I came across this little animated film via an article on Richard Feynman at the Telegraph UK. You really should watch it. It won’t take much of your time; it’s barely more than a minute long. It’s a wonderful animation created to accompany some of Feynman’s comments on science and beauty from an interview in 1981.
Richard Feynman may have been one of the greatest American physicists of the 20th century. He was without a doubt one of the most colorful. I highly recommend reading the semi-autobiographical “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” and “What do YOU Care What Other People Think” – books full of anecdotes, adventures and science. He was a man of genius, to be sure, but his greatest strength was his insatiable curiosity. He dove headlong into any little thing that piqued his interest and his enthusiasm can’t help but sweep you along for the ride.
If you want more physics, I recommend “QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter” (That’s QED as in Quantum Electro-Dynamics), wherein he describes the theory that won him a Nobel Prize and the diagrammatic language he created to describe it. Feynman has a knack for clear description that makes even a scientific dilettante like me feel like they can almost grasp quantum mechanics. For slightly less esoteric physics, try “Six Easy Pieces” – six essays from his landmark series of Lectures on Physics considered the “easiest” and most accessible to the general reader (“easiest” being a relative term, mind)
You could say Feynman was a bit of a dilettante himself. He had a visual style of problem solving, as evidenced by the diagrams he created to help decipher quantum mechanics, and he had an interest with the artist’s way of seeing the world. As the interview clip shows, he felt that scientific vision was in no way antithetical to aesthetic appreciation. Quite the contrary, scientific inquiry only gives us more to appreciate. Feynman addressed his artistic curiosity with the same gusto he brought to everything else. He began drawing in the 40′s and took lessons to improve his skills. He continued drawing and painting until his final days. A lifelong admirer of the female form, he tended towards nude figure drawing. It also gave him an excuse to indulge his modest vice of frequenting strip clubs – now it was research.
Gregarious, witty, absolutely brilliant – charming yet blunt, eccentric yet down-to-earth; Richard Feynman is definitely on my list of top five people, living or dead, whom I would want to sit down and have coffee with.
One of my childhood heroes, Ray Harryhausen, passed away yesterday. He was an incomparable artist. Many will speak of his influence on modern special effects and many will appreciate his historical role in cinema, but perhaps what one really feels about the man and his art is ultimately dependent on one’s age, and how old they were when they saw their first Harryhausen movie. I don’t know if it’s possible for someone born after 1980, who grew up on a diet of CGI spectacle, to feel the same way about Harryhausen’s creations as someone who remembers a time when such things were done by hand.
“Creation” is the operative term here. To me, the difference is that modern digital effects at best simulate reality (sometimes quite well) – Harryhausen created reality. His creatures were real tangible things. They were the toys we played with as children, the monsters we made out of Play-doh to terrorize armies of little green plastic soldiers. A Harryhausen movie was a child’s sandbox imagination made real. No, the effects didn’t look real in the way that contemporary movie-goers expect – they looked like the fantasies and fears of a ten-year-old boy blown up to epic scale. If you happened to be a ten-year-old boy watching a Harryhausen movie in a darkened theater, it was like seeing your own dreams projected on the screen! Harryhausen’s animations always bore the mark of the artist. He created every model and shot every frame himself. There is no mistaking a Harryhausen effect and any movie that he worked on, no matter the script, the story or the stars, was a Ray Harryhausen movie. I mean, Laurence Olivier was in “Clash of the Titans”, but it’s still Ray’s movie.
Of course the movies were only excuses to get Harryhausen’s monsters on the screen. Nothing wrong with that. Alfred Hitchcock only did “North by Northwest” as an excuse to do a chase scene on the giant stone faces of Mt. Rushmore.
But it’s not just spectacle. Harryhausen’s creations were characters too (sometimes more expressive than their human co-stars). Ray was an animator in the true sense: he gave inert matter life – spirit – anima.
When you watch the dragon and the cyclops battle it out in “The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad”, you see a real life-and-death struggle. And even though the cyclops was a real jerk throughout the film, I still felt sorry for him when the dragon gets him in the end. He has pathos.
And then there’s the Medusa scene from “Clash of the Titans”. It was Harryhausen’s genius to make the gorgon, not just an ugly women with snakes for hair, but a hideous, creeping thing in the dark – a thing that you must not look at, but you can’t resist… The atmosphere is a mixture of fascination and dread.
The scene of Perseus leaving Medusa’s lair and holding up the severed head is a deliberate nod to Cellini’s bronze sculpture of Perseus:
Note also the gouts of ichor streaming from Medusa’s neck beneath Perseus’ feet.
Now how often do you see references to Italian Renaissance sculpture in fantasy films these days?
The two masks I have to show are new, but familiar. They represent the latest representation of an ongoing process of refinement.
The first is the latest version in what I’ve come to think of as the “nymph” series which began with “Oread” a little over a year ago
There was much about the design that I liked, but I couldn’t help tinkering with it nonetheless.
The second mask is a variation on the Golden Idol from not long ago. The changes here are largely infrastructural, so to speak. I’ve tried to tighten up the design a bit.
In my mind it seems like there should be a perfect way to express each design – the ideal arrangement of every fold.
Two new masks I’ve finished recently share a bit of a pagan theme.
The first simply named “Golden Idol” -
The second, “Faunus”.
Both models are prototypes that I folded last year. Faunus would later inspire the similarly demonic “Azazel”
while the Golden Idol was the springboard for two different designs. A variation of the face would become Vishnu:
and the headdress was the inspiration for the Nouveau tessellation:
These two masks inspired other creations while they themselves languished in darkness, not through any fault of their own, but simply because I was not satisfied with the paper with which they were folded. They just weren’t pretty.
That was, until my wife got some paints she wanted to try out.
The Idol was spiffed up with some gorgeous gold iridescent glaze and became the Golden Idol.
Faunus was treated to some marbling with black, blue, yellow and copper paints. My wife had been experimenting with paper marbling and decided to try the technique on a piece that had already been folded rather than just a flat piece of paper. It worked! And now a model that was a rather drab gray has become quite elegant.
Two new masks on Etsy:
The papers for these two masks are of particular interest to me. Nephele is folded from a different paper than the usual elephant hide. I purchased some Khepera paper some time ago from an arts supply store in Germany to try out as an alternative to elephant hide. It is bookbinding paper like elephant hide and has roughly the same weight. It also has some interesting characteristics. It’s thermoreactive – The paper contains little plastic fibers that melt under a heat and darken the paper. The purpose is for bookbinders to use a heated embossing tool to make darkened stamped designs in the paper.
You can see in this model the effect when I folded a basketweave design and then applied heat to the back of the piece only. The background darkened and became smooth when the thermo-sensitive fibers melted, while the foreground retained it’s original lighter color and rougher texture.
An unexpected quality of this paper that I discovered while preparing to fold the Nephele mask is that bleach turns the blue paper lavender! The bleached paper doesn’t darken when you heat it, but when the plastic fibers melt and then cool, the paper becomes quite rigid. Very useful for making masks.
The tin man is just plain old reliable elephant hide, but I made a special effort to make it more interesting. I wanted this mask to look like old metal.
I sprayed and splattered an underpainting of blue, green, red, orange and black inks and then sponged metallic and iridescent glazes onto gray elephant hide paper after folding the grid but before folding the mask. Using inks and dyes for most of the color, I can create layers of depth without adding layers of thickness to the paper, and the final metallic surface is provided by an acrylic glaze which is flexible enough that it doesn’t impede folding.
Yesterday one of the world’s great architects, Oscar Niemeyer, passed on to that undiscover’d country from whose bourne no traveler returns. He was 104 years old (just a few days shy of his 105th birthday) and continued to create until the very end.
In the mid twentieth century he was one of the leaders of a futuristic aesthetic in architecture. He was given an opportunity to exercise that vision in a way that few architects would dare to hope for – To participate in the design and creation of an entire city! Not just any city, but the new modern capital city of Brazil.
Brasilia bears the mark of Niemeyer’s vision to this day. The whole city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so the original architectural aesthetic is scrupulously maintained. I was aware of Brasilia and its premier architect long before I ever visited Brazil. Niemeyer’s designs are benchmarks of Modernism and no one studying architectural history of the twentieth century could avoid the grand experiment of Brasilia. But I could not at the time imagine what it would be like to live in such a place. The pictures in textbooks seem sterile – all white concrete with no human beings around.
To see these buildings in person is quite another matter, though, for what you don’t get from photographs is how the structures, artificial as they are, really seem to embody the atmosphere of the land. The big geometric shapes feel at home in against the flat horizon and the big clear sky. The white concrete shines in the bright sun.
Niemeyer had a knack for making impossible things possible; buildings that seem to float above the ground like desert mirages. There is a remarkable spirit and joy that shines through those clean lines and graceful curves.
Two new masks on Etsy are variations of previous masks. I never make quite the same mask twice, even when I create a design I like I might fold it again and again, but I have to tinker with it with each iteration. I’m never quite satisfied, but that’s why I keep going.
What I especially like about these two new masks is the way the way the paper is finished. Folding the model is really only half the work – the wet shaping, bleaching, painting, dyeing, preserving and everything I do to the paper after folding can make or break a good design.
Case in point:
——-Update—- the Dryad mask has been sold, but I’m keeping this entry here with a link to Flickr ——-
This is actually one of my earlier variations of the “Oread” mask. It was folded from black elephant hide and bleached after folding, but I was not satisfied with the results. The folding was fine, but the finishing was unsatisfactory, so into the big box of failures it went.
My wife later found the piece and thought the model was perfectly fine, it just needed a little attention. She had some interference paints to try out and this mask would make the perfect test piece.
The results were amazing! The botched bleaching didn’t look very good as it was, but it made the perfect background for this green/gold interference paint. The lustrous paint changes color with the angle of the light. The black and brown paper underneath and some amber shellac and the model looks like verdi-gris bronze or gold or the wings of a green scarab in different light.
This one was also folded from black elephat hide paper, but this time I knew what I was doing. Properly bleaching black elephat hide paper can create a wonderful effect like carved wood. Amber shellac deepens the effect. This mask is a variation of an earlier mask which is also an evolution of the “Oread” project, so both of these masks are in the same family, so to speak. The Oread line has been very fruitful and taught me a lot about shaping paper.
So you couldn’t make it to the presidential debate in Boca Raton. That’s okay, there’s something much more interesting going on right now.
The Jaffe Center for Book Arts at the Florida Atlantic University is having an exhibition of contemporary origami artwork. I am very excited about this show, and not just because some of my own work is included.
The exhibition was inspired by the documentary “Between the Folds” which I have mentioned here before (and I cannot praise enough). The theme is mathematics, science and engineering as explored through modern paper-folding. I think the artists gathered together for this show are some of the best origamists and paper manipulators around. You can see a list of the participants and links to some of their websites on the exhibitions page at the Jaffe Center website. Some are well-known, some are not known as well as they deserve. All are extraordinary. It is really worth your while to have a look, for rarely is a group of artists like this brought together for one show.
The exhibition runs until January 23rd. In addition to the displays of artwork, there will be origami workshops and viewings of “Between the Folds”.