Brassaï moved to Paris in 1924. He slept all day and roamed the streets at night, photographing the moonlit Montparnasse quarter and beyond. Street toughs grinned broadly for him, prostitutes coyly raised thinly-lined eyebrows, and young couples necking on benches ignored the photographer entirely. Brassaï may have been called boring by his friend (and famed writer) Henry Miller, but his work is everything and anything but dull. There are no grittier, livelier images of Depression-era, European nightlife than what Brassaï captured. If you like black and white gangster movies, unflinching photography, or just want a conversation-starter of a coffee table book, try Brassaï: Paris Nocturne.
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Anyone who clicked through the TV channels from 1983 – 1994 surely crossed paths with Bob Ross. You know: Bob Ross – the painter with the soft voice and the big afro. His 30-minute PBS show, The Joy of Painting, taught amateur artists how to landscape paint using the wet-on-wet oil painting technique. Ross brought a positive mental attitude, humor, camp, and easy-to-follow methods of art-making to the public. Bob Ross: The Happy Painter explores how Ross starring in a TV commercial for local painting classes turned into a 15 million dollar empire. Celebrities like Terrence Howard, Jane Seymour, and Brad Paisley discuss Ross’ life and legacy in this feel-good documentary.
John Lewis Krimmel is not much remembered by history, but he was the first American painter of genre scenes – daily life and urban events with small-to-large crowds. If he had a nemesis, it was Charles Wilson Peale, a traditional portraitist. Krimmel set forth artistic rebellion in the Philadelphia art scene dominated by Peale. Lion and Leopard by Nathaniel Popkin delves into the young American art scene through multiple points of view, ranging from three best friends (a rogue, a consumptive, and a ladies’ man) to Peale’s pet monkey. If you like elegant, leisurely historical fiction, and art history, Lion and Leopard is a must-read debut.
Marina Abramović is a New York-based performance artist. Her art examines bodily limits, passion, violence, and identity. Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present is a documentary that follows Abramović during her 2010 Museum of Modern Art installation. MOMA celebrated Abramović’s 30-year career by recreating her most famous performance art pieces and showcasing a new, 90-day installation. Over 750,000 people attended the show. Abramović’s performance art is not always easily understandable. Much of the time – especially early in her career – it seemed shocking…but through shock the artist forces us to engage, to pause, to question, to be in a moment. If you like art documentaries or movies that put you in a thinking mood, try Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present.
Now that the first photo of Christina Ricci as Lizzie Borden has been released, you will want to read about the legendary crime for yourself. The final days of Graphic Novels Month is an opportune time to delve into The Borden Tragedy: A Memoir of the Infamous Double Murder. The 21st Century has no monopoly on sensationalized true crime stories, and this volume of the Victorian Murder series illustrates the facts and questions as they are known. The heavy black frames and recurring use of patterned lines add to both the ominous tone and the historic feel. We may never know for certain who got away with murder that fateful day, but Rick Geary presents the case with startling clarity.
Finding your place in this life can be a tricky proposition. Our upbringing leaves its mark, but ultimately we make our own choices. In the case of creator Craig Thompson, fulfillment might be found in religious faith, devotion to art, or intoxicating first love. The question is whether they have to be mutually exclusive. Multiple-award winner Blankets is a revealing autobiographical novel that celebrates the bittersweet. Stark black and white illustrations enhance this poignant coming-of-age story by adding layers that straight prose cannot offer. Wrap yourself in Blankets and be pleasantly surprised at how much a graphic novel has the power to tug at your heart.
Jane Austen wrote, “How much sooner one tires of anything than of a book,” and her fans surely agree when it comes to the much-beloved Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps your own devotion has led you to read all the books, watch all the movies, and still it isn’t enough. May we suggest enjoying the story in Marvel comic form? That’s right! Graphic Novels for Grown-ups Month is the perfect time to sample Pride & Prejudice as adapted by an award-winning romance author and skilled illustrators. Much of Austen’s language and wit are smartly preserved, and the drawings add insight into the characters’ personalities and foibles. This is a delightful way to revisit a favorite, and don’t forget to enter for prizes after you reach the happy ending!
It’s a good bet you already know the work of Edward Curtis. Open any American history book that discusses Native Americans, and there will likely be illustrations attributed to him. These timeless portraits are striking in their balance of dignity and intimacy, and they represent one man’s lifelong crusade to document a vanishing culture. Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan is the inaugural winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction. Read about the adventurer who was obsessive to the point of risking his life, losing his family, and finishing destitute. His legacy is not only the photographs which have become the defining images of the First Nations but also the heroic story which brought them to be.
Eliot Porter said, “Wilderness must be preserved; it is a spiritual necessity. Even though few may visit wilderness areas they remain an open back door, a safety valve for those who never enter them.” It was Porter’s landscape photography that helped pass the Wilderness Act of 1964 which helped protect 9.1 million acres of national forest and wilderness areas. Eliot Porter: In the Realm of Nature is a coffee table book full of both the color and black and white photography of an American photographer lesser known than Ansel Adams, but equally important in the protection and history of the wilds of the United States.
If you like the dark, psychologically deep art of Will Eisner, try the work of Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Tatsumi is a Japanese manga artist. Don’t stop reading! Manga is not only for kids. Just like in America where serious comics want to be acknowledged as graphic novels, in Japan, serious manga is called gekiga – a term Tatsumi originated in 1957 that means “dramatic pictures”. For an introduction to Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work, watch Tatsumi, an animated documentary about his celebrated career based on his autobiographical manga A Drifting Life. Intertwined with the biographical details are 5 short story segments by Tatsumi that detail not only his life, but post-WWII Japan.