One Week in Japan

I just recently returned from a trip to Japan with a student-Alumni from my former university in Miami, Florida that I used to Chair the graphic design department. My students and I have been doing these “art & design” trips since 2009; we’ve traveled to New York City (twice), San Francisco, Amsterdam & Paris, Spain (Madrid, Toldeo, Zaragoza, Girona, Barcelona, Figueras), Italy (Florence, Venice, Rome) and this year was Japan (Tokyo, Hakone, Takayama, Kyoto). Even though my then-students are now Alumni who are professionals in their field, we still really like to travel together to this day … many years after their respective graduation ceremonies. Through the years, I’ve opened up the trip to students outside of the graphic design and advertising majors, to visual arts, web & interactive media and interior design students … which really allows for more cross-platform collegial networking and dialouge. It’s always so amazing to see creative people get together and share ideas and common energy.
The idea of going to Japan came from one of my most esteemed Alums, Angel Acevedo, who is the founder of ACVDO & Co., a design firm, along with his wife (and another Alum), Karielys. After two years of planning and departures from 8 different airports, the entire group of 40, converged in Narita Airport in Tokyo this October 2018.

 Village locals getting ready for a store opening good luck parade in Shirakawa-Go, in Gifu Prefecture, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995.

Village locals getting ready for a store opening good luck parade in Shirakawa-Go, in Gifu Prefecture, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995.

The majority of us have never traveled so far and certainly never been to Asia - with the exception of one of my Alums brother, who was stationed in Okinawa many years ago as a Navy officer. The experience was mind-blowing, because all we have known is the Western way to life. Now, I could go on and on about all that I saw in Japan, but what I wanted to post are a FEW my photos of this journey, focusing on the design aspect, as per usual, and how incredibly varied Japan’s graphic culture really is. It can be as understated and elegant as possible and then be schlocky and ridiculous. However, even when the design is obnoxious, it is done very well … their ‘bad’ design beats US good design on any day, it seems. Well, anyway, please check out my pictures.

ONE PICASSO FOR MIAMI

I hadn’t been to Miami for two years until my recent trip to the Magic City last week. I lived in South Florida for 14 years and it was something that I didn’t plan on living there more than 2 years. Initially, I hated Miami for approximately two solid years. I didn’t like the impending doom of every hurricane season - I was a nervous wreck between June and November. I never became as blasé about being potentially flattened by a hurricane as local Miamians. I just could not understand how people who had lived their entire lives or at least a big majority of time, not be prepared for a hurricane. You’re going to Home Depot for plywood and duct tape, now? NOW? You mean to tell me that you don’t already have these things in your garage? No? Well, why the hell not? Anyway, I was a little apprehensive about flying to Miami at this particular time, because Hurricane Florence was set to destroy the Carolina’s and most of the southeastern coast of the U.S.. What was weird was that the weather up North and upon landing in Miami, was beautiful. Blue skies and a little hotter than usual, but nevertheless, really gorgeous weather. You would have never guessed that not that far away, fellow Americans were battling hurricane force winds and flooding.

It’s well-known that Miami has had a very active street art and graffiti scene since the late 1990’s. The epicenter of this art scene is a neighborhood named, Wynwood. At the beginning of the Miami art boom, Wynwood was an under-developed warehouse area, complete with drug addicts and drug dealers, prostitutes and other sketchy individuals. It started off as an area that was more or less ok to walk about during the daylight hours, but once the sun started to set, it was time to scram. I’ve had many students who have been mugged, robbed at gunpoint or had their cars broken into. Today, Wynwood is pretty gentrified and many shops and galleries have security guards keeping a watch on things. Miami has always been a strong art gallery, but weak art museum type of town. I remember the “golden age” of Wynwood’s Art Walk, taking place on the second Saturday of every month, where galleries would stay open late for art lovers. My favorite galleries at the time were Rocket Projects, Bernice Steinbaum Gallery, Dorsch Gallery, Fredric Snitzer Gallery … amazing spaces to see really superb art, for free, I might add!

Miami’s art museums were not as stellar, but they did try, but it was always ‘meh’. There was the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami, the Bass Museum on Miami Beach, the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami campus right off US 1 … and that was about it back in the early 2000’s. I’m not counting “spaces” or “collections”, like the Goldman Warehouse or the Rubell Family Collection - although those are really stellar places to see some of the best art that Miami can offer. I’ve never had a bad time at the RFC - never, but they’re not exactly considered a ‘museum’. So when the news came that Miami was going to have a FOR REAL art museum, every art lover in Miami, lost their minds. Some people were hopeful, some skeptical and some never thought that it would ever happen. I mean, Miami DID have the Miami Art Museum (MAM), but it was tough to get to and the shows were a bit lackluster (although they did have an awesome gift shop).

The MAM morphed into the Perez Art Museum of Miami-Dade County and they debuted during the 2013 Art Basel event. I remember the whole hullabaloo that Jorge Perez, the super-rich Cuban businessman, wanted to name the museum after himself. I mean, he DID give millions of dollars towards its existence, so I always felt that he had the right to do so. Plus, the acronym was cool, PAMM - it’s catchy and cute in that sunny Miami kind of way. The museum itself is GORGEOUS. I’ve never seen a museum quite like this - as corny as it sounds, the building really is art itself. Huge hanging columns of plants from the outdoor beams … everything is so lush! And there’s the view of Biscayne Bay and Miami Beach in the distance from the ‘front porch’ area. The museum itself is quite small if you compare it to the Art Institute of Chicago or The Met; one could easily navigate the interior in under 40 minutes, to be honest. I find myself spending just as much time in the gift shop.

Anyway, at one time, I was lucky enough to work one MetroMover stop away from the PAMM and I took full advantage of hopping over at lunchtime or after work to look at the latest show. My favorite show was Ai Wei Wei’s 2013-14 ‘According to What’ … huge exhibit with a great scope of his work. Finally! Now Miami had a world-class museum and we didn’t have to go to New York City, L.A. or Chicago to get an art fix.

 The exterior of the Perez Art Museum of Miami-Dade County, located at 1103 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL 33132, designed by architectural firm, Herzog & de Meuron.

The exterior of the Perez Art Museum of Miami-Dade County, located at 1103 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL 33132, designed by architectural firm, Herzog & de Meuron.

 Jaume Plensa’s “Looking Into My Dream, Awilda’, faces Biscayne Bay on the PAMM grounds.

Jaume Plensa’s “Looking Into My Dream, Awilda’, faces Biscayne Bay on the PAMM grounds.

 Beautiful PAMM’s terrace facing east towards Miami Beach.

Beautiful PAMM’s terrace facing east towards Miami Beach.

If it weren’t for a former basic drawing student of mine, Ingrid, I would have never known about Picasso being shown at the PAMM, because my schedule was jam-packed and the PAMM wasn’t really on my list of things to do & see. I didn’t research which Picasso paintings were being exhibited and to be honest, it didn’t matter, because I love Picasso. Anyone that knows me, knows how much I LOVE Pablo Picasso and his work. My friends and former students always post some Picasso news or article on my Facebook wall or I’ll get a tip that there’s a Picasso show in Toronto this year that I can’t get to. So, Ingrid requested that she & I go see the Picasso together when I was in town. Sure! I actually couldn’t wait and I was so excited to see her and the Picasso’s.

We visited the museum on the open-late Thursday night and there weren’t very many people there. I’ve heard about how expensive the parking is at the PAMM - it’s $8 for the first hour. I just laughed. I’m sorry, that’s not expensive. South Florida wants to have nice things, but nice things come at a price. I’d like to see the face of someone from Miami, when they see the $45 parking fee across the street from Eataly on Ohio Street in Chicago for a couple of hours. Pffft.

At the entrance, there was a huge latex Picasso well-known signature behind the ticket counter and there was also another poster promoting the exhibit leading you into the first floor galleries. Ok, now I was getting pretty jazzed up and I just wanted to cut to the chase, so I asked one of the guards, ‘Excuse me. Where are the Picasso’s?’ And she said, ‘On the second floor.’ Oh baby! Ingrid and I bounded up the stairs - we were both excited to see each other, catching up and planning a big future trip with a whole bunch of other Alumni this October. Our conversations meander and flow in the most fun and charming way - well, we’re both Gemini’s and this type of stuff happens.

Initially, we thought we’d just stumble upon the Picasso’s, but as we walked around a bit, we could sense that we weren’t close. Again, we asked a security guard where the Picasso’s were and he politely pointed the way. Ok, I’m really super excited at this point. Finally, we see a large doorway into a darken room, we walked in slowly and we noticed ONE painting in the entire salon. It was lit up like a Broadway spotlight. I turned around to look at the rest of the large room and noticed that it was empty and dark, aside from another large vinyl Picasso signature on the wall. I whispered to Ingrid, ‘There’s just one Picasso?’ And she shrugged in that charming Cuban way and put her hands up in disbelief. The painting being shown is Picasso’s ‘Femme á la montre’ - I’ve seen it many times before. In fact, someone gave me little notecards as a birthday gift one year with this image on it. I also have drawn this image on the whiteboard for my Art 101 class. I KNOW THIS PAINTING, but … IS THIS IT? Such a enormous room for one painting. Is this to create a seriousness about it? You mean to tell me that they had access to just ONE Picasso painting? The man made thousands & thousands of works (maybe even MILLIONS, I suspect) … hmmm. No photos of the lovely Marie-Thérèse Walter? No photos of them at the beach during their ‘Summer of Love’? I mean, where is the supporting stuff? What new nugget of knowledge can the PAMM tell us about Femme a la Montre?

 Pablo Picasso: Femme à la montre (Woman with a Watch), 1932. Oil on canvas. 51 ¼ x 38 inches. © 2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Pablo Picasso: Femme à la montre (Woman with a Watch), 1932. Oil on canvas. 51 ¼ x 38 inches. © 2018 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 My quick whiteboard sketch of ‘Femme a la montre’ for Art 101, 2017.

My quick whiteboard sketch of ‘Femme a la montre’ for Art 101, 2017.

Anyway, Ingrid and I stood in front of the painting for a little bit, talking about the painting itself and then about ourselves, then about Picasso, then about our dinner plans after the museum, then about the painting, then I spoke about Marie-Thérèse and how much Picasso loved her, then back to dinner plans. Ingrid was getting the text-buzz on her iPhone and she took her cell out to respond, the guard glided over and said, ‘No phones.’ We said that she was just texting and the guarded repeated, ‘No phones.’ Okkk. We sort of stood in silence for a little bit, until another couple came in and they wanted a chance to look at this SINGLE PICASSO. Once we decided that there wasn’t much more, I playfully announced to the guard that we were leaving and that we hadn’t taken any photos of the Picasso painting. It’s strange … you can take photos of Picasso paintings at his museums in Paris and Barcelona … the Mona Lisa isn’t off limits. The Art Institute of Chicago allows visitors to take photos (sans flash, of course) of almost everything on exhibit; occasionally there is something in a special exhibit that you can’t photograph, but it’s not a big deal. I ask myself, WHY WON’T THE PAMM ALLOW PEOPLE TO TAKE A PHOTO OF THIS PARTICULAR PICASSO PAINTING? Are they afraid of copyright issues? Have they seen Society 6, the online store? You can get Picasso leggings, tank top, pillow and iPhone case. What’s done is done … it’s too late to think about bootleg Picasso’s. I think it’s a shitty policy, to be honest.

The only take-away to prove, or even remember years from now, that I saw this exhibit, is this rather staid, sterile double-sided printed sheet of paper … no image, naturally. In my haste, I took a Spanish version. In my defense, it could have been French, because the brochures all looked the same. The info is generic with the typical things that people write about Picasso - born in Malaga, went to Paris in 1904, invented Cubism, blah-blah-blah, etc. WHO DOESN’T ALREADY KNOW THAT? There’s no information on this specific painting - nothing. I mean, it’s obvious that it’s Marie-Thérèse Walter … not too many blondes in Picasso’s orbit; the other fair beauty was Sylvette. This is common knowledge.

 The PAMM flyer for Picasso’s Femme á la montre, 2018.

The PAMM flyer for Picasso’s Femme á la montre, 2018.

Now that we left the Picasso room, our focus became more and more on dinner. But first, the GIFT SHOP! Lots of cute things, but I already have so many cute things. ‘Do I need another cute thing?’, I asked myself. Before Ingrid & I left, I asked one of the gift shop kids, ‘Do you have any postcards of that Picasso painting you have upstairs?’ I was hoping to walk away with some kind of real, tangible, visual proof somehow. The tall hipster kid smiled down at me and said, ‘Sorry, no. Sorry.’ I was disappointed. And I know that in this generation of cellphone photography and selfies, it seems like people NEED a photo of everything- almost to validate the experience. But you know, I wanted a blasted takeaway. I WANTED A POSTCARD … what’s wrong with that? I could have used the image in a class lecture or posted on Instagram for posterity’s sake. Well, at least I got to see it at the PAMM with a lovely friend. P.S. Our dinner was quite delicious.

Picasso’s Femme a la montre will be on exhibit at the PAMM until October 16, 2018.

Shaky Train Sketches

One can observe every kind of human being riding the train in Chicago and I LOVE that! My work commute provides me rich fodder for creativity. At this point, I can kinda guess who will get off at a given train stop - for instance, young workers in their 20's & 30's, with their iWatches, North Face backpacks and bobbing heads while listening to their music, mostly step off at the Merchandise Mart. The Mart is now a hub of tech companies and advertising start-ups, so "the kids" all disembark there. The older crowd in their late 30's, 40's and 50's with their smaller leather messenger-style bags, arty decorative jewelry and neat business suits get off at Quincy, in the Financial District ... makes sense. Students get off at either the Fullerton stop (De Paul University) or the Harold Washington Library station, which sits close to so many downtown schools. I was discovered only once by a young lady, who seemed to be posing and primping for me - although, I was drawing the woman who was sitting next to her ... most people are so engrossed on their phones or just nodding off with their eyes closed.

Anyway, whenever I can nab a seat and can place my bag on my lap, I will get in a sketch or three, depending on the crowd. I'll draw whoever is in front of me - every person is a challenge, in a way. I intentionally chose a small 4x6 inch Chachet hardcover sketchbook, so I could record in a small, confined space of a CTA seat. I try my best in trying to capture each person with an economy of lines, (a la Rembrandt, but who am I kidding?!) however, the fast turning train on the Chicago transit system, does make it a bit difficult to keep a steady hand. In a way, the drawings have a 'charm' about them, because of the fast and unstable approach. It's interesting how each figure in my sketchbook, starts to have less & less clothing on, since it's in chronological order, from Winter to Summer; also, I add color later ... mostly watercolor and colored pencil. Hope you enjoy this small selection of drawings that I've been doing since the beginning of 2018.

In Praise of Dogs

On my last visit to The Art Institute of Chicago, I started noticing there were a lot of dogs in featured in European paintings (Medieval, Renaissance and Italian / Dutch / French / Flemish / Spanish art before 1900). Similar to how we love them today, it's evident that dogs were valued members of the home, whether it be for hunting, companionship, status symbols, etc. Symbolically, dogs represent faithfulness and protection - they have served humans for thousands of years, so it's no surprise that there be so many depictions of them in fine art.

In some of the medieval paintings, dogs have a weird physical appearance and I don't think it was artistic license ... it is obvious that dogs have evolved over the centuries through breeding; please review the dog in 'Emperor Heraclius Denied Entry into Jerusalem. As a dog lover, it's heart-warming that dogs have secured a place in our hearts and in art. Check it out and enjoy!

 By the way, here's my little doggie, Goldie.

By the way, here's my little doggie, Goldie.

Art on Street Level - The Constant Evolution of Newspaper Boxes

When you live in a big city, it's easy to miss details or notice the seemingly uninteresting; you're more concerned about how to get from Point A to Point B, on the fastest route possible. Or you're just looking over your shoulder for potential dangers or creepers. I mean, who has the time to look at newspaper boxes? Are newspaper boxes that interesting? They're just THERE. Who cares? C'mon, really? The answer is, yes ... let's take a quick minute to take these unremarkable utilitarian city objects into consideration. 

This past Fall, one of the assignments in my Art 101 class, was to find 'propaganda' in our current world and that was in conjunction with the required reading on this subject. We reviewed on how propaganda was utilized during wartime, in modern advertising and how it is still being used to this day - we recalled how the Russians infiltrated social media during the 2016 election. Anyway, my students were a little unsure about this particular assignment - they knew propaganda was about persuasion and it could also be political. They just couldn't think where to find it. I told them, 'Newspaper boxes. Look at newspaper boxes on your way home tonight. Mailboxes too.' I could see that they now understood - they clearly were familiar with mailboxes that are cluttered with all sorts of messages and graffiti. Everyone is able to post their opinions on whatever they want on newspaper boxes. It's similar to social media, but in a physical/analog way - the hand is in the work; and they post there specifically, because people are getting their news from these objects anyway. The stickers are placed there with clear intent to influence or publicize.

 Newspaper boxes at the Damen Blue Line train stop, Wicker Park, Chicago, IL

Newspaper boxes at the Damen Blue Line train stop, Wicker Park, Chicago, IL

The majority of newspaper boxes in Chicago are covered with messages and images - there's a great example in the photo above. It runs the gamut from the political to artists trying to get their name and/or work out there. Obviously, depending where you are in the city, there's going to be more posting ... Wicker Park has a large concentration of 20 & 30-something's, so count on more activity there. You can get a good sense of what people are thinking about by looking at what is posted on the street - subtle and not-so-subtle messages of dissent, information, messages, which are really just propaganda in varying degrees. 

Since spray-can/aerosol paint is banned within city limits, it looks like this is the only way, street & graffiti artists can express themselves. Having said that, Chicago has had serious street gang problems for many years in the past and those gangs would mark their neighborhood territories with spray-paint. Even though gangs still exist in Chicago, the efforts in trying to subdue them has really worked and banning spray-paint is part of that. Unfortunately, it affects artists in a negative way and so Chicago is cutting its nose to spite its face. Anyway, Chicago artists make it work any way that they can and they have resorted to stickers and paint markers and the scale is kept small and intimate. Perhaps this is the new Chicago street style? I'm not sure, but sticker bombing is a good release/outlet for the meantime.

By the way, a few of my students did use the image of the pig wearing a policeman's cap (shown in this post) for their propaganda example; I had a pro-police stances and anti-police brutality perspectives. That's exactly what makes propaganda such a powerful vehicle of thought - regardless of the position, the influence that it has on your consciousness is impressive. The point of the assignment was to get kids thinking and looking at the world that they live in and directly involved with ... which is the purpose of this specific blog post. The outwardly mundane and the so-called insignificant details in things, play an important role and it's really crucial to slow down and take notice ... it's literally visual hints/clues to our current world. Artists have always had their pulse on what is important in society - they pay attention. We all should.

Frozen and Waiting for a Thaw

I've really been neglecting this website and aside from the typical excuses involving holidays and being strapped for time ... the number one reason is WINTER. It's been ridiculously cold this year and I'm anxiously ticking off the days on my calendar to the Spring. I truly wish that I could be inspired by the Winter, like George Wesley Bellows, in his painting at the Art Institute of Chicago, aptly named, 'Love of Winter', but it's not happening. I shall return to posting once the temps are steadily above 40 degrees! 

IMG_3033.jpg
 George Wesley Bellows, American, Love of Winter, 1914.

George Wesley Bellows, American, Love of Winter, 1914.

Why I Love Teaching Art Appreciation to Non-Art Majors

I've been happy lately.
Really happy. Why you might ask?
I recently started teaching again, after a year of trying to find work in the education field in Chicago. My new role involves teaching Art 101, which is a introductory, survey-style type of class; I'm really excited to be teaching in the visual arts again, as it's something I really love. 
Aside from loving my short commute, the fact that I can take public transportation and not have to deal with driving and parking, is that my new university is in downtown Chicago ... I get to say hello to the Art Institute of Chicago bronze lions every morning. Yeah, it's been great.

 But the MAIN thing that's making me happy are, of course, my students. I teach to mainly sophomores, with a sprinkling of freshmen in each of my three classes this past Fall quarter. The university has bachelor’s programs like, Business, Education, Criminal Justice, Health/Human Services and Social/Behavioral Sciences to name a few. Absolutely nothing to do with the Arts, per se. The demographic at this university is mostly comprised of African-American and Hispanic students. These students are a great bunch, but many have faced (and are facing) many personal and social/economic battles. The overwhelming majority of these young people have jobs and in many cases, are the ‘bread-winner’ of their household, if you can believe that. These kids face real-world adversity very early in their lives and one has to give them so much credit for attending school and trying to make positive changes in their lives.

So, it's safe to say that these students are not creative makers ... rather, creative thinkers, yes. Aside from some art classes that a few had taken in high school, most of these students have never had to deal with art directly. On the first day, many asked if they were going to actually draw and make art and I had to inform them that the class was mostly 'art appreciation', to their disappointment. Many of them said that they couldn't draw at all and were looking forward to learning how to draw. Trust me, I was disappointed that wasn't happening either. Although I have to follow a set syllabus, I had some wiggle room to introduce some new things in class; but that was tough because each class was jam-packed with activities.

My university has a special partnership with the Art Institute of Chicago, in that the students could get into the museum for free - all they need to do is show their school ID. It's an amazing resource to have a world-class art museum as part of the curriculum! We have discussed Van Gogh's 'The Bedroom' and then visited the museum and see actual painting ... it really brings visual art education full circle. It's a wonderful teaching tool and it's magical to see a Van Gogh in a textbook and see the actual painting in person on view; they can see the beautiful textural quality of the paint applied by a palette brush.

As we approached the final project, we visited the museum as a group, to find artwork with a social issue message, as that would be something that the students had to focus on for their final. I am aware that many teachers who visit art museums with university-level students, usually set them loose and it's a self-guided trip through the museum. My approach is to guide them as a group through AIC's very expansive space, as I know it can be very overwhelming and daunting for a young person to navigate. I bring my students to specific areas in the museum where they can find content for their personal final projects.

So this particular day for the social issue visit, we entered the museum through the Modern Wing, more specifically, we crossed the 'Sky Bridge' that begins in Millennium Park and spans over Monroe Street and leads right into Terzo Piano, the museum restaurant on the upper level on the North end of the building. The majority of my students marveled, I mean MARVELED that we were on the Sky Bridge ... so many said they saw people on the bridge from the street, but had no idea how they got up there. And they thought it cost money and that it was only for 'museum people'. Nope, free to use for everyone. From that moment, I got the sense that they thought art was for the special few or that they didn't belong ... not even on the Sky Bridge.

 Sky Bridge facing North towards Millennium Park.

Sky Bridge facing North towards Millennium Park.

As we walked through the Modern Art galleries and then to Contemporary collection on level 2, my students were incredibly interested in almost everything ... some things they loved and some things outraged them. Many of them could not understand why Ellsworth Kelly's, Train Landscape (1953) was worthy to be in an art museum. "What's the big deal?! It's just three areas of color, prof! I could do that! This is crazeeeeee!" It wasn't until I explained the artwork to them, that they understood its importance. Beginning with the title, on how the artist saw the French countryside as a blur on a high-speed train ... and he reduce the fields to represent mustard, spinach and lettuce and assigned the three variants of green to each. They all were thunderstruck ... I went on to say how everyone has experienced this optical blurring if you ever rode in a fast car, bus or train. They got it. The related the painting to their personal experiences and now this painting wasn't so bad after all. Many of them went in for a closer look and they were impressed that the artist used oil paint and didn't leave brushstrokes ... seemed so flat and neat.  We kept moving.

 Ellsworth Kelly, Train Landscape, 1953, oil on canvas, three joined panels.

Ellsworth Kelly, Train Landscape, 1953, oil on canvas, three joined panels.

A funny thing ... a student asked me if the paintings on the wall were the originals. I responded, ‘Yes.” and they were awestruck and continued to be marveled by saying, “Ok, so, this is the ONLY version of this work in the whole wide world, right?” Again, I responded with a “Yes.” And they had a collective, “WOW!” Then, we walked past Picasso’s 1931 portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, The Red Armchair and they had recognized it, because I had used the painting to talk about contour line ... “Hey! There’s that Picasso you used in class!” They all gathered around the painting to take it all in. One of them turned around and said, “That’s Picasso’s signature?!” I had to look again to see that Picasso had signed this painting in the upper right-hand corner and I gave an affirming nod. They marveled again and the consensus was that they didn’t think he’d have such a beautiful signature. ‘Oh, ok?’ was my thought, but it’s interesting to hear what they think. Perhaps they thought Picasso’s signature would also be abstracted? I informed them that the car manufacturer, Citroën, had a model of car named ‘Picasso’ and they were floored once again. "Art and cars?" Yup, you guys have no idea! These kids made me laugh so much ... their enthusiasm and naiveté is so refreshing!

 Pablo PIcasso, The Red Armchair, 1931, oil and Ripolin on panel.

Pablo PIcasso, The Red Armchair, 1931, oil and Ripolin on panel.

 Citroën's Picasso, multi-purpose vehicle, 2013, Paris

Citroën's Picasso, multi-purpose vehicle, 2013, Paris

And this leads me into why am I so enjoying teaching Art to students who do not have an artistic background. The non-Art major student approaches artwork with adorable ingenouness and overall openness to concepts and approaches. The level of expectation and/or personal taste isn’t quite set in stone just yet ... these kids are receptive and more comfortable when navigating through enormous amounts of art. 
The flip-side to this situation is my experience with college-level, undergraduate visual art major students. They can be impossible ... not all, but the majority. What I mean about ‘impossible’ is that there’s a level of skepticism based on superficial knowledge and predisposed taste. Many of the art students that I have taught in my career were incredibly talented ... I had a student who drew Durer’s ‘Praying Hands’ that rivaled the original; I’ll never forget that incredible skill. I think when art students enter college, they are under the impression that the only thing they really need to learn is art history, because so many of these kids have been drawing all of their lives. They reach a certain level of skill, both manually and conceptually and they stop reaching and developing because they are comfortable. I taught a 300-level drawing class once, filled with incredible student-artists and initially they thought that they would get the same, routine drawing assignments, but I threw many curve-balls at them ... I had them using warp grids that completely abstracted their work. And, they loved it. They would, however, return to status-quo techniques, because they could not think around the idea of what art can and could be; or perhaps they were so set in their aesthetic and oeuvre.

So, my non-art majors made me approach art in another way and that meant the world to me; as art is so multi-faceted. I did not expect to enjoy myself as much as I did just by guiding young people through the enormous possibilities of the world of Art. I'm delighted to know that I have empowered them to visit places like The Art Institute of Chicago, and feeling comfortable, knowing how to analyze and approach an artwork, and making them know that they belong there just as much as anyone else. There is no need to feel inferior and I feel that they themselves overcame a barrier that was placed there for them ... perhaps of their own doing. And it's the best feeling when one of my students says how they were watching 'La La Land' on HBO and noticed many scenes illuminated with symbolic colors; how Ryan Gosling was usually lit in warm light and Emma Stone was usually portrayed in blue colors (except the last dance scene when she wears a yellow dress, they said). They remarked how they are noticing more things like that, because of Art 101. THAT is art appreciation. Now they see the world with a new lens and I think my job is done here. My best Fall quarter ever!

 Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in “La La Land.” Photo Credit: Dale Robinette/Lionsgate

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in “La La Land.” Photo Credit: Dale Robinette/Lionsgate

SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! Michigan Avenue Address Numbers - Six Blocks

Address numbers give buildings, homes, residences, businesses, etc., an extra hint as to what that particular address is all about; they are unique to each building and they add character. It's interesting to see the choices in regards to fonts, colors, size or decorative elements. I was downtown just recently, (so what else is new?) and I decided to start a quick photo-essay on addresses between 230 North and 122 South on Michigan Avenue. I figure that I shouldn't waste a walk without a documented observation; I sometimes give myself personal challenges or if I see a repeating pattern, I'll just make the decision to follow it. A bit of history here: house numbering was present in Paris around the 1500's and it was basically meant for denoting property ownership. Later on, the numbering system was used by postal and governmental services. In Chicago, downtown numbering is divided by North and South and the street that separates that is Madison Street; for East and West numbering, State Street divides that direction. In this photo essay, the numbering is a wonky as it jumps numerically by a lot, but I wasn't photographing every entrance-way on Michigan Avenue ... just the interesting ones. This was a quick jaunt down the street and an exercise in patience with waiting for crowds of tourists to get out of my shots. 

50 Years of Picasso in Chicago

On Tuesday, August 8, 2017, the City of Chicago held a nice celebration for the Pablo Picasso sculpture located in Richard J. Daley Center (in the old days, it was called 'Plaza' and I think it sounds better, whatev). I read that it was going to be a reenactment of the 1967 unveiling of the sculpture and I was really disappointed when I arrived on the site and didn't see the sculpture under a tarp. Ok, STRIKE ONE. Even though I got there 30 minutes early, I didn't get a seat ... the plaza was PACKED! It was super cool to see how many people love this Picasso sculpture. I stood next to a guy who was talking about how he was present for the 1967 unveiling - everyone was chatting with him. Commissioner Mark Kelly announced a couple who were at City Hall back in 1967 to get a marriage license and then crossed the street for the Picasso dedication ... and they were actually in attendance, ALIVE AND STILL MARRIED! Amazing! Ok, so I didn't get a seat, STRIKE TWO. Finally, they started the program 10 minutes late, even though Mayor Emanuel was present, signing autographs and taking pictures with people. There was a student orchestra there that played Gershwin's, "An American in Paris" and The Children's Choir sang the National Anthem and it made me feel proud to be from this city ... I had not sang that song in a while; it's like the Lord's Prayer - you never forget it, even if 100 years pass. The STRIKE THREE came when the audio cut out in the middle of Avery R. Young's invocation ... the poor man had to scream to be heard over the noise of the city. People started complaining around me, because REALLY ... the "City That Works" can't even get a public event right? Ay, give me a break. I stuck around a bit longer, but honestly, no one could hear the speakers ... I left, along with a whole bunch of other people. However, the event was respectful and full of gratitude to have this amazing public artwork be so synonymous with Chicago. This sculpture helps people have a knowledge & connection of/to art on a daily basis - even if most don't understand it. If the general public is going to know the name of at least ONE artist, I'm so glad that it's Picasso ... he's representing this city well.

Even though I live in Chicago, I always try to go see the Picasso sculpture whenever I'm downtown ... it's a 'thing' that I have & I'm not apologizing. I had, HAD, a friend that criticized me for taking him out of his way, because I wanted to see the Picasso. He said, "It hasn't changed, you know?" I DON'T CARE ... I WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN BECAUSE IT MAKES ME HAPPY. Uh, needless to say, I'm no longer friends with that individual. And no, it wasn't because he dismissed my desire to see the sculpture, but because friends should support friends healthy obsessions. If something makes a friend happy, then INDULGE THEM, no? This particular friend was a 'wet blanket', so he didn't understand the concept of JOY. Anyway, I looked through my photos of the Daley Plaza Picasso and found these right off the bat, however, I know I have many more photos on my older laptops and in my sketchbooks. Anyway, this is a special gift to the City of Chicago and I appreciate it ... it's having a piece of El Maestro for inspiration. Thanks Pablo!

 Photograph/copyright by Irving Penn.

Photograph/copyright by Irving Penn.

Theme: Green

One of the best things that I've done this year was to become a member of the Art Institute of Chicago - I love bypassing the long lines and going straight to one of the security guards and flashing my membership card. (I will update that to the AIC phone app soon.) I was downtown yesterday for another reason, but if I have any time left over, I will try to stop by the museum. I go there often, but yesterday I wanted to have a focus for my visit. And that was a loosely based objective, because I leave it up to serendipity. I said to myself, "I'll know what to do, once I get there." And that was certainly the case. I encountered vertical green & white stripes on the AIC's Grand Staircase steps. I'm not sure why they're placed there? Does it have anything to do with the new Gaugin exhibit? He utilizes green so much in his paintings ... could it be that? Anyway, the stripes led my way to my theme - GREEN. I sought out to find as much green as I could in my visit and once I set that to mind, it really opened my mind & eyes to things that I hadn't noticed before. I think when you 'deselect' your mind to your personal preferences, you open possibilities that you wouldn't exactly primarily consider.  I'm lucky to have The Art Institute of Chicago's permanent collection within reach and here are my photos for my Theme: Green.

 The Art Institute of Chicago's Grand Staircase, August 8, 2017.  *I have to note that my photos are not taken with a hi-res camera, nor with a tripod, so there are times that photo may look a bit skewed; it does not help that I'm short of stature, so my point of view may cause some glare from the lights above. Hey, I try my best, but just a warning that these are not professional pictures.

The Art Institute of Chicago's Grand Staircase, August 8, 2017.
*I have to note that my photos are not taken with a hi-res camera, nor with a tripod, so there are times that photo may look a bit skewed; it does not help that I'm short of stature, so my point of view may cause some glare from the lights above. Hey, I try my best, but just a warning that these are not professional pictures.

 As I made my way through the Art Institute of Chicago's galleries, I thought about how the color green is still quite prominent in modern culture; it was chosen by Pantone for the color of 2017! At first, I balked at this selection. I thought that green was a bit passé and certainly not a good 'modern' choice for our current times. I was wrong. Green SHOULD be the color for our times, as is represents nature and organic systems/elements. 

As I made my way through the Art Institute of Chicago's galleries, I thought about how the color green is still quite prominent in modern culture; it was chosen by Pantone for the color of 2017! At first, I balked at this selection. I thought that green was a bit passé and certainly not a good 'modern' choice for our current times. I was wrong. Green SHOULD be the color for our times, as is represents nature and organic systems/elements. 

Milwaukee in Six Hours

My good friend, Michele and her kids, joined me in a day-trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My main objective was to see the Rashid Johnson exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Michele hadn't visited Milwaukee in a few years and I was last there in the mid-90's ... so off we went. Their art museum is designed by super-talentoso, Santiago Calatrava, the architect behind the World Trade Center Hub and a long list of structures from all over the world. It's impressive and so ethereal ... sitting by the water's edge. We only managed to cover about 3/4 of the first floor, before we needed to go to meet an Alumni of mine from Miami, who now lives in Milwaukee. After our lunch with my Alum, we ended up just walking around the city, marveling at the amazing architecture and the EMPTINESS of people. It's a far cry from the hustle and bustle of downtown Chicago, but we didn't mind at all. We got back to the museum a few hours afterwards, to see what we missed and to use the bathroom before our drive back to Chicago. The guards were all so very nice and assured us that we had a good 20 minutes to see what we missed earlier. Michele and I did 'speed art appreciation', zooming past their excellent permanent collection, stopping to gawk and take pictures. As we walked back to the car, it was when I realized that I didn't see the Rashid Johnson exhibition ... it was THE reason why I wanted to go to Milwaukee in the first place. Duh ... no, DOUBLE-DUH! I think I face-palmed myself 10 times at my absent-mindedness. You know, when you're in good company and you're enjoying life ... seriously, who cares about plans? It's ok, because it will give me more reason to return before mid-September when the show closes.

I took some iPhone pictures from this quick trip ... there is so much to photograph! This city does deserve a second go-around and I'll bring my Lumix camera next time. Please enjoy, thanks!

 David Salle, Within Sleep, 1985.  I was a college freshman in the year this painting was made and I swear, it was such an amazing period in Postmodernism and Neo-Expressionist art, especially in painting. Along with Schnabel, Robert Longo, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Mimmo Paladino, Sandro Chia, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Pop Art 'Godfather', Andy Warhol (until his death in 1987). I religiously collected Art News and Art In America, because there was always something new and amazing to read about. Very good times in art. So, seeing this Salle painting, brought back so many memories; I can appreciate his work much better today. I've always liked his 'noir' dramatic lighting. I'm digging that little nod to Courbet in that cartoon ... I recognize the beard.

David Salle, Within Sleep, 1985.

I was a college freshman in the year this painting was made and I swear, it was such an amazing period in Postmodernism and Neo-Expressionist art, especially in painting. Along with Schnabel, Robert Longo, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Mimmo Paladino, Sandro Chia, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Pop Art 'Godfather', Andy Warhol (until his death in 1987). I religiously collected Art News and Art In America, because there was always something new and amazing to read about. Very good times in art. So, seeing this Salle painting, brought back so many memories; I can appreciate his work much better today. I've always liked his 'noir' dramatic lighting. I'm digging that little nod to Courbet in that cartoon ... I recognize the beard.

 Andy Warhol, Brillo Box, 1964  " The reason I'm painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do ." OH ANDY! 

Andy Warhol, Brillo Box, 1964

"The reason I'm painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do."
OH ANDY! 

My Wednesday Afternoon Walk from the Magnificent Mile to my Lake View Neighborhood

As long as I can load up ($) my Ventra (public transportation) card to take the train downtown, I will achieve my minimum of 10,000 steps per day; it's a modest attempt to stay active and healthy. I'm quite fortunate to live in Chicago as it is such a beautiful city and there is so much to see, especially if you're on a budget. Recently, it's becoming very apparent to me, that I still have much to learn about my own city. Granted, I didn't live in Chicago for 14 years and coming back has been an awesome reunion. For instance, I didn't realize that Loyola University has an art museum downtown. I must have walked past this museum thousands of times! Seriously, how could I have missed it?! It's located right across from the Old Historic Water Tower & Ghirardelli Chocolates - hmmm, maybe that's why I've missed it? I was distracted by temptation. Anyway, I took a time-out from my normal programming yesterday afternoon, to go check it out and then take advantage to walk back to my Lake View neighborhood ... a total of 4.5 miles. 

 The Old Water Tower in the foreground and Water Tower Place in the background, left.

The Old Water Tower in the foreground and Water Tower Place in the background, left.

Loyola University owns a nice chunk of real estate downtown, from Rush Street to Pearson Street and a small street named Tower, where the horse and carriages line up. Honestly, I never really paid attention to their immense buildings, which house, to name a few, their School of Education, School of Business, School of Law, School of Social Work, Alumni Relations, the 15-story Lewis Towers and LUMA (Loyola University Museum of Art). The architecture is Gothic-esque and definitely steeped in Old European traditions of building exteriors; the cornerstone located at Pearson and Tower Streets, reads '1925'. I have yet to find out what I.W.A.C. inscription means ... I'm pretty sure it doesn't stand for 'I. Want. A. Cookie.'

The LUMA Collection is impressive, actually; the permanent collection is definitely all religious in subject. Although, they had a nice photo exhibit by Jeffrey Wolin, named 'Pigeon Hill: Then and Now'. Beautiful large-format photos with hand-lettering titles and stories directly on the images. The show runs through October 21, 2017 and I recommend it ... and it is FREE admission. I really LOVED this image, named 'Odalisque', 1999 ... it's relatable, quirky and a beautiful portrait of a teenager; it's definitely my favorite image from this show.

 

 Jeffrey Wolin, Odalisque, 1999.

Jeffrey Wolin, Odalisque, 1999.

The other cool piece that caught my eye at LUMA was a early 16th century lock. I don't know why I am so fascinated by old locks? It's interesting that people were already protecting their possessions so very long ago ... times haven't changed all that much, I guess. The placard read:

"The central panel, adorned with the image of a bishop, opens to reveal the key hole. The flanking figures are St. Paul, holding a sword, and St. Peter, the keys to Heaven. This lock was an apprentice's final examination piece. He was tested on his precision; no other key should open the lock, nor a drop of oil seep through the mechanism. The key's bow is an 18th-century replacement." 

Seriously, this lock is pretty amazing ... it has 4-prong teeth once it's locked. And it's religiously charged with saints to further thwart any thief from stealing your stuff. It's 'guilty conscience' security on a heavenly level.

 Lock and Key, lock: early 16th century, key: ca. 1700. French, carved and cast iron. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Solomon Byron Smith.

Lock and Key, lock: early 16th century, key: ca. 1700. French, carved and cast iron. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Solomon Byron Smith.

As I approached the Loyola University complex, the thing that dominates the scene is St. James Cathedral, which runs along Pearson Street. I actually went inside on the Huron Street side and was disappointed to not see a church interior - the security guard said that the building was really just offices for the Chicago Archdiocese. Hmmm, I don't know about that, but I have checked their site online and there ARE worship schedules. I need to go back ... maybe I went in through the wrong door or something? WILL FOLLOW UP.

 St. James Cathedral, 65 E Huron St, Chicago, IL 60611

St. James Cathedral, 65 E Huron St, Chicago, IL 60611

 Mariano Plaza dedication plaque.

Mariano Plaza dedication plaque.

Walking northbound from Archdiocese building, you encounter two really cute plaza's. One has an Argo Tea, which I WILL come back to, once summer is over. I mean, who wants to drink hot tea on a hot day? And no, I don't like ICED tea! Anyway, Mariano Plaza was full of senior citizens, so there must be a senior home nearby; there was a small sidewalk, but a bunch of old guys set up a table and chairs there, so it forced me to walk down the middle. TURF WAR! I love the condensed 1979 type on the plaque ... it's evident that someone stops by to clean it up from time to time. Actually, for a city plaque, the type & layout was handled nicely; modern plaques are not so elegant. 

 Five Faces Ice Cream Shop, 10 W Division St, Chicago, IL. Apparently, they only serve vanilla and chocolate ice cream ... THAT'S IT. NO OTHER ICE CREAM FLAVORS, which I find funny. By the way, the 'five faces' change ... I'm not sure of the rotation schedule on that. I'm CRUSHING on the little circle on the top of the sign that says 'French Fries' - so cute!

Five Faces Ice Cream Shop, 10 W Division St, Chicago, IL. Apparently, they only serve vanilla and chocolate ice cream ... THAT'S IT. NO OTHER ICE CREAM FLAVORS, which I find funny. By the way, the 'five faces' change ... I'm not sure of the rotation schedule on that. I'm CRUSHING on the little circle on the top of the sign that says 'French Fries' - so cute!

 Gas cap & dog paw prints. Division Street.

Gas cap & dog paw prints. Division Street.

The rest of the photos are super random ... just things that I saw along the way. I walked up Rush Street, which converts into State Street, down to Lincoln Park, walked through the zoo, went to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, up Belden Avenue and heading northbound on Clark Street. I prefer taking that route and avoiding the dicey stretch between Clark & Division, through the Carl Sandburg Village to North Avenue. Plus, the greystones on State & Dearborn streets are simply AMAZING!

Sunday Walk Through Lincoln Park and Lakeview ... Oh, and the PRIDE Parade!

When you live in Chicago, you understand how CRUCIAL it is to do as many hot weather events & activities as possible, before the dreaded Winter. Once the cold weather hits, you have to forget about being outside for longer than you really have to ... it gets brutal. So, you will see Chicagoans turn out for every blasted event in the City during the Summer. This weekend's premier event is the Pride Parade, that kinda caps off Pride month. The streets had been decorated with Pride rainbow flags for a couple weeks in anticipation ... it seems like everyone in this area gets really geared up for the parade.

I made plans to meet my niece, who volunteers around Lincoln Park on the weekends and we settled on having lunch and seeing some of the parade. Apparently, it was predicted that ONE MILLION people would go to the parade - I can attest that I saw a sea of people without an end in sight. Anyway, here are some photos from my day. Enjoy.

Ooh-La-La! French Poster Exhibition - Chicago

I had been randomly seeing ads for the Driehaus Museum for the past year and I honestly could not remember this museum prior to my move to Miami in 1999. It turns out that this amazing art & antiques collection owned by Richard J. Driehaus, housed in the Samuel J. Nickerson mansion on Chicago's Near North Side (a stone's throw away from the Magnificent Mile), opened to the public in 2003. Ok, now it made sense! I thought I was slipping a bit! Anyhow, I saw an ad for a French poster show named. "L'Affichomania - The Passion for French Posters" ... I knew that I had to go! 

 Reminding myself to get staples, pork tamales and to see that French poster show, yeah.

Reminding myself to get staples, pork tamales and to see that French poster show, yeah.

I was a little apprehensive by the admission fee of $20, but I figured it was a 'one-off' and I was doing it for the art and the experience. After driving around the block twice, I nabbed street parking right by Holy Name Cathedral and I paid for an hour on the meter.

The building exterior is quite impressive in it's Victorian glory. This type of architecture that happened just after the Great Fire of 1871 and just before the Turn of the Century, epitomizes classic Chicago for me.  I loved seeing the poster for the show on the Wabash Avenue side ... I love French posters; I knew that I'd see an Henri Toulouse-Lautrec or two. EXCITED! 

 Promotional images on the side of the building on the Wabash Avenue side.

Promotional images on the side of the building on the Wabash Avenue side.

It was a extra-bright sunny summer day, but upon entering the building, my eyes had to adjust to the dimness of the house interior. I was told by the door greeter, they keep it like that to preserve the artwork and furnishings. Makes sense, ok. The Admissions/Box Office is located just beyond the main staircase - I peered into every room on my way back there ... pretty amazing interiors. I felt like I was in a Time Machine transported back to 1897!

 The Driehaus Museum, front façade.

The Driehaus Museum, front façade.

 Entrance to the Driehaus Museum.

Entrance to the Driehaus Museum.

The first floor is mostly beautifully furnished rooms ... LOTS of dark polished wood. It's impeccable - NOT a spot of dust ANYWHERE. There's a beautiful Tiffany dome glass ceiling too, of course; I didn't picture it here, but I think a photo doesn't do it justice. You'll have to go and see it for yourself!

I unapologetically was over-hearing a tour that was going on when I got to the second floor and apparently, the interiors are made of cement, stone, marble, iron beams, brick ... there is no plaster and only ornamental wood used. 

The first posters to greet you are Alphonse Mucha's and it's pretty amazing to see them so close! Mucha was born in the Czech Republic in 1860. He started to draw at a very young age and he went to Paris as an adult to complete his studies in 1887. Apparently, there he walked into a print shop that was having a 'call for artists' to design a poster for the most famous entertainer & actress at the time, Sarah Bernhardt ... his submission won! And soon his artwork was plastered all of Paris and that was when his career took off!

Mucha's style is VERY Art Nouveau - lots of organic shapes and swirls. There's always an idealized, young woman in the center of the picture. He gave so much attention to the details, like the patterned backgrounds, hair and clothes. His work is brilliant and it's like a macaroon for the eyes.

The founder of the French Belle Epoque poster is Jules Cheret, without a doubt. He is the mac-daddy of this beautiful ornamental and advertising style. If you compare his work to Grasset, Mucha or Lautrec, you'll see that his work is not as stylized and graphic - and his typography is much more fluid and organic. His models are much more active and athletic ... many are jumping in the air and twisting their bodies in delight. Cheret's work is more painterly and that makes sense as he was self-trained in art history and his artistic heroes were Fragonard and Watteau. 
Cheret lived a long life and he basically lived his later years as a legend. He's the inspiration behind the history of the French poster and his work will be immortalized by Bed, Bath & Beyond products that tout his images; I have a 'memory box' from BB&B with a Cheret image. It's all good! Merci!

 Photo by DOMAC.

Photo by DOMAC.

There are some nice touches at the Driehaus, for example, the way-finding signs are appropriate for the style of its time.

Oh, and there were a few Theophile Steinlen posters, but this is his most famous one: La Tournée Du Chat Noir de Rodolphe Salis, 1896. It's everything you want it to be, up close.

And finally, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec ... another French artistic genius. How gorgeous do these prints look in this room?  Left: Confetti, 1894 and right: Moulin Rouge - La Goulue and both are color lithographs. Whereas the other artists already mentioned are well-known for one or two distinctive pieces, Toulouse-Lautrec is known for MULTIPLE posters and they're all amazing. He was very inspired by the Moulin Rouge, a boozy cabaret in Paris, known to attract artists, writers and party girls & boys from all over. This is another case where a poster kick-started a career - Henri was commissioned to create this large print and he was famous overnight for it. He had a very curious way of treating fore, mid and background space; usually gray figures recede into background space, but Toulouse-Lautrec places a gray-scale gentleman in the foreground ...and he could have stolen the spotlight away from the can-can dancer, but because he is a cool color, he's treated as a secondary character ... and that was a gamble on the artist's part. The forms are simplified and broken into large graphic shapes, but the poster itself, is quite a complex study. The typography is also very nicely handled.

If you have the opportunity to visit the Driehaus Museum, I encourage you to do so and to catch this French poster exhibit that ends January 7, 2018. It's worth the $20! By the way, I became a member and I used my admission towards the membership, which I thought was deal!

Gender Mash-Up Collage Portraits

I've been casually making these collages for a few years already - I call them 'Gender Mash-Up Collage'. They came about when I was trashing old magazines and skimmed through them for interesting images before throwing them out. I started making them without too much thought - it was interesting to combine two different images, to create a brand new image.

I have always been a fan of the British Artist, John Stezaker, and collages that he makes using photographs from old movies and nature postcards. I first saw his work at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami and was floored by the simplicity of the combinations of images. His work is heavily influenced by the Surrealists and he is nicely carrying on that tradition.

This work is primarily the combination of genders and sometimes, animals. It's very serendipitous and the aim is to try and combine two images to create an interesting third visual. I think that as different as we are as people, we really are the same; and from these combinations, I create a new forms and possibilities.

 © VVD BLK, 2015

© VVD BLK, 2015

Chicago Zine Fest Round-Up

If you didn't get the chance to attend the 2017 Chicago Zine Fest at Plumber's Hall in Chicago on May 6th, here are some photos that I took of the event. As I was 'tableling', I didn't have too many opportunities to check out the event as an observer, other than to take bathroom breaks. It was an awesome event and I totally did not expect the huge crowds! So many creative and talented people under one roof - the variety and scope of the zines was amazing. Really awesome time!

 My table partner, Jonathan Jardin - artist, graphic designer and letterer extraordinaire!

My table partner, Jonathan Jardin - artist, graphic designer and letterer extraordinaire!

 The creative mind behind 'Low Level' ... I didn't get his name, but he was my favorite zinester at the 2017 CZF!

The creative mind behind 'Low Level' ... I didn't get his name, but he was my favorite zinester at the 2017 CZF!

 Beautiful Plumber's Hall on the West Side of Chicago; here is a cool mural from the 1920's.

Beautiful Plumber's Hall on the West Side of Chicago; here is a cool mural from the 1920's.

 Plumber's Hall, 1340 W. Washington Street, Chicago, IL, 60607

Plumber's Hall, 1340 W. Washington Street, Chicago, IL, 60607

 Pins by Low Level ... I loved this guys stuff! 

Pins by Low Level ... I loved this guys stuff! 

 VVD BLK zines 01-05 ... to be sold on this website soon!

VVD BLK zines 01-05 ... to be sold on this website soon!

 Earned my CZF 'Zinester' button! Thanks!

Earned my CZF 'Zinester' button! Thanks!

Giving My Mom's Old Record Collection Design Grades

Back in the day (late 1960's), my parents were really into music & our home always had music playing. My father worked for Zenith on the west side of Chicago, for many years. I assume that one of the perks to the job was that their employees had access to the most current audio equipment and televisions. I remember that we had one of those record players that was basically a piece of big, cumbersome furniture; it had speakers on both ends and a lift-top on the left side where the record-player was; the right side had a lift top too, but for some record storage. Honestly, the sound it produced was fantastic and it was loud if you cranked the volume to the max. I remember that I literally sat on the floor, exactly next to the speaker and examine every album cover, trying to memorize the words and basically, space out. Some of the themes in the songs were way beyond my understanding, but it never stopped me from enjoying the music ... it sort of made me understand my parent's generation in a better way. The trials and tribulations of being an adult, I guess.

Over time, those furniture-style record players became passé and people opted for the smaller, stacked audio options of the later 1970's. Once my parents marriage dissolved, the music stopped playing, because no one was happy anymore. When my parents went their separate ways, things got dispersed and I don't know what happened to our old record player, but I wish that we still had it! I did, however, managed to save part of the record collection. My mother's taste in music was certainly either very dramatic or sentimental memories of her life in Cuba. Mind you, my mother's family back in Cuba, was dirt poor, so she probably only had access to a radio and most likely didn't even belong to her family. Anyway, we kept the records move after move and she added some newer singers to her collection, like Julio Iglesias, Raphael and El Puma. Sadly, I saw that she was giving some of albums away to some of her Miami friends; I didn't want the collection to completely disappear, so I boxed it up and hid them from her by putting them in my bedroom closet. 

As an adult, I appreciate the physical albums for their visual graphics and design; it's such a sampling of what was happening in that period. However, many of the albums are literal 'DO NOT DO THIS!' lessons that I have given my student graphic designers. For instance, using three to five typefaces in a single layout, bad hierarchy, and generally unpleasing visual flow. In the age of the album design app (Adobe Spark) or album template generators, a non-designer could design a pretty successful album cover, given the specific typography or photographic effect. Having said that, many of these old Latin-American albums that I feature on this post are under the 'miss' category, than the 'hit' category. Although, the older the album, beginning in the mid-1970's, the more improved design overall. Anyway, here's a few samples from my mom's record collection. Enjoy.

I loved, loved, loved this album design - it went along with their fun and upbeat sound. It says 'The Best for You All' and Matanzas is a popular Cuban province, so I guess they had a certain 'sound' from their region? I'm not a music historian, so don't fact-check me. You see some design choices being made here, like the two center stars on the left & right, the bandmates decapitated heads look towards each other and the top star certainly denotes who was the band leader.
By the way, I was obsessed with this guy ... I just thought he was so cool and that he just LOOKED like he was in charge. Today I wondered, 'They had transition lenses in the late 60's?' The headline type is san serif with a stroke within the letter itself and the song names are a serif type and those certainly could have come down 2-3 point sizes; it gets a bit 'horsey' with the longer song titles. Honestly, having the song titles on the front is redundant and the exclusion of them would have made the front cover less busy. 
The backside was advertising of other albums sold under the Tropical music brand; this all seems to have a newspaper want-ads look and it's a bit overwhelming. La Tropical was one of the most successful music publishing companies, so obviously someone was reading that back cover.
Grade: A, but only if the song titles are removed from the front.

The character of 'Tina' was like listening to a conversation between my mom and one of her girlfriends - it was beyond campy. I didn't know how to deal with it as a kid, I mean, obviously it is a man, but he sounded like a woman. The poses are particularly very feminine and over-exaggerated, but I still loved it. The album title is 'TIna's 7 Phone Calls' with the subtitle of: 'The Travels of An Exile' oddly plunked down at the lower bottom left. In the album, Tina, makes a phone call every day, Monday through Sunday; funny, snarky skits and then he actually sings in between his cute Cuban one-liners. This album was one of my favorites, because it was the closest to a dinner theater that I would come to for a long time; I felt 'adult' by listening to it. I knew this material really wasn't meant for me as the audience, but I memorized the entire album, to my mother's amusement.
The front cover has the character of Tina in a decorated yellow, oval shape on a bright orange field. Again, there is a mixture of font types: serif, san-serif and then some wavy effect on the song titles. The flip side has a short bio on Mr. Cabrera and a serious headshot of him not in his drag character; the paragraph has a large dropped cap initial letter and the body copy is justified. The front of the album is a party, but the back is 60% business/seriousness, and then we end with two campy photos of Tina talking on her rotary phone. By the way, that is the biggest mole that I've ever seen on anyone's face - of course it's make-up!
Grade: B+, because at least they had a photoshoot.

Everything here is perfectly typical of an album cover for flamenco in the 1970's. Nothing to critique here ... what's done is done.
Grade: Pass

Initially, I liked this cover, because it sort of reminded me of a Blue Note design. Upon further inspection, a few minor changes could have made this cover awesome. The title, 'Los Mas Grandes Exitos de' should have been smaller to have fit neatly on top of his headline name. I would have devoted a bit more space for that top black box, so that the type wouldn't look so constricted.
The blue screened photo of Mr. Magaldi and the pink right box with the song titles,could have been brought up to meet the black box ... just to get rid of that dividing white gutter. I believe it would give the design more overall cohesiveness.
The type alignment is a bit loose - there seems to be no following of a grid, even though it is within a grid. I do like the extended look to his name in the title - it gives you a sense of his masculinity somehow. Apparently, Mr. Malgadi died rather young and he has been forever remembered as this handsome, well-dressed, very talented guitarist. Let me just say, finding this album just recently, I knew he was Argentinian right off the bat - he had that aura of Argentine class and presence.
One more thing, WHY did they cut the photo off on the right? The designer is officially fired, as Alex Heria, would say. There are so many ways to have avoided that awkward chop. Design is a puzzle; you push a little here and move things a bit over there and things should look good. I might just have to re-design some of these album covers for my own portfolio. This one had potential. Bummer.
Grade: C+

Another album that I initially liked and then disliked. Again, too many different fonts - the front and back don't match up typographically-speaking. It's almost like two designers worked on it separately and then in production they shrugged and mash it all together. Strange. I absolutely love the diamond-harlequin pattern and the red and blue work great together. An absolute 'YES!' and the placement of the photo on the front - it gives it overall good balance by being off-balance; very interesting work there.
The album back cover is a mess. WAY TOO MUCH TYPE and having his photo there again is redundant. The copy blocks are literally up against the photo and it's just causing a jam for no reason. So, this album design is a good lesson in type consistency and giving elements on a page, a space to breathe. The yellow band at the top and the sliver of the diamond design at the bottom, shows that the measurements were wrong or production was wrong - something is off. I could go on and on about this one, but I'll stop here.
Grade: C, until I see some cohesion on a re-do; could be an easy A with changes.

One of my most favorite album covers in this collection. Beautifully done. Elegant and understated ... the album matches the drama in the songs. The image is strong ... I love the foreshortening of the arm; it fits the square format perfectly. I knew every song on this album and I recall my mother was all a-flutter over the romantic songs of the baritone-voiced Marco Antonio Muñiz. By the way, if you squint, he sort of looks like Joe Jonas with slicked-back hair.
Grade: A

'Listen to My Songs' by Leo Marini is a nicely designed piece; another handsome Argentinian collaborating with a Cuban orchestra of La Sonora Matancera. Nice slab-serif rested on top of a condensed san-serif with some creative type placement with the words, 'con la' tucked neatly between the bigger type. The Tropical music logo is at the top right, so it could have been seen easily by fans of that brand. It's actually a great album.

There's a few Spanish singers that hung out in the Caribbean more than their homeland. Tomas de San Julian had a falsetto, nasal-y voice with a staccato delivery. In regards to the typography, there's a lot going on here. The title is a condensed san serif that has been kerned VERY tightly, with a curious asterisk at the beginning of the title. Having said that, is that the title? Many of these old Latin-American music albums have multiple titles and subtitles. In the center of the album, it says 'The Night of Love' followed by 'And Other Great Hits By ...' (modified by a curve effect) and then his name, in a serif typeface, italicized and kerned rather haphazardly; take a look at the space between the T and O in Tomas - yikes!. Then there is a photo of Mr. De San Julian in his Spanish garb, complete with red sash ... so it's clear that he's not from the Tropics. To further the mess, someone decided to add decorative lines at the top, middle and bottom of the image. It's sort of hard to believe that these design actually went to print.
On the back cover of this album, there are yet MORE titles and information! “Mosaicos Flamencos” is a subtitle and it’s here that it is revealed that Mr. DE San Julian is part of a trio, ‘Los Martinetes’ , but he apparently is the headliner. There are short bios on all three in both English and Spanish along with this short intro: “Los Martinetes is a group of stars, each of whom is a specialist in his own field. Puchito Records is presenting this group to the lovers of Spanish art. In this LP which contains the best of their repertoire one can hear the vibrant and emotional voice of Tomás de San Julián as well at the ‘taconeo’ of the magnificent Anita Martinez. The magic fingers of Paco de Málaga make the guitar sing and talk.”


Finally, there's Juan Legido, another Spaniard, for a love of the Caribbean. The front cover of his album is a bummer ... who the heck approved that photo? He couldn't appear more despondent and disinterested. Or was he trying to be cool? Not sure. The photo is strangely cropped with a lot of empty space of blue background behind him and then that photo box has a rule around it. At least he's using Cooper Black, but with a hideous san serif type on the right that says 'Legido Sings to Cuba'. I don't mind the decorative half-moon motif on the front and back, I mean, at least they're the SAME. Consistency seems to be an issue so far with all of these albums. I think someone pinched him and he became slightly more animated on the back cover photo; again, the Spanish sombrero makes an appearance. I think the two Spaniard album designs miss the mark in regards to design; both of them are rather theatrical and loud when singing.
Grade: Marini, A
Grade: Legido, C
Grade: De San Julian, D

I have to assume that art directors and creative directors were not present at certain record labels. This Antonio Machin front cover was totally mishandled - there's a whole lot of wrong going on. Where to begin? The could have stacked the top title and avoided the uneven spacing in that yellow field. His name is italicized and then placed on a angle and the leading between is enough room to drive a semi-truck through. And this is a case of 'I don't know what I'm doing, so I'm going to add useless elements.' Case in point, the blue bar. Why is it there? Is there a primary color quota to be fulfilled? And the photo of Mr. Machin himself ... he's a dapper man, but that yellow screen on him, makes him look jaundiced. There is no consistency between the front and back covers; and in this case, I prefer the back. Ricky Records seems to prefer its logo at the bottom or not front & center. 
Grade: I'd give this cover a strong D, with a chance to redo in a week's time.

As I recall, Raul Marrero could SING! He was very simpatico and he's giving the public two vibes: sultry on the front and 'Hey, whassup, mama?' on the back. The type, ugh, but not THAT bad. Slab serif was popular with the male singers and here that is juxtaposed with a light script under his name ... at least it's kerned correctly and hierarchy exists. And the song titles are nicely handled in a bold serif font, so it's not exactly competing with his name. 
The back cover is fine, except where did the pink come from? And I'd get rid of those corner scallops - unnecessary clutter. Grade: B

Not exactly one of the albums from my mom's original collection, as this was produced in 1987. I actually love the type treatment on the album title ... it's consistent on the front and back, thank goodness. It's decorative type, but it's legible ... it works. I think having the song titles on both sides is unnecessary, but I guess that was the trend? My only other complaint is the weird glow around Raphael - it's like an eerie force-field.
Grade: A 

I think it’s kinda funny that Guillermo Portables is wearing frilly Tropicana sleeves considering that his music is basically Cuban country music. I’ve only heard him sing on this album and it’s similar to what you call, ‘Ditty’s’ – cute, short, catchy songs. As a kid, I knew that they were corny, but I still enjoyed them.
Anyway, the album title, ‘Here Is Portables!’, released in 1957, is in a brush script typeface and it really IS touching the border ... there’s no ‘safety’ accountability. Actually, the san serif font on the bottom right is also getting cut-off. Also, I wish the designer had just reversed the Rumba logo, so there’s not a big white block sitting on a black background. Someone wasn’t minding the margins! The front cover isn’t awful, it’s perfectly acceptable, other than the complete disregard to the margins.
The back cover is actually pretty good and quite simple. There’s a choppy, but organic winding line from the top left to the middle right ... nice direction device. Unfortunately, the designer was consistent with that Brush script font, but the rest of the type is neatly organized and has great visual flow. This album was manufactured and distributed in East Flatbush, Brooklyn and Puerto Rico.
Grade: B-, fix your margins and you’ll get an A.

Cooper Black is a good choice, but I think the designer condensed it a bit, which makes it lose a little intergrity. I’m not loving the flamboyant script font for the word, ‘Felicidades’ (released in 1968); these typefaces exist on the same page, but they aren’t working together. And then for whatever reason, the tuck all the song title right under his name and the font size for that is entirely way too big. And yes, the have a dark blue for Side A and baby blue for Side B; and it seems like they more or less chose an overall color palette that goes with Mr. Infante’s suit.
By the way, if you’ve never heard of Pedro Infante, you should look him up ... he’s a legendary Mexican singing and movie superstar; and he was incredibly handsome.
The back of this album really makes me mad, because they dump the Cooper Black for a boring san serif and they switched up the color classification. Literally, it looks like two separate designers worked on this album.
Front Cover Grade: B, remove the song titles or make them smaller.
Back Cover Grade: D, because the entire thing is way too busy; go talk to the front cover designer.

There is a naughty asterisk that has flown away and going towards the right of the visual composition. Meanwhile, the other two asterisks are within their little red and green fields, behaving appropriately. There’s a ‘mod’ feeling to this cover and the colorful primary & secondary colored shapes add to that hip mood. Mr. Contreras image is screened with a large dot pattern. The front and type fonts are the same - using a tightly kerned script and an VERY extended serif type for the album title, “His Voice and His Hits”.
On the back, the Rumba logo is dangerously close to the trim and a part of the album serial number gets cut off. His photo on the back is a bit dark and gets rather ‘plugged in’ with ink - almost no mid-tones there.
GRADE: Front cover A, back cover C ... fix the photo.

I’m loving this trippy 1969 Perez Prado album art! The curvy slab-serif typeface with a slight degrade really taps into the style of the times. The male dancer looks like he’s doing the ‘limbo’ and the female is tossing her hair all about. Ok, the type does have goofy effects on it, but that WAS the style and honestly, it would work currently. The back cover shows an illustration of the young woman, who’s face is hidden by her hair ... okkk? And now she’s dancing with what looks like a miniature levitating horse. The typography on the back is all slab-serif, except for the RCA & CAMDEN logos. Really fun and well executed, overall.
GRADE: A

Another winning design with ‘Los Papines’ GUAGUANCO album! Really nicely handled font with a yellow stroke to form a sort of megaphone ... the exclamation point is gorgeous. The ‘Los Papines’ logo is nicely integrated into the bongo drum along with a simple line drawing of maracas. The thing I REALLY like the most, is the introduction of Spanglish, which is when Spanish-speakers intermittently use English when speaking ... here, it’s in text: OYE MEN LISTEN. Which translates to, ‘Hey guys, listen!' The song titles on the bottom right looks like a Helvetica italic bold, is both kerned and leaded well. The blues color tones tie things together and circulates the eye around the surface ... this is actually frame-worthy.
The back cover has some linear textural artwork and the words BRAVO STEREO are repeated across the top. The song list is NOT repeated on the back, like most of the albums reviewed so far. Here, they decided to promote their other artists with 4 small pictures of the top four albums and then a short list. Also, there is no wrap-over overprint color from the front cover on the back, which is how it should be. There’s a small blurb that says, “The best artists record on disc’, so maybe this was around the time of the 8-track or maybe the cassette on the market?
GRADE: A

Another RCA album, 'Memorias de Carlos Gardel', features one illustration for the Argentinian legend. The line-drawn figure is balance by a yellow half-circle glow. The shadow on the face has a odd splitting the face down the center and the shaded side is a olive-green color. The pants have a stippling effect for the shadows on his pants. It’s a cute little illustration and the boots and spurs have a nice, clean use of negative and positive. This album is a memorial album for Mr. Gardel as he died in the 1935, so the script type used is for nostalgic purposes, I guess. 
I really like the lowercase use of his name in a bit-condensed font. It does strike a nice balance with the tall and slender figure of Gardel to the left. On the backside is information for the musical conductor and arranger that put this album together; and Mr. Tucci shares his beautiful signature. There is an initial drop cap to start the main paragraph on the back and the composition is very unfussy and clean. There are some bits of type that needs to be tweaked here & there, but overall, good.
GRADE: A

I wanted to include this album front, because I really love the illustration - it reminds me a bit of when Andy Warhol was illustrating for a living. Mr. Beltran seems like he was a good-looking, dapper man with a handkerchief and all. The condensed san serif type has good hierarchy ... could be tweaked a bit better though. I think the type clump of ‘[...] con la Sonora Matancera y Otras’ is handled nicely with a tight gestalt. The Tropical logo adopts the orange in it’s logo from the background. Well done.
Grade: A

This Celina and Reutilio album cover type consists of a bold and a condensed bold san serif typeface and the type hierarchy isn’t that bad. The space that the saint takes up on the page is much more greater than the mere mortals on the right. I would like to see the headline, ‘Santa Barbara’ brought down 3/8 of an inch; the red is in relation to the traits of this particular saint who favored the color red. I don’t like the box that holds most of the type on this front cover - ugh, it has a perspective shadow. Noooo! I would have left it open, so the type doesn’t appear so constrained. My BIG gripe is how the chopped off Reutilio on his left shoulder. It could have at least lined it up with the box below; the chop seems so arbitrary. I have to remind myself that these designs were not done on a computer, that they probably had one last stat of this couple and they screwed it up. They probably ran out of time and money - who knows?
The back cover is a mess because the black and white photos have plugged in too much and the images are flooded with black. There are two other albums featured, in which the front cover is entirely black. Did people back in the 1960’s have this much time to read all that copy? Hmmm, probably.
On a sidenote: I searched the address provided on the album and the manufacturer and distributer were located around the area near the Miami River on between 27th and 36th Streets; today that stretch of road is where you can find scrap metal and car rental places. It’s always been a bit of a desolate road, but I’m sure in the 1960’s it was considered ‘folksy’.
Grade: B-, no, C-, because the back cover should have never gone to print. Come on people!

Another music album dedicated to a Catholic saint - the color symbolism on these religious albums are always on point; purple is always associated with Saint Lazarus. The illustration is typically accurate with San Lazaro - a broken-down old man, barely clothed, on crutches, surrounded by two dogs.
The type treatment is very conservative - a san serif, condensed and regular bold. And I usually dislike any sassy type on a path, but the half-circle line that aligns with the praying figure, actually looks cool. Yes, it’s a script, but maybe it’s less distracting because of the curve. The words ‘Canta A San Lazaro’ are a bit disjointed, but I realize that it could have been worse. Big props to Membi Records for reversing their logo to white to blend in with the cover design.
The back cover has absolutely nothing to do with the seriousness of the front cover. It reminds me of an old Broadway Playbill with the caricatures. It’s a bit confusing, is this an album that praises a saint or is this a comedy skit? It does say it the back cover notes that he is a fervent believer in Saint Lazarus. Maybe the got the covers mixed up with another album that Mr. Membiela made?
Front Cover Grade: B-
Back Cover Grade: F

Which church do you go to?” is the name of this album ... I guess this was a legitimate pick-up line at one time. Rene Cabel was born in 1914 and most famous for his boleros. It’s interesting that the photographer signed his name on the portrait featured on the front side. For the most part, it’s a visually understated album cover. The background is a pleasing mid-baby blue background, the title is a nicely kerned script font and the singer’s name is in a nice san serif (Futura
Bold?
), underneath that it cites, Music by Tony Fergo in an elegant thin san serif. There’s a nice illustration of a church steeple reversed in white stroke, but it has a strange use of black for the negative spaces.There is also a quirky Nuria Records logo with a cute, smiling toddler; unfortunately it’s plopped down on the blue background within a white box.
The back cover is just as understated and organized. The church illustration is correct in its usage and it is probably the proper intent – black strokes on a white background. There’s a bit over blue overwrap from the front cover and this work was performed by Precision Litho Corp., located in Miami, Florida and apparently it still exists! Nuria Records had a Hialeah, FL, post office box address and I don't think they are still around.
The song titles are quite funny to me. Here is some of the ‘Side B’ list: ‘Treat Me Formally’, ‘Last
Night You Were Meant for Me’
, ‘My Crazy Melancholy’, ‘Really Too Sad’ & ‘Tell Me the Truth’. Truly dramatic stuff! The back side also features three other albums from Nuria Records, nicely screened and appropriately sized. I supposed the album art does reflect the music and the theme ... I guess this guy wants to find a church-going girl.
Grade: B+; fix the weird black reversed knock-out on the front cover illustration.

Well, sex sells. Women in bikinis were not only popular in Latin American albums, but in the 1960’s overall; and actually, it’s a pretty modest bikini. The spacing is very inconsistent here ... not balanced either at the top or bottom of the image circle. The type feels very constrained at the top and the bottom and it’s unnecessary. The stylized serif is alright, it’s just placed to high on the composition; it’s actually competing against the BRAVO logo at the top right corner. The song titles and bullets are a bold, italic san serif and it sits right on the safety fold. The back cover is a simple duplicate of the ‘Los Papines’ GUAGUANCO album.
GRADE: B-

The detail picture is a close-up of one of the funniest song titles; ‘They Call Me the Bus'. Ok, what?

 

These are a small sample of the logos I found on these old albums and I find them all to be pretty much, timeless an memorable. Personally, I really like the Discos Rex and the Stereo logo with the three circles ... I have a penchant for circles. 

This album cover is kind of sad. It’s a despondent woman looking longingly into a glass of brandy; her engagement/wedding ring is prominent. She’s leaning on one of those old-fashioned record players ... the logo on that has been blurred. Perhaps she’s sad about the typography on this entire album. On the front, there’s a subtle calligraphic font closely resembling European chiseled letters; the horizontal strokes are thinner than the vertical and the serifs are very slight. Along the bottom of the front cover, there is a condensed san serif Helvetica, that says "With You Savage Kisses".
On the backside, someone decided to use a slab-serif reversed thick stroke font with a drop-shadow and the leading between the two big lines of copy is ridiculous. I like that the little squiggle on the top of the Ñ was left black ... strikes a balance. The song titles are curiously handled by creating a staircase pattern. At the bottom they feature eight more albums under the Modiner label - there are a few that are very tough to read, because the ink has plugged in the small images and text.
GRADE: C; it's just not consistent with typography overall.

This album cover has a pleasant mix of illustration and photography. The name of the album is “When I Left Cuba” by the trio Los Hispano-Americanos - which is probably the most treasured of all Cuban exile anthem songs. The guys have a quirky high-school vibe portrait with two crossed guitars. The illustration is the ‘Monument to the Victims of the USS Maine’ erected in Cuba in 1925 ... the eagle has since been dismantled and the parts went to different parties.  Again, as with the last few reviewed albums, the back cover is simple and understated. There’s a grid being used to line elements and type and it works. Simple, but everything is HEAVY ... bold or black. Ugh.
GRADE: A

The front cover of Xiomara Alfaro's 'Siboney' album is beautiful and I'm sure it was even more vibrant when it was new and not affected by time. The slab serif typography works brilliantly against the dark background; notice the bilingual 'reissued by request'. This shows that her audience and fans went beyond the Latin-American population - I was told by my mother that she really did cross multiple barriers with her amazing voice. The bonfire set against her silhouetted figure is dramatic and a bit one the theatrical; she's dressed in the typical garb of poor, country Afro-Cubans. This cover reminds me a bit of Aaron Douglas paintings, because of the strong central figure who seems to be empowered; and song and dance were always involved in the narrative. This front cover assured the music lover that they were in for a masterpiece ... very well done.
As usual, the back of of these LP's are disappointing in regards to design and layout. Ms. Alfaro appears beautiful and jubilant in a flamenco-esque dress - she seems to be clearly photographed during a performance. The outline of her figure is a little choppy, but of course, these are the days before digital design. They dropped the slab-serif typeface and picked up a boring (and inconsistent) san-serif type, bold and condensed bold. The song titles are rather small and very condensed and therefore, super difficult to read. As I have mentioned before, it clearly looks like these music production companies had two designers and they did not communicate. The back cover isn't a complete disaster, but it does have some visual flow issues. 
Grade: Front cover, A; back cover, B

Blanca Rosa Gil was a very popular singer of her generation, ranking close behind Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot, as all three were women of color as well. Her style was the dramatic bolero and this front cover portrait is channeling that vibe ... 'I'm NOT looking at youuu.' The type is san serif, condensed and extended ... it's not horrible. 
The back cover is a bit disjointed ... looks like the paste-up artist at the time, did not use a straight-edge guide, because the word, 'Sombras' doesn't seem to line up with anything. I don't know why they wanted to angle her name - it just doesn't look good. It's either you angle ALL IN or NOT ... and this is sort-of an effort, but let's not go crazy. The song titles are all orderly and organized in two columns, flush left and ragged-right. The bottom of the back cover featured eight other albums under the Modiner label and I really like how all of the albums were screened yellow and I'm sure the black ink at the time of print was denser and the yellow was brighter. I think they did the trick in enticing their fans to buy their other albums. The back side of this album IS boring, but at least it is consistent. It's a passive-aggressive 1950's musical visual feel.
Grade: B+, because the little problems could have been resolved at the final release.

Boxeo de Amor, which literally translates to 'The Boxing of Love', but in Spanish it makes sense, I suppose. The young female model is lovely and sexy with her off-the-shoulder blouse. The typography is BORING ... san serif with a brush san serif; I suspect that they used the default fonts that they were given. I'm not sure what the release date of this was, but I'm sort of surprised that they didn't do more hand-lettered unique titles for their albums. I spared you the torture if the flip-side, as it has the same issues with almost all of the back covers in this article.
The color balance on the main figure is really off and the lighting is strange, because t gives her such weird shadows.
Grade: B-, it's just so dull. I think anyone could have done this - not even necessarily a graphic designer.

The Boleros de Amor album cover again hinges on the visual an attractive young woman; posing on her back in a submissive position on sofa, looking away in a forlorn fashion, playing with her blouse nervously. I suppose you can add the rest of your fantasy here _____________. There's a nice script title on an angle at the top - in a punchy cyan. Below, the words 'En la dulce voz de", or , 'In the sweet voice of' is a condensed font and for whatever reason, the artist's name is in an extended (and super-squatty) extra-bold serif. The opposing visual typographic qualities does not work well together - it's incredible kerned and leaded very tightly and it 's congested for no reason. I would have preferred a white to the red that was chosen - as the overall color tone is reddish already ... the white would have popped more. The song titles are in a white bold italic, in even columns and mirrored opposite - the font size looks good. Regrettably, the Bravo logo disappears in that cyan blue though; it's ok though because it's featured prominently on the back. The album is dramatic and heart-breaking - that was the sound of those times.
Grade:B+

Celeste Mendoza's album is fun and vibrant - visually and typographically speaking, even if it is a little cheesy. I count five fonts in the title and subheads - we start with a condensed san serif, which leads into a script font for her first name and then an up & down dance using a slab serif for her last name; clearly this is an upbeat party. Even the stars showed up! Ms. Mendoza herself is an attractive woman, smiling widely, wearing a tropical straw hat, shell necklace and capri pants. I've always loved this album cover just because it was happy ... Celeste is fun! Anyway, the rest of the type is a bold san serif condensed, regular and extended buffet. The kerning is good, but the leading is a bit open, however, it's consistent, so it's not so bad.
Grade: B+

Another exotic and fun cover woman, except the model on the Epoca de Oro del Trio Los Panchos, is much more mod and funky. When I was a kid, I didn't notice that she's only wearing that hat and the blue scarf ... it's so 60's, isn't it? There's a lot going on this cover - it's a bit busy. It could be her hat, it could be the birds of paradise flowers, or it could be the type. Ok, it's the type. It's too much and I don't need to give you the obvious play by play. I will say that I do really like that 'Stereo' logo in the top left corner. The title is very reminiscent of the 'Guaguanco' Los Papines album, with the red type and the yellow stroke in that skewed, perspective angle.
I'm not going to review the back - it's overkill. The entire thing is excessively wrong.
Grade: I'm going to be tough on this one, C for both front and back.

'You Made Me a Woman' by Blanca Rosa Gil is campy and I love it! Why do I like this one and not the previous one? Because this one is understated and it's boldly theatrical. Ms. Gil's hair and make-up is spectacular and she's lit like she's on a telenovela. The corny line-drawing frame actually fits with the decorative serif type. The front cover WORKS or as they say nowadays, WERKS! She's framed and she gets our full attention ... it's simple, but effective. The back cover is all about this star - she's centerstage on all sides. The back cover showcases all of Ms. Gil's albums and fabulousness. Clearly, she had a very good designer and hung on to this person - all her albums were on-point.
Grade: A

In conclusion, all these record albums are pretty great in their own right. In regards to design, some are better than others, but I appreciate all of the graphics for the good and the bad. You learn from it - you see where graphics made some of the covers iconic, like the Marcos Antonio Muñiz cover. I gave out some tough grades, but it's all in fun. I tried to do more online research, but there wasn't too much that I could find; one of the albums I looked said it was 'rare'. Too bad they all have some kind of wear & tear on them; I wouldn't sell any of them though. I'm holding on to these gems for a LONG time - a small slice of music and design history. 

Walking Around Downtown Chicago on a Rainy Saturday

My old visual arts graduate friend, Andrew, was in town for a few days, as his girlfriend was here for a conference. We all met up for breakfast and caught up with each other. They had to leave to drive back to Indiana and I was going to hop on the Brown Line and head straight home. Then, I remembered that I read earlier this week, that walking at least 10,000 steps is a sure-fire way to get fit and lose weight. So I decided to walk some more to reach that goal (i did!), particularly since it stopped raining. Here are a few of my photos from my walk mostly around Michigan and Wabash Avenues in Chicago.

 The Lightner Building, 1006 S. Michigan Avenue, has a gorgeous mural by Collin van der Slujis' "From Doom to Bloom" facing North.

The Lightner Building, 1006 S. Michigan Avenue, has a gorgeous mural by Collin van der Slujis' "From Doom to Bloom" facing North.

 Water, indeed!

Water, indeed!

 The placard says it all ... an old Sullivan and Adler building, deemed a landmark in 1981.

The placard says it all ... an old Sullivan and Adler building, deemed a landmark in 1981.

 Built in 1912 in an Art Deco style. It houses lots of jewelry shops. Ahem, Jewelers Row.

Built in 1912 in an Art Deco style. It houses lots of jewelry shops. Ahem, Jewelers Row.

 Pittsfield Building, built in 1927, sits on the corner of Washington Street and Wabash Avenue.

Pittsfield Building, built in 1927, sits on the corner of Washington Street and Wabash Avenue.

 Rut-roh Scooby! Very tight turn and fit! (Wabash Avenue)

Rut-roh Scooby! Very tight turn and fit! (Wabash Avenue)