A couple weeks ago, a photo popped up in a friend’s newsfeed. He had snapped a pic of a book he had bought, called “Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon. Intrigued by the title, I jumped over to Amazon, read a little about it, and dropped it in my cart.
Prior to “Steal Like An Artist”, Austin published “Newspaper Blackout”, a compilation of poems he created by taking newspaper articles and redacting words with a black marker. The remaining text revealed itself as free-form poetry. These are great examples of his core philosophy – taking something we know, and remixing it into something new.
Austin characterizes himself as a “writer who draws” and that’s evident in “Steal Like An Artist”. It’s packed with keen observations and written in a crisp, modern vernacular with drawings and pictures (illustrating his points) peppered throughout. He begins with the premise that “nothing is original”. What he means is that artists who are pushing their art into the world are inherently a collection of their influences. He states, “All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.” If you believe this (and I do), it takes an enormous amount of pressure off of your creative soul to create something “NEW”. You can let go of that and concentrate instead on creating something “YOU”.
He then follows with the 10 things you can do to unlock creativity. I won’t go into details because I’d really love for you to read the book. It’s a super fast read (cover to cover in about an hour) and GREAT inspiration.
I will, however, talk about #10, “Creativity is subtraction”, because it’s something I deeply believe, which is, “Nothing is more paralyzing than the age of limitless possibilities”. In this brief chapter, Austin writes about placing constraints on yourself, even though that seems counter-intuitive to the creative process. He challenges his readers to paint a painting with only one color or write a song on your lunch break. These are small but worthwhile exercises that are meant to challenge you into doing something. The second part #10 is embodied in this statement, “It’s often what an artist chooses to leave out that makes art interesting”. That’s a statement I agree with whole-heartedly. I have found that my best work emerges when I start editing, ruthlessly, to get to the core of a photograph or a design.
Check out the book, you’ll be glad you did. You can learn more about Austin at his website by clicking here.
I heard a great story this morning on NPR’s Morning Edition and looked it up when I got home. I love how this couple went to such great lengths to include these paintings into their lives, becoming avid collectors. I also love that they are now sharing their collection in a showing at Musee d’Orsay. That people relate so intimately to art is fascinating to me.
It’s a little odd that their home is a duplicate of a 1724 French palace, but we’re all a little weird about something, right? Click on the photo below to read the full story on NPR.
The intersection of art and architecture is a bit dimmer today as the concert design world mourns the loss of Mark Fisher. Among Mark’s prolific work are twelve of the most complex stadium shows ever toured. His work was highly aspirational, demonstrating what could be done at the bleeding edge of art and technology.
Mark was born in 1947 in Warwickshire, England. After graduating from the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London (1971), he began his work in earnest as an architect. In 1984, he formed Fisher Park Partnership with Jonathan Park.
He found his way into the world of concert design and quickly became known for his ability to work on a huge scale. His early designs include Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” (1980) and The Rolling Stones “Steel Wheels” Tour (1989). These sets incorporated large scenic pieces and props that mimiced the scale of their venues in stadiums all over the world. In 1994, he left Fisher Park Partnership to form his own design firm, Stufish.
He began working with U2 in 1992 on their “Zoo TV” tour, which traveled an enormous set, trabant cars, and a tv station around the world. In 1997, he gained a tremendous amount of notoriety in his field when, with lighting designer Willie Williams, he introduced the first massive LED video wall to the touring industry on U2’s “Popmart”. One wonders what the reactions were in the production meeting where Mark proposed that the band enter for their encore in a giant, spinning, lemon mirror ball. “Popmart” perfectly illustrated the ridiculous excesses the band wanted to make fun of at the time.
“Popmart” set the bar very high in the concert industry. Many wondered how he would top it. After two relatively stripped down arena tours (“Elevation” and “Vertigo”) Mark’s work with U2 culminated in the “360 Tour” which is the largest touring production on record. The scale of 360 was unprecented and required a massive structure to support it, which he designed. I had the opportunity to hear Willie Williams (Mark’s design partner for that tour) discuss the genesis of the structure. He said that the band wanted the space to feel intimate, which is obviously a huge challenge in a stadium. What eventually became obvious after much discussion and drawing was that the only way to make the stadium intimate was to create a structure that appeared at home within it. This led to the development of the mammoth superstructure known as “The Claw”. And it turns out they were right. In the middle of these massive stadiums sat this enormous structure, which then appeared to cradle the band, offering them up to their fans. It was an astounding feat of art, architecture, and engineering.
He has also worked recently with Madonna and Lady Gaga, designing their touring spectacles.
He is represented in Las Vegas currently by “Million Dollar Piano” and the stunning “KA”. Again, with “KA,” which I’ve been able to see twice and to tour backstage, it wasn’t just about the scale, which is overwhelming, but what the set could do; how it morphed through the show and how it provided this entirely immersive environment for the story to unfold.
Within just the past few years, he has been responsible for the design of the Queens Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the 2010 Asian Games, the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, as well as the Big O Multimedia Lagoon in South Korea, Aquamatrix in Lisbon, and the Millennium Show in London, among many, many others.
Mark and his associates at Stufish, his company, took on these gigantic projects and managed to make it look easy. While the scale was huge, it was always approachable, refined, and elegantly executed, which is quite an accomplishment. Mark has inspired countless production designers; his influence on the concert industry is profound and will echo through the business for years.
At the time of his death, Mark was working on numerous projects around the world. There was still so much more he wanted us to see. I’m deeply saddened that I never got to meet him. To shake his hand. To say thank you for creating work that astounded. Delighted. Surprised. Amazed. Overwhelmed. Inspired awe. Made me think differently. Made we want to be a better designer.
Perhaps more than anything else, I will always think of him as someone who was open to the power of wonder.
There’s something about breaking out of your normal surroundings that refreshes and rejuvenates your creative soul.
I had the opportunity to visit New York recently and it was remarkable how it shifted my perspective. I was there to attend a series of courses presented by Live Design magazine called the “Broadway Master Classes”. These multi-day courses consist of panel discussions, workshops, lectures, and meet-n-greets with notable, award-winning Broadway designers in the area of lighting, projection, sound, and scenic. The highlights for me included a discussion and demo of LED fixtures against conventional fixtures by lighting designer Don Holder, a workshop/demo on color presented by lighting designer Beverly Emmons, and a lecture on what projections needs from lighting presented by the incredible projection designer Wendall K. Harrington. These are three designers who I hold in very high regard. To hear them speak about their craft and demonstrate ideas was a wonderful experience.
I also had the opportunity to attend seven shows; “Lucky Guy”, “Peter and the Starcatcher”, “Fuerzabruta”, “Newsies”, “The Nance”, “Matilda” and “Kinky Boots”. All of them were quite good, with “Peter” and “Kinky” being the standouts for me personally. It was overwhelming to see so many shows in a short period of time, and to see how all of the different designers supported their respective scripts.
The set design for “The Nance” was seemingly simple but ingenious. It was a large periaktoi set upon a turntable, with numerous staircases and doors, and additional set pieces that would fly in or track on to change locations.It really captured the feel of a specific era in New York’s history.
For “Matilda”, the set nearly stole the show, with oversized children’s blocks at it’s heart. Each set piece in some way reflected this structural geometry. It was the opposite of “The Nance” in that it was intricate, massive, and complex – but served the storytelling beautifully. I was confounded a bit by the lighting. First off, it’s the easiest thing in the world to “armchair” other designers work; so instead of not liking others work, I tend to just have a lot of questions. It’s a beautiful design with some absolutely stunning looks but I had lots of questions after “Matilda”. The costumes in this show are simply incredible.
“Lucky Guy” is an intricately crafted play and all of the elements work seamlessly together. The scenic, projection, and lighting felt of one mind; though designed by three different designers. More than any other show I saw, the design felt woven into the fabric of the play. Getting to meet and speak with the lighting and projection designers afterwards was wonderful as well.
I wanted to like “Newsies” more than I did. This is likely more about me having lost my taste for conventional, big, splashy musicals than a reflection of the show itself. Again with this show, the scenic, lighting, and projection design worked incredibly well together; functioning as multiple locations in a specific period of New York’s history.
“Kinky Boots” was the unknown for me. I hadn’t seen the 2005 movie, but with a book by Harvey Fierstein and a score by Cyndi Lauper, I couldn’t resist. A fun story, warmly told, with some lively songs; this show surprised me. The costume design on this show is pretty spectacular as well. The set and lighting design both serve the show well.
I’m going to skip “Fuerzabruta” because it’s more of an experience than a show. It’s really hard to describe; but if you find yourself in New York – GO.
Which brings us to “Peter and the Starcatcher”; a “grown up prequel to Peter Pan”. The set (by Donyale Werle) is pure genius. Assembled from found objects it supports the style of story wonderfully; in which actors use every one of the props and set pieces (in a seemingly makeshift manner) to represent a variety of locations. The lighting (by Jeff Croiter) is simply magnificent; beautiful, layered, textured with little unexpected surprises peppered throughout the show.
Perhaps, though, the best thing I observed in any theater while I was there that three of the shows (“Matilda”, Newsies”, and “Peter”) all had a significant amount of young theater-goers in their respective houses. From around 8 years old (“Matilda”) to late teens (“Peter”), the crowds were rapt and responsive. It was so heartening to see hundreds of future theater-goers enjoying their experience.
I didn’t have much time but one of the benefits of traveling alone is being able to do A LOT very quickly. I managed to spend a decent amount of time in SoHo, the Village, and Little Italy all on the same day, with even a quick jaunt to Ladurree (for macarons to take home) on the upper east side and Grand Central Station. One of the many things I love about New York is how all the neighborhoods feel different. Each has it’s own vibe, it’s own voice.
I had the opportunity to visit The Cloisters, a museum near the northern tip of Manhattan built in the 30’s and housing medieval art and tapestries. The museum is a beautiful space, with an intricate design and a great use of light and texture.
Access to the museum is through Fort Tryon Park, where the flower fields were really beginning to show off their summer colors; such an interesting juxtaposition to the skyscrapers of the city and the medieval architecture of the museum.
One of the first things I did was take a walk on the High Line; an abandoned elevated railway track that has been re-purposed to include gardens, jogging paths, gathering spots, and cafe’s. It’s a stellar example of taking blight and re-imagining it into something completely different. It’s now the centerpiece of the neighborhood, used by the whole community and is a point of pride. As I sat in the sun, enjoying my bagel, I marveled at how the will of a community can change their surroundings and bring something like this into existence.
A little farther south, a much larger re-imagining is being undertaken on the site of the World Trade Center. Near the 9/11 memorial, new buildings are rising. It is an intricate, expansive story of tragedy and re-birth; and is somewhat awe-inspiring to witness. I spent some time there, thinking of that day and how much it has changed our world. The memorial, built on the footprint of the former twin towers, features two square waterfalls, each 30 feet high, which collect in a reflecting pool, then plunge into an unseen void in the center. It is a powerful piece of architecture and its amazing at how the sound of the falling water masks much of the city noise, making the space almost eerily muted.
A brief walk through Central Park led me to the Bethesda Fountain. Adjacent to the fountain is an arcade of stone and tile arches, where a small group of musicians was performing. Their voices, in this acoustically-friendly space, were magnificent.
I also stopped for a moment in Strawberry Fields, where there is a fitting tribute from Yoko Ono to John Lennon – black and white tiles, inset into the path that say, simply, “IMAGINE”.
With that, I started thinking about how every input we receive changes us. How one new thing can alter your perception. How a trip to a busy, chaotic city can seem peaceful and relaxing. And how, in this magnificent city (and many, many others), there are artists and creative people doing that they do, pushing forward, creating new work, giving us new things to see, to hear, to do, and to experience. This is the wonderful thing about travel. It forces you to re-engage all of your senses. It demands that you pay attention to the new surroundings and stimulus. And by re-opening yourself, you allow in new material, or content, or inspiration, or whatever you want to call it. All of that new inspiration is then sitting there, in your reserves, ready to come out in support of your next creative endeavor.