Thursday’s Tile: Illustrating Poetry

The Sight area of the Five Senses Bench contains many tiles seen only in the mind’s eye, including several renditions of Third, Evil, and Horus eyes, which have special abilities in that realm. There’s even an eyeball with two pupils and irises! Go see for yourself sometime.

As far as I can recall, though, the purple cow tile above is the only one illustrating a poem. I keeled over in peals of kid giggles when first hearing it, which was mid-century, last, making the ditty an old one…. but in researching things a little, I  was surprised to learn it is from 1895, which makes it ancient!

Purple Cow
by Gelett Burgess 

I never saw a purple cow;
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you anyhow;
I’d rather see than be one!
Maybe it’s a stretch to call it poetry, yet it is in the vein of limericks, Ogden Nash and my pal Ernie, so I think it does qualify. Apparently the original verse caught on and grew to become a source of torment to Mr. Burgess, who was moved to pen a rejoinder a few years later:
Confession: and a Portrait, Too, Upon a Background that I Rue
by Gelett Burgess
Ah, yes, I wrote the “Purple Cow”–
I’m sorry, now, I wrote it;
But I can tell you Anyhow
I’ll Kill you if you Quote it!
Illustrations succeed best when mirroring the spirit of their source text, and I think this cartoonish, dippy, unreal cow tile does this so well! If no one has seen a purple cow, the fantasy image is open to interpretation, which then becomes our primal imprint.
Case in point: the images of Winnie-the-Pooh and friends forever in my mind are from the book illustrations of E. H. Shepard and most decidedly not Walt Disney Studios. That’s probably not true for a lot of others who only saw the animation and never the books. A thousand words, people, a thousand words!
Before this edition of Thursday’s Tile concludes, I want to also share with you the fact that the novel idea of a purple cow has gone beyond a fun rhyme. Wine, tobacco, clothing, food, even sports mascots derive from this quatrain of iambic quadrameter, which you can read all about here, if such is your hunger for knowledge.
Until we meet again, enjoy all your chimerical referents, wherever you encounter them, but, take it from Mr. Burgess, keep it to yourself if a slap-happy Muse whispers verse about them into your head!

Thursday’s Tile: The Not Quite Finished Story of "Piece of Meat"

This is the sort of tile on the Five Senses Bench that probably looks better in a photo than in real life. Shot on the perfect overcast day, the photo provides framing and focus, which also helps us see the lovely juxtaposition of off-primary colors that lie right next to “Piece of Meat.”  (Heck, they might even qualify as off-secondary colors! Oh, and the orange-yellow squiggly things are ceramic Cheetos!)

You can find this uncooked classic T-bone steak tile curving slightly on the left end of the Taste area seat. There is really no image on the whole bench that is as blatantly raw, which was JMC’s impetus for including it. He said that the sashimi was too pretty. He was looking for defiant visual *POW* and maybe even meaty offensiveness. Well, as a Bench Curator who maintained detailed Wanted lists for each sense area, so was I!

He wanted to replicate the bright red Threadless “Piece of Meat” tee he had on. Who says art inspiration can’t be found literally right under your own nose? And whether your message is on your chest or left forever for folks to discover and contemplate, it’s just as valid, no?

As with most of the tiles we all made, we used a source photocopy, laid it over a leatherhard clay slab and traced the image with a slightly dull pencil, physically transferring both the outline and the main lines needed later when decorating. Then the shape was carefully cut out with a sharp blade, keeping it perpendicular to the image surface. No undercuts!

Ever so carefully the still-malleable tile was laid in position on the bench and gently curved to match the topography of its intended location. While in position, it also got traced around with a permanent marker, right onto the bench surface, so others would know that spot was taken! It might be weeks or even months before it was ready to be applied. Sometimes we even wrote the artist or image name in the outlined space so we would know who or what to look for if either seemed to have gone missing. Ah, group art projects!

Well, Mr. “Piece of Meat” stuck around for the duration and was thrilled with his contribution.

He told me not too long ago that he still loves that tile, but that the tee shirt is now too large for him because he’s clearly lost a few steaks’ worth of baby fat. He’d love a meat-tee that fits, but it’s “Out of Print.”

On anyone can vote to have a favorite tee shirt re-printed. With enough votes, they actually do it. Whaddya say we all mysteriously flood the request line and see what happens? “Piece of Meat” the tile will last forever and, with our help, maybe “Piece of Meat” the tee shirt can too.

Thursday’s Tile: Observing the Obvious

At one point in the earliest days of tile-making for the Five Senses Bench, folks thought of just putting the obviously-related body parts all over it. That would have been pretty fun, but, as there was really no layout and no real themes then, the concept just kept growing associatively and soon left the body-parts-alone realms.

However, there are plenty to choose from for this year-end photo essay. I think there are more eyes (and a wider variety of them) than anything, but there are plenty of hands, ears and tongues. Only one nose, though!

Enjoy this selection of one from each sense and may your own senses stay sharp and artful in the coming year!

Seeing Eye

Hearing Ear

Smelling Nose

Tasting Tongue

Touching Hands

Thursday’s Tile: Season’s Sensations

I just got back from visiting The Five Senses Bench in the thin winter light. I went there looking to collect shots of hands, eyes, noses, ears and tongues — which I did and will show you on New Year’s Eve — but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the sights and sounds, smells, tastes and feel of the holiday live there all year too.

So here is my first Blog Photo Essay: Season’s Sensations from the Five Senses Bench.
Enjoy and Peace!







Thursday’s Tile: A Grotesque of the Sensorial

Here’s an odd little blue guy–seems more like a guy than a gal, right, even though he is Ken-doll smooth? You can locate him on the fourth corner/knee area of the Five Senses Bench, between Hearing and Smell.

Some of you may recognize the odd little blue guy as a sensorimotor homunculus, a representation of how our cerebral cortex perceives information from our physical body, only partially based on the number of nerve endings and capillaries that are present.

The science around this is fascinating because it delves into the nature of consciousness. If you take a thoughtful moment to gaze at even this simple of a representation, it is a tiny leap to realize just how literally Hand-to-Mouth our existence is! Are we really very much different from lobsters?

There are other alchemical, philosophical and even psychological versions of homunculi (the plural!) and they seem to hold the idea of the person within the person, the man in a lab beaker, the boy in the bubble. What wholeness lies within? I’ll let you explore those threads on your own. For now, let’s just keep it to this particular physical representation and its place on a Five Senses Bench public art project.

We haven’t really talked about the public art part of this project, but even in the beginning the idea was to place this bench somewhere on Cabrillo’s campus, and it was understood that it would be visually acceptable to nearly all viewers. You know: no gratuitous violence, gang symbols, pornography. That was playfully easy.

When the bench was still under construction, I had a teacher from a nearby school, who was scouting a field trip for her Kindergarteners, ask me to cover up a few tiles: the knife, the small pile of poo, the mermaid’s boobies, etc.  I obliged her by taping over them for their visit, but I felt compromised and lousy about it and vowed never to do that again. The bench was not being installed on a kiddie playground, but a college campus!  Let’s keep it acceptable to adults in a semi-public place and never, never, never censor it again!

If you want the most up-to-date, scientifically accurate representation of a sensational homunculus, though, it must include the genitals, thusly:

Oh, my! That changes things! Attention teachers at nearby elementary schools: be glad we did not have this as a model for the odd little blue guy! But really, that bench image, along with all the others, is meant for entertainment and pleasant discussion, not a neurological lesson, and it does that just fine without scientific replication, as do most other depictions of a sensorimotor homunculus out there.

Curiously, though, the homunculus is always male. Would a female be differently proportioned or would the differences just be in the genitals? What would a dog’s version look like? An eagle’s? A lobster’s? Someday we might know this.

As it turns out, the odd little blue guy is a fantastic conversation starter about our physical abilities to perceive the world around us, including what we can touch and see, smell, hear and taste sitting on a mosaic bench while we eat our lunch in the sun and light seabreeze.

Thursday’s Tile: Wrathful Offering to the Five Senses

Naughty or nice? Buddhists might contend E, All of the Above, conflating dilemma horns into the whole animal. The Five Senses Bench, too, includes some tiles that are beauteous and uplifting, some funny, some rather crude, and some, like this Tibetan Wrathful Offering to the Five Senses tile, that function as wake-up calls to everything. That is, if you can read the stylized symbology.

If you didn’t click over to the Wrathful Offering to the Five Senses link, that’s OK. And if you did, it doesn’t really tell you what you need to know, so I will describe what you are looking at: Several upside down human skulls at the bottom are holding organs. Above them are a tongue, two loose eyes on stalks with ears behind, and between them an upside down heart. On top are more waving clouds and other common Tibetan/Nepalese imagery. Flames edge it all. (And I am sure someone more knowledgeable could make more points and connections for you.)

The whole is meant to appease wrathful deities, and maybe scare the bejeebers out of us humans with its upsetting dismemberment. But it goes beyond that as a Five Senses Bench tile: it is a very real balance to maudlin treacle.

Nothing I say here is meant as judgment: maudlin treacle needs love just like wrathful offerings. In the grand scheme of things, maybe this bench will contain a Whole beyond anything we currently may think it is. Art is open to waves of interpretation over the centuries, even millennia, which this bench thing can certainly last for. Case in point:

Yesterday I watched a passle of pre-schoolers on a field trip swarm the bench. They were all eye-high to seat level. Eye-high, too, to this particular tile, which rounds the knee area between Taste and Hearing. Did they see it?

Or did they spend time with what was in front of their faces that they could recognize, thereby forging new neuron pathways? Did their teachers point out anything? The knife? The Butt Stop tile? The soft-serve poo tile that PMcN gleefully created? Or did they just experience colorful mosaic enormity and then run down the slope into the nearby wildish Glen?

Well, whatever…they looked with 3-year-old wonder that will become 30-year-old wonder in a twinkling. If they came back in 27 years, I know for a fact they will think the bench is much smaller than they remembered, but it just might contain more narrative that they can hook their lives to. It is a magical object either way.

Anne Lamott said/wrote one of the finest perspective giving lines ever: “A hundred years from now? All new people.” Must remember that. Naughty or nice? Both!

Thursday’s Tile: Not Just Plain Vanilla

As a kid did you ever take a nip from the bottle of Vanilla Extract, quickly finding out that its alcoholic bitterness in no way resonates with its unbelievably enticing aroma? Well, I did, anyhow. Decades later I got a similar vanilla shock: vanilla beans actually come from an orchid??? Wild. Wacky. I did not know that.

When SR suggested that she fashion a Vanilla Orchid for the Taste area “knee” of the Five Senses Bench,  I thought she and her capable hands were just going to make something creamy and wonderful to solve the very real problems associated with making custom curve-specific tiles. My previous post about the Octopus tile on the Touch knee area explores these challenges and one solution in detail.

She was incommunicado for several months on this, working mostly in her own studio.  When I had nearly given up on receiving anything for the area, she happily delivered this whole lovely assembly of orchid flower, leaves and the most wonderful vanilla beans to go with. If I remember right, it was in four or five specifically overlapping pieces: another way to solve the fitting-a-curve problem.

The biggest form had curved just a tad too much in the firing, but had not cracked. And it was not too curved as to be un-attachable. We solved the installation problem by adding a fatter layer of thinset underneath each of the layers to make up the difference and protect the various points of leaves and petals. The vanilla beans were separate, so that made attaching their delicacy doable too. The whole assembly did not quite go where intended, but who’s the wiser? (Shhhh.)

The TakeAway here is about surprise endings: getting something surprisingly different than you expected: maybe shocking, maybe relevatory, maybe just exquisite and audacious and bar-raising. Thanks, SR.