Saturday, March 31, 2012


Let me try a Tex Avery gag here. We see a pair of beautiful legs...what a pair of gams!!!...and to the tune of sultry saxophone music we slowly pan up.

At the end of the pan we smash truck in on the face and armpit (above), and what we see.....what we see is....well....not what we were expecting! 

Actually the girl isn't bad looking. I'll bet the photographer gave her the geek glasses and posed her this way for a joke. Anyway, she'd be fun to draw, and fun to draw faces are what this post is all about. 

Of course, the ultimate female face to draw (above) was that of Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Blvd."

Wow! Don't mess with this (above) kid! Note how the nose deforms when she grimaces. The middle section flattens and broadens into a heart shape. Look at the fork wrinkles that seem to come out of the eyes and spread around the nose. 

Look at this girl (above)!  The whole bottom half of her face slants inward. I wish I could see this pose on a profile.

Here's (above) the young Maurice Chevalier. People who''ve never seen Chevalier before will probably go nuts trying to figure out what this expression means. 

I;m beginning to realize that if you want to photograph girls, then you better have a basket full of of different kinds of glasses handy. They really do define a subject. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Everybody knows Ludwig Bemelmans' work (above). He's the guy who did the Madeline books.

Bemelmans was an outstanding gouache painter (example above) at a time when nobody took gouache seriously. The art critics were only interested in oils so Bemelmans and others abandoned their water media and took up oil, sometimes with disastrous results.

Here's the same scene as above, only Bemelmans painted it in oil this time. Which would you rather own?

Bemelmans made a big mistake. I'm second to none in my love for classical oil paintings (above), but I have to admit that there's something about the modern era that's not congenial with oil.

Whatever it is, it may have been afoot even in Rubens' time. He was the acknowledged master of the highly finished oil painting, yet half his work feels impressionistic, and looks more like sketches than finished art. I don't think Rubens was lazy; he just found it difficult to convey with heavy oil what was in the air in his time.

No doubt our exposure to Japanese art influenced us. Japan made high art out of what essentially are cartoons. Of course we were already on the cartoon track with artists like Cruickshank, Daumier, Busch and Lear. Later on Lautrec, Picasso, Dufy and Miro would take it up. Cartooning really was the heart of 20th Century art.

Getting back to Bemelmans, I love his early cartoony pictures. They're not just a stylization of things he saw, but a suggestion of how it felt to see them. 

Take the scene above for example. It's bracing and incongruous at the same time. That's how modern man sees everything, as a puzzling and exciting hodgepodge of opposites. In this case the opposites are technology and nature, light childish line used to portray heavy iron, rapid movement of colossal things, and the acceptance of it all by ordinary people. 

What separates us from the past is that we moderns have no fear of living with contradiction and contrasts. We revel in it. We favor artistic styles that embody it. 

I also like the kid way that Bemelmans draws. Here (above) he portrays the regimentation and technology that makes modern restaurants possible, and renders them in a style that suggests charm and childhood innocence. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I just got back from a trip to Lackland Airforce Base in Texas where I watched a much loved relative graduate from basic training. What an experience! I spent four days surrounded by trainees and drill sergeants and was so impressed by the dedication and idealism that I witnessed, that by the end I felt like I'd acquired a new family.

There's a lot of running in basic, and even bystanders like me couldn't help but pick up fragments of the running songs. My favorite was one sung by what looked like visiting army guys. It went like this:  "Two old ladies lyin' in bed/ One rolled over to the other and said/ 'I want to be an Airborne Ranger/ I want to lead a life of danger!/ Danger....Ahhhhh!/ Ranger....Ahhhhhh!!' "

BTW, the two black and white photos above are taken from a brilliant WWII photo book called "At Ease" which I discovered in the base library. 

The Army guys weren't there for basic training. They and some Navy and Marines were there to study for joint operations. The sailors were wearing something (above) I'd never seen camouflage fatigues with a pattern that looked like tumultuous sea water. That seemed odd to me because if a man fell overboard he'd want something as colorful and unsealike as possible for contrast. Maybe it's meant to foil photography from the air.

While we're on the subject of camouflage, how do you like the fatigues (above) that airman wear now?

Here's (above) a close shot of the pattern. The shapes look jagged and digital.  I'd of thought that blurred edges would work better but tests favored the pixel. Who'da thunk?

I'd also have expected the dark shapes to have a vertical bias because that's the way tall grass and trees grow, but as you can see the camouflage has a horizontal bias. Maybe that's because most shadows are horizontal. If you think about it, even vertical things like trees cast their shadows mostly on the flat ground.

Can you spot the soldier in this picture? Camouflage is a science now.

This one's (above) even harder. Can you see the soldier here?

The graduation oration was terrific. Washington and Valley Forge were remembered and appropriately, so was Von Steuben (spelled right?), the man who trained the Continental Army and made it professional.

It culminated in the graduates reciting The Airman's Creed. The part about being "My nation's sword and shield/ It's sentry and avenger" left me in tears.

The plane trip home was fascinating, but I'll have to save that story for another time.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I should move on to another subject, but I can't help putting up one more post about criminals of the early 20th Century. I warn you, it's pretty scary!

How do you like the guy on the left (above)? He strikes me as psychotic. If only real criminals were more like Barks' Beagle Boys. They were career thieves but they weren't crazy, they were just greedy.

What a contrast between the short, high-strung guy on the left and his tall, mellow friend on the right. How did these guys ever get along together? I also notice that one man creases his pants and the other doesn't. I guess this was the era when the crease was coming into popularity.

Look at this guy (above)! He just can't wait to pummel somebody. His pants might be creased, but if they are, the crease must run almost up the sides of his legs. I notice too, that his suit looks like he slept in it, and the edges around the buttons look stressed. Maybe it's made of cotton rather than wool.

Wow! A mean version of Sterling Hayden. Click to enlarge. When blown up this picture conveys a powerful sense of place.

Old-time heist movies almost always feature an expert, and he almost always looks like the guy above. He's the guy with some rare and necessary skill, and he's always greatly respected by other thugs. 

Is that the same guy (above) in all three pictures? The faces all have the same big ears, thin nose and clipped eyebrows. If it is the same guy, then the change of suit and posture is a really ingenious disguise.. 

Yikes! This criminal (above) looks like the poet, Baudelaire! His expression makes me think he possesses a shrew-like nervous intensity, and is always looking for a way to turn a situation to his advantage. I think this picture is from the late 1890s.

This guy (above) looks kinda dumb, and maybe he is, but what if he's faking that, as a kind of disguise?

Boy, one of the drawbacks of being a criminal is that you have to associate with other criminals. So many of them are either crazy or, like the guy above, chronically lazy. But maybe I'm being too hard on him. Maybe he's just tired.

Wow! If it's true that your life is written on your face, then this woman's face (above) is a whole volume! The horrible things she must have seen!

BTW, look at that dress! At the turn of the century women's fashion looked fine, but by the time WWl came along it was terrible. Look how shapeless that dress is! I'm no fan of the Flappers, but their way of dressing must have seemed like a breath of fresh air compared to what came immediately before.  

This woman (above) didn't seem to want her picture taken. My guess is that she was afraid that her mother would see it. Maybe that shame was her ticket out of the underworld.


I'm going to be offline til Sunday. See you then!


Sunday, March 18, 2012


These are all criminals from the 1920s. What strikes me about them is how much they all seemed to value their fancy clothes.

Maybe the guy above is a partial exception. He looks like a natural-born bully, and might have turned to crime even if there was no money in it. Maybe he valued the classy suit because from a distance it gave him an air of civility. He would have delighted in luring the unsuspecting up close where he could reveal his other self.

His pants are badly tailored, but I'll bet few would have dared to tell him. And look at the size of that fedora!

Now this guy (above) had a decent tailor!

It's interesting that in close up he chooses to look distinguished, and in a long shot he chooses to look like a tough guy. Look at the way he handles that cigarette!

Geez, a character (above) like the one Joe Pesci played in "Casino." So they really do exist!

Good Grief! Another (above) Joe Pesci!!!! Maybe the underworld used to be full of Joe Pescies...violent, psychotic, short guys. Check out that belt.

I bet you didn't know Elmer Fudd (above) was a gangster!

It's easy to forget that a lot of 20s criminals (above) weren't exactly flush with money. Look at this kid. He'd have made more dough working an honest job.

What an interesting face! This guy (above) looks like the actor who played Ming the Merciless in the black and white "Flash Gordon."

This post is too long already, but it wouldn't be complete without the ladies.  Look at the profile on this woman (above)! If she hadn't gone into crime, she might have had a career on the stage as a character actor.

I'll bet this woman (above) was a madame.

Gee, this girl is especially tragic. With a few breaks she might have had a better life.

Friday, March 16, 2012


Suicide Girls is an interesting site, but I don't think you'll find many girls (above) there who are suicidal. I was just there and it looked to me like the people were positively sunny.

Well, most of them (above).

It seems to me that a site like that would benefit from showing some genuinely depressed women. I mean, isn't that why people go there? 

You don't want to see any one who's seriously thinking about doing themselves in, but a little "I can't think of a reason to get out of bed in the morning (above)" doesn't seem like too much to ask for. Think of all the Abilify ads they'd get.

Hmmm...come to think of it, maybe you can't have a whole site full of depressed women (above).

Maybe the answer is to show women who are not only depressed, but also angry (above). They're at the end of their tether. You imagine that the moment after the photo shoot ended they trashed the poor photographer's studio.

Maybe they could run a comic strip aout a surly woman (above) who hates life.

A site like that could contain feature articles and interviews. I heard of a rich lady curmudgeon (above) who drove around at night in a chauffeured limo shooting at cats with a BB gun. She'd make a great interview subject.

Of course Suicide Girls is a naked site, so she'd have to be willing to take her clothes off.

Sigh....I don't know. Maybe the site's better off the way it is. I'll have to give this some more thought.