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Walter Potter’s Curious Victorian Taxidermy

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In 1850, Walter Potter was 15 years old when he first began experimenting with taxidermy. By the age of 19, Potter had already created his best-known taxidermy tableaux, “The Death and Burial of Cock Robin” which was displayed, along with his other work, at a pub his family owned in Bramber, West Sussex. Potter’s taxidermy dioramas feature anthropomorphized animals acting out Victorian life scenes. During the Victorian era, taxidermy was a popular practice, and in 1880, a dedicated museum building was opened because the tableaux at the pub had created quite a scene. Over time, the interest in taxidermy declined, and the museum was moved before closing down.

Though Potter’s dioramas could be considered morbid, especially by modern standards, there’s something Beatrix Potteresque (no relation) about his work, mostly in its strange and whimsical Victorianism. “Kittens’ Wedding” was Potter’s last tableaux before his death in 1890; this piece was auctioned at Bonham’s (along with most of the collection) in 2003 for £21,150 (around $35,500). Among those present at the auction were artists Peter Blake, David Bailey, and Damien Hirst, who reportedly bid £1 million (almost $1.7) for Potter’s entire collection, but it was rejected by the auctioneers. This caused the owners of the collection to sue Bonham’s because they believed such an offer should have been immediately accepted in order to keep the collection in tact. In 2007, Hirst told The Guardian that “Kittens’ Wedding” was one of his favorites of Potter’s work: “All these kittens dressed up in costumes, even wearing jewellery. The kittens don’t look much like kittens, but that’s not the point.”

The Telegraph notes, “To a modern eye [...]these ‘freaks of nature’ appear eerily macabre. Indeed, some Victorian viewers were outraged by the grotesquery and criticised Potter for abuse of animals, despite a museum disclaimer stating that no animals had been deliberately killed for the collection.”  But then they later explain that not all of Potter’s tableaux were sourced ethically. Before neutering was commonplace, freely roaming farm kittens would often be killed off. Potter had an agreement with a local farmer who provided the kittens; this would explain the high number of participants in his tableaux.

The accompanying images are sourced from Dr. Pat Morris and Joanna Ebenstein’s book about Potter and his work, “Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy,” released earlier this year. Ebenstein says that she’s interested in “the context that creates these things, and why certain things come to be seen as bizarre to us, when obviously they weren’t at the time.” (via telegraph)

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Paul Rousso’s Larger-Than-Life Crumpled Paper Sculptures

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Artist Paul Rousso spent part of his career as an art director and freelance illustrator for big companies like Revlon, Clairol, and Bloomingdales. So, it’s fitting that his recent body of work relates to pop art and features realistic, larger-than-life sculptures of discarded candy wrappers, magazine pages, and money. He delicately forms acrylic into folds and creases of paper, and paints it to look like it’s been beat up, stepped on, and generally seen better days.

Rousso is specifically interested in these small pieces of ephemera that mean so much to us. From his artist statement:

Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by the endless oscillation of the human condition through text and imagery. As alternating replicas of our day-to-day become transformed by the inexplicable need to create, I endeavor to illuminate the imagined, effervescent edges of our all but invisible lives through the flat, two-dimensional subject matter that is all around us. As these shifting forms become distorted through the lens of history, my work inscribes an epitaph to the printed reality that was our past existence.

By blowing up this forgettable part of popular culture, Rousso makes it inescapable. It’s in your face and won’t be ignored, reminding us about the obsessions that we have with it and eventually (try) and forget. (Via PICDIT and mashKULTURE)

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These Mesmerizing Gifs Marry Retro Aesthetics With Modern Technology

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The animator and designer St. Francis Elevator Ride’s delightful animated gifs read like the 21st century’s response to the Pop Art masters of the 1950s; using vintage ad imagery, the artist marries retro aesthetics with modern technology. The 1950s moon landing even makes a subtle appearance! Using the seductive visual powers of color, form, and motion, he explores the endless allure of kitsch appliances, electronics, and other pop culture or commercial materials.

Like Richard Hamilton did with the iconic collage Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?, the mixed-media artist focuses much of his attention on domestic consumption. A chipper 1950s nuclear family is shown to be enjoying a night of bonding over screens, and a woman with perfectly coiffed hair replaces her eyes with dollar signs. The human body and sex drive become fused with images we intellectually associate with the media; as with the work of Roy Lichtenstein, flesh is rendered in polka dots, and women’s tears are represented in dramatic comic book-style shapes.

The body of work, dripping in a charming sort of irony, is made in a way that parallels its content. Like the Cleaver-esque family before the television, the viewer is seduced and transfixed by St. Francis Elevator Ride’s images. The eye is manipulated by an expert understanding of color; opposite colors like green and magenta alternate and flash at break-neck speed, forcing a sort of optical illusion that commands attention (this technique was widely employed by Andy Warhol). As technology and media integrate seamlessly into our home lives, our sense of identity shifts in challenging new directions; from these charming gifs, we might draw insight into the changing definitions of personal agency, selfhood, and intimacy.
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Someone Released 1.5 Million Balloons Into The Sky And Ruined Everything

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If you’ve ever loosed a balloon into the sky, by accident or on purpose, you have probably had that uncanny feeling that you’ve done something simple but irreversible; no matter how high you jump, the balloon will forever be out of your grasp. Now multiply that sensation by 1.5 million; twenty-eight years ago, in a misguided attempt to break the record for most launched balloons in history, the United Way of Cleveland released one and a half million balloons into the sky for a fundraiser known as Balloonfest ’86. As the weather grew grim, the hasty event administrators freed the eager helium-filled balls of color into the sky, and it was all caught on film by the photographer Thom Sheridan.

The images are pretty remarkable; when shot at close range, the balloons look to be raining from above, coloring the skyline and bridges like jimmies over an ice cream sundae. Pink, red, blue, and yellow litter the frame like large-scale confetti. But viewed from further away, the balloons form something resembling an angry plague of locusts that ominously mushroom above the city. They puff up and away, and their colors blur, forming a bloody wound across the sky.

Given the historical context, these photographs are even more theatrical, grim and tragic. Two people died as a result of the event, and a horse was badly spooked and injured. The winds that day caused the balloons to flood together, forming a substantial cloud that obscured the view of aircrafts; helicopters were unable to rescue the victims of a boating accident. In one terrible anecdote, a coast guard member explained searching for the heads of the drowning people and being totally unable to differentiate them from balloons. The entire city remained littered for weeks.

This strange, tragic story reads like a bizarre little fable where excess, pride and even the most well-intentioned aspirations breed disaster and ruin. These photographs, these astounding relics of a city’s hopes and traumas, say it all.  (via Gizmodo and Viral Forest)
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Tattooed Seniors Show Off Their Inked Bodies

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When we get tattooed, our flesh becomes an elastic canvas, and it’s only a matter of time before we start hearing, “but what will it look like when you’re old and wrinkled?” As we age, our skin stretches, sags, and becomes marked by time and gravity; our ink moves in unpredictable ways as black fades to blue and linear shapes begin to blur. Part of the magic of the tattoo medium lies in this accidental metamorphosis or art and body, and reddit user “clevknife” hopes to challenge the idea that time breeds unsavory, attractive ink. His project, titled “What about when you get old?” showcases elderly individuals embracing their well-worn tattoos and proving that there truly is no expiration date on good art.

Clevknife’s shots maintain a casual, offhand aesthetic that might seem amateurish but is somehow allied with anti-conformist tattoo culture. The curated images lack a ready coherence, jumping from black and white to color, from professionally lit to unpracticed and unfocused. While some appear to be the result of standard portrait sessions, some are reminiscent of the from-the-hip style of early street art.

An otherwise unassuming older man stands in a grocery store, fists raised and forearms emboldened by ink; the limited depth of field serves only to heighten the drama of his pose. Another subject is cast in nostalgic blacks and whites as he mimes, slicks his hair back. No two subjects are alike, but one thing’s for sure: these human canvases don’t regret a thing. Our bodies may age and morph, but our art will adapt to the changing landscape of our flesh. (via Lost at E Minor and My Modern Met)
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Laurie Simmons’ Photo Series About Japanese Subculture Of Cosplay

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Laurie Simmons‘ recent show, Kigurumi, Dollers and How We SeeSalon 94 Bowery in New York, features eerie looking photos of dollers (also known as Kiggers), a circle of Japanese cosplay enthusiasts (Kigurumi), who dress up like anime-style female dolls and wear their costumes out in public. The men and women involved in this fascinating ‘counter-cuture’  go to great lengths to suppress any lingering vestiges of their own bodies, wearing 360-degree masks, wigs, and full bodysuits.

Simmons gathers her own models and Doller costumes in order to create her own line of Kiggers.

Some of my cosplayers are men and some are women but they all portray female characters. I try to explore the psychological subtexts of beauty, identity and persona surrounding the assembled Dollers. At first I dressed them only in fetish latex, which seemed both doll-like and right for their identities, but it soon became clear that they needed to expand their repertoire and play dress up.

Along her collection of photographs, we see this odd juxtaposition between the inanimate and the living; how is it possible to be experiencing something both so fake yet so real all at once? It is that and more- Simmons’ gives these ‘dolls’ the opportunity to experience the phenomenon of the selfie (“Yellow Hair / Red Coat / Snow / Selfie” [2014]) and an overall exposure to what is to be present, as something outside of the realm of the average human being, in the current world of self-promotion and its agenda (perfection, beauty, etc). “Might masking (becoming a Kigger, in this instance) be at least part of the appeal of contemporary forms of imaging and presentation of the self via social media?”, asks Simmons.

 In the last decade the boundaries separating identity and persona have become increasingly blurred — as individuals ‘present’ their BEST selves to their Twitter, Facebook and Instagram followers. One tilt of the iphone can make the difference between a glamorous, funny or obscene selfie. I wonder about the fuzzy space between who “we” are to ourselves and the “we” that is invented, constructed and expressed using the readily available tools of the 21st century? Aren’t we all playing dress-up in some part of our lives?

Laurie Simmons: Kigurumi, Dollers and How We See in on view at Salon 94 Bowery (243 Bowery, Lower East Side) through April 27.

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Andrea Minini’s Minimally Elegant Animal Illustrations

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The work of Milanese graphic designer Andrea Minini has a tendency to make the most with the least. His recent Animals in Moiré series has gotten a fair amount of internet attention, due to the striking Moiré pattern - visual interference caused by overlapping lines in different densities –  often associated with television screens (seen previously in the photographic works of Stephan Tillmans).

Using Adobe Illustrator, Minini’s elegant lines are collected and create stark and moody black and white animals. Its not just an interesting stylistic choice, but each design is enhanced by his strong graphic sensibilities. Seeing the potential for slithering lines to form together in creation of a snake is one thing, but understanding the form so as to subtly create a colony (or cloud as they are also referred to in groups) of sleeping bats is an intelligent, innate choice.  (via colossal)

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Aline Smithson’s Photographs Of An Awkward Little Doll Capture The Pain Of Adolescence

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When the photographer Aline Smithson found an old, discarded doll from the 1970s, she was touched by his seeming unlovability; his bald head and uncannily wizened features made him unsuitable for most children. Like a lost boy, pitied for his strangeness, the doll found a home behind the artist’s camera. In rich and moody gray tones, Smithson constructs a visual narrative of poignant self-discovery, titled The Lonesome Doll.

The doll’s distinctively his floppy, childlike body works in tension with the firm face of an older man; in choosing to shoot him in black and white, Smithson heightens this drama, creating a dreamy, nostalgic atmosphere. The doll, no longer a boy and not yet a man, exists in a anxious state of perpetual adolescence; where he sits bolt upright in his bed as if woken by a child’s nightmare and dressed in a footed onesie, he also cautiously explores his sexuality, his oversized fingers grazing the shining nude body of another doll. Similarly, he submits to the caresses of a disheveled barbie.

Smithson’s doll is touchingly outcast by his own awkward existence; more mature than his companion toys, he must act out his fantasies with smaller, less ornate dolls, pressing their lips together, his wide-set eyes spit between each figure. He’s too small for the dollhouse, weighty for the clothesline. This strange adolescent is woefully confused, just verging on the point self-awareness. When stuck in a washing machine, he pleads for release, his stunned face reflected in the floor below. Take a look.

Smithson has created from these images a beautiful book that tells a poignant story of hope and love. She is currently looking for a publisher.

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