Category Archives: Art

Mini-Break, Mini-Beauty

Malena Valcarcel is a Spanish artist who transforms used books into the works of art you see here. Utterly enchanting and wonderfully whimsical, this is a glimpse into the way art causes us to pause, to examine, and to thrill at the world of possibility. More about Malena here. 

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Send in the Clown

The ever-eloquent Steve Barnes may have put it best: “You’d be hard-pressed to explain it to someone else, because you’re not quite sure what you’ve seen, but you know you’ve seen something worthwhile.”

Indeed, that may be the best way to encapsulate the raw yet carefully-calibrated brunt of ‘This Is Not A Test’ – the current theatrical event put forth by Marquise Productions and running until October 8, 2017 at the Arts Center of the Capital Region. A one-clown show starring Aaron Marquise, it may be impossible to explain, and it’s one of those things that must be seen and experienced first-hand to be appreciated.

Don’t be fooled by the lack of a clear-cut narrative – this is about more than that. It’s an immersive, occasionally-interactive piece of powerful performance art. It rests squarely, and quite luckily, on the ultra-expressive shoulders of Mr. Marquise, whose physicality manages to convey trepidation, glee, anxiety, and longing in the span of a single minute. Somehow, despite the odds, he conjures the emotional heft of a full-blown show, bringing that non-descript narrative into a keenly-focused emotional pinpoint with the simple donning of a mother shoe and a father shoe, and this universal touchstone rings with pathos and funny fury.

At a time of conflict, when the threat of worldwide apocalypse hangs a little closer than anyone thought possible, this may be the only way out. Sanity through removed reality. Comfort through discomforting entertainment. As Billie Holiday coos plaintively over the scratchy victrola, our clown fades into blackness, bringing with him the light, the energy, and the magnificent madness of a world not for long. The best works of art leave the audience in wonderment – enthralled and perplexed, and always questioning what the hell happened. See ‘This Is Not A Test’ and decide for yourself – you will not go away unmoved.

{The next run of shows is slated for October 6, 7 and 8; tickets may be purchased here.}

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One of the first things I noticed was the fallen.

Not the stone pagodas or the pebble seas or the granite bridge.

The fallen blossoms.

They laid there in various states of decomposition, and from a distance I thought they might be litter.

It turned out they were the remnants of the flowering stewartia, in the midst of its high-summer blooming period. A rare time for a tree to be in bloom, this made the occasion all the more solemn. I was quickly won over by such an anomaly – a tree that dares to bloom when most have finished. We have a seven-sons’-flower tree that pulls a similar trick. We value them more when they wait until such a fine point in time.

“Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?” ~ Muriel Barbery

This is ‘The Garden of the Heart of Heaven’ as designed by Kinsaku Nakane. Inspired by the Zen temple gardens of 15th century Japan, it arrests time in the ways that only beauty and art can manage.

“The camellia against the moss of the temple, the violet hues of the Kyoto mountains, a blue porcelain cup – this sudden flowering of pure beauty at the heart of ephemeral passion: is this not something we all aspire to? And something that, in our Western civilization, we do not know how to attain?

The contemplation of eternity within the very movement of life.” ~ Muriel Barbery

I followed the stone path to the source of the fallen flowers, tracing the pretty mottled trunks into the sky, and found a few at the height of their beauty. In the dappled sunlight, with their downward-turned petals, they made a shy show, as if it was best to hide their beauty from the world.

Sometimes that is the case.

As their fallen brethren would attest, the world is not always kind to pretty little things.

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Beauty, Now More Than Ever

The respite of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is always a balm upon the soul. We need more beauty in this world. The courtyard, though bright, is cool on these summer days. The dim environs of the surrounding rooms offer spiritual respite. Angels watch over the space, even if demons have infiltrated over the years. (Empty gold frames remind of which works were stolen in a still-unsolved crime back in 1990.) There are ghosts here, but they feel benign. Perhaps they were merely sleeping on the night of the robbery.

Four large tree ferns rise in the center court, framing the square space with delicate fronds of unfurling grace and elegance. Carpets of baby tears border the stone paths, and potted orchids nestle in every nook and cranny.

Art watches over all, standing sentinel in the absence of Ms. Gardner, whose will made it clear that nothing was to be touched or moved, so we have an idea of what it was actually like when she walked these beautiful floors. I stared out of windows and up at fantastical works and wondered what she did when she stopped to soak up the beauty at hand.

Through portals of stone and light and time, I peered into past and future alike. I was also able to inhabit the present moment – the most difficult trick of all for those of us who would rather be anywhere else than this moment in time. Here, it was all right. Surrounded by beauty, it was bearable.

A fountain gurgled its peaceful, bubbly melody in the background.

Palm trees, rubber plants, and philodendron soaked up the sun coming in from the skylight.

It was impossible not to smile at the world.

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Art & Magic

Look closer.

What was that tagline from? No, really, I cannot remember.

It was the tag line to something.

American Beauty’?

Oh well, it doesn’t much matter, but it’s quite befitting this post, whereby we see what happens when art and nature and some optical tricks conspire to conjure the ‘painting’ you see here. It’s actually not a painting or even a photograph (well, it is now, but you get the point). It’s a collection of cut flowers, displayed behind a frame at varying distances to give the illusion of being a very life-life painting. A living testament to the power of the frame.

I live for things like this: the way that art can be a certain kind of magic ~ the tricks it can play on the senses, the witchcraft it can work on traditional assumptions, the surprise and delight it can elicit from the droll sleight of hand or eyes or nose. Some of us just like to be fooled. It jolts the expected, sparking the exquisite conundrum of questioning what we think we know, and what we most want to assume. It wakes you up when you don’t even realize you’re asleep.

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Matisse Remixed

This is the sort of thing I love: a recreation of a work of art by another work of art. Here we have the original Matisse painting of a Woman in Purple Robe, whimsically echoed in an abstract floral homage. It’s magical. I especially love how the skin tone in the painting is almost perfectly-matched in the double gerbera daisies. It’s a brilliant illustration of how art can continue to live on in unique ways, and how it might multiply in joy and happiness with each passing iteration.

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The Day the World Shrunk

At the Art Institute of Chicago, there is a section of miniatures, displaying these miniature replications of room styles of the United States. It’s almost too precious to take seriously, but there is such painstaking detail in each one, and such historical quaintness to them that I was moved. If you enjoy a dollhouse, and who doesn’t, this is the place for you. I can’t give you an accurate scale (they frown up visitors trying to get a hand behind the displays, go figure) but these are about a foot and half of cubic space. It turns out that lot of really tiny things can fit in that kind of room.

Something about these rooms appeals to me. Maybe it’s their pristine order and immaculate execution. They can never be messed up because they aren’t real. No one has to live in them, tracking in mud from a spring day or leaving a dish on the counter (guilty and guilty). They stand here suspended in time, these little glimpses of perfection.

Be sure to notice the lighting in each of these. It manages to capture a certain point in the day, and then hold it there. How often have we tried to still time like that, to freeze a frame or a moment that we wish would go on for just a bit longer?

These little rooms do that. While the rest of the world rushes by them, they stay forever in place, forever young. As the chubby digits of little kids smear their grease and dirt across the viewing panes, the rooms stand stoically and unperturbed in their splendor.

My little window into Chicago is about to close. I will shrink the city into the smallest compartment I know – a memory – and it will reside there, unbothered and no longer bewildered by what came before.

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A Cheeky Artist Looks Inward

The greatest artists have more than one note to sing or one color to paint.

The shape-shifters and the versatile chameleons are those who captivate my notice and thrill me the most.

Case in point is artist Paul Richmond. Known perhaps best for his series of Cheesecake Boys, and his recent Adult Coloring Book, Richmond also has an eye for the melancholy.He goes a bit deeper in some of these works, favoring the blue and violets and silvery shades of night. For this particular work, he uses hues of flesh accented by bloody splashes of vermillion – the artist battered without and within. More than that, he offers a look inward – at the struggles and torments of an artist, at the passions and sorrows of any life well-lived. Some say poets and painters feel things more. I don’t know if I believe that. I happen to think they simply open themselves up more, let their emotional guards down. They are braver than the majority of people. That is on heartrending display in Richmond’s latest piece, “Lost To Myself”.

“Most of my figurative work has some connection to the theme of identity and self-reflection,” Richmond says. “Even portraits of other people often become vehicles for exploring my own emotional responses, but this piece in particular was very intentionally about looking inward.”

As much as I love getting cheeky, some moments call for something calmer and more contemplative. A good artist finds joy in all the world. A great artist finds beauty in the sadness as well. But the best artists find the courage to look inward and put it all on display.

{Find more of Paul Richmond’s evocative body of work at his website here.}

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Hunk of the Day: Will Taylor

If there’s one thing that inspires me more than almost anything, it’s color.

Bright, bold, bodacious color.

The kind of audacity found in the taste of Diana Vreeland and Iris Apfel.

Colorful artists and bloggers inspire me too, such as Will Taylor. A new celebration of all things bright and beautiful is to be found at his Bright.Bazaar Blog. He has been named the Hunk of the Day as much for his impeccable taste as his own easy sense of make-you-smile style. His blog is very much a touchstone of inspiration for anyone looking for a jolt of pizzazz. It is the antidote for the mundane, and Mr. Taylor keeps it utterly beautiful, and somehow relatable and attainable.

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Hunk of the Day: Paul Richmond

The tables are turned in this Hunk of the Day post, as the man responsible for dozens of male wardrobe malfunctions gets his own cheeky turn in the spotlight. Artist Paul Richmond is our Hunk of the Day, just in time for the release of his latest endeavor, “Cheesecake Boys: An Adult Coloring Book”, which puts the power of coloring his drawings into our own hands. Richmond and his husband have offered a number of inspirational poses over the years, because if you’re going to talk the talk, you might as well walk the walk… in your underwear. In his case, it’s in large part for research purposes, as he seeks an accurate representation of the body, and the various ways clothing might come off of it. That sort of artistic dedication will always find admiration here, as will any artist willing to strip down to their skivvies in the name of their craft. (Order the new Cheesecake Boys Coloring Book at this link.)

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Art For Inspiration

In anticipation of his upcoming coloring book release, artist Paul Richmond has been featured here quite a bit over the past couple of days (and we have one more extra-special Richmond post up later today – hint: it rhymes with ‘trunk’). Artists, much more than sports figures and politicians, have always been my heroes. They are the ones I look up to, the ones that inspire me, and the ones that, far too often, go unheralded for changing the world. A work of art has the power to transform lives and alter the trajectory of the universe. It’s not always apparent, and it usually happens on a smaller level and scale than most events that people think of as shaping the world, but though the plane may seem smaller, it’s actually more pervasive and powerful than many of us realize.

When I was younger, I looked for people like me in places like xy magazine. I also looked for recognition in the works of Herb Ritts and Keith Haring, gay artists who celebrated the male figure. As I grew older, I found solace and reassurance in the images of Paul Richmond, Steve Walker, Joe Phillips, and Michael Breyette. Their work showed two men in love, in friendship, in lust, and in companionship. That art was vital in getting me to see myself as worthy of love, and realizing that my love was as true and moving as anyone else’s love.

That’s why art will always matter.

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Cake Through A Keyhole

Color my ass any way you want to – this is a cheeky promotional item for Paul Richmond’s ‘Cheesecake Boys: An Adult Coloring Book’. You can download the original HQ version here on his website, then print it out and go to town with markers, crayons, colored pencils, lipstick or mascara – the sky’s the limit! If you post the finished work on Instagram and tag @paulyworld and @alanilagan, he (and I) will be especially honored – and he may just add it to his wall of fame.

I was super lucky to have been immortalized by Mr. Richmond once before, so this is just the icing on the cheesecake. He’s been posting a series of these in support of his upcoming book release, and I’m now in the amazing company of heroes such as Matthew Rettenmund, Garrett Miller, and CardreaderB.

For obvious reasons, this is probably my favorite, and it’s amazing to see how he incorporates little details – a bottle of cologne, a glass of water, a recent Instagram pic as the framed wall art – into telling touches that immediately give away the eyes of an artist.

A couple of variations on how some have chosen to shade my ass are posted below – many thanks to Jan-Simon Minima, Richard Knoppen, Guinevere Renée, Susan Figueiredo Reaves, Berdien Geven-Dölle & Erik Dalston for filling me in so gorgeously!

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Color Me Excited

Lending a distinctly cheeky edge to the adult coloring craze currently sweeping the world, Paul Richmond is offering a collection of drawings just waiting to be filled in and shaded by anyone who has a passion for cute guys and art. Richmond has been an artist I’ve admired for many years (not just because of his gracious rendering of me as a Cheesecake Boy), and his current coloring endeavor has been a smash on his Instagram feed. Taking that one step further, he will be releasing an entire book of drawings that capitalize on our obsessions with coloring and Cheesecake Boys (available from Dreamspinner Press on February 14).

There is something both joyous and calming about coloring. For many of us, it harkens back to a time of innocence and happiness, when the soothing act of creation found inspiration in a box of colorful crayons. That such a fond childhood memory is only now coming back into vogue seems strange – but Richmond has been a master of combining vintage notions (such as pinup girls) and giving them a modern spin (such as pinup guys). His cheeky series of Cheesecake Boys and their requisite wardrobe malfunctions is the perfect choice for a coloring book that demands a bit of interaction from the viewer.

I’ve often felt that inside most of us is an artist yearning to be released. Richmond’s latest creative explosion lays the structure and groundwork to foster such creativity, and there’s something vastly rewarding of being able to take an active part in his artistic process. It is the ultimate compliment to the viewer – to invite them to be part of that artistic journey, to hand us the power to complete something that he began. There’s a trust there, and a generosity that makes his work a little more special.

His series of “Friday Freebies” has garnered an impressive following, and artists of all levels are invited to show off their colorful contributions, instilling a greater sense of community and camaraderie at a time when we need that more than ever. Richmond gets just as much of a kick out of seeing the finished works as we do in participating, graciously posting them on his Instagram page and genuinely enjoying what different people decide to do with his lines.

His new adult coloring book unleashes a new set of Cheesecake Boys upon the world, and it’s coming at just the right time. The impeccably-timed Valentine’s Day release makes it the perfect gift for a loved one, a friend, or, perhaps best of all, your own self. For anyone who’s wanted to color their dreams, Paul Richmond just gave you that chance.

{“Cheesecake Boys: An Adult Coloring Book” will be available on February 14, 2017 from Dreamspinner Press. Paul Richmond’s other work can be found on his website:  Richmond is also on FaceBook under ‘Paul Richmond Studio’ and on Instagram under “paulyworld”}

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Sneak Cheesecake Peek

Not all heroes are nice in real life. You know Batman is a seriously conflicted bitch, and Superman is so anal he probably poops diamonds, but every once in a while a hero reveals him or herself to be just as cool as you want them to be. Artist Paul Richmond is one such hero for me. For his entire career, he’s maintained a positive outlook on art and its place in the world, celebrating other artists (such as one of his greatest muses, Dolly Parton) and sharing his own work in wildly creative fashion. Even his powerful marriage-equality efforts were tinged with wit and whimsy – a lesson in how to deliver a potent message with charm and enchantment. Perhaps even more effective was the simple example he was living out as a proud gay man. It’s something we might take for granted now, but it wasn’t always so, and sometimes I think the world wants us to step back and be silent again. Richmond’s work is in beautifully brash and bold defiance of this. He welcomes all into his colorful world of art, where individuality and creative expression find happy fruition.

His work, his indefatigable spirit, and the man himself have always managed to make me feel a little bit better about being different. His work props people up when they’re feeling down or lonely, and he celebrates the diversity and strength in those who dare to tread off the beaten path. He revels in the flamboyant and outlandish, and that larger-than-life and grander-in-spirit personality is an inspiration. The best part is that he’s one of those artists who believes in sharing and cultivating an active interaction with his audience.

Lately, he’s been posting a drawing online every Friday – dubbed Friday Freebies – where you can download one of his drawings and color it in as you see fit. The only limits on how you do it are up to you – crayons, markers, pencils, lipstick – anything and everything goes, and he invites you to share your work with others. It becomes a community dialogue – a friendly, fun, engaging, and welcoming dialogue, wholly at odds with the darkness of the present state of affairs. That may be Richmond’s greatest gift to us. Tomorrow, I’m doing a little post celebrating the release of his first adult coloring book – come back and see all the awesomeness he’s getting up to now.

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“ART SEX LIFE” by Ismael Álvarez

Spanish artist Ismael Álvarez has been featured here before, as a Hunk of the Day, but now he gets  amore meaningful profile as he launches his latest work, “Art Sex Life” – a brilliant collection of his artistic work that captures the stunning and colorful work that he’s been generating for his entire life. It’s as much a culmination of his output as it is a promise for greater things to come. Álvarez continues to craft pieces of perfect pop-culture resonance and relevance, celebrating the erotic and challenging the notion of the pornographic.

The heads of pop icons like Frida Kahlo and Hello Kitty find themselves on colorfully animated male bodies, jarring and comical and giddily pulling from radical sources of inspiration. Álvarez himself provides ample full-frontal artistry in poses of supreme control and devastating vulnerability. His gaze is alternately intense and removed, sometimes quite literally so. It’s a delicious tension that manages to sustain itself through the complete collection, never finding reconciliation, but always leaving a little want, a hint of desire.

The book is a hefty 200 pages, filled with Alvarez’s illustrations and photographs, a dizzying multi-format representation of an artist who is impelled to create and express himself across forms. It lends a restlessness to the proceedings, as if we were getting an intimate look at how his brain works firsthand, and it’s a wondrous trip to behold.

{‘ART SEX LIFE’ by Ismael Álvarez may be purchased online here, or in bookstores in Spain. Also, be sure to check out his enchanting website, which is a compelling compendium of his artwork.}

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