reading: Harad, McPhee, Johnson, Knausgaard

On May 14, 2016 by theseventhsphinx

I’ve failed to include reading for a long while,  a bit of a shame as I’ve been reading so many things I would recommend. Let the jury note a general resolution to improve on this front. What I’m reading tends to be a more or less direct reflection of what is occupying me, and what I find important and interesting from one month to the next. I have long believed that reading is the most important activity I do, and I grow increasingly dimwitted when I neglect it.

reading theseventhsphinx

Coming to My Senses, Alyssa Harad — This is a wonderful story about the awakening of Harad’s passion for perfume intertwined with thoughts about beauty and identity that are relevant to us all, and especially to women, whose relationship to beauty (to an abstract, artistic concept of beauty as well as a commercial, mainstream concept of beauty) is so complex and, in many ways, problematic. Harad writes eloquently about her own journey, and any of you secret perfume obsessives out there—of which I am a not so secret one, but even readers here (and even good friends) cannot begin to imagine the true volumes of perfume in my possession—will surely identify with her. A delightful read, and I suggest following her on twitter as well. One great result of reading this is the irresistible urge to dig out perfume samples, buy new perfume samples, and think with still greater (and variously focused) attention about perfume and beauty. This is directly related to the larger questions of what makes art art and what makes the beautiful beautiful that has been humming along in relation to the painting I’ve been doing, which I will have to get into another time.

Middle Passage, Charles Johnson—I’m about a quarter in here and it is already a riveting, deeply ominous narrative. A fictional account of a New Orleans thief stowing away on what turns out to be a slave ship collecting and transporting slaves from Africa. I’ve read enough about this novel to know it’s only going to get more gruesome. Excellent, if we want to call such a grisly story about such a awful subject excellent…thanks to GeekOutsider for prompting me to push this to the top of the list.

Levels of the Game, John McPhee—As I was reading this I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘this is so good!!’ McPhee is, on the surface, describing a semi-final match in the 1968 U.S. Open. The face-off (I wasn’t familiar with either player before reading this), fantastic tennis writing in its own right, is brilliantly interleaved with biographical, social, and historical context. You don’t need to be that into tennis to appreciate what this is: an attentive, informative, wonderfully researched, insightful essay. The format reminded me of L. Jon Wertheim’s Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played, a play-by-play of the 2008 Wimbledon men’s final. Wertheim’s account of the match (extremely detailed, with certain dramatic points described at length) is similarly interrupted to provide context – I’m convinced he’s standing on McPhee’s shoulders. It’s also an interesting read and one I enjoyed a lot (I read it twice!) but it pales in comparison to Levels style and subtle humor, and has nothing like the cocktail of social tensions surrounding the ’68 match. There is little I enjoy more than putting myself in the hands of a brilliant essayist.

My Struggle: Book Two, Karl Ove Knausgaard—A strange, compelling autobiography on the model of Remembrance of Things Past, that is, an exhaustively detailed, sharp-eyed reflection of his remembered life. Knausgaard is of course not Proust, but we would not want him to be, he is thoroughly himself. The powers of description that help me to trust his narration (I mean, put my trust in him as a reader (I mean, keep reading)) are all the more effective paired with his grim (at times grim, at times provocative), relentless honesty. Already I am enjoying Book Two, focusing on his romantic and family life, more than Book One (also massive), which chronicled his childhood and the death of his father. Interesting too that he is speaking in such detail of cultures – Norwegian, then later Swedish – so foreign to me, beyond the fascination of speaking in such detail of a life so foreign to me. A kind of life. Incidentally, the work, some six volumes in total, is a literary sensation. Not hard to see why.


we like: Urban Art Bar

On December 13, 2014 by theseventhsphinx

Urban Art Bar is a cool concept, a bar in Southie where those with or without experience with acrylic painting can follow [or not remotely follow] an instructor painting a certain image. You check out their calendar and select the image you want to paint, then just show up, drink, and paint away.



The painting on the night I went was Starry Night, a favorite. For the most part they are not known paintings, just simple, approachable images one could create in a couple of hours.



Revlon Matte Balm in Standout


It’s great to walk around and see how differently everyone interprets the image. And some people clearly focus more on the drinking part. I’d never done acrylic painting and found the experience to be a great introduction, with a fun, supportive atmosphere.



Check it out if you’re in the area!


weekend distraction: environment as art

On December 8, 2013 by theseventhsphinx

Artist JeeYoung Lee Converts Her Tiny Studio Into Absurdly Elaborate Non-Digital Dreamscapes

I found these projects so beautiful and arresting. And this is the best headline I’ve read in a while.

“For Korean artist JeeYoung Lee the question was how to utilize her small studio space in Seoul measuring 11.8′ x 13.5′ x 7.8′ (3.6m x 4.1m x 2.4m) that was proportionally miniscule to the scale of her boundless imagination. Instead of finding a new location or reverting to digital trickery, Lee challenged herself to build some of the most elaborate sets imaginable for the sake of taking a single photograph.”






Suddenly it seems I could be doing a bit better with my interior efforts.

images via

in which I am subsumed by art

On July 3, 2013 by theseventhsphinx


My friend Farrin has nearly finished the piece I modeled for (earlier draft with orientation here). Incredible, delicate intricacy in ink and watercolor. Wreathing the edge is the phrase I believe in dreams repeated in many languages. Bordered by vines and flowers and firebirds,  flanked by sphinxes and I myself a kind of hybrid womansphinx. A hybrid of a hybrid. A meta-hybrid. Love. How ideal are the proportions of these wings?

[Click twice on image for larger view]


Day Dream

On April 4, 2013 by theseventhsphinx

Last year I agreed to donate my body to art for my erstwhile roommate, who began designing carpets as a child in Iran and now makes intricate ink drawings meticulously shaded with watercolors. My piece will be part of a dream sequence; a series of pieces depicting a figure in a dream, or on the threshold of a dream. The working title is Day Dream.

She has finished the black and white stage (which version I sometimes prefer to the colored end product (as none of the intricacy is lost), so I asked her to send it to me before any color was added), and doesn’t mind my sharing a bit early.

I am depicted with massive wings, geometrically wreathed in vines, flowers, snakes and pheonix-like figures, enclosed in an illuminated-manuscript-style frame with flanking sphinxes.

I love it, and she says it is her best work.

Day Dream-bw-mod2

Farrin created this piece with some of my personal symbols and aesthetic preferences in mind. Here is the description I provided to outline my influences:

I find resonance in spirals and circles, especially intricate, natural versions of these abstractions; webs, peonies and other flowers, whorls of smoke, fractals. Also the sun. Colors I find compelling include sage, lavender, and rich shades of brown, copper, and gold.

I have been drawn to certain figures of nature and mythology since childhood, particularly the sphinx and the serpent, symbols of mystery and wisdom. In addition to being a hybrid of woman, lion, and [in my favorite cases] bird, the sphinx is also a guardian and can represent a gateway or threshold. To choose the sphinx as a personal symbol reflects my own hybrid nature, my acknowledgement of pervasive mystery, and my preoccupation with individual evolution. Most importantly, I find the sphinx and the serpent inexplicably beautiful and significant, and in embracing them I embrace my instincts.

You can see more of Farrin’s work here.