Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fox headdress & God's Eye

Today, I want to talk about two very different artists. They come from Atlantic and Pacific Coasts of the US (Providence and Oakland). They work in different media. Their art has a very different feel. But, they have some subject matter in common, so I thought I play this game of placing them together, as it were.

Providence artist and illustrator, Jen Corace creates works which involve girls, flora and fauna. There is a certain cuteness, and sometimes a certain surreality. Like the magpie above.

Monica Canilao is an Oakland-based artist who works in many media. Her site includes painting, wood burning, mixed media, installations, fibre, books and prints. The mixed media is particularly amazing. This is her take on a song bird, or a fox headdress.

guts, portrait of a gentleman & sewn songbird

Fox-face headpiece coral

This is Corace using quilts and Victoria textiles:

This is Canilao doing the same:

Distance Don't Matter @ Space, Portland, Maine. With Swoon, Conrad Carlson, Ben Wolf, Ryan Doyle, & Greg Henderson

Here is a window installation by Jen Corace, incorporating the ubiquitous childhood craft, the God's Eye:

The same craft appears in this woodburn by Monica Canilao:

burning, burning, buildings

The both make work about the woodlands:

and the threat might be lurking beneath the surface:

I've just scratched the surface with these artists in this peculiar little comparison. Do yourself a favour, and check out their portfolios! Canilao's work in particular benefits from an extreme aspect ratio she can use on her own site.

Monday, November 30, 2009

creativity through complexity

Lee Jang Sub is a Korean artist who has discovered, "that complexity is not uneasiness and disorder but rich aesthetic possibility and creative energy." In ComplexCity Seoul above, he is comparing the organic, apparently disordered structure of the discernible map of Seoul with the likewise, chaotic, yet harmonious structure of a tree, exposing a hidden order. This seems to me like chaos theory, wherein the complex are often shown to have in fact a surprising amount of order.

This piece from 'ComplexCity Lighting' shows a map of Rome, back-lit through traditional Korean rice paper, called Hanji.

Other projects involve an investigation of colour and pattern. The structure 'Space Titled Love' which he built with his brother Lee Hyo Sub, is intended for children, who are to experience the emotion of love and interact with the sculpture. It involves 10,000 of inter-locking paper dolls. Children were allowed to add and decorate their own any way they wanted to complete the work.

Space Titled Love
- 2007.07.28 ~ 2007.09.09
- 'I-design' for Kids / Kumho Gallery, Seoul, Korea / Invitation
- Paper doll, installation /
- Collaborative work with his brother Lee Hyo Sub

3, three
Personal work
- Poster design (840mm x 1188mm)

I also like The pattern from daily life which includes:

cabbage mandala
- Personal work
- 2005.9
- Pattern design

His videos of moving colour or kaleidoscopic films of poinsettias are mesmerizing. You can view these on his site. Here is a hint from some stills;

Laneige Colortherapy Project
- 2006.10~2006.11
- client : Laneige
- Collaborative work with Lee Hyo Sub

I'll be home for Christmas
- 2006.12
- 'Red Cube'/ Hangaram design museum, Seoul, Korea / Invitation
- Moving Image, Installation

Monday, November 23, 2009

Leafy Pareidolia

Since we were just talking about pareidolia, you should check out the delightful wunderkammer of leaves and other tree parts, by children's illustrator Christopher Niemann from the NYT Abstract City Blog. We've got 'seeing things in clouds' and 'seeing the Hawaiian Island chain in other things' - it's a whole theme going.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Balloon Twins

Not just art and science, let's add some balloons today!
Like superheroes whose power is to create immense, inflated, jellyfish creatures, today I bring you not one, but two sculptors-of-unexpected-media: the balloon.

Jason Hackenwerth lives and works in NYC, creating ephemeral inflated sculptures evocative of botany or biology, or just plain sexuality, their eventual deflation mirroring life's transience too. The wiggling, jiggling, wearable sculptures are pretty hilarious.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, artist Willy Chyr ties his balloon sculptures a little more literally to anatomy, perhaps because he is a physicist by training (or more specifically physicist-economist-circus worker-sculptor). He writes that he is inspired by nature, rather than mimicking it - everything from bioluminescence to consciousness. Consider the comb jelly, installed in the Biological Sciences Learning Center, Chicago, IL, April-May 2009:

His website states:
It was inspired by the ctenophore, or comb jelly - a small marine animal characterized by having eight rows of cilia along its body, which scatter light to create a moving rainbow pattern.

The Comb Jelly consists of over 500 balloons, 81 LEDs, and took over 30 hours to build.

You might recall, magpie & whiskeyjack featured some footage of the bioluminescent comb jelly back in February. Follow the link if you would like to see the natural inspiration for this sculpture.

Or the Hydroida, another jelly:

Neuroplastic Dreams is a bit more poetic, evoking the "neuron forest".

Balluminescence - Lights, Balloons, Jellyfish! engaged the audience in making balloon jellyfish at Science Chicago's Labfest. I love the idea of marrying art and science, balloons and LEDs and involving the public! Now that's amazing job he's invented for himself.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pareidolia Tamed

I strive to be a Renaissance woman, to straddle the art:science divide. I have some success in this. For instance, people actually pay me to work as a scientist, and other people pay me to make art. I also, make 'art about science' sometimes. In observing myself, I find that I come to art about science as a scientist - I might employ whimsy, but I respect accuracy. This tendency doesn't stop me from making art about myth. But the way my brain is wired, I don't have any tendency to use science decoratively, or twist it for humour. If there is humour, it is inherent (like the irony in scientists having imaginary friends such as Maxwell's Demon). This is not a judgment, merely an observation. I enjoy art which combines levity with science.

As a scientist, I am trained to be wary of 'apophenia' or the propensity to see patterns where there are none, and specifically 'pareidolia' or seeing images in random stimuli, like seeing a dragon in the clouds. Pareidolia can be very useful as a visual artist. To the scientist it is a hazard, unless it recognized and happens to inspire ideas (as it often does to the artist). I think this training is why, I recognize in Kevin Van Aelst an artist with similar interests to me, but a mind which works quite differently than my own. His photographs show things masquerading as other things, often with a scientific or mathematical bent. (His C.V. says his background is psychology- perhaps this explains the lens through which he views his subjects.)

Consider what appears at first glance to be a pile of laundry, but on closer examination reveals a lesson in anatomy, complete with colours to indicate the nature of the blood (blue, deoxygenated vs. oxygenated red) in cardiovascular circulation:

The Heart, 2009, digital c-print, 40 x 30"

Or the fractal egg (with yolks illustrating the Cantor set), as if he sensed that a yolk was simply the first in a set to be subdivided. A pattern, which is not really there...

Or the more straightforward, map of Hawaii.

Hawaii, 2007, digital C-print, 12 x 18

Tuzo, with buttonsBut to me, this seemingly simple case of pareidolia, seeing a map in a spilled drink, hides a deeper insight. As a geophysicist, I know that the man in the painting behind my shoulder, J. Tuzo Wilson explained that the Hawaiian islands were formed by upwelling molten rock at a fixed hotspot, as the Pacific tectonic plate moved northwest leaving a trail of volcanoes in its wake. Physics tells you inertial frames of reference are equivalent; we could sit on the hotspot for hundreds of million of years (ouch!) and watch the Pacific plate go by, or affix ourselves to the Pacific and watch the volcanoes appear in a line in the opposite direction. Suddenly, the spilled pop seems like a nice metaphor for island chain formation.

Some of his portfolio is just that: metaphors in unexpected media. Like cellular mitosis in doughnuts, complete with sprinkle chromosomes:

Cellular Mitosis (krispy kreme), 2005, series of 6 c-prints, each 16 x 20

Or clouds nomenclature in a coffee cup:

Common Clouds, 2007, Series of 9 digital C-prints and labels, each print: 16 x 20

But metaphor is also both a hazard (because it can lead to inaccuracy) and an invaluable tool (because it can lead to insight) to the scientist. Ultimately, the scientist and the artist share communication as a paramount goal. As such the place where they intersect is an area rife with possibility and creativity - and often humour.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Infantry near Nijmegen, Holland. Painting by Alex Colville

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
— Lt.-Col. John McCrae (1872 - 1918)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

whimsy and tricksters

British illustrator Laura Bird makes magical objects in 2D and 3D, in painting and printmaking, involving wonderous things like masks, ideas, monsters and Norse mythology. You should check out her portfolio. You won't regret it. She is also part of the This is it collective.

This is Bor from her book The Norsemen.

This one was created for Amelia's Magazine for an illustration anthology based on renewable energy (like geothermal or "Hot Rock" technology).

Tribal linocuts

Loki (the Norse trickster god) made of papier mache, clay and wire.

Friday, October 30, 2009


How about a little more levity with the dark, mysterious and creepy art for this Hallowe'en?
You need go no further than Marci's partner in crime.
Can't go wrong with Oakland-based artist Deth P. Sun!

You can enjoy more of Deth's work on his site, in his flickr stream or at his etsy shop.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Never fear, we here at Magpie & Whiskeyjack have not gone into hibernation quite yet, but do apologize for the sparsity of October posts. Before month's end, however, we must recognize Hallowe'en! So we thought we would celebrate with some creepy, otherworldly fare from California artist Marci Washington. Fist the undead:

Then some disenbodied heads:

Some limbs:

paticularly creepy because there are three...

and perhaps a ghost:


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