Artsology gets into a little Ornithology

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Sometimes I think I could start a separate blog just for the visual observations I make during dog walks … it’s a peaceful activity that allows my eyes to wander and observe, and here’s a few examples of what I’ve seen: melted snow that looks like a Matisse cutout; a fire hydrant topped with a skull, and sidewalks that look like Mark Rothko paintings, among many other things.

A couple days ago, I noticed these unusual-looking K-shaped footprints in the light dusting of snow that covered the sidewalks. As you can see from the picture below right, the footsteps had a relatively long stride, approximately 15 inches between footprints. It seems pretty clear that these are footprints belonging to a bird, but the weird thing was, the footprints went on like this for a full city block! What kind of bird takes 15 inch steps and would walk the full 600 foot length of a city block? It just seemed weird. Scroll down for more …

zygodactyl tracks

I decided to do a little research to see what I could come up with. The study of birds is called “Ornithology,” which explains the title of this blog post. My first search was for “K shaped bird tracks,” and I learned the following:

Many bird species have feet with three toes forward and one pointing behind. This type of bird track can often be difficult to identify. There are, however, certain groups of birds that have very unique, unmistakable footprints. Two of these groups are owl and woodpecker species.

All owls and woodpeckers have a unique foot structure known as, “zygodactyl,” which means that the foot has two toes pointing forward and two toes pointing backward. This foot structure creates a “K-shaped” track (see images below).

Zygodactyl tracks k-shaped bird feet

Okay, that seems to narrow our focus on these types of birds, but the mystery still remains, what kind of owl or woodpecker is big enough to take 15 inch steps? I can’t imagine any owl or woodpecker big enough to walk like that …

A little more research just revealed the following info: “Gait” refers to the method of movement and the distinct way the body moves to propel a bird forward on the ground. There is a relationship between the gait of the bird and the track pattern left behind. Walking is one type of gait, and it was the type of movement I originally assumed this bird was making. But then I read that if a bird is running on the ground, there is a moment in each stride where the bird is airborne and there is no foot contact on the ground – therefore, running strides are generally 2 to 5 times the length of a single track. If you look at the size of the tracks and the space in between them in the top picture, the stride looks to be just about 5 times the length of the track. So perhaps that explains our situation here: it’s not a huge bird walking down the street, it’s most likely an owl or woodpecker running down the street. It’s still a weird concept, as I can’t say I’ve seen any birds running on the ground around here, let alone the length of a city block, but that must be the answer.

It’s a good thing the bird wasn’t running down the street when I was walking my dogs, otherwise they would have pulled me in their fast pursuit of any such bird!

Painting in Painter, VA

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A couple years ago we were driving home to NJ after a family vacation in VA Beach, and passed through the small town of Painter, VA, along Route 13 North. We pulled over for a roadside food stand near the Post Office, and as I got out of the car to take a look around, I noticed a number of paintings on a corrugated metal wall that surrounded the Post Office parking lot. This first one, below, caught my attention – I liked the naive almost Basquiat-like style of the animal, but what is it? A cow, or a dog? And the white stuff coming out of its mouth … is it barfing?

Scroll down and check out another painting from this mural: we’ve got an elephant with tusks who is sticking his trunk up into the nostril of a dragon’s nose. What’s that all about? It makes me curious to see some more paintings in Painter, VA … they’ve got something funky going on down there!

graffiti mural done in a Basquiat style

an elephant and a dragon painting on a mural in Painter, VA

Smile, it’s Monday!

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We’ve got freezing rain outside, snow and ice all over, the kids are complaining that it’s Monday, meaning the start of another school week … yet this graffiti picture is guiding me to start my Monday with a smile – I’m ready for a good week! (seen in Chelsea, NYC)

graffiti seen in the Chelsea neighborhood of NYC

Finding Matisse cutouts in the melting snow

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There have been no shortage of interesting visual things that I’ve found within the slate slidewalks of Glen Ridge (NJ), and it’s not the first time I’ve seen something Matisse-like in the melting snow … yesterday I was walking my dogs as I usually do in the afternoons, and saw a stream-like puddle from melting snow on the slate sidewalks in town, and it caught my attention.

Below left you can see the original larger-picture view, followed by a cropping around the “figure” that caught my eye (center), and a Matisse cut-out (right) that comes to mind when looking at this puddle. Who would have thought that daily dog walks would also include regular art history lessons?

a puddle from melting snow reminds me of a Matisse cutout

Clint Eastwood’s art history doesn’t add up

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I enjoyed watching a Clint Eastwood movie the other night called “Absolute Power” – it’s a 1997 American political thriller produced by, directed by, and starring Clint Eastwood as a master jewel thief who witnesses the killing of a woman by Secret Service agents. I liked the fact that the story included a number of art-related and art historical elements, but in the end, they just didn’t add up.

Let’s take a look at Clint’s character first: Luther Whitney is a master jewel thief, but at the same time, he has a strong interest and appreciation for fine art. The movie opens with Clint in a museum (below left, with the brown shirt on), sitting in front of El Greco’s “St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata,” circa 1585-1590, and he’s working on a drawing, copying elements of the painting.

Clint Eastwood sitting in a museum looking at El Greco

We later learn that Clint Eastwood’s character is so enamored of this El Greco painting, he’s been making sketches at the museum because he’s working on a full-blown copy of the canvas at his home (see below).

An El Greco original and Cllnt Eastwood's copy of it

All right, so early on, we’re introduced to the idea that this master thief, Luther Whitney (Eastwood), has a deep appreciation for art history and master painters. But soon after, we watch Eastwood as his character breaks into a mansion, outsmarting the high-tech security system, and he makes his way upstairs to look for some loot. We see a number of paintings lining the walls of the stairway going up to the 2nd floor, and Eastwood pauses briefly in front of Rembrandt’s “Lucretia” (below left) – at this moment, I get excited, thinking: “he’s spotted a Rembrandt, and he’s going to steal it!” And while he reaches out to touch the frame, and takes a good look, he simply walks away and continues up the stairs.

Clint Eastwood looks at Rembrandt's Lucretia

When he reaches the top of the stairs, Eastwood’s character turns the corner, and walks right past John Singer Sargent’s “Lady Agnew,” and doesn’t even pause for a second! So what is he really after?

Clint Eastwood walking past John Singer Sargent's Lady Agnew

Our art-history-loving thief has decided to gloss over the art masterpieces and head to the bedroom, where he finds a secret closet filled with rare coins, expensive watches, and of course some jewelry … this is the good stuff, thinks Eastwood’s thief, so he pulls out his pillow case and loads up with the loot.

Clint Eastwood character steals coins, watches, and jewelry

Later in the movie, it is mentioned that Eastwood’s theft amounted to $5 million dollars worth of loot and cash – hey, that’s definitely a great payday for one’s night work of thievery. But let’s think about the art that he passed up: granted, the Rembrandt in reality is in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art, and if stolen, would be almost impossible to sell except on the black market, but it would have to be worth at least several hundred million dollars. The Sargent painting is in the collection of the Scottish National Gallery, but would fall under the same circumstances if stolen: difficult to sell due to being an iconic work of art, but certainly worth millions on the black market (not nearly as valuable as the Rembrandt, though).

We can get down to the nitty gritty and say that the coins, watches and jewelry are probably easy to cash in on, and there’s nothing to sneeze about taking home $5 million. But for the sake of drama, fun, and entertainment, why not steal the Rembrandt? Get the loot and the Rembrandt too! Even if he didn’t try to sell it, an art-loving thief would probably enjoy having a Rembrandt hanging in the kitchen. Why not?

Oh well, despite the art-related discrepancies, it was a fun movie, and definitely worth watching.

Calling all Jazz Musicians

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We’ve been busy working on a new initiative, “The Artsology Marketplace,” which will allow artists, craftspeople, musicians, arts-related services, and others an opportunity to open their own “store” on Artsology and leverage our average monthly audience of 50,000+ people to promote themselves. So, with this post, we’re putting out a call to the jazz musicians out there – would you like to promote and sell your recordings (albums, singles) in the Artsology Marketplace? There is no listing fee – you can upload and promote as many MP3s as you want without a single penny of cost, you only share a percentage with us when you sell your music. Please introduce us to your music and apply for your own Artsology store by sending an e-mail for more info to us at: info [at]

* Please note: the Artsology Marketplace has not yet launched – we’re trying to line up a curated selection of vendors in advance of going live.

painting of jazz musicians

Free First Thursdays at the Montclair Art Museum

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The Montclair Art Museum has been offering “Free First Thursdays” on the first Thursday of each month since this past October, and I finally got around to going to one last night. I was looking forward to seeing their new show, “Come as You Are, Art of the 1990s,” but was a bit bummed out to arrive only to find that it doesn’t open until Sunday! Since half of the upstairs gallery space was closed for installation of this new show, there wasn’t a whole lot to see … but at least they had some jazz going in one of the galleries. Have a listen to the Silver Fox Songs Quartet via the video below to get a feel for the music. They had a great crowd there last night, including an audience for a kid-band playing Nirvana songs in the auditorium downstairs in advance of the 90s show opening. Something struck me as funny to see kids too young to have known Nirvana first-hand playing Nirvana songs … they were talented, though, and sounded good!

Only half of a Kenny Scharf?

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I saw these two graffiti-covered shutters over a storefront on 7th Avenue in NYC last weekend, and of course I recognized the artist on the right side to be Kenny Scharf. If you look carefully, however, you can see the blue shape is actually a nose, and you can see a partial mouth with two front teeth below the nose, so it would appear that at one time, the left shutter held the rest of this blue face and a full two-panel Scharf mural.

So the question is, who’s the knucklehead who decided that their orange tag of three letters (with a cartoon face in the 3rd letter at right) is better than the 2nd half of a Scharf mural? What a bummer …

Kenny Scharf graffiti mural on 7th Avenue, NYC

Art in an unexpected place: ESPN’s website

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I’m a guy who loves art and sports, so I spend as much time reading sports news as I do art news. As I was reading today, I was caught off guard by a funky illustration of Carmelo Anthony on the home page for an article about the dysfunction of the New York Knicks’ organization, titled “False Prophets” and written by Ian Begley.

While I enjoyed the article (in a painful sort of way, since my beloved Knicks are horrible this year – and most years), it was the illustrations by Van Orton Design which I thought really made a strong impression. Van Orton Design is a pair of illustrators, designers and musicians who are from Italy, and this was my first exposure to their work. It was a fresh, distinct look for a sports article, which I appreciated very much.

It seems they sell prints of their work here and here … I may have to do some shopping and add a few to my own collection!

illustrations by Van Orton Design

An art-filled weekend, featuring Outsider Art, graffiti, Clemente, and Ofili

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Last weekend was a pretty good one, in terms of seeing a lot of great art. It started Friday night, with a visit to NYC to see the annual Outsider Art Fair, featuring “the best examples of self-taught art from both acclaimed and recently discovered artists from across the globe” (from the intro of the catalog to the show). Below top left you can see Clementine Hunter’s “African Head Dress with Two Zinnias,” 1965, from this exhibition.

On Sunday, I went back into NYC to see Francesco Clemente’s exhibition “Inspired by India,” which just closed at the Rubin Museum. The exhibition was devoted to the Indian influences in Clemente’s work and how they relate to the artistic practices and traditions of various regions in India. One of Clemente’s paintings, titled “Hunger,” 1990, is pictured below bottom left.

After leaving the Rubin Museum, I made my way downtown via 7th Avenue, and saw plenty of good street art, including this “peek-a-boo” graffiti figure (seen below, top right) on the 2nd story of a building somewhere in the 20’s on the west side of the street.

My final destination on Sunday was the New Museum, which was wrapping up an exhibition of paintings and sculpture by Chris Ofili, who became somewhat notorious in the late 1990s for his painting of the Virgin Mary on a canvas that was balanced on two piles of elephant dung. It became part of a lawsuit between the mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art when it was exhibited there in 1999 as a part of the “Sensation” exhibition. I have to be honest, I haven’t seen much of Ofili’s work since around that time, so it was a pleasant surprise to see that he’s been creating a solid body of work since then – perhaps much less controversial, but certainly varied and beautiful and proof that he wasn’t just making art for shock value … I really enjoyed this show and want to revisit these paintings again and again – you can see an installation view from this show below, bottom right.

Outsider Art, graffiti, Francesco Clemente, and Chris Ofili