The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil

Strolling through my Barnes and Noble, I stumbled across a graphic novel called “The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil.” How could I resist? Not only was it a beard. But it was an evil beard to boot.

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The graphic novel, but Stephen Collins, is a tranquil journey through a surreal word. I want to liken it to  Terry Gilliam or Tim Burton, but the experience isn’t that overt or obvious. The book’s tag line perhaps says it best — The job of skin is to keep it all in. Here, the skin means the skin of the world. Normalcy. The job of normalcy is to keep all the weird and frightening stuff in, so you don’t have to experience it. In this sense, the book take on a bit of the Cthulhu mythology. Only instead of a tentacled cephalopod, we get a massive black beard (which is evil, don’t forget).

Collins does a wonderful job of setting up the back story. Our protagonist, Dave, is totally bald and hairless, except for a single hair. This makes his eventual bearddom even more of a 180. This would be wonderful foreshadowing if the book title and image didn’t already let you know that the beard is, in fact, coming.

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Even so, I like how the Collins explains his world and gives its limitations, letting the reader know what’s at stake. For example, everyone in this graphic novel lives in a place called Here. It’s very similar to where you live, in fact. Only Here is an island surrounded by There. There is the unknown. The chaotic. The untidy.

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The image of Here versus There brings to mind the Greek idea of the beginning of the world.

Chaos

Tidiness seems to be a prevalent theme in the book. many pages and images are devoted to the tidying of the streets and the people. Gradually, as the evil beard makes its presence known, untidiness happens.

Dave’s only source of joy is sitting by his window and sketching the passersby (all while listening to the Bangles “Eternal Flame” on repeat). After he grows his beard, he notices how similar all the people are, and by contrast, how different he’s become.

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But this difference was there all along. Hidden beneath the skin of his dreams. He’s always heard the voices of There, hissing into his brain, bringing untidy thoughts.

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Of course, along with the brilliant story, we have Collins’s astounding artwork. His visuals aptly capture the serene creepiness of chaos leaking into the world.

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I highly recommend this book. Buy it and give it a good read through. You won’t regret it. Even if you are clean shaven.

Tim Kane

Do You Want Your Fashion to Interact with the World?

Imagine a dress that would react to people around you. Lash out if you felt threatened. Light up if you were happy? Sound like something from Bladerunner? Think again. These dresses have become reality, thanks to Dutch fashiontech designer Anouk Wipprecht.

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This is Anouk’s Spider Dress 2.0. The spider leg epaulettes on each shoulder are actually tiny robots. They link to proximity sensors and a respiration sensor. This means that if someone moves aggressively towards you, and you don’t like it, your increase in respiration will trigger the mechanical legs to move up and into an attack position. Additionally the black LED shells stationed along the garment, meant to  resemble spider eyes, automatically flash in warning when someone gets near you.

Robotic Spider Dress [Intel Edison based] // 2015 teaser from Anouk Wipprecht on Vimeo.

Anouk’s original Spider Dress (designed in collaboration with engineer Daniel Schatzmayr) shows the sinister robotic spider legs. These legs also extend, but won’t react to the proximity of others. It was simply meant as a performance art piece about personal space.

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Although the Spider Dress is Anouk’s most recent project, he has experimented with interactive clothing for a while. Take the Smoke Dress, which covers the wearer with fog as soon as people approach. The Smoke Dress functions as a protective shield, the designer says, “just like an octopus in self-defense” envelops itself in clouds of ink.”

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Interactive Smoke Dress @ AUTODESK Gallery pop up Paris from Anouk Wipprecht on Vimeo.

Anouk also created her Synapse Dress which reads the wear’s thoughts. When the person is excited about something, this triggers the LED lights in the dress to glow. It creates a sense of vulnerability because everyone around you will know what you are thinking.

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Much of the interactivity in Anouk’s fashion are thanks to an Intel chip called Edison. Watch the micro-documentary about how the chip helps the clothes sense the users thoughts.

Interactive Intel-Edison based Synapse dress by Dutch fashion-tech designer reveals wearers metal states from Anouk Wipprecht on Vimeo.

One of Anouk’s earliest fashion and tech mashups looks like it came straight out of a Steampunk novel. The Faraday Dress lights up when exposed to the power of high-voltage, low-current, high-frequency, alternating-current electricity. That forking lightning you see in the picture is real. 94 metal panels comprised the outfit, cut out of a sheet of metal using the water jet.

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In this making of video you can see a hesitant model wearing the dress as the faraday device launches arcs of electricity at the dress.

Anouk Wipprecht lives and works in San Francisco. She strives to create fashion that will connect the body and the clothing. She began combining fashion and technology three years ago. A one year sting to Sweden offered her a chance to study “body, fashion & technology” at the Malmo university. There she worked on Arduino-based application possibilities and smart fabric concepting.

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Tim Kane

De Chirico and his Fantastic Landscapes

I’ve spent the past few days scouring my art books in search one specific artist. I recalled seeing his fantastic landscapes that seemed so desolate, jet full of energy. In this world, Greco/Roman-styled buildings stood solitary with shadows that stretched all the way across the painting.  I wanted these to be the inspiration for the world of the Tarot. After quite a bit of time, I finally found what I was searching for: the art of Giorgio de Chirico.

Piazza d'Italia 
signed 'g. de Chirico' (lower left) 
oil on canvas 
11 7/8 x 15¾in. (30 x 40cm.) 
Painted circa 1956

Piazza d’Italia circa 1956. This painting is exactly what I picture a dreamscape to look like. On the surface it looks simple and straightforward, but then I start to wonder. What is that train doing in the background? Who are those two people talking?

Technically, de Chirico wasn’t a surrealist. He worked with some of the artists at that time, but he art was more symbolic and used dream imagery. This is what drew me to him.

La Torre Rosa 1913

La Torre Rosa 1913. This was painted during de Chirico’s stint in Paris. You can see the long shadows that characterized his work.

Giorgio de Chirico was born in Volos, a town in Greece on July 10, 1888. When his father died in 1905, the family moved to Munich. At the age of seventeen, de Chirico studied at the Academy of Fine Arts where he was introduced to the ideas of Nietzche. De Chirico also found inspiration in the European Symbolist artists like Franz Stuck and Carlos Schwabe. De Chirico loved their use of dream-like imagery. His earliest paintings used Symbolist ideas with his love of Greece and Italian antiquities. His paintings also represented his musings on the true nature of reality.

La Grande Torre 1919

La Grande Torre 1919. Again, this tower seems so simple on the surface, but the depth of the shadows draws me in. What lives inside that tower?

After settling in Florence, de Chirico traveled to Paris in 1911. There he met a number of avant-garde artists and writers, including Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brancusi. He also exhibited his work to the public. It was during this time (1911-15) that De Chirico created many of his most influential paintings such as “The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street” (1914). His paintings showed scenes with classical architecture where only a single lone figure or monument was present. Often long shadows hinted at other elements or figures just out of view. This creates an unsettling mood.

Mystery and Melancholy of a Street 1914

Mystery and Melancholy of a Street 1914. This is one of de Chirico’s most famous paintings. Notice the shadows of two figures just out of view. That creates an unsettling image for me as my mind desperately wonders who or what they are.

The Great War (World War I) forced de Chirico and his brother into the Italian Army in 1915. De Chirico was stationed in Ferrara, but soon had a nervous breakdown and recouped in a military hospital. In 1917, he met artist Carlo Carrà, who helped him create his style of “metaphysical painting” that emphasized the hidden significance of ordinary places and objects.

The Predictor 1919

The Predictor 1919. Landscapes weren’t the only subject de Chirico painted. He often included these mannequin creatures with oblong blank heads.

De Chirico and Carlo Carrà created a style known as Pittura Metafisica. This type of painting showed recognizable items, but displayed in an unusual manner. De Chirico created city squares with arcades and distant walls. The scenes were dominated by classical statues or his metaphysical mannequins, which were derived from tailor’s dummies. Sometimes, these figures were the only “human” presence in the painting.

Mystery

This painting of a mannequin draws me in, yet I cannot find the title or the year it was painted. I see de Chirico’s signature on the painting. I know that there were some paintings created by other artists with his signature and this might be one. However the cubist shape of this mannequin is compelling.

De Chirico developed this technique from his readings of of the German philosophers Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer and Otto Weininger. He became interested in Nietzche’s idea of the eternal return and the circularity of time. In this philosophy, true reality was always hidden behind the reality of appearances and visible only to the ‘clearsighted’ at enigmatic moments. De Chirico wanted to unmask reality and show the mystery that lay underneath.

Giorgio de Chirico (1898 - 1978. Grêce). Visite aux Bains mystérieux I, 1935

Visite aux Bains mystérieux I, 1935. This is perhaps the most surreal of de Chirico’s paintings. I wonder what happens inside that tiny building? Is it more than just a changing room?

What mystery lies beneath the surface of our reality? De Chirico sought to find it through his painting. His work encourages us to look deeper and see beyond the obvious. We are all seekers of the truth.

Tim Kane

A Theme Song for an eBook

Having grown up seeing images of the Beatles recording at Abbey Road, I’ve always wondered what it was like inside a recording studio. I finally got my chance. Last weekend, my musician friends abducted me to record a theme song to my new ebook: Tarot: The Magician. The results were tremendous.

The “John Lennon” of the group was Bradley Coy. This was a surreal experience for me in many ways, not the least being that I taught this young man back when he was in sixth grade. He was phenomenal musician then and even better now.

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Bradley Coy with Mark C. Jackson in the foreground.

He recycled an old melody he’d written to create the “theme song” for my book. Now I know what you’re thinking: books don’t have theme songs. So true. But book trailers do. I have animated a book trailer. Being that I have only enough knowledge of music to be dangerous, I wanted some sort of professional song to score the 40 seconds of animated trailer.

Given my druthers, I probably would have lifted a song, ran it backward through some filters. It wouldn’t have been good, but serviceable. Fortunately, Bradley materialized form the musical woodwork and transformed his melody into a perfect compliment to the atmosphere of the book.

We visited the recording studio of David Morgan, who has outfitted his room with more guitars and sound equipment than the average Guitar Center. He had recorded plenty of albums there for local artists, but he was curious about scoring music to a video. It turned out to more tricky than you’d think.

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David Morgan suggesting how to match the music to the video.

Bradley would play the melody flawlessly, but the timing to the video eluded him. Or he’d nail it, only to boff a chord near the end. Thankfully we had the guiding presence of Mark C. Jackson, a fellow musician and writer. He knew that the first dozen takes were simply warm up for the real performance. As we neared that “perfect” moment, his energy spiked. He leapt out of his seat to encourage Bradley to create the perfect mixture of melancholy and gloominess (yes, that’s the tone for the book).

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Mark C Jackson suggesting how to line up the music with the video.

Bradley’s whole take on the melody was one of a vintage piano with a vaudevillian touch. He and I both share a yen for the Beats and the Surrealists. It seemed natural that the music for a surrealistic novel be a riff from the 1930s.

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Bradley seriously contemplating the melody.

What was I doing during all this? Not a lot. Mostly I played the documenter, snapping pictures to capture the moment. Bradley finally nailed it, leaving the end of the melody dangling like an unanswered question. It might bug some people, but for me, it was simply perfect.

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There I am, observing all of this. I get writing. But music recording baffles me.

You can listen to the track here. The full trailer will be revealed at the end of May.

Tim Kane

The Surreal Terror of Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis has a logical and scientific explanation. It’s a phenomenon where you partially wake up from sleep, but your muscles still remain frozen. A biological glitch in our bodies causing one part of us to wake from the dream, while the rest of the body is on lockdown. Perfectly explainable. Yet try telling that to someone who’s lived through it.

The experience can be terrible. You’re still dreaming and the things you see appear real. But you cannot move or speak or scream.

You are frozen in terror, staring up at the monstrous creations of your subconscious.

Sleep paralysis is actually a protection mechanism designed to keep you safe while dreaming. The images and scenarios in your dream are vivid and seem real. If a tiger leaps out, you scream and run. Your muscles are locked down to prevent you from flailing about or making a large racket (that would have attracted predators back in the day).

Even as we understand more about this phenomenon, there’s no denying the surreal quality it evokes—to see your dreams as real, right there before you. Photographer Nicolas Bruno has captured some of these images. He is a victim of sleep paralysis and his photos are a window into his subconscious mind.

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Bruno began to jot down notes about his dreams. He wanted to recreate them using recurring imagery (like gas masks, bowler hats, or lanterns) and compose them the way a painter would. His photos show a haunting world that Bruno describes as  “a bittersweet homage” to his dream-world life.

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Often times, dreams serve as a way to work through the events of a day. But dreams aren’t logical. They are an emotional outlet. You typically see your fears come alive, such as being buried alive. The fears don’t make sense. It’s your minds way of dealing with them.

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Because dreams mash up images, the result can seem surreal and downright strange. We move from place to place instantly.

The glitch of sleep paralysis has haunted humanity for thousands of years. Over that time, cultures created creatures that stalk us in the night as a way to explain the frightening sessions of paralysis. They myths center around nocturnal monsters or demons.

In the Amazon, we have the Boto, a river dolphin that transforms at night into a vaguely human creature. It wears a hat to cover it’s blowhole. In Africa, the night prowler takes the form of a bear. Known as the Tokoloshe, it slinks in at night and bites the toes off children as they sleep.

A carving of a Tokoloshe.

A carving of a Tokoloshe.

The folks at the Sleep Paralysis Project, along with director Carla MacKinnon, have created a documentary about sleep paralysis. This both serves as an explanation and a terrifying vision of the phenomenon. Be warned, if you don’t suffer from bad dreams, you will after watching this.

The film Devil in the Room depicts the grotesque creatures alongside the scientific explanation. It was meant to evoke the feeling of sleep paralysis and I say it does a damn good job.

Tim Kane

Surreal Art from Kerozen

I love fonts. Having spent almost ten years as a graphic designer, I used to possess books filled with fonts. Alas, I don’t get to use as many anymore. But when I see one that catches my eye, I have to share.

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This is my name written in the Kerozen font. Unlucky for all of us, they only created enough letters to create their own company name (Kerozen). I was able to imagine the R as an A and create my name.

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Kerozen is a French design studio that formed these creepy letters from their own design team. Each letter represents a person, wrinkles and all. This led me to explore more of the Kerozen  portfolio.

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As far as I can tell, Court Métrange is an art festival discussing fiction, special effects, and visual arts. I would so want to attend this festival. It looks amazing.

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Here is another ad for Court Métrange. Notice the theme of the modified human parts. Instead of letters, here we have slices of head. This is not too far from what scientists already do with mummies. I wonder if, like the Kerozen letters, each of these represents a design member.

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This ad is for a tabloid (Le Mensuel) in France. The image is both disturbing and draws you in. I wonder if the person has a headache. Is he trying to avoid the world or does he yearn for escape?

Kerozen seems like a design firm I’d love to have lunch with. Fascinating stuff.

Tim Kane

The Surreal Banana People of Lin Shih-Yung

Ever wonder what it’s like to be a banana? Every night, you plant yourself in the ground. Maybe pour a little water on for growth. How difficult is it these days to raise a young banana? Lin Shih-Yung answers these questions and more you never knew you had with her surreal paintings. Take a look.

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Titled “3 Newts”

 

 

Titled "Wasp" this shows a person with a wilted leaf for a head.

Titled “Wasp” this shows a person with a wilted leaf for a head.

 

This one is titled "6 Newts"

This one is titled “6 Newts”

 

Titled "Fresh" it shows a green banana committing suicide.

Titled “Fresh” it shows a green banana committing suicide.

 

Titled "After Taking a Paint"

Titled “After Taking a Paint”

Apparently, the banana people are called Newts. You can see more images from her Flicker site.

by Tim Kane