Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Queen attends Sandringham church Christmas service

The Queen and members of the Royal family at church in Sandringham 

The Queen has attended a Christmas Day church service, after recovering from a cold which had prevented her from attending a service on Sunday.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who are staying at the royal estate in Sandringham, Norfolk, attended St Mary Magdalene Church.

The Queen was handed flowers by children after the service.

Her Christmas speech, to be broadcast at 15:00 GMT, will pay tribute to the UK's Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

The address will be broadcast in 3D for the first time.

Following tradition, the Queen made the short journey to the church from Sandringham House in a Bentley with princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.

The Duke of Edinburgh, 91, who was forced to miss the service last year because of a heart problem, walked the few hundred yards from the house to the church, accompanied by the Duke of York and the Earl and the Countess of Wessex.

Wearing a turquoise coat and matching hat, the Queen was greeted by about 1,000 well-wishers.

At the scene
After the church service, the Queen dressed in a turquoise overcoat and matching hat, immediately started to meet the 70 or so children who were waiting in a queue to meet her. Many were holding flowers and dressed in their best.

Helped by her granddaughter Eugenie, the Queen received the flowers and spoke to each of the children in turn.

Katie Barnes said it had been her "one dream" to meet the Queen. After curtseying, Katie told the Queen her middle name is Elizabeth - to which the Queen is said to have told her "it's a very lovely name".

Royal fans
Sheila Clark said she had arrived at the estate at about 06:30 GMT to ensure that she could get a good view of the royals.

"It means such a lot to me... to come here, share Christmas Day with other people that I know, enjoy the service here and see the Royal Family," said Ms Clark, who travelled from her Glasgow home and makes the journey every year.

Karim Gorham, who is at Sandringham with her daughter Madison, said she wanted to see the Queen and give her flowers because she had not seen the monarch during the Jubilee celebrations she attended earlier in the year.

The Queen traditionally spends the festive period with her family at Sandringham, but this year has not been joined by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who are with the duchess's family in Bucklebury, Berkshire.

Earlier this month, it was announced that Prince William and Catherine are expecting their first child, after the duchess was admitted to hospital with an acute bout of morning sickness.

Prince Harry is absent from the celebrations, as he is currently serving as an Apache helicopter pilot with the Army Air Corps in Afghanistan.

In her Christmas message, the Queen praises the ''training and teamwork'' of Olympic and Paralympic athletes

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said the Queen's self-penned Christmas speech, broadcast to the UK and Commonwealth, will focus on "service, achievement and the spirit of togetherness".

She will hail the "splendid summer of sport" in the pre-recorded address and will highlight how the sportsmen and women allowed spectators to feel part of the "excitement and drama".

The Queen will say: "As London hosted a splendid summer of sport, all those who saw the achievement and courage at the Olympic and Paralympic Games were further inspired by the skill, dedication, training and teamwork of our athletes."

The Queen had her own starring role in the London Olympics, declaring them officially open after appearing to parachute into the stadium with James Bond - played by current 007 Daniel Craig.

3D technology
Behind-the-scenes footage of the Christmas message, made on 7 December, has been released showing the Queen meeting senior staff from Sky News, which produced the broadcast this year.

In other footage she wears 3D glasses as she watches part of the broadcast, which will be transmitted on TV and radio.

Her use of 3D technology comes 80 years after George V first broadcast a Christmas speech on the radio and started the 25 December tradition.

It has been an eventful year for the royal family, with the Queen celebrating her Diamond Jubilee in June, marked with celebrations in the UK and Commonwealth.

She also became the first British monarch to reach a 65th wedding anniversary.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Screensavers


Santa's Home 3D Screensaver

Have you ever dreamt of visiting the real Santa's home? It is Christmas time and your dreams come true. Find yourself in a winter wonderland deep in the woods surrounded by enchanting snowy landscapes and enjoy a truly festive atmosphere.

Christmas Time 3D Screensaver

This terrific 3D screensaver will help you feel the magic of the Holiday Season. You will find yourself in a quiet winter forest with a few cottages scattered around. Everything is covered with snow and the nature is waiting for a miracle to happen.

Christmas Eve 3D Screensaver

Let this fabulous animated 3D screensaver take you away to a magic winter park on Christmas Eve. Feel the festive atmosphere in the air, listen to the cheerful music and enjoy a magnificent Christmas tree gorgeously decorated with shimmering lights.

Winter Night 3D Screensaver

Enjoy a quiet winter night in a small cozy town nestled in the sleepy mountains. Let this 3D screensaver take you for a relaxing walk along the streets and feel the peace and serenity of this charming place.

3D Merry Christmas Screensaver

This magnificent animated 3D screensaver will help you create the right atmosphere for the joyous holiday of Christmas. Get this new hit from the developers of Christmas Time 3D Screensaver that was downloaded 100,000 times in one day!

The History of CHRISTMAS

Christmas is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. For two millennia, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature. Christians celebrate Christmas Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion. Popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. December 25–Christmas Day–has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870.

An Ancient Holiday
The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the arrival of the man called Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many peoples rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to longer days and extended hours of sunlight.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days. The Norse believed that each spark from the fire represented a new pig or calf that would be born during the coming year.

The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made nocturnal flights through the sky to observe his people, and then decide who would prosper or perish. Because of his presence, many people chose to stay inside.

In Rome, where winters were not as harsh as those in the far north, Saturnalia—a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture—was celebrated. Beginning in the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. For a month, slaves would become masters. Peasants were in command of the city. Business and schools were closed so that everyone could join in the fun.

Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome. In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25. It was believed that Mithra, an infant god, was born of a rock. For some Romans, Mithra's birthday was the most sacred day of the year.

In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention date for his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the sixth century. By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia. Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger.

By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, replaced pagan religion. On Christmas, believers attended church, then celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today's Mardi Gras. Each year, a beggar or student would be crowned the "lord of misrule" and eager celebrants played the part of his subjects. The poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, their visitors would most likely terrorize them with mischief. Christmas became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined "debt" to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens.

An Outlaw Christmas
In the early 17th century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and, as part of their effort, cancelled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him, came the return of the popular holiday.

The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident.

After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Christmas wasn't declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.

Irving Reinvents Christmas
It wasn't until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas. Americans re-invented Christmas, and changed it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family-centered day of peace and nostalgia. But what about the 1800s peaked American interest in the holiday?

The early 19th century was a period of class conflict and turmoil. During this time, unemployment was high and gang rioting by the disenchanted classes often occurred during the Christmas season. In 1828, the New York city council instituted the city's first police force in response to a Christmas riot. This catalyzed certain members of the upper classes to begin to change the way Christmas was celebrated in America.

In 1819, best-selling author Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house. The sketches feature a squire who invited the peasants into his home for the holiday. In contrast to the problems faced in American society, the two groups mingled effortlessly. In Irving's mind, Christmas should be a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing groups together across lines of wealth or social status. Irving's fictitious celebrants enjoyed "ancient customs," including the crowning of a Lord of Misrule. Irving's book, however, was not based on any holiday celebration he had attended – in fact, many historians say that Irving's account actually "invented" tradition by implying that it described the true customs of the season.

A Christmas Carol
COPY Also around this time, English author Charles Dickens created the classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol. The story's message-the importance of charity and good will towards all humankind-struck a powerful chord in the United States and England and showed members of Victorian society the benefits of celebrating the holiday.

The family was also becoming less disciplined and more sensitive to the emotional needs of children during the early 1800s. Christmas provided families with a day when they could lavish attention-and gifts-on their children without appearing to "spoil" them.

As Americans began to embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday, old customs were unearthed. People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how the day should be celebrated. In the next 100 years, Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs, including decorating trees, sending holiday cards, and gift-giving.

Although most families quickly bought into the idea that they were celebrating Christmas how it had been done for centuries, Americans had really re-invented a holiday to fill the cultural needs of a growing nation.

Christmas Facts
Each year, 30-35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the United States alone. There are 21,000 Christmas tree growers in the United States, and trees usually grow for about 15 years before they are sold.

Today, in the Greek and Russian orthodox churches, Christmas is celebrated 13 days after the 25th, which is also referred to as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. This is the day it is believed that the three wise men finally found Jesus in the manger.

In the Middle Ages, Christmas celebrations were rowdy and raucous—a lot like today's Mardi Gras parties.

From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in Boston, and law-breakers were fined five shillings.

Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the United States on June 26, 1870.
The first eggnog made in the United States was consumed in Captain John Smith's 1607 Jamestown settlement.

Poinsettia plants are named after Joel R. Poinsett, an American minister to Mexico, who brought the red-and-green plant from Mexico to America in 1828.

The Salvation Army has been sending Santa Claus-clad donation collectors into the streets since the 1890s.

Rudolph, "the most famous reindeer of all," was the product of Robert L. May's imagination in 1939. The copywriter wrote a poem about the reindeer to help lure customers into the Montgomery Ward department store.

Construction workers started the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree tradition in 1931. ( Copy from http://www.history.com/topics/christmas )

The Queen’s Christmas Message in 3D

ap queen elizazbeth 3d glasses thg 121224 wblog The Queens Christmas Message in 3D
Queen Elizabeth’s annual royal Christmas message has become as traditional as Christmas itself, with families huddling around their TV sets after tucking into a hearty roast lunch anxiously awaiting to hear what her majesty has to say as she reflects on the year.

But this year is a first for the 86-year-old monarch as her Christmas day message has been filmed in 3D. The queen watched a sneak peak preview of her broadcast wearing dark glasses complete with a Q made out of glittering Swarovski glasses worthy of a rock star.

This year the message contains the impact of the London 2012 Olympic Games saying “all those who saw the achievement and courage at the Olympic and Paralympic Games were further inspired by the skill, dedication, training and teamwork of our athletes.”

Just like every other Christmas, her majesty is at her Sandringham Estate with husband Prince Philip and other members of the royal family where they usually spend Christmas, but breaking with tradition this year the second in line to the throne, Prince William and wife Catherine, will not be spending the festive day with them. Instead they’ll be at home with the prince’s in-laws, the Middleton’s, at their home in the quaint and bucolic village of Bucklebury.

In a statement, the palace said the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge plan to attend Sandringham at some point in the Christmas period.

Meanwhile, the queen is said to be recovering from a cold and was forced to miss the Sunday church service disappointing dozens of well wishers who had gathered outside the church to catch a glimpse of her.

Prince Philip did attend the service along with some members of the royal family including Prince Andrew, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie.

12 Days of Printex Ghana African Fashion Print Giveaway

Ghana fashion gets a big boost this holiday season with the 12DaysOf Printex Giveaway. Printex is giving gifts of African fashion prints of its Arete and Xclusive ranges when you like Printex Ghana on Facebook starting December 24th.

Printex has partnered with FashionistaGH, Ghana’s go to for all things fashion and style to bring you 12 dresses in 12 of this season’s most colorful prints.

Like Printex on Facebook during the 12Daysof Printex and you win 6 yards of your favorite African prints.

12Dayof Printex ends on January 5th and 12 winners will be announced via Facebook on January 7th. Must be a resident of Ghana to win.

At Printex we believe that the key to staying innovative in the ever-changing African fashion industry is by building partnerships with local textile and leading fashion creatives. Our collections are designed for the upwardly mobile, and aspirational African woman and man looking to add flare to their personal style.

Printex is a modern textile mill producing quality African prints in Ghana. With over 4,000,000 meters a month, we are West Africa’s turnkey textile solution.

AFCA promotes alternative education through arts and culture

A performance during last year’s Hakawy festival.

A performance during last year’s Hakawy festival Courtesy of AFCA’s Facebook group Although Egypt has registered significant progress in its educational system, it is still lagging behind more developed countries. That is why parents have started to turn toward alternative ways of preparing their children for what lies ahead. AFCA (Académie Francophone Cairote des Arts) for Arts and Culture is an independent organisation, which strives to place arts and culture at the centre of every Egyptian child’s education.

Through cultural and artistic workshops AFCA seeks to inspire children, enrich their imagination, while encouraging them to explore their talents and natural artistry.

AFCA offers six artistic clubs throughout the year during school vacations (Halloween, Christmas, mid-year, winter, Easter and summer). Each club revolves around a different theme and hosts several workshops.  This year’s Christmas club started 23 December and will run until 10 January. The club targets French and English speaking four to 12 year-olds from international schools around Egypt.

“The Christmas club activities will be in French but there will be volunteers to translate for the English-speaking children,” said Racha Ali, executive director of AFCA.

Apart from encouraging the children to improve their language skills, the AFCA Christmas club seeks to revive the spirit of Christmas through “the workshops of Santa Claus.”

“We have various workshops, like the cooking workshop, during which children will be cooking Christmas dishes, the drama workshop, where the children will be impersonating Christmas characters and singing Christmas songs. There is also a storytelling workshop and many other activities,” Ali said.

Children attending the Christmas club are also encouraged to work on their writing skills by writing letters to Santa,” Ali added. “Team work is at the centre of most activities that we do with the children and this will help them improve their communication skills,” she continued.

Creativity is also encouraged during Santa’s workshops, which will end with a show prepared by the children. “Children can come up with their own ideas for the final show, which will be attended by their parents; otherwise no parents are allowed, it is all about the children,” said Ali.

However, what happens if ones child does not speak a second or a third language, or one simply cannot afford the EGP 400 entrance fee for the AFCA Christmas club? Fortunately AFCA has made it a part of its mission to give back to the community; therefore, it has teamed up with various NGOs and public schools throughout Egypt to organise different cultural projects for underprivileged children. These projects are free and will make arts and culture accessible to all.

In spirit of promoting and popularising free access to alternative education, AFCA for Arts and Culture will be organising the third edition of the Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children in March 2013. The festival will host a diverse selection of artists in Cairo who are skilled in different fields (theatre, dance, puppetry, storytelling, etc) from Egypt and around the world.  The theme of the 2013 festival is centered on music and rhythm and it is tailored for both a young audience and parents.

Celebs, billionaires and banjos in fracking culture war

SAVING THE PLANET: Gaswalk, a protest march against fracking, in Cape Town in August 2011. Picture: THE TIMES SAVING THE PLANET: Gaswalk, a protest march against fracking, in Cape Town in August 2011

NEW YORK — Not so long ago, fracking was a technical term little known beyond the energy industry. Now it’s coming to Hollywood, as the fierce battle between environmentalists and oil companies is played out in several forthcoming films.

Hydraulic fracturing, the controversial drilling technique also known as fracking, has lifted US energy output dramatically, despite warnings from critics who fear it pollutes water deep underground.

It entails pumping water laced with chemicals and sand at high pressure into shale rock formations to break them up and unleash hydrocarbons. The minerals are trapped thousands of metres below water tables, but critics worry that fracking fluids or hydrocarbons can still leak into water tables from wells, or above ground.

Among their other concerns are fracking-related earthquakes and growing dependence on fossil fuels.

It is a hot topic in South Africa, too, where plans for fracking in the ecologically sensitive Karoo have faced staunch opposition from the public and from environmental groups.

Global energy company Shell is one of five companies seeking exploration licences in the Karoo, which is thought to hold the fifth-largest shale gas reserves in the world.

In the US, any shift in public opinion could affect policy — and huge sums in energy spending — since drilling regulations are under review by the Obama administration and local officials around the country. The high stakes involve a range of issues from US energy independence, to protection of drinking water.

Both sides are using movies to try to win the debate, though actor Matt Damon says viewers should not assume the movie he stars in, Promised Land, is "a rabid anti-fracking polemic".

In the film, he plays a gas-company landman — an agent who buys or leases land — intent on drilling beneath a town where some residents are concerned about the perils of fracking.

As the landman gets to know the townspeople, he suffers a crisis of conscience.

In an interview in Los Angeles, the actor said he worried that viewers would wrongly assume the film was one-sided and not see it. He declined to offer his personal view on fracking. "That’s not the point. The point is that (the film) should start a conversation."

The Northern Irish director Phelim McAleer’s documentary FrackNation is an unabashedly pro-drilling mantra set to air next month on AXS TV, the cable network controlled by Dallas Mavericks owner and media mogul Mark Cuban.

Mr McAleer views fracking as "the best thing ever", a potential saviour for the US economy, unless the forces he likes to call "Big Enviro" succeed in derailing it.

On the other side of the argument, HBO, the cable pay channel, could air a sequel to Gasland, a scathing 2010 documentary from director Josh Fox, as early as next year.

The original film featured scenes of tap water erupting into flames and mobilised environmental groups against fracking, drawing full-throated rebuttals from an oil industry that says the process has never caused water problems.

Mr Fox declined comment for this article.

Amid the showdown, both industry and anti-fracking camps have mounted major campaigns to sway hearts and minds.

"It could become the biggest environmental debate of our time," says Robert McNally, an energy policy expert and former White House adviser under George W Bush. "Hollywood is taking notice, and the industry will have its work cut out for it to defend fracking."

Nearly four out of 10 Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center early this year said they knew nothing about fracking. Other polls show most Americans familiar with the practice believe fracking offers economic benefits but requires tougher regulation.

This year, for the first time, US online searches for the term "fracking" became more popular than "climate change", Google data showed. Fracking has doubled on Google’s popularity index since last year, and while "global warming" still draws more hits, the gap is narrowing.

Drinking water contamination is the leading environmental concern among Americans, according to Gallup polling data. A Bloomberg National Poll this month showed that 66% of Americans want more fracking regulation, up from 56% in September.

‘Pounding the zone’
Whether Promised Land will shift public opinion is uncertain. But films with environmental themes often can, according to Joseph Cappella, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania.

Past examples include Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth on climate change, and Erin Brockovich, a dramatisation of real events in which actress Julia Roberts played a legal clerk who uncovers water contamination by a California power company.

Ahead of the release of Promised Land, some within the oil industry are already reading the film’s script online.

"Look, I don’t want to whistle past the graveyard. This film is going to be a challenge, and we’ll just have to see how it does on opening weekend," says Chris Tucker, of pro-drilling group Energy in Depth (EID), which is funded by industry. "In terms of popularisation of the issue, it will have an effect."

The oil industry wants to avoid another blow like the one it took from Mr Fox’s 2010 Gasland film. Google search data show online interest in fracking surged immediately afterwards.

For three years, Mr Tucker has been working with other communications experts, "pounding the zone with facts" to counter what he calls false claims in Gasland and to promote drilling.

Films like Promised Land will get people curious and send them searching online, says Mr Tucker, where he worries the term "fracking" gets a bad rap. "People will go home and Google it, and the other side does really well on Google," he says.

EID released its own pro-drilling film, Truthland, this year, dubbing it "the factual alternative to Gasland".

Losing PR battle?
In some ways, the film blitz may be behind the times.

Fracking has already come to dominate US drilling over the past half-decade: onshore rigs doing so-called unconventional drilling account for nearly two-thirds of the total.

Mr Tucker and industry officials are regulars at conferences, in newspaper op-ed articles and on TV to defend drilling.

On the environmentalist side, Mr Fox travels widely to lead anti-fracking rallies, sometimes rousing crowds by playing a banjo, which is also featured on the Gasland soundtrack. He has enlisted help from artists including Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon.

"The lesson of Gasland is that public perception is a very big part of the equation," says Jonathan Wood, a political risk analyst at London-based Control Risks, whose clients include oil companies.

In a report this month, Mr Wood wrote that the industry "has largely failed to appreciate social and political risks, and has repeatedly been caught off guard by the sophistication, speed and influence of anti-fracking activists".

The US now rivals Russia as the world’s top gas producer, in large part due to fracking, and has stemmed a long decline in oil output, which stands at an 18-year high near 7-million barrels a day.

So far, the Obama administration has cautiously endorsed the new drilling, but the US Department of Interior is working on new fracking rules on public lands starting next year.

Some drillers have faced fracking-related fines for water contamination due to spilled fracking fluid. Last year, after sampling water in rural Pavillion, Wyoming, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented the first US government finding of a potential link between fracking and water contamination.

More broadly, however, the EPA condones fracking on safety grounds. But unlike the growing consensus among climate scientists linking global warming and industrial activity, there is no consensus that fracking poses a danger. Unconventional drilling has surged only over the past half-decade.

The EPA will release an in-depth study on fracking’s potential effects on water supplies in 2014.

Tough economic times can widen support for drilling. A national Gallup poll this year showed that more Americans favoured prioritising economic growth over the protection of the environment (49% versus 41%). That is a reversal from 2007, when 55% favoured environmental protection.

Mr Cuban is betting the hot potato issue will draw viewers to FrackNation on his cable channel.

"Op-ed-umentaries like this are supposed to make people think about the topic, which is always a good thing," he says.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Grimm brothers' celebration awakens saga of fairy tale link to German culture

Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and roots of Nazism on agenda at Kassel congress for 200th anniversary of brothers' classic tales
Grimm's Fairy Tale illustartion for Fitcher's Bird
Fitcher's Bird is among dozens of Brothers Grimm fairy tales, here illustrated by Arthur Rackham.
Once upon a time two German brothers began collecting the best fairy tales of their age. They gathered an array of stories involving princes and princesses, forests, castles and magic, but also darker sagas of cannibalism, dismemberment, murder and evil stepmothers.

The 200th anniversary on Thursday of the first publication of the Grimm brothers' Die Kinder und Hausmärchen (children's and household tales), a collection of 86 stories which became worldwide classics, is triggering a year of feverish celebrations in Germany to mark the birth of one of the most frequently read books in the world.

Academics from around the globe, meeting this week in the central German city of Kassel, close to the brothers' birthplace, are kicking off the Grimm 2013 celebrations with a Grimm brothers' congress. Its participants, ranging from lexicographers to psychoanalysts, will focus on everything from the book's enduring legacy, to the brothers' impact on German grammar and how they shaped the nation's erotic imagination.

"Even during their lifetime the Grimms' book became a huge bestseller among every section of society," said Claudia Brinker-von der Heyde, the congress president. "And so they became an indispensable part of our every day culture and our national identity."

Other Grimm events will include forest trails in the western city of Marburg where the brothers studied, light shows, art installations, cabarets, theatre productions, readings and operas.

But amid all the fanfare for the siblings who gave the world those unforgettable, childhood-defining tales of Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Rapunzel, cultural observers say the anniversary is above all a chance to examine once again a literary legacy that has often been associated with the gloomier side of German history.

In a recent essay in Der Spiegel, Matthias Matussek, one of Germany's leading cultural commentators, argued that the "most successful book in the German language" offered an unparalleled exploration into German people's "dark souls", but said that most ordinary Germans had long ago fallen out of love with the story-telling masters. They were more revered everywhere else, from Asia and India, to the US and elsewhere in Europe, than in their native Germany.

"The Grimms are more popular in China than they are here," he said. "What do the others see in us that we don't see in ourselves anymore? Have we become blind because we have had an overdose of dark fairy tales?"

While there are plenty of foreign tourists going to Bremen to soak up the atmosphere of the Town Musicians of Bremen tale, or to Sababurg's 14th century Sleeping Beauty Castle, German interest in the tales and the paraphernalia surrounding them is remarkably limited.

Matussek, who describes the Brothers Grimm as mind doctors who "eavesdropped" on Germans' primordial joys, fears and hopes, writing as they had when memories of the 17th century thirty years war were still strong and at a time when Napoleon was seen as the new threat to peace, says it was the Nazi era that quashed the Germans' interest in their favourite fairy tales.

"Since then, the Germans have been without dreams and they'd like to ensure it stays that way," he suggested. Having a dream or a vision – if the consequence was a murderous dictatorship it was viewed with suspicion, he said.

The theory that the Grimms' tales, particularly the more brutal ones, such as How Children Played Butcher With Each Other, in which a whole family massacres itself, had had an adverse affect on the German character, was expressed frequently after the second world war.

In his 1978 book Roots of German Nationalism, Louis Snyder argued that the brothers helped shape certain deleterious traits, such as discipline, obedience, authoritarianism, glorification of violence and nationalism, which became part of the national character. That was the reason allied commanders banned the book in schools after the war, arguing that they had found the roots of Nazism in the Grimms' world.

A British major, T J Leonard, even said the fairy tales had helped Germans teach their children "all the varieties of barbarousness", making it easy for them to fit into the "role of the hangman".

The German author Günther Birkenfeld saw in the fairy tales the answer to "how the German people were able to perpetrate the atrocities of Belsen and Auschwitz".

The book was therefore largely banned from the German nursery – which was simultaneously undergoing its own anti-authoritarian, pro-modernisation reaction to Nazism – for decades. At the same time though it was becoming increasingly hijacked outside Germany by Disney and Hollywood.

Matussek and others are calling for a re-think about the place the Grimm tales have in Germany's cultural identity.

But the theatre director Jan Zimmermann, who is staging a fairy tale version of the Brothers Grimm biography at Berlin's Hexenkessel Hoftheater, argued that the pair's endurance lay in the fact that they were international.

"The brothers might have written the stories up but [the tales] had existed for 1,000 years or more beforehand as Greek, Jewish and Egyptian myths and sagas. What they did was to conserve them forever like flies in amber, It's up to us to keep them alive," he said.

Bollywood, Muslims, culture and exile

Two great personalities, Abdus Salam’s death anniversary and Dilip Kumarsbirthday were commemorated recently in Pakistan. This was followed by the remembrance of the fall of Dhaka for us and Independence Day for Bangladesh. Abdus Salam’s anniversary went by unceremoniously, while Dilip Kumar’s birthday was enthusiastically celebrated. Dilip Kumar’s 90th birthday was seen as a noteworthy event and the date was monumental enough to take up formidable space in the newspapers. The total number of likes for these two columns was a colossal 4 likes and 3 tweets. Of the two different personalities, one chose self-exile and the other opted to remain in India. We take pride in producing artists, only when they have made a name for their artistic expression or scientific achievements outside the country.
-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.
-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.Muslim actors, painters, poets, scientists, musicians, writers are successful in India. The examples of Dilip Kumar, Bollywood Khan actors, M.F. Hussain, Raza, Ghulam Rasool, Kaifi Azmi, Sahir Ludhianvi, A.R. Rehman, Rafi, Mehdi Hassan, Shakir Hussain, Mehboob Khan and ex-president Abdul Kalam are testimony to the prominence of Muslims across the border. Muslims excel in cultural, artistic and scientific fields in a country where they are in a minority. Talented Muslims tend to flourish outside the countries where they are a majority.
-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.

Before Partition, Lahore was the cultural capital of India. The successful artists, directors, poets, actors and musicians flocked to Lahore. Artists like Pran, Manto, Noorjehan started their careers from Lahore. Lahore was a hub of these activities because it was not a Muslim majority city. It was a city that had Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, besides Anglo Indians, Ahmadis and many more. This myriad of different faiths and races produced an environment of tolerance, and reciprocal learning. We might criticise Lord Macaulay’s education system and the Indian penal code but the British education system was secular and was not prepared to produced ideological minds and impose a singular identity.
-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.The mystique of Lahore in India is still present because of pre partition image of Lahore. It was here where the first modern Indian artist, Amrita Sher Gill and Abdur Rehman Chughtai lived and were family friends. As Safdir Mir noted, Amrita Sher Gill looked for her artistic inspiration in modern Indian rural peasants, while Chughtai traced his artistic roots to the central Asian tradition of miniatures. Two modern Urdu poets, Iqbal and Faiz were products of the British era and were under attack from the Muslim clergy. One died before partition and the other was either incarcerated in Pakistan or lived in exile. Even a religious scholar like Abul Ala Maudoodi was a product of the British Raj. If he had written, ‘Khilafat aur Malokiat’ today, he would have lived in exile like his follower Javed Ahmad Ghamdi.

In Pakistan, sharia and not culture defines the identity of the country. Culture is looked at suspiciously as a vehicle of separate identity against the common identity of Muslims. By eliminating different cultural identities, sharia is considered as binding us into a single Muslim identity. The sharia enforced black veil is preferred over the culturally diverse head gears like shawls, chadders, dupattas and scarves.
-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.
-Illustration by Sabir Nazar.After partition we deliberately tried to forge a singular identity based on religion and suppressed the different identities of Bengalis, Pashtuns, Balochis, Sindhis and Punjabis. We tried to impose a single identity on the culturally rich Bengal, the land of Tagore and artists of the caliber of Zainulabidin. This only resulted in losing the eastern wing of Pakistan. Here, we tried to kill culture by banning films, music and dance during Zia’s era. Later basant, classical dance, singing and dhol performances at sufi shrines (Shah Jamal) were obliterated, instead we had attacks on the Christian population, bomb blasts at Data Sahib’s and Baba Farid shrines to further decimate Pakistani culture. In India, BJP came to power for their appeal to a single identity of Hindutwa, we saw attacks on Indian Picasso, M.F. Husain, who later died in self-exile.

Similarly, the first Pakistani Nobel Prize Laureate Abdus Salam had to live in self-exile. Even religious scholars like Fazl-ur-Rehman and Daood Rahbar were forced to flee the country. Recently, Javed Ahmad Ghamdi fled the country and is now living in self-exile in Indonesia. The two greatest novelists of modern Urdu literature, Abdullah Hussain (udas naslain) are living in England, Quratulain Hyder (Aag ka darya) Ustad Bare Ghulamali Khan, Sahir Ludhianvi decided to move back to India. Writer and political activist Sajjad Zaheer was extradited to India and film Director Zia Sarhadi settled permanently in England. Saadat Hassan Manto and Saghar Siddique opted to stay in Pakistan and thus, face court trials and die in their early 40s. Zia Moyauddin and Naheed Siddiqui stayed outside Pakistan for most of their creative life. Recently, Adnan Sami decided to settle permanently in India. The first Pakistani pop singer, Nazia Hassan lived in England and shot to fame when she joined forces with Bollywood. Recently, we see new successful writers who are writing in English for international readers like Mohsin Hamid, Mohammad Hanif and Ali Farooq Qureshi. They are the brave souls who have moved to Pakistan, like Saghir and Manto. Lets see how Pakistan treats them.

Taiwanese skateboarder breaks Guinness world record

Taipei, Dec. 19 (CNA) Taiwanese skateboarder Wu Meng-lung broke the Guinness world record Wednesday for the farthest distance traveled on a skateboard in 24 hours after riding for more than 300 kilometers.

Wu, 36, set off a day earlier at Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area in Pingtung County, southern Taiwan, and rode a new world record of 301.028 km in the allotted time.

The previous record was held by James Peters of the United States, who rode 296.12 km in Seattle in May 2007, according to the Guinness World Records website.

Chris Hsia, a renowned surfer and one of the witnesses of Wu's attempt, said Wu fell behind his own schedule after completing the front two-thirds of his journey and therefore in his final six hours, did not stop for a break or water.

Wu said that temperature fluctuations increased the level of challenge and that he suffered muscle stiffness everytime he continued his journey after a break.

Wu previously challenged Peters' record July 2 in scorching 40 degrees Celsius heat but failed when he was some 16 km short of the record. He was admitted to hospital suffering from dehydration.

Wu said his next challenge will be to tour Australia on a skateboard and continue to promote skateboard marathons around the world. In 2004, he completed a 14-day, 1,100-km round-the-island trip on a skateboard and on foot.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Modern Art, Defined

An exhibition looks at abstraction—the movement that defines 
modern art. By Blake Gopnik

A century ago, in October 1912, a silent newsreel flew out from Paris bearing one of history’s hottest cultural updates. The footage is lost, but we can imagine its title cards: “Artist makes pictures without any subject—New ‘abstraction’ shakes up French avant-garde—Art of the future, or dead-end experiment?”—Even Picasso objects: ‘There is no abstract art, you always have to begin with something.’ ” Not since the Italians invented fully realist painting, 500 years earlier, had visual art made such a huge leap. Up until that landmark fall of 1912, fine artists had always assumed their work would link up to the world, one way or another. And then, almost overnight, a bunch of them saw that severing that link would open up new options in art.

The Birth of Abstract
Morgan Russell. Synchromy in Orange: To Form. 1913-1914. (Gift of Seymour H. Knox, Jr. (c) 2012 Peyton Wright Gallery. Photo courtesy of Albright-Knox Art Gallery / Art Resource, NY.)
Morgan Russell. Synchromy in Orange: To Form.
“It was the biggest rewriting of the codes of cultural production since the Renaissance ... It’s the moment when the modern becomes modern,” says Leah Dickerman, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, one of the 20th century’s great bastions of abstraction. We’re eating lunch in MoMA’s fifth-floor café, not far from a vast suite of galleries being readied for Inventing Abstraction, 1910–1925, the first full survey of how representation got dumped. It opens Dec. 23. Dickerman’s show will feature the most famous pioneers in nonfiguration: Vasily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian. But it will also point to figures who have been neglected, from countries often sidelined. Czech painter František Kupka was the subject of that newsreel, as the first artist to publicly display pictures without subject matter. Léopold Survage, a little-known Russian, made a stab at abstract films. And various dancers and poets and musicians, from Hungary and Italy and Austria, will be shown following the path to abstraction in their own media.

Abstraction was such a terrifying leap in the dark, Dickerman argues, that taking it became almost a group exercise, one artist giving cover and courage to another as they abandoned all ties to subject matter. (Interestingly, Renaissance realism also started out as a communal endeavor, with a number of artists present at its birth.) Dickerman says that she remains amazed at “how impossible abstraction was in 1910”—when some theorists broached and then abandoned the option—“and two years later, it’s everywhere.” The period texts, Dickerman says, make clear just how much collective valor it took to disregard most of what fine art had always been. The exhibition’s works should make clear that once abstraction stopped being simply impossible, it became hugely fertile instead: Kandinsky painted swirls meant to link vision to sound; Malevich used the simplest geometrical forms to reach out to the immanent and ineffable; Mondrian went for the pared-down essences of visual fact—horizontals and verticals and fields of primary color. For decades thereafter abstract art seemed an endless resource for artists to mine, out on the most obvious cutting edge.

It’s not that there hasn’t been any 
abstraction since the mid-’70s. At this moment we are officially in the middle of yet another abstract-art revival, according to dealers and certain writers. But the urgency that once came with abstraction has clearly disappeared. The nonfiguration that’s attempted today inevitably seems like a rehashing of the abstraction of old, or a footnote to it and ironic poke at it, or some kind of retro revisitation, akin to the Mad Men suits on today’s businessmen. It’s almost impossible to see today’s abstraction as mattering much for tomorrow’s art. Which means that the second-greatest discovery in Western art bore fruit for about 60 years—or slightly more than one 10th the time that Renaissance perspective kept paying dividends. (And real­ism, far more than abstraction, still feels like it belongs in an artmaker’s toolbox.)

But it could be that to note the passing of abstraction as a form of current art is to misunderstand what mattered most about the abstract revolution in the first place: it may have been less about the “abstract” than about “revolution.” Its impact didn’t depend so much on the gorgeous works of art it led to as on the fact of leaving so much behind. Abstraction was the model, the test case, for art as innovation, so that almost all the radical art that came later had its roots in that moment in 1912. Readymades and monochromes, text-based art and performance, happenings and purely conceptual gestures, all depend on abstraction’s pioneering rejections of business-as-usual art. “Abstraction unsettles more than just the fact of depiction,” says Dickerman—it establishes the act of unsettling as the sign of modern thought.

Dickerman explains to me that her work on abstraction came out of her great 2005 show about the radical Dada movement, which flourished around the time of World War I in the hands of figures such as Jean Arp, Francis Picabia, and Marcel Duchamp. “When I was working on Dada, I thought of it as being responsible for everything that was important in modern art,” Dickerman says—until the moment she realized that Dada’s absurdist innovations had their start in an embrace of the apparent absurdity of abstract art, where many Dada artists began their careers.

The Birth of Abstract
Vasily Kandinsky. Impression III (Konzert) [Impression III (Concert)]. 1911. (Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich. Photo (c) Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Manchen. (c) 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.)
Vasily Kandinsky. Impression III, Concert
So we shouldn’t value abstraction only for its successes—for the great pictures it produced, fascinating as those may be. We should value it for the failure that it courted, at least in those first years—for even broaching the idea that something that so clearly was not art could turn out to be so. Abstract art’s brief lifespan may prove that its failure was on the books from the very beginning. That makes its invention more daring and important than facile success would have done.

Abstraction doesn’t only ask how a picture can be made without subject matter. According to Dickerman, abstract art’s crucial question is, “How can you think something that’s new?”

Delectable art - Engaging all the senses

Chefs Melissa Dukharan (left) and Ike Francis.
Chefs Melissa Dukharan (left) and Ike Francis.

'Tis the season for food so take some vegetables, meat, put them on the cutting board, sharpen the knives, and drop the ingredients in a Dutch pot and plate them … luscious fare, yes? Did someone say a work of art? Yes, you heard it right. Before the cuisine satisfies your appetite, it whips up the visual senses.
A bouquet of salad - blanched potato rose with organic lettuce.
"I believe that we eat with our eyes first," says Melissa Dukharan, culinary artist and chef as she ran a potato over a mandoline (an instrument used for slicing and cutting juliennes), sliced it paper thin and rolled them to make a rose, as a part of a salad presentation.
Inspired by nature, blooming lotus carved from onion, with pasta resting on the top.
The road to creation of culinary art involves traits that an artist would put in a painting or a sculpture. But the challenge is to complement the looks with the taste.
A thin slice of zucchini sits on salad dressing, exuding colours of the season.
Over the years, the tastes and trends are paying more attention to detail, into which the new age chefs are foraying. "A culinary artist is someone who adds a creative and/or innovative touch to the epicurean craft," Dukharan explained.

"A culinary artist is a chef," she added. "You must be able to understand the science behind food. However, as an artist, you go way beyond just the flavours."

The culinary artist would put the creativity - from choosing the ingredients, to the plate on which the final product is presented and the creativity in the use of colour, shape, and texture.

"I am inspired by my upbringing in Bull Savannah, St Elizabeth," declares Chef Ike Francis. "It starts from the idea and an ability to put together taste and textures in my head and how well they harmonise and interact with the pallet, before putting the dish together."

While nature, the colours, the shapes, the sounds, the smells and the textures stimulate Dukharan's creative juices.

To get their creative acumen from inception to the plate, the young chefs explained, there are several key steps to the process.

Trips to the market or butcher shop to pick the best quality ingredients is where the journey begins. Since nature has an abundance of colours, the ingredients fill the palette.

"Before I start cooking, I like to deconstruct the dish in my head first," Francis says. "I love to BBQ or grill so it's always my preferred method of cooking."

"The cooking technique of the food - baking, frying, and steaming - ignites the art of cooking," Dukharan says. "The smells of the different flavours marrying each other, the sounds of the sizzle of the seasonings sautéeing, watching the colours get more or less intense and the variety of new textures that emerge and, of course, the new taste created."

The tools, the chefs say, vary on the nature of the creation.

"You must have a vision of what you want to see," Dukharan informed. "The tools are simple things around you, such as a paring knife or a pair of scissors or even a toothpick, to more technical tools such as a mandoline or a hand-held blowtorch."

Finally, the presentation, which is putting together the right colours to enhance the appeal of the dish. "It starts with the food itself," states Dukharan, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in food service management, with a major in culinary arts, from the University of Technology.

"Once the 'cooking' is done, comes the artistic presentation," she continued. "This is the fun-but-technical process of how the 'paint' (food) will reach the 'canvas' (plate)."

Francis, who studied mechanical engineering, was aroused by the creativity and aroma of the food when he started working at Christophers.

"While working, I was inspired to pursue the culinary field and did my training in food preparation at HEART Trust Boys Town," he said.

Both Dukharan and Francis, attribute their gastronomic creative process to thinking out of the box.
"I am a chef and I love to cook," he says. "Culinary artistry is my epicurean expression."

Though this art form has a short lifespan, the chefs say it is gratifying to see their masterpieces pleasing the eyes and palette as well as touching hearts.

"The food is delicately placed on the plate, while the colours and shapes take form, other colours and textures are added (as) the vision comes to life.

"The masterpiece should now be utilised by your five senses," Dukharan says.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Best art shows of 2012, No 7 – Everything Was Moving at the Barbican

The most ambitious photography exhibition of the year is as exhausting as it is edifying in its representation of the social and political upheavals of the 60s and 70s

David Goldblatt
David Goldblatt's Saturday morning at the Hypermarket: semi-final of the Miss Lovely Legs competition, 1979-1980. Photograph: Courtesy of the photographer and Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg.
Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s at the Barbican in London was the most ambitious and rewarding photography exhibition this year. It showed how documentary photographers captured the social and political upheavals of the 60s – the Vietnam war and global street protest, the American civil rights struggle, the invisibility of indigenous people and traditions. But it also explored how others, such as Boris Mikhailov and Sigmar Polke, reacted to the playfulness of 60s artists such as Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol by embracing conceptual art themselves.
Boris Mikhailov Boris Mikhailov's Superimpositions, late 1960s, from the series, Yesterday's Sandwich. Photograph: Courtesy of Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin 
  It began with Bruce Davidson and William Eggleston, both of whom photographed tensions in the American south. In black and white, Davidson chronicled the civil rights movement in the deep south and the inner-city ghettoes of New York and Chicago, while Eggleston turned his outsider's eye on the riven world around him, most notably in Memphis, Tennessee and Greenwood, Mississippi. His use of colour saturation that borrowed from advertising, and the odd angles he chose, transformed the everyday into something threatening and unfamiliar.
A picture by Ernest Cole from Everything is Moving at the Barbican Black South African schoolgirls re-smearing the floor of the shack they have lessons in with cow-dung so it is not too dusty on Sunday, when it is used for church services. [New Age, 25 January 1962]. Courtesy of the Hasselblad Foundation, Gothenburg, Sweden © The Ernest Cole Family Trust
  The stark contrasts continued with images of apartheid-era South Africa by David Goldblatt and the lesser-known black photographer Ernest Cole. Cole defied apartheid laws – becoming reclassified as "coloured" rather than "black", which meant he could travel without a work permit – and made provocative series across the country, about crime (pickpockets at work on the streets) or the endemic injustice of a system in which young girls were schooled in subservience. Works by this pioneer of South African reportage, who died unsung and in poverty in New York just a week after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, were the highlight of the show.

Upstairs at the Barbican, things took a turn towards the conceptual with Polke's smeared, stained black-and-white images of a staged fight in an Afghan village between a bear and two dogs, a metaphor for Russian imperialism. Stranger still was Mikhailov's project, Yesterday's Sandwich (1968-1975) – a dark satire on Soviet censorship.

If, like me, you had only seen Larry Burrow's Vietnam war photography in books and magazines, the giant colour prints were by turns moving and shocking. This was up-close and visceral reportage from the white heat of battle.

It was almost a relief to come upon Li Zhensheng's vast panoramic collages of demos and mass rallies in Mao's China, but their scale only served to unsettle even more. Against all this turmoil, Malike Sidibe's playful studio portraits of young Africans in thrall to the music and style of black American pop culture provided some much-needed breathing space. It was that sort of show: almost as exhausting as it was edifying, and maybe even too ambitious – but there was something for everyone.

Could the King of Disco Art Have Lived Anywhere but New York?

Could the King of Disco Art Have Lived Anywhere but New York? Of Course Not

A new exhibition spotlights James McMullan, whose illustrations have helped defined a Gotham's art scene for half a century.

macmullen tribal 615.jpg Few contemporary illustrators have contributed to New York City's visual legacy as much as James McMullan—from visual essays in New York Magazine during in the '60s and '70s (including the imagery for the article that inspired the film Saturday Night Fever) to an ongoing series of narrative posters for the Lincoln Center Theater. McMullan, born in 1934 in Tsingtao, China, the son of Anglican missionaries, has always needed, what he calls "the laissez-faire of New York to release the tortured artist underneath." The sophistication of his New York clients, and support of playwrights like John Guare and art directors like Milton Glaser, have allowed him "to sneak doses of melancholy energy into assignments that were ostensibly about something else: The loneliness of my disco paintings, for instance, as opposed to the glitter and sheen of the movie." On the occasion of his first major retrospective at New York's School of Visual Arts, McMullan says that, "It's hard to imagine my getting away with so much uncommercial attitude in Los Angeles."

The "SVA Masters Series" exhibition is an honor bestowed on artists, designers, or admen on whose shoulders others in their disciplines have stood. McMullan's work dating from 1957 (on view at SVA's Master's Gallery, 209 East 23rd St.) reveals an evolutionary process of what he calls the struggle "to use drawing, particularly of the figure, to express the emotional content of the stories and plays I am commissioned to illustrate." Anyone involved with or interested in the act of drawing will find McMullan's struggles to be as illuminating as the actual illustrations.

mcmullen 615.png
"Drawing has never been a simple objective to me, since accuracy in drawing has only a limited usefulness," he says. "It is all the permutations of exaggeration and the distortions that are created unconsciously by my particular nervous system that actually make the work expressive." What might be described as McMullan's "abstract realism" captures the essence of the figures that populate such posters as Six Degrees of Separation, Dinner at Eight, Ten Unknowns, A Fair Country, Belle Epoch and Ah Wilderness to name a few of dozens.

"Drawing from life, where one must see, think and produce the lines under the pressure of the model's imminent exhaustion, is a thrilling, in-the-moment experience unlike any other," he says. "The model is generously giving you a 'held' moment and the opportunity to examine and react to another human being. When this process is going well, the ordinary, self conscious mind falls away and you reach a state of heightened focus."

One of the drawings in his show, printed on the invitation, of a nude male figure seen from behind and painted in various bright expressive colors, achieves this heightened focus. "The drawing is both realistic and abstract, because the non-naturalistic color is used intuitively to reflect the pressures and changes of direction that I am feeling in the forms of the man's body," he says. "There is no real anatomical science involved here, but somehow the color does communicate more powerfully than without it the life forces that animate the figure."

Part of this illusion of animation comes through the fluidity of his watercolor. Yet that is not the goal but rather to "flatten the forms or at least to acknowledge that everything is happening on the surface of the paper." Even in what would be considered his most realistic work, the Saturday Night Fever disco paintings, "I produced the images with little patches of silvery color set side by side. As I painted those pictures I was inspired by the idea of Japanese woodcuts rather than an artist like Winslow Homer. In a lot of my work I use fusions of color to create the illusion of form or light, but as I make those fusion the pleasure is always feeling the flatness of the paper underneath. I almost never put one layer over another. . . . [Between] the energy of the drawing and the movement suggested by the fusions, perhaps I achieve fluidity."

The drama of light and the psychology of things emerging from or disappearing into shadow are key ingredients for a McMullan image. "I often use areas of white paper, suggesting bright light, to create the center of drama in my pictures," he says. "Because groundedness, the sense that figures relate to the surface they are standing on, is so satisfying to me, I take great pleasure in putting in the shadows that start at a figure's feet."

The starting point for a McMullan image is invariably a portion in each story that has emotional resonance. In The Front Page, for instance, it was the aggression he felt in the reporter using the prison warden's phone to call in his story. "I imagined him sitting on the warden's desk and swinging around to pick up the phone," McMullan says. "The moment seemed to sum up for me the rat-at-tat texture of the whole play." In A Delicate Balance it was the mood of the characters "sitting around, night after night," he adds, "drinking and sniping at each other like heavy, immobile flies caught in a upper class web, that led me to paint the figures as solid gouache blobs over a spidery, elegant interior."

The theater posters continue, as well as children's picture books with his wife, Kate. But now he is happily also working on paintings for a memoir of his early life in China, Canada and India, titled Leaving China, to be published by Algonquin Press in Spring 2014. "Judging from the pleasure and intensity with which I get up each day to work on these paintings, they are the most personal images I have ever made," he says. Fourteen of them are part of the current exhibition.