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High Anxiety: The surreal & disturbingly dreamlike paintings of George Tooker
10.09.2017
12:44 am
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‘Children and Spastics’ (1946).
 
Looking at George Tooker’s painting “Subway” (1950), with its central figure of a woman (possibly pregnant) walking among the clean, cold, and slightly dehumanizing landscape of an underground station with its suspicious looking men in trench coats and hats, reminded me of the opening lines to Dante’s Inferno:

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.

So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.

I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.

The words seemed to fit. Mainly because of the feelings Tooker’s painting engenders. It’s hardly an original thought to say we’ve all felt, at some point, lost, alone, or alienated from our environment—our actions curtailed by extraneous forces or expectations. But it’s one that is still, nevertheless, true.

The idea that Tooker’s work connects in some immediate, non-verbal way with its audience has led critics to align him with Surrealism, Magical Realism, Social Realism, and even Photorealism. Tooker was never happy with any of these descriptions as they limited, pigeon-holed, and gave a glib answer to a far more complex question. Tooker described himself as a figurative painter who considered paintings as “an attempt to come to terms with life.” Where there are “as many solutions as there are human beings.”

Born in 1920, Tooker came from a middle-class Brooklyn family. In the 1930s, his parents relocated the family to Bellport, NY, where Tooker spent part of youth wandering around the exhibits at the local art museums getting hip to the work of Renaissance and Dutch artists. To ensure he had a good qualification, he studied English at Harvard. He then enlisted in the Marine Corps during the Second World War but was discharged on health grounds. With a degree to fall back on and no expectations to fight in the war, Tooker returned to Brooklyn where he chased his primary ambition to become an artist. He enrolled at the Art Students League of New York and mixed and met with the various teachers and contemporaries who were to shape his thinking about art and help develop his style as an artist. Chief among these were Paul Cadmus (who was briefly Tooker’s lover) and Jared French (who was Cadmus’s lover). These artists were figurative painters who had adopted the Renaissance technique of using tempera —a fast-drying painting medium utilizing colored pigment and egg yolk or a similar binder. Tooker similarly painted in tempera. But unlike Cadmus and French, whose work has a homo-erotic subtext, Tooker painted an impression of the world that was as emotionally powerful and as vivid as dreams.

I am after painting reality impressed on the mind so hard that it returns as a dream, but I am not after painting dreams as such, or fantasy.

In his early painting Children and Spastics (1946), a group of children intimidates three gay men in an alien and austere landscape. The men adopt poses as the children assault them with broomsticks and verbal abuse. Their response is defensive, ironic, and one that is expected by society (their tormentors). This painting set a style through which Tooker depicted the world as alienating and oppressive yet sometimes often comforting to the figures who inhabited it (Supermarket, Bathers, Waiting Room).

In the early 1950s, Tooker and all the other figurative artists were eclipsed by the arrival of Abstract Expressionism which critics claimed better reflected the angst of the atomic age. Unfazed by the fickle tastes of critics and art markets, Tooker continued painting his succinct critiques of modern life, producing some of his most powerful work (Highway, Government Bureau, Lunch, Landscape with Figures, and Ward) in the succeeding years.

Tooker’s artwork defies easy categorization. In a way, his paintings tell a history of modern America, its hopes, fears, and moral complexities, from 1950 onwards. This content has a timeless quality and an immediacy that keeps it as relevant today as when first painted.
 
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‘Dance’ (1946).
 
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‘Subway’ (1950).
 
See more of Tooker’s compelling work, after the jump…
 

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Posted by Paul Gallagher
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10.09.2017
12:44 am
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Dreamy sci-fi paintings show the world after an alien invasion
07.22.2016
09:30 am
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While science fiction is a rich genre for both film and literature, the visual art it inspires—most frequently relegated to the covers of bad paperbacks—is very often astoundingly corny, regardless of how good the book it’s interpreting might actually be. Really good sci-fi art is really hard to come by, another reason why Simon Stålenhag is so singular; his post-invasion landscapes are dreamy, intense, and mysterious—completely devoid of the heavy-handed cheese one normally associates with paintings of robots and/or aliens taking over the earth.

Stålenhag has complied his work into two high-concept art books, Tales from the Loop and the sequel Things from the Flood, which comes out in November but is available for pre-order now. Ground Zero for Stålenhag’s dystopia is an alternative Sweden from his own ’80s and ’90s childhood, where experiments with a massive particle accelerator—“The Loop”—go terribly wrong. Despite the disaster, Stålenhag likes to focus on the quiet and the mundane countryside, now irrevocably altered by mysterious invaders. Still, there is an intimacy to his work, with special attention to the domestic lives, childhoods and romances of the people living in this chaotic new world.
 

 

 
Much more of Simon Stålenhag’s work after the jump…

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Posted by Amber Frost
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07.22.2016
09:30 am
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Dystopia is boring: Creepy images of our vaguely Orwellian lives
08.05.2015
12:12 pm
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Mark Fisher is a lecturer at Goldsmiths at the University of London, working in the Department of Visual Cultures. He specializes in “the voice and horror; the relationship between 90s cyber-theory, speculative realism and contemporary materialism; and music and attention.”

If I have my facts correct—parsing Facebook always requires some degree of guesswork—Fisher started a “Community” on Facebook dedicated to documenting the pervasive feeling of unease and discontent, often including an aspect of bland social control, in the form of mildly “coercive” signs that you might see at the airport, but sometimes simply showing processes and buildings in a state of disrepair.

A few weeks ago he upgraded it to a “Public Group,” mainly to allow his fellow dystopia documenters to upload pictures freely. All of the images on this page come from that second thing, the Public Group.

The “About” page of the first entity is admirable in its brevity and lack of pomp. All it says is, “Neoliberal England is a boring dystopia. Here’s why.” After all, if the images don’t communicate it, then no amount of rhetoric will make the group one worth visiting. There is little partisan emphasis on Labour vs. Tories as the source of any of this, which makes the critique somewhat more potent, and it’s the case that the images almost uniformly derive from the U.K.—this group is not about documenting the U.S. culture of “IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING.” No, the great elders of dystopia, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, both happened to be British, and this project feels most of all like a tempered, less hyperbolic presentation of the IngSoc of Airstrip One, for those who remember the setting of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Paul Bareham, who runs the blog called Island of Terror where I first learned of this page (and who has contributed to the group), coins the clever phrase “The Evil of Banality” and comments astutely,
 

This dystopia is held in place by neglect, by apathy, by a lack of resources, by a lack of interest. Everything is falling apart, but we lack the money and energy to make it right. …

Local authorities and other central civil organisations are not instrumental in the boring dystopia, they are subsumed by it, just like everybody else. Lacking money, resources and motivation, their interventions are confined to putting up signs, or erecting fences and barriers to keep members of the public away from areas that they already have no interest in.

 
My favorite aspects are (as often, for me) the texty bits, the bland, over-reaching signs, which attempt to placate the reader into submission. Whether the tone is one of literally impossible friendliness, manipulative assurances of competence, or bald-faced directives to obey, the persistent tone of (at best) benign, incompetent control is maintained.

Here is a selection of “Boring Dystopia” images. In all cases you can click on the image to see a better view.
 

 

 
Many, many more of these fascinating pictures after the jump…..
 

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Posted by Martin Schneider
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08.05.2015
12:12 pm
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Yacht: From Utopia to Dystopia via ‘Shangri-La’
07.26.2011
11:15 am
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Fans of forward thinking pop music and alternative/electonica, here’s something that’s definitely worth checking out - it’s the new video (and album Shangri-La) from DFA’s Yacht.

A little bit arty, a little bit metrosexual, Yacht have been round in some form or other for nearly a decade, so while their aesthetic might seem achingly hip and oh-so-now, it helps to remember that they’ve been doing it longer than most. Centred around the core duo of Jona Bechtolot and Claire Evans (Evans joining Brechtolot in what was previously a solo act in 2008), their live show expands the ranks to become a fuller five piece band.

Although having released albums on smaller independent labels in the past, Yacht are now part of the DFA stable, and fit very neatly into that label’s bracket of electronic rock, wearing those particular disco-meets-punk and electronica influences on their sleeve. Their recent live shows have seen them cover both the B-52’s “Mesopotamia” and Judas Priest’s “Breaking The Law” both of which make sense for different reasons. I gotta admit that I was not much of a fan of Yacht in the past, but this new album has taken me by surprise. It’s pretty damn good, and contains a few really cracking tunes, such as “Love In The Dark”, “Beam Me Up” and “Tripped And Fell In Love”. 

Worthy of particular mention though are the album’s two opening tracks, “Utopia” and “Dystopia (The Earth Is On Fire)”, which lay out Shangri-La‘s themes of dualism from the get go. Although they are two separate tracks, they have been both comped into one video, which is quite the novel idea and makes me wonder if it has been done before? Either way the video is great and definitely worth a watch - it may be cheap but it is very well done. However, if you are not a fan of triangles, you might want to look away…

Yacht - “Utopia” / “Dystopia (The Earth Is On Fire)”
 

 
Yacht - “Love In The Dark”
 

 
Yacht - “Tripped And Fell in Love”
 

 
Shangri-La is available to buy here.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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07.26.2011
11:15 am
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Top 10 books Americans tried to ban last year

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You’d think that people who actually go to the effort of visiting libraries, taking books from them, and then reading said books, would be a little more enlightened as to the harm posed to society by banning books. Alas no, as yesterday the American Library Association published its list of the ten books library patrons tried to have banned last year, known as the “Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2010”. I’m not familiar with a lot of work on this list, as I don’t tend to read “young adult”-type fiction, but there are some surprising choices on here: 

1. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sex education, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Reasons: Insensitivity, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit

4. Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Reasons: Drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit

5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

6. Lush by Natasha Friend
Reasons: Drugs, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

7. What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones
Reasons: Sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

8. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America by Barbara Ehrenreich
Reasons: Drugs, inaccurate, offensive language, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint

9. Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology edited by Amy Sonnie
Reasons: Homosexuality, sexually explicit

10. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, violence

Brave New World? Are they serious?! A dystopian critique set in a future world where books are banned, and they want to ban the book? Then again maybe the pro-ban lobby are actually really progressive, as surely I am not the only who has though that Huxley’s future of mood controlling drugs and casual sex is actually kind of appealing. But I can think of much heavier dystopian work that would seem more suitable for banning. I guess it’s just the sex that’s offensive.

Barbara Jones of the ALA has made a statement about the banning of books, included here in a section from the Guardian’s article on the list:

There were 348 reports of efforts to remove books from America’s shelves in 2010, down from 460 the previous year. But the ALA believes the majority of challenges go unreported, and called on Americans to “protect one of the most precious of our fundamental rights – the freedom to read”.

“While we firmly support the right of every reader to choose or reject a book for themselves or their families, those objecting to a particular book should not be given the power to restrict other readers’ right to access and read that book,” said Barbara Jones, director of the ALA’s office for intellectual freedom. “As members of a pluralistic and complex society, we must have free access to a diverse range of viewpoints on the human condition in order to foster critical thinking and understanding.”

 

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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04.13.2011
09:22 am
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Top 10 books Americans tried to ban last year
Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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04.13.2011
08:32 am
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21-87: How Arthur Lipsett Influenced George Lucas’s Career

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By the time Montreal-born filmmaker Arthur Lipsett made his nine-and-a-half-minute long dystopian short 21-87 in 1963, he was well-aware of the power of abstract collage film. His short from two years earlier, Very Nice, Very Nice was a dizzying flood of black & white images accompanied by bits of audio he’d collected from the trash cans of the National Film Board while he was working there. And wildly enough, it got nominated for a Best Short Subject Oscar in 1962.

But with 21-87, the then-27-year-old Lipsett was not only using moving images, he was also refining his use of sound. And it got the attention of the young USC film student George Lucas, who’d fallen in love with abstract film while going to Canyon Cinema events in the San Francisco Bay area. 21-87’s random and unsettling visions of humans in a mechanistic society accompanied by bits of strangely therapeutic or metaphysical dialogue, freaky old-time music, and weird sound effects, affected Lucas profoundly, according to Steve Silberman in Wired magazine:

’When George saw 21-87, a lightbulb went off,’ says Walter Murch, who created the densely layered soundscapes in [Lucas’s 1967 student short] THX 1138 and collaborated with Lucas on American Graffiti. ‘One of the things we clearly wanted to do in THX-1138 was to make a film where the sound and the pictures were free-floating. Occasionally, they would link up in a literal way, but there would also be long sections where the two of them would wander off, and it would stretch the audience’s mind to try to figure out the connection.’

Famously, Lucas would later use 21-87 as the number Princess Leia’s cell in Star Wars. But although his success allowed him freedom at the NFB, Lipsett’s psychological problems would lead him to commit suicide in 1986, two weeks before he turned 50.
 

 
After the jump, compare with Lucas’s equally bewildering short Electronic Labyrinth: THX-1138 4EB!
 

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Posted by Ron Nachmann
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07.24.2010
02:02 am
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