Neon Art

I’ve always liked neon signs.  There’s something kitschy about them, of course, but also something classically American — bold, consciously attempting to be memorable and attract passersby, naked in their capitalistic purpose, and often dosed with fantasy or humor.  Plus, neon really looks cool at night.

Downtown Boston has come up with a great way to celebrate — and preserve — some of these neon relics of a.past America.  On one of the small strips of land between the downtown area and the waterfront, called the Greenway, neon signs have been positioned around the perimeter.  The signs draw visitors like moths to light.  Two of my favorites were the Siesta Motel, with its cactus and sombrero theme, and the Flying Yankee Restaurant, with its rocket ship and flaming trail.  The Siesta Motel, which dates from 1950, was located in Saugus, Massachusetts — where its southwestern-themed sign must have stood out like a sore thumb — and the Flying Yankee Restaurant, which dates from 1953, long before rocket ships were commonplace, was located in Auburn, Massachusetts.

Don’t you wish you’d had a chance to see these signs on the great American road during the ’50s, and perhaps stop at the Flying Yankee for a cup of coffee and a piece of pie?

Hotel Room Art

I continue to marvel at the weird art choices some hotels make for guest rooms. These pieces were placed directly over the bed, so the last thing you would see before bedtime are a creepy, bare-chested, mascara-wearing guy who seems to be wrestling with an ugly scarf, and a clearly troubled woman — no doubt because she’s positioned next to a disturbing guy who might well be the Boston Strangler.

Sleep tight, and don’t let Scarfface bother you!

Art Is Where You Find It

It’s amazing how a little artwork can make a difference in your perception of a place and bring a smile to your face, besides. Whether it’s a pelican statue carefully perched atop a dead tree, or some colorful nativist paintings in a hotel room, art is enriching. It makes you appreciate the fact that someone cared enough and paid attention to what might seem like little details — but those little details can add such color and flair and turn a nice setting into a really memorable one.

Redefining “Vivid”

Every time we visit the tropics I’m struck anew by the boldness of the colors of the native flora. They redefine “vivid.” Especially after a monochromatic midwestern winter, a short sojourn in the tropics reawakens the visual senses.

Is it any wonder that Gauguin found inspiration on an island? Were ever reds so red, or purples so purple?

Ancient Tats

I’ve written before about the increasing number of tattoos you see these days — with reports estimating that about one-third of Americans are sporting ink — and what a cultural change it represents from the United States of my youth. (Arrows and infinity signs are popular these days, by the way.)

It turns out, though, that the current craze for “body art” has a very ancient lineage — and its known history has just gotten even older.

telemmglpict000155855176_trans_nvbqzqnjv4bqmkujzfylr8qfmlqp7nvuva3q8tt5y4yc6db7uimlx80Researchers recently determined that two Egyptian mummies in the British Museum have tattoos.  The mummies are 5,000 years old and date back to pre-dynastic Egypt, which pushes the date of the earliest known use of figurative body art, rather than geometric patterns, back by an additional 1,000 years.  One of the mummies is a woman who has a series of four “s” shapes — perhaps coiled snakes? — inked on her shoulder, which may have been symbols of status, bravery, and magical knowledge.  The other mummy is a man who has depictions of a wild bull and a sheep on his upper arm.  The bull figure was supposed to denote power and virility, but it apparently didn’t help the male mummy, who died of a stab wound to the back when he was between 18 and 21 years old.

The markings were made using a technique that would be considered incredibly crude by modern standards.  The British Museum thinks the tattoos were produced using soot as the coloring agent and needles of copper or bone to insert the soot under the skin.

There’s no way to know, of course, whether figurative tattoos have an even more ancient history, because we don’t have preserved bodies going back 10,000 years.  The discoveries of cave paintings made by the earliest human ancestors, however, suggests to me that the creation of figurative art is instinctive and has played a key role in human development.  It just makes sense that the cave painters would also have experimented with decorating an actual body or two.  I’d bet that if you invented a time machine and went back to check out the humans of 10,000 or 15,000 years ago, you’d see your fair share of ink.

Although

Fountain Art

On the walk between my hotel and my meetings in Houston this week, there is one of these timed fountains. Maybe it’s because I live in fountain-deprived Columbus, but I find it to be fascinating and beautiful. Not in an overpowering, Las Vegas fountain performance to the sounds of Mannheim Steamroller kind of way, but rather for the simplicity of the arcs traced in the air by the controlled bursts of the water.

It makes me wish that Columbus were more like Rome, and that there were more fountains in the world. I’ll take a fountain over a rusting piece of generic abstract art on a corporate plaza any day.

True Space Art

juno-jupiter-15If you like the notion of space travel, and wonder what it would actually be like out there among the planets, take a gander at some of the photographs of Jupiter taken by the NASA Juno probe, and you’ll get the answer — it is stunningly beautiful, like an artist’s canvas hanging out in space.

I can just imagine hanging out on the observation deck of some orbiting space station, sipping Tang and watching that lovely view slowly rotate in the window.

VRBO Decor

Kish and I like staying in VRBOs as an alternative to hotel rooms. If you’re going to be in a place for a few days, it’s usually more affordable, gives you a better feel for the city, and is interesting, besides.

One of the interesting aspects of VRBO rentals is how they are decorated. If you were going to decorate a spot that will be used primarily by complete strangers, would you go for something generic — or something distinctive?

I personally think a well-framed painting of a chimp wearing an Elizabethan gown and crown makes a real statement, don’t you?

Customized Crescent City Cribbage

We were down in New Orleans this past weekend for a bachelor party.  To celebrate the occasion, Russell designed and hand made hardwood fleur de lis cribbage boards, suitably inscribed on the back, and we ordered some customized playing cards, using some photos I took of New Orleans on our trip a few years back.

We didn’t get to play as much cribbage as we would have liked — eating, drinking, and listening to fantastic live music every waking moment somehow got in the way — but the participants on our Big Easy Bachelor Party weekend will always remember their trip thanks to these beautiful cribbage boards.  Great job, Russell!

Eternal Questions

Some questions seem to be eternal ones.  Typically, they involve choices between competing views that are so obviously debatable, with good points to be made either way and strong, often passionate proponents ready to vigorously argue either side, that they’re just never going to be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

Think Beatles versus Stones.  Apple versus Microsoft.  da Vinci versus Michelangelo.  Star Wars versus Star Trek.  Einstein versus Newton.  The Gettysburg Address versus President Trump’s Twitter feed.

You get the idea?  So, is cone versus basket filter one of them?

This is a question I’m ill-suited to resolve, because the niceties of coffee brewer technology are lost on me.  Obviously, there is a difference between the basket and cone approaches.  One directs the water flow through coffee grounds that are configured to end in a fine point, and the other doesn’t.  The difference in approach and design apparently is so significant that, when you go to buy coffee from one of those high-end coffee snob shops, the barista will ask you whether you have a basket or cone filter coffee brewer.  In short, the cone versus basket debate even affects how they grind the coffee for you.  Why?  Beats me!  But I sure as heck want to get the coffee ground in a way that is most suitable for the battered, aging coffee machine we’ve got at home — one of the basket-filtered variety.

I raise the potentially volatile basket versus cone question because we’re thinking of replacing our coffee pot with a new one.  In the past we’ve had both cone and basket design machines, and to be honest I really haven’t noticed a marked difference in the quality of the coffee they produce, because my coffee taste buds just aren’t that nuanced.  But now we’re being asked to definitively choose, again — like being exiled to a desert island and being told that you can only listen to the Beatles or the Stones while you’re there — and I want us to make a good, reasonably educated choice.  And presumably one design isn’t definitively better than the other, because manufacturers keep churning out machines with both designs, leaving people like me in a quandary on this question that evidently involves significant judgment and taste.

Can somebody out there who is knowledgeable about the topic and pays attention to their coffee let me know the competing views on the seminal cone versus basket filter issue?  Simply put: why should I care?

A Man And His Collection (Or At Least, Parts Of Two Of His Collections)

Neil Rector is an old friend who followed a different path from most of us.  Years ago, he made the decision to focus on collecting art.  It’s fair to say that he is an avid collector, and an extremely capable one as well.  Since he first dipped his toe into the world of collecting, he’s assembled six discrete collections of different types of art from different periods and places — and his collections have curators clamoring for pieces as they assemble new shows.

Two of Neil’s collections are of Soviet-era photography and Russian unofficial art, and parts of those collections — but only parts — have been assembled in a stupendous show at the Columbus Museum of Art called Red Horizon.  It’s clearly one of the best exhibitions at the CMA in years, and today Kish and I were part of a group that got to walk through the exhibition with Neil to hear his personal reflections on the pieces, which was very interesting.  The show itself is fascinating, giving the visitor a peek behind the Iron Curtain at art, and thoughts and perspectives, that were forbidden during the Soviet regime but nevertheless were realized — because the artistic impulse simply can’t be totally quashed, no matter how repressive a government might be.

I can’t begin to capture what Neil described this morning, so I can only urge you to visit this powerhouse exhibition and enjoy it. And you can also reflect on what being a savvy collector might mean.  In Neil’s case it means having that terrific hammer-and-sickle riff on a Soviet style Venus de Milo, below, hanging in your dining room, and also having yourself memorialized in that collection of portraits of Soviet and ancient Roman tyrants, above.  That’s Neil in the lower right, in his best Soviet-style guise.  He was added to the piece, he explained, because artists view collectors and patrons as tyrants, too.

Go see Red Horizon.  It’s at the CMA through September 24.