Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Finding serendipity on a Saturday afternoon walk in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park

Look, there's a gull on top of the fountain ... /
A hap
py accident or a pleasant surprise? 

Life is full of surprises and we all like a pleasant surprise every once in a while, right?

There is such a word to describe a pleasant surprise. That word is serendipity, which means a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; specifically, serendipity is the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.

The word "serendipity" was first coined by Horace Walpole, the fourth Earl of Orford, in a January 28, 1754 letter to British diplomat Horace Mann. In this letter, Walpole said he formed the word serendipity from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip in which the heroes "were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of."

I had a brush of serendipity recently. It occurred during a recent Saturday afternoon visit I made to the de Young Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco's expansive Golden Gate Park to see an exhibit on the life of the extraordinary ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, "A Life in Dance."

Just before entering the museum, I stopped for a moment at the central fountain that straddles the de Young, the California Academy of Sciences and the Music Concourse to take a photograph of the fountain as I have done many times before. Located in an open-air plaza with many heavily pollarded trees (London plane and Scotch elm), it's a lovely fountain surrounded by beautiful park scenery that looks handsome in both daylight and at nighttime, too.

While my photograph was intended to be of the central fountain, much to my surprise, there was a gull sitting on top of the fountain at the time I took my photograph. The gull became my focus as much as the fountain. Indeed, it was a pleasant surprise, a happy accident. That's serendipity and I'm grateful because the gull made my photograph more interesting and colorful.

May we all find a little bit of serendipity in our lives.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Claes Oldenburg: Creating playful and monumental art out of everyday objects

Along San Francisco's Embarcadero / Cupid's Span (circa 2010)

The Swedish-born American sculptor Claes Oldenburg delights in creating large replicas of everyday objects. They are playful and monumental. Yes, they are gigantic and they grab your attention, too.

The 83-year-old Oldenburg's public art installations have included a diaper pin, badminton shuttlecocks, a spoon and cherry, a clothespin, an ice cream cone, even a old-fashioned typewriter eraser. These visual artworks and others just as playful and monumental created by Oldenburg dot the urban landscapes of many major U.S. cities, including San Francisco, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Seattle.

Until I caught a glimpse of Corridor Pin, Blue last weekend during a visit to the de Young Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, it hadn't occurred to me that I have seen many of Oldenburg's public art installations during my U.S. travels this millennium. 

I've seen the Giant Shuttlecocks on the pristine front lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City; the Spoonbridge and Cherry that highlights the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden at Walker Art Center; and the Typewriter Eraser, Scale X at the Olympic Sculpture Garden in Seattle.

Lo and behold, San Francisco is home to not only the giant diaper pin sculpture. It is also where Cupid's Span, a 60-foot-high painted fiberglass and stainless-steel sculpture created by Oldenburg and Coojse van Bruggen, his wife and collaborator of more than a quarter century, dropped anchor and took up residence along the Embarcadero waterfront in 2002. It certainly changed the look and landscape when it premiered.

I've walked by and admired Cupid's Span numerous times over the years and photographed it from many different angles. Each time, it seems, there's something different about it. Once, I was lucky enough to capture the bow and arrow while it was covered in fog.

In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle on the occasion of the unveiling of Cupid's Span, Oldenberg said: "At first there's the man-in-the-street opinion, but then there's the more nuanced response. We don't copy the objects we use, we try to transform them and we hope they go on transforming as you look at them. The idea of endless public dialogue -- visual dialogue -- is very important to us."

Whether or not Oldenburg has a social agenda behind his public art installations doesn't matter to me. I find his Pop Art both visually colorful and admiring. And, as Oldenburg once explained to Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker: "Just the fact that you can put up something beautiful and complex in a city is a social statement in itself."

To learn more about Claes Oldenburg:

Photograph of Cupid's Span by Michael Dickens, copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

David Bowie ~ Where are we now?

Imagine every one's surprise when David Bowie released a comeback single, "Where Are We Now?" on Jan. 8, and also announced plans to release a new album 'The Next Day' come March, all on the occasion of celebrating his 66th birthday.

In just a few days, "Where Are We Now?" has generated great buzz on American and British radio ~ I first learned about it while listening to the "Morning Becomes Eclectic" show via KCRW.com ~ and the song's been widely written about on both sides of the Atlantic.

In an article published Friday in London's The Guardian, Bowie's producer, Tony Visconti, called the new album "eclectic," saying "it's got five really blistering rock tracks. The rest is really mid-tempo, mysterious and evocative.

"The elegiac balladry of 'Where Are We Now?' isn't particularly representative,"he says. "He's been obsessed with medieval English history, which, believe it or not, makes great material for a rock song. And contemporary Russian history, which makes for a great rock song. The subject matter he chose to write about is amazing. ... One thing the album's got is a lot of substance. You're going to have to listen to it many times, because the lyrical content's going to take a long time to absorb."

Visconti went on to tell The Guardian that on "Where Are We Now?" Bowie is "singing very low-key on the single. A lot of people have misinterpreted that, thinking he's going to sound old and frail on this record, but for that song he wanted to sound vulnerable. Big difference. Elsewhere, he's singing in full voice, that voice you hear on 'Heroes'."

See for yourself ~ I've linked the very creative video filmed by Tony Oursler for "Where Are We Now?" Indeed, it's a very melancholy sound for Bowie. Yet, each time I hear the song, it grows on me. I like it more and more. It's innovative and beautiful.

Vulnerable equals enjoyable.

You knew that David Bowie, the artist, couldn't sit on his creativity forever.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2012 ~ My Year in Pictures

The beauty of nature / Dutch tulips at Floriade 2012.

I'm an avid photographer.

Most of you who follow this blog or are friends of mine on Facebook know this about me. And, as picture taking has matured from film to digital, the hobby of photography has become easier and more affordable. No longer do I have to buy and store film or worry about whether the roll of film I shot of the Eiffel Tower is in focus or not. Instead, I make it a habit to bring my camera (a Canon PowerShot A570 IS) with me wherever I go or travel. Thanks to the addition of an iPhone two years ago, I now have two sources for taking pictures.

As I have transitioned into becoming a digital photographer, it has allowed me to become my own editor. For instance, if I take a photo that I'm not happy with, I can easily delete it and re-shoot the photo, then edit it for clarity. And, thanks to social media like Facebook, uploading and sharing photos with a large group of friends has become fast and simple ~ and, a daily exercise to share with others "it's what's on my mind."

Each year, I take more than a thousand photographs of people, places and things. In revisiting the photo albums I've shot over the past 12 months, I've pulled together a group of 50 photos that I'm pretty excited about. They cover a variety of things important and interesting to me: Flowers and nature, sports, music and urban landscapes in cities like San Francisco, Portland and Seattle. 

You may recognize some of these photos from appearing on my Facebook page.

I hope you enjoy the exhibit and I welcome your comments and feedback.

Cheers and Happy 2013!

Brussels / Le Botanique.

Brussels / Walking through Le Botanique.

Brussels / The Grote Markt (Grand Place).

Brussels / Le Cure Gourmande.

Brussels / Corne chocolatier in Galleries Royale
St. Hubert.

Brussels / Chocolate sculpture in
Galleries Royale St. Hubert.

Brussels / Colorful public art.

Brussels / St. Michael and St. Gudula

Brussels / Hotel Bloom.

Paris / Notre Dame Cathedral.

Paris / Sculpture artwork at Notre Dame Cathedral.

Paris / Notre Dame Cathedral.

Paris / "Flowers That Bloom at Midnight"
Sculpture by Yayoi Kusama.

Paris / Arc de Triomphe at
Place Charles de Gaulle.

Paris / Le Tour Eiffel.

Amsterdam / Pop culture meets fashion.

Amsterdam / At the Bloemenmarkt.

Amsterdam / The Concert-Gebouw at night.

Amsterdam / Through the looking glass.

Amsterdam / In the courtyard of the
 Hermitage Amsterdam.

Amsterdam / Dutch tulips outside the Rijksmuseum.

Amsterdam / The Venice of the North.

At home / Pristine rose bud.

At home / Pristine rose bloom.

At home / Pristine rose bloom.

Seattle / Saturday breakfast French toast at Chinook's.

Seattle / The Space Needle.

Seattle / Monument at the
Fishermen's Terminal.

Seattle / Late summer sunset over the Puget Sound.

Seattle / Labor Day baseball at Safeco Field.

Portland / Whisper hybrid tea rose at International
Test Rose Garden.

Portland / The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
playing at the Doug Fir.

At home / Mr. Lincoln red rose
in black and white.

Portland / On the grounds of the International
Test Rose Gardens.

Berkeley / The Cal women's volleyball team
celebrates a victory and waves to the crowd.

At home / Queen Elizabeth rose bloom.

San Francisco / Seeing Glen Hansard
at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.

At home / Enjoying an autumn Queen Elizabeth rose
blooming in our backyard garden.

San Francisco / Grace Cathedral.

Berkeley / University of California women's volleyball
team in action.

San Francisco / Classic Converse Jack Purcell sneaker.

San Francisco / Giants World Series victory parade
along Market Street with team broadcasters.

Berkeley / Kat Brown of the
Cal women's volleyball team being
interviewed by the Pac-12 Network.

Oakland / Lake Merritt on Thanksgiving Day
standing on pier at Lake Chalet. 

San Francisco / SPCA Adopt-a-Pet display at Macy's
during holiday season.

At home / Late-season First Prize rose.

Albert Lea, Minn. / Fountain Lake view as seen
on Christmas Eve afternoon.

Berkeley / Court side view of Cal women's basketball
game against George Washington University.

Amsterdam / Classic bicycle that is everyone's
choice for transportation around the city.

At home / An amazing spider web that
I photographed on our patio deck.

All photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2013. All rights reserved.