Saturday, February 06, 2016


A couple of posts back I hinted that my wife was a sentimental romantic who, if given free reign, would decorate our house like Laura Ashley or Thomas Kincaid.  That's not exactly true, as you'll see in a moment.

I just said that about her because her recent choices struck me that way, but now I feel guilty about it. Just so I don't burn forever in Liar's Hell, I'll try to compensate by giving a more balanced view of her here. I'll show you how she decorated her own workroom, which I find endlessly fascinating.

Well, to start off, she's had a technical education so she hung a number of framed photos of old-time civil engineering projects on the wall.  The one above shows a wooden trestle leading to a logging camp in Oregon.

Then she has a number of funky wooden shelves to hold her rock collection. They're mostly samples she collected herself on her travels. Inbetween the rocks, on the wood-paneled walls, she's hung canteens, old oil lamps, camping paraphernalia and a Navajo Indian rug.

There's a few geological maps up there.

And a nifty forest poster.

And animal posters. She loves wildlife.

She's an archer and put up a couple of target posters with animals on them, but they're for show and she'd almost rather die than shoot anything that's alive.

She likes chemistry...

...and she's very fond of this Fragonard print (above) showing a girl reading. She's read a gazillion Agatha Christie-type mysteries and collects Kipling, Karl May, Jean Straton Porter and the Travers Mary Poppins books .

She put up this replica of a Renaissance bas-relief and it looks great.

Well, that's it more or less. There's family photos and stuff like that but I won't bother you with that. Um, there's one more picture you need to see, but it's not from my wife's workroom.

Haw! It's a picture I assembled.  It shows me as Mr. Meek with a portrait of my fictional wife in the background. It's funny for Mr. Meek to have a wife like that and my real-life wife...who's very sweet...will hopefully understand when she sees herself slandered on the wall over my desk.  Sigh! I hope she realizes that sometimes you just have to take it on the chin for art.

Yikes! I made myself transparent! I'll fix it!

Thursday, February 04, 2016


Doggone it! Here I am, a working artist, and my kid draws better than I do!!!!! Oops, I should have said "drew" because these sketches were made years ago when my daughter was just a kid. We'd pay an after school visit to Carl Jr.'s. and she and I would take turns drawing each other while eating burgers.

Here's (above) an excellent illustration of my kid's belief that the secret to drawing me is to draw the five o'clock shadow first. She took endless pains to get it right then whipped out the rest of the drawing fast, almost as an afterthought.

Here (above) she draws me eating my hamburger. My turnip fingers deliver the big wafer up to my massive head where it's masticated by my tiny mouth. Fleeing the carnage, every crumb that can make it to the lip takes a suicidal plunge into the ether.

And here she does the back of my head, highlighting the thin wispy neckhairs under the hairline. Yikes! Have I posted this drawing before? I can't remember.

When she wasn't drawing me I drew my kid (above), except she changed poses constantly to make it hard for me.

That was because she believed that posing for a picture was phony. I had to be fast to get anything at all.

Here she is near the point where she'd just woken up to go to school. When she realized I was drawing she kicked me out of the room.

How do you like those hand poses? If I had a more willing subject I could have gone down in history as the artist who captured the very first moment of wakefulness. The first! Imagine that! I'd have owned that action forever and ever!

Sunday, January 31, 2016


 Soon I'll relocate to the farm belt and have the task of decorating the walls of my new house. For that I'll need pictures. I'm considering a big print of Basquiat's "Boy and His Dog" (above).

Also Gary Panter's "Elvis Zombie"...if there are prints of this. Are there?

Or Panter's "O Babaca."

Here's (above) a wall-worthy picture by Tim Burton.

I'd also like to put up caricatures of friends. I already have all the pictures I'll need...except for one. Maybe Mike will let me copy this one (above) that John, Marlo and Kali did of him.

I picture all these works of art in a living room a little like the set for "PeeWee's Playhouse (above)." Nice, huh?

Unfortunately my wife has decorating ideas of her own (gro-o-o-oan!). I swear, men and women are two different species.

She wants a dog, too.

We got along great with our last dogs. They really liked my wife and I. The problem is, they didn't like anyone else.

Even little dogs can be pretty feisty around strangers.

I told this to my wife, and she said what am I talking about...our dogs absolutely loved strangers! Hmmmmm.

Thursday, January 28, 2016


I'm still reading the book about Frances Glessner Lee's crime dioramas and I can tell you  that it's really creeping me out.  If you don't mind, I'll inflict some of my morbid thoughts about this on you, with the promise that this'll be my last post on the subject. 

The living room above caught my eye because it's so red. In nature red is always an accent. It never covers a whole field of view like it does here. When it does, in a man-made picture, it always conveys an idea or an emotion.  Here that idea seems to be evil and death. 

It's as if some supernatural force, not a person, has somehow become aware of the humans who live here, and is lying in wait for them. 

Something electric and malevolent is in the air. Even this picture of a stag seems to have bad intention. 

The model includes a view of the closet where the victim was killed while reaching for her coat, but I won't show it here.  There's more information in this one (above), in the sense that here, in this infernal red, the decision was made to kill another human being. The woman was a prostitute and the killer was a boyfriend or a client. They'd been drinking and arguing and I guess she decided to walk out on him.  Yikes!

Boy, this idea of evil rooms persuading people to murder is creepy in the extreme. That's what Stephen King's "The Shining" was all about. Even old ladies can fall prey to it.

Even kids!

I don't want to go out on a horrific note so I'll digress to talk some more about red for a moment.  Artists who use it frequently darken and dilute it with a bit of another color. That's odd when you think about it because once the red is muted and bludgeoned the next thing artists try to do is revive it again by running tendrils or dots of another color through it.

Interesting, eh?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Here's my new hero, Frances Glessner Lee, a wealthy self-taught crime scene investigator, a sort of forensic Miss Marple.  In the 40s and 50s she built dozens of dollhouse crime scenes based on real cases in order to train detectives to assess visual evidence. The models are still in use today.  Lee founded the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard and was even made a captain in the New Hampshire police. 

Wow! She was good at this!  I wonder how many detectives picked up on the clues that are in this scene (above). A woman wearing only a bathrobe has died here. How? Murder? Suicide? An accident? 

There's no sign of violence, and the window is closed making it unlikely that someone entered that way.  The stool under the top light fixture could indicate electrocution, but the bulb is still screwed in. The window shade being up, exposing the interior to the neighborhood, might indicate the kind of disregard of convention that characterizes suicides.  Note also the the dry towel and the slippers facing the mirror. She may not have come here to take a bath. 

The woman's body is found collapsed near the door and the cord of her robe is tied in a knot around her neck. If she hung herself where would the cord have been tied? A possibility was that it was wedged into the top of the closed door causing the body to fall when the door was opened later on.  

Most of the dioramas aren't "whodunnits." The set-ups are crime scenes as they were when the police first arrived and all the relevant people in the case hadn't been interviewed yet. The viewer of the model knows only what what he can see and what the person who found the body had to say. That person may or may not have told the truth.

Sometimes first impressions are misleading. In this case (above) the inebriated victim appears to have accidentally fallen backward while sitting on the edge of a bathtub. A closer look reveals that the right leg is stiff at the knee, which should have been bent, indicating rigor mortis had already taken place before the fall. This woman died before she was placed in the tub.

As in real life, not every item seen is important. The presence of a magazine (above) might mean nothing at all.

There's a terrible poignancy to some of these models. Here's (above) a man's bedroom which is dominated by a green dresser. On the dresser we see artifacts of the dead man's life: a tie, a pocket watch, a whisk broom.

Writer Paul Auster comments: "There is nothing more terrible than having to face the objects of a dead man.  They have meaning only in function of the life that makes use of them. When that life ends...they are condemned to survive in a world they no longer belong to. What is one to think, for example, of a dozen empty tubes of hair coloring hidden away in a leather traveling case?

In themselves the things mean nothing, like the cooking utensils of some vanished civilization. And yet they say something to us, standing there not as objects but as remnants of thought, of consciousness, emblems of the solitude in which a man comes to make decisions about himself, like whether to color his hair, whether to live, whether to die. And the futility of it all once there is death."

Lee endowed The Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard. Every graduating class was treated to a dinner party at the most posh restaurant in Boston.  She arranged for dinner jackets for all but instructed the wine steward to deny wine to anyone who spoke too loud...just what Miss Marple might have done!

BTW: I found out about all this in a book called "The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death" by Corinne May Botz.


Friday, January 15, 2016


One of the best war memorials I've ever seen is a German Expressionist sculpture (above) by Ernst Barlach. It was executed in clay in 1927 to commemorate the dead of WWI, but the Nazis didn't like it and WWII intervened with the result that it wasn't cast in bronze until 1952. It's a pity that it's not better known. The horror of war may never have been depicted as accurately.

Thinking about Barlach made me curious to know more about the Expressionist sculptors.

So far as I know the first Expressionist sculptor was Rodin, a Frenchman. For Rodin nature was a starting point but it always had to be modified by human bias. You could argue that sculpture was always like that but Rodin added exploration and risk and performance. Even humor.
Rodin worked in clay, marble and bronze but lots of later German sculptors preferred wood. Maybe that's because their African influences worked in that medium. Maybe it's because wood was cheap and the artists were poor. One sculptor (Kirchner, above) said he liked wood because the process of carving and creation were visible on the finished piece for all to see. Conventional sculpture was worked in clay and handed off to others
for casting. Only in wood could you say that the final product was produced by a single mind.

Incidentally, I like the way Kirchner frequently photographed his sculptures (above) against painted patterns. 

For all its beauty there's something wild and almost unhinged about early German Expressionism, as if the artists who did it were crazy or under a lot of stress. It was an odd discipline because in its early stage it seemed incapable of expressing happiness or sentimentality.

I don't know of any other medium that deliberately excluded a whole range of human emotion. Even so, there are ideas and insights it would be difficult to express if that kind of art didn't exist.

In order to illustrate this point I had to use a painting rather than sculpture. That's because sculpture rarely succeeded in isolating the negative emotions as well as painting. The same might be said of early Expressionist architecture. The first examples were somber and horrific (above).

Later the medium evolved into something that could convey humor and fun.