Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Stitched Portraits: Paul Reubens


"Whenever anyone hears the secret word, SCREAM REAL LOUD, OK?!"

"Why don't you marry it?"

...Legendary phrases from a legendary character played by a really sweet, fun man with a penchant for the weird and the quirky. Pee-Wee Herman - the character, the movies, and the show were quite possibly the most influential creative force in my life, ever. Whenever I think about an idea, I think of it in context of Pee Wee's Playhouse. Subconsciously I ask myself, "Would this fit in the Playhouse?"

Paul Reubens, the man who made him, turned 60 years old yesterday and has recently revived Pee-Wee after a very long hiatus. He still retains the whimsy, the energy, and the youthfulness that made it all so special in the first place.

See early Pee-Wee here.

See one of the best scenes from his Christmas special here.

See him now, here.

Paul Reubens (as Pee-Wee, sweet-faced):

Monday, August 27, 2012

Stitched Portraits: Tim Burton

A cause for wonder in my early years, Tim Burton's films were unlike the other movies I saw as a little kid. Edward Scissorhands existed in the kind of world I recognized, but the reality was elevated, possibly my first glimpse into magical realism. Beetlejuice was possibly my first dark comedy. And Pee-Wee's Big Adventure introduced me to the character who would most influence everything for me (see tomorrow).

Despite commercial success, Burton is an auteur and a visual director inspired by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Grand Guignol, and the stop-motion of Ray Harryhausen. His early shorts (Vincent and Frankenweenie) were a glimpse into everything he would subsequently do. A few years ago he was given a retrospect of his work at MOMA which showcased everything he's done, including: the pictures he made as a boy, the frustrated drawings he would make all over his Disney animation pad, and the costumes, puppets, sets, and preliminary character sketches that defined his films - modern fairy tale masterpieces.

Tim Burton (young and brooding):

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Stitched Portraits: Letta Mbulu

Michael Jackson's Bad is kind of incredible from start to finish, but the standout track for me has always been "Liberian Girl". Much of that has to do with the Swahili chant of "Naku Penda pia, Naku Taka pia, Mpenziwe!" uttered by Letta Mbulu, a jazz singer from South Africa. In addition to working with Michael, she's also recorded with Cannonball Adderley, David Axelrod, and Harry Belafonte. She turned 70 years old today.

Letta Mbulu (stunning, youth):

Stitched Portraits: Dorothy Parker

"I'm too fucking busy, and vice versa"

Four be the things I'd been better without:
Love, curiosity, freckles, and doubt.

"I don't care what is written about me so long as it isn't true"

Some men tear your heart in two,
Some men flirt and flatter,
Some men never look at you,
And that clears up the matter.

"Ducking for apples - change one letter and it's the story of my life"

If I didn't care for fun and such,
I'd probably amount to much.
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn.

- Dorothy Parker:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Stitched Portraits: David Lochary

John Waters made movies with his friends since his first film, Hag in a Black Leather Jacket. The group of people he featured as actors came to be known as the Dreamlanders. David Lochary was in every film after Hag and up to Female Trouble.

In Pink Flamingos he played Raymond Marble - one half of the villainous wannabe filth duo that sought to dethrone Divine as the "Filthiest Person Alive" (Mink Stole, the other). To dye his hair blue for the role he bleached it and opened up blue markers, using the ink for color.

In his personal life he was a best friend to Divine and his original makeup artist.
Sadly, Lochary died at the too young age of 32.

David Lochary (as Donald Dasher):

Monday, August 20, 2012

Stitched Portraits: Coco Chanel

She is better known for her contributions to fashion rather than her anti-Semitism, but I could not ignore the latter. On the one hand, Coco Chanel liberated women from suffocating garb by creating loose and sophisticated designs that spoke a new language, influencing modern dress to this day. On the other, she used her position as an Aryan to attempt to unseat her Jewish counterparts in the perfume business and worked as a Nazi spy.

An Enigma,
Coco Chanel
(wearing an unlikely neck decoration):

Friday, August 17, 2012

Stitched Portraits: Herb Vogel

Last night I had the chance to see the Vogel show for free due to a late night party at the RISD museum. Herb and Dorothy Vogel have donated 50 pieces from their collection to each of the 50 states and RISD was the chosen institution from Rhode Island. It only seemed fitting to stitch Herb yesterday for his birthday, only weeks after his passing, and on the same night I first viewed a piece of the Vogel aesthetic.

A little history - Herb and Dorothy Vogel were married in 1962 and began collecting difficult yet interesting minimalist and post-minimalist art in 1965. Unlike typical art buyers, they came from very modest earnings. Herb was a postal worker, Dorothy a librarian. Her salary paid the bills, his salary bought the art. In their tiny apartment, they amassed a huge collection of mostly smaller works by sculptors and painters. There is a really great documentary about them if you want more of their story. I am in love with them. They are wonderful and it was sad to hear that Herb is gone in the midst of this validation of a life's work.

Herb Vogel (August 16, 1922 – July 22, 2012):

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Stitched Portraits: Julia Child

It's not just the fact that it was her 100th birthday yesterday, or that she was a spy, or that she was responsible for bringing French cuisine to America (and butter, and cream...). It was her conviction to do something greater. She needed to share her passion to live as full of a life as possible, undeterred by social restrictions. It didn't matter that she started her career at 40... Let it serve as inspiration to start whenever!

Julia Child (with knife, in advance of Coq au Vin):

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Stitched Portraits: Alfred Hitchcock

b. Aug. 13, 1899

There is something about Hitchcock that is family friendly, not that his film subjects and themes are any indicator. I was reminded of this yesterday as I was picking up a few items from Target and spotted a Hitchcock collection nestled among the Family DVDs. Although I was confused initially, upon further consideration I realized that Hitchcock's were some of the first horror films I ever had a chance to see as a kid. The Bates Motel was even on the Universal Studios tour. He's just accepted in that way.

That being said, he also made beautiful work. Just this year, Vertigo was named the greatest film of all time by the British Film Institute after a 50 year dominance by Citizen Kane. But that was just the peak of his 50's era. In a sense, Hitchcock sort of had 4 different careers within the film industry. Beginning as a filmmaker in the 20's, he gained momentum based on his expressionist style. In the 30's he began to master suspense and caught the attention of Hollywood. In the 40's he made films that spanned genres. In the 50's he made some of his most critically acclaimed films and by the 60's he was making perfect, dark films that remain classics, recognized by nearly everyone in any culture (most notably Psycho and The Birds). His style is copied, parodied, and at best inspires filmmakers to make them their own way.

Alfred Hitchcock (with crow and trademark leer):

Stitched Portraits: Dan Curtis

In addition to being a devoted husband and father of three born in Bridgeport, CT, Aug 12, 1927, He was also a director and producer, most well known for his creation of Dark Shadows.

Some history: A number of years ago I spent every day working in a puppet lab alongside a really friendly, smiling, close to non-English speaking friend from the Dominican Republic. He didn't say much, but he was a brilliant sculptor who loved vampires - specifically Dark Shadows...

Dark Shadows was a soap opera from the mid-sixties that radically changed the meaning of soaps by including all forms of the supernatural. Most famous was a reluctant vampire named Barnabas Collins (quite possibly the first use of a reluctant vampire - a theme which is so prevalent today). On a lark (and also due to my sculptor friend), my wife and I took the first of the collected DVD series out of the library and we became hooked. We actually only watched up to Collection 22 (due to a lack of Barnabas in the storyline), but at 4 discs each collection, 10 episodes per disc, we watched a total of 880 Dark Shadows episodes over a 2 year period. (Wow. Just calculated that for the first time ever...) The show was a feat that may never be accomplished again in television. They filmed 5 days a week and the actors received their scripts the morning of shooting. The show's scenes were cut to tape only once and mistakes were tolerated, always ending with the phrase, "Dark Shadows is a Dan Curtis Production."

Dan Curtis (with trademark grin):

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Stitched Portraits: Jack Haley

The story goes that my Great-Grandma Grant (ma GGG) was cousins and BFF's with Mr. Jack Haley, the famous Hollywood actor. This is my one claim to Hollywood royalty. I am of a distant relation to the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. It's been told that he was a jovial, good-natured, and all-around good guy with a big heart, like his life-defining role.

Jack Haley (obviously, as the Tin Man):

Friday, August 10, 2012

Stitched Portraits: Tove Jansson

Yesterday was my anniversary (4 years with my Talia!) and we live very similar to the Moomintrolls, although we don't have a tree in the middle of our house. Their motto - to live in peace, plant potatoes, and dream - is a good motto. Talia and I do something like that, making new traditions everyday, with our own Little My...

Tove Jansson was from Finland and created the lovable Moomintrolls back in the 1940's because the War depressed her. She wrote many books and comics about them, but my favorite was written in 1952 - a children's book called The Book anout Moomin, Mymble, and Little My. It remains fresh even today, 60 years later.

In her later years Tove wrote exclusively for adults, but her little Moomins will forever make people of all ages very happy.

Tove Jansson (with 2 Moomintrolls):

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Stitched Portraits: Kristin Hersh

I've always been aware but I think a little obsession is growing.

Kristin Hersh grew up in Rhode Island and I'll always have a soft spot for local artists and musicians who are true to their craft. As a teenager in the eighties she grew a following for her band, Throwing Muses, moving on to a successful solo career in the nineties, now a mother of four and creator of CASH music (which seeks to circumvent record labels). She compiled a memoir of her formative years (Rat Girl) in 2010.

Kristin Hersh (piercing eyeballs):

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Stitched Portraits: Andy Warhol

Growing up, it was Warhol who taught me what art could be. He was my window into a greater consciousness. A man made famous among the philistines due to his use of pop iconography like Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and Liz Taylor. But once you peeked in deeper you saw his darkness and absurdity. Films like Empire (one still shot of the Empire State Building) and performances at Max's Kansas City (where members of his entourage would masturbate on tables) cued me into something beyond my soccer town and into a world full of outsiders.

Andy Warhol (superstar, contemplating):

Monday, August 6, 2012

Stitched Portraits: Jason Kendall

When I was in high school I saw the Amazing Royal Crowns as many times as I could. It was the kind of show that I would happily go to alone and dance my ass off. They fed me a mixture of rockabilly, punk, and country infused with a love of my hometown, Providence, RI. Their raw energy was facilitated by the group's frontman - Jason "King" Kendall - who looks like a rock star, effortlessly, and presented a kind of punk ethos that inspires me even today. He's also a gracious kind of guy. I'm glad to have shared some conversations with him.

Jason Kendall (tattoos showing):

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Stitched Portraits: Barack Obama

Happy Birthday to a guy I'm happy to call my President.
Nobel Peace Prize Winner
Celebrated Author
Good Father

Barack Obama (In Leis):

Stitched Portraits: Martha Stewart

A hero to crafters everywhere, a brilliant businesswoman, and a former model. Most don't know that last fact, but as a college student studying art, European, and architectural history, Martha had a moderately successful modeling career (mostly because she was a smoking hot Martita...)

I love Martha for her consistent dedication to a high standard of craft. She gives sewing, cooking, and all other domestic activities the importance they deserve by showing that design and beauty is inherent in all of our practical arts.

Martha Stewart (young, modeling, hair swoop):

Friday, August 3, 2012

Stitched Portraits: Butch Vig

What do Nirvana's Nevermind, Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream, and the band Garbage have in common? Arguably one of the greatest record producers of the 1990's.

Butch Vig (in sunglasses):

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Stitched Portraits: Chuck D

Leader of Public Enemy, Chuck D is a voice for the fight against power and corruption through his rapping and writing. Plus, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back is one of the greatest albums of all time. And since I chose to stitch his counterpart on March 16, it was only natural to have both in the collection.

Chuck D (headphoned in thought):