Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos

May 20th, 2015 by Sean
At the Fluxus exhibition, Fondazione Bonotto, Comune di Venezia

At the Fluxus exhibition, Fondazione Bonotto, Comune di Venezia

My dad told me, “You can go along with the fates, or you’ll be dragged along behind them.” The point was to accept change and gracefully move forward. That being said, it’s not so easy. In the last year and a half, I’ve been faced with many decisions and changes. Sometimes I went along easily. At other times the universe had to slam my head against the wall repeatedly until I got the message. I like to think I’ve come through the other end with a greater acceptance of change and see it as a wonderful adventure. But, then iPhoto became Photos.

I can’t get behind this one. It does all kinds of dumb things like losing titles that I painstakingly added with names and dates (which I like to use, oddly). Then it sucked up another 70 gigabytes of space. And then I find that the dates are goofed up. So I’ve ditched it and gone back to Aperature.

The good part of this (see, always play the Glad Game)*, was that I found hundreds of images that I forgot about. Many of them from my recent Italian trip. Like most of you, mine are bereft of people. Why take photos of your friends or spouse when there is a cool cup at the synagogue in Rome?

*The Glad Game: Pollyanna, 1960

As a child with her missionary parents in Africa, Pollyanna asks for a doll for Christmas. When supplies arrive in the tiny village, the church has sent, not a doll, but crutches. Pollyanna is sad. Her father suggests playing the Glad Game. She should find a silver lining. In this instance, she should be glad she doesn’t need the crutches.


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A Designer Walks into a Bar…

May 17th, 2015 by Sean
Herbert Leupin, Ford poster, 1954

Herbert Leupin, Ford poster, 1954

I have a friend, a well-known designer, who laments that he never gets to do work that is “fun”. His work is serious and beautifully crafted with a deep connection to French structuralism and Freudian theory. I, on the other hand, lament that my work will only be seen as “fun”, not “serious”. Of course the reality is that nothing is that black and white. His work has light and playful elements, mine can be conceptual and multi-layered.

Herbert Leupin (1916–1999) (yes, another Herbert; it was a popular designer name) was disregarded and ignored as an “advertising poster artist”. How could the work be taken seriously when it has a giraffe? Today, his posters are sought after by serious collectors. At first glance, they are funny and light. They exist to sell beer, Coca-Cola, cigarettes, and pens. He wasn’t concerned about the theoretical underpinnings. And they are masterful and joyful.

He does what I endeavour to teach: see things in the world that can be seen entirely differently with the slightest move: a shoe becomes a car, a glass of beer enjoys a day at the beach, letterforms become carbonated bubbles. The imagery is light and carefree. And, as Shakespearean stage actor Edmund Kean said, “dying is easy, comedy is hard.”

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Nur Arbeit

May 6th, 2015 by Sean
Hans Hillman, poster, Le Gai Savoir, 1969

Hans Hillman, poster, Le Gai Savoir, 1969

Hans Hillman

Hans Hillman

Designers are disturbed. We are entirely obsessive compulsive over a ligature or perfect shade of warm red. We take chaos and order it into digestible portions. But we also like the big, big picture. We tell our clients that we are following a clear set of steps and phases on a project to provide a sense of clarity and comfort. But, creativity is messy. They don’t want to hear, “Well, I’ll do the research, formulate a strategy, and then maybe I’ll think of a good idea in the shower. Or maybe not. Maybe it won’t happen for two weeks. I might change my mind, or have no logical rational reason for it.”

Hans Hillman liked surprise. He was more interested in the process of working, because that is where everything is undecided and you have the chance to surprise yourself. He was simple in his philosophy: nur Arbeit. Just work. Get to work and surprise yourself. Let amazing things happen. His film posters are testament to this. They are unpredictable and startling.

Hillman also had a rare sense of modesty. He admitted to working alone most of the time, hiring someone to help if needed. He made clear that his film posters were intended for a small audience interested in that film, not major movies. His studio was “One big room, and one small room.” It sounds perfect.

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Breasts and Penises in Public

May 5th, 2015 by Sean
The Farnese Hercules, Lysippos, 216 A.D.

The Farnese Hercules, Lysippos, 216 A.D.

Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix, Antonio Canova, 1805

Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix, Antonio Canova, 1805

The Dying Gaul, 220 B.C.

The Dying Gaul, 220 B.C.

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1647

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1647

As I mentioned yesterday, I took many photos of nude statues and beautiful ceilings. I didn’t stalk Italy lasciviously photographing naked statues. They’re just all nude already. It’s incredible to see breasts and penises in public. Nobody is running toward them with coverings. I didn’t see any parents hysterically covering their children’s eyes. I was going to say society didn’t crumble, but wait, the Roman Empire did collapse. While some argue that all that nudity and loose morals caused the collapse, I’m pretty sure there were other larger geographic and political issues.

How can something made of marble look like folded silk? The bed that Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix rests upon must be soft. The folds of fabric on the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa are filled with energy. As the angel plunges the arrow into her heart, she said, “The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.”

Who can’t love the scratching dog, the odd octopus in the Fountain of Neptune, The Dying Gaul, and Artemis Ephesia’s complicated dress that appears to have lots of breasts?

Of course these all work because the proportions are flawless. The anatomy is impossible for actual human beings. These statues are not representations of human beings, but of superheroes. There was a short period in the history of Greek sculpture when the bodies were perfectly realistic. They matched actual human beings exactly. But nobody liked them. It’s creepy to see a statue that is too real.


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Italian Types 1

May 4th, 2015 by Sean

Eden Hotel sign

On Sunday I returned home from a two week visit to Italy. Of course, two weeks is never enough. But unlike my ancestors who took six months to do the Grand Tour, I have three weeks between terms at Art Center and Michael has a real job. I found it easy to get used to having four people wait on me at breakfast. I also now know I need someone who can iron the sheets everyday. It’s barbaric to make one’s own bowl of Panda Puffs and Go Lean cereal each morning.

Typically, most of my photographs are of typography or color palettes. This time, however, I also managed a whole series of on nude statues and ceilings. I’m usually the only one taking the close up photos of the type, but there was another woman on the Vatican garden tour doing the same thing. We eyed each other suspiciously.

In my travels of typographic photography in Italy, I discovered something right under my nose: Hermann Zapf was a real Italophile. Who knew? Palatino is named after Giambattista Palatino. Optima is based on Roman capitals. And then there’s Sistina (Sistine Chapel), Michelangelo, Medici Script, Zapfino, Marconi, Aldus (Venetian Aldus Manutius), and Vario.

Yes, I know this is super über geeky. It’s even geekier to be walking through ruins on the Palatine Hill and say out loud, “Oh my God! Palatino! of course!”