“That Heartbreaking Invisible Place”

“She makes visible that heartbreaking invisible place between the appearance and the disappearance of things,” wrote Richard Avedon about photographer Lillian Bassman, who died at 94 in her home at Manhattan last week.

Like her contemporary Irving Penn, who passed away last year at age 92, Bassman worked on her art until the very end of her life. The photo above, titled “It’s a Cinch,” was taken for Harper’s Bazaar in 1951. At that time, model Stella Tennant, who appears in the shot below (part of this shoot for Vogue Germany), wasn’t even born yet – and wouldn’t be born for another 19 years.

Bassman lived an extraordinary life. The daughter of bohemian Russian-Jewish immigrants living in Brooklyn, she moved in with her husband, fellow artist Paul Himmel, when she 15. Together they survived through the Great Depression: Bassman worked as an artists’ model, while Himmel taught art. They were involved in political strikes of the era, and Bassman once picketed in the nude to protest arts financing cuts. Soon, she got a job co-art-directing Junior Bazaar, one of the most creative and experimental teen girl magazines that ever existed. Junior Bazaar failed because it was too out-there, but it launched Bassman’s fashion photography career, landing her gigs for Harper’s Bazaar.

Over the years, Bassman’s painterly, impressionistic style fell out of fashion.  Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow  famously said to her during a shoot, “I didn’t bring you to Paris to make art; I brought you here to do the buttons and bows.” Fed up with fashion photography, Bassman famously destroyed most of her negatives in the 60s. It wasn’t until the early 90s that a fashion historian urged her to revisit the few negatives she had left. Bassman began experimenting anew, and re-emerged as a force in fashion photography. She embraced new technologies, discovering Photoshop when she was 87.

After the jump, a collection of Bassman’s work, past and present.

An Experimental Film with Early Electronic Music Starring Anaïs Nin

Today, we celebrate what would have been Anaïs Nin’s 109th birthday by posting Bells of Atlantis, an experimental film from 1952.

The film stars Nin as the mythical queen of Atlantis and conveys, as Wonders in the Dark puts it, “the experience of trying to remember and re-experience a dream.” Over cascading experimental footage, Nin reads aloud from her novella House of Incest. We catch glimpses of her nude form swinging in a hammock, and we see her shadow undulating over sheer fabric blowing in the wind, but for the most part, the imagery, captured by Nin’s husband Ian Hugo, remains very abstract, creating a “sense of swimming through a hallucination, trying to get closer to a world clouded not only by its own hazy nature, but the veils of memory and reality cast over it – given form by the watery ambiance that washes over the images.”


Bebe Barron, an early pioneer of electronic music.

The soundscape was crafted by Louis and Bebe Barron, two pioneers of electronic music who are best known for composing the world’s first entirely electronic music score for The Forbidden Planet, which the Barrons filled with “bleeps, blurps, whirs, whines, throbs, hums, and screeches.” They built their own circuits, which they viewed as “cybernetic organisms,” and spliced together the sounds they made into collages. Louis did the work of creating the circuits, while Bebe did most of the composing. Their sound, wrote Nin, was akin to “a molecule that has stubbed its toes.” Bebe Barron was one of the first women in the field of electronic music, and in her last interview, she fondly recalls memories of her friend Anaïs.

[via wobbly]

Wayne White: “Beauty Is Embarrassing”

Wayne White is an American artist, puppeteer, sculptor, set designer, cartoonist, art director, animator, and illustrator whose influence on popular culture has been quietly vast. As Mark Mothersbaugh puts it: “Kids [in the ’80s] mainlined it. He was imprinting their brains, and they don’t even know it.” Filmmaker Neil Berkeley’s new documentary about White’s roller coaster career and personal life looks like it’s packed-to-bursting with inspiration and warm-fuzzies and whimsy and pathos:

“Raised in the mountains of Tennessee, Wayne White started his career as a cartoonist in New York City. He quickly found success as one of the creators of the TV show, Pee-wee’s Playhouse, which led to more work designing some of the most arresting and iconic images in pop culture. Most recently, his word paintings, which feature pithy and often sarcastic text statements crafted onto vintage landscape paintings, have made him a darling of the fine art world.”

Beauty Is Embarrassing chronicles the vaulted highs and the crushing lows of a commercial artist struggling to find peace and balance between his work and his art. Acting as his own narrator, Wayne guides us through his life using moments from his latest creation: a hilarious, biographical one-man show.”

The world premiere of Beauty Is Embarrassing will take place on March 10th at SXSW. Click through below to see more examples of Wayne White’s multifaceted work.


Beauty is Embarrassing film still, featuring White wearing his LBJ paper mache puppet head.

Walter Schnackenberg’s Theater of the Strange

So, Will Schofield over at 50 Watts has a bit of a fetish for German poster illustrator Walter Schnackenberg (1880-1961) and I’m finding it pretty easy to see why. Schnackenberg’s work is almost like Salvador Dali and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (whose work Schnackenberg admired) had a child, swinging wildly between the more traditional theater illustration and extremely surreal dreamscapes and oftentimes these two worlds collide.

His figures are lithe and twisting, their faces many times animal-like — stretched and disfigured. The tone of many of these is hard to nail down, evolving as he grew older and introduced stranger elements into his work. His older work seems more playful, and certainly there is some of this in the later pieces, but one can definitely see a darker, more cynical streak enter his oeuvre as time went on. It all makes for a truly captivating body of work.

Randy Halverson’s “Dakotalapse”

Randy Halverson’s gorgeously ethereal “Dakotalapse”. Comprised of thousands of 20-30 second exposures stitched together, it was shot mostly near the White River in South Dakota, with additional footage shot in Utah and Colorado.

In the opening “Dakotalapse” title shot, you see bands of red and green moving across the sky. After asking several Astronomers, they are possible noctilucent clouds, airglow or faint Aurora. I never got a definite answer to what it is. You can also see the red and green bands in other shots.

At :53 and 2:17 seconds into the video you see a Meteor with a Persistent Train. Which is ionizing gases, which lasted over a half hour in the cameras frame. Phil Plait wrote an article about the phenomena [for Discover Magazine] here.

There is a second Meteor with a much shorter persistent train at 2:51 in the video. This one wasn’t backlit by the moon like the first, and moves out of the frame quickly.

The soundtrack was done by Bear McCreary, who some of you may know from his work on Battlestar Galactica If you like this there is a 23 minute(!) extended cut available for download.

Via lens culture

Russian Illustrated “Bluebeard” – Y’Know, For Kids!

And just so that you don’t think Russian children’s books are all sunshine and rainbows, here’s an illustrated version of the French tale Bluebeard from the Soviet era. For all the full images, click here.

We often talk of how Disney films teach children outmoded lessons about gender – both boys and girls receive terrible lessons about how to construct their identity. Cinderella, for instance, teaches us that “if you’re beautiful enough, you may be able to escape your terrible living conditions by getting a wealthy man to fall for you.” The Little Mermaid says, “it’s okay to abandon your family, drastically change your body, and give up your strongest talent in order to get your man. Once he sees your pretty face, only a witch’s spell could draw his eyes away from you.”

Perhaps it’s good to have a children’s book that tells the story of misogyny straight-up, without wrapping it up with singing animal sidekicks and happy marriages. Beautiful illustrations, creepy tale.

Cvetik-Semicvetik (The Flower With Seven Colours)

Cvetik-Semicvetik, or “the flower with seven colors,” is a beloved tale from the USSR. There are many different illustrated versions out there, but perhaps the most trippy one comes from the mind of Russian artist Benjamin Losin. Losin apparently illustrated two different versions of this book, both of which are included here.

The story, lots more lush illustrations, plus a 1948 cartoon version of the tale, after the cut!

Kiss – A Love Story

Kiss – A Love Story is a stunning short film directed by Joseph Hodgson & Franck Aubry set to a beautiful song entitled “Stille” by Bendik. It’s not a complex piece, and fairly abstract, but it’s almost a perfect combination of sound and imagery. ( As John Martz at Drawn notes, you may want to set it to full screen when you watch it, as the aspect ratio makes the video tiny when scaled down to fit our template.)

Via Drawn

“When you cut into the present the future leaks out.” –William S. Burroughs (b. February 5, 1914)

Yes. Hello. Feb 5th is the date of novelist William S. Burroughs’ birth. Coilhouse should really show the man some love. W.S.B. double feature, anyone?

First, The Cut-Ups, a mesmeric and disorienting experimental piece Burroughs put together with filmmaker Antony Balch (aided by multi-disciplinary art firebrand Brion Gysin and others) in 1966. Over the course of twenty minutes, it plays out in very much the same vein as Burroughs’ literary cut-ups, only with multiple sensory layers of headfuckery. (Read more about the film here / the generalized concept of cut-ups here.)


(Via Scott Spencer.)

Second, a clip from the 1983 documentary Burroughs, wherein the birthday Billy reads aloud and acts out the horrifically funny Dr. Benway passage from Naked Lunch. Co-starring Jackie Curtis as the nurse! (And check out this amazing photo of Gysin, Curtis, and Burroughs together. Dawww.)

“Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer.”
(W.S.B.)

“My work is about leaving the door open to the imagination.” -Dorothea Tanning (1910 – 2012)


Sleeping Nude (1954) by Dorothea Tanning. Oil on canvas.

And she did. Countless others have walked through that door behind Dorothea Tanning– fellow iconoclasts and creative powerhouses (many women, but surely, many not) who might never have pursued their work otherwise.

Her independence, her intelligence, and her centenarian resolve to lead an extraordinary life no matter what, should be as central to her legacy as her art and writings. Tanning died in her sleep last night at the age of 101…

“…and pieces of history die with her. Artist, poet, wife of Max Ernst from 1946 until he died in 1976, and (along with Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, Kay Sage, Lee Miller, Maya Deren, Remedios Varo, and Leonor Fini) one of a group of great women Surrealists, she was at the center of a movement that was a vicious mill for women. Among the surrealists, females — while ‘allowed’ to be artists — were often also relegated to the sidelines of neglected or beset mistresses, muses, and madwomen.” ~Jerry Saltz (for New York Magazine)


Birthday (1942) by Dorothea Tanning. Oil on canvas.

Her advice to younger generations: “Keep your eye on your inner world and keep away from ads, idiots and movie stars.”