The Dream Figure

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Irrationally peculiar dream figures – my loose, ‘armchair’ understanding of things is that most people don’t have recurring dreams, or even recurring themes or personalities in their dreams. It’s a popular trope in story-telling, which makes perfect sense – haunting dreams are a wonderful expression of foreshadowing, a device to inject a sense of inevitability, foreboding, or fate. The reality, of course, is far more banal. Those of us who encounter recurring dream figures ought not take too much from them; the general consensus in the psychological community is that they are completely happenstance, and may represent nothing more than a single event in one’s history – not even a particularly important event – that managed to get stored in our memory in such a way as to appear and reappear, like a skipping record.

This particular dream figure has been visiting me for the better part of a decade. I’m assuming she’s some remnant of my college days, which I spent at the University of Arizona. She reminds me of art school girls at house parties, smoking cigarettes in used clothes bought at Buffalo Exchange, a haven for hipster women looking to spend twice as much on a pair of pre-worn jeans than the original price-tag when they were brand new and not covered in holes.

This apparition – and she really feels like an apparition, an uninvited ghost that only I can see – is never aggressive, she never threatens me, never harms me. But I always recall feeling an extreme unease when she walks into the room. She usually walks around a corner, and it’s usually when I’m trying to leave and get outside. In most of my dreams, I turn around and nurse a drink, taking little sips, and make small-talk to the gaggle of faceless others around me, glancing occasionally to see if she’s still there.

She’s always blocking my path. And I spend my time hoping for a chance to scoot by and get outside.

Nothing bad ever happens. No gore. No evil. Just a faceless, toothed, unsettling creature.

I’ll let the psychoanalysts in the inter-webs analyze this. In the quiet of night, unable to sleep, I decided to scribble-out a picture from my dreams.

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Geometric Art, Color, and Heavy Metal

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Growing up I listened to a lot of Tool, a progressive metal band that some of you may be familiar with and some of you may not be familiar with. I still listen to my old albums. The percussionist, Danny Carey, heralded from a local community here in Kansas, giving us mid-western backwater hicks some prestige. I’ve spent my entire career as an artist trying to explain to people that the “fly-over” states are filled with creative artists and political malcontents, too.

Midway through their career, Tool began incorporating works form artist Alex Gray – anatomical cross-sections, repeating patterns, and other evocative images intended to illustrate the connection between body and spirit – into their albums. The images rely heavily on the symbolism of the third eye and chakra charts, but they also weave this content into renderings reminiscent of anatomy textbooks, esoteric symbols, and studies of celestial bodies. It’s really cool stuff.

At one point or another, after looking at all of that great art (and probably after watching Martin Scorsese’s film Kundun, and after attending a talk with the Dali Lama at the Tucson convention center), I really wanted to make a mandala. There are countless designs out there, but I’d never made one of my own and, frankly, I didn’t know the first thing about making a design like that. I’m pretty confident that I still, for the most part, still don’t. Nevertheless, I nabbed my metal ruler and protractor and took to making some of the most god-awful radial line-drawings the world has ever seen (except, of course, that the world never saw them – I threw ’em all away because, well, they were terrible).

I have, of late, taken the practice up again. It’s a great meditative practice. It’s complicated and simple at the same time, mathematical and symmetrical, but layered with compositional complexity. Today’s image is my first shot out of the gate – I know I can make more interesting images, but I’m very pleased to be back in the saddle and experimenting with these designs. I’m already working on others, which I will share once they’re done.

I’m “getting my zen on,” as an old friend from the San Rafael Valley would say. The repetition, the tedious nature of making pictures like this, open doorways in the mind. These compositions require a certain kind of concentration to make, but they’re also ordered, logical, straight-forward. The perfect kind of exercise for any creative personality who isn’t feeling any other specific drive; it’s a way of exercising the brain and being creative when one is feeling stifled, uninspired, or otherwise “blocked.”

The trick is to keep the pen moving. This is how I keep moving. I hope you like it.

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Breaking Bad – Say My Name

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MORE POSTS FROM THE GILLIGAN-VERSE

Many folks herald Breaking Bad as the greatest television show in the history of television. I wouldn’t go so far. It was successful in developing a narrative that rewarded its audience and grew along with its popularity. But if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, it’s a show that began slow. It certainly managed to enhance its narrative velocity throughout its five-season run, but there was an undeniable lull during the earliest episodes. Its biggest success rested in the show-runners – and creator Vince Gilligan – outlining how they wanted the story to end. The network had no opportunity to milk the show – keep it on life support while the numbers were good – until it fell into relative obscurity (think Dexter or True Blood).

Sure, we would all have gleefully sat through an additional three seasons of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman dodging bullets and escaping the guillotine, but a poorly-resolved narrative condemns a story to the realm of ‘the forgettable.’ We remember Breaking Bad because the story respected its audience. It was designed to be a complete story, not a money-maker – and that’s why it’s such a profoundly successful money-maker. The competition between ‘art’ and ‘commerce’ destroys most shows, most books, and a lot of popular art. Focus groups and ratings have a direct influence on the direction many of our stories go – seeking to please audiences rather than impact them.

Focus groups are as effective as the SAT’s in measuring success – which is to say, they don’t measure success. In many cases, they destroy it. Breaking Bad is one of the greatest examples of long-form story-telling specifically because it didn’t allow itself to be influenced by outside, disaffected parties. It took risks. It reminded audiences that creativity and ingenuity can allow a television show to achieve as much – if not more – than feature-length films. Breaking Bad inaugurated the wave of cinema-quality television we’re now experiencing.

And hindsight is 20/20. If we can be genuinely objective, Better Call Saul is better at the job of character development and story-telling than Breaking Bad ever was. Artists – and the writers in their ranks – evolve. In Saul, nothing is taken for granted in it’s production. Breaking Bad, the early years, has the tainted film of “this might not be picked up for another season” written all over it. Better Call Saul is infinitely more confident in it’s story-telling – in a way that audiences have never seen. Sure, it could be canceled at any time, but it’s obvious that the writers know precisely where they’re going with their characters. They have to be, because half of these characters already exist in the Breaking Bad series.

With the ultimate fate of the principle characters an already-known quantity, the writers of Better Call Saul have been working on – and achieving – a heightened level of story-telling, the likes of which we have never, in the history of books, movies, or television, ever seen. It’s pretty damn cool.

Keep your eyes open. Look at the quality. And please: Say. My. Name.

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Another ‘Suicide Squad’ Trailer

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OTHER POSTS ABOUT SUICIDE SQUAD

For all of the wailing about Batman V Superman, that movie is still a freight train that is on it’s way to hitting the one billion dollar mark. Sure, it was an expensive production and it has proved to be less profitable than Warner Brothers had hoped, but the movie’s still a success. The most vehement critics point to a longer-than-necessary run-time (clocking in at two and a half hours) and a darker-than-necessary tone. These are legitimate criticisms – Superman is supposed to be fun, and this film seemed overly-focused on dragging the Man Of Steel into ‘brooding Batman’ territory, and it simply didn’t work. The film is largely humorless, lacking the kind of heart that audiences had obviously hoped for.

The DC Cinematic Universe is not as well-oiled as Marvel, but the studio still has plenty of opportunity to course correct. The only concern is the very real possibility that they over-correct. For instance, a well-sourced rumor has begun to circulate the Warner is now re-shooting certain scenes from the upcoming Suicide Squad feature to make it more ‘light’ and ‘funny.’ These kinds of last-minutes changes do not augur well for the franchise. They aren’t ‘inspired’ changes. They’re ‘fearful’ changes. Hopefully this won’t spell disaster for what looks to be a pretty exciting ride.

The newest trailer dropped yesterday, and it’s fun as hell. Check it out HERE.

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Better Call Saul 2.09 – Nailed

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READ PREVIOUS SAUL POSTS HERE

“Nailed” is about right. The screws are tightening and Better Call Saul has breached the barrier between ‘procedural’ into ‘true drama.’ This is the episode that fans have been waiting for, after a laborious – and often frustratingly tedious and long-winded – build-up. Consider the final two episodes as one long story; we’ve only seen the first act. And the gun from the Regalo Helado opening from last week? Well, we all know what happens when you introduce a gun in the first act.

The ‘Cain and Abel’ story between Jimmy and Chuck is reaching it’s apex. The connection between Mike and the Salamanca cartel is cemented, but not resolved. The spindle is turning and the yarn isn’t complete. For today, I’ll be reserving a more in-depth review until the season climax next Monday.

Any predictions?

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Illustration – Nude Study

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There is no genre of art older than the nude study, the bare human form. It commands our attention and often makes some of us turn away, either in modesty or – more sadly – in shame. The question of its endurance as an art-form throughout the ages is an interesting one. To my mind, the nude is deeply symbolic philosophically, and elegant in its accidental eroticism. The nude is both attractive – and to many, uncomfortably attractive – because it symbolizes true vulnerability; exposed flesh presents a form with nothing left to reveal.

The nude subject is in its most confident and vulnerable state, achieving these at the same time. This cannot be found anywhere else, and that is why nude studies are so captivating, so mesmerizing, so subtly profound. We objectify and sympathize, simultaneously, and this duality forces certain truths to snake their way into our consciousness, about how we view our own bodies and how we use them.

I am proud to be both painter and subject in this genre, to continue this great tradition. In a media landscape that barely bats an eye at extreme violence but suppresses the most natural of sexual desires, I regret only that my artwork isn’t more filled with genitalia.

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Sin City – Nancy Callahan

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I sat down today and watched both of the Sin City films. I’ve been a fan of the comic series ever since I bought a used paperback at ‘Bookman’s Buy-Sell-Trade’ superstore in Tucson when I was a freshmen in college. At the time, the rack was overstuffed with copies, and I nabbed mine for a measly ninety-nine cents. It was cheap enough that I didn’t find it sacrilege at all when I chopped it up and pasted individual frames into my sketchbook.

I was a comic collector since childhood – mostly X-Men titles – and had no idea what Sin City was about. I didn’t even read the book. I just sifted through the pages and appreciated the art. When it was adapted into a feature film, I started paying attention. It had the noir elements, the over-clocked one-liners, trench coats, and fedoras. It was black and white, self-referencing, darkly comedic, and playful. It was a perfect film specifically because it didn’t take itself too seriously – it was engineered to be pulp entertainment. It was designed to be fun.

Sin City was also a throw-away film. It appealed to a niche demographic, not turning too many heads. This is a disappointing revelation because the production was insanely innovative, inventing new film-making techniques that allowed the comic book to come to life. Of all the comic book movies that exist today, I can’t think of a project more true to the source material than Sin City. Most of the film was shot on green-screen, with the background environments inserted in post-production. The violence is stylized, and the black-and-white palette is used with intuitive brilliance.

The sequel, A Dame To Kill For, didn’t perform well at the box office. But it’s a fantastic voyage into the back alleys of Frank Miller’s fictitious city of crime and corruption. Think Gotham, only more fucked up. The vignetted stories are fun, dark, grimly humorous, and worth a look.

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