art by Thomas Lin Pedersen
I’m a generative artist focusing mainly on exploring the beauty of dynamic systems. For me, the sweet spot of generative art lies in creating a system that you know well enough to set it up for success, but is so complex that you still get surprised when you see the result. The more I become familiar with a system I’ve developed, the more it feels like a (slightly unpredictable) brush to paint with.

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I can’t begin to understand how he’s using R, software normally used for data analysis and statistics, to create such images.

A more traditional approach would be through the use of GANs, as we’ve seen before. (Strange to use the word ‘traditional’ with such a new and emerging field.) Here’s something from Joel Simon, who also takes inspiration from the systems of biology computation and creativity.

Artbreeder — create beautiful, wild and weird images
Simply keep selecting the most interesting image to discover totally new images. Infinitely new random ‘children’ are made from each image. Artbreeder turns the simple act of exploration into creativity …

Artbreeder started as an experiment in using breeding and collaboration as methods of exploring high complexity spaces. GAN’s are the engine enabling this. Artbreeder is very similar to, and named after, Picbreeder. It is also inspired by an earlier project of mine Facebook Graffiti which demonstrated the creative capacity of crowds.

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Devolving politicians

Banksy painting of chimps as MPs sells for record £9.9m at Sotheby’s
The timing of the sale was impeccable, coming exactly four weeks before the revised Brexit deadline and a year after Banksy’s Girl with Balloon (2002) was shredded via remote control in the same saleroom. That work sold for £1.04m with fees after it was legally designated a new work by Banksy’s handling service Pest Control and renamed Love is in the Bin a week after the auction in October 2019.

Banksy painting of MPs as chimpanzees sells for record £9.9m
Chimpanzees first appeared in his work in 2002, with his piece Laugh Now. The painting shows a row of apes wearing aprons carrying the inscription “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”. In 2009, Banksy said of Devolved Parliament: “You paint 100 chimpanzees and they still call you a guerrilla artist.”

The Cockroach by Ian McEwan review – a Brexit farce with legs
But in truth the parallel is misleading. It is not just that in McEwan’s case the metamorphosis is reversed: Sams is not a human transmuted into an insect but a cockroach who has taken over the body of the prime minister of the UK. (The room in which he awakes is in 10 Downing Street.) It is also that this fable is much more Swiftian than Kafkaesque. In The Metamorphosis, the story is really about the strangeness of everyday life and the human capacity to deny it. The world of The Cockroach is more like one of Swift’s parallel universes where political and intellectual idiocies are not so much reduced to absurdity as magnified into towering follies.

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Banksy sells out

Remember back in March I linked to an article about Banksy’s legal conundrum? “If Banksy wants to keep enforcing any of his trademarks in courts around the world, and avoid the risk of them being canceled for lack of use, he will need to show judges stronger evidence of his brands being used in the market.

Well, here’s his response.

Gross Domestic Product: Banksy opens a dystopian homewares store
Tony the Frosted Flakes tiger sacrificed as a living room rug, wooden dolls handing their babies off to smugglers in freight truck trailers, and welcome mats stitched from life jackets: rather than offering an aspirational lifestyle, one South London storefront window depicts a capitalist dystopia. Created by Banksy and appearing overnight, Gross Domestic Product is the latest installation to critique global society’s major issues of forced human migration, animal exploitation, and the surveillance state.

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In a statement about the project, Banksy explains that the impetus behind Gross Domestic Product is a legal battle between the artist and a greeting card company that is contesting the trademark Banksy holds to his art. Lawyer Mark Stephens, who is advising the artist, explains, “Banksy is in a difficult position because he doesn’t produce his own range of shoddy merchandise and the law is quite clear—if the trademark holder is not using the mark then it can be transferred to someone who will.”

Despite this project’s specific goal of selling work in order to allow Banksy to demonstrate the active use of his trademark, the artist clarifies, “I still encourage anyone to copy, borrow, steal and amend my art for amusement, academic research or activism. I just don’t want them to get sole custody of my name.”

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All sales will be conducted online and, going by the reaction of those that have seen the shop so far, I expect everything will sell out very quickly, unfortunately.

Banksy shop featuring Stormzy stab vest appears in Croydon
A Banksy collector who came to see the display, said: “It’s brilliant. So good that it’s happening. I doubt he (Banksy) will turn up and go ‘hello lads, how are ya?’ But he’s obviously around.”

John, another Banksy enthusiast, who is on holiday in the UK from the United States, said: “It has all the earmarks of Banksy’s work. It’s graphic, it’s cheeky, it’s intelligent.”

Update 11/10/2019

This trademark/copyright issue might not be so straightforward, though, as this analysis from an intellectual property law academic explains. It’s worth a read.

How Banksy’s latest trademark row could backfire
Despite Banksy’s efforts to present himself as a down-to-earth, anti-conformist artist and paint the card company as the “bad guy”, this is more like a David v Goliath story – and Banksy is the giant here. Supported by a raft of experienced corporate lawyers and managers worldwide, his art is an undeniably powerful and commercially valuable industry.