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More photos! Those who follow me on twitter might have seen one or two of these already, but here they all are together. Photos from a recent visit to Jupiter Artland, a cool privately-run art park/estate just outside Edinburgh. It’s a place with a fantastical, surreal vibe – big art installations scattered through the landscape, mostly wooded, nestling in with Nature.

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… kind of fun. First time I’d been to one of these ‘pop culture’ shows that are sprouting up all over the place now, mixing celebs from film/TV/Sports with bits of toys, comics, all sorts of odds and ends. First time Newcastle had had one too, I think, and the level of interest seemed to have caught the organisers a bit by surprise, so there were biiig queues (at least on the Saturday, I gather it was all more or less under control by the time Sunday came around).

Anyway, I had a good time. Was great to meet Alberto Ponticelli in the flesh and spend a pleasant few hours hanging out with him. Talked to a few folks about Rogue Trooper, signed a lot of copies of the first issue. Got my own, unique copy as a souvenir, signed by me, Alberto and Courtney, the very nice lady from the convention crew who patiently sat with us for the whole day:

All the usual sort of stuff was going on …

… but a few personal highlights/impressions:

  • seeing a Rorschach cosplayer wandering around all day holding a can of baked beans (you’d have to have read Watchmen to get that …)
  • having lunch in the secret guests’ facilities while sitting next to Frank Bruno (you’d have to be a Brit of a certain age, or a serious boxing fan, to get that), and realising he really is as big as he always looked, and he really does have the deeeepest voice ever heard on the surface of the planet
  • watching (and filming, but that didn’t work) Alberto do a Rogue Trooper sketch in three minutes flat – which he then gave to me, because he’s nice like that:

  • being Judged (inexplicably, I was released without charge) …

  • realising I have never, not once in my life, been as much of a fan of any piece of entertainment, or brand, or celebrity, as many of the attendees were. Not being sure whether that was a good thing or bad; but knowing I didn’t regret it for one second.
  • coming out of the ‘celeb’ toilets just as Teal’c from Stargate SG-1 was going in, and thinking ‘Huh. Isn’t it funny how life turns out?’
  • being generally very struck by how extremely pleasant and patient and accommodating all the celebs were in dealing with their fans, no matter how big or small their celebritude was (and then overhearing one of them – who shall remain nameless – at the train station after the show telling someone it had been a ‘terrible, terrible madhouse’, and feeling some sympathy. Can’t be that easy, doing what they do at these shows and smiling, being utterly professional, all the way through it.)
  • giving Alberto a sustained and detailed introduction to the correct use of the word ‘Cheers’ in colloquial English (I think he got the hang of it, since he’s using it in his e-mails to me now …)

But you know what the best bit of the whole day was? It was the most striking, most obvious example of something that happened several times: people deriving enormous pleasure from their experience of being at the show. And even though this instance only involved me somewhat indirectly, it was immensely enjoyable to sit there and watch it happen.

A guy came wandering past, saw me and Alberto sitting there and came over to see what was what. He was after a copy of Rogue Trooper, but then he discovered Alberto’s small portfolio of original art pages for sale, and I could see his eyes lighting up in something approaching disbelief. To cut a long story short, this guy eventually (after queueing at a cash machine for about half an hour, spending another fifteen minutes trying to decide) bought a page of original Ponticelli comic art, and he was as happy as a happy person could be.

He said something along the lines of ‘You’ve made my day, I never in my life thought I’d own something like this’, and he absolutely meant it, and he was absolutely delighted. It was great. And it was kind of the point of the whole show, really. Whyever they came, whoever they wanted to see, I guess pretty much everyone who was there was just looking for that moment when they’d think to themselves ‘This is awesome. I never imagined …’

And although, on some really quite profound level I don’t get, can’t share in and indeed find a little dispiriting this whole celebrity culture, this idolisation of actors and characters and shows and films and fictions, this longing to be part of something, there’s no denying the happiness that was abroad in Newcastle on Saturday. And there’s no denying it was infectious.

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A smart chap called Valerio Amaro combined his two passions – Lord of the Rings and advertising – into a nice little tumblr in which phrases from LotR are used as advertising slogans. I like them all, and you should check them all out here, but here’s a couple of favourites:

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… recent developments in Edinburgh connect to stuff that happens in that book.

Someone who gets quite a bit of mention in The Edinburgh Dead – even though he’s long dead at the time of the story – is Major Weir, Edinburgh’s most infamous, notorious warlock. The book’s hero, Adam Quire, even ventures into Weir’s derelict, haunted former residence. I had to improvise a bit for that scene, since Weir’s actual house isn’t there any more. People who tried to stay there after his execution reported all manner of distressing manifestations and supernatural goings-on, and it was eventually demolished.

Or was it? Someone thinks it survived, and they reckon they’ve identified it. So perhaps Edinburgh’s most famously haunted and creepily-historied building is, in fact, still here. Amongst us. Watching us. It was apparently absorbed into the building pictured on the right.

I’m instinctively a bit sceptical, to be honest, but who knows? Anyway, if true, it amuses me that Weir’s house was apparently incorporated into a chapel building, which is now the Quaker Meeting House. I confess, that building’s not quite where I chose to put Weir’s house for The Edinburgh Dead, but I was only off by about fifty yards, which isn’t too bad I reckon.

The tale of Major Thomas Weir is, by the way, crazy and creepy – worth a read if you’ve not heard of him – and also perhaps kind of sad, since it seems more than a little likely he was, like many people in the past, unpleasantly executed basically for being mad.

Slightly more tenuously connected to The Edinburgh Dead, but included here because it’s pretty: there’s been an exhibition of Chinese lanterns in the University’s Old College this week.

The Edinburgh Dead‘s based on the true history of grave-robbing and the illicit trade in corpses for medical dissection, and quite a few of those corpses ended up in Old College. Indeed, in one of fate’s most wry and satisfying twists, William Burke – who was one half of the Burke & Hare duo who murdered to meet the demand for corpses, and who appears in The Edinburgh Dead – ended up on a dissection slab in Old College. After he was hung, his corpse was publicly dissected there. There was such demand to witness the butchering of his body that there was a near-riot when audience space proved inadequate.

Anyway, nice lanterns don’t you think? Based on the famous terracotta army, of course.

Check out the Edinburgh Dead photo-trailer for lots more visuals and history that connect to the book.

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The Falkirk Kelpies

Big public art is cool when it’s good, and Scotland’s newest example is pretty good, if you ask me.  Very good, in fact.

The Kelpies at Falkirk – close enough to Edinburgh for a quick visit at the weekend – are huge, spectacular and very, very cleverly conceived.  They’re memorials and icons, reflecting Scotland’s industrial heritage and folkloric traditions.  Above all, though, I think they’re kind of beautiful.  And eloquent.  And enormous.

Cue photo-fest.

More info on what they are, why they are and how they are over here.

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This news is out there on the interwebs today, so I guess I can go public with it.

‘Tis true: I’m diversifying a bit, and writing a Rogue Trooper comic for the excellent folks over at IDW.

As visitors here may have noticed, I’m a fairly major comics fan. Unsurprisingly, I’m therefore pretty excited to be dipping my toes in those creative waters, especially since it’s on a character I knew well in my youth. As a British kid who liked comics and SF, it goes without saying that 2000 AD was a biiiig deal to me way back then, and Rogue Trooper was one of my favourite strips. It’s remained one of those I remember with the most affection, along with stuff like Dredd, Slaine and Nemesis. So all in all, fair to say I’m a happy chap with this turn of events.

Lovely cover art for #1, don’t you think?, by Glenn Fabry and Ryan Brown:

I’m lucky enough to be serving the interior art of Alberto Ponticelli with my scripts, so I think the whole package is going to look kind of nice, to put it mildly. More info to follow soon, of course. I believe the first issue will be in a comic shop near you in February 2014 or thereabouts.

And in case anyone’s wondering, none of this affects The Free. The hard work on that is largely done I think, the lovely powers-that-be at Orbit are making positive noises and as far as I know it remains on its intended publication course. So with any luck I’ll have both a novel and comics on shelves in 2014. Should be a fun year.

For those who wonder how these things come about … well, I expect the story’ll get told at some point (it’s not wildly exciting or surprising, before you get your expectations up too high), but for now let’s just say it convinced me even more that what I said in this post about luck was on the money. You can’t control exactly when or how you get lucky, but you can at the very least give it the chance to show up in your life. I did, and it did. Sweet.

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Two of my very favourite podcasts this time around. Paradoxically, the two specific episodes I’m going to point at are not exactly typical of the podcasts concerned (if anything, they’ve kind of swapped their normal areas of interest with one another in these particular cases), but they’re both good and they’re right in the bullseye of some of my own interests. Zombies! Biology! Cryptozoology! This is exciting stuff to me, hence the exclamation marks.

Monster Talk is pretty much always a fun show, especially if you’re interested in … well, not strictly monsters, but cryptozoological and superntural oddities in general.  All of it seen from a skeptical, scientifically informed point of view.

This time around, though, with the March 20th episode, entitled The Zombie Apocalypse, they’re talking real science and real creatures, and real crazy stuff at that.  Fungi that turn ants into zombies.  Parasites that (this sounds crazy, but it’s actual science) … parasites that live in 12% of Americans’ brains, 60% of French brains (!), and can affect human behaviour.  Rabies as a behaviour-modifying parasite.  All sorts of fascinating stuff.

TetZoo is a new kid on the podcast block, and a rather different kettle of fish.  It’s a pretty full-on zoology ‘cast, going into fascinating detail on all manner of things relating to animals, extant or extinct.  Those with four limbs, anyway, which is why its full title is Tetrapod Zoology.  Lots of serious and (if you’re like me) fascinating science, strange facts about the living world, stuff about dinosaurs and their kin.  Plus occasional discussions of sf and horror movies.  Just because.

But the hosts, Darren Naish and John Conway, are also interested in cryptozoology (approaching it from a scientific, skeptical but not entirely dismissive point of view) so this week for their third episode they produced a looong episode all about bigfoot and the sadly ever less convincing evidence for the big hairy ape-man’s actual existence (not that I ever thought it was remotely convincing, mind you).  All the background you could ever wish for, if you’re curious about what sensible, informed folks think about the sasquatch these days.

And as a side-note, John Conway makes nice pictures.  I think he’d be an interesting choice for anyone looking for an out-of-the-ordinary book cover …

Previous instalments of Perusing the Podverse, wherein I reveal just how odd my listening habits are (and believe me, we’ve only scratched the surface of my podcast addiction so far), can be found here.

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In years gone by, I’ve tended to pop out a Miscellany post to mark the festive season.  Don’t know why.  Don’t know why I’m about to do it again, but here I go.

For Likers of Sketches

D(ungeons) & D(ragons) & D(oodles) is a fun little tumblr from Tom Fowler, featuring amusing and striking sketches of a fantastical sort.  Only a handful of images there so far, but it’s worth a look.  Guy can draw.

Image is (c) 2012 Tom Fowler / BIGBUGIllustration.com.  Just so you know.

Weekly Sketch Up is a weekly (funnily enough) column at iFanboy that collates and reposts some of the nicest recent comics-related sketches showing up on the interwebs.  Well worth a browse if you like to see comics artists having a bit of fun.

For Likers of Expensive/Dangerous Toys

Probably too late for this year, but how about asking for a JetLev Flyer when the next gift-giving season comes around?

Or perhaps I could tempt you with a wingsuit?

For Likers of Photography

2012 was, I think, one of the better recent years for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, a long-running British institution for those of us who like (a) wildlife and (b) pictures of it.

You can browse a full online gallery of the best images of 2012 on the Natural History Museum website. I confess, it’s a bit of a pig of a site, navigation-wise; but with a little bit of pointing and clicking you can get a look at some stunning wildlife photos (when you eventually find an ‘Enlarge’ button, click that and you will be amply rewarded). And if that tickles your fancy, well you can browse another seven years’ worth of photos there as well.

The exhibition of the winning photos has already started a global tour which runs through next year, and if it’s showing up anywhere near you I’d highly recommend checking it out. Seeing the actual photos at full size is quite the experience if you’re into this kind of thing. Mysteriously, the tour doesn’t seem to include the USA – sorry, USA folks.

For Likers of … Well, Wild Scots Really

These folks show up on the streets of Edinburgh most summers, always drawing a big crowd of passers-by and always being about the best street theatre you could ever wish for: Albannach

Albannach @ Sunday Pub Sing from Highland Renfair on Vimeo.

And since I’m on the subject of music, let’s repeat my old and tired trick of putting a bit of guitar in these miscellany posts. This time, it’s courtesy of Antoine Dufour:

For Likers of Apocalypses (and Podcasts)

As the world’s ending … tomorrow, is it? … why not treat yourself to a podcast on the topics of apocalypses?

Apocalypse Now and Then from the BackStory podcast is a fun and informative dig around in the history of apocalypses and end-times in the USA.

And thanks to Edd Vick for directing me to the BackStory podcast as a whole, back in the comments on this post.  That’s how us podcast lovers spread the love, after all; it’s all about word of mouth.  So why not check out this extensive exercise in word of mouth over at SF Signal on the subject of SF/F podcasts, and do some exploring in the audio wonderland?  There’s something in there for everyone. (Everyone who likes a bit of sf or F, anyway).

Should, for some unforeseen reason, the world fail to end, Happy Holidays to one and all.  Hope everyone gets a minimum of stress and a maximum of happiness over the festive season.  (If the world does end, that minimum and maximum will no doubt be reversed, but don’t fret it; it’ll all be over soon, I imagine).

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Occupy Art

I’m somewhat sympathetic to the notions behind the Occupy movement that’s swept the globe in the last little while, though temperamentally and intellectually I have reservations about it, but this isn’t going to be about the economic and social arguments.  It’s about the art.

A recent post on The Beat pointed me towards a Guardian post that shows off some of the poster art associated with the movement, and the combination of influences makes for some very striking visuals.

Classic designs, 20th century propaganda images and comic-book stylings all get reworked into elegant, memorable forms. Like this use of the famous Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta:

or this homage to Power Rangers, or Japanese giant monster movies, or whatever it is:

or what looks like something straight from the files of some retired 1960s revolutionary:

or straightforwardly beautiful design work:

Check out the Guardian post for more examples.  Whatever you think of the movement and its demands, it’s fascinating to see such diverse and culturally-imbued art/design coming out of it.  A 20th century artform – the political/proaganda poster – brought up to date with pop culture, hash tags and web addresses.

The revolution will, of course, be televised – or at least youtubed; how could it not be, nowadays? – but it will also be accompanied by some very sharp design, apparently.

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Was on holiday last week. Here. The only report of consequence I have from a jolly pleasant week is this: I met an ent.  Cool dude.  Didn’t get formally introduced, unfortunately, so I don’t know his name, but I’m guessing it’s Willowthatch.  Something like that.

A fine looking fellow, whatever his moniker.  He’s currently calling the Cairn O’Mohr winery home.  I’m not sure they even know he’s an ent, to be honest, and I didn’t mention it, in case he preferred to remain incognito.

Actually, I do have something else to report, but I suspect it’s of more interest to me than anyone else: best sighting I’ve ever had of a wild otter, paddling about in the River Earn one lunchtime.  I say best sighting – it was only a couple of seconds, but that’s still better than I’ve ever managed before, as far as I can remember.  Still, never mind all that.  Ent!

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