Simms Tabak was one of very favorite illustrators, if not THE favorite. He very recently passed away and since I find that this blog seems more and more to be about losing artists who have touched me, it would be terribly remiss to not talk about Simms.
Although I got to know his books through reading them to my youngest son, Ben, I actually got to know his art when I first used one of his designs to wallpaper the room of my middle son, Mike. That was more than 22 years ago. Sadly, I cannot find a single image to post to show that lovely wallpaper. And it has been long papered over. It do remember that it was leaping kids, a boy and a girl, doing jumping jacks or something to that effect. If anyone has any left or knows where I can get some, PLEASE contact me!
I think that this book is everything one can want in a children's book. It is has a page turning quality, with a lovely repetitive rhythm. It is fun. It is also beautifully illustrated, without being tight and self important and self congratulatory, not to mention pretentious, which is what so many kids' book art is. Not this book. The art has a wonderful mock-primitive feel that is actually extremely sophisticated and extraordinarily satisfying, from an artist's point of view. Any artist, even in the absence of liking kids' books, would love and appreciate this artwork. The art stands completely on its own. To be honest, a lot of art for kids' books may hold up in the children's book market, but would fall flat as art for art's sake. Tabak's art soars way above that crowd.
By the way. if you go to his web site, you can buy a signed poster. The proceeds are going to a college fund for his grandchildren. Satisfy your need to have his wonderful art, and also help out. I bought a few, this wonderful fish poster among them.
My ethnic heritage is half Norwegian/Swedish and half Italian. The way I figure it, that is my the source of my weight problem, because when it comes to food, my appetite is the offspring of a marriage between a conquering Viking who invented the Smorgasbord and a loving Mama Mia, chanting, "Mangia, Mangia!" In other words, I love good food and drink and enjoy a great meal with close friends, or even friends not that close for that matter, as much as anything in the world. And that love is simply deadly for the waistline.
Don't get me wrong. I love all that stuff, like whole grains, salads, and fish filets and legumes. The problem is that I love them to excess, like hungry Nordic lord or a zoftig Italian Grandma. I also love Meat. Almost any meat. Burn the hair off and serve it up. Not good, even in small amounts.
I have to say that I found the interview totally entertaining and that Simon Doonan came across as a person I would love to get to know better--probably over a hearty meal with lots of red wine, instead of a light lunch. The dry humor and quick wittedness apparent in the article have only whet my appetite for more, so I think I will have to read some of his other books, like Wacky Chicks and Eccentric Glamour, to consume some more of his entertaining repartee.
Meals. Appetite. Consume. Sigh. It's all about food in the end, isn't it? Oh, well. Pass the champagne. I'll toast to that.
Now off to get the books. Check back for a review at some point.
The above photo is from Robert Heller. It is of his parents and was submitted to the New York time for this wonderful piece: THE LIVES THEY LOVED. Do yourself a big favor. Take the time to look at and read through this slide show.
If you have read this blog on a few occasions then you know that the single thing that most fascinates me is the passing of time. In keeping with that, I want to take a moment and wish that anyone reading this takes a moment and reflects on life, love, lives, loves, and how very quickly we experience all of it.
This NY Times collection of memories from not-famous people of not-famous loved ones who have left this earth this past year will touch you in a way that warms your heart and make you think of your own loved ones, alive or gone.
Here's to finding time in 2012 to reflect on what exactly it all means--not that we will come to know for certain, but maybe we can all just think about it some more. And let's think about loved ones who have left us and about what our lives should hold for us going forward. Will those words written about you reflect that you lived life fully and richly, generously and thoughtfully? Hope so.
Have the happiest and most thoughtful of holidays!
It's been a Loooooong while since I was able to carve out blogging time. I am hoping that I can get back on schedule after a solid year of non-stop art work with books and fabrics.
Mind you, I am not complaining. I am thrilled to have the illustration work and the inspiration to create. But balance it always good, and so, after having stuffed myself silly with work this year and stuffed myself silly with food over the Thanksgiving weekend, it is time to regroup, step back, and assess.
So stop back and visit me again soon. I'll be posting some "deep thoughts" something later this week.
It seems that this blog is often turning into a forum for obituaries of people who have moved me. That may very well be, for I if I am going to write about things that are important to me, then that needs to include losing people or artists who have touched my life. I guess as one gets older and more of those key players in a person’s lifetime pass away, it becomes even more important to acknowledge, reflect upon, and celebrate lives well lived.
Along those lines, several weeks ago I was so sorry to read in the NY Timesthat Jazz artist Billy Taylor had passed away. Here is another blog post about it on Mirror On America. I was also so sad to read about the passing of George Shearing in today's NY Times. When I want the kind of harmonic jazz that is both contemplative and inspiring, I think of Billy Taylor and George Shearing. Their music has a distinctly classy and urban New York feel to me. I love it for the harmonic, sensitive and thoughtful sound, as well as for the fact that it reminds me of early years in New York, listening to live jazz in the city. That sound reminds me of being very young and feeling the world was there for the celebrating and taking.
I was very young. A good friend of my then-fiancee, Phil's and mine, Norm Freeman, was a student at Julliard. Our summer evenings would often be like this: I would work until my shift was done at Capra's Restaurant in Stony Point, NY. That was usually until about eleven at night. Norman and Phil would pick me up and we would then zip into New York City to catch some live jazz. Getting down to the village about forty minutes later meant we could catch at least one set in a club.
And in the early seventies, you could hear some great music in the clubs at night. We most often ended up going to the Village Gate (Top of the Gate) or the Village Vanguard or the Half Note. At the Vanguard we caught the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis orchestra in a place where we would descend a flight of stairs into a smoke filled and alcohol fueled room. The experience was transforming. I can still see the bass player in my mind's eye-spacey and totally grooving to the power of the music. Here is a nice history of the Vanguard.
Because Norman was studying with the drummer Ray Mosca, we went to the Half Note where Mosca was playing with Zoot Sims.
Photo: New York Times
And then there was the Top of the Gate. I liked it there best of all. At the Village Gate we did have the ernomous pleasure of hearing Billy Taylor live, in an intimate setting. He was one of a number of Jazz greats we heard there, most of whose names are hard for me to recall. But I especially remember Billy Taylor, though. Norman asked him to play his signature piece, “There will Never Be Another You,” which he did. His music was so lovely. I still enjoy listening to it and it is a favorite in my studio. We had to leave when he was on a break, just sitting with some friends at one of the tables in the room. He looked up with a lovely smile and gave us a nod good-bye. I can still see him sitting there, incredibly classy, handsome, and just plain nice.
New York in the seventies was totally unlike New York now. Of course, that’s stating the obvious; forty years would make a difference anywhere. But apart from the physical (there was much more evidence of 19th and 18th century New York than there is now) and the technological, there is the sense of the city that has changed greatly. Let’s face it. New York today is cleaner and safer than New York in the seventies, largely thanks to Rudy Giuliani who transformed the place completely.
Want to imagine NY in the 70s? Imagne Scroses’s “Taxi Driver.” That is a nice snapshot of the city back then: gritty, grimy, ruthless, and hurting. Still, we were young. We were fearless and game for anything, including the rough streets of NY.
In contrast to the grime, New York was also exciting and happening and full of great things in the arts and socially. Wonderful creative things happened. Great art was made. And the city held for me, even then, an attraction that is hard to put into words. There is a line in a Kenny Rankin song, “Killed a Cat,” that sums it up for me back then:
New York, you're a mother
And like no other
You been oh so good to me
I remember how you felt
I was innocent
And I wanted you
And I did want New York. Badly. But it was never to be. My life took other directions.
I found this site about a book of photos, New York in the 70s: A Remembrance by Allan Tannenbaum I may just have to get it. Take a look at the wonderful photos there. This is my memory of the city back then when I was just beginning to take it all in as a young adult.
By the way, it does not surprise me that our friend Norm Freeman added "minister" to his resume, and not only that, but a minister who incorporates music into his services. We have fallen out of touch over the years (I should do something about that), but the Norm I remember was always kind, thoughtful and sensitive. He was so much so, that he was almost an old soul even while so young. His seriousness and his dedication to his music was palpable. Music is one of the best ways I can think of to have a truly spiritual expereince, so it makes sense that he would take it to that level officially.
Thinking back to that summer of 1971 and hearing Jazz in the city and being young and carefree makes me remember a simpler time, even while I am saddened to think that Billy Taylor and George Shearing have passed away. Thank goodness for the ability to record sound. It makes it possible to be nineteen again in the best of ways.
In the early to mid-1970s, I was living in Buffalo. Having grown up in the NY/NJ area, and pretty much mired in the overpowering megalopolis of NYC, the contrast of Buffalo, against what I was familiar with, was striking. Make no mistake. Even though the city is officially in the state of New York, Buffalo is very much a part of the great Midwest. For me, it was extremely different. In the winter the sun NEVER came out. It was a city that had a small town feel. The foods had different names. There were even foods served in restaurants up there that nobody thought of back then (they don't call them Buffalo Wings for nothing). The accent? The total opposite of a New York accent. A Buffalo accent is the same as a Chicago accent--the A's cannot possibly get any flatter.
In those years, I was a stranger in a strange land. We had no money. We barely eked out an existence. Naturally, I did the only thing I could do: I made art. And my art reflected my experience. It was dark and it was pensive.
Fresh out of college, I had left painting and drawing behind for fiber art, because the trauma of an obnoxious art program made me want to flee from what I knew. And so, I began to create in cloth the very figures I had always drawn. The odd thing was this: as unfamiliar as it was, Buffalo was the perfect place to really get in touch with myself and my aesthetic.
And THAT is where Milton Rogovin came in. I had been making cloth figures for about a year when I discovered his photographs. I was already familiar with the work of Diane Arbus. I found her photos tremendously inspiring. But Rogovin's work touched me in a way that made for a shift in my thinking. What I learned from Milton Rogovin is that portraiture is best when in context. That is to say, that the things that people surround themselves with or the things that hover in the background, are as much a statement about who the persons are, as are their actual faces. And his work contained a more positive, and less depressing "feel." The picture above was part of the collection of his work that first caught my eye in the mid seventies when I was still living and working on the north side of Buffalo.
His work influenced me even more in my years as an editorial illustrator. The work I did in the early to late 80s was filled with the kinds of images that might have been pictures taken of actual people by Mr. Rogovin, had they been real and not out of my imagination. I like to think that I channeled his way of thinking into my art as an illustrator, as I had done as a fiber artist.
What I also love about Rogvin's work is that it has much less "photographer presence." His ego does not get in the way. His subjects seem to shine forth on their own with a power and confidence, no matter their social standing, for there is an astonishing lack of judgment on his part while he captures them on film.
Milton Rogovin has just passed away at the age of 101. That I should read about his death on the very day that my Sketchbook Project is to arrive at the ART HOUSE Co-op is totally appropriate. Almost eerie, since I think the lessons I learned from his work all those years ago are evident in my sketches of today. I guess when all is said and done, we do not stray very far from our artistic roots.
His was a life filled with the appreciation for the kinds of people who are often unsung. Do yourself a favor and check out his work. There is a wonderful slideshow at the NYTimes, along with audio from Rogovin, here. I did blog about him at some point, but I cannot locate that post. Oh, well. He was a youngster then, and still in his nineties.
As for me, I will take his passing at this particular time as a sign to continue to make art, from my heart, and in the very non-commercial way that I did 35 years ago. Thank you, Mr. Rogovin.
Somewhere in the 80s, I was out with three friends of mine, all Asian. I can't remember exactly how or why, but the discussion turned to Charlie Chan. "Oh, I loved Charlie Chan," I said, sincerely and innocently. "Those were my favorite old movies!" And they were. My husband and I used to watch them religiously back in Buffalo in the 70s, where one of the local stations would broadcast one every week at around 11 o'clock. It was my first experience with appointment television since counting the minutes until five o'clock waiting for the Mickey Mouse Club twenty years earlier.
"Ugh. You can't be serious," was the collective reply of my friends. "He is one of the worst stereotypes for Asians."
I felt like someone hit me in the chest. First, to think that I would willingly subscribe to that kind of thinking about people was an embarrassment. But, more important, I did not even see the reason for their disgust with the character (and hopefully, not me). My husband and I loved him and loved son number one (played by Warner Oland and Keye Luke respectively). In my mind, Charllie made everyone else around him look positively stupid, goofy, awkward, and incapable of seeing the details. He, on the other hand, was brilliant, had a fantastic gift for dry humor, and was all-knowing and all-seeing without being obnoxious. What's not to love? What better kind of stereotype can one ask for?
Reading the August 9th edition of the New Yorker yesterday I came upon a wonderful review by Jill Lepore of a brand new book by Yunte Huang: Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous With American History. Ms. Lepore offers some enjoyable information about Earl Derr Biggers, the author who first brought to character of Chan to book form and the movies themselves. But, even better, is reading about Huang's book which reveals that Charlie Chan was based on an actual Chinese detective with the Honolulu police force, by the name of Chang Apana, who was a legend in his own time for solving crimes. There are more wonderful facts to glean from the book, so get a hold of it and dig in. It is available now for pre-order (I made sure to order mine, you betcha).
Just as intriguing to me, is the story about the author, Yunte Huang. Mr. Huang was born and brought up in China, and may well have not been around to write this book had his parents not sent him a deceptive telegram some years earlier saying that his mother was gravely ill and that he needed to return home immediately. He came home and she was actually fine. But the place we was lured from was Tiananmen Square, where he would have been the next day when the massacre took place. Ultimately, Huang ends up in the US to study, needing to leave China,a country that is no longer a place he wants to be. At some point he ends up in, of all places, Buffalo, getting a P.H.D. in English ("going through the alphabet" as he puts it in his interview with Charles McGrath for the New York Times). Up in Buffalo, he happens upon a garage sale where he buys a couple of Biggers novels and becomes hooked on the character of Charlie Chan, especially after renting some videos. The rest is history.
So what it is about Buffalo that people who live there end up discovering their passions? I have to say that I love the fact that Buffalo is some sort of epicenter for Charlie Chan appreciation. Maybe there is something in the Lake Erie air. For me, I not only fell in love with Charlie Chan in Buffalo, but that is the place I discovered my true life's direction in art. Another story altogether....
In the meantime, take a moment and read both Jill Lepore's piece in the New Yorker as well as Charles McGarth's piece in today's Times. And then REALLY do yourself a favor and buy the book and rent or buy every Chan movie you can get your hands on. The films are great. Even though I think Warner Oland was the best Chan, I did come to eventually appreciate Sidney Toler, as well, and son number two, played by Victor Sen Yung, who was as charming as Keye Luke.
Incidentally, Warner Oland was a half-Russian Swede who actually did have Slavic/Asian features. He also played a Jewish character in The Jazz Singer. And, for the record, the Chan movies were very popular in China as well as with Chang Apana, who was, after all, the inspiration for the famous detective character. Keye Luke, who passed away in 1991, loved them. When told how politically incorrect they had become he responded, "We were making the best damn murder mysteries in Hollywood." Nuff said.
The one thing we can count on in this world is that attitudes change when it comes to popular culture and what is politically correct or not. It's a good thing. And the honorable detective would be very pleased, I am sure.
Yesterday the news hit that Soupy Sales passed away. He was 83. In my mind, it will always be 1964, or 1959, depending on which Soupy TV show I happen to be remembering.
Soupy first premiered on NY television in 1959. He came on at 12 noon on Saturdays on channel 7-ABC. I loved him immediately when he did his initial "First one here gets a box of Jello" bit, followed by old film footage with a cast of thousands of people, or even an elephant stampede, all racing to get the Jello. Something abhout him just cried out, "SMART ALEC"--but in the nicest way. The bit above is most likely from the show that was on channel 5 in NY, WNEW, which debuted in 1964. Watching it I realized that Soupy was even edgier than I realized.
Here is a link to a great blog post by Dan Brockway, which excellent shots of the show actually in production. The fact that the show was shot and that Soupy was always relating to the crew, is what made the show as much fun as it was. Soupy was making himself and his crew laugh more than anyone, and we all got to be in on the joke. My favorite skits always had WHITE FANG or BLACK TOOTH. Here is a great one with White Fang.
Found this wonderful stand-up bit by Soupy as he tells the story of the famous "Green pieces of paper" scandal, in which he asked kids to raid their mothers' and father wallets and send him money. And, yes, he really did do that:
When I was watching the movie, The Conspiracy Theory, with Mel Gibson, some years back, I kept having this sense of recognition. Mel reminded me of someone during the entire film, and I had this sense of watching someone else. It took me a spell before I finally identified who the familiar face was: Soupy Sales! I'll post some pictures and you tell me there is no resemblance!
Honestly, I really like Soupy More.
Do yourself a favor and go on Youtube and watch several clips. Then you'll be in on the joke, too.
RIP, Soupy. Seems like just yesterday I was laughing on weekday evenings in 7th grade....
When I look around my house and see the enormous amount of stuff I have managed to collect and inflict on my family, I sometimes feel...well..a little guilty. I wonder if they would all somehow live a life of minimal objects with a different mother and wife. I think my husband would clearly live is less clutter. He is very neat and organized by nature. Not anymore. I corrupted him. He sort of "caught" whatever it is that has always ailed me, and he now subscribes to the same sort of busy look in decor that he has come to know and love. In a way, my kids have, as well, though I doubt that they will ever be as far advanced with this malady as I am.
I think I would have found Dr. Lattimer to be a kindred spirit. The article points to the fact that he was an only child of two only children. So was I. It mentions that somehow his collecting was an effort to hold on the the past. I agree. And it is more. Somehow owning a piece or two of the past, helps to grasp the present. I would even go so far as to say that it increases understanding of the future.
My husband and I have often joked about what our poor kids will have to deal with when they need to figure out what to do with over 100 cookie jars, even more pieces of carnival chalkware, tons of cowboy stuff, and a gazillion vintage tablecloths, not to mention everything else in this house.
But this we can guarantee them: they will not have to deal with anything even remotely similar to the type of relics being sort by Lattimer's daughter Evan, as she catalogs his vast collection for sorting for auction, discarding, and keeping.
How do I know this? Read the article. What gives me the right to sound so damned cocky, pun intended? This fact: I do not have in my posession, for example, anything even close to being Napolean's penis.....