Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

The trolls Ūgh and Bõögâr are getting their own perfume

In the previous post I discussed Ūgh and Bõögâr, the creations of Berlin-based Icelandic artist Egill Sæbjörnsson. The two trolls are huge, ugly, temperamental, artistic, and very fond of Egill, coffee, and eating tourists. They are also smelly. At 36 metres tall, they need a lot of deodorant and perfume. In the interests of cleaning up the trolls before they stink out all the tourists whom they haven’t eaten at the Venice Biennale 2017, the trolls are getting their own perfume called Noise. Continue reading

Mythology Meets Art in Venice – Trolls and Gods

Sometimes artists use themes or characters from Mythology, and currently, two artists have done this in Venice, Italy, in exhibitions running concurrently. In one case, Iceland-born artist Egill Sæbjörnsson has created two enormous and ugly trolls, which are a staple of Nordic Mythology, and in another, British artist Damien Hirst has created sculptures that depict many well-known Ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Nautical myths. In this post I take a look at the references in the exhibitions of both artists and hazard a guess at what they may be trying to say. Opposing arguments are to be expected at important art exhibitions but these two have caused a particularly high level of puzzlement and publicity. In the case of the trolls – the hullabaloo is, well…because they are trolls. And in the case of the classical myths, it is because it is a huge exhibition by a very famous artist. Continue reading

The visual language of painting – Landscape Painting by Mitchell Albala

Update, Jan. 7, 2017

Corrected spelling of “[en] plein air”, French pronunciation: [ɑ̃ plɛn ɛːʁ], which is from the French equivalent meaning “open (in full) air”. Thanks to auto-correct in Word, I had it as “plain air”. Blush.

Update, 29 May 2014

Mitchell Albala, the book’s author, commented on this post:

“Dear Marthe, Wow! I get emails from happy readers quite often, but they don’t write such complementary blog posts! Thank you very much for all the kind words. It’s nice to be appreciated on both the artistic and literary levels! What serendipity that you discovered my book in the bookstore, and didn’t hear about it elsewhere first. It’s such a fabulous review that I’m going to link to your review from both my regular portfolio website and my blog site.”

As always, it’s a thrill to hear from an author, but let me be the first to admit that it’s easy to write a positive review if a book is good. It is difficult to write a negative review of a book that is badly written, especially when you’re trying to be polite and at the same time trying to figure out why you didn’t like it. Hardest of all is lying in a review. Lying takes concerted effort and consistency.

Albala’s book, like his paintings, is really good. So writing this review was a pleasure – and simply the plain truth.

Landscape Painting, by Mitchell Albala

Landscape Painting, by Mitchell Albala

Landscape Painting – Essential concepts and techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice, by Mitchell Albala

(Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 2009)

I do not like self-help or how-to manuals. I’ve bought a few over the years, diet books, home decor, how to survive break-ups and get a flat stomach. But I read none of them and left all of them on a forgotten shelf in my bookcase. Why? Because they were not well written. The subject matter was more important than the writing style. And the fact that it was a printed book made the transfer of practical skills almost impossible. How do you adequately demonstrate – say – decoupage on a piece of furniture, with only 1 paragraph and a photo?  It’s like writing a cookbook without food photos. Mitchell Albala’s guide on landscape painting techniques broke my embargo on how-to books. It is different, it is useful, and I read every word.

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The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt


the goldfinch by donna tartt

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown and Company, October 2013)

This beautifully printed novel merits serious consideration and stands up to in-depth analysis. It is has 700+ silky pages of narrative in practiced, elegant prose with multiple themes woven through it, primarily; the mesmerizing, redeeming nature of “the line of beauty”; the maniacal nature of the commercial market for art and antiques; the eternal nature of truly sublime art and the fatal, unchangeable, doomed nature of man. Whether Donna Tartt manages to successfully develop and convey all of these ideas in this book is debatable, but ultimately, it is an intriguing novel with interesting premises, posing thought-provoking questions. While the plot revolves around art, it is not a Künstlerroman about an artist’s growth to maturity, but rather a Bildungsroman about an art lover’s growth to maturity, with the 17th century artist, Carl Fabritius, as an ever-present type of Ghost in the Machine.

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