I am fairly certain that I am surrounded by some the more talented people out there. The visual artists I have the pleasure of knowing never cease to amaze me…and, similarly, I am never surprised to learn that a new friend is a seriously mind-blowing creator of images/worlds.
The eminently talentedValeriya Valkova is a new friend of mine, and I couldn’t be happier about it. High-caliber humanity + being able to produce artwork like hers = friends forever (one can only hope). But before we were friends I had encountered some of her pieces among the internet’s reserve of pizza-imagery (namely Pizza Brain‘s instagram), had fallen at least a bit in love with her, and NowI want to shout my praises from the rooftop.
If we lived in Paris instead of Philadelpha, Ms Valkova would easily fit in with the artists over at French Fourch. Pop-culture,unconscious fears and myths, Internet memes, and sandwiches are influences on her work but the results are impeccably original.
She is something of a genius when it comes to composition and color, calling the eye here and there and everywhere, refusing to allow the observer to ever take anything at “face value”. Want Escherian variations on Barbie’s dream-home, canvases boasting Boschian cities populated with giants and/or animals, or fabric with lovingly rendered (and distinct variations) bundles of joy? Didn’t know you wanted them?
Like any good magician, Ms Valkova will amaze and inspire you and leave you wondering “how’d she do that?”
You should probably hire her for something.
I didn’t know that i would ever say this again in my life, but I have been watching a lot of Saturday Night Live lately.
To explain briefly: 2015 began with me reading Amy Poehler’s excellent Yes Please as well as finally watching Bridesmaids for the first time (what’s wrong with me, right?). Finally understanding the sheer joy of watching Kristen Wiig perform led me to up my Wiig-literacy and fill the vacant Show-I’m-Watching slot with Saturday Night Live from her run on it (starting with Season 32 in 2006). It’s been a joy to watch an incredible cast that I missed entirely, instead preferring to spend the Saturday Nights of my early- and mid-twenties out and about in the city that I had recently moved to. If you have never watched old SNL episodes that you have never seen, let me suggest that you do it one of these days, if for no other reason than to do a bit of time-traveling by watching people whose work you love right now being funny back before you knew their names.
(You can probably expect more thoughts on SNL in the future, but hopefully this at least somewhat explains to my Instagram followers why there have been so many pictures of Ms. Wiig on my feed lately).
But onto something slightly more interesting…
Above you will find a familiar SNL segment, one of Robert Smigel‘s TV Funhouse cartoons entitled “Conspiracy Theory Rock” (from a March 1998 episode), which is distinct in that it was the only TV funhouse which aired only once an then was subsequently omitted from repeat airings. The controversial clip is described on Wikipedia as “a scathing political sketch accusing corporations including Disney, FOX, and then-owners of NBC General Electric, of developing a media monopoly to manipulate public perception, and conceal questionable actions. ” Naturally, I loved Smigel & Co.’s effort to educate the sketch-show-watching public to the evils of concentrated media ownership and thought it worthy to share with you. Watch it above and don’t bother wondering why it never aired after the first time (Hint: generally, those in power don’t take too kindly to something like this slipping past the gatekeepers).
(Let me encourage you to watch John Oliver’s excellent take on income inequality above before you read the following post.)
Earlier today, a friend posted a link from the satirical Andy Borowitz written for The New Yorker which led me to do just a little bit of research on the income disparity between the earnings of minimum-wage workers in America vs. those who work in the American congress. Below you will find just a few sample years of comparison between the two, along with the earnings adjusted for inflation to approximate what that amount would actually look like today.
I have worked a number of close-to-minimum-wage jobs in my life and I know firsthand the difficulty of earning “just enough to get by” (which usually means “not enough to get by”). Keep in mind that these numbers do not include the federal/state/city/everything taxes that are automatically removed from a minimum wage-earners paycheck, so when i mention that a worker in 1992 made about $14,000 in that year, you can safely assume that they only took home around $11,000 of it. And keep in mind that employees of Congress are paid with those very taxes and they these people earn enough to be able to use all of America’s finely established tax breaks for the rich so they will often be taking home more money than I am reporting…you can’t forget about the bribes and the lobbyists “gifts”, as well. Anyway, here are just a few examples of this disparity over the last 38 years.
In March 1977 the minimum wage in the US was $2.30 while members of congress earned $57,500/year. When adjusted for inflation to compare these numbers with the value of a dollar in 2015, that would be $8.99/hour resulting in yearly earning of ~$17,970 for a 40-hour-a-week laborer and $224,625/year for members of congress.
By January 1992, those numbers were $4.25 for minimum wage and $129,500 for Senators and Representatives ($7.17/hr and $14k/year for the minimum wage earner, $218,512 in 2015 dollars).
In 2005: minimum wage was $5.15 ($6.24/hr and $12,485/year in 2015 USD) whereas congresspeople earned $162,100 (Roughly $196k in current dollars).
Today, a $7.25 minimum wage earns about $15,000/year and our hardly-working congressmen and -women earn $174,000/year.
These “public servants” could increase the minimum wage any time they like, yet it stays well within the range of “unlivable” even as they earn 12 times as much (from the American taxpayer, no less) in a year as the country’s laborers.
Do you think that congress deserves to take this much of the “piece of the pie”? I sure as hell don’t. Most politicians work for nothing beyond continuing to hold their positions of power (replete with a cushy salary and half-the-year vacation time), lying and double-speaking and simply not caring about their constituents and fellow-citizens. They
I encourage you to fight to increase the minimum wage to (at least $15 an hour). While it might not affect you, it is worth standing with your fellow 99-percenters who are being abused by the inherent racism/classism/sexism of the American capitalist system.
If we aren’t going to burn it to the ground, we might as well fight for more people to have a decent life.
Psychedelia is alive and well in France in the artwork of one Pol-Edouard.Relying on no single form to communicate his visions Pol-Edouard’s paints, markers, pens, and screen-prints his subjects with grotesque/surreal glee. Dogs, warriors, pinups,and motorcycles feature prominently in his colorful canvases, which often depict conflict between people (see Grace versus Sigourney, where our familiar 1980s icons battle in a Vietnamese swamp), ravaged landscapes, and an obvious sense of unease at where humanity currently finds itself. Pol-Edouard’s attention to every unnatural detail and subject-perfect use of color make a trip through his site a treat for anyone who looks at the world around them and quite simply cannot make heads of tails of it.
Pol-Edouard knows that things are not right in the world and his artwork captures the anxiety of 21st-century life with psychedelic perfection. Man’s best friend is biting back, enormous cyborgs battle one another while a cameraman misses the whole thing, a woman’s fingers are severed by a grinding BMX biker, a gas station attendant lives out his dream before no one, and the strongest human warriors are female. In a world that would rather not acknowledge the everyday violence of patriarchy, human-centeredness, and technocracy we have Pol-Edouard to show us in his unreal shapes and colors the very real struggles we are all faced with.
Just last night I returned from a trip to Paris where, over the course of twelve days, I was able to tire my eyes and brain out on art just about everywhere I went. One of the many wonders revealed to me was the work of one Henry Valensi (1883-1960), which I had the pure joy of seeing at the Musée National d’Art Moderne. Mr Valensi’s work was immediately engaging, alive as it is with motion and color, so it was not surprising to learn that he was the driving force behind an artistic movement called Musicalism. In the movement’s manifesto, written by Mr Valensi to coincide with the first Musicalist Salon in Paris, declares the group’s intention to bring the dynamic qualities of “rhythm, harmony, [and their] synthesis” which makes music so powerful onto their canvases.
All of the vibrations found in the varying brushstrokes and gradations of color lose a bit over a screen, but the aura of the works themselves should be enough to interest you. Take a minute and look at the following pieces and if you are interested in more, visit the Musicalism website which is devoted to the life and work of this man’s artist sublime artistic vision.
Eight days ago a youtube clip for FKA twigs’ newest track “Two Weeks”appeared and, based on its below-one-million views (616,436 views as of this writing), few outside the Pitchfork faithful have taken notice of the track. If you have already fell under this song’s spell, then there is little I can say that you don’t already know. True, It took me a couple of listens before the magnificence of this song finally hit me, but after about 100 listens, I feel fine placing it squarely at the front of the race for Song of 2014 (the other major contender being Todd Terje’s “Johnny and Mary”).
“Two Weeks”is first an foremost, an undeniably sexy track. While the 2010’s have produced a fair share of ladies-can-be-freaky-too tracks (Kelly Rowland’s “Motivation”, Ciara’s “Body Party”, and Beyoncé’s “Partition”immediately spring to mind), “Two Weeks” is special. As of this writing, this song is not playing on radio stations across the country but it deserves to just as much as any of the aforementioned chart-toppers. Tahliah Barnett, the voice and brains behind FKAou have probably already stopped reading this and hit replay on that video above. I can’t blame you.
Well, dear reader, I will tell you. It is a great day because today I discovered the work of Abdel Rahman El-Nachar, an Egyptian painter and university professor who painted from 1956 until his death in 1999. I am amazed that I had never heard of him before because his body of work is extraordinarily impressive, each piece bursting with much more detail than my meager laptop screen can do justice to. He began his art career working within the expressionistic and moving into surrealism before turning his efforts towards pieces inspired by Islamic art. These experiments in geometric abstraction (shown in this post) are beautiful and confrontational, where the viewer is bombarded by visual information, often of disparate character but bound together in one space to create some of the most harmonious, balanced, and downright fascinating work that I have ever seen.
Most of the work Abdel Rahman El-Nachar can be found at the Nachar-Zeinab Museumor the Zamalek Art Gallery, both in his native Egypt. Mr El-Nachar, quoted on the Nachar-Zeinab Museum website, originally found in the artist’s 13th exhibition catalog reads:
Dear viewers : One may ask where are you heading to ? Is there still any modernization after having discovered this new world ? Is here still a remaining part of the road ? The answer is that I am a true worshipper of Allah … an artist who, aided by his lines and colours pray to Allah. And with such persistence, reverence, patience, exertion, anticipation and belief in the ONE GOD, I hope to go ahead from where I ended towards more experimentation in order to contribute to the modernization of culture, expressing the sentiments of a Moslem artist from the East.
Where one could see confusion and disharmony in these pieces, there is quite clearly something of the mystical in the mathematical precision of Mr El-Nachar’s colors, lines, and forms. Looking at these paintings, I see not only the artist’s religious conviction and faithfulness in a mysterious something next, but also the honest acknowledgement that a fragmented society results in fragmented people, whose best bet is to attempt to bring something new into the world. To bring something new and hope that it will be beautiful, that it will ring true to others, that the divisions that exist inside all of us could be the very things that bind us together.
If you get a chance to see these breathtaking pieces before I do, send me a picture or two. I will be very happy for you – and very, very jealous.
I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about meditation/contemplation practices and at one point she made a comment about wanting to be able to appreciate the sounds of the city as a natural part of the discipline, but how “it would be nice to have something to listen to that could kind of drown that stuff out while not being distracting”.
Having spent a long while coming to understand how I best enter into periods of contemplation, I proposed to her a list of musical acts that have proven themselves to be helpful to me for this very purpose. Among them was the Austin, TX drone/ambient duo Stars of the Lid who, for the past twenty-one years, have been single-mindedly composing minimalist drone pieces with the power to strike deep emotional chords with only effects-laden guitar, piano, and strings. It is with this basic structure that Stars of the Lid have produced seven LPs of swelling, feedbacking, and glacially shifting soundscapes meant to accompany you into the deepest parts of yourself. From my end, once I was introduced to Stars of the Lid and began to infuse my life with their subtle aural magic I found myself desiring their presence more and more as the soundtrack to my reading and writing sessions…and long walks when I feel down.
Their incredible sixth LP, The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid, can be found in its entirety on youtube (and above). If it sounds like something you would be into, I cannot recommend this album enough. Next time you are sitting down to read for a while – or draw, or paint, or write, garden, craft, or cook – give this album a shot: it is two hours of transcendence that is tailor-made to remind you that the mystical truths of the world are still true, that time is not moving as quickly as you fear, and that beauty stills exist in this world. Sometimes you just have to listen a little more closely for it.