Thursday, December 24, 2009
Emperors Caligula, Nero, Domitian, Verus, and Commodus supported the greens (note, the greens back then didn't really have the 'tree-hugging' reputation that the green party today has). Caracalla and Vitellius backed the blues (no police reference, the emperors were the police). Marcus Aurelius is on record as having supported neither party, and I think I identify most with him. In truth, the factions were/are set up as a distraction for the masses; a way to make common plebs forget who is really pulling the strings of power.
In no place was this truer than Byzantine Constantinople. There, at the center of the political world were games in the hippodrome. The Constantinople Hippodrome was a horse racing track about 450 meters long and 130 meters wide with occupancy of about 100,000. In other words, think of it like a 1500 year old NASCAR, but with congress, the president and executive and the judicial branches all present.
People were so wrapped up in the goings on within the hippodrome, a civil war within the empire almost started in 532 (Nika Revolt). Speaking of civil wars, hopefully we won't have one against the state of Nebraska because of the residents there not having to pay any Medicare tax at the expense of citizens in the other 49 states in a sleazy vote for payoff deal. I'm pretty sure the rest of the union could probably take those arrogant bastards down in a war, even with their stockpiles of corn.
Regardless of which color faction of the day you might favor... As the current US faction in power is rushing through a massive healthcare mandate that over the holiday behind closed doors, I'll leave you with this thought from Procopius written in his 1500 year old 'History of the Wars'.
"In every city the population has been divided for a long time past into the Blue and the Green factions; but within comparatively recent times it has come about that, for the sake of these names and the seats which the rival factions occupy in watching the games, they spend their money and abandon their bodies to the most cruel tortures, and even do not think it unworthy to die a most shameful death. And they fight against their opponents knowning not for what end they imperil themselves, but knowing well that, even if they overcome their enemy in the fight, the conclusion of the matter for them will be to be carried off straightway to the prison, and finally, after suffering extreme torture, to be destroyed. So there grows up in them against their fellow men a hostility which has no cause, and at no time does it cease or disappear, for it gives place neither to the ties of marriage nor of relationship nor of friendship, and the case is the same even though those who differ with respect to these colours be brothers or any other kin. They care neither for things divine nor human in comparison with conquering in these struggles; and it matters not whether a sacrilege is committed by anyone at all against God, or whether the laws and the constitiution are violated by friend or by foe; nay even when they are perhaps ill supplied with the necessities of life, and when their fatherland is in the most pressing need and suffering unjustly, they pay no heed if only it is likely to go well with their 'faction'; for so they name the bands of partisans....so that I, for my part, am unable to call this anything except a disease of the soul."
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The subject which I'm doing a mosaic of has very intense purples (violet cobalt manganese oxide pigments), but the only commercially available glass I can find with the color intensity of the object I'm trying to represent would be cobalt blue. So I've been hitting the color theory books and websites, trying to figure out placement or backgrounds that would make intense cobalt blue seem more like a shade of rich purple in context.
Here is an example Roman model boat of a cobalt blue glass in the British Museum from the first century. It's blue, but kind of purple as that glass often is. I like to think that 1900 years ago, someone served gravy from this.
For example, check out lilac chaser on Michael Bach's site.
This guy has collected several other visual phenomenon examples that are fascinating to me.
I'm leaning towards giving the cobalt blue a background of its inverse color in green. Given an unsaturated background of green, because of the way eyes process color with their red and green cones and rods, it should trick the mind into attributing more saturated red in the object done in cobalt blue (which is what I want, to play up the violet elements of the cobalt blue).
Monday, December 7, 2009
The carving still needs a bit of clean-up, particularly around the hindquarters, but it looks like it will be ready in time to be a Christmas gift. I was thinking of including a note with it like 'Bah-aahhaaahhh Humbug' or maybe '...ohhh this was a white *elephant* party'.
Speaking of sacrificial lambs, I feel sorry for all the Nebraska college football fans whose team was completely dominated the entire game by the University of Texas team this weekend. It wasn't even close as the kicker made a 46 yard field goal to ensure a healthy 8.3% point total lead to win the game. Nebraska had 12 points.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
In unrelated news, I'm committing an excellent book to memory, 'The Arts of Antioch: Art Historical and Scientific Approaches to Roman Mosaics and a Catalogue of the Worcester Art Museum Antioch Collection'. This book delves deeply into the chemical makeup of the ancient pieces of the mosaics found in Antioch, or modern Antakya, Turkey.
I might just get a friend with a kiln to cook up some of the recipies that this book has (especially after spending about 800 euro on art glass last month). More importantly though, being able to control every aspect of the glass creation is what I find as the most appealing. Here is the furnace at the Orsoni factory in Venice which I saw in October.
Finding this place in Canneregio was particularly difficult for me because 1) my GPS had the wrong address to begin with, 2) I had to go under the Sottopassageo Vedai, which was basically like a literal hole in the wall down an alleyway, 3) I didn't see any kind of sign other than the little bronze plaque by the doorbell (I blame this problem on US advertising where the signs are all at least human sized for every place of business), 4) I had had a half liter of red wine prior to starting out.
Most people don't know that many ancient Roman mosaics contain quite a bit of opaque colored glass. Usually wind dirt and erosion makes it look kind of like stone. Also, they put so much calcium and lime in some of the colors, it really does look more like a stone-based glass paste than the highly reflective mirrored glass of the Hubble telescope.
As a quick refresher, glass is made by heating up silica (sand), soda as a 'flux' which lowers the required temperature to melt the sand (sodium based, not soda like a coca cola), and lime. Sometimes other elements like calcium, copper sulfates, lead oxide, and stibnite were added to make the glass more opaque or to get certain colors.
The other variable in obtaining the colors is the controlled time that it takes for the glass to cool, or 'annealing'. For reds and oranges, the internal crystals have to grow just right. Several hundred years ago, only certain specialty shops had the knowledge to make red and orange glass. Lawrence Becker who is a co-author on the book above, conjectures that some of the pale blue and green glasses were actually failed attempts at producing finer and more expensive red glasses.
One of these glasses used by the Romans was the 'Natron' based glass, so named because of the place where the soda stone was found in Egypt (Wadi Natron). Did you realize that on the periodic table of elements, sodium is 'Na' because of this? I thought so.
You also have the low magnesium / high potassium glass, or LMHK, which they've traced the source of the soda in this one back to certain plant ash.
For your amusement here is a video of someone pouring a small amount of glass.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'll be pouring a wine glass for tonight.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
You know that feeling where you've been somewhere before and you know where to go? Well, I was experiencing that because I had been to Venice and this airport two years earlier. Finding the way to the water transport, I made the easy decision to take a water taxi.
You see, last time here I had taken a water bus, which is great if you have lots of time to kill. But with me carrying mom's luggage, I didn't want the hassle. As a warning on the water taxis, people cram in like sardines and it is easy to miss a stop, especially if you are carting around four pieces of luggage.
The water taxi had us to the White Lion on the Grand Canale within 7 minutes. I wish I had remembered to bring my water skis because it was an incredibly fast ride. I also wish I had the foresight to call ahead and have the owner meet us at the canal entry. Most of the buildings in Venice have a door directly on the water side and a door on the 'dry' side. I think it's supposed to be more fancy if you arrive at the water side. Oh well, next time. As you see below, it wasn't a super fancy entryway on the canal side... At least there were no visible four legged carriers of the black plague or anything.
Before we were completely out of the water taxi, an annoying man walked up and asked the driver how much to go to St. Mark's square. The driver responded '95 euro', and the man stormed off indignantly because he thought he could get a cheaper rate since the water taxi was already there.
Monday, November 16, 2009
In retrospect, I'm really glad that I pulled to the side of the road. I'm not sure the windshield wipers could have handled it otherwise.
Quando lasciato il Lago, uomini in auto puntano a ciglio della strada. Perché? Non capito... Era una gara di bicicletta! Nessuno è lesi :)
Monday, November 9, 2009
It's kind of strange to walk for so far in one direction and see water on both sides. Last time that happened, I was on a cruise ship treadmill.
It was rumored to be the location of a villa of Catullus, a close friend of the family of Gaius Julius Caesar, but it was probably a different Roman dignitary who lived here in those days.
It makes military sense that the original villa builders would pick this spot because it is supremely defensible. Well, except from attacks of a flying or swimming enemy. The ancient Romans wouldn't have stood a chance against a nuclear submarine, right?
Here I am standing in the main 'foyer' of the villa. Behind me, as you might guess, is the lake. Apologies for my shoddy state in the photo, but I'd just been driving in Italian traffic half the day when this was taken.
Below, you can see the 'marble beach' view out the 'front door' of 'the' villa... I'll bet they had some great parties out there, even though it would be tough to use a jet ski loaded down with a case of beer because it's so shallow.
The size and scale of the Roman villas makes my house seem so small...
They also had a neat little museum with a diverse collection of implements, mosaics, frescos and such.
I promised some glass and smalti images a few posts back. Here is some off my 'stash' of mixed colors and an Orsoni sample board showing the standard pallette with a pretty large range of value and hue.
And here is the actual result (from my class) of that mosaic from the 6th century. I accidently put up a photo last time of just my empty easel with just the image I was copying in mosaic. Strangely, no one called me on it.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The lady I was renting the villa from in Bellagio was expecting us at 5:00pm, but a helicopter would be the only option which could have made that happen. Luckily, I didn't have to sit in the Milan traffic for the full 360 degrees of the loop around the city, after only a few miles of a parking lot, I saw a workable exit to the north.
Trying to read the road signs in Italian on a big highway system you've never been on with many impatient drivers zipping around is not exactly the relaxing part of the vacation. The trusty GPS guided us to the correct road north for Bellagio after a few wrong turn missteps in the city of Como itself. Up the mountains we went on the narrow twisty east side 589. Suddenly, the lake came into view off to the left (and way down there). Flashbacks to driving in Santorini Greece came to mind, but this was much easier by comparison.
Lake Como (Larius to the Romans) has long been a resort. Pliny the Younger had written about stays in a villa here for hunting and fishing around 2000 years ago, but mine was going to have running wat... nope he had that, a sewer sys... nope he had that, um, electricity! Which was going to be very handy soon since it was beginning to get dark as I was driving on up around the twisty mountain roads.
I gave the owner Francesca a call when in town. She dropped everything and drove up the awesome hill where the villa is located to let us in and give information about the rooms and the area. I knew it was going to be a nice place, but I was surprised at exactly how nice it all was.
My mom loved the view and the balcony, and there was an olive orchard and an infinity edge pool which were part of the property. There was even a nice little cobblestone parking area behind an automatic iron gate.
Speaking of fancy pools, for the record, even as nice as my pool is, I'd gladly trade my house for this villa any day of the week because there are just no views like this in Texas. Francesca is a great business woman, she and her sister run a shop in town and the nice villa in the pristine location was handed down in their family. She had restored it to a very high standard. Although I don't use the term lightly, it was 'chock full' of amenities.
Or if you just want to relax, you can do like I did and have a few bottles of wine in your own villa while looking over the same awesome lake Pliny did 2000 years ago.
Friday, October 30, 2009
When I first arrived at the Luciana Notturni school in Ravenna Italy, I was a bit nervous. At first glance I just noticed a very feminine looking dress made of dainty glass in the window and the sign on the wall for the shop which was a bit girly.
But looking further in, I was relieved to see great executions of classic mosaic pieces, so then I knew I had come to the right place. I was also almost an hour too early because I lost my sheet with the begin time, so the locals were gawking at 'the stranger' hanging out on their street as they went to work.
Eventually, people from the school began to show up and I had a chance to talk with a highly experienced teacher at the school, Brunie.
The class itself was directed by one of the luminaries in the mosaic and art worlds, Luciana Notturni (pictured below). This lady has restored ancient mosaics and created numerous award winning works of art, the work from her studio is highly sought after. During the class, she would stop by and give practical lessons as work assignments were progressing. Notice the cool 'Gypsy Girl' mosaic copy from Zeugma, Turkey in the background there?
So for an entire week, several technical aspects, fundamentals, and 'best practices' of mosaic making were covered in the class. Things like transfering images to lime, gluing a temporary binder to lift the cut pieces, permanent binders were all covered.
A delightful and vivacious historian, Manuela, who's picture I don't have gave great background on the development of mosaics over time. She might well have been the most knowledgable person in the world about mosaic history, and her presentation was just a joy to listen to.
Unfortunately, I couldn't go on her tour on the last day of class in the afternoon since I needed to get back to Venice to pick up my glass ordered at Orsoni.
This was time (and money) very well spent, and I can't wait to work using some of the new techniques learned in the Ravenna class.
In the image below, a student cuts stone for the first time with the little hammer and hardie that we all used.
A very wide array of materials were available. Not just glass, but rare marbles and other stones lined several shelves in bins everywhere. Wow, I thought I had a pretty good color selection of materials until I went here...
Sometimes, when there were very large pieces, we'd use the 'big guns' cutter like below. I need to get one of these...
Here is the classroom environment, where we did our daily work.
Here are some of the great shop artists and teaching assistants.
One of the projects was to think of an idea to put into mosaic, and use a modern cement binding system. I put off my design for too long, so at 6am, I woke up and it occurred to me that it might be funny to put a modern object into an ancient looking mosaic. So, I sketched the television in my room quickly... I call the finished work 'Ancient Technology', which CRT televisions kind of are now. : )
Here is one of the great artist teachers, Anna, who is working on a commission for the shop here (it has been censored, because someone else owns the work, not because it contains nudity or something like that).
Here is the work that I copied in glass smalti, It's from the 600s in a church in town. I liked the colors. Note: this is not the correct way to set down the hammer (martelina).
Monday, October 26, 2009
At 4:00am I hear a loud buzzing above and to the left in the darkness. I realize that it is my phone going off for the alarm I set the night before. Luckily, in Italy, the time change for autumn was at midnight so I had a healthy full five hours of sleep. As I'm getting ready for the day, it hits me that I need to redistribute the weight in my checked baggage and carry-on pieces. I have purchased about 80 kilos of hard-to-find marble and glass to bring back to the US for making mosaics.
So I frantically unpack one bag and shove little plastic bags of stone and glass into another lifting and carefully assessing the weight. Then, I get a bit nervous about the time because my flight is a very early one out of the Venice Marco Polo airport, which for sound and practical reasons is not actually on the chain of islands which make up Venice, but on the mainland.
So, leaving the key in the room I set off into the darkness of Venice at 4:40am. It is still a magical place as there is not a soul to be seen on the Fondamenta Misercordia. With my 200 lbs of various bags and a backpack, I fire up the trusty GPS (which at this point, I really don't need but just in case...) and cross the first of what would become several bridge crossings.
I set off south to get to Strada Nuova where the day before, I'd seen the signs for the airport water shuttle. After up and down a few more bridges and a kilometer of twisty streets, I find the water bus stop. Confidently, I stroll up to the waiting platform and notice on the sign that the first boat picks up at 9:00am.
If you do the math, this is something of a problem as my flight was at 6:30am. If you have ever seen the movie shots where the background seems to rush out behind the actor and the camera tilts at a 45 degree angle as the protagonist grabs his head and yells 'Noooo!!!', you'll have a pretty good idea of my frame of mind.
After I get through with my initial shock, I set off to the south thinking, maybe I can find a nice 100 euro water taxi along the way... But no, no such luck.
Apparently on Sunday morning, they are all sleeping, inconsiderate bastards. Anyway, there are several more nice bridges and the water bottle I'm carrying with the 200 lbs in luggage is getting annoying to carry loose, so I put it in a bag. After about 600 meters of twisty streets, I hear a pleasant gurgling water sound, the sound a water bottle makes after the lid has been twisted off inside your bag under the weight of 20 kilos of marble. So I have a nice little waterfall going in my bag which I have a grand time emptying out before trudging on happily to the south.
A few minutes later, I get to the train station and consider that I could buy a ticket to the mainland and then cab it to the airport. So I lug my bags up the steps to Santa Lucia station and go to the ticket counter, no, wait, I cannot believe that there is no hard working Trenitalia employee there at 5:00am eagerly awaiting my questions. So I check the schedules and it looks like a no-go.
I arrive at the conclusion that the logical thing to do at this point is to go to the only garage / bus / car entry point on Venice, Piazzale Roma. So in front of the train station after lugging the heavy bags down the steps again, I see possible salvation. A 100 euro water taxi is trolling for people, but no, he's going on to the north because he apparently has *too much money*. Sure, I understand, he needs a better quality of life. He can't be hauling troublesome tourists back and forth *all* day long, that's just silly.
Based on my GPS calculations, I stare down my opponent directly across from the train station. It is the mother of all marble bridges when you have luggage, 'il Ponte degli Scalzi' as pictured in the photo above except, in the dark with no people on it. I begin my ordeal already tired and almost certain my right arm has been stretched an inch longer after carrying the heavier of two bags for such a distance. Up the bridge I go and the trip down is only slightly less tiring. Another kilometer to the south and over another smaller bridge, I notice that a new larger bridge without a steep grade ran between the station and Piazzale Roma. I almost want to go back and cross over that easier bridge just out of spite, but coolness prevails and I go on to the bus stop, find a taxi, and make my way to the airport.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Luckily, since the contractor would work with me a bit, they poured the deck substrate down about 5/8" to the coping stone. This will allow an anti fracture membrane to go on and also a healthy 1/2" thick tile that has a pre-cut (read: not much work for me) pattern. Unfortunately now though, I have substandard choices for the marble, so maybe I'll find something in Italy at the end of the month. I have to finish it fairly soon though as the building permit will run out and I'll have to file for an extension or something. Maybe some friends on the city council can help out if I drag it on too long? Nah, I'll be done before then.
Basically, I now have a 110 meter empty canvas to 'paint' on with marble and mosaics. It. is. cool.
Here is a side view of the steps to see how the mosaics catch the sun, even under water.
Here is one of them up close... I didn't realize that I was blatantly ripping off the Caesar's Palace logo until after it was done (Apologies to Harrah's Entertainment, Inc. But honestly, I left more than enough compensation on your roulette table this past March, guaranteed).
And here is yet another picture... Are you bored yet?
Everybody can stop by for a swim (best bring a wetsuit since it's a bit cool now).
Non credo che è quasi finito! Purtroppo in Texas, trovo che l'acqua si raffredda in autunno. Ho bisogno di comprare qualche famoso marmo di Carrara (ma non questa pietra economici ho campioni di altri luoghi).
Friday, September 25, 2009
As I was leaving work from the center of downtown Dallas yesterday as I sometimes do, a lady that I can only describe as frazzled and unkempt walks into the parking garage elevator while I'm waiting on the lift. She said 'I can't believe the building was almost blown up!', which raised a bit of concern on my part. When you hear that something only almost happened, what are you supposed to think? So I pragmatically replied, 'Well, it was a good thing it wasn't then, huh?'
Then my mind raced on questions like, 'Well, if the authorities told this lady, why didn't our company hear about it?' and things like that. Apparently the distribution of terrorism control information is an imperfect system at best. While driving home, I get the real scoop on what happened.
A Jordanian illegal immigrant had purchased a fake bomb from the FBI, parked the truck carrying it next to a nearby downtown building, and even went as far as pushing the buttons on a phone which the agents said could be used to detonate it. Hahaa!!! And then Ashton Kutcher ran out and shouted at the would be mass-murderer, 'You were punked, dude! Hahhaa!' (in my mind that part happened, anyway).
In college, I only crossed paths negatively with one individual from the Middle East. As some of you are familiar with, in college, there are not assigned seats. This fellow I'll call 'Privileged Iranian', had apparently sat in one of the seats up front the previous day in a biology class. He glared at me with the white hot hate of 1000 suns for sitting in 'his' seat. I honestly don't think I've ever seen someone with as much absolute hatred in their eyes about anything, much less something as trivial as not sitting in the same seat as yesterday.
It was humorous. Then he confronted me and shouted. I laughed (because it was funny since the situation was ridiculous to me) and then threatened to kick his ass (c'mon, I was young), and the next day he didn't show up. It probably had something to do with his twisted sense of honor or some crap, but if you go to someone else's country, play by their effing rules.
Sometimes I wonder if that guy might end up in a terror training camp or funding one. It's a good thing I'm not in charge of the military, because I would probably use horrific and atrocious tactics (the likes of which the world hasn't seen for thousands of years) for dealing with any cities filled with people like this. Am I alone in this type of thinking? Sure, I know several Muslim people from this part of the world, but all of them seem to be pretty well balanced. It is a shame that some crazies ruin things for everyone.
I have a bit of a story about that biology classroom by the way. The night before the final exam, I was persuaded to go on a drinking spree with one of the fraternities at the lake. Let's just say that the 'Coors Silver bullets' had wounded me a bit. It was cold out, so I threw on an ice hockey hooded sweatshirt that was exceedingly warm and headed out to take the exam.
As the exam booklets were being handed out, a guy to my right exclaimed 'Man, you smell like a liquor cabinet.' Shrugging it off, everyone started to take the final exam. About 20% of the way through the exam, I began to notice how warm the heater was in the room. Even the professor was shaking his head and commented about how hot it was. Being overly hot and hung over, I started to feel sick but choked it down for another 30% of the test.
After what seemed like an eternity of overly hot stuffy torment on a flipping stomach, I stood up, walked quickly to the door grabbing the little metal trashcan on my way out and proceeded to puke at least 120 oz. of Colorado beer into the trashcan just outside the classroom door.
Of course, it was highly embarrassing as other members of the faculty stopped by and with pity in their voices asked if I was ok. I mumbled yes thanks, picked myself up and went back into the biology final exam. I made an 'A' on the final.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Haas was commissioned by the Kimbell to create something interesting based on two Tiepolo sketch paintings it has in its collection used as models for some of his frescos.
The film was shot from several angles to be shown in a specific viewing room set up with architectural elements from ancient times. The film was projected on the ceiling and four different walls simultaneously, and many times the projections interacted with each other.
For example, at his easel the actor playing Tiepolo looks at real people acting as mythological beings arrayed as if in a fresco and paints them. Mirrors in his studio reflect actions and points of view on the other walls and ceiling.
It wasn't very fast moving (that would make someone sick), but it was better described as subtle changes over time on the different projected panels.
At first it was a little strange being in a room where you can't see all the things going on, but you see some things changing. It was like being in a 360 degree media room that was showing neoclassical stuff. It was pretty high resolution, so it was different to be standing in the midst of all the crazy images.
I'm normally a Dallas Museum of Art kind of guy, but if you are around the Dallas area and have the time, Kimbell is well worth a visit (also, it is free).
Normally after such an interesting exhibit, I would normally be ready to get out the lime plaster and authentic colors and do a fresco now, but I'm getting ready to go to this place.
and this place...
and this place...
Friday, September 11, 2009
If you guessed 'D' you are not incorrect. At least you get a sense of how the custom gold mosaics shine in the sunlight.
Apologies for no complete pictures yet, but I've been busy swimming, landscaping, and stuff so I haven't had time to take a proper photo.
I've been planting authentic Cupressus Sempervirens (Italian cypress) along the fencelines. When I started digging the first hole in the mid-afternoon, I said to myself, 'Self, I'll surely have these six trees planted before dark.' Well that was before the spade I was using made a scraping sound across the bottom of the hole.
Some genuine gold leaf is now on order for the gilding of my carved sign letters, but not before I'll be painting an authentic cinnabar (red mercuric sulfide) and linseed oil primer to make the gold leaf shine.
Maybe you are contemplating the fancying up of a garden gnome or plastic flamingo outdoors? If that's the case, you should use genuine gold leaf. Typical gilding leaf found in stores in the US is what they call 'Dutch Metal', which will corrode when exposed to the weather (no offense Dutch Donut Girl).
I wonder what cheap pikey fellow came up with 'double' to describe +10% where gold is concerned?
The bronze they'll be cast in will need to be around 3mm thick according to UK sculpture expert Ailsa Magnus (check out her enormous iron balls).