Point of Exquisite Suspension

Ramblings, musings and postings about thoughts & life experiences of a graphic artist living in the Chicago area.

29 January 2015

"Where did that come from?"

Sometimes I make a sketch, like the one shown above, and I don't verbalize in my head where I am going with the imagery. It happens wordlessly and unexpectedly.
Consciousness is an amazing thing. When I finished with the drawing shown on this page, I thought, "Where did that come from?"

I still don't know what to make of it. It could be the prompt for an interesting story. Is the man looking into some sort of terrarium? Or is he some kind of transcendent godling peering over his creation?

The little home in the lower right corner reminds me of SpongBob's house. I'm not sure if that was an influence or not. But I enjoy looking back at this sketch.


28 January 2015

Sketches by a Dog Sitter

In the 80s I frequently would house-sit for families who would go on vacation. This gig would also include caring for the family dog. Although there were four different families that employed my house/dog sitting services. I have surviving sketches of only two of my canine charges: "Peaches", a golden retriever and "BeeGee" (short for "Beautiful Girl"), a standard poodle. Both of these dogs were well-behaved older dogs. BeeGee was, in fact, very hard of hearing but otherwise in general good health (although my morning routine would be to give this dog her meds).

The houses were well-appointed and spacious. The dogs were actually fun to be around. And I am happy for my sketches to remind me of those times during my "lazy bachelor days" in my mid-to-late 20s.

Peaches would take walks with me around the grounds of the 5-acre property.

This is my favorite sketch of Peaches
She liked to play fetch with a tennis ball

BeeGee profile sketch

The house where BeeGee lived was on a lake. It had lovely grounds.

BeeGee was like an elegant older lady.

23 January 2015

Movie and Art Exhibit Review: Birdman and James Ensor

Sketch ©2015 by O. Douglas Jennings

Recently I took part in two separate cultural events that, to my surprise, had some unexpected connections. The first an exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago featuring the work of the Belgian painter James Ensor.

Titled "Temptation: The Demons of James Ensor", this exhibit was an example of an Art Institute production at its finest. I'm not saying this because it was a huge, vast-ranging exhibit like the Picasso extravaganza of last year. The James Ensor show was more modest. And it did not cost extra (beyond the normal museum admission price). But it was in solid keeping with Art Institute's mission to educate the public and provide access to significant works. It achieved this splendidly with the Ensor exhibit.

Detail of a hand-painted self portrait etching of Ensor taunted by Demons


Although I've been a student of Art History for many years, I am embarrassed to admit, I was not familiar with James Ensor. The paintings, drawings and etchings of his I saw at his exhibit impressed and inspired me. I told my daughter who accompanied me on the visit, "This makes me want to paint!"

Ensor was contemporary with the Impressionists and a precursor to Expressionists yet did not travel much outside of Belgium at all. During his productive years, Ensor's work was offbeat: Skeletons fighting over a hanged man; Disturbing crowds of masked partiers; Hand-painted, self-portrait etchings in which he is taunted by demons. He did not consider himself among the faithful, yet he was fascinated with depictions of Christ and Saints--mainly in the service of contemporary social commentary.

Unlike tragic painters like Van Gogh, James Ensor lived long enough to see his work appreciated and received honors before he died in 1949. In spite of the acclaim, he also endured years of decline after his most creative and productive periods.

This is where I want to mention my second experience of an art form that I find has a connection to the James Ensor exhibit.

Days after watching the movie Birdman, I am still parsing my feelings about it. The innovative camera work and structure was bold and arresting. Michael Keaton, an acclaimed actor whom some might consider to be in his declining years (having reached his zenith in pop-culture with in the role of Batman for two movies in the 80s and 90s) plays a character much like himself. But the on-screen super hero for whom his character, Riggan, was popular is the quasi-fictional winged crime fighter  Birdman.

There is lot's of funny dialogue that lampoons pop-culture icons like super heroes in the movies as well as celebrity in general. Riggan attempts to redeem his failing career by writing, directing and starring in a serious broadway play. The story takes place during the days of his first two preview performances with all kinds of crazy, funny gaffs and production problems.

There's a metaphysical/supernatural element to the film that could also be interpreted as delusional on the part of Riggan. This made me think of classic Walter Mitty's imaginary digressions. And the ending caused me to question the perceptions of the previous events in the story.

I loved  the drum solo music score a lot. The drummer that provided the score appeared as a street performer at one point. This was just one example of the innovative structure of the film.

Frankly, as an artist I could identify with Riggan, as well as Ensor.  Both were haunted by demons -- significantly, one demon of which is the beelzebub of taunting doubt over artistic relevance after more productive creative years have come and gone.

I would recommend both Birdman and the Ensor exhibit (or to explore Ensor's at the least). But with Birdman I would give the caveat to not expect a tidy, easily resolved movie. It is a dark comedy but still it's a comedy. So I needed to remind myself not to over think it.

02 December 2014

28 October 2014

Fury: Movie Review

Illustration created with brush markers and white color pencil on Post-it Note and color adjusted with OS 8 photo filters. © 2014 by O. Douglas Jennings

I came into the theater to watch the film Fury with the personal agenda of wanting to connect with the experiences of my late dad (d.1993) who was a WWII vet (82nd Airbourne). All the while I was growing up, he often seemed to me to be haunted by his war experience. As I watched the movie, I felt that, through the eyes of the young recruit, Norman, I could understand, in small measure, what my dad might have went through as a soldier immersed in war. Dad was 18 when he entered the war and would have been 23 by the time the events in Fury take place. He wouldn't have been as green as the young man in the movie by that point. But I have the sense that the traumatic events and transformation experienced by Norman in the time frame of the film incapsulate the overall war experience of my dad to some extent.

Even though my personal predisposition to identify with the story might have favorably skewed my impressions, I think the film was excellent. I would rank it as high in quality with one of my all-time favorite films, Unforgiven. Fury showed the brutality of war yet also it's humanity. It had tremendous heart and great performances by Brad Pitt and the other actors with captivating onscreen chemistry between them. 

It's likely that a target audience for Fury is baby boomer children of WW2 vets. I've read reviews by younger film buffs and they feel the story is not as cohesive as it should have been. But my take, as I watched and remembered the few war stories my dad reluctantly told me over the years, was that this fictional account of a brutal war rang true and held the narrative well.

29 September 2014

The Last Unicorn on Tour: Chicago Screening



The Music Box Theater in Chicago is a true vintage treasure of old-time movie nostalgia. With live organ music playing splendid show tunes, just as in the days of silent films, my two daughters and I chose a perfect trio of fold-down, red-velvet cushioned seats (wooden arm rests, no cup holders) in the second row. We were all excited with anticipation to see The Last Unicorn. It's a childhood favorite of my daughters, Emily and Melody (now in there twenties) and a longtime favorite of mine since I had originally read the book in my teens in the early 70s.

Our excitement has dampened by the realization that we had to sit through both a question-and-answer period and a raffling off of books, posters and assorted memorabilia. The crowd was full of dedicated, ecstatic fans. Some were dressed in costumes of a medieval nature if not of characters in the story. I wouldn't claim to be that kind of fan. Neither were my daughters who, like me, really just came to see the movie on a big screen and be swept away by the cinema experience. But the Q&A had high points. I and audience was to discover that Peter S. Beagle had met Marilyn Monroe when he was 15 years old as they were both guests of a mutual acquaintance (a literary agent who knew Ms. Monroe's then husband Arthur Miller). Beagle regaled us with talk of his lucky breaks and the gradual creation of his most acclaimed book. All this was interesting but I really just wanted to see the movie.




I had met author Peter S. Beagle at Chicago Comic Con a few years ago. He and his promoter Connor Cochran were placed at tables across from a Star Wars 501st Storm Trooper Legion (a very popular group). Still unpacking their books and merchandise, they were, amazingling enough, receiving no lines of fans or admirers at that particular moment. I couldn't believe my luck at having the opportunity to introduce myself to an author whose book had a lasting impact on me and my creative world. I found Mr. Beagle to be a kind, gracious gentleman. I told him how his unicorn story inspired me to create my character Tigrikorn. I can't remember his exact words but he made me feel appreciated and affirmed by his response. The crowds did keep him busy later that day. As I saw the swarms around his table as I passed by another time, I felt fortunate to have had a decent conversation with him one on one earlier.



Still, I've never been enough of a fanboy to even wait in line to talk to my favorite creators. And now, in particular, I just wanted to see the freakin' movie. The raffle was a bit fun. All of us had tickets and I just missed one of the prizes by one number. It was a momentary distraction. But Emily, Melody and I were so glad the lights dimmed, the old-time curtain raised on the movie screen and the film rolled.

To see it on the large screen was marvelous. The opening score, title credits and art were exquisite. The art in the credits referenced heavily the medieval Cloister Tapestries which were themselves, in part, influenced by Persian rug and miniature motifs. My wonder and delight which I remember feeling when I first saw the movie version of that favorite book was rekindled. I saw so many scenes with new eyes and appreciation. The caravan of Mama Fortuna with the horrific harpy. The ridiculously amorous enchanted tree to which Shemdrick was tied by the brigands. King Haggard's castle, the Red Bull and, of course, the Unicorn herself --everything was brilliant.

A couple of years ago, as part of a 365 Day Tigrikorn-themed creativity project, I made a little "found object" art project using a discarded Red Bull energy drink can. I imagined how my character Tigrikorn might react to the character of the Red Bull from The Last Unicorn: 


 There will always be Red Bulls to battle with the powers of imagination.

23 September 2014

Talismans

Illustration © 2014 by O. Douglas Jennings


I was like a sorcerer's apprentice. Rather, I should say, sorceress' apprentice. My grandmother, whom I called "Maw Maw", would sometimes seem like a being of dreadful magic. With her shelves full of jars containing herbs and powders and soaps, she would conjure remedies, tasty meals or sparkling clean linen. 


During canning season, with all her arcane presses, strainers, pestles and jars, no one but Maw Maw would have the strength to undo a lid that she would screw onto the glass recepticles to seal up her harvest toil. A stick she would plunge into the ground would take root and produce leaves. Her ancient garden, planted decades before my parents were born, was full of aromatic blooms and carefully cultivated fruits. 

But her most fearsome power was over the fowl of the farm. I witnessed her bloody sacrifice first-hand and to my regret when I was four Summers old. I followed her as she carried a large hen down the path between the old stable and the chicken coup to the small field next to the old walnut tree. She had no axe. What was she up to?

When she was clear of any post or plant and stood holding the chicken almost like a sword with the head being the handle, she began. In a furious blur the chicken was propelled round and round then suddenly there was a sickening, muffled "POP". The next thing I know, the headless creature was running in circles as if it wanted to re-enact on foot it's spiral of death at the end of Maw Maw's arm.

Spouting blood like an old-time percolating coffee pot, but not contained by a lid, the creature that was once a living chicken hurled itself into my body as I stood dumbfounded. Trying to climb up my legs, it was over half as tall as me, and splattered it's blood with each blindly fumbled assault.

Maw Maw took my hand and rushed me to the house to clean me up. But later she came back to the eventually spent lifeless hen to prepare it for dinner. I recovered and joined her in the back yard as she submerged the chicken into a large pot of scalding water so its pores would open and release its feathers. Last, she freed the naked form of its scaly legs and feet before she took it in to the kitchen for cleaning, gutting an cooking.

Those discarded feet: they looked to my small eyes like eagle talons. I claimed them as my own to serve as powerful artifacts. Holding them out in front of me, one in each hand, I looked out over them and felt the ground recede. I was an eagle. Flying free from the earthy farm, I soared. Swooping low above the beasts of the field (in this case, actually just my dog Skipper) I would strike terror.

After my extended reverie, I needed a safe place for my talimans. An empty discarded Hershey Choclate box would do nicely. And this humble reliquary I would slide discretely behind Maw Maw's kitchen china cabinet.

Days later Maw Maw complained about the smell of what must of been some varmint that had died in the house. With her broom handle, she fished the Hershey box out from its hiding place. I claimed to know nothing about it.