Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Italy 2011 - A Few Photos (Un Po' Foto di Italia)

Step right up and guess the name of the famous actress whose visage I've attempted to render in the ancient art of origam... uh I mean, mosaic!
Below is the result of my portraiture class with Luciana Notturni in
Ravenna, Italy, which is always a great time.

This time in Venice, I happened to stay during the 'Historical Regatta' right on the Grand Canal. Drinking wine and waving back to the race boats and looking out on all the plebs crowded in to seats at the Rialto market allows one to catch a glimpse from the vantage point of royalty, if only for a moment. Maybe it was more because the Count Francesco di Mosto's place was right next door?

In addition to the obligatory wine touring, Florence this time involved an awesome cooking school excursion called 'In Tavola' just on the south side of the Arno river. You go into the industrial kitchen with 20 or so people. Working on stainless tops, 5 professional chefs and a blur of cleanup people assist you in prepping a multi course meal. Then they throw it it the oven while you go down to the wine cellar and have some liquid refreshments. Then BAM, you're served! That is, food is served, not like someone showed you how to do something that you are bad at, or a lawsuit or something.

In Rome this time, I stayed in a great apartment (Palazzo Velabro) immediately adjacent to the world's oldest sewer, the Cloaca Maxima. It didn't smell bad though even though it was uncovered. The Quadraporte monument and various temples were super close. I probably could have spit watermelon seeds from the apartment into the surprised mouth of the famous Bocca di Verita because of the proximity. But, who would do that really? Watermelon tastes terrible.

I'll tell you all about Sardegna later, but let's have some guesses on that mosaic up there.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Meeting A Blogger! (Incontrato i Blogger Fantastico)

It was very hot, not 'Dallas hot', but incredibly humid. It was the kind of humid which causes sweat to drip from your nose and wonder which it is that you are breathing, air or water. I had just arrived on the train and was making my way across the Italian town with my 60kg of luggage, sun beating down, trying to keep one eye on my outdated GPS in order to keep my wrong turns to a minimum.

Under normal circumstances, this would cause me to run to the nearest air conditioned room and order a cold drink. But, I was very excited that I was on my way to meet a blogger that I've admired for a long time. She has a fantastic eye for design, a respect and deep knowledge of western history, and is a true original in my opinion. You have probably guessed by now that it was Maggie from 'Mosaicology' who I was going to visit.

It probably sounds strange, but I had never met an actual blogger until then, so I was a bit nervous.

Luckily, I arrived early in front of the church agreed upon. Even more luckily, the bar in front of the church had outdoor seating and would sell cold water and wine to me. They never give enough wine in the church. :)

The bells struck the time and there was only one lady with family members meeting the description out there. She was looking around as if waiting for someone, but no, it was not her.

A while after the last echo of the bells were gone, I was relieved to see them appear. I waved them over to the outdoor bar. In a short moment we were all sitting there as old friends, discussing art and design, history, politics, and everything and nothing. They are such precious people to me, and we had only just met in person!

Time flew by as we talked and then sadly it was time for me to catch my next train to the Venice area. But, we have plans to draw up jewelry pieces using rare stones, and I can't wait.

I just returned home a few hours ago after so long on the airplanes, so now I will sleep for a few days...

p.s. - A., grazie per l'auto alla stazione!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Squirrel spirits and the Past (Storia con Scoiattoli)

All of you, gather around the evening fire, and hear the story of 'Pale Face Walks With Stones'. It was a summer ugonawa, oh, I should say 'hot'. It was after many days until the ground cracked and the grass died. The mighty rivers turned dry and the swimming pool was down a good two inches a day.

Well 'Walks with Stones' was outside cleaning up stone pieces of many colors, colors like maize in the harvest, when he looked up and saw annoying squirrel spirit. Squirrel was climbing on the house and then on the fence, and had just previously caused much anger in 'Walks with Stones'. So, he leans down to grab a small stone from a pile of dirt recently displaced from planting a mighty tree. 'Walks with Stones' had the intention of scaring Squirrel Spirit off the damned fence and onto the open front yard plain stretching for blocks as far as the eye could see.

But he paused before casting the stone at Squirel Spirit. He thought it would be a pity to cast this weird randomly picked up stone at the squirrel. A pity mostly because it had strange markings, and wasn't an actual stone at all. It turns out that 'Walks with Stones' had inadvertently picked up a piece of prehistoric pottery with very linear brush marks, and an inner core more red and ceramic-ish than the outer encrusted face and back.

Shaking a fist at Squirrel Spirit, he excitedly looked up the archaeology department at the big university on his talking box from Motorola. Then as the call was dialed 'Walks with Stones' looks to the mighty west tree and sees the evil crow spirit (about 100 of them) looking at him. Then he utters a word and they all take flight as the 'dial' button is pressed. 'Walks with Stones' is creeped right the hell out, mostly because in the years living in the Dallas area, he has not had this vision except once before.

Anyhow, I'm sure there will be an update when the scientists at the University of Texas Archaeology field office come back with details.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The News (Notizie)

Hello Blogchums!

What's been going on, you might ask? I reckon a few things, work is always a factor, but there are many moving parts to this 'macchina' called life.

My brother drilled his first oil well, bravo. Production is a little light at around 20 barrels per day, but well done regardless! He's diving that big reef off of Australia at the moment and has plans for many more in the near future.

My sister *still* hasn't found a job (she's 27 and lives with my mother). But, she makes good vegetarian food and smokes cigarettes more adeptly than most people I know.

As for me, I've been keeping up with my regimen of liking cookies, sculpture, mosaics, macro economics, archaeometry, reading your blogs, encryption, and ancient history. Note my use of the Oxford comma, which is a lifestyle choice much like the proper way of putting the toilet paper in which the end rests over the roll instead of under, the latter probably being the exclusive purview of of dog thieves, insurance salesmen, and Nazis.

This autumn, I'm heading to Italy to take another advanced mosaic class in Ravenna. This is brought on mostly by my desire to make the mosaic centerpiece I have planned outside appear better than stick figures. My enormous white marble deck is progressing slowly because of my other work, but I'd like to think it will be finished some day.

Also on the to-do list while in Italy is to visit the ancient island of Sardinia. I hope that they have the kind in olive oil and not just mustard or something gross like that. Kidding, everyone knows sardines are exclusively from Norway which is what you purchase in excessive quantity when you go there...

Lately, I've purchased some art by people whose technical abilities I admire. Andjelka in Serbia sold me her eye, well, not her real eye. Just an incredibly well rendered example of how mosaics should be. But now, I am busy fabricating a custom frame for it.

I hope that you all are having a great summer so far!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Keys (Tasti vecchio)

In media and life, I've seen a coincidental confluence in the past few months of keys, both the physical kind that you might open a lock with and more abstract kinds. My brother misplaced his car keys, I generated an encryption keyset for a business client, then took a quick try at decrypting a note (published by the FBI) that was found in a dead guy's pocket (I was not successful, hah). The acting mayor of Dallas got into trouble for giving Michael Vick the 'key to the city' which I cartoonishly imagine as an enormous gilded key with a big 'D' on the end. But, I've never seen it and really think it's probably just a disappointing piece of paper with 'Key advice' on it. I guess there hasn't been anything in the news about Panama or the canal (also having locks). What kind of locks am I forgetting?

To take us in what I'm sure is a completely unexpected direction... the Romans made physical keys out of bronze and improved the Egyptian designs by replacing wooden components with metals. Of course, I guess if the Romans made keys out of cotton candy, there wouldn't be much evidence of it now... Keys and locks made in the shops back then were pretty much unique works of art as they didn't have ANSI standards back then.

Here is a photo I took in Arles, France a few years back of keys found in that area.

Also, from Aqueilia Italy, a relief sculpture of a Roman locksmith's grave showing him at work.

The ancients also had the abstract notion of logical keys (and encryption). The historian Suetonius wrote of an ancient shift cypher that Julius Caeser used to encrypt messages. The idea was just to replace an alphabetic letter with another letter farther down the alphabetical sequence. Thousands of years ago, it was good enough to guard important state secrets. Now comically, the acronym for the encryption is 'ROT-n', (rotten, as in 'not good' hehe).

Anyway, puns aside, the best encryption schemes I've seen involve combinations of modulus functions (remainders) which accomplishes compression and encryption at the same time, but for prearranged lengths of data in the overall stream to be encrypted.

If I needed to encrypt something, I'd be too paranoid to use RSABase because it's prime number based, and I think NSA has skeleton key for that (decrypts all).
It's probably best to do your own cryptography from scratch and only share it with those you want to receive your message.

For good reading on keys and locks in ancient times, check out romanlocks.com

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Moment of Silence (Un Momento di Silenzio)

We should all pause for a moment's silence.

Silence in memory of 'Sportsman's Guide, Incorporated' based in St. Paul Minnesota, publisher and purveyor of shooting targets. Decreased revenues from their best selling products will surely cause the bankruptcy of the company.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sometimes, Insects Decide (Decidere di Insetti)

This past Friday, I had received a shipment of an extraordinarily expensive and rare stone from Rome to use in an art project. It was the legendary 'imperial porphyry' from ancient Egypt. Until locating this sample I was considering using a substitute stone from Trentino Italy, but that one was less brilliant red / purple and the white specks (phenocrysts) were less perfectly white. Since all of my other 'ingredients' were the authentic originals, using the lesser stone seemed like a compromise that shouldn't be made.

In order to make the work look authentic as the 1700 year old original pictured above, I tried to talk myself into breaking the center circle and putting it back together again. But, I kept thinking about the rarity of the stone and how I would be smashing (temporarily) something that costs so much. It was like when you are about to jump off a high-dive platform for the first time and the voice in your head is talking you out of it.

Yesterday afternoon, I carefully drew off the perfect 7" (17cm) circle, I set up my diamond saw outside with a 0.25mm (tiny) blade to avoid material loss of such a precious material. I worked intently, keeping my fingers out of harm's way (the blade is tiny and somewhat flexible since it is so thin).

The wind in Texas has gusted very strongly for the past few days. But despite the wind, about midway through one of the cuts to shape the expensive stone, a yellow jacket wasp bumped up against my leg. I tried to shoo it away with my foot, but it was not having any of that. It kept aggressively buzzing around.

It flew at my face on a final attack dive bombing run, and I had to concentrate on not losing fingers while this happened. Jumping back, but with hands away from the blade, the stone flew off the saw table and landed on the cement where it broke into three pieces. Satisfied with the mayhem it had created, the wasp flew off happily.

I pieced back together the rare stone pieces and finished shaping the perfect center circle. Sometimes, things work out just fine, don't you know?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ouch (Mia Cicatrice Non Guariscono Per Sempre)

Recently I was chipping dried mortar off the back of a small mosaic piece so I could reset it somewhere else. The chipping off was going great with a sharp new hammer (recently purchased from the Tabularasa company in Italy).

As I held the piece in my left hand, I struck for about the fifth time, but forgot to take into account that the mortar had a 'rubberized' additive in it. So, it was more of a glancing blow off the piece which allowed the sharp pointy carbide end of the hammer to nestle deeply in my left thumb.

Oh, the words I said when this happened... as much because of my stupid carelessness as for the actual pain. I can take quite a bit of pain, but this was absolutely 'stub 15 toes at one time' excruciating.

After wrapping it in a cold paper towel and applying pressure, the blood finally stopped. Without stiches, I now have a scar that still hurts a bit when I apply pressure in a wrong direction.

Scars can be a good metaphor for what happens in life sometimes. It made me think of a girl I knew when I was in my second year of high school, Lauren. We had been going out for about 4 months which was forever for a high school kid. She was beautiful with long black hair and bright green eyes, and possibly one of the smartest and nicest girls I knew. Summer nights at the waterpark, autumn mornings at band camp (no jokes), with so many common interests it was all perfect.

One November afternoon sitting around the dining table with sunlight streaming in the window, my father told us all that we'd be moving from Dallas to the middle of nowhere (west of Ft. Worth) to help my grandfather drill oil wells. Being a quick lad, I immediately calculated the impact of this catacalysmic event to my situation with Lauren with the lightning like efficiency of at least 100 Commodore 64 computers.

The days which followed were filled with a wistfulness that is hard to describe. As a final gesture, I bought her a jewelry piece the likes of which my 16 year old's allowance savings could just barely manage. It was 20F outside and ice and snow everywhere, but I walked it over to her house located about three miles away as a last Christmas present. All of my extremities were numb, even my soul. I understand why she was sad, but I was surprised to see her mom cry about it.
To this day, that scar still hurts if I move it the wrong way.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hooked on Sardonyx (Affeto Sardonice)

It's a cloudy dreary chilly day in Dallas, which is fine because it all goes well with my mood today. Downtown, the streets are filled with people on their way to lunch.

I've just ducked into one of my favorite places called Porta di Roma, a Chinese takeout place. Just kidding, it's Italian food. The name means 'gateway to Rome', but no matter how many doors I open here I can't see Piazza Navona through any of them.

The food is really authentic and the view is great because it's directly across from Neiman Marcus, the famous high end retailer. People watching is at its best in Dallas here. You can see millionaires pull up in chauffeured stretch cars, or maybe a homeless guy wearing a baseball cap with wings slowly pushing a shopping cart with watermelons dressed like Cabbage Patch Kids (tm).

As for myself, I need to stop back into Neiman Marcus today because:
a) my personal shopper there has rent due soon and keeps tweeting me
b) they finally have their secret cookie recipe for sale as in the urban legend, or
c) I want to see if the sardonyx bowls that were full price last year on sale now

As is the case when taking tests, 'C' statistically is the right answer.

Sardonyx is a type of onyx / calcite with just the right red / brown colorations that nice sconces and lighting fixtures try to copy with patinated glass. But, this is the real mineral deal that was used for thousands of years and usually worth more than gold.

In Venice, in the treasury of the San Marco cathedral, they have wonderful sardonyx treasure cups taken back in the fourth crusade like this one with the lower section in the rare stone.

Going back further, first century Romans created great works with it as the cup of the Ptolemies and 'Great Cameo of France' below.

I'm kind of a sculpture guy first, so you can understand my appreciation for a material that is so workable like this from a carving standpoint, and also has such beautiful color and translucency.

Some nice sardonyx sconces are called for in my media room. It's probably not a good idea though to just hang the Neiman Marcus bowls on the wall with duct tape and bailing wire? I think they were $11,000 last year.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mongorians (i Mongoli, fanno carne buona!)

Well, well, well my blogchum lovelies, it's been a busy week and a half-ish, but we meet again. I've chopped more mosaic marble pieces than I'm comfortable to admit. Also, I'm working on some top secret art projects that only a dear few know the details of, but in the meanwhile...

Let's talk about some Changs... On OWO's blog, I think I commented about a Mongorian Beef recipe that was pretty good, so maybe it is high time that it was shared amongst the blogosphere with its rich Mongolian goodness, oops Mongorian goodness. You can make this in the privacy of your place without having to see what's on the giant horses' end at the restaurant.

The Ingredients (stuff to put into said recipe)

The 'sauce'
2 tsp veg oil
2 tsp minced ginger
1.5 tbsp minced garlic
1/3 cup dark soy sauce
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

The 'meat'
1/4 cup oil
1.5 lb flank steak
1/3 cup cornstarch
large green onions

First make sauce by heating the veg oil in pan on medium. Add ginger / garlic and do a miniature stir fry for a few minutes, it makes you feel like a giant. 'HA HA HA, I'M A GIANT MAKING A NORMAL SIZED STIR FRY.'
Then, add the soy sauce and water mix (1 cup total) into the fray that is the wee stir fry.
Next, melt the brown sugar in as if it were the wicked witch of the west.
Boil it all for about 3 minutes until slightly thicker, then cut off the heat and pour the sauce off somewhere (like in a bowl or something).

Ok, now get out the steak and slice it all into quarter inch strips with a really wicked sharp knife against the grain of the meat and at a 45 degree angle to the plate (so there is more surface area of the beef).
Put the cornstarch over the beef and work it in as if you were Danny DeVito luckily getting to give a massage to Holly Hunter (it's totally extra credit if you get that reference). Let the meat with cornstarch on it sit for 10 minutes while the 'meat oil' heats up if you know what I mean (because oil was put in the pan and you turned the burner on).

When hot, throw the meat on and brown it a bit, then add the sauce (remember that bowl you saved), let that boil for a few minutes, and finally add the green onions.
Stir it around in the hot wetness until the onions go wilty (the metaphor is almost poetic in its simplicity).

Anyway, I hope this will be helpful until the next post in which I will put up something art and or neoclassically related in some form.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Deja Vu

So I have to ask, have you read this blog post before?

Some years ago, I'd read a book called 'Innumeracy' by a fellow named Paulos. In it, he pointed out how most people don't have a good scale for measuring the probabilities of an incredibly vast number of possible events.

We tend to remember the one match of millions of things that we might have thought of subconciously. At that moment, we might have a strong sense of deja vu or enthusiastically inform people 'Yes, I dreamed this would happen!' So much input gets processed by our brains without really noticing what all is going in.

Still, it's hard to shake the notion that sometimes the premonitions (for lack of a better word) are a bit too accurate. It can be frightning at times. I'm sure that many others have these prophesorial visions that seem to come true also, but here are some of mine.

1) Mid-day December 23, 2010 - Driving to the mall, I switched the car radio and predicted the Mariah Carey 'All I want for Christmas' song would play. AND IT DID. Is she related to Drew Carey?

2) Afternoon of January 7, 2011 - I kind of thought the whole Charlie Sheen thing wouldn't work out well.

3) Morning of February 2, 2011 - Visions of Oriental Salad with Macadamia Nut Chicken at Kona grill appeared before me in my sleep. That very day, I found myself inexplicably at lunch eating the very same food!

4) March 30, 2010 - Dreamed that in my office, I had a very real increased gravity feel, and light became blindingly bright out the window, and I saw a face of the Ahmadinejad guy from Iran. Luckily this one has not come true yet.

What premonitions or deja vu incidences have you had? Do any of them repeat?

Monday, February 21, 2011

SAMA, Now With More Tesserae (Incontro di SAMA)

Last week I went to the SAMA conference (mosaic stuff). It turned out better than expected because they had dropped me from workshops which I had registered for months before, so the legendary 'bar of expectation' wasn't set too high. Speaking of bars, that's how my family became so wealthy you know, we invented the bar that people set on the grocery conveyers to separate sales, it's all very lucrative.

On Wednesday, I took a class on micro mosaic taught by the famous Antonella Gallenda. The entire result was only about 4cm x 4cm. I like to think of it as the 'microfilm' which Roman spies had used thousands of years ago to smuggle out important state secrets. I've seen good results from some of my friends, but really, it was a major fail for me (partly because I picked an ambitious project, a copy of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michaelangelo, and there was not enough time to finish).

On Thursday, a silent auction occurred. This is the one time I like to do my own bidding, especially when I actually win something. I've done some auctions at the DMA in which the sheets get filled up too quickly, and with entirely too many zeros at the ends of the prices.

This is the work that I was able to win, 'Texas Souvenir' by Julie Richey. It's going in a bar area on the wall with a museum quality plaque(not just precariously leaned up as it is now).

On Friday night, there was a gallery presentation at the Mexican American Cultural Center. It was closed the day before and events were cancelled. They said something about not being able to find enough workers to scrub the floors. But, the floor was absolutely sparkling for the exhibition, so hats off belatedly to MACC.

Below, someone is tickling the toes of Carol Shelkin's work. The girl depicted in the mosaic seemed to laugh at this.

Besides good rendering, Carol does a good job with tonal relationships even though the hue choices are far apart. It's one of the things that makes her work interesting to me and I'm sorry that I missed her workshop due to the evil SAMA computers.

I also saw glass flavored ice cream...

Here is Julie Richey's 'La Corrente' behind bulletproof glass. The Declaration of Independence was over to the left of it as I recall.

The vendor fair was great, with good selection. I backed my chariot up to the entrance and loaded it all down. I had an opportunity to speak with the lady who formulates a new glass smalti from China, imported by 'Peace, Love and Smalti' in Dallas. Or, was that 'Piece, Love and Smalti'? I'll have to check, but anyway the glass scientist really knew her stuff and it's an exciting product.

Disturbed hand drawn general presentation notes of mine will follow...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Recent Films (Cigni Troppi in Film)

Being quite busy at work lately, I haven't had time to see as many films as I usually do. Some friends recently told me about one that sounded really strange called 'Black Swan'. The tedium of a dancing 'chick flick' might be offset by seeing the lovely Natalie Portman running around in tights, but not so fast Hollywood...

I think we all have already seen this film! I distinctly remember Natalie in 'Red Swan'. And wasn't Lea Thompson also in 'Red Swan'? She had the most hilarious line after the invasion when the town was blown up and her character quite emotionally observed 'Things are *different* now!' Lea, if you ever read this, please send me a black and white PR photo signed 'Things are different now!', because that works on so many levels.

Anyway, back to the task at hand. Natalie also starred in 'Purple Swan'. Does the film industry have no shame? They didn't even cast a different actress!

But they don't even stop there, remember when Natalie Portman portrayed 'Blue Swan', set in sixteenth century France?

I just don't get why Hollywood feels the need to recycle all of these films. For example, how many 'Batman' films do we really need?

I did get a chance to see 'The Tourist' recently, and sure the plot was predictable and it was a bit silly. But, it was set in Venice, and it was fun, and Angelina was in it, and did I mention it was set in Venice?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy new year to all! I unfortunately was reminded recently that my personal champagne consumption is not, in fact, unlimited. It was nothing that a few Advil and hours in the spa couldn't cure though.

Santa duck below was still drinking a tasty beverage while I was recovering.

A few days ago I was excited to find a book about painting for sale by one of my favorite contemporary artists, Juliette Aristides. The Classical Painting Atelier goes through the logical curriculum of the way that painting was taught before modernism and 'concept' art (Sorry Mr. Pollock, but I will never see the incoherent scribbles as art). It's been out there for a while, but I had not seen it in the store.

I'm already through four chapters, and the painting exercises are great. Juliette's book has the forward written by Mr. Ross at the Art Renewal Center (listed over there as my favorite art group for some time now). Mrs. Aristides uses very little superflous writing, it's all to the point. And many of those points are made very quickly, I've found myself rereading some sections to make sure I don't miss anything.

I need to ask if any of her students at Gage Academy have some old practice paintings of casts they wouldn't mind selling.