Monday, August 5, 2013

Amethysta



















Well, it has been forever since a post on here, so here is what I've been up to... I entered a work to an art gallery show. Here is a mosaic inspired by a version of the ancient Greek legend of Amethysta, I imagined an application of the story to a portrait of an artist I love. Other than my signature in fluorescing glass, it is created with only stone and gems.


The ancient myth tells of a woman who was about to be attacked by leopards sent from the god of wine, Dionysus, who was indiscriminately angry with all mortals. Because Amethysta was on her way to worship the goddess Artemis, she was spared from that fate and mercifully turned into stone by the goddess. Dionysus later realized the harshness of his actions and unintended consequence to this beautiful and perfect woman. He became sad and tears shed into his wine glass fell over her stone form, transforming her into the rich purple and violet gemstones we know today as amethyst.























And here is my uranium-fueled glowing signature. It is shielded in the glass, so no worries. :)


The work is only approximately 24cm x 24cm, bound with an archaeological style steel frame :) of course.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ancients had Lasers!










The people of antiquity had lasers. More correctly, I should say they had a spice called 'laser', also known as silphium. It was a large stalked plant with flowers on the end. Ancient sources described it as being worth its weight in silver at the time. According to Pliny the Elder (Plin. Nat. 19.15), the best varieties were found in Cyrene (pretty much next to the modern site of Benghazi, Libya where the embassy was attacked). Sadly, it seems to have been harvested to extinction, but many related plants exist today.










Bacchantes, the followers of the Dionysus cults, used the stalk of this plant capped with a pinecone to make the thyrus. These thyrus staves were almost always depicted in fresco and mosaics of the Bacchantes. This leads me to wonder about possible medicinal or psychoactive properties of the plant's resin. After all, the Maenads were described as wild women by Euripides, tearing apart Pentheus in a frenzy.




















Related botanical studies of plants similar in appearance to laser show that it might have had a contraceptive effect. In ancient times, maybe this property was noted and adopted by the cult. What if the Dionysus cults were the practical religions of brothel workers? If it had this use and was also a drug, was its extinction just a matter of commerce? Maybe it intentionally destroyed by an emperor who was either angered by the cult or maybe took an interest in the morality of the populace like Augustus Caesar? Strabo said that barbarians were to blame, '...bordering upon Cyrenaica is the district which produces silphium, and the juice called Cyrenaic, which the silphium discharges from incisions made in it. The plant was once nearly lost, in consequence of a spiteful incursion of barbarians, who attempted to destroy all the roots. The inhabitants of this district are nomads.'




















In the photo above from my sailing trip last month, I found something which looks like the laser of antiquity growing on a hill near the ruins of an old French fort. Just as one of Napoleon's soldiers rediscovered the location of the imperial porphyry quarry, what if another had identified and replanted an actual silphium seedling a few hundred years ago? It might only be a giant fennel plant, but then again, maybe not. I would be interested in attempting to sequence the DNA of seeds found in an ancient amphora if they resembled fennel. Maybe this can happen in my lifetime.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I made some mercury last Sunday (La domenica, creato un po 'di mercurio)

For a moment, consider mercury, a silver metallic poisonous metal but also the mythical messenger of the Roman gods and diety of trade. It's from this name we have 'merchandise'. Mixed with sulphur, it becomes the red pigment that adorns the walls of ancient Pompeii. Here is a Mercury that I sketched out in clay this Sunday while it was raining.













The circle diameter of 4.125" is precisely that of my drains on the deck outside, so I'm just a few steps away from new bronze at the foundry. You might be asking yourself, 'why are there no drain holes if it's supposed to be a drain'? Those will be drilled when I make a wax master from the plaster mold.

















Besides the function of making hatters crazy when smoothing felt or switching electricity on or off depending on an angle, mercury was also used in the past to separate gold flakes from other soil and dust. When thinking of nature in its most pristine forms, I still remember the time my dad took me 'gold panning' in the headwaters of a clear perfect Colorado stream. It took a while to get there driving up the side of a large mountain on a winding road.

As a wide-eyed seven year old, I was blissfully unaware of pollution or things like 'the environment'. Dad jumped out of the truck with a large silver pan with concentric lines around the inside. 'Come on boy, we're fixin to find some gold!', he proclaimed. Rushing excitedly down to the side of the stream, I saw some rainbow trout swimming in the center of the quick moving icy cold water.

Dad was taking out a chamois cloth and a large bottle of heavy silver mercury. He pointed down into the clear water at some gold flecks glistening back through the clear water even though it was mostly cloudy way up there in the mountains. 'See those, that's real money right there!' Well that's all I needed to hear, so I was down there at the waters edge standing on some rocks.

He put the pan down into the water and drew up some soil, swirling it around. Next, he poured some of the silver mercury into the pan to join up the gold flakes, and poured off the excess water back into the stream. Separating out the sand and dirt from the mercury, he then carefully poured the silvery remaining mercury into the chamois cloth. Squeezing it and twisting, he was able to get a ball of material down at the bottom of the cloth. Well it wasn't much so the chamois cloth slipped open and the mercury spilled in the stream. I'm pretty sure this was the reason that sad american indian was crying in all those commercials.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ancient Red and Black Ceramics (Ceramic Antichi di Grecia)

A few years ago, I was really keen on buying an ancient piece of pottery. The specific piece I was looking at was a red figure krater from the Attic region, 2400 years old at a cost of around 4 USD for each year of age. Why pay so much for an artifact? The artistry and attention to detail on some of these works is amazing, both on the southern Italian and Greek works. Also, they aren’t making more of them?













Well as it turned out, ‘they’ were actually are making more of them. In the end, I didn’t want to spend so much on something breakable. So I bought a very convincing faked piece from a shop in Rome over by Piazza Popolo which still is unbroken despite my best efforts. Even though it is a fake, there are certain secrets to its production that I can appreciate. The methods of producing a red and black piece of pottery in the same firing are scientifically interesting. The ancients had two paints, one red and one black. Oh wait… there is more to the process.

In order for the explanation about the process to make sense, I must first describe fire… In the image below the #4 fire (far right) is ‘oxidizing’ and the #1 fire (to the left) is reducing.












Figures were painted with what looked like two subtle shades of red in the daylight where they could distinguish the difference in the paints. Sometimes they scratched in guidelines for the figures to help them show which area was to be red and which black.

Then at night, after drinking the wine after a hard day of painting several pieces, they built a very hot bonfire. The oxidizing conditions of this extremely hot fire (as in #4 above) caused all of the areas of the pottery to fire red, so they probably thought, ‘Oh no, where did all my meticulous painting work go?!?’

After a while the bonfire died down a bit (as in #1 above) and the artists sobered up, the surface of the pottery turned all black as the hematite red changed to black magnetite and soot from the dying fire was absorbed. So then they were all like, ‘Oh no, my pottery turned all black and I’ve lost my meticulous painting work a second time, which is doubly bad.’

But, at this point a trick was at play. The paint which was supposed to result in black areas on the vase had additions of ash enriched clays which caused the black areas to form an impermeable crust while the fire was down. The red paint did not have this, so when the ancient craftsman then turned up the Bunsen burner or maybe threw a few more logs on the fire to get the fire super hot again (#4 again), the areas not covered by the crust turned back to the red color because of the re-oxidation of the iron. Finally, after all was cooled down, they were left with the genuine red and black figure butter dishes and Kleenex cover boxes. So then people watching were all like 'Whoa, magic!' Of course, back then, maybe ice melting seemed like magic?

Early on, this kind of pottery was used originally for fancy utilitarian purposes like wine parties, holding olive oil or other rare commodities. Some accounts describe their use as trophies for winning athletic competitions. Later, the red and black figure pottery was used increasingly for funerary or votive purposes.

Luckily, there are many examples of these pottery items in museums. The last estimate I read about was more than 20,000 genuine pieces. As with any other artwork, scholars have detected stylistic patterns in the painted figures and backgrounds. Different ‘schools’ or individual artists can be identified now. Almost every major museum with an antiquities department has at least one red and black figured ceramic item.

Some museums of course have more than others. The island of Thira (Santorini) in Greece has an odd little archaeological museum with more of this type of ancient pottery assembled in one place per square meter of gallery space than I’ve seen in other places. So get out there and take a closer look at those red and black pottery pieces that you might have skimmed past in the museum, and appreciate the clever firing techniques that some unknown potter 2600 years ago stumbled onto.


Here is one at the Dallas Museum of Art.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mosaics from Seeds (Mosaici di Semi)

I had been putting in way too many hours at the office over the past few months. Although it had been very profitable, I couldn't help but think of the work as too much of a tradeoff of my time preventing time for making art, not to mention the lack of sleep driving me to the point of delusion. Surely there are many artists probably going through exactly the same thing.

In questi ultimi mesi ho lavorato parecchio. Nonostante un guadagno significativo, non ho potuto non considerare il lavoro come un trade-off del mio tempo. Questa situazione mi impediva dal creare, per non menzionare la mancanza di sonno fino al punto di delusione. Sicuramente ci sono parecchi artisti che probabilmente stanno affrontando la stessa cosa.

Taking stock of some of the projects I still had in progress from the previous year, I could only look wistfully at my triclinium project and some of the other partially completed mosaic and sectile projects around the house, wondering when I would ever have time to complete them.

Facendo il punto della situazione dei lavori che avevo in corso dall’anno scorso, potevo solo contemplare sul mio progetto triclinium ed alcuni degli altri progetti di mosaico e sectile parzialmente conclusi che si trovano in vari posti nella casa, chiedendomi se mai avrò il tempo per finirli.

















To help me think, I poured a few double whiskey shots in my unnecessarily rustic cork mug from Sardegna and mulled over the weighty situation before me.

Per riusicre a pensare meglio, ho versato un pò di shot di doppio whiskey, stranamente nella mia tazza rustica da sughero dalla Sardegna, e mi sono fatto due conti della situatione di fronte a me.



















As I strolled around sunlight lit up the marble decking outside, then wonder of wonders, my eyes fell on some recently planted rich purple lavender. Suddenly, the answer revealed itself to me! It had been staring me in the face, in plain sight all along. It was spring time, and the answer to the quandary was clearly to use 'mosaic seeds' to let nature grow the work! Surely in the past, people of antiquity didn't have people actually creating those large pavements with all the meticulously cut pieces and their careful placement. They must have had a trick. And now, with a flash of insight, I was finally on to their secret methods of growing mosaics from seeds!

Mentre stavo facendo due passi, la luce del sole illuminò il rivestimento di marmo fuori. Poi il miracolo dei miracoli, i miei occhi sono caduti su una pianta di lavanda di colore intenso. All’improviso la risposta mi si rivelò! Mi stava guardando nella faccia in pieno giorno tutto il tempo. Era primavera e la risposta al dilemma era chiara. Quella di usare “semi di mosaico” e lasciare che sia la natura a far crescere il lavoro! Di certo, è impossibile che nell’antiquità ci siano state delle vere e proprie persone a creare queli pavimenti cosi immensi con tutti i pezzi cosi meticolosamente tagliati e posizionati cosi accuratamente. Ma dai. Un trucco c’era! E ora in un mio momento di intuizione, stavo scoprendo il loro metodo segreto di piantare mosaici dai semi.

So, I hurriedly sketched out a likely subject for a planting, and wrote up a shopping list. Unable to contain my excitement, I speedily drove to a nearby mosaic seed store and picked out some nicely colored smalti and marbles. Obviously, the colors which should dominate in the home grown mosaic needed to be the largest by volume planted. Also on the shopping list was some nice mortar with time released nitrogen and iron additives to ensure that the grown mosaic would have sharp saturated colors, particularly the greens.

Così di fretta ho fatto uno schizzo che potrebbe andare bene come un mosaico da piantare e ho fatto una lista di spesa. Incapace di contenere il mio entusiasmo, ho preso la macchina e guidato velocemente verso un negozio di semi di mosaico vicino e ho scelto alcuni smalti e marmi ben colorati. Ovviamente, i colori che dovrebbero dominare il mosaico coltivato in casa dovevano anche essere di più relativamente al volume piantato. Nella mia lista di spesa c’era anche una bella malta di nitrogeno con tempo di rilascio ed additivi di ferro per assicurare che il mosaico pienamente cresciuto avesse dei colori fortemente saturati, particolarmente i verdi.











Back home, I set out the mosaic seeds against the planned drawing for the mosaic to be grown. It was so great to finally be making progress!

Tornado a casa, ho messo i semi del mosaico sopra lo shizzo per il nostro mosaico da semi. Era bello riuscire ad andar avanti con il proggetto!


















After the holes were dug where I wanted the mosaics to sprout from, I gleefully mixed up the mortar and tesserae until the mortar was nice and spongy. After letting it sit for a bit, I spooned the mixture into the hole. I covered it with some pine mulch and watered it thoroughly. 'It's probably only a matter of days now', I thought.

Dopo aver aperto I bucchi li dove volevo che il mosaico spuntasse fuori, ho festosamente mescolato la malta e le tessere fino a quando l’impasto fosse perfetto, poroso ed aggrappato al bastone di miscelazione. L’ho lasciato riposare un pò e dopo ho meticolosamente inserito l’impasto dentro il bucco. L’ho coperto con della pacciamatura fatta con corteccia di pino e poi bagnato il tutto. Ho pensato “sarà questione di solo qualche giorno”.













Well, the weeks rolled by and I still didn't see any growing mosaics breaking the surface. Curiosity eventually got the best of me and I used a shovel to dig it up. I was surprised to find only a solid chunk of hardened mortar with only a few tesserae pieces showing. I blunted a perfectly good shovel trying to dig that out. Obviously, the soil and weather conditions were not right for growing this type of ancient mosaic in Texas. There was nothing in the 'Farmer's Almanac' about this, so I was really off the map. Off the map, eh? Heh, well the only logical thing left for me to do then at that point was to jump on an airplane immediately to Rome with some of the remaining seeds and mortar to try the experiment again.

Le settimane quindi sono passate ed ancora non avevo visto nessun mosaico a spuntare fuori dalla superficie. La curiosità eventualmente ha ottenuto il meglio di me e ho preso una pala e ho scavato. Mi sono meravigliato quando ho trovato uno solo pezzo solido di malta indurita con solo poche tessere a vista. Ho rovinato una perfettamente bella spala cercando di scavarlo fuori. Ovviamente, il terreno e le condizioni di tempo non erano giuste per coltivare questo tipo di mosaico antico in Texas. Non c’era niente nel “Almanaco dell’Agricoltore” su questo argomento, cosi ero veramente fuori dalla carta geografica. E cosi, l’unica cosa logica che potevo fare a quel punto era di salire immediamente su un’aereo per Roma con alcumi semi e malta che mi sono rimasti per provare l’esperimento un’altra volta.

I rented a place near Tivoli and went out in the hills to a likely spot to bury the mixture. As a few weeks went by, I became a bit concerned because there was still no sign of a newly grown mosaic. One morning while having a latte in town, I slapped my forehead when it occurred to me that they could grow like potatoes, you know, just a few inches under the dirt. And there I was, like a rube, not thinking this thing all the way through.

Ho affittato una casetta vicino Tivoli e mi sono avviato alle colline in un posto dove c’era la possibilità di sotterrare la miscela. Dopo alcune settimane, ho iniziato a preoccuparmi poichè non c’era nessun segno di un mosaico appena fiorito. Una mattina mentre stavo bevendo un cappuccino con extra latte in città, mi sono dato uno schiaffo sulla fronte quando me ne sono accorto che adirritura potrebbero crescere come patate, intendo a dire a solo pochi centimentri sotto la terra. Mi sono sentito come uno scemo a non accorgermi prima!














So I went back out there and dug and dug, and sure enough, the proper soil and weather conditions were indeed just right for growing an ancient style mosaic. That one little batch of mosaic seeds grew a gigantic ancient style mosaic. I started to dig it up so I could take it back with me to Dallas. It was taking forever to dig out this wonderful result of my planting. Apparently, it was just the white background and I wasn’t to the center yet with my main subject matter.

Cosi sono tornato fuori e ho continuato a scavare e sicuramente il terreno e la temperatura erano perfette per coltivare un mosaico di stile antico. Quel piccolo sacco di semi di mosaico è cresciuto in un gigantesco mosaico di stile antico. Ho iniziato a scavarlo fuori per poterlo poi portare a Dallas con me. Ci è voluta un’eternità per togliere questo bellissimo risultato della mia iniziativa di coltivazione. Apparentamente, come si evince dalla foto qui sotto, si vedeva solo la parte del mosaico di fondo bianco. Non ero ancora riuscito a realizzare il soggetto principale del mio disegno.













After a few weeks of careful excavation, I was interrupted by some angry scientist-looking people who showed up and started hollering at me. They didn’t seem to appreciate the merit of my discovery, which was odd considering that they were supposed to be scientists. Then they called those serious police with the red stripes, so I had to leave my mosaic there without completing the harvest. But, at least now I finally know the secret method of growing mosaics from seeds. At least they had a cool police car to take me to jail in.

Dopo alcune settimane di scavi accurati, sono stato interrotto da alcuni manifestanti che sembravno essere scienziati che si sono apparsi dal nulla e iniziavano a gridare contro di me. Non sembravano di apprezzare il valore della mia scoperta; cosa strana visto che dovrebbero essere gente di scienza. Poi hanno chiamato quei seri polizzioti con le strisce rosse ed io ero costretto a lasciare il mio mosaico senza concludere il raccolto. Ma almeno adesso ho finalmente scoperto il metodo segreto per coltivare mosaici con i semi. Almeno avevano una bella macchina di polizia per portarmi in carcere.














Translations to Italian above are by Magda, a friend of mine who is a professional translator at https://twitter.com/#!/magdameta. Obviously, my Italian skills are not that good!

PS - Also this post was inspired by what Shawn of The Sharktank had to say about macaroni and cheese. Happy April Fools Day (late)!

Friday, March 30, 2012

In the Parking Garage (Nella Casa di Parcheggio)












I have to drive down a large parking garage structure when going to lunch or home. A few days ago someone was leaving at the same time driving behind me. With a cement wall to my left and a cement wall straight ahead, I pretty much had only one way to go (turning right).

My hand clicked my right turn indicator. After I saw my hand do this, I was wondering why. I'm in a parking garage, no one does that unless waiting on a space. Besides, I ONLY HAD ONE OPTION FOR MOVING FORWARD. Needless to say, my hand isn't going to hear the end of that for a while.

This all was way worse than the people you see driving down the highway with their indicators on flashing 'I'm an idiot, I'm an idiot...', this was a special (short bus special) case that I went above and beyond the call of duty to perform.

I'm thinking of manufacturing an 'Indicator Guard' to be attached when in parking garages now. Will let you all know how it goes.

Peace

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Driving Crazy in Sardinia (Guidando Pazzo in Sardegna)














It was mid-afternoon at the airport in Olbia, Sardegna. Rushing around trying to get a car rental because although the island looks small compared to the whole European mainland, it is huge and mountainous.


The desk clerk lady said 'blah blah blah... but we only have manual transmission left'. Do you know the film scenes where the back ground seems to rush away because of camera focus tricks? Well that was what happened. And when they said the car was a Fiat it happened again because, J-Lo's advertisements in the US aside, I had heard bad things about these vehicles.





After finding the silver Fiat Punto among the other vehicles along the row, I did the usual 'walk around' to make sure there was no damage. Just a few scratches and someone had removed the letter 'N' badge on the back, leaving 'PU TO'. Damn good thing I wasn't going to be driving anywhere that people knew Spanish...


The last time I had tried to drive a manual transmission car was before college when some friends were alcohol-comatose. I remembered it as an unpleasant lurching experience with too many pedals on the floor. So, resolved to my fate, I stowed luggage and started reading the manual there in the parking lot for tips and tricks on the finer points of driving manual.

Armed with sufficient knowledge like Neo in 'The Matrix', I started the car up and managed to get it switched to reverse gear. The clutch / brake confusion made backing up a weird mix of terror about hitting parked cars behind me and impatience because I was doing everything in slow motion.

I spent 40 minutes that afternoon driving around the rent car parking lot, turning, shifting from first to second, parking, reverse, avoiding people walking around, backing out again. People were really beginning to stare, so with utmost confidence in my newly aquired abilities, I decided to leave the warm nest of the rental car parking lot like a baby bird and make my way in the cruel world.

Not one minute after leaving the parking lot towards the highway I needed, I noticed that I had a police escort (they had probably seen me practicing in the parking lot and were making sure I wasn't drunk, or Scottish). Through the first roundabout (thank god I didn't have to yield), they must have decided that I wasn't going to kill anyone and went off on their way.

Driving on the open highways towards Baja Sardegna where I was staying was great, I really enjoyed the manual transmission feel of the road. My Garmin maps were a bit miscalibrated though, so when I arrived close to my hotel it indicated that I should go down a dirt road. The road kept getting smaller and smaller with brush closing in on the sides of the car.

I got out and hiked over the large stony hill for a while and found someone who pointed me in the right direction. So, I backed up the several hundred meters, really starting to understand the car so I thought.

At the beach hotel on the mountainous hill, I parked on a large slope. Not fully understanding the inner workings of manual transmission vehicles when starting from a parallel park situation on a slope I was in for some real fun the next day. Let's just say, any accidents that may have occurred left no marks (on my car or anyone else's), again probably because everything was occurring so slowly.

The next day a nice day trip to La Madelena (Trinity Beach) was on the itinerary, and a few times I had stalled out while yielding on the roundabouts with impatient people behind me. A few angry looks and honks at me were the worst things I had to deal with luckily. For the most part, in this difficult mountainous terrain I had conquered something which I was always nervous to try. I can drive manual.











One thing about the Fiat rent car though, it was equiped with a bizarre feature. Coming back from the beach to a parking lot in Palau, I started up and noticed that the steering was super difficult and was worried that I had a car problem.

The municipal police came out of nowhere (must have been watching an obvious stranger) and offered to call the car rental place for me, but then one of the officers thought about it and pushed a button on the dashboard that turned back on the steering. HUH??!!? There was a button that TURNS OFF YOUR POWER STEERING on this car? Why stop there, why not have a button that maybe jettisons all of your fuel, or makes the wheels fall off? I thanked the officers in what I was sure at the time was perfect Italian, and made my way back to Baja Sardegna in the dark.