Thursday, August 29, 2013

Electile Dysfunction.

It's election time again in Australia and it's not pretty. Not for anyone with even vaguely progressive politics. Much like the UK and US, there are two major parties cornering the vote. One of them is pro free-trade, pro uranium exports, aggressively opposed to asylum-seekers arriving by boat, substantially responsible for the transition of tertiary education to a user-pays profit-making endeavour (and all for the expansion of programmes charging foreign students up-front fees to boost those profits), pushing to extend the powers of our spy agency ASIO, unchallenging of the monarchy, unquestioningly supportive of the US-style War On Drugs, keen to greatly expand the US military presence in northern Australia and unwilling to remove the recitation of the Lord's Prayer from the opening of parliamentary sittings in a secular state.

Their opponents are the conservative party.

And that conservative party - somewhat deceptively titled the Liberal Party - believes in all of the above, only more so, plus a wide range of environmentally destructive measures (cutting that pesky "green tape"), Trickle-Down Reaganomics, vilification of the gay population, demonising of indigenous Australians, the victimising of any unemployed seeking state assistance, workplace "flexibility" facilitating the poor treatment & easy disposal of unwanted employees and a massive prioritising of road projects over public transport. Oh, and they've got an itchy trigger-finger for public broadcasting. In short it represents rule by business for business. Really old school, short-sighted, two-fisted, big dirty business.

The presence of a host of smaller parties on the political scene seems mostly not to register with the electorate. This may be a product of the coverage given to them by our media. There isn't any. Meanwhile, the years of spin over substance in election campaigning have spilled into day-to-day politics - scant detail, a mantra of simple slogans or generalisations and high-visibility photo ops are the order of every day. Voter disengagement is widespread, and the barely distinguishable large parties now focus their concentration intensely on a handful of marginal electorates, obeying the "wisdom" of daily opinion polls and focus groups in reshaping policy, regardless of how far from their original ideals this process wrenches them. Whatever it takes to please the mighty marginals.

So if you do stick with the big boys it's become a choice between centre-right and far-right. At the moment the omnipresent polls are frowning on the Labor Party's grey, bureaucratic Kevin Rudd, and predicting a win for Liberal leader Tony Abbott, a conservative Catholic monarchist pugelist with a dubious reputation for his treatment of women and taste in swimwear.

It's a depressing prospect. Even attempting to follow the detail can be grinding. So it was nice to get a smile yesterday, even a wry one, from discovering this piece of street art in the city, which summed up my feelings perfectly.

Finger lickin quality from artist  Sitt Sitlakone.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Raiders Of A Lost Art.

When I was growing up, the movies made me want to make pictures. Not moving pictures. Posters. Just like the ones outside the cinema. All that lurid hyperbole was irresistible - often I just wanted to stand & examine the detail when friends were rushing inside. There was something really exciting about seeing the stylisation & flourish of the artist, knowing a person had drawn this. At that time the hand-illustrated movie poster was still widespread, with artists like Drew Struzan and Richard Amsel in high demand. They were easily able to lure my young self through the doors on the strength of their deluxe craftsmanship, even when the film was absolutely terrible - I remember happily queueing for my ticket to "Jewel of the Nile" (the justifiably unloved sequel to "Romancing The Stone"), in large part thanks to the giant Struzan poster in the lobby. In years that followed I also came to appreciate the previous generation of poster artists, like Saul Bass, Frank McCarthy, Bill Gold, Luigi Martinati and Robert McGinnis, to name a few.

That made it all the more disappointing when, in the years I was doing my Visual Arts degree, the rush of enthusiasm for the new tool of Photoshop led to a massive downturn in demand for traditionally illustrated posters. But it wasn't just the available tools that had changed - a reorganisation of the film business generally was underway, and the accountants were taking over. This was the beginning of the time when studio contracts would prevent any directorial involvement in cutting trailers. Classically these would be 1 to 2 minutes of sizzle - mellifluous narration (snappily written if you were lucky), a few choice moments to hook you in (or maybe something filmed specially), title, rating, done. Check out the original Alien trailer for a terrifically creepy, suspenseful tease. Once the focus-groups, PR guys and bean-counters had taken over it became very hard to see one without being shown the entire film. The plodding artlessness of this approach is hard to overstate. And the same dull mentality was at work on the posters, leeching the fun, personality - and most importantly the risk - out of everything. This period also saw an upswing in "foreign territories" like Australia not having access to the originally provided artwork. So even when something interesting did slip through, it was often replaced here by whatever could be cobbled together at short notice. Comparing the US-release poster for Soderburgh's "Out Of Sight" with it's Australian version makes a good example. The former is a beautiful retro-70's piece, giving you a strong indication of the film's mood & style. The latter is an indifferent still photo of the stars with a stock image of a revolver 'shopped in. Dispiriting.

But here's something of a happy ending. While the trailer situation may still be a giant black hole of suck, in the last 10 years huge leaps forward in digital design have coincided with a levelling-out of the hysterical pursuit of The New Tool To The Exclusion Of All Else. The dovetailing of traditional techniques with increasingly precise, speedy software is leading to a kind of a renaissance in great-looking, well-thought through mass-produced art. Comic books, rock band posters and even the occasional movie are enjoying the benefits. Lots of the resurgent film art is coming from the online world rather than the studios. Companies like Mondo and Phantom City Creative, along with countless individual artists are making movie-related images that are actually nice to look at. Maybe there's hope for illustrators yet.

Here's a few examples of the tiptop stuff floating around out there from the horror(ish) genre alone:

Phantom City Creative

By Martin Ansin, for Mondo.

By Matt Needle

By Brian Churilla

By Adam Rabalais

By Dirty Great Pixels

By Phantom City Creative (Andromeda Strain)

By Kevin Tong, for Mondo.

By Martin Ansin, for Mondo.

By Daniel Danger, for Mondo.

And one last - from a past master, drawn out of retirement by the good folk of Mondo on the promise of an open brief to make a poster for any film he chose...

By Drew Struzan, for Mondo.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Aliens Ate My Desk Set!

The library I work at can get pretty jam-packed at times. For a while they'd been noticing people leaving a few possessions on the jelly-bean desks in the morning to "reserve" them, and having planted the flag, wandering off for a good chunk of the day. With demand for space high, they wanted to get the message out that the resources needed to be shared. I was asked to draw something up on an A0 sized whiteboard - something eye-catching so as to get punters over & reading the fine print, and not too officious or tut-tutty. The tagline was "Don't Be A Space Invader", which left it pleasingly open to drawing some familiar big-brains, bug-eyes and killer 'bots. Here's the finished product.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

It's Scribblin' Time!

Here's a few more examples of the library quicky-cartoons I mentioned in the last entry. Perfection isn't the goal with these - usually it's just to draw something silly and keep my hand in. Drawing something - anything - every day really does help with shaping ideas and keeping and your skills up. Also it's fun, so why not? Some are scribbles left on the slips of paper meant to indicate which library campus a box of books is headed for, while others have been left on lonely whiteboards, abandoned in the digital scramble. An empty whiteboard is surely a terrible thing to waste.

Most of these date back to the time when we had a whole campus reserved for business-related studies. It's the reason we have books in the collection with titles like "Be Know Do", "Power Mentoring!", the touching "HR From The Heart" and most ludicrously, "Sun Tsu's Art of War for the Sales Warrior". To express a low opinion of the entire "business community" might appear to be a terrible sweeping generalisation - if "business" is taken to cover everything from the local fruiterer & bookstore, to film-making, music, restaurants and my very own illustration services inclusive. So just to be clear I'm not insulting everybody in the world here - the "business community" I'm talking about is everybody's favourite old cliche-because-it's-true Big Business, and it's commonly accompanying philosophy of the ethical vacuum, Whatever It Takes. In Australia I'm thinking of the Chambers Of Commerce, the Minerals Council, the Murdochs, the Packers, Gina Rinehart, Andrew Forrest, Clive Palmer and well-paid industry PR hacks like the Institute of Public Affairs. The kind of people who refer to laws designed to protect the environment as "green tape" and keep the details of bent multi-billion dollar Public Private Partnerships a secret on the basis of Commercial In Confidence clauses. I'm also thinking of their army of facilitators, like the plethora of giant commercial consultancies, nourished partly as a consequence of 30 or more years of hamstrung "rationalised" universities desperate for funding & retooled as for-profit enterprises pumping out management graduates without specific expertise in the industries they go on be paid like gods to be  Executive Officers of and, not aware of or believing in the resource of knowledge & experience to be found within the organisations they run (and always keen to ensure buffers for later blame-shifting), calling in expensive, unnecessary external advisors. Basically an anti-egalitarian distillation of self-regard, bad faith, incompetence and corruption. As John C. Hall of King Missile would say, oh, don't get me started. Which reminds me of something else he said - "Life is hard, brutal, capricious and unfair. Sometimes there is a benefit to seeing it clearly and acknowledging it truthfully... and other times it is best to find something to laugh about, lest despair crush one completely." Here's some scribbles.