Los Angeles-based illustrator Nancy Mungcal, or Pretty Little Thieves as she is commonly known in artistic circles, creates drawings and paintings that are reminiscent of dreamy high school doodles. Perhaps I am making this association due to her proclivity for using graph paper – which is commonly employed in maths books – as a canvas? Graph paper aside, it is the intricately compulsive patterns and the unimpressed, seemingly disillusioned feminine characters that evoke something of the mood of high school. Or at least high school as I remember it. I just wish that it had been tinged with Mungcal’s multi-coloured palette.
You can purchase prints and other miscellany designed by Mungcal via her etsy store and check up on her daily inspirations and observation through her blog.
Allow me to set the scene for you: in the middle part of 2010 Jillian Tamaki, a Brooklyn-based illustrator and comics artist, took to needle and thread. The result was her Monster Quilt – not a monster due to its size but because of the sweetly garish characters interwoven into its fabric. The fact that this was her first attempt at producing an embroidered work speaks volumes about her inherent talent for the quaintly old-fashioned medium. Cut to 2010 and Tamaki her returned with a new embroidery project: Penguin Threads Deluxe Classics.
The fact that this project came to fruition is pretty incredible as, after completing her Monster Quilt, Tamaki decided not to take any future commissions in embroidery. That is, unless it was from Penguin Books. The three covers that she has completed as part of this project are intricately detailed and wonderfully encapsulate the mood and narrative of each book. To my mind, there is no better way to commemorate the enduring power of these tales than through a handicraft that gestures towards the past and that celebrates tactility. Furthermore, Tamaki has updated the medium for contemporary audiences and infused each design with her unique artistic sensibility. If this doesn’t make people want to pick up a book, I don’t know what will.
Educated in South Korea and the United States, Myeongbeom Kim produces otherworldly installations and sculpture works that juxtapose man-made elements with nature to create surreal dream spaces. Utilising suspension as a common motif, his works are constantly poised in a state of ambiguous wonderment. Within his installations, living things are held inside the fragile confines of light bulbs and helium balloons replace tree foliage, literally uplifting the tree and its roots.
Although this breaking down of the boundaries between artificiality and nature would generally engender a sense of unease, conveying the decline of natural phenomenon at the hands of manufactured goods, from Kim’s artistic perspective there is a rather a peaceful coexistence of these two binary opposites. It is a beautiful thing to behold.
If there is one thing that Pablo Picasso has taught the art world it is that simple and straightforward portraits can sometimes be a bit limiting. Barcelona-based artist Anna Higgie obviously share this view as, while her portfolio features more conventional studies of portraiture, she also ventures into a domain of visual deconstruction that is reminiscent of Cubism. Slicing, splicing and fragmenting her subjects, and using the abstract visual illusions of Op Art, Higgie’s works are stunning in their complexity. Indeed, her attention to the fracturing of subjectivity in monochrome is seemingly evocative of a whole new genre: Cubist Noir.
To discover more about Higgie, check out her blog and flickr.
The other night I happened to catch the ending of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003) on television. Although I have watched this film many times, I still found the final moment between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson touching. The poignancy of their goodbye, which signals the possibility of unexpected connection, is likely to tug at the heart strings of even the most anti-Sofia Coppola filmgoer. I am sure that you are aware of the group of detractors that I am referring to: the people that claim that her films are boring, rely on hollow aesthetics over plot or character development and are exercises in self-indulgence. However, when Somewhere was released at the end of 2010, it seemed that even fans of Coppola’s style were echoing these sentiments. Unfortunately, Somewhere was a blink and you’ll miss it affair at cinemas in my area, so I was only recently able to come to my own conclusions.
I wanted the film to be really naturalistic and the whole thing to be really minimal, and see how simply we could tell this story visually to not be aware of the camera, so you felt like you’re really alone with this guy, to make it as intimate as possible…I mean, even for me, the beginning [making circles with the Ferrari] is uncomfortable to watch, because it’s like, “ok he’s going to do it one more time,” but it tells the audience: “you know, if it’s not for you, you can leave right now, or you’re going to have to get with the pacing of it.” It makes you have to shift, so you’re used to being stimulated, and shift into this more introspective mood.
To provide the sketchiest of outlines: Somewhere provides an insight into the empty existence of a film star (Stephen Dorff) and the manner in which his life is subtly transformed when his daughter (Elle Fanning) comes to stay with him indefinitely. He lives in the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, fills his time with meaningless sexual encounters and is characterised by rootlessness and ennui. The opening scene, which Coppola refers to in the above quote, serves as a visual metaphor for the entire film, which is replete with long takes that remain focused on mundane moments for achingly extended time periods. With this technique Coppola interpellates the interior life of Dorff’s character with the viewer’s experience in a conceptual move that attempts to cinematically convey his emotional state. But does it make for good viewing?
This question is, for me, the main one that arises from a viewing of Somewhere. In her previous films Coppola exhibits an uncanny knack for making the banal visually interesting. However, the overtly feminine aesthetics of The Virgin Suicides (1999), Lost in Translation and Marie Antoinette (2006) are notably missing here, because – lets be frank – the life of Dorff’s character is pretty ugly. You only have to watch the scene featuring the pole-dancing twins to be overwhelmed with a feeling of grotesque boredom and hopelessness. To her credit, Coppola offsets this tone with the sequences that frame the slowly blossoming relationship between Dorff and Fanning, but, in its devotion to naturalism, Somewhere can at times makes the viewer feel as though they are watching an unedited portion of reality television.
If anything, the main complaint that can be directed at this film is that the concept has overshadowed the execution. That being said, there are a handful of moments that make this film worth viewing (the underwater tea party scene, in particular, is delightful). Just don’t expect “classic” Coppola – the “somewhere” of this film is way beyond the scope of that terrain.