I’m a big fan of the nature artist Andy Goldsworthy. In his art he only uses found natural materials: leaves, twigs, flowers, icicles, dirt. From these natural bits he builds amazing temporary arrangements outdoors in the natural settings he finds the material. He photographs their brief existence as a new order and then lets the elements unravel them. For a moment, his fanciful designs capture some invisible spirit that is both completely wild and completely Andy Goldsworthy. Once you see one of his natural sculptures, they seem to be inevitable. A rainbow row of leaves sorted by color. Of course! You can’t forget them. Again and again he seems to summon archetypes – an icicle arch – that ought to occur in the wild. But we don’t see them until he unveils them. Goldsworthy is a prolific maker, with many books of his stunning works. If I had to select only one volume, I think his Collaboration with Nature has the best summary of his early work (up to 1990). I take these as visual poems. If they ring a bell in you, proceed to his later work.
There is no way around it. Habibi is a strange graphic novel. Not strange as in surreal, or ugly, or weird, but strange as in stranger, different. It is beautifully drawn. The writing is poetic. But the story is… odd. It takes place in an indefinite time in a place where Islam and Christianity meet. It wrestles with myth, status, slavery, love and transcendence.There’s horrific sin and redeeming grace. There’s an exotic multi-generational saga. It also serves a tutorial on how arabic calligraphy works. See, strange like that. This big fat book is a true work of art.
When comics in newspapers (“funnies”) were first invented in the 1900s, a thousand crazy ideas were tried in every local newspaper in the country. Most of these local attempts at this new media were awful, but many of these earliest comic strips and later comic books were truly innovative, original, and bizarre.
There was nothing like them before – or since. Even the underground comix in the 1970s were not as strange and unusual as these now-forgotten visionaries. Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969 presents a sampling of overlooked fantastic and fantastical comics harvested from small town papers, yellowing zines, and short-lived strips. Like many other types of first-attempts, there is still much to be learned from these odd pioneers.
One of my favorite books for reference and inspiration remains the two-volume visual feast entitled African Ceremonies. But it is huge and expensive. Faces of Africa is smaller one-volume digest version by the same two photographers delivers much of the impact in a more affordable package.
Read the rest
Read the rest
Without question, Hiroshige: One Hundred Famous Views of Edo is the bookiest book I own. It is a museum-quality artifact, which in a few more years will cease to be made, or at least made affordably. It is a work of art that reproduces the famous 100 Japanese woodblock prints that the artist Hiroshige created of Edo.
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Read the rest
Sacred Journey: The Ganges to the Himalayas is the trippiest travel photo book I have ever seen, and I’ve seen them all. David Howard took a spiritual trip to India and Nepal, hanging out with the naked sadhus and poor pilgrims at the holy sites along the way. He photographed his subjects and then photoshopped them into hallucinogenic collages. The images are hyper real, their sharpness too sharp, the scales of subjects mixed, with no distinction between background and foreground. They vibrate on the page, almost hurting your eyes. But your retina compels you to study the multi-dimensional pictures, and dive into the disorientation. Howard captures the feeling of being on a trip in India and Nepal better than anything else I’ve seen or read. These are postcards from the edge of coherence. It is a deeply personal journal, and for that reason one of my favorites, even though I am glad I was not on his bus.
The Atlas of Cities does not graph the usual geographic shapes of cities, but tries to diagram the many other dimensions within cities around the world. Taking example from many specific cities (such as Istanbul, or Cairo) it tries to dissect, almost like an x-ray, the many organs, tissues, cells, and anatomy of a typical city. In fact a better title for the book would have been Anatomical Atlas of Cities. It uses charts and graphs to show how cities remain healthy, or how they get sick. Since 50% of the humans alive today live in an urban neighborhood, this book will likely illuminate your world.
I never tire of the conceptual trick of applying the metaphor of a map onto something non-geographical. Read the rest
Read the rest
If you can photograph the architecture of the original builders in the animal kingdom with the same professional clarity and precision used to photograph human architecture, you’ll see that the work of animals stands up to anything we’ve made in our cities. The mud skyscrapers engineered by termites, and the woven houses of birds, as well as the ceramic mansions of the underworld are utterly magnificent. Behold the spring source of art! Nests, shells, webs, hives, etc. could each have their own book, but only a few of each types are featured here. Each is captured in an impeccable, perfect image, an iconographic representation of an entire museum of examples you’ll be inspired to seek out.
by Ingo Arndt
Harry N. Abrams
2014, 160 pages, 8.6 x 10.1 x 0.8 inches
$20 Buy a copy on Amazon
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – A graphic novel of Philip K. Dick’s original story that inspired Blade Runner
This will take some ‘splaining. This is a series of 6 graphic novels based on the novel by Philip K. Dick that became the seminal movie Blade Runner. But the hit movie, weird as it was, was so different from Dick’s even weirder novel that it is usually said that his book “inspired” the movie. They are two different beings. There are far more currents and strange inventions in Dick’s story, and it is far more out of balance. But that offset between book and movie is nothing extraordinary. What’s extraordinary about these graphic novels is that they include *every word* of Dick’s book!
Graphic novels are usually cinematic and not literary. The only words are dialog, not descriptions. This weird graphic novel about a strange world has almost as many words as pictures. You are reading a novel and watching a movie at the same time. It is a great experience and I don’t know why there aren’t more novel-ish graphic novels like it. The story contains the original genius premise of a bounty hunter tracking down sociopathic robots nearly indistinguishable from humans, but there are other disturbing subtexts and sub stories. The art is great, too. The one downside: Regrettably, the graphic novel is divided into 6 slim booklets instead of bound into a single volume, forcing you to purchase all six for the full story.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep: Volume One, by Philip K. Dick (author), Tony Parker (illustrator) and Bill Sienkiewicz (illustrator)
Let us enter a world we had no idea existed, a curious scene that is fast disappearing, a culture significantly remote from our own experiences to truly be exotic, but one that is also mythical in appeal and grandly spectacular. Enter here, through this book, to visit the remaining Kings of Africa. They are splendid! Over-the-top! Surrounded by their full court and entourages of hundreds. But sometimes these kings are impoverished, the last faded descendants of a royal line living in a one-room apartment. Or they may be the isolated neglected chief of a once great tribe. Still they will wear their full regalia and stand with dignity. They are, after all, royalty. Each signifies a people, a distinct culture, with its own unique traditions. We owe these remarkable visions to one relentless and stubborn Frenchman who tracked the kings and queens and badgered them for decades until they agreed to be documented. This is a true sourcebook for otherness.
African Kings: Portraits of a Disappearing Era by Daniel Lane
Style and design, as in music and food, is idiosyncratic and personal. What inspires one person is merely a shrug for another. My preference is for a minimal style, but designer Marian Bantjes goes for the maximal – maximum decoration, and ornamentation. Ornate is not my style but I find her designs to be utterly inspiring and endlessly ingenious. I’ve spent days studying this large-format monograph of her work, exploring each and every flourish for hours because there is so much to explore. Her productivity is astonishing, the amount of work required for each item is mind-boggling, and the result of all this attention is spirit lifting. She is visually witty. Her flourishes and swirls have meaning. And she has grown her own distinctive style that few can imitate. Besides all this, she is a fantastic writer. This is one of the very few design books you can spend as much time reading as looking. Bantjes has the uncommon ability to be self-aware and critical of her own work, and seems eager to teach others by publishing her dead-ends and failures. I love it when artists “show their work” on the way to the final version. Bantjes discloses everything, and that honesty is the best teacher, and has won me as her fan. Her ceaseless inventiveness in calligraphy and design will delight anyone who inspects it closely.