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The Fascinating History of Ann Arbor’s Iconic Bookstore Mural

The Fascinating History of Ann Arbor's Iconic Bookstore Mural

Ann Arbor’s The Bookstore Mural is a famous outdoor mural by artist Richard Wolk located on the corner of Liberty Street and State Street in downtown. The mural is an Ann Arbor emblem and one of the city’s most prominent pieces of public art.

The work, sometime ago known as the Bookstore Mural, was painted in 1984 when David’s Books occupied the corner of Liberty Street and State Street. A Potbelly Sandwich store presently is housed in the building.

Bloomfield Hills-based Richard Wolk, who graduated from the University of Michigan, contacted the management at David’s Books (which closed in 2011) in early 1984 on the subject of replacing a preceding bookstore-related mural with something a bit more fun: actual authors. He started work in March 1984 and completed it in June 1984.

According to a feature in the July 8, 1984 issue of the Ann Arbor News,

The mural certainly rebels against bare cement, but whether it’s an artisitic rebellion is, well, unclear.

Larger than life, the giants of literature beckon passersby into David’s Books, the owner of which commissioned the mural.

Is the mural a billboard, a clever advertisement for the books and ideas behind the wall? Perhaps partly, but to Ed Koster, the owner of the bookshop, who hired the artist, the mural is “aesthetic.”

“I like the portraits themselves,” he said, “but I would have preferred a different background.” The background is in two parts: a starry night sky above a field a flowers.

The Fascinating History of Ann Arbor's Iconic Bookstore Mural

Measuring about 60 feet by 20 feet, the mural portrays the headshots of five cultural icons, whose work was familiar to the artist Richard Wolk.

  • Woody Allen: the American film director, scriptwriter, and actor. Allen has starred in most of his own films, many of which have won Oscars and which hilariously survey themes of psychosis and sexual shortcomings. Artist Wolk chose Woody Allen because of the proximity of the mural to Ann Arbor’s historic Michigan Theater and State Theater.
  • Edgar Allan Poe: the American short-story writer, poet, and critic whose fiction and poetry are Gothic and characterized by their examination of the gruesome and the bizarre.
  • Hermann Hesse: the German-born Swiss novelist and poet whose written works reflect his concern in spiritual Eastern values and his enthusiasm for Jungian psychoanalysis.
  • Franz Kafka: the Prague-born Czech German-language novelist, who wrote in German whose written works portray of an mysterious and terrifying realism where the individual is apparent as lonesome, confused, and defenseless.
  • Anais Nin: the French-American writer whose first novel House of Incest (1936) evokes haunting images of love, lust, desire, emotion, and pain. Wolk selected Anais Nin because his 1984 girlfriend liked Nin’s writing.

The Bookstore Mural has also been called The Poet Mural, Liberty Street Mural, and East Liberty Street Wall Mural.

In 2010, the mural gained significant media attention as the original painter was hired to touch it up, 26 years after he originally painted it.

The Bookstore Mural was represented in the official movie posters for the 2011 film, Answer This, which was mainly filmed in various locations around Ann Arbor—the setting is the University of Michigan.

The famous mural is also one of the most prominent public places for the setting of wedding pictures.

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The Phenomenon That’s Guernica—Picasso’s Fabled Artwork

The Phenomenon that's Guernica---Picasso's Fabled Artwork

To tackle appreciating the art of Spain, you can certainly hit the top highlights. That would include the Prado Museum in Madrid, arguably Europe’s greatest painting museum. Also in Madrid is Picasso’s Guernica, a monster painting that not only is a testament against modern warfare but is so much part of the Spanish history with its horses and bulls and weeping women imagery and gets right to the heart of Spain’s Civil War.

I’d certainly put on the list the Alhambra in Granada. This is evocative of 700 years of Muslim settlement in Spain which we now think of this great Catholic country but for 700 years ago it was Muslim. The Alhambra is a lush Arabian-nights-wonderland is the best place to appreciate the Muslim settlement of Spain.

Finally there’s Gaudi’s unfinished Cathedral of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. This gives the grandeur of Spanish dreams into this cake-melting-in-the-rain sort of architecture with the soaring towers this become very much the symbol of the city of Barcelona.

The Prado Museum’s incredible wealth of paintings is my favorite collection of paintings from all of Europe. Madrid has so many art treasures because it was the capital of the Spanish colonial empire. The Prado’s collection is illustrative of the how important Spain was in the past. There are a lot of famous Flemish paintings there because the Netherlands was actually a Spanish colony.

The Guernica, located in Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Spain’s National Museum, is incredible painting by Picasso. In a lot of ways it is the painting of Europe—when you talk about the struggles of the 20th century. The reason why Guernica is located in Madrid is that Picasso was the curator of the Prado Museum during those 12 years in the Spanish Civil War and that is always his cubist interpretation of the Spanish Civil War. The message is absolutely bleak, with direct impact. In black and white, the piece has the importance of a newspaper photo. Flailing bulls and horses illustrate that the visceral horrors of war are not just an insult to human civilization, but to human life.

Picasso Painting Guernica For many years Picasso’s Guernica was actually in exile in New York City and that’s because Picasso insisted that the painting was so much against the then dictatorial government of Spain, led by Francisco Franco. Picasso would not allow his painting to be in a Franco-ruled Spain and it wasn’t until Franco finally died and a new democratic regime came in to power that that painting could be repatriated and brought back to its homeland. Guernica is a vast canvas in solemn tones of grey and blue, it shows in scorching detail the suffering of people and animals as bombs fell on their town.

Guernica is actually a town in the Basque Province of northern Spain, to the east of Bilbao. Formerly the seat of a Basque parliament and it was bombed in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War, by German planes in support of Franco. This event is depicted in the famous painting by Picasso. Picasso’s painting of the bombing of Guernica is one of the 20th century’s most famous images.

Franco died in 1975, but sadly Picasso died two years before that and he lived to see the day when his most famous painting went back to his homeland. Picasso pledged that neither he nor this painting would ever pay a visit to Spain until democracy was restored. This did not happen until 1978, five years after his death.

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Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture Travels and Journeys

Renaissance Icon Painter El Greco and The Light

Self Portrait of Greek-Spanish El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) Born around 1541, Domenikos Theotokopoulos began his career as an icon painter on the island of Crete. He is best known, under the name El Greco, for the works he created while in Spain, paintings that have provoked both rapt admiration and scornful disapproval since his death in 1614.

The life of the Renaissance painter Domenikos Theotokopoulos, better known as El Greco. El Greco took this style to extremes, creating luminous paintings of great intensity. By turns considered a prescient precursor of modern art or simply a man with bad eyesight, El Greco’s work embodied the exalted spirit of the Counter-Reformation in its zeal to annihilate all traces of Protestantism.

El Greco’s candid portraits have been consistently admired for their naturalism and psychological insight, even when (as in the eighteenth century) his other works fell out of favor.

Renaissance Painter El Greco took this style to extremes, creating luminous paintings of great intensity

Creating Luminous Paintings: El Greco and the Light

On a pleasant spring afternoon, a friend went to visit the painter El Greco. To his surprise, he found him in his atelier with all curtains drawn.

Greco was working on a painting which had the Virgin Mary as the central theme, using only a candle to illuminate the environment.

Surprised, the friend said: “I have always heard that painters like the sun in order to choose well the colors they will use. Why don’t you open the curtains?”

“Not now,” answered El Greco. “It would disturb the brilliant fire of inspiration that is burning in my soul and filling with light everything around me.”

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Herodotus and The Fountain of Youth

The Fountain of Youth, From mural at Manta Castle near Saluzzo, Italy

Herodotus introduced the concept of a mythological water source with the power of granting eternal youth

The Fountain of Youth is a mythical spring that is supposed to have the power of prolonging or restoring the youth of those who drink from or bathe in it.

Myths of such a fountain are to be found in various cultures, particularly throughout the Middle East. The first recorded mention of it is from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-435 BCE), who recounted a claim that there was such a fountain in Ethiopia. In the Middle Ages, stories about the Fountain of Youth circulated in the Islamic world and then spread to such European works as The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (c. 1356).

The Fountain of Youth, 1546 painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder

In the sixteenth century, the Spanish historian Peter Martyr d’Anghiera, who wrote early accounts of the European exploration of the New World, reported a native story of a miraculous fountain on an island in the Gulf of Honduras, an inlet of the Caribbean Sea. While the explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was indeed given a charter to discover and settle a legendary island (Beniny or Beimeni), the popular idea that he sought the Fountain of Youth there seems to have been invented by the sixteenth-century historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, who maliciously added that Ponce de Leon hoped to cure his impotence.

However, the story about his search for the Fountain persists as a historical myth. Marcel Proust said in [[Remembrance of Things Past|Proust[Remembrance of Things Past, “The only bath in the Fountain of Youth would be … to possess other eyes.”

Few people take the story of the Fountain of Youth seriously today, but it remains a popular theme in literature and the arts (such as Darren Aronofsky’s film The Fountain, 2006).

It is also inevitable as a metaphor in discussing the modern concerns of prolonging lifespan and reducing the effects of aging.

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Posted in Music, Arts, and Culture Philosophy and Wisdom

Expressionism: An Art Movement

Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night

Expressionism is an art movement that emphasized the importance of self-expression.

The Dutch Post impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) saw the world differently from most of the Impressionist painters who surrounded him. Instead of capturing the light and colors of the natural landscape as a dispassionate observer, as the Impressionists had done, van Gogh looked inside his troubled psyche and discovered a new style of self-expression. Van Gogh’s art provided a mirror for his angst-ridden soul and, years later, it would lead to the formalization of an entirely new kind of painting.

Van Gogh once wrote in a letter to his brother, Theo, “Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I see before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily to express myself forcibly.” Van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889) depicts the view from his sanatorium window at night, but its swirling sky and luminous stars are no faithful representation of what he saw; exaggerated and distorted, they suggest his inner reality. The Starry Night is now seen as a pivotal painting in the march toward Expressionism.

The Scream (1893) by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch Four years later came The Scream (1893) by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944), another icon of Expressionism. The painting depicted Munch himself, pausing while crossing a bridge and crying out in desperation from the blur of his anxiety informed world. Edvard Munch once said, “My art is self-confession. Through it, I seek to clarify my relationship to the world”

Like The Starry Night, Munch’s painting has the ingredients of Expressionism—the use of strong, nonnaturalistic colors and distorted lines—many years before the Expressionist movement had its “official” beginnings with the German artistic group Die Brucke (The Bridge), who met together for the first time in Dresden in 1905.

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“La Justice” by French Painter Bernard d’Agesci

La justice by Bernard d'Agesci, Musee Bernard d'Agesci (Museum Niort)

“La justice” is a painting by Musee Bernard d’Agesci (Museum Niort) by 18th Century French painter Bernard d’Agesci.

Bernard d’Agesci’s “La justice” depicts a female that holds scales in one hand and a book in another. One page of the book reads “Dieu, la Loi, et le Roi” (“God, the law, and the king” in Latin) and the other page contains the Golden Rule.

Originally Jean-Charles-Henri-Auguste Bernard, Bernard d’Agesci painted religious and mythological subjects and portraits in Neoclassical style. Bernard d’Agesci commemorated in the Musee Bernard d’Agesci in Niort in Western France, the town of his birth.

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