Monday, January 12, 2015

So Tal, How Did You Become An Artist ?

Found this while going through some of Pop's papers :

"All the art "success" in Tal's career since Manhattan High School aside: How Tal came to be an artist in the first place!

1938 Kindergarten, Bluemont Elementary.
A paper-mache banana painted a bright chrome yellow tempera (right out of the bottle) was followed by a book of colored crayon and pencil drawings of birds. These were recognized by my mother as a "career omen" . In the ensuring years, she lost the banana but managed to hold onto the bird book til her mid eighties. Passing it back to me with the comment: "I always knew you were going to be an artist."

1939 Miss Waite's First Grade.  The college art education student teacher in my first grade class took my crayon drawing of Abraham Lincoln to show her classmates.

1943 Fourth Grade, Wichita Kansas. in the spirit of not putting all my eggs in one basket, I teach myself to play alto sax.

1945/46 mid Fifth and Sixth Grade, Bluemont School. At the close of the war, we moved back to Manhattan. For me, it was a return to the great company of all my old friends.
My art career takes off really seriously. I win the Poppy Poster Contest.

This next item is arguably, the most crucial element of my bio : One day skipping play recess, Gary Rodgers was reading at his desk on the front row of our sixth grade classroom, me drawing, copying comics seated at the desk just behind his. Gary turns 'round every once in awhile, watching the progress of my drawing.    

1947: Seventh Grade, Manhattan Junior High School : Midway through the first term of art class, an unfortunate misunderstanding occurred between Miss French and myself regarding a Halloween drawing, Miss French slaps me, bringing to a stinging close, this segment of my art career. It was not to be resumed until my senior year of high school.

1952 : Senior Year, Manhattan High. Gary Rodgers, after all these years, still a close friend, was made editor of the high school yearbook. He approached me one day in Miss Sykes' journalism class, saying "Tal you can draw right? Would you consider illustrating our High School Annual ? "

It just so happened that Miss French, who taught art from seventh through twelfth grades, died that year. I enrolled in my first art class since seventh grade. I was back in business.

I paint my first picture, a portrait of Shirley Wickham (now Shirley Taylor ) using the redhead Breck Girl Shampoo advertisement as a resource.

Encouraged, I send in my pencil copy of the "Draw Me" girls head that appeared on the back of Safety Matches Talent Test, required for gaining admittance to art correspondence school.

I'm way up there !

" 97 ! Definitely a career worth considering !" says the salesman who visits our house on 1718 Pierre.

I decide to check this out just a bit further, taking advantage of an open-house at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.
One of my art career credentials I learn, was the fact that though I'd taken math all the way through Algebra in high school and despite all of Kenny Ellis' wonderful help, I was really stupid when it came to math.

This, it turns out, is a requirement for being an artist ! Flying colors at KU ! I'm offered a scholarship! The rest, it goes without saying (when you are only allowed a half page bio) is history.    

Aw he had a good sense of humor didn't he?


Saddened by recent events. Paris : Grey, Overcast. The usual January/February Paris vibe.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tal Spirit : Shirone, Japan 1971 to present day and beyond.

My mother and I received a very special letter last week from Shirone Japan. Back in 1971, Tal's introduction of this incredible community and their tremendous festival of Giant Kite fighting really rocked Western imaginations. It was The Art of the Japanese Kite's first chapter.

In some sense it recounts in a macro way Tal's own introduction to Japan. The train north, the except from Kawabata's Snow Country, the arrival in this tiny farming village, going to the gymnasium to see these giant things being readied, which were going to fly? It seemed impossible ! Tal wrote in extraordinary detail what it was like to encounter these mammoth O dako or "Giant" kites. His descriptions of the actual kite fighting were engrossing and unforgettable.

In the years that followed the publication of The Art of the Japanese Kite, American publications like National Geographic came to Shirone and filmed the festival, wrote articles on the kite crazy Japanese  

  So it was particularly touching when two of the   present day exponents of the Shirone Odako         made a visit to Tal, in July 2013, a year before     his passing. While he was greatly depleted of       physical energy , he was very moved. Kazama Masao, one of the Odako Master kitemakers      and Endo Hiromi head of the Shirone Odako      Museum reignited his memories of those first  experiences with these spectacular kites.

When Mr Endo, today's present director of the Shirone  heard of Tal's passing, he wrote offering his condolences. And this past month he sent us another message saying that Tal had "put Shirone on the map. Had introduced the Odako far beyond the island of Japan and for this, the town was eternally grateful and they were dedicating this years 2015 Odako Calender to Tal's spirit.
Tal ended the chapter on Shirone with these words : "The sight of the Shirone Kites hanging in the afternoon sky is indescribably beautiful. Their combat is exciting and their death poignant. For me, and for many others, the festival need not ever end."    


Lissa, looking out on a light snowfall in Santa Fe New Mexico
December 2014. 


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Tal Friend : Otto Piene 1926 - 2014

Otto and Tal were fellow Brothers of the Sky, each influential in promoting and conceptualizing "Sky Art". Otto directed MIT's Center for Advanced Visual Studies from 1974 to until the early '90's. He invited Tal's participation in many Sky Art Conferences the world over as well as inviting him to become a CAVS Fellow.

And as you all know, Tal passed away on April 17, 2014 and his friend Otto, three months later on July 17, 2014 while preparing for a Sky Event and retrospective of his work at Berlin's Neue National Galley.

In preparation for Otto Piene's memorial service this coming November 8th 2014 at MIT's Kresge Auditorium 3:30PM. Friends and former CAVS fellows were asked to submit writing celebrating Piene's life and contribution.

Tal wrote this poem for Otto last September, 2013 on receiving Otto's gift of the huge book on Otto's life's work up until that date. He dictated* this letterpoem the next morning to Romig. She recently passed a copy to those organizing the event.

"For Otto"

Thank you for your wonderful book, Otto Piene.

Thank you for being so hard for us other mortals to keep up with.

Thank you for having a wonderful wife, your Elizabeth.

Thanks for keeping your neighbors, us, awake with your light.

Someday I hope your light will shine to the moon

when you have figured out that trip.

People most often are disappointed to see

This lump of far from the earth.

They forget that our perception of the moon

Is all about the beauty of light reflected from the sun.

The beauty of the moon is in

This fragile piece of light.

Day after day,

Night after night, Otto.


For further reading on Otto Piene, I would suggest having a look at the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies - CAVS website.

Here is a selection of Otto's books that Tal had in his library (Now at Dream of Flight Museum and Library, Santa Fe NM) :

Lissa - Fall 2014 Paris

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tal Riff : Red Line to the Sky c.1973

Post Endless Column, post Flying Red Lines, on his return to the United States, Tal began development of a piece called  "Red Line to the Sky". 

Red Line to the Sky continued his boyhood fascination with towers, beacons and other tall structures seen from a great distance. Not yet  built (Ha ! ) this work went through many transformations. Red, not red, mirror finish steel, lasers emanating the top...anything to get off the earth's surface and up up into the sky !

His later proposals for "Prairie Beacon" and Kwanju Korea's "Great Tower of Light" all stem from this first light "tower".  

Red Line to the Sky drawing c.1973
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DC collection has an early pencil drawing of Tal's Red Line to the Sky with the following notes on the back: 
 "Somewhere between these two dimensions is the optimum, minimal height. 

Polished Chrome "mirror" four sided or single surfaces to be 2'- 0 (4' - 0) or 4' - (8' - 0 ) 

ie : really the needle, the skyscraper, the Empire State Building is the most dramatic contemporary statement - from skyscraper back to menhir in the "Cock" and Endless Column / Brancusi believed he had achieved something approaching ultimate perfection 1.1: Scale 1/4 - 1' SCALE : 1/4" = 2 - 0 ..."

I've found other Tal notes in SD magazine / Space Design Magazine May/June 1971  regarding Red Line to the Sky : 

"To put a mark in the sky with the finest of brushes. a Red Line to the Sky beginning somewhere deep in the earth but without end, continuing noiselessly on into the heavens. "

Tal's last riff on a "light tower" were his discussions with architect Gustavo Bonevardi of PROUN Space Studio in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy. Tal suggested "two towers of white light". 

Yes you read that right. A proposal for two twin towers of light post 9/11. 

Tal considered the "Tribute in Light" which Bonevardi and Co. then organized and installed, a beautiful piece, making multiple trips to see it.  

I've never seen Tal's name mentioned as part of the team of other architects and artists that collaborated with Bonavardi. 

Romig says they met one evening at friends and Tal offered his idea of light towers. There you are.

Looking through the artists generally mentioned with this piece, none had ever done anything remotely like this in their previous works. 

Looks like a Tal "riff" that someone else carried to beautiful fruition. After all, It is one thing to have an idea and yet another to "make it happen".

Monday, August 18, 2014

Tal Riff on Kites : the chiringa !

Some late night writing of Pop's that I found in his pre-stroke emails. 

"It gave me the idea of teaching prisoners to make the little Chiringa* folded paper kite, which they could fly up and over the high prison walls. This idea didn't come about; a victim of worries of untrustworthiness and abuses (which did seem not completely unreasonable) but also, perhaps an underlying thought, a primary punishment, the loss of freedom in both spirit and substance.
It's something perhaps still possible in a more gentle and generous time.

This kite suggestion or proposal is something which might come to fruition on the web, reaching such a big audience..

Another kite-related thought, unrealized, in this similar subversive vein, one which has yet to see the the light of day: plans for a simple paper kite, in the shape and three-dimensional rendering of an old fashioned bomb. Black, with a yellow "Have a Happy Day, smiling face image" on it---which I imagined as anonymous “lesson,” several of these Happy Day Bomb kites flown  over small town centers (parks), the insurgent flyer catching the end of the kites flying string, high in a tree limb.

I see this as bringing to light a very emotional response from viewers, a consciousness-raising, for several quite different viewers both good and evil, The good response: "My god, will you look at that," The evil, calling the sheriff, “Hey "get that damn thing down from there.

Raising the question, “How's it feel to think of bombs raining down on your little community, pretty much anywhere throughout our United States.

Still, I don't “rightly know” as we say here and there, that this is an acceptable project for me to suggest: I've fairly frequently been asked to put well-meaning social messages on kites (a save the whales kite, for example and advertising (which I never seriously considered, although it’s a common practice).  

I've always turned to the thought that kites should remain in a kind of primary, pure formsomething beautiful flying in the sky."

* What might a Chiringa folded kite look like folks ? Any idea ? - Lissa  Verbank , 2014 

found this : "la chiringa es diferente al papalote o cometa, la chringa es hecha solo de papel, no tiene armazon de madera" . Lissa guessing translation : la chiringa is made only with paper and doesn't have wooden "bones".    
So still looking for a picture of just what this Cuban kite called a chiringa looks like !  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tal Humor : On Collecting

"One is nice. Shows interest and that you have a eye. Two ? Its just a pair, Bruce. Three ? Now you are getting started !  If you want someone to take you seriously, to take your collection seriously, these are the first three rules, a beginning collector must follow. "

Another nugget of Tal humor that came to Bruce as he packed up yet a third copy of this or that. 

Verbank, August 2014 

Tal Humor : Brigadier Generals

Bruce George is here in Verbank helping us pack up and he is a goldmine of Tal Humour. 

One that I liked : Pop answering Bruce when he asked him how he wanted his beard trimmed : "Like an artist ? Or an insurance salesman ?" 

Pop replied : "Neither ! I wanna look like a fuckin brigadier general !" 

Bruce persevered : "Like from the Civil War ? " You got it ! he replied " 

Having been a second lieutenant in the Signal Core in the fifties and sixties, stationed in Fort Riley Kansas with BIg Red One, Pop had unexpected affection for his days in the Army.

He was famous for having lost his rifle in his first week as an enlisted man. He wasn't issued a second one. As second lieutenant, his responsibilities included drilling the guys during parade. Apparently the first time he went out to this chore, not one man followed his instruction. So thereafter, his Sargent did all the marching orders and Pop was relieved from that duty for the rest of his career and could concentrate solely on filmmaking AND writing speeches for brigadier generals. Aha moment ! So that's how we get to the "brigadier general" ! 

He ended up being discharged as a Captain. 

Post-stroke, as his left brain spun out of control, he believed he was preparing to reintegrate and participate in building the "New Army ". 

One idea was for a "Green Core " where the military helped needy farmers with their crops.

Another : military cemeteries with spots for both enlisted parents. 

Pop was very concerned that children that had lost both parents would have to travel to two different places to visit the family grave. This last one he told all his aides in Manhattan ! Many of whom had a spouse or family in Iraq or Afghanistan.

His heart was in the right place My mother and I would say apologizing to yet another person recounting this each morning ! 

Verbank, 2014