Eccentricity: A Journey Through a Mind

eccentricity

It takes a brave person to bare all; we all wear layers of masks, and some people you never truly know. This is a glimpse into the mind of an artist with autism and synesthesia, and explains how she sees the world through frank writing and beautiful paintings and digital art. It explores what outsiders in our culture do to survive, how we learn to interact with people who tilt their heads and consider us as one might a strange dog.

Anie Knipping is my neighbor, and it took some time before we said more than the nervous hellos that pass for conversation in an apartment complex. I wore my Venture Bros. Order of the Triad t-shirt while doing laundry, she recognized it, and two pilgrims from the nerdworld began speaking their common tongue. I had known she was an artist, and that she led community projects such as the local garden for seniors in our building, but hadn’t struck up a conversation or seen her work before. I was very pleasantly surprised, and I’m glad she reached out.Despite the “Tommy Salami” web presence and boisterous demeanor, I am an extremely shy person who does not make friends easily.

So I found much of this book refreshingly familiar. She goes into detail about how she used online social games to adjust to society, and explore what selves she wanted to share. The art is truly gorgeous and unique, from the synesthesia overlays that mimic how she experiences the world, to the volcanic fantasy dreamworlds she puts to canvas from her imagination. It is not so much indulgent as deeply detailed, and I was delighted to learn that the book is used to help children with autistic spectrum disorders to understand that they are not alone in experiencing reality differently than the norm. Reading this will peel away the calluses you’ve formed that deaden your feelings to the wonderful and bizarre world we live in. You’ll understand what it is like to navigate the loud, bright and rambunctious world with a surplus of empathy, what it is like to be born at age 13, and how to taste the weather and see music.

Full color textbook-sized paperback

Kindle Edition

 

The Edward Gorey House


I’ve been a fan of Edward Gorey’s macabre little books since my friend Peter introduced me to the Gashlycrumb Tinies back in high school. Gorey drew twisted little figures in a creepy mirror of the bored and insulated world of New England’s idle rich. From the bizarre penguin-like creature in tennis shoes who shows up for dinner in “The Doubtful Guest,” to poor Millicent Frastley abducted in the dark of night to be sacrificed to “The Insect God,” he managed to evoke a frightening and wonderful world that seemed to spring from disturbing childhood daydreams.

He was an eccentric cat-lover who wore an ankle-length raccoon coat and tennis shoes, and is likely most famous for designing the gothic animation sequence to PBS’s “Mystery!” series and the stage design for the play of “Dracula,” starring Frank Langella. His figures have a wispy quality, as if they sprung from the infamous Puritan gravestones littering New England warning the living that all flesh is grass, and God is firing up the Toro any moment now.

His house is everything one might expect. It looks perfectly normal at first, but something is off. It is about to be devoured by an enormous Southern Magnolia tree overtaking the backyard, a plant that shouldn’t even be able to survive, much less thrive, on the deltoid of Cape Cod’s atrophied bicep. The cut-out of a plump tabby in a sweater welcomes you, and a wrought iron “Doubtful Guest” tiptoes through the back yard, strangled with vines, like a living topiary beast. Fans and friends have decorated his yard with all sorts of homages to his work, such as tombstones to the Gashlycrumb Tinies and an enormous sperm whale painted with his work.

The house itself is crammed with the odd ephemera he collected, from old cheese graters to matchbooks, with shelves and walls plastered with his work. The Tinies are immortalized in a scavenger hunt game, with all 26 of the ghastly alphabet undoings hidden around the house- from poor Basil assaulted by bears, to Nevile, who died of ennui, peering from a hidden window. The museum is run by fans and friends of the late Mr. Gorey, who keep his twee and morbid spirit alive. I purchased a few books and gifts in the gift shop, and a delightful print that I plan to hang over my bookcase, which reads “Some Things Are Scary.”

Words to live by. Some things are scary, and we delight in the thrill of seeing them from a safe distance. In Gorey’s tales, we get uncomfortably close to twisted people and banal horrors. While the Addams Family were the odd ones on the block, Gorey’s world mirrored our own in that something scary was just beneath the surface.


The Gashlycrumb Tinies

Visit The Edward Gorey House website.

I never said I was an artist

 I work for a company that is big into giving back, and this year we helped several NYC schools. My project, with 70 others, was to pair murals and paintings for PS 196 in Williamsburg, which is very old and in need of update and repair. But being New York, there’s no money for it. Kids have to suffer so investment bankers can hire NYPD police as their own private army…

We repainted their mascot images on the walls, and also filled many canvases with colorful and educational messages to brighten up the old institution. Here are the two I did:

The top one is from “If You Bring a Mouse to School.” A coworker named Ed drew the art in pencil and I was the “tracer” who colored it all in. I’m proud to help the school and if I can help just one kid snicker at an old man’s terrible artistic skills, I feel I have improved the world in one small way.

If anyone wants book covers painted by me, I work cheap.

© 2011 Thomas Pluck

Starbucks Consumer Whore

In the late ’90s an artist named Kieron Dwyer created this hilarious satire of the Starbucks logo, after millions flocked to pay $5 for a cup of coffee from a chain, thus bankrupting the thousands of local coffee shops that had sprung up earlier in the decade. I still feel skeevy going into one and spending my money on their burnt roast. Unfortunately there are few choices these days, but I try to find local coffee shops and frequent them if only for a nostalgic memory of be-pierced and tattooed kids sullenly manning the espresso machine while Bikini Kill and the Eels played.

He was of course sued, and can’t use the image to make any money, or even post it on his own website, so I’m posting it on mine.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Conan, the Cimmerian

“Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.”

Like our President, I am a big fan of Conan the Barbarian. I don’t collect Savage Sword of Conan, however I am tempted. I was raised onthe movie incarnation by Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Milius, and I finally got around to reading the stories by Robert E. Howard- who managed to create Conan, Kull the Conqueror, Solomon Kane, Red Sonya, and an entire mythology out of the whole cloth by the age of 30. Howard was supremely talented storyteller, despite essentially living in his mom’s basement- he was a mama’s boy, and when she passed into a coma during her terminal run with tuberculosis, he killed himself. He did have a romance of a sort with a schoolteacher, chronicled in her memoir One Who Walked Alone, and the movie adapted from it, The Whole Wide World. Vincent D’Onofrio plays Bob in that, and I’ve tucked it in my Netflix Queue.

But he left us a legacy that influenced fantasy literature as much as Tolkien, even if he was more interested in commenting on the shackles of civilization than experimenting with language, myth cycles, and the battle between technology and nature. Whenever you see an image of a sword-wielding man with mighty “thews,” possible Howard’s favorite word, you are seeing the legacy of Conan. Magic was a Lovecraftian force, a devil’s bargain, that corrupted all who attempted to master it. Women were often damsels, but he also created characters like Valeria, the archetype for the unattainable battle mistress.

 

Sure, he was not beyond titillating his readers with scenes of women whipping each other, or my favorite, a savage king raking his bristly beard over Valeria’s breasts after he tears her shirt open:

Her shirt had been torn open in the struggle, and with cynical cruelty he rasped his thick beard across her bare breasts, bringing the blood to suffuse the fair skin, and fetching a cry of pain and outraged fury from her. Her convulsive resistance was useless; she was crushed down on the couch, disarmed and panting, her eyes blazing up at him like the eyes of a trapped tigress.

Steamy stuff. Makes me regret trimming my beard. I’ll have to test its raspiness on Firecracker and report back to you. So if you see me with black eyes, you know what happened).

The stories are iconic and still enjoyable 70 years later. Unlike much pulp and adventure fiction, they don’t feel dated- what was shocking then is still exciting now, and his cynicism suits the times. The movies seem quaint in comparison- they were considered gory, bloody and gratuitous when they came out, but compared to Howard’s stories they’re tame. Conan the Barbarian is the bloodier of the two, and based on a smattering of different stories. It takes Valeria from “Red Nails,” the black lotus (Stygian, the best) from there as well; the snake cult of Set is used in many stories, and Thulsa Doom is the name of a Kull villain, but based on Thoth Amon from “The Phoenix on the Sword.” His magic resembles that of “The People of the Black Circle,” and Conan’s raid on their airy castle is similar to his commando strike on Doom.

Conan the Destroyer is more a product of the ’80s than the perfect syzygy of Arnold’s rise to fame, John Milius’s obsessions with Conan, Nietzche, and Genghis Khan, and James Earl Jones going from Oscar-worthy performances in The Great White Hope to an infamous villain in Star Wars. Arnie seems goofy in the sequel; gone are the surfers from Milius’s Big Wednesday as Subotai and Valeria, replaced with comic relief like Grace Jones and Tracey Walter. At least Mako returns as the Wizard, and despite the dopey storyline, we at least get to see Conan battle with Wilt Chamberlain, and Andre the Giant in a Dagoth constume. We get the eye candy of Olivia d’Abo, but the film is strictly PG, a smarmy land that no Conan should be forced to tread, by Crom!

After years of development hell, it seems like we’ll be enduring a new Conan movie- but I am heartened by the choice of screenwriter, Howard McCain. He did a fine job with Outlander, taking a ridiculous concept- Vikings vs. Predator, essentially- and made a good movie out of it. On the other hand, putting it in the hands of bland-o-tron hack Brett Ratner assures that like Red Dragon, we’ll probably get an inferior product held together by the actors. With the proper choice of Cimmerian, we could have a good movie; Let’s hope they just throw us in the middle, like Howard would have- no need to rehash his origin, for Conan never really had one- he walked out of the hills of Cimmeria where barbarian tribes fought, and was a tiger among the livestock of civilized humanity. Give us bloody swordplay, give us scantily clad sorceresses, fearsome magic too terrible to contemplate. And never let Conan be the butt of any jokes. I hope there’s room for Arnie to make a cameo as an older king- perhaps a role similar to Max Von Sydow’s in the first movie- but it would be fine if he kept governating.

Who’s my choice of Conan? Because it has to be a big name, I’d say the obvious choice is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who has both muscles and charisma. Give him the right haircut and make him forgo that easy smile of his for some blue contacts and a smoldering stare. That would give me hope. As for Robert E. Howard, tragedy made Conan and his other characters spring forth from his imagination- he wrote to pay the bills when his mother got sick, and his father’s business floundered during the Depression. At one time he was making $6,000 a year at 1 1/2 cents a word. Talk about prolific. Someday I’d like to visit the Robert E. Howard museum in Cross Plains, Texas, and see the tiny room he tapped away at his typewriter in.

The most expensive toy soldiers ever

If you ever painted toy soldiers or miniatures, you can make a fortune. Just be an established artist and make a huge sprawling diorama of them, and call it “Hell Art.”

Take me to ze strudel!

Dinos and Jake Chapman, two British brothers, sold theirs for several million pounds to a collector. They painted mostly Nazi soldiers and a lot of zombies, two subjects dear to the heart of internet nerdery. They also spent millions purchasing Hitler’s godawful watercolor paintings that look like Yellow Submarine meets Yard Sale Art Crap. They surrounded their exhibition with them to juxtapose the horrible kitsch of Adolf’s rainbow-encrusted landscapes and the vision of hell on earth he created, I guess.

“We have deep things to say about the banality of evil that haven’t been said before.”

Their miniature painting is actually quite good and full of humor. Zombies pull caravans of rusted Beetles, der Volks Wagen of course. Hell is populated with zombies from all walks of life, and even Stephen Hawking is in there. He’s still alive and probably typing a witty rejoinder to them as we speak.

Link to the CNN video that shows their work.

Hitler couldn’t paint for shit.

Gustav Courbet – The Man Who Painted Johnny Depp

The Desperate Man, by Gustave Courbet.

I am fifty years old and I have always lived in freedom; let me end my life free; when I am dead let this be said of me: ‘He belonged to no school, to no church, to no institution, to no academy, least of all to any régime except the régime of liberty.

Those are the words of an artist I can appreciate. Gustave Courbet, subject of an Exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art until May, entitled “The Born Rebel Artist,” uttered those words and was one of the forces behind the end of Romanticism in the mid 1800s. He was inspired by the Dutch masters such as Rembrandt, who he said “painted the world as it was around them.” None too modest, he declared that his painting “The Burial at Omans” was really the burial of Romanticism.

The Burial of Romanticism!

Courbet is more famous for two other things. One involves a giant phallus and the other is a portrait of a punani. Both have amusing tales behind them, so bear with me while you get a dose of Culture with a Capital C, you Philistine. This’ll be good for you, but tasty, like deep fried broccoli cheese bites.

First, the punani! His most notorious work is deliciously entitled The Origin of the World, and portrays a nude model asleep in bed, from thighs to breasts. Far from being merely pornographic, it’s quite erotic and the positioning emphasizes this. If you click on the link or the dummy at work, you are a fucking idiot. Holy shit, remember blink tags? Yeah, don’t click on this at work.

The story behind The Origin of the World is that he used his favorite model, Joanna Hiffernan, known as Jo. She was also the lover of his student James McNeill Whistler, you know, the Whistler’s Mother guy. Let’s just say after that, Whistler and Courbet weren’t on speaking terms. Even though Jo was a redhead, and the curtains in the painting don’t match her drapes, it is believed to be her. Courbet either had the decency to change the color of her bush, or did so for artistic reasons (after all, most are black) or maybe she just dyed her hair. Either way, the lessons here are don’t paint your buddy’s girl’s punani, and art is all about the pussy. Another work of his from his later period is The Sleepers, of two nude women in bed. Around teexs time he formed the Federation of Artists, along with Manet and others, to promote the uncensored expansion of art. How much this had to do with his exploration of erotica during the latter end of his career, I’ll let you decide.

Unlike the Louvre, photos are verboten!

As you could tell from the quote about liberty and being beholden to nothing, Courbet wasn’t a big fan of Napoleon III‘s government. He refused the Medal of the Legion of Honor from France’s last monarch, and after the disastrous war with Prussia, he was a member of the Paris Commune during their short-lived takeover of the government. During that time Courbet was put in control of protecting the museums of art. He wanted to move the Vendôme Column, a monument to Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz, but it was dismantled instead. After the Paris Commune fell from power, he was jailed for desecrating this phallic elegy and eventually billed for 300,000 francs to rebuild it, at 10,000 a year. This would have ruined him, if he hadn’t died a day before the first payment was due.

“How the fuck am I gonna pay that?”

It’s said he died of liver disease from a life of heavy drinking, but I like to think his death was one final act of defiance. Let’s face it, the man had balls. I bet he met up with his buddy Charles Baudelaire, and got crazy drunk laughing about it in hell.