Tuesday, 11 December 2007

New Zealand's Favourite Artists

This is a wonderful compendium of contemporary best-selling New Zealand painters. It seems to be out of print, but you can download it here. It's a very interesting collection, full of surprises: lots of brilliant artists I'd never heard of. Among my favourites were Barry Ross Smith's witty beach scenes and farm scenes; Jane Puckey's striking botanical pictures; Phillip Maxwell's narrative still lifes; Susan Webb's painterly landscapes; Neil Driver's serene landscape/interiors; and Nigel Wilson's shimmering, dreamlike landscapes.

If you think the work of popular painters would be all in the same style or have similar subject matter, you'd be wrong! What a diverse group. Have a look.

Monday, 12 November 2007

The Arrival

The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan is a ridiculously talented Australian writer-illustrator. This 2006 book The Arrival is one of the most original books I've ever seen; telling its story entirely through pictures, it has the feel of an old, dreamlike, silent movie like Metropolis or The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.

The story concerns an man who leaves his own country in search of a better life in a strange new place. We see him struggle with language, customs, technology, plants and animals, which are utterly foreign to him. He meets other immigrants and hears their stories, and he works to be reunited with his wife and daughter. If that sounds dull, don't be put off! It's scary and sad and hopeful and whimsical and funny. And every page is a lush visual experience.

Shaun Tan has a great website, here.

The Lost Thing

The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan

If you liked The Arrival, you'll love this fantasy about a boy who takes care of a strange lost creature that is part organic and part mechanical. Visually it reminded me of the fantasy cities in the movies Brazil, Dark City, The City of Lost Children, and Jasper Morello, among others, and with elements of the paintings of Salvador Dali and Hieronomous Bosch; it has its own playful Shaun Tan style that isn't like anyone's else's.

Art in the 'Hood

The building that used to be the local corner shop is now a painter's studio. There are giant, photorealist paintings in the window. They're of children's toys which look familiar but somehow altered, somehow disquieting. Behind the display, but still visible, is a partly-finished work still being painted. If you go at the right time, you can see the painter working; and if he's not there working you can go around the back and knock on the door. I don't know what it's like for him working in a fishbowl, but it's pretty interesting for the rest of us. He is David Woodings, and his website is here.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Big news for frogs!

New Zealand scientists have found a treatment for the fungal infection which has been wiping out populations of amphibians all over the world. Read all about it here on the BBC.

Grant Hanna

I'd never heard of this witty New Zealand surrealist painter before I stumbled upon his I Dream of Fish Too, at Ferner Galleries. Other favourites of mine include 4 Cows and a Sheep, 3 White Coats and an Un-ion, and Another Day Closer to Death.

I really like the way his landscapes are both so recognisable and so altered.

Sam Mahon

I didn't know Sam Mahon was a painter as well as a sculptor, but the Christchurch City Art Galley has this amazing example, and this too. I'm sure his upcoming show at CoCA's Mair Gallery will be well worth seeing.

And kudos to the City Gallery for putting their permanent collection online. It's a great resource, and it's part of what public galleries are for.

The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet within

The Ode Less Traveled: Unlocking the Poet within

I picked up this book partly because it was by the always-interesting Stephen Fry, but mostly because of its sublimely apposite title. Turns out Fry has a passion for writing formal poetry, and he thinks we should all give it a go; I haven't worked my way through the whole book yet (there are lots of funny exercises along the way), but he has convinced me that there might be something in it. It's a fascinating and addictive book for anyone interested in writing or better appreciating poetry.

Incidentally, Stephen Fry has a brilliant blog.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

My secret addiction

Astrona is full of awesome pictures of imaginary planets.

Peter Callesen

Peter Callesen works in the medium of cut paper. Many of my favourites are created from pieces of A4 paper, and have that deceptive simplicity that makes you think: "Man, I wish I'd thought of that!"

Some of his works are very much larger: see his floating castle, or his palace of dreams, or his boat made of ice; all have the whimsical, ephemeral quality of his papercuts.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Money isn't everything

"Money is to Everything, as an Aeroplane is to Australia. The aeroplane isn't Australia, but it remains the only practical way we know of reaching it."

-from Stephen Fry, The Stars' Tennis Balls.

Ponoko is go

After spending time in beta, Ponoko.com is open for business. It's a great concept: designers upload designs which are offered for sale; when a customer wants to buy an item, Ponoko cuts out the raw materials and sends them to the designer for assembly; the designer assembles the product and sends it to the customer. It's the kind of business that wouldn't work anywhere except the web.

What to eat

I really liked this Scientific American article on food: "basic dietary principles are not in dispute: eat less; move more; eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains; and avoid too much junk food.". The article goes on to examine some of the complex issues in diet research, and the reasons why food fads so often make the headlines.

The power of community

New Zealand has made world headlines for a Police initiative to allow the public to collaboratively draft a law. The BBC article is here.

Arranged marriage

What is it like marrying a stranger chosen for you by your friends...and a whole lot of strangers? Apparently not too bad!

Flight of the Conchords

"New Zealand's fourth-most-popular folk-parody duo"!

To anyone who wasn't watching the Flight of the Conchords on Prime at 10pm Monday, make sure you watch next week! It's the best thing on telly since The Office. You can read some background here on Stuff, on BBC Radio 2 here (some music clips at the bottom of the page), or BBC Four here. And if that's not enough there's always YouTube.

The Conchords remind me a little of The Front Lawn, and also of Chris Knox. Their songs have the surreal quality that seems to run through a lot of Kiwi humour.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

A real mermaid

The terrific story of the double amputee, the flippant remark, and the Kiwi company that thought "why not?" is here.

Chain mail

When I was poking around Weta Workshop's site, I found this awesome page: they make chain mail to order! Now there's a niche product.

Making a difference

Stuff has this neat article on microlending: individuals lending small sums of money interest-free to small businesses in the third world. You might like to visit microlending website Kiva directly to find out more. Kiva even offers gift certificates, so you can give to a friend and lend to a small business at the same time!

The publishing lottery

This New York Times article details a few editorial blunders from the archive of Alfred A. Knopf Inc: books turned down that later went on to become bestsellers. As the article points out, Knopf was hardly unique: many of these books were turned down by a list of other publishers. The Diary of Anne Frank, Animal Farm, and Lolita are among the rejected manuscripts. So if you've ever been rejected by a publisher, you're in distinguished company!

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

David Goode

David Goode has a distinguished background which includes sculpting celebrity waxworks for Madame Tussaud's; he now specialises in fantasy bronze statuary for the garden. If you're thinking cutesy little gnomes, think again!

This page gives a fascinating step-by-step look at the making of one of his creatures, the "gnome-hunter"! Amazing.

The Vault opens in London

New Zealand's famous design store The Vault is now international. Read all about it here. The Vault's own website is here. Hi Sarah!

A speaking parrot

Lots of parrots can mimic human speech, but this New York Times article describes one which could understand what it was saying. (access is free but registration is required)

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Lulu and indie publishing

The Big Idea has this interesting article on internet self-publishing site Lulu, which boasts, among other things, the first book ever written on a mobile phone.

Natalie Buchanan, romance novelist extrordinaire

Natalie Buchanan writes saucy romances in between caring for her four young children. You can read all about it here.

Jared Davidson

Jared Davidson has been hand-printing advertising posters in his parents' garage for a year, and has been so wildly successful he's having a "retrospective" at the High St Project. There's a neat interview with him here, and information on the exhibition here.

The Man who rescued JFK

This is the amazing story of a Solomon Island man who rescued 11 US Navy crew from their shipwrecked vessel during WW2. One of the crew would later be President John F Kennedy.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Inside a cartoon

Political cartoonist Mike Moreu has started a blog about his work, including this post which follows the development of a cartoon from initial idea through sketches and drafts to the final published result. And there's also this interesting discussion on the state of cartooning in New Zealand.

Power of the press

This fascinating story tells of the poor Dalit man who takes on the establishment every week with his own newspaper, handwritten and photocopied, circulated in his local community in Eastern India.

Don't miss the lunar eclipse

A full lunar eclipse will be visible in New Zealand on Tuesday the 28th August. More details here.

Trading in forests

Could anybody buy a bit of rainforest to protect it from logging? This article details how it could happen.

Spencer Tunik

Everyone seems to have an opinion about Tunik's photographs of huge crowds of naked people. This BBC article has some interesting comments: some of the most interesting are from those who actually took part.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

This week's blog is brought to you by the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

What does 10,582 km² of salt look like? Really beautiful, it turns out. Google has these pictures, and there's this. The Wikipedia page on the Salar de Uyuni is here.

Ladislav Kamerad

Takes amazing landscape photos. Particular favourites of mine are his pictures of Namibia and New Zealand.

1 carpet, 1200 weavers

The BBC has this story on the collaborative work of 1200 Iranian weavers.

Living in the past

According to the BBC, 20 000 people in Britain belong to historical re-enactment groups. They have this fascinating story on Britain's Festival of History.

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Jingle Jangle Morning

Bill Hammond's huge new show at Christchurch's City Gallery is a knockout. It shows the development of his personal iconography of bird-headed figures, his love of repeat patterns, his transcribing of musical forms into painting, and his dream-like primeval landscapes. I love the freedom of his drawing and compositions, and dripping, streaky applications of paint, and the stunning effects he gets from an almost monochromatic palette. Go see it if you can.

A Fancy Man

A Fancy Man

This book is absolutely dazzling, if such a gritty, honest book can be dazzling. It tells the story of the love affair of a very young woman and an older man in a small rural town which heartily disapproves. He is an alcoholic farm worker trying to raise two young children on his own, and she is a rebellious schoolgirl whose only hobby is riding her pony. How their story works out, with all its twists and turns, is a fascinating journey.

McCauley's style reminds me of Thomas Keneally's: like Keneally, she not only tells a ripping yarn, but gets you right in among the characters, effortlessly switching between many points of view.

Sue McCauley's Book Council Page is here. Make sure you scroll down to the bottom of the page and read the story about the horse!

Rorscharch would be pleased

Bill Flynn and Samantha Keely Smith are two artists who work with paint. Their work isn't figurative, but it isn't quite abstract either...the paint is applied with careful randomness: the pigment runs and pools and separates, creating organic-looking works which are formless but evocative.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Congratulations Lynn Kelly

Lynn Kelly has won the 2007 Dowse Foundation Gold Award for her jewellery. There's an interview with her here. You can see examples of her work, based on New Zealand native plants, at Fingers and Gallery 33.

Shane Bradford

Shane Bradford's artistic practice is somewhere between painting and sculpture. He layers objects with paint by dipping them in bright rainbow hues, and the result is a paradoxical confection: his toy planes, cars and soldiers look almost good enough to eat...and his cooking utensils, dipped in the same colours, look poisonous. He performs a neat inversion: unpalatable subjects are made harmless and playful, and safe domestic subjects are made toxic. One, he seems to suggest, is a consequence of the other.

Bradford won this year's Celeste Art Prize, awarded "to promote painting in its widest sense", and his entry, "Moths", is certainly an exceptional work: his rainbow-coloured planes and soldiers are attached to darts which, stuck in the wall, appear to have been attracted to the glowing light-bulb which hangs in front of them.

Beware the Viking raiders

A bunch of adventurers are test-sailing a traditionally-built Viking longboat from Roskilde, Denmark, to Dublin, Ireland. They will spend 6 weeks working in the open boat on the North Sea, with one square metre of space per person.

Samuel Johnson famously said, “Going to sea is like going to prison, with a chance at drowning”. Well add to that the possibility of catching pneumonia with no shelter from the chilling wind, rain, hail and sleet they are likely to encounter. So why are they doing it? This is "the first time in nearly a thousand years that a fully laden Viking warship will sail across the North Sea." Imagine being part of that.

Read all about the trip here, on the BBC. And there's more information here.

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Emily Allchurch

Photomontages that look like famous paintings, but with subtle differences. Emily Allchurch recreates landscapes that never existed, and gives them a lived-in look. Fascinating! You can see a few of her works here, and her wonderful Tower of London is here.

Radio new Zealand downloads

For all those who don't know, Radio New Zealand now offers almost all their programmes for downloading as MP3s. Catch up with exactly what you're interested in, whenever, wherever! Awesome. And you can also listen online if you prefer.

Lost and found

The BBC has pictures of a few of the 1.3 million animals which were presumed to have been killed in the conflict in Southern Sudan, which have been rediscovered.

Why space exploration is so expensive

One of the funniest Onion stories ever.

Friday, 15 June 2007


If you are looking for contemporary New Zealand craft, art, or craft art, look no further than Toggle! There's something here in every price range and to suit every taste. Particular favourites of mine are the gummy-bear earrings, the Crown Lynn toki, the button necklaces, this amazing photography, beautiful kete, and the "brickwall" cushion by the incomparable Judy Darragh.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Edward Burtynsky

This Canadian photographer documents the massive transformations of the Earth by heavy industry. From opencast mining, quarries and railway cuttings; to oilfields, refineries, dam building and coal depots; to vast factories, shipyards, recycling depots and rubbish heaps, Burtynsky's large-scale photographs are panoramas of human endeavour.

The images have a brutal grandeur, recalling Piranesi, Gustave Dore, and Franz Kafka.

This site has more information on Burtynsky and examples of his work.

There is a documentary film, Manufactured Landscapes, showcasing his work and exploring some of the bizarre places he has visited.

Burtynsky's own website is here.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Welcome to the South Seas: Contemporary New Zealand Art for Young People

Welcome to the South Seas: Contemporary New Zealand Art for Young People

This book is pitched at young people but it's so clear and readable most adults would enjoy it too: it's art appreciation without the artspeak. Gregory O'Brien has chosen one work each from 45 contemporary New Zealand artists, and he outlines his thoughts on each one, in a fun and breezy style.

Story of a New Zealand River

This novel was written in 1914 and I expected it to be old-fashioned and dull. In fact it's quite a page-turner! Set on Northland's Otamatea River, it describes the journey upriver of an English immigrant to a remote logging settlement; her personal development in this alien setting is chronicled along with the development of the prosperous mill town.

The story has a number of features in common with Jane Campion's The Piano, and there have been allegations that Campion was heavily influenced by Mander's novel, and never acknowledged her debt. To me, there are a lot of differences between The Piano and Story of a New Zealand River...but you can judge for yourself.

I think Story of a New Zealand River may currently be out of print, but it's available from libraries, and you can read it online or download it as an e-book, here.

There's more information on author Jane Mander here.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Glenn Jones

New Zealand designer Glenn Jones has made a huge hit with his t-shirt designs on Threadless. There's an interview with him here, with examples of his hilarious work.

A nest of singing birds

The New Zealand School Journal started out 100 years ago as a textbook-substitute, but it has evolved into a cultural and literary treasure. So many great New Zealand writers and artists got their break with School Journal.

To celebrate the School Journal's centenary, the National Library is showing a selection of original art contributed to the Journal by such big names as Rita Angus, Colin McCahon, Louise Henderson, Juliet Peter, and many others.

The exhibition takes its name from Alistair Te Ariki Campbell's description of the Journal's office as "a nest of singing birds"; A Nest of Singing Birds is at the National Library in Wellington until the 21st July. You can read more about the exhibition here. And some historical background here.

And if you want to send your own original work to the School Journal, this is the page for you.

Vanishing Act

Vanishing Act

Most wildlife photographs show the animal clearly standing out from the background, but of course standing out is exactly what animals don't mean to do - their survival depends on blending in with their environment. The pictures in this book show animal camouflage: viewing these pictures is a game of visual hide-and-seek, trying to find the creature hiding in each image. More than that, it shows how inhabited empty-seeming landscapes can be!

Nights in the Gardens of Spain

Nights in the Gardens of Spain

Forget everything you thought you knew about Witi Ihimaera. In this, his most recent novel, he steps outside his usual Maori settings, and into white Auckland of the 1990s. David Munro is a white academic, born into privilege; he is a promiscuous homosexual who is happily married with two beloved daughters. Eventually his nights of casual sex with strangers, his "Nights in the Gardens of Spain", throw his life into chaos, and threaten to destroy his family. How David deals with the conflicts within himself and with the world are the substance of the book.

3-D Tintin

NZ's Weta Workshop, Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg are working together to realise a trilogy of Tintin stories. I can't wait! Read more on Stuff.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Sense of place

I saw Picturing the Peninsula at the Christchurch City Gallery the other day, and it was fascinating. It's a collection of paintings, drawings and photographs of Canterbury's Banks Peninsula: you'd be amazed how diverse the images are. Standouts for me were paintings from Tony Fomison and Dean Venrooy, and a photograph from Mark Adams.

I looked online for more information on Dean Venrooy's amazing paintings, and this was about all I could find.

Encyclopedia of everything

The Encyclopedia of Life is an incredibly ambitious project. The object is to catalogue all 1.8 million known species of organism, in a web-accessible form. Inspired by Wikipedia, public contributions and mash-ups of already-availible material will form most of the content, but experts will check it for accuracy. The EOL will take a number of years to evolve, and will be an unprecedented public resource.

Old technology

This fascinating story on Public Address Science is about the rediscovery of an ancient technique: Maori and South Americans blended charcoal into soil to improve its fertility; the soil they treated hundreds of years ago is still very fertile. And, what's more, burying charcoal locks carbon into the earth, preventing its return to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Absolutely stunning!

Brazilian photographer SebastiĆ£o Salgado's photographs of Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula have to be seen to be believed. See them here. There's more information on Salgado and his work here. And more of his pictures here.

Surely the week's cutest photo

Is this one. Thanks Matthew.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Tower of light

"A concrete tower - 40 storeys high - stood bathed in intense white light, a totally bizarre image in the depths of the Andalusian countryside.

The tower looked like it was being hosed with giant sprays of water or was somehow being squirted with jets of pale gas. I had trouble working it out."

Can you guess what it is? It's a solar-thermal power station, focusing beams of reflected sunlight to create steam to drive turbines. Read all about it on the BBC.

Deadly pollutant into energy

In Rwanda, the bottom of Lake Kivu accumulates methane given off by rotting vegetation. If left to build up, this methane, along with carbon dioxide, eventually forms a huge bubble which explodes to the surface, and the gas then settles over the surface, suffocating humans and animals over a huge area. It is estimated two million people are at risk around Lake Kivu. Fortunately, technology exists to extract the methane from under the lake and use it as fuel. Read the whole story on the BBC.

Eye of the beholder

Banksy is an art-celebrity; his real identity is keep secret; his work sells for huge sums. However, not everyone is impressed. Cleaners this week whitewashed a work he had spraypainted on a substation.

Banksy's own website is here. You can download and print his pictures for free.

Nudes banned from pyramids

Mexico's Teotihuacan pyramids are protected from activities which could cause damage. Authorities believe a big crowd of naked people could harm the historic site.

Surreal architecture

We are all familiar with surreal painting. What would surreal architecture be like? Terunobu Fujimori has designed some examples.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Victoria Ginn

Figure in the New Zealand Landscape

Figure in the New Zealand Landscape isn't like any other landscape photography book I've ever seen! Vicotoria Ginn uses New Zealand locations in ways you won't have seen before. This is one of my favourites. And this. They're all fascinating, though.

Ginn shows dancers in staged tableaux of various kinds: some enact historical events or myths, some are visual jokes, some are evocative and enigmatic; each shot is a carefully-composed moment of stillness. Over them all is an air of drama and strangeness: the landscapes look both familiar and alien.

Ginn describes herself as an "Ethnographic Art Documentary Photographer". Her work certainly defies the usual categories! Her biography and a history of her practice is here.

Rakiura: the wilderness of Stewart Island

On the subject of landscape, Craig Potton Publishing has recently put out this sumptuous Rob Brown book on Rakiura/Stewart Island. Brown took the jewel-like photographs over many years while tramping Rakiura's back country: beaches and forests, mountains and tussocklands. The pictures are accompanied by a thoughtful text on Rakiura's history and his experiences there.

I was fascinated to read that all the photographs were made on medium-format transparency sheet film in a fully-mechanical camera, and with the use of a hand-held light meter. He certainly hasn't taken any easy options! He says what with the heavy sheet-film in his pack and all the lenses, it was sometimes a conflict between carrying enough food or enough film. He says it's less painful to be hungry than to run out of film. :-)

Fear of flood

A Dutchman has built an ark, housing life-sized carved replicas of a multitude of animals. He is afraid flooding may be in store for the Netherlands. The BBC has the story.

Photo-engraved jewellery

This is a rather neat idea.

Unseen Lee Miller photographs

"It was only by accident after her death that we found all the images, thousands of them, that she had hidden around the house. She always claimed she had destroyed them. They were a revelation...." The Guardian has the whole story.

Lee Miller's Wikipedia page is here, and an archive of her better-known work is here.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Harlequin Rex

Harlequin Rex

I've just read this stunning novel by Owen Marshall. It's his second; reviews of his first novel, A Many Coated Man, were not favourable. Landfall's reviewer claimed he was better to stick to short stories: "less is more", said reviewer Andrew Mason. However he wrote Harlequin Rex anyway, and it won the Montana Deutz Medal.

It's the story of a plague of psychiatric illness, nicknamed Harlequin, which causes the higher mental functions to shut down; this leaves only the "old brain" functions, the basic atavistic urges, running suddenly free. Sufferers in the grip of an "episode" hear and smell acutely, and become wildly excited; their mania may be sexual, or destructive, or playful, or murderous. Episodes become progressively more severe; in almost all cases, collapse and death follow.

Harlequin is spreading rapidly in New Zealand, and sanatoria are set up in isolated places to house sufferers until either a cure is found, or they die. Neither the cause of the illness nor its means of transmission are known. Adults of all ages and backgrounds find themselves committed to institutions from which few will ever leave. Marshall's story is set in one such sanatorium, the Slaven Centre, in the Marlborough Sounds. His central character is David, an ex-convict who has reasons for laying low, and who takes a job as an aide. Himself healthy, he becomes a part of this closed and doomed community, sharing the banal tragedy and the constant petty humiliations of institutional sickness.

Marshall describes his style as "impressionist"; His narrative is a chain of sense experiences and passionate emotions, linked by reflections on fate, mortality, personality and humanity. The style reflects the conflict of the animalistic brain, knowing only the moment and its desires, and the higher mind, aware of the passage of time and lost opportunities.

You can read more about Owen Marshall on his Book Council page. Clicking on the picture or heading above takes you to Fishpond.

New J.R.R. Tolkien book

Apparently the manuscript has been sitting around in pieces, and Christopher Tolkien has joined them together.

New David Hockney portrait exhibition

At the National Portrait Gallery, London. The BBC has a slideshow.

The face looks familiar

This Scotswoman found a portrait of herself as a teenager for sale in an antique shop. From the photograph, it was a good likeness.

Resale royalties for artists

The NZ government has called for submissions on proposed legislation that would award a portion of an original work's resale price to the artist. The NZ Herald has the story. Russell Brown has some comments. Also prominent artist Robyn Kahukiwa is quoted here.

Pensioners' rock band releases single

They want to elbow their way into popular culture. And why not, indeed? And besides, aren't the Rolling Stones pensioners now? The BBC has the story.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Congratulations Seraphine Pick

Phantom Limb by Seraphine Pick, winner of the 2007 Norsewear Art Award. You can see details of the award and view the other prizewinners here. The Stuff news item is here. Some of Pick's other recent work is here. This image appears by permission of Norsewear Art Award.

Women in Art

Kendal, UK, is hosting a huge arts festival showcasing the work of women in the arts. It sounds great. Wish I could be there!

RIP Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut died this week. I'm sorry that we won't have any more of his books to look forward to. He has left us quite a few, though...Fishpond has these.

The last one I read was Breakfast of Champions. Boy is it strange! It has no minor characters, and there are a lot of characters. Before that I read Bagombo Snuff Box, which is a collection of his earliest published stories, and an essay he wrote about the process of writing: it's a fascinating window on his creative process.

Dickens theme park

"Housed in a modern, aluminium-clad hangar on the Chatham Maritime estate in Kent, its creators promise a flavour of "dark, smoky, moody London, full of smells and mist"."

Read about it here.

Serial novel

Love Over Scotland

I've just read Alexander McCall Smith's Love Over Scotland. It's wonderful, and a wonderful form: short episodic chapters, originally published daily in The Scotsman newspaper. Each chapter gets to have either a cliffhanger or a punchline. How many regular novels have that?

McCall Smith's website is worth a look, too.

Attack of the roombas

Are you afraid roombas might have bigger plans than just cleaning the carpet? Sometimes The Onion is just too funny.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Harvesting the sun

Plants do it, so why can't we? New Zealand researchers at Massey University have discovered a way to harvest energy from sunlight using specially-designed dyes which mimic chlorophyll. You can read more background and history here.

Favourite clouds

What do you like in a cloud? Is it colour, texture, shape? Would you like to compare your preferences with those of other people? Look no further than here. The site shows you tiny pieces of sky, which you rate. It figures out what you like, and shows you more pictures of that.

What does it mean? There's an article discussing all this on Artbash.

And if clouds are a bit abstract for your taste, there's always Kittenwar.

Enormous super-huge giant crystals

No, I'm not exaggerating! Check this out on the BBC.

Shelly West

I have just read Shelly Has a Baby, Shelly West's autobiography. It's the remarkable story of a young New Zealand woman who has lived through crippling arthritis and total blindness and achieved some remarkable things. The degree of hardship she has faced made me cringe, but she writes frankly and without self-pity, and I thought if she could bear to live through these experiences and talk about them, then I could bear to read about them!

And look at all the things she's done: got a degree in Italian and travelled to Italy, sung at country music festivals, got married and had a baby, written a book. She talks about wanting a career in public speaking. The book was published in 1997, and I would love to know what has happened since. Did she become a public speaker, or turn her sights to something else? How is her daughter getting along? Is it nosey to want to know more, when she has already shared so much?

Great book, anyhow. You can buy it here.

Context is everything

A world-famous violinist plays masterworks on a famous violin. At concerts people pay vast sums to hear him play, and he is mobbed for his autograph.

What would happen if he played somewhere outside a concert hall, The Washington Post wondered. Would people still appreciate his playing if he busked incognito in the subway?

"In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run -- for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look."

The whole fascinating story is here. Thanks to Matthew for the link.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

500 Baskets: A Celebration of the Basketmaker's Art

500 Baskets: A Celebration of the Basketmaker's Art

Could the future of contemporary art be craft? This wonderful book shows the strength and diversity within craft art practice. Here are exquisite examples of traditional basketry, and equally exquisite innovative works. Woven materials include bark and other plant fibres, but also wire, sheet metal, thread, cereal boxes, fishing line, plastic strapping, and clay. There is even one piece made of newspaper! The range of styles and approaches are equally broad.

500 Baskets is only one of a series of juried craft art titles produced by US publisher Lark Books. Good on them! You can buy the books here through Fishpond.

Invasion of the little people

London has been infiltrated by aliens, but hardly anyone would have noticed. That is, unless they've seen the pictures. Thanks to Styleygeek for the link.

Brian Jungen

Mass-produced objects get a new life in the sculpture of Canadian artist Brian Jungen. Nike footwear becomes tribal masks and strange creatures, plastic chairs meld into a lively-looking skeleton. Great stuff! His Wikipedia page is here.

Joining places and times

These photographs of Mark Dolce's juxtapose historic images with contemporary places. It's a simple idea with intriguing and haunting results.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

The Inhabited Initial

The Inhabited Initial

I have been savouring Fiona Farrell's poetry collection The Inhabited Initial, which deals with the ancient middle-eastern sources of our alphabet, as well as related issues of power, violence, history and language in the Middle East.

from "The Translator"

"The translator dangles/ by a thread above/ thickets of sound.// He presses his hand at/ the small sharp print/ of an ancient tongue.// His fingers feel for the/ crack where words can/ spill from the rock like water."

There are memorable New Zealand poems, too. I love this, from "Otanerito":

"Cliff meets sea./ Sea bash at/ knuckle rock./ Thump, says sea./ Cliff says/ stop."

It's so like her poem "Full stop":

"The little dot raises its hand./ It breaks into the letters marching/ from left to right and forces them to/ form cohorts of meaning. It insists on quiet."

Land, language, human struggle, all bound together. Fantastic.

New Andy Goldsworthy show

Those lucky enough to live in Yorkshire can see it for themselves. The rest of us have to make do with a vicarious experience:

"In the final room I come across the artist himself up a stepladder working on a beautiful filamented curtain stretching the full height and width of the gallery that up close turns out to be made from horse-chestnut twigs held together with thorns, each one - more than 10,000 in all - painstakingly jointed by hand. "

Read more about it in a wonderful article in the Guardian and there's a slideshow too!

And kudos to the Guardian

For giving their art, architecture and design news its own section, and not lumping it in 'Entertainment', as is so often the case! Can we hope the BBC might follow suit? Art and design has so little in common with celebrity gossip....

Butterflies in trouble

This Dominion Post article tells of the decline of butterfly numbers in New Zealand. It's all the more concerning beacuse the causes are not well understood. Letting nettle plants grow is one thing we can all do to help them, along with encouraging nectar-producing plants in our gardens.

Finally, an animated kangaroo tessellation

No, I'm not kidding! It's here. I wonder if making an animation ever occurred to Escher? :-)

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Photorealist to photographer

I always assumed Grahame Sydney painted his beautiful landscapes from photographs, but apparently he works from detailed sketches. He was unable to sketch in the Antarctic owing to the harsh conditions, and so he took photographs instead, which he is exhibiting at Christchurch's Salamander Gallery from the 20th of this month. The press release and some pictures are here.

I'm interested that he says he has not altered the photographs since taking them, and that he hopes they show his individual "eye". Many great photographers have shown their individual vision precisely by working on the images: Ansel Adams, with his famous Zone System, spent many hours adjusting tonal values in his pictures.

Adams is quoted as saying: "Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships" :-)

Colour of the Antarctic

I also note that Sydney's Antarctic photos, like Craig Potton's in his recent show, show the snow and ice as pale grey. For a camera to register detail in the lightest areas, it must be set to underexpose - to register bright white as a pale grey. This can be modified in the printing stage, by overexposing (or "pushing") to turn this palest grey back to white. Of course, the more the image is pushed to white, the more detail is lost. Potton and Sydney have both opted for truth-to-detail rather than trying to replicate the blinding whiteness that must be such a feature of being in the Antarctic.

Bad farmyard puns

Remember Wallace and Gromit? And Chicken Run? Well now Aardman Animation has Shaun the sheep. Pictures are here on the BBC. Shaun even has his OWN, very lavish website.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Amazing weaving

I saw Christchurch City Gallery's Toi Maori show last week. I thought as I am a non-Maori and a non-weaver it would be over my head, but I thought it was stunning. Photos simply don't do these works justice. The whole range is there, from historical, heirloom pieces, through to contemporary explorative work.

I was also thrilled to see some lovely stuff by Bing Dawe at the Arthouse. I thought his eels and flounders looked particularly well in the small rooms of the Arthouse, where the sinuous curves fill the walls, and you are forced up close, eye-to-eye with the fish.

T-shirts and attitudes

Matthew pointed me to Threadless T-shirts. I'm impressed by the artistry and creativity that can go into a t-shirt! Threadless invites design contributions from anybody, in their ongoing competition. Entries are then ranked by users, the winners get money, and you can order the winning designs. Then, if you want, you can even send them a photo of yourself wearing the shirt. Internet pop culture at its best!

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

The patterns

A lot of people have asked how I did the patterns on the recent greeting cards. Some have also asked why I'm not taking photos anymore! Well the patterns are all made up of photographs...and I've written a page explaining how it's done, and why I did it.


Islamic polygonal tiling is so mathematically sophisticated that only in recent years can mathematicians really appreciate it! The BBC article is here.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Rivers and Tides

Anyone who admires the work of Scottish sculptor Andy Goldsworthy should see this amazing film. Goldsworthy uses found materials in their natural setting, and documents the natural processes which change and eventually destroy them. The film showcases Goldsworthy's astonishing patience, and also his spontaneity, in a way that his own photographs and writing can't convey. A highlight for me was watching one of his leaf-chains being swept down a stream, snaking and swirling along with the current.

Another remarkable film from the same director is Touch the Sound, about deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie. The film isn't just about her, it's also about sound itself, and how conscious she has become to the nuances and possibilities she senses all around her, without hearing as we do.

Pigeons navigate by Earth's magnetic field

Say NZ researchers who tried confusing them with the Auckland Junction Magnetic Anomaly.

Watch out for the other birds

This paraglider was attacked by eagles!

"Like an astronaut returning from the moon"

Said the paraglider who flew, inadvertently, at 32,612 feet. She made it down safely. Wow.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Great New Zealand Books

One of my New Year's resolutions was to read more New Zealand books. Two gems I have come across are:

New Zealand: A Natural World Revealed by Tui de Roy and Mark Jones. Don't let the unmemorable title put you off, this is a sumptuous book, full of the sort of photographs that make you think the authors must have spent years, if not decades, amassing them. Particularly memorable are the sequences of kea, kakapo, and kiwi.

Occasional: 50 Poems

Occasional: Owen Marshall

I thought Owen Marshall only wrote short stories, but I happened upon Occasional: 50 Poems, his 2004 poetry collection. He has a trick of being brutal, plain-speaking, and lyrical, all at once. I don't know how he does it. Try this, from "Marlborough":

"Were we ever told of a great duke and a famous victory? If so we soon forgot them in that burning present which is the only tense that childhood knows. The sky was dizzying then, like a great blue book opened till its spine was broken, and the perpetual, golden-maned sun roamed so fiercely from east to west...."

Tuesday, 30 January 2007


Joanna Braithwaite's painting Bee Being, of a figure wrapped in a swarm of bees, apparently flying through the air, is one of my favourites. That picture features in a lovely article on Braithwaite in Art New Zealand magazine.

Braithwaite shares some of her themes with Australian sculptor Patricia Piccinini, whose incredible show of human-like animals, hybrid animals, and animal-like machines at the City Gallery, Wellington, early last year is still viewable online. The online presentation features audio commentary by the artist herself.


Most photographers go to some trouble to keep their camera steady while taking a picture. Wellington artist Darren Glass goes to the other extreme: he's made a camera that fits on a frisbee, and takes the photo while spinning through the air. Art News has the full story

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Jane Andrews

Sophisticated, witty, and extremely strange, Jane Andrews' paintings have a haunting, familiar feel, like something half-remembered from a dream.

If you ever wondered....

The BBC shows how Oscar statuettes are made. People go to a lot of trouble, it seems.

I remember Glenda Jackson telling the story that she gave her 2 Oscar statuettes to her mother, who polished them so proudly and vigorously that the gold plating soon wore off.

Seeing it all

Slate has this interesting piece about cellphone cameras and their effect on how we think about our experiences. This blog gives a personal perspective on using a digital camera to record a family crisis.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

New Art Forum

Thanks to Matthew for pointing me to Artbash! How fantastic to have a local art website. You can even buy stuff. Including, if you wish, the whole thing!

There are a lot of options for using Artbash: you can write reviews, rants or blogs and even sell your own art. The site has obviously been conceived on a grand scale. Maybe it'll be the next big thing. :-)

Lots of birds

Te Papa has put out an amazing new book on extinct New Zealand birds. It is illustrated by stunning paintings by Paul Martinson, who, amazingly, is self-taught. His birds are lovingly detailed and overflowing with personality, showing plainly how much New Zealand has lost.

I see Martinson has also illustrated a smaller book on rare and threatened birds. And that he does expressive paintings as well!