omnia vanitas

guido mocafico
Top and above, from the vanitas series (2007) by Guido Mocafico (b. 1962),
an Italian-Swiss photographer living in France.
David Bailly (1584–1657)—Self-Portrait with Vanitas Symbols, c. 1651.
Note the date of the painting and Bailly's age
Above, overtly moralizing 18th century Austrian vanitas;
below typical 17th century Dutch still life vanitas by Adriaen van Utrecht

oskar dawicki
Vanitas”, 2005, by  Polish artist Oskar Dawicki (b. 1971) Various perishable food items are
arranged on shelves, each connected to a digital timer which counts down the days until
the item's expiration date. By the installation's end, all the products have gone bad or are technically inedible.
Ori Gersht--Time After Time: Blow Up No. 5
Time After Time: Blow Up No. 2
ori gersht-Time After Time: Blow Up No. 7
(above 3 images) Time After Time: Blow Up, by Ori Gersht (b. 1967), an Israeli fine art photographer living in London. The series consists of photographs of floral arrangements frozen with liquid nitrogen then captured at the moment of explosion.
Sed fugit interea fugit irreparabile tempus, singula dum capti circumvectamur amore
“But meanwhile it flees: time flees irretrievably, while we wander around, prisoners of our love
of detail.”—Virgil

I had a tough time last weekend.

I wrote to a friend by way of explanation, “awful, awful. I feel like I'm trapped in a vanitas allegory.”
Aside from sounding pretentious, what was I talking about? Let's let turn to wikipedia:
...vanitas is a type of symbolic work of art especially associated with Northern European still life painting in Flanders and the Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries, though also common in other places and periods. The Latin word means "emptiness" and loosely translated corresponds to the meaninglessness of earthly life and the transient nature of vanity. Ecclesiastes 1:2 from the Bible is often quoted in conjunction with this term. The Vulgate (Latin translation of the Bible) renders the verse as Vanitas vanitatum omnia vanitas. The verse is translated as "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity" by the King James Version of the Bible, and "Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless" by the New International Version of the Bible.
...By the 15th century these could be extremely morbid and explicit, reflecting an increased obsession with death and decay also seen in the Ars moriendi, Danse Macabre, and the overlapping motif of the Memento mori. From the Renaissance such motifs gradually became more indirect, and as the still-life genre became popular, found a home there. Paintings executed in the vanitas style were meant to remind viewers of the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death. They also provided a moral justification for many paintings of attractive objects.
My distress stemmed from having recently joined an online dating site and all the attendant self-examination that was involved. Your description of yourself—has it kept up with reality? Are the things that “signify” you—all the short hand you might think of yourself in— is it still true? What are you looking for? Do you know? Or do you find yourself looking for ghosts? And then what about these other people? Where is the line between selling a good profile and delusion?

One person told me, "online dating is filled with chimeras." Well, maybe you dont always know when you see one.


waking words, part II

Today I awoke saying the words "the cinnamon and blood"... 
"Cutting, peeling away"— thats where I'm going to go with the interpretation... Discuss.
I have a definite but very sporadic history of waking up saying something out loud. Last time I wrote about this I had said the words "four out of five birds use wings". (see below)

One time a few years ago I had an early morning coinage— the annoying compound word “lipsmitten.” Spelling, pronunciation, meaning
was clear to me: One word. Lipsmitten. It meant enjoying the sound of a word, independent and regardless of its meaning. Ironically, I have to say I didnt like the sound or the look of "lipsmitten"; I had disappointed myself. It's "clever" in an obvious, facile way. The word "smitten" is irritating, and the assonance of the i's is dopey. The most intriguing aspect to me about the incident was the sense that "lipsmitten" sounded like a translation into English of a foreign term. As if English were my second (dreaming) language. Perhaps a clue is that I have always loved the peculiar specificity of German terms for nuanced psychological states and philosophical dilemma. 'Lipsmitten' sounds German to me (audio: "lip • shmitt'n") and although I dont know any German, perhaps I made my own translation.

Images: "Blood"-a photo I swiped from somewhere years ago without proper attribution. Sorry if it is yours; cinnamon cutting, Science Photo Library; cinnamon tree by wonk gone wild; cinnamon bark; Dodo skeleton, Michael Sporn; Clairvoyance Rene Magritte self-portrait, 1936; Cassowary Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 1745; Young Girl Eating a Bird Magritte, 1927


Imre Reiner's expressive line

Worth, Paris, c 1940 reproduced in "Lettering of Today" from Flickr: Depression Press
imre reiner

Symphonie typeface by Imre Reiner, 1938. photo by Simon Robertson
Corvinus (European name)/Skyline (American name) typeface by Imre Reiner, 1932-35
Gotika by Imre Reiner, 1934, available digitally as Leather (below) by Canada Type
How is it I just now stumbled upon Hungarian designer Imre Reiner (1900-1987)? A few weeks ago I bought a copy of Graphis magazine from 1946 that featured his hand lettering on the cover and fell in love. Decorative, spidery, scratchy, naive-- there's something about this that I'm really drawn to (see earlier post on mid-century line art). I was surprised to learn the artist of these loose, experimental... mischievous letterforms was also the designer of the sleekly moderne Corvinus Skyline, created for Conde Nast in the early 1930s, among other faces I recognize. His modern blackletter, Gotika, has a beautiful geometric-medieval flourish.

This (fun) digital face Tokay by Elsner and Flake appears
I'm just sayin'.

most images from my new copies of Modern and Historical Typography, and Grafika-Modern Design for Advertising and Printing


vintage perfume blogs

illustration by the incomparable Rene Gruau (also Vent Vert, above) from c 1972.
See excerpt below from Yesterday's Perfume
I dont think I would have believed there was a perfume called Snob... in English...
"Good Hunting, Good Fighting, Good Loving"
Gri Gri, from about 1948, is named for a African "voodoo amulet" but it also meant "bewitched" in 19th c. Louisiana Cajun dialect. This ad is striking-- it somehow reminds me of the Scalamandre Zebra Hunt pattern.
Truly singular; a very unusual name ("In Flight") and campaign

Completely by chance, I stumbled into the world of perfume blogs. And there appears to be a subset of these dealing exclusively with vintage or discontinued scents*, which I find intriguing on many levels. There are dozens—scores!— of them: Some bewilderingly chemico-analytical ("The hydrocinnamic aldehydes are another family of materials from the manipulation of benzene..."), many overreaching and jammed with florid prose, but a few are evocative while still being informative and fun. Deconstructing the olfactory predilections of times past can offer interesting cultural and business insights: why did some eras featured simple, decorous floral scents, while some revealed more exotic, bold and "oriental" penchants, for instance.** Sometimes the discussion of vintage perfume is just about exploring the reminiscences of the woman (mother? grandmother?) you first remember wearing it.

Typically the best vintage blogs review specifics of the scent and talk about its marketing, bottle, design.

My favorite blog thus far, Yesterday's Perfume, on the perfume Diorella:
Fur rubbed with mint toothpaste (Chandler Burr). Vietnamese beef salad (Tania Sanchez). Like fruit on the verge of going bad (Luca Turin). More than any other vintage perfume that I've encountered so far, Diorella provokes the most outrĂ© metaphors from perfume critics, all of them tripping over themselves to be more hyperbolic than the next about this fresh, yet funky-ripe scent by the legendary Edmond Roudnitska.... Honestly, does anyone do "funk" as well as Roudnitska? It's as if he's reminding us that these ripe smells connote death as much as they do life. It's profound, really, this reminder in his perfumes — that it's the mortality of these bright and alive things that makes them beautiful.
The most immediate draw of the vintage perfume blogs for me was, of course, the advertisements— illustration in particular. The quirky hand-lettered scripts! the gorgeous fashion silhouettes! the odd Surrealist-inspired dreamscapes! I've written before about the loss I believe the beauty and magazine industries perpetrated upon themselves when the marketing department decided photos of "celebrities" were better selling tools than trying for something risky, more artful or thought provoking...

* While I love the idea, I dont quite understand the traffic in antique perfumes. I always thought perfumes went bad— or at least were greatly altered—over time and with exposure to air?

** I am fascinated by the history of smell, and the smells of history. The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination, a pretty great book I need to reread, discusses the evolution of scent within French society in conjunction with the dawn of the concept of personal space, and later, the importance of (Victorian) moral rectitude:
The arbiters of 19th century morality placed modesty above all other feminine virtues, and the prohibition on cosmetics as well as on indiscreet perfume was part of a complex system of visual, moral, and aesthetic perceptions..... The thick vapors of impregnated flesh, heavy scents, and musky powders were for the courtesan's boudoir.


Balloon Ascensions and fireworks: Happy 4th

I'm sorry to say I dont have a specific credit for this great photo, but I found it here.
I wonder when the last baby given the name Ebenezer (or Zenus) was born


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