Travels With Gloria

Finding beauty mile by mile.

Category: Blogs

With Sketchbook In Hand

Winter afternoon in the Almaden Coffee Roasters, Suhita Shirodkar. Image via Shirodkar's blog, Sketch Away: Travels With My Sketchbook.

Special Thursday bonus post!

A few weeks ago, in my post on affordable art and ephemera souvenirs, I linked to the Etsy shop of someone whose name I could only find listed as Suhita. In my searches for interesting stuff to feature in my Friday Etsy posts, I’ve come across more of her work.

Then, today, a breakthrough. I subscribe to the fab.com flash sale site (highly recommended), and Suhita’s work popped up there today! It turns out she has both a last name and a blog where she sketches all her adventures. You should check it out.

How to learn another alphabet

Communist graffiti in Kolkata, India. Photo by Sara Clarke.

People say I’m good with languages. On a family trip to Italy when I was in college, I somehow became the de facto group translator even though I do not speak Italian. I was vice-president of the Spanish club in high school despite a total lack of passion for the language of burritos. I have this uncanny ability to say two or three words just well enough to be mistaken for fluent in any language. Me and talking just click, I guess.

I'm so gifted with languages that I managed to decipher this sign after spending all night on an Indian train. Photo by Sara Clarke.

Similarly, I’ve always been big into the written word. I taught myself to read by the time I was four. I have amazing handwriting. The books in my apartment multiply like roaches. I spend an inordinate amount of time working on this here blog.

And yet.

I have never been able to learn to read any alphabet other than the Latin one. I sort get how Greek is supposed to work, and I can grok Cyrillic if it’s a word I already know, like Starbucks or Moscow. That’s the limit of my ability to comprehend other writing systems. This is really embarrassing. In fact, I consider it one of my great failings as a human being. There are people in India who use 4 or 5 different writing systems on a daily basis, and yet here I am with my puny repertoire of one.

The work of a genius, I tell you. Photo/illustration by Ryan Estrada.

Because of this, I’m wildly impressed with the work of illustrator Ryan Estrada. Estrada managed to explain the Korean alphabet in the form of a web comic. An entire writing system in eight panels. And one of those panels is just a big header that says LEARN TO READ KOREAN IN FIFTEEN MINUTES. This guy. I just don’t even. I think I want to marry this dude.

Art and Place

Vintage Pan Am destination guide covers designed by George Tscherny. Via Container List.

It’s a little bit difficult to explain to people what my blog is about. Travels With Gloria germinated as a travel blog about art. I’d write about where to find the best Caravaggio paintings in Rome, how to score Coachella tickets, the ethics of travel photography, and whether maha-tourism sites like Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal are worth visiting. In January I took a month off from other kinds of writing, meditated on the fetus of TWG, and somehow she took a left turn and became the blog you see before you. I like where she’s going, but what the hell is this about, anyway?

Baggage, by Chris Stott. This is a fricken PAINTING, y'all. Via Chris Stott, via Jen Bekman's tumblr.

I tend to tell people that I write a blog about Art and Place. This sounds pretentious, and I’m pretty sure it boils down to writing a blog that isn’t about much of anything. I especially started to feel this way when I was trying to brainstorm posts to write about my trip to Istanbul in February. I spent a lot of that trip exploring Istanbul’s contemporary art scene, which according to the New York Times is Kind Of A Big Deal these days. I saw lots of interesting work, and even more interesting curatorial approaches. And yet a lot of what I saw was not really all that Turkish.

Of course, I saw piles of work by Turkish artists. But what does it mean for art to be Turkish? A lot of the art I saw that was made by Turkish people looked pretty much just like the art that is being made by Americans, or Germans, or Israelis. Just, you know, art. The sort of art that fills galleries all over the world and doesn’t inspire anyone to say, “Wow, look how American/ German/Israeli this art is!” Very little of it — in fact, pretty much NONE of the contemporary works by young Turkish artists that I saw — seemed to be about being Turkish, or what Turkey is today, or to offer a perspective on Turkish history or culture. Which is fine, obviously.

Is this worthy of posting on my blog only if the artist is Malaysian or something? Marion Jdanoff, silkscreen. Via BOOOOOOOM.

But it made me wonder. Why do I feel compelled to write these posts about people like Keith Haring and Patti Smith in New York, or Nuria Mora in Madrid, or Carrie Brownstein in Portland? What causes those artists to be associated with certain places while there are millions of painters and musicians all over the world who aren’t associated with any particular place at all? Damian Hirst could be from Nebraska or Capetown as easily as he could be from London. Frankly, I’m not even sure he’s from London. Maybe he’s from Glasgow or Manchester. Does it matter?

Maybe the answer is in something the Somalian rapper K’Naan said about Fela Kuti:

Fela was, himself, an African. He was an African in front of Africans, he was an African in front of Europeans, and Americans, and anywhere in the world. He brought himself as a fully African human being who had something to contribute to sound and your mentality of things — without any concealing of any part of his heritage — exposing an entire sound to the world.

Maybe what these artists share is that particular interest in expressing place and their culture to the rest of the world.

Or maybe there’s no answer at all. Maybe it’s all racist bullshit. Maybe this piece is “about” Mexico because it’s about an aspect of Mexican culture that I, a white person and an outsider, recognize:

Gabriel Dawe, From the Plexus series. Site specific installation in thread and wood. Via Coolhunting.

Maybe I wouldn’t recognize that some other artist is even Mexican at all. Maybe none of the Turkish contemporary art was Turkish enough for me because I don’t know fuck all about what it means to be Turkish. Maybe I’m looking for carpets and Odalisques and Osman Hamdi Bey. Perhaps this blog will find a way to get people thinking about some of these questions, even if I can’t possibly answer them. In the meantime, I plan to continue posting dorky rants about Korean soap operas and how much I want to go to Uzbekistan. So I hope you like that sort of thing.

P.S. Do you guys want to know about Caravaggio paintings and music festivals and whether the Taj Mahal is worth it or what? Because I can do that, too. I think this is a little more interesting, but maybe that would bring in some more traffic. What do you guys think?

Wednesday Round Up.

Screenshot diptych from Pollock. Via Design*Sponge.

Design*Sponge did a Living In post on Pollock. I remember disliking this movie when I first saw it, but damn, it really gets the Abstract Expressionist aesthetic right. I think the main reason I wish I were an artist is the idea of having a ramshackle old studio-slash-house out somewhere nobody else wants to live. In the 50’s that was eastern Long Island. Which is funny because now the Hamptons is the land of spray-tan and appletinis, a place the least imaginative people in the world want to be. I think now you’d have to be in Detroit or a ghost town in the rust belt. Will those places be the hot vacation spots of 2062?

Image courtesy Huffington Post.

The Film On The Rocks Yao Noi Festival — curated by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tilda Swinton —  created a floating island cinema for screenings.

La Guardia Airport, 1961. Via Retronaut.

Just in time for the new season of Mad Men, Retronaut has a photo series on flying into La Guardia airport in 1961.

This picture of Clarissa Darling wearing a Keith Haring t-shirt brought to you by the fact that I can't get any good MTV Art Break video clips to embed properly. Image blatantly stolen from Flavorwire.

Remember how yesterday I mentioned that Keith Haring did stuff for MTV in the 80’s? Well it turns out MTV is bringing back the Art Break. Too bad nobody cool watches MTV anymore. Also, too bad I suck at embedding video. Click the link, I guess.

Other People’s Travel Snaps

Woman at a bus stop. Photo courtesy House Of Mirth.

It started when I worked in the art department.

We did a lot of photoshopping on the TV series I worked for, and as an art department PA, photo research was a large part of my job.

New Zealand. Photo by trailofants, via Instagram.

It was the early days of Flickr. People would upload just about anything, unwatermarked and in huge resolutions. And thus I discovered that other people’s vacation photos (the less interesting, the better) made great backdrops for times when the script called for our actors to be photoshopped into Beijing, Washington, or Key West.  This is terrible karma, I know.

Woman on bridge. Photo courtesy House Of Mirth.

Even though I don’t get paid to peruse travel snaps on Flickr all day anymore, I still love them. Sometimes when I’m bored and feel like I’ve come to the end of the internet, I’ll run a Flickr search on places that top my bucket list. Instagram and Pinterest are making this odd form of armchair wanderlust even easier.

The best random travel photos, however, are the ones that trickle down from another era, shot on Brownies and Polaroids, printed on actual photo paper, and stuck into albums with those neat little corners. I try not to buy too many; it seems creepy to have an apartment full of photos of other people’s relatives. But I love to dig in the piles of snapshots at flea markets, and every once in a while if I find a really perfect one, I’ll take it home.

Mumbai cityscape. Photo by jimeryjem, via Instagram.

 

Mexican souvenirs. Photo courtesy House Of Mirth.

 

Tip of the sombrero to Jaunted, where I discovered the Instagram travel photos that inspired this post. Hours of vintage photo browsing (and shopping!) are on the agenda over at House Of Mirth.

The Fruited Plain

Airship Brand Oranges. All images in this post courtesy of the Smithsonian.

This is a label for a crate of oranges But it doesn’t just say FRESH ORANGES, or BEAUTIFUL ORANGES, or even CALIFORNIA ORANGES.

It says “Airship”.

This was no mere box of citrus fruit, it was a dream of a better life. In the future, the label seems to say, you’ll go wherever you want, and on the way, you can eat an orange. And in the first half of the twentieth century, in Orange County, CA, the future was now.

Airship wasn’t the only brand to use wanderlust-inducing images to sell citrus fruit. Every citrus growing concern, from Sunkist to the Ventura County Citrus Association, had its own mouthwateringly illustrated crate label extolling the promise of California, the new American paradise. Making lemonade or peeling an orange wasn’t just a way to get your daily vitamin C. It was a destination. Buy this fruit and be transported to a warmer and sunnier place, where there’s fruit on the trees year round, and everything is fresh.

All Year Lemons, Fillmore Lemon Association. Dig how, when fruit is depicted, it's usually drawn individually wrapped. Like a present. A citrus present.

 

Sunkist California Dream. Check out the proto-Disneyland in the background!

 

Passport Lemons. It's rare that a lemon makes me want to forget blogging and go play around on Kayak Explore instead.

 

Ramona Memories. Remember that time you took a bite of lemon meringue pie and were instantly transported to a hacienda, where this girl did unmentionable things to you? Yeah, that was great.

 

Then there’s this gem, which has nothing to do with wanderlust but is trippy as all hell. Seriously, this vies with the Sunmaid Raisin maiden for mind blowing illustration in marketing.

No, you have one! OMIGOD IM HAVING A BAD TRIP (studies show citrus fruits are unlikely to be hallucinogenic)

 

By the way, apparently the Smithsonian has blogs. This post was inspired by a six-part series on their new design blog all about the use of design to market citrus fruit to Americans. I mean, that’s what the series was about. There are hopefully going to be all sorts of other neat things on the blog, very soon. There are also blogs about history, archaeology, film, science, dinosaurs, and a million other cool subjects you’re probably interested in. Who knew?

Thou Hast Got No Alibi

At some point when I was a kid, somebody gave our family a Sister Wendy coffee table book on The History Of Painting. I would flip through the book looking at pictures, lingering longer on all the images of naked people as I got older.

In addition to the nudity, there was weird Medieval fashion (who knew there were so many ways to fold a wimple?), creepy religious iconography, and my first exposure to abstract art from a non-philistine perspective. I can also thank this book for my lingering fascination with the work of Lucian Freud (NSFW on account of breast, singular), which apparently was the height of Really Important Art according to Sister Wendy circa 1990. Or maybe it was just the naked people.

But the longer I spent contemplating the hundreds of images in this book, the more I was struck by the fact that painters didn’t figure out how to paint babies until like the seventeenth century. This seemed especially sad considering how they seemed to gravitate towards portraits of the Baby Jesus. I mean, a career spent painting babies and this is as good as it gets:

Giovanni Bellini, The Virgin with the Standing Child, Who Embraces His Mother

You had your Babies Are Like Grownups Drawn At The Wrong Scale mistakes, your Anatomical Impossibilities, your Awkward Holy Family Photos. I wondered if most Renaissance painters had never actually seen a baby. I really leaned toward this explanation when I started noticing how many of the nursing Madonnas had breasts like pool cues attached at the neck. Clearly none of these dudes had ever seen a boob, so it’s unlikely they had children crawling around the floors of their studios.

Eventually I grew up, took some art history classes and went to some museums. I got more into Pollock, Basquiat, stuff like that. I moved to New York and didn’t need my main exposure to the arts to come from a book based on a TV show made by a nun. So I forgot about the ugly Renaissance babies of my youth.

Until some genius on the internet came up with the Ugly Renaissance Babies tumblr, for which I am eternally grateful. Now I can contemplate hideous visages of the Christ Child from the comfort of my couch of a weekend afternoon, beer in hand. My god, the twenty-first century is an amazing time to be alive.

(Tip o’ the hat to Hyperallergic, which reminded me of the existence of the tumblr in question and that I have an artsy-pants blog now and HOW CAN I NOT TALK ABOUT THE UGLY RENAISSANCE BABIES TUMBLR?)

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