Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lego Research: Gas Station

When I build something with my legos, there's usually been a time of mental preparation and more often than not research. Sometimes a single building proves all of the inspiration I need to go forward with an idea, but usually it involves looking at lots of structures, a quest in which I try to imagine as many possibilities as I can.

My next project will be a gas station. I already own a couple decades worth of Lego gas station models. Models for Shell and for the faux Lego brand, Octane. In the end, the creation I make this time will go with Octane as it's corporate name, and that's just out of the practical consideration that present and future Lego® products will no doubt cater to this logo. And my thinking about it's design is to make it both vintage and modern at the same time. To create the look of a vintage structure that has been retro-fitted for the 21st century. So with that in mind I went in search of inspiration.

This little gem is found in the St. John's neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. I love the Art Deco elements.

The tile work on this "Gulf" station is awesome and I love the neon lights over the pumps, too! Remember: Gulf became BP (British Petroleum) -- They might do themselves a huge PR favor and return to that label as a reflection of their commitment to make right what their hubris and greed has made foul....but I digress! Great vintage station.

Magnolia was a new brand of gasoline to me. This station is in Shamrock, Texas, and it appears to be a southern company and clearly a subsidiary of Standard Oil, the oil company founded by the Rockefellers et. al. and based in Cleveland, Ohio. I love the standard oil pegasus symbol.

When you think about it, what's more ubiquitous on the landscape of buildings than gas stations? Churches? Fast food joints? Today gas stations favor the uniformity of fast food joints, but there was a time when they were more akin to the church house in their design. Oh sure, you know a church by it's steeple, and you knew a gas station by its pumps, but there was a freedom to move beyond that simple required element and explore the possible, incorporate the idiosyncratic zeitgeist of the time and place.

Perhaps no example that I found embodies this more than this teapot (dome) filling station in Zillah, Washington. Built in 1922, and still in use today, it claims to be the oldest continuously operating gas station in the United States. And don't you love the outhouse in the background! Created as a commentary on the Teapot Dome scandal of the Warren G. Harding administration, I seriously doubt if most people stopping by to filler up today would have an ounce of recognition as to it's ironic inception.

Along with photos, I also stumbled upon this set of architectural drawings. Way, way cool.

Now, to the mod- ern. And Shell really has some excep- tional ex- amples of this. For instance, this purple arches station in Canada.

But one of my favorite discoveries is this urban station in Hiroshima, Japan. Designed to "fit" a very limited space, the hoses dangle down from the canopy and the pumps are completely eliminated from the station. I presume transactions occur via the attendant or a computer credit card station conveniently located on the exterior of some portion of the wall. And look, it even has a car wash!

Let's finish my review of gas stations in Los Angeles. After all, it is the most notoriously car bound metropolis on the planet, and the home of a couple of very cutting edge gas stations.

Does any station featured in this post offer a more amazing subject for a work of art? And I know, it's not an easy question. But just look at this beautiful photograph.

Designed by the Kanner Architects and build in 2009, it's design is so evocative of the expressway it sits beside that you half expect an 18-wheeler to come flying off of the canopy!

Holy Frank Gehry, Batman! This BP station, also in Los Angeles (the corner of Olympic and Robertson) says so many things, and some are certainly unintended. Besides the homage to architect super star Frank Gehry, I get the feel of a transformer about to come to life and walk away! And the uber dominant billboard? What's up with that? But still it is a wonderful gas station.

Stay tuned to see where all of this leads me!

Ah, Spectral Image!

Me! Circa 1965 from what I can tell. And the thing is, I don't remember ever seeing this photo before, yet, it's been in a drawer full of photos that I put there (and have gone through many times since) back in 1994....

Shakespeare Saturday

PUCK. Thou speakest aright:
I am that merry wanderer of the night.
I jest to Oberon, and make him smile
When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile,
Neighing in likeness of a filly foal;
And sometime lurk I in a gossip's bowl
In very likeness of a roasted crab,
And, when she drinks, against her lips I bob,
And on her withered dewlap pour the ale.
The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale,
Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me;
Then slip I from her bum, down topples she,
And 'tailor' cries, and falls into a cough;
And then the whole quire hold their hips and laugh,
And waxen in their mirth, and neeze, and swear
A merrier hour was never wasted there.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Art I'm Seeing #48

Art can be understood in so many ways. Broadly defined it still most likely fits objects found in traditional museums and picture frames that hang on our walls. While both of these expectations are true and reasonable, neither begins to encompass the definition of art that is to be found at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. And honestly, you'd be hard pressed to discover another museum like it in the world. Yes, that's what I said, THE WORLD.

From the moment you set foot on it's three building campus, you pretty much realize that you're in for a unique experience. And you won't be disappointed.

As the poster says: you're about to see some "Fantastic Art." It's art that the art establishment of traditional museums by and large has little interest in. It's art created by people who are driven to be creative both in spite of and because of their worst demons and their better angles. It's art that comes from a place in the human soul that obsesses, the human psyche that believes, and the human heart that desires.

The current special exhibition is entitled, "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Each year the museum chooses a theme and curates a major exhibition around various aspects of that theme. The blurb about this exhibition from the AVAM website really best describes this year's special exhibition: "The quest for human rights and the search for personal fulfillment, as proposed in the 1776 American Declaration of Independence, provide the starting point for this international exhibition. Works by the last surviving descendant of the Tsars of Russia, Iroquois Indians, French Revolutionaries, illegal immigrants, Algerian War veterans, Guantanamo Bay detainees, Holocaust survivors, incarcerated prisoners, African-American civil rights activists and Iraqi doctors are among the 86 visionary artists to be featured."

I found the simple drawings a Yemeni prisoner held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to be the most profoundly moving. The were simple geometric drawings with floral patterns. Around the edges were the crossed out red ink stamp prints that read "Top Secret". The man drew them as gifts to his lawyers for helping him seek his freedom.

Besides the special exhibition, there are several works from the relatively humble yet amazing permanent collection on display. The most well known of which is this model of the USS Lusitania made entirely of tooth picks....thousands and thousands of toothpicks. The artist is Chicagoan, Wayne Kusy and he made this in his apartment between 1993 and 1994. It really is a wonder to behold.

Besides the special exhibition and permanent collection, there are also single room or unique artist exhibitions. And for me, the centenary celebration of the paintings of Eugene Von Bruenchenhein was the standout event of my visit. Born in 1910, the bulk of the works presented here were created in the 1950's. They are paintings that suggest imagery, and made with tremendous technical prowess via the application of and then manipulation of paint upon a surface. They are simply amazing and like nothing I would have ever imagined were made in the 1950's.

My friend and I ended our visit with lunch at the re-opened top floor restaurant "Mr. Rain's Fun House". We shared an appetizer of Pho noodles with pheasant sausage. She had the Lamb burger with mint-mayo, and I went for the pulled pork sandwich. We both chose the mildly spicy side of Asian slaw. With tap water and ice teas the bill came to $35.

Once an amazing place from which to enjoy the inner harbor, the vista is now restricted by a phalanx of upscale condos, so the best view is that of Federal Hill itself.
And there is also the amazing Giant WhirliGig sculpture by Vollis Simpson to marvel at.

There are so many things to see when visiting Baltimore, but none of them is as completely unique as the American Visionary Art Museum.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lego City Rehab

Here's my latest work. It's actually a building that I first constructed in December of 2008, and was over time terribly disappointed in.

In it's original form, it was built to fit a corner lot AND a 16 x 32 rectangular plate. At 3 stories tall, it was just too ambitious and always felt awkwardly thin and top heavy.

In redesigning it, I placed it on a more standard 32 x 32 peg plate, and I reduced it's depth by one brick. This was really key in making it a much more solid structure. The original dimensions included a even brick count width with an odd brick count depth. This difference really impacted the brick choices that I had to develop a pattern that would be both strong and versatile. The new configuration made standardizing the construction so much easier and gave the entire structure a much more secure and solid final outcome. With all my buildings, it is modular and can be separated into 4 parts including the roof. Stairs give access from one floor to another, and I will be finishing the street level with a pizzeria. The first and long sought after for my Lego City which already has an American Diner, a Chinese Restaurant, a French Cafe, an American Cafe, a Vegan Restaurant, and an ice cream parlor. I treat my little plastic people right!

What I'm Watching #244

Watched this 2007 film from the Philippines earlier today. It's made up of a series of interior monologue that lead to soft porn interludes all of which turn out to be only fantasies. through each interlude, we are shown a fleeting character who then becomes the subject of the next interior monologue and fantasy. Adolescent and prurient, I fast forwarded through most of it; why fiddle with vanilla porn, when the real thing is so ubiquitous? And if you have the money and materials to make a movie, why not make one that actually says something?

Honest Tea, NOT!

The other day in the midst of the heat I stopped by a local CVS pharmacy and bought a bottle of Honest Tea to quench my thirst. The very same innocuous looking bottle you now see to the right of this text. When I had occasion to touch it's bottom, imagine my surprise when I discovered that there wasn't one. The entire thing below the label is nothing but a thin loop of space creating the illusion (and very effectively, I might add) that the bottle is a normal top to bottom container when, in fact, it's quite hollow for quite a distance from the bottom up to and past some of the base of the label.
The label contains the phrase "Just a tad sweet". They might consider adding to it, "Just a tad honest," too!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Art I'm Seeing #47

The real reason for my visit to the National Gallery of Art on Monday was to tour the photo exhibition of Allen Ginsburg: Beat Memories.

I think of Ginsberg less as a poet than a witness. A voyeur of a movement, a fly on the wall as history surrounded him. And these photographs completely affirm that view of his significance. Allen lived a fairly long life and produced 2 or three noteworthy poems, ironic that his penchant with a little camera should so suddenly and complete trump his presence as a poet, but it does.

The images show us some of the major players of the beatnik movement. Iconoclastic figures in their full glory. Players like Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Neal Cassidy, Gregory Corzo, and Peter Orlovsky. Young bucks in the prime of their youth and virility.

There is another and more powerful aspect to the photos: They don't stop there. Ginsberg continued to snap away at his friends long after their "15 minutes" were over. Glory becomes what it will: grace, pathos, tragedy...those realities are all, also, here in these photos. And with each imagine there are Ginsberg's candid and interesting hand written notes, talk about poetry.

Like this one of a seemingly winded Jack Kerouac from 1964, a scant decade after his glory days, and only 5 years before his death in 1969. The caption reads: "Jack Kerouac the last time he visited my apartment 704 East 5th Street, N. Y. C., he looked by then like his late father, red-faced corpulent W. C. Fields shuddering with mortal horror, grimacing on G. M. T. I'd brought back from visiting Timothy Leary at Millbrook Psychedelic Community, Fall 1964."

Other pictures are even more intimate. Images of family members and familiar abodes, like this one.

The caption reads: "I sat for decades at morning breakfast tea looking out my kitchen window; one day recognized my own world the familiar backyard, a giant wet brick-walled under-sea Atlantis garden, waving oilanthus ("stinkweed") "Trees of Heaven," with chimney pots along avenue A topped by Stuyvesant Town apartments' upper floors two blocks distant on 14th street, I focus'd on the raindrops along the clothesline. "Things are symbols of themselves," said Chögyom Trungps, Rinpoche. New York City August 18, 1984"

Entering into this exhibition is no less entering into a shrine or cathedral. The ground feels holy. The images are of the saints that look down upon the living to offer us their blessings as we seek to make sense of life, too. The one difference? We walk in the shadows of their grace.

A Classic Pose

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mid-week Funny, perhaps....

The New Yorker has a caption-less cartoon at the back of each issue and invites readers to submit their ideas. I love this in principle, and spend a little time each issue trying to think of one, usually to no avail.

Here's the latest cartoon challenge, and I think I came up with a good one (I included my caption with the cartoon.)

They pick three from the gazillions that are submitted, and then the readers vote for a winner. You might want to visit them online and offer your own entree. And if mine is miraculously chosen, I'll definitely let you know!

Art I'm Seeing #46

Anyone who has ever visited the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. will surely recognize these works. What they probably wouldn't know is that they came to the gallery from the same bequeathed collection. The collection of Maud and Chester Dale truly forms the foundation of it's best known and loved French Impressionist paintings. Iconic works by others like Picasso, Braque and the Bellows below also belonged to this voracious duo of connoisseurs.

The exhibit closes this coming weekend, and the works will again be scattered through the museum.

La Mousmé (1888), Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890)

The Boating Party (1893/94), Mary Cassatt (1844 - 1926)

Blue Morning (1909), George Bellows (1882 - 1925)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Art I'm Seeing #45

Pre-War Pageant (1913), Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)

End of the Parade, Coatsville, Pa. (1920), Charles Demuth (1883-1935)

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. has a very intimate and inspiring exhibition of 20 works in the genre of American Modernism from the collection of Deborah and Ed Shein on display in its East Wing through January 2, 2011. Included are nearly all of the turn of the century movers and shakers in the art world and the works are not one-offs by any means. The Hartley from his Pre-War series (which included his iconic homage to his unrequited love Karl von Freyburg), a sensual O'Keeffe of an uvula-esque interior of a black iris called "Dark Iris", and a nearly luminous work by Italian immigrant, Joseph Stella entitled, "A Child's Prayer" are all stand alone master works. If an innocent asked about American Modernism, one could not do better than to tour this collection with them. Gratitude in abundance to the Sheins for sharing it so generous with me.

What I'm Watching #243

"Rabioso Sol, Rabioso Cielo" (2009) along with his previous films "A Thousand Clouds Of Peace" (2004), and "Broken Sky" (2006) is the final installment in Mexican writer and film director Julian Hernandez' trilogy of allegorical explorations of human (and mostly gay) sexuality. Each of the previous films have been fascinating contrivances full of stark and haunting imagery, but neither have been as ambitious as "Rabioso Sol, Rabioso Cielo".

In this film, like the others, Hernandez enslaves both light and shadow in his quest to offer the viewer a completely fresh and uncanny look at the pedestrian world around them. There is nothing rushed, there is nothing wasted, time itself and the passage of it through the expressions and actions of the characters is so palpable that it almost becomes a character unto itself. Along with light, earth and water play pivotal rolls in an extended dream sequence in which the main characters assume a mythological status in their exploration of love, sex, and devotion. When the film was over, my first thought was the line of the Baker's Wife from Sondheim's musical "Into The Woods" after her encounter with the sincere Prince -- "What...was that!?"

The final moment of the film is perfect. You think, "Where the hell is all of this going?" And then suddenly you arrive and it's sweet, and tender--and just a little cheeky, too.

When you submit yourself to a Julian Hernandez film, you are opening yourself up not simply to a movie, but to an experience that transcends the world as you know it, and demands up of you keen, patient and unwavering dedication to what is unfolding before you. For your trouble, he'll also give you some of the most intriguing and attractive young actors on the planet. From the first time we meet the character Ryo, played by relative new comer, Guillermo Villegas, he enters your soul with an innocence and childlike impishness that leaves you longing to see more of him. I can honestly say, I don't think he said a single word in the just over three hours of the film (another trade mark of Hernandez' movies; words are sparsely used and like a dream often waft in off of peripheral conversations, thoughts, lyrics of a song), but you will not mistake what Ryo is "saying" through his expressions, his probing eyes, his pensive lips and joyous smile.

This was Villegas' 2nd film in 2009, the first was the critically acclaimed "Sin Nombre". It tells the story of Latin American immigrants' perilous and desperate travels north on the death trains. He played a small supporting role, Orlando.

Another member of the triune of male characters is Tari (played by Javier Olivan). Tari is a boxer, who's inner conflicts draw him to anonymous sexual encounters that are both rough and degrading. He longs for a pure relationship; to be loved unconditionally and to be the chivalrous lover--the knights templar who's life is devoted to his beloved. And the object of his affection is therefore Ryo. As a character, I found myself seeing Jesus of Nazareth in Tari. His longing to embrace the divine, his willingness to sacrifice himself for his beloved. Yet, ultimately, he assumes the role of Judas, destroyed by rejection, he becomes the destroyer of the very thing that he cherishes most of all. His is the most nuanced and empathetic of performances. Acting for a scant 3 years in film, his previous performance was a leading role in Hernandez' 2008 short film "Vago Rumor de Mares en Zozobra."

And finally, we come to Keiri, played by Jorge Becerra (and pictured here in a scene from the film). Keiri is the movie's Everyman character. Essentially good, sexually repressed; filled with natural desires and yet without a partner and uncertain how to rectify the situation. From their first encounter, Ryo sees the good in Keiri and sets in motion the course of events that will ultimately test the limits of all loves and bring them together against epic odds.

I will tell you this, so no one accuses me of being misleading. This is not an easy film. However, it rewards those abundantly who seek to plumb the layers of it's ambitious meaning. As to Julian Hernandez, he has shown himself to be a filmmaker with few peers and no rivals. He's why the word, genius, was coined.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


There have been an unusual cluster of 5.0+ quakes around the plates north of Australia in the past 24 hours. What does it mean? The world continues to shake and split and move in ways that haven't been seen in our life times. That's all.

My Garden's On A Very Hot Day

Wonderfully, the Phlox don't seem to mind 102˚ in the shade.

What I'm Listening to #92

Matt Belsante is in town! So step aside Harry Connick, Jr. Make room Michael Bublé. This boys got the chops! And he's not afraid to use them. The 12 tracks on this CD titled "Blame It On My Youth" are all over the board of jazz, swing, ballad, samba and even the long forgotten British band Procol Harum's iconic "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" and the Beatles "I Saw Her Standing There" which he turns into a rollicking awesome swing number.

And here I give a nod to Chris McDonald, the arranger. He knows pretty well when to stick to the script and when to innovate. A gift the brings forth both the comfort of the standard, and a surprise blast of freshness and innovation from time to time. For example, he knows to play "Witchcraft" right out of Nelson Riddle's playbook, and turn's Cole Porter's "I Get A Kick Out You" into an uber hipster lounge lizard moment with a swinging piano trio.

The first cut on the CD, "Beyond The Sea" will capture your heart and your sense of adventure. Yet, it's the cool direct rendering of The Associations "Never My Love" that will take you back to the weddings of your youth. And if he can almost redeem a cheesy song like that....Well, I'm hooked.

Friday, July 23, 2010


A partially finished view of the same building can be found posted here back on July 15th.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Late Thursday Poem

One of my all time favorites...


The shirt touches his neck
and smooths over his back.
It slides down his sides.
It even goes down below his belt—
down into his pants.
Lucky shirt.

~ Jane Kenyon, 1947 - 1995

Earthquake Up-date! Pity Papua-New Guinea...

Given the recent unprecedented and historic little Earthquake in Maryland, I've been thinking about Earthquakes even more than usual lately.

Below the radar of most of us in the United States has been a series of serious and curious quakes centered around the Island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea. This map shows the quakes over the past week. They start with a magnitude 7.3 quake and then include, aftershocks of 6.3, 5.6, 5.3, 5.3, 5.1, 5.0, 5.0, 4.8, 4.7, 4.3. Add to this day old map today's quakes of 5.1 and 4.3. It's a lot of seismic activity in one acute region over the course of 8 days....

But it is also a very isolated place on the planet, so it goes below our radar. Yet, it is not without its greater meaning to the whole. Even if we still don't understand it all.

Sky Magic

I see a bunny. I see a shark. I see....OMG....

This one's for you, Bill!

Old Spice, Posh Spice, SEXY SPICE, Mmmeeeoooow!

I have a confession: I'm the son of an old spice man. It is an aroma that frames the memories of my youth. And I remember the jingle whistled by that sexy sailor in the swarthy navy jacket with the duffle bag over his shoulder.

Fast forward to 2010 and a totally different compelling new Old Spice spokesperson. The commercials got the buzz going, and then Old Spice took its popular television ad campaign featuring a half-naked, baritone-voiced, campy ladies man and brought it to YouTube. They had the actor, Isaiah Mustafa, create 186 brief responses to actually people asking questions via the internet, like this one:

Pithy, clever, sometimes even funny; and, yes, sexy. On face I really like it. However, here's the problem. Old Spice is our father's cologne. Old men buy it. Old white men, not to put to fine a point on it. So when you hire a sexy, Obama-esque actor to pimp your product, you're certainly not doing it to impress the people who are now using your product. And do younger women really want their husbands smelling like there father's? Okay, you might get the attention of the gay community, but overall the numbers have not corresponded to the hype. Since going on view, sales of Old Spice have reportedly dropped by 7%. I heard this on NPR, so I hope it's not another FOX news smear campaign against African Americans to foment racial division and social strife....but you never can tell with that crowd.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Northern Flicker

I saw a Northern Flicker today. Awesome!

Art I'm Owning #9

An exciting new discovery, James Sebastian Sikorski is a fresh face on the art fact, at scarcely 4 1/2 years old, he's a fresh face in any world! Here we see how fully he expresses that unique jouie de vivre so indicative of the middle years of early childhood. Free from the bonds of infancy (and diapers), he expresses his liberty in vibrant colors and intense movement. A master of the dab and slide, one has only to wonder where this little prodigy will take his patrons next. I'll be waiting with baited breath! Won't you?