21 September 2023

Helene Schjerfbeck: Through My Travels, I Found Myself

Paring its elements down to near abstraction, this moody landscape shows its  Nordic origins. Helene Schjerfbeck has been called "Finland's Munch" for her status as an early modernist. I fancy this as an autumnal scene, the colors muted by the retreat of the sun.

Best known for searching self-portraits, Schjerfbeck inhabited her landscapes with her pensive personality. A woman of  contradictions, she was reclusive and at the same time a knowing follower of fashion. 

Helene's father gave her a pencil and Helene began to draw at  the age of four while she was recovering from a broken hip...at eleven she won a drawing scholarship to the Finnish Art Society, the youngest student to ever attend the school.

A grant from the Finnish government enabled her to visit Paris, launching her on  extended  travels around Europe, from Pont-Aven, Concarmeau in Brittany to Florence, limited only by her lameness and associated health problems. 

In 1902 she moved to the village of Hyvvinka, twenty-five miles north of Helsinki.  She died in a sanatorium in Helsinki in 1946.

Image:  Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) - Landscape at Hyvvinka, 1914, oil paint and charcoal on canvas board, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.

02 September 2023

Shaken, Not Stirred: The Retro Cocktail Hour

A heady mixture of gum-shoe jazz, space age  pop, B-movie soundtracks, bossa nova, and all manner of musical exotica, Retro Cocktail Hour is hip, arch, and cool from a place that few would apply these adjectives to - Kansas! The program describes itself as being the home of "incredibly strange music." Hosted by Darrell Brogdon and a sultry-sounding woman with a tiki torch who says, "I'm the designated driver on the highway of Cool." 
Every program begins with the sound of a cocktail shaker in action. Said cocktail shaker is a fixture of the Underground Martini Bunker where the martinis are always dry. 

When stereo was introduced in the 1950s, it had to be sold to a  public happy with the sound equipment they already had. Companies that sold both equipment and the records to play on it moved aggressively to promote it with in store demonstrations of sound moving from left to right and back. Stereo required to customers to buy new record players. A new musical genre was created to show off the new technology: RCA called its version "Living Stereo."   This movement began in the 1950s so there had to be an underground bunker in there somewhere.

Jazz musicians moonlighting under such bizarre names as the Waitiki Orchestra and the Italian Secret Service punctured any stuffed shirts who might wander in and also protected the reputations of the pseudonymous players,  Latin percussion played a prominent role via such musicians as Perez Prado, Juan Esquival,  and Tito Puente; it punctuated the fun while providing an antidote to the all too serious Cold War. Easily the most recognizable tune is the 1959 hit Quite Village by Martin Denny. Denny used almost entirely percussion instruments to exotic effect.

Contemporary practitioners of the genre include Big Kahuna and the Copa Cat Pack and my personal favorites - Pink Martini.

Lately vinyl records are making an unexpected comeback, so everything retro is new again. Wonder where my Dual turntable is now.

You can listen to the Retro Cocktail Hour here.

Image: unidentified maker - Cocktail ensemble, Bamberger bequest, Newark Art Museum, Newark, NJ.