Saturday, January 31, 2009


Got back from my journey up North to the Basque country. I had to satiate my curiosity for Bilbao's Guggenheim and do some hiking in Donostia- San Sebastian. Hopped a train up through some beautiful mountain scenery, many rainbows stretched across verdant pastures. My heart skips a beat when I see large, snowy mountaintops summoned from the flat earth- a little reminder of home.

I have heard very little about Bilbao as a city and culture independent from associations with the Guggenheim. I read that Bilbao is primarily an industrial town, so I was pleased to find that much of the city centre was hugged between green hills and steep inclines. Not all grey and smokey as I imagined.

The Guggenheim was built in Bilbao as part of a revitalization project in the Basque country and it looks like the plan has succeeded. It is difficult to walk into that spiral of titanium and limestone without recognizing Frank Gehry's unique vision. Stepping into the atrium is like being sucked into the vortex of a conch shell. I paid a discounted entrance fee because the third floor was closed. An extensive body of Cy Twombly paintings and sculptures were being exhibited as well as a permanent work by Richard Serra, Jenny Holzer, Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois and some other stuff. Reproductions of art will often serve poor semblance to the original, as the case definitely is with the Serra pieces. I was completely in awe of the space that was provided for those huge works. Being enveloped in one of those metallic coils is an experience that a viewer cannot even comprehend from a picture. The Jenny Holzer piece was specifically made for the Bilbao location and the infinite strips of sinister phrases reflecting off the floor and ceiling freaked me out. But in an excitable and good way! I looked forward to seeing Koons' Puppy

but unfortunately it looked more like this:

The next day I set off with my friend to Donostia- San Sebastián. The Basques refer to their city as Donostia, whereas most other people will recognize it as San Sebastián. There were lots of nice hilly-mountainesque places that I could imagine myself trekking up, on our bus ride over. After throwing down our heavy packs at the hostel (which was crazy awesome), we ran towards the beach in eager anticipation for the briny rhythm of waves and sand. Man, it's so nice to return to the seaside. Sight for sore eyes. I was so stoked in my photo-taking induced state that I didn't notice the tide rush in up to my shins, soaking my hiking boots and pants. Whatev, how can you worry when the world looks this good?

And yes, that lady just ran into my picture naked. For the record, the sun was in my eyes, so I didn't intentionally mean to be a creep and snap this. But having a figure in the landscape does kind of add to the picturesque quality of this place, no?

Well, the next few days were pretty damp. We didn't get to do any real hiking after all, just walked up some local "mountains". We witnessed some pretty treacherous waves too. That was entertaining. Notice the man hiding behind the sculpture in the wave pictures. He was there for a long time. Possibly stranded. Possibly hypnotized. Terrified. I was in dismay that it was too wet to pull out the ol' sketchbook and scribble some landscapes though. Instead, I sketched in the comfort of our hostel.

I like the rain, it doesn't bother me all that much. We're waterproof after all. However, my sketchbook isn't. I managed to get a few scribbles done at the beach just before leaving for the train station.

When I got to the station I sketched some more.

Then I boarded the train and allowed the miserable baritone of Smog to deliver me through the dark evening, back to Madrid.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

we just stole a car

Hey, my pals in we just stole a car had an album launch for their sophomore release, Barn, a few weeks back. I designed the cover for
them. Got my copy recently and it is superb. Each album comes with a different combination of photo cards. Check it out!

Of Grotesques, Ladies, and One Fine Looking Dog

“Everything about Florence seems to be colored with a mild violet, like diluted wine.”
-Henry James

Just returned from a short visit to Firenze (Florence). It was marvelous. I find the trouble with traveling is that you can sometimes be vulnerable to falling in love with a place based on superficial conceit. I know every place has it's grimy underbelly, it's loathsome qualities, and social predicaments, but gosh darn, Firenze is just so great! Even fellow wayfarers don't annoy me that much. I can't think about that city without my mind fogging up in a Renaissance induced haze and I catch myself salivating ever so slightly at the thought of grotesque frescoes and Italian sweets.

If you haven't been to the Uffizi, you really should go. It has good reason to be overrated. Firstly, the grotesque frescoes that embellish the ceilings within are amazing. I love following the playful symmetry of odd creatures and grimacing faces that intertwine with decorative tendrils of golden vines... I could lie on the floor staring at that stuff forever. The collection is nuts. I think my time in Spain had tainted my memory of how much I love Italian paintings. Artists such as Boticelli, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Raphael were the first few painters my Dad had introduced to me as a young kid after all. I could go on about paintings in the collection that get me excited, but specific highlights for me would be Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi and Medusa by Caravaggio... HOT DAMN!

There were drawings by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri that were on display too. He is also referred to as Il Guercino, which means The Squinter, because the guy was cross-eyed. There was a drawing of a monkey that I particularly liked, although I think it looks more like a lion.

I spotted a cat-fan on the ceiling and it made me pretty happy, so I drew it.

There was a portrait of a pathetic looking character, rendered in a rather unfantastical way, but I thought the dullness of the expression and style was somewhat endearing.

I wanted to pay homage to the many ladies who made all this beautiful art possible. Shout out to the muses and Gentileschi. I think Gentileschi has painted the fiercest of all Judith paintings I have seen thus far. There are quite a few out there, but this one I think is the most believable and unexpurgated. I like strong women and gore.

I bought a pen with a nib and some ink. I doodled a bit and hit the Uffizi Piazza the next day!

I drew some sculptures, Perseus Slaying Medusa, by Cellini and Rape of the Sabine Women by Giambologna. You probably realize I have an inclination for the dramatic.

The day before my birthday my friends and I spotted a dog who shared a startling semblance to my beloved dog Travis back home in Vancouver. I have no idea what combination of breeds Travis is because we got him from the animal shelter, so it's always neat to see other mutts that look like him. This Italian canine's resemblance is crazy uncanny. The markings and colouration were completely spot on, with the exception of the german shepherd-like spots on each side of the face that this dog was missing. Travis' eyes are bigger and his muzzle is pointier too, but this could be him when he gets older and starts to chillax a bit more. Aw, miss my furry pal.

My dawg:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Chasing Sunlight in the Plazas, Dodging the Cold in Museums

So, it's been a few days. I don't know how I am going to be able to keep up this posting business, especially without my trusty scanner. My tablet is a little out of sorts today. Luckily, I was able to complete most of the new header (!) before it stopped working. I hope to change the header every so often. Here are some of the sketches from my time here in Madrid, as promised.

These palm trees were drawn at el Parque de Rosales, by the Templo de Debod. I was trying to catch a bit of sun on a park bench. I thought I'd be able to fend off the frigid conditions by rendering some tropical flora.

I was able to catch one of the last remaining days of a Rembrandt show that was at the Prado. I lined up for about 40 minutes (bbrrr) until admitted into the museum. I wish Canadians were as stoked about art as Spaniards. I really loved Rembrandt's intaglio and later paintings. I've been increasingly interested in drawings and intaglio prints lately. All my idiosyncracies really amplify in the printmaking studio, which is why I choose to avoid it. I feel like Pig-Pen when it comes down to the meticulous nature that printmaking requires. But seeing wonderful prints like Rembrandt's makes me believe that I will get back on that intaglio saddle in the near future.

The museum was pretty busy that day. There was no point in squeezing myself between tour groups to check out the Goyas, so I snuck up to the second floor for some quiet time. I sat on a bench facing a bronze sculpture of Queen Mary of Austria dressed as a widow. I wasn't able to successfully render her facial features, so I quickly drew another sketch that properly defined her nose and included the archways in the background.

The Thyssen-Bornemisza, a museum housing a great variety of paintings, had a temporary exhibition called 1914! The Avante-Garde and the Great War. The focus of the exhibit was based on works made during the First World War. I forked over money eager to see some Kirchner, but was dismayed to hear that all the stuff I wanted to see was actually being shown at a free, off site show at the Fundación Caja Madrid. These are super quick doodles of the guards and a sculpture by Wilhelm Lehmbruck called Seated Youth.

Yesterday I wanted to evade the misery that is our cold, dark flat so I went to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia to keep warm. I sat in a room screening Néstor Basterretxea's film, Operacion H, and drew two benches.

More to come when I return from Firenze!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Riding into the New Year atop the Moon Snail of Mammals!

Well, it's the new year in a new country. My holidays in Madrid have been nice and quiet, despite the lively congestion of consumers along Gran Via and Plaza de España. I've had my fill of turrón and paintings. Although I will continue indulging on the latter until I'm ready to continue on my sojourn.

The museums have provided much warmth during this chilly Spanish winter. Just yesterday, at the Prado, I decided to try to negotiate my dislike (perhaps apathy is a more appropriate word) for horses. As much as I appreciate most animals, the horse never made my top ten. It sits on a separate list with the likes of angler fish, ticks, and moon snails. But the new year provides a time for reconciliation, so I sat down with Rubens' gigantic painting of St. George, and proceeded to draw the horse that our hero is perched upon while slaying a dragon. It was a pretty pleasant experience, but I don't think it has had a profound effect on my perception of horses.

I went on to sketch a figure from another gargantuan Rubens' piece, The Adoration of the Magi and included the guard in the room.

In celebration of internet access in the flat, a backlog of various sketches from other museum visits will soon get posted!