Archive for the ‘Comics’ Category

Corners

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“Un Coin de Table” by Henri Fantin-Latour (1836 – 1904). At this gathering of some of the literary lights of late 19th century Paris sit the scandalous couple in the left corner of the painting: Paul Verlaine and his young protégé and lover, Arthur Rimbaud. It was not a very convivial group; notice how no one is looking at any other member of the bunch, and that the vase of flowers has been stuck in at the last stage of composition as replacement for Albert Merat, who refused to pose for the same painting with Rimbaud. The painting was shown at the Paris Salon of 1872. (Source: Google Images/Encyclopedie Larousse)

©Text Only: 2015 By Bob Litton 

I don’t know why it is that topic ideas come floating into my brain at the oddest times, especially just after I have concluded that there is nothing left for me to write about; I have, after all, virtually written my autobiography through most of the pages in this blog; and I have drained the well of my accumulated knowledge and wisdom, dispersing it all to an invisible world. But there it was at 2:45 in the morning: Corners!!!

At first it was just a reflection—as I lay in bed, gazing at one of the corners where two walls and the ceiling collide—on a Hank Ketchum “Dennis the Menace” cartoon I had viewed the day before, one showing Dennis in one of his frequent panel scenes, sitting in a corner and hugging his teddy bear. Dennis complains to his mother as she walks away, “Confession may be good for the soul, but it sure is taking away from my playing time.” Is that supposed to be punishment—a substitute for spanking? I wondered. Hardly severe enough! She should at least have carried off his teddy bear!

Then more reflecting: Many of the “Dennis” scenes are of him sitting in the corner. And the same is true of Wagner and Dunagin’s “Grin and Bear It”, where a bruised boxer is sitting on the stool in his corner, but he is recovering, briefly, from punishment. (I couldn’t locate a recent panel to illustrate the kind of complaining remarks the boxer usually makes about his over-sized or more adept opponents.) His corner is the boxer’s retreat, his only safe zone.

Then, of course, many of us are acquainted with that old analogy about “painting ourselves in a corner”. In this case, we are not discussing self-portraits but rather our figurative manner of saying we have inadvertently created a dilemma for ourselves from which there seems to be no way to extricate ourselves without developing it into even more of a problem.

Even Wall Street has its share of shady corners. Surely you have heard of major plutocrats such as the Hunt brothers, who “cornered the market” in silver in 1980. They borrowed heavily to buy as much silver as they could, and they wound up with about a third of the world’s supply. When reaction set in, they were unable to meet a $100 million “margin call” (basically a demand to surrender collateral). The price of silver dropped from an inflated high to less than 50 percent of its “bubble” value within days and led to a panic. The Hunts’ estimated $5 billion fortune declined to about $1 billion by 1988 and eventually they filed for bankruptcy.

Another popular phrase occurs to me: “Cutting corners” to get one’s way despite the legal risks. Although I have heard and read that said about others, particularly in the business and political worlds, I don’t recall having ever tried to “cut corners” myself: probably not enough imagination to venture into it.

Awful lot of negative stuff there about corners. Their self-image must be depressing.

Let us return to art works and try to be more positive. Consider the painting below:

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“Le Dejeuner des Canotiers” (1881) by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Now, this crowd is definitely more congenial–nay, convivial–than the set depicted above by Latour. Almost everyone is at least glancing at another person. And again, we have corners being accented: the two men in boaters’ shirts and hats, the table’s end, and, oddly, the pole in the center rear that seems to divide the composition in half. I love this painting!!! (Source: Google Images/The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.)

I have perhaps said all I know to say about “The Boating Party’s Dinner” in the cutline under the reproduction above. One could draw an “X” across the canvas and reveal the compositional structure.

Notice that the same is true of Latour’s painting. The  men’s varying heights (which I guess are actual) and their positions allow them to form two rough diagonals across the canvas. And as for corners, the literary gentlemen are not only crowded at one corner of the table, they are also squeezed into one corner of the room. Even the Impressionistic landscape painting on the back wall helps to accent the corner motif. I suppose Fantin-Latour was just trying to be economical, but all he has accomplished is to cram eight staid portraits into a single frame.

“X”es are in fact basic at least to representational art. Another great artist who bears out my assertion here (if any bearing out is required) is N.C. Wyeth. The compositional strength of his bold, muscular illustrations can be immediately grasped by the viewer who imagines a large “X” penciled across most of his works. To me, they are very pleasant to look upon. I suppose that it is not too far-fetched to claim that the “X” in art is kin to the “X” in home-building: they both support their creations. In fact, perhaps I should have titled and developed this essay as “X”es and corners.

Ah, corners and “X”es, how would we ever get along without you?

Finis

POSTSCRIPT:  For another treatment of basically the same subject—mundane motifs in art and literature—check out my April 19, 2013, essay Secular Epiphanies on this blog site.

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to read any comments or helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page above the title of this post. Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it. Thank you for reading. BL

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Bob’s Current Preferences

Bob's Current Reading Preferences

I recently received an email from my local artist friend, Chris Ruggia. It includes the brief comic strip above.  I find it to be marvelous and am much flattered by it, even though there is a touch of the satirical in it.

You see, Chris and I meet every other Friday morning at my apartment for about two hours of coffee or juice, and conversation. Our topics range widely, but they are usually much more “on point” and satisfying than the conversations I’m used to in the bars and coffee shops.

I have occasionally expressed to Chris my hope that he will eventually pause for a while in his production of comic books about animals and do something involving only–or mostly–humans. I have also tried a couple of times to convert him to poetry by showing him my favorite poems by Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, Robert Browning and Emily Dickinson. The reference in the second panel of the comic strip is to Emily’s poem about being startled upon perceiving the movement of a supposed snake in the grass. (Also note the poet in the tree—a mockingbird, my mystical messenger.) I was unsuccessful in bringing Chris up to the level of poetry-appreciation I cherish: Don’t even try anymore.

I should explain a little about the “fear and trembling” note in the first panel, and the humans in the last. A few months ago, I was reading for the second time Søren Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling — a difficult book to understand, not because it is too deep but because Kierkegaard wandered about too much in his sentences and paragraphs and because he allowed his emotional break-up with his fiancée to affect his writing (according to Bob).

Hopefully, this background will give you some sense of what is going on in the final panel. Kierkegaard’s fiancée did not leave him; he left her. And then he entangled the whole angst episode up in the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. Kierkegaard reportedly was slightly shocked when the young lady, as Bertrand Russell opined, “very sensibly married someone else”.

I have no idea yet what the fiancée, in the last panel, is waving in her hand. Is it a brush with which she brushed Kierkegaard off? I’ll ask Chris Friday.⇓<See postscript below.>

For a fuller sampling of Chris’s comic book creations (three now), click on or copy-and-paste this URL http://www.jackcomics.com/ onto whatever that line at the top is called.  (The main character in his comic books is a jackrabbit.)

Enjoy!!!
Bob

POSTSCRIPT: Friday, January 23> Well, I discussed this post with Chris Ruggia this morning. He told me that he “loved” the way I connected the last panel of his cartoon with Kierkegaard. However, he added, he and his wife had recently watched one of the film adaptations of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, and he had been thinking of that movie while drawing the cartoon. The hair of the man in particular had been modeled on the hair styles of two of the movie’s characters. (Kierkegaard’s hair actually was fuller and puffed up in front, comparable, I imagine, to Justin Bieber’s.) Also, Chris explained that the woman is admiring a long, dry thistle—which she prefers to listening to her suitor.

I told Chris that I still like my assumption that it is a brush—in fact, a toilet bowl brush.

NOTE TO NON-BLOGGER READERS: WordPress has its program set up where only WP bloggers can register “likes” and “comments” on this page. However, if you are a non-blogger, I would be glad to read any comments or helpful criticisms you might wish to share and, therefore, have left my email address in the “About” page above the title of this post. Please, no “snarky” comments, or I will have to delete it.
Thank you for reading.
BL

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