Category Archives: Visual Arts

A Corroded Spike

This summer I’ve been involved in an informal deal — in exchange for a house to inhabit I agreed to do a few tasks. One of these tasks involved pouring concrete, a type of work I’ve more-or-less successfully avoided in recent years.

Part of this work involved digging in the scanty and rocky soil which partially cloaks this Southeast Arizona canyon. I’ve encountered several cast-off human artifacts during this project, mostly items which didn’t interest me, like old bottle-caps and pull-tabs. Yesterday I happened upon something a bit different, a chunk of eroded iron which I picked up and examined. I stuck the chunk into a back jeans pocket and photographed it later.

The piece of iron looks like the younger brother of a railroad spike. It’s just four inches long:

After I shot a few photos of the spike it occurred to me that this miniature spike is most likely a relic of the old shaft-mining days here in Bisbee, a spike which held down the narrow-gauge rails along which ore-carts traveled to and fro, carrying copper ore to the surface from the Stygian depths. This was during the early twentieth century, before open-pit mining became prevalent.

In the above photo the shadow cast by the late-afternoon sun caught my interest. I was reminded of a Hokusai print, one of the series “36 Views of Mount Fuji”.

This wood-block print is called “Great Wave Off Kanagawa”. Fishing boats in trouble can be seen in the foreground, while Mt. Fuji broods in the background. I must confess that graphic artists such as Hokusai, Escher, and botanical illustrators interest me; life is too short to pay much attention to urban artists feted by the insular “fine” arts people. Here are a couple of fine waterfall prints by Hokusai, who was a major influence upon early 20th-century illustrators such as Arthur Rackham and Sidney Sime.




Filed under Arizona, Essays and Articles, Photos, Visual Arts

The Night Of The Hunter

Bisbee, Arizona has a population of just six thousand people, but this summer I have learned that the local public library is an invaluable resource. The Copper Queen Library, along with a good book collection, also has an extensive library of classic films on DVD.

Last night, as I ate freshly-made pesto with home-made bread, I watched a movie which impressed me deeply, the 1955 film The Night Of The Hunter. Charles Laughton directed this dark film, and the amazing cinematography of Stanley Cortez has the feel of German Expressionist movies of the 1920s.

Robert Mitchum’s performance as the evil and psychotic preacher is the role of a lifetime. Shelley Winters shines as a widow who falls under the preacher’s spell.

This review of the film effectively explains its power, even fifty-seven years later:

Noir of the Week article

You can watch the movie in seven parts on Youtube; here’s the first fourteen minutes.



Filed under Essays and Articles, Video, Visual Arts

The Fiji Mermaid

When I got here a week ago Bev had just agreed to do an art installation for a show in downtown Bisbee. Such installations are an ephemeral type of art and it doesn’t make sense to spend much money for materials.

She had decided to make a painted fortune-teller’s booth and dress up as the fortune-teller herself. As atmospheric props she has been making the kind of biological freakish oddities which might be found in a carnival freak show. The figures will be suspended from the ceiling near the booths.

I am not a practioner of the visual and plastic arts, thus I was fascinated to see the weird little figures take shape. Bev had seen the papier maché variant technique on a teacher’s web-site and had been wanting to try it. It’s a simple technique involving a wire armature, wadded-up newspapers, paper towels, and white glue.

Mummified mermaids, often called “The Fiji Mermaid” in the carnival sideshows, have been exhibited far and wide. They are horrifying but fascinating little mummies and doubtless have inspired many a bad dream. Here’s Bev’s take on the garish tradition. The eyes are the bottom discs cut from a cardboard egg carton. I might help with the acrylic painting of the creature’s details:

Another common feature of the sideshows is the display of the remains of a deformed or mutated animal. Two heads, an unusual number of limbs, or inappropriate skin surfaces are commonly seen. I suggested to Bev that a two-headed snake might be appropriate, and why not give it two tails as well? Here’s what she came up with:



Filed under Arizona, General and Local, Photos, Visual Arts

Religion Flowchart

I like flowcharts created by geeks trying to make sense of the world! Thanks go to Michelle Beissel for this image.



Filed under Visual Arts

Mervyn Peake Revisited

During my tumultuous but reserved adolescence I was a reader of fantasy, as well as works of the common English canon, notably Charles Dickens.

I was a devotee of the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien, reading them over and over, but later in life I’ve found them to be unreadable. I looked farther afield for similar works of literature.

During the late 1960s fantasy writer Lin Carter edited a series of paperback books for Ballantine, a publisher which was attempting to capitalize on the mass-market success of Tolkien. Ballantine published three wonderful novels by Mervyn Peake, the Gormenghast Trilogy. I just loved those novels, they were like Dickens with even more of a touch of the grotesque, psychological fantasies informed by Freudian and Jungian readings, I suppose. The first paperback Ballantine releases featured a center section of Peake’s wonderful drawings of many of the characters. The later editions lacked that section, no doubt due to the costs involved.

I urge you to seek out Peake’s novels. I need to re-read them. Here are a few of Mervyn Peake’s drawings:


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Filed under Books, Visual Arts

Camels, Etc.

How would you like to see a unique graphic composed by my friend Bev Wigney? She used a photo of a discarded cigarette pack and a page from a Kipling story and came up with this. I was impressed and amused. What do you think of it?

I posted this and saw that the text was too small; here’s a link to the full-size graphic:

Camel Story



Filed under Visual Arts

Early Botanical Paintings

I’m very fond of botanical art, perhaps because I have no skill in the visual arts. I appreciate the works of those who do have that gift, though!

Here are two paintings by a seventeenth-century woman, Maria Sibylla Merian:

These paintings brings back memories. Back in my Knox County, Missouri days I grew both species of fritillaries. The Crown Fritillary shown in the second painting lasted for just one year, as the species requires well-drained soil. The Guinea-Hen Flower, Fritillaria meleagris, naturalized well in some open hickory woodland and might still be blooming there. The checkerboard blooms are a sight to see!



Filed under Plants, Visual Arts