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The Cloths of heaven


Had I the gumption I would pass for real

Scholar in mortar-board, you may well

Believe yonder yokel is Jackass

Of first rate mind, but given up, yes

His higher calling for hard labour :

But I being born with circumstance

I have no choice but walk the line, sir:

My learning is’nt what I intend practise.




Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light;

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

WB Yeats


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4630085fec46fc8222729293248360c2df27739dac02851ccdb42f256c4dc5e2Al Hirschfeld(1903-2003)

Al Hirschfeld was born in St. Louis on the first day of summer, 1903. When he was eleven years old, an art teacher informed his mother, “There is nothing more we can teach him in St. Louis.” The family moved forthwith to New York. Soon he was enrolled at the Art Student’s League. Hirschfeld has never had to convince anyone that he’s a genius; it has always been apparent.By the ripe old age of 17, while his contemporaries were learning how to sharpen pencils, Hirschfeld became an art director at Selznick Pictures.

He held the position for about four years and then in 1924 he moved to Paris to work, lead the Bohemian life, and grow a beard. This he has retained – the beard, not the flat – for the past 68 years, presumably because you never know when your oil burner will go on the fritz.In 1943, Hirschfeld married one of Europe’s most famous actresses, the late Dolly Haas. They were married for more than 50 years—in addition, they produced Nina. Nina is their daughter, and Hirschfeld has engaged in the “harmless insanity,” as he calls it, of hiding her name at least once in each of his drawings. The number of NINAs concealed is shown by an Arabic numeral to the right of his signature. Generally, if no number is to be found, either NINA appears once or the drawing was executed before she was born. The NINA-counting mania is well illuminated when, in 1973, an NYU student kept coming back to the Gallery to stare at the same drawing each day for more than a week. The drawing was Hirschfeld’s whimsical portrayal of New York’s Central Park. When the curiosity finally got the best of me, I asked, “What is so riveting about that one drawing that keeps you here for hours, day after day?” She answered that she had found only 11 of 39 NINAs and would not give up until all were located. I replied that the ’39 next to the signature was the year. Nina was born in 1945. (Almost all of Hirschfeld’s lithographs and etchings have NINAs hidden in them, but Hirschfeld makes the pursuit that much more difficult by omitting the number next to the signature.)

It’s interesting, I think, that although Hirschfeld was initially attracted to sculpture and painting, this gave way to his passion for pure line.”Sculpture, he once said to me, is a drawing you trip over in the dark.
I believe that Hirschfeld’s devotion to line comes from yet a more fundamental aesthetic – his respect for absolute simplicity. One day soon after we first met, I asked: “Sometimes you do a drawing inspired by a complex play with elaborate scenery, extravagant costumes, and a cast of thousands – yet the drawing is simple. Other times the play is simple with a straightforward set, and costumes that are street clothes – yet the drawing is complicated. Is it that when you have the time you do a complex drawing and when you’re rushed you do a simple one ?”

“No,” he replied. “When I’m rushed I do a complicated drawing. When I have
the time, I do a simple one.” In 1991, Al Hirschfeld became the first artist in history to have his name on a U.S. Postage Stamp Booklet when the United States Postal Service released the five stamps they commissioned Hirschfeld to design. The stamps portray Laurel & Hardy, Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy, Abbott & Costello, and Fanny Brice. The stamps were issued in books of 20 – four sets each of the five Hirschfeld designs.(From rogallery.com)

41e0aaab95e9f35150f400566508a9d3In the late Fifties and early 60s one artist I copied with interest was Al Hirschfeld. His illustration that accompanied the theatre section NY times was always a delight to me. He always would incorporate his daughter’s name Nina in his drawings. I alway had fun trying to locate where he had put in.  I remember his illustrations for South Pacific, My Fair Lady, the World of Suzy Wong,Pal Joey etc.


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7109e780fd56b84c54af395f4c49e612Zhang Daqian (Chinese, 1899–1983). Radishes and Mustard Greens, ca. 1965 (Met collection)

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Science Notes-Sleep

Sleep has profound importance in our lives, such that we spend a considerable proportion of our time engaging in it. Sleep is Nature’s way enabling the body, to cope with outside world and with inner world as well.

Sleep works on the body as well as on behavior. For the latter the brain is a gateway. Sleep is a means for nature to allow individuals recover metabolically. Contemporary research has been moving to focus on the active rather than recuperative role that sleep has on our brain and behaviour.

Sleep is composed of several distinct stages. Two of these, slow-wave (or deep) and REM sleep, reflect very different patterns of brain activity, and have been related to different cognitive processes.

Slow-wave sleep is characterised by synchronised activity of neurons in the neo-cortex firing at a slow rate, between 0.5 and three times per second. The neo-cortex comprises the majority of the cerebral cortex in the brain, which plays a role in memory, thought, language and consciousness. In contrast during REM sleep, when most of our dreaming happens, neuronal firing is rapid and synchronised at much higher frequencies, between 30 to 80 times per second.

Such patterns of brain activity during REM sleep are reminiscent of those observed during wakefulness, and for this reason REM sleep is often referred to as “paradoxical” sleep.

Cognitive functions

There is growing evidence that slow-wave sleep is related to the consolidation of memory and is involved in transferring information from the hippocampus, which encodes recent experiences, and forging long-term connections within the neo-cortex. REM sleep has been linked to processes involving abstraction and generalisation of experiences, resulting in creative discovery and improved problem solving.

Though there are substantial similarities between wakefulness and REM sleep, numerous studies have explored differences in the activity of brain regions between these states, with the cingulate cortex, hippocampus and amygdala more active during REM sleep than wakefulness. These regions are particularly interesting to cognitive neuroscientists because they are key areas involved in emotional regulation and emotional memory.

However, which sub-regions are active within these broader cortical and limbic areas – the pathways in the brain that produce these patterns of activation – and the precise function of the activity in these regions during REM sleep is not yet fully understood.

Cortical activity in rats

A new study published in Science Advances studied the physiology and functionality of REM sleep in a group of rats and provides insight into the cortical activity and the sub-cortical pathways that result in this activity. The level of detail of this study provides a major step forward for our understanding of the effect that REM sleep has on our brain and cognitive behaviour.

(ack: the Conversation/PadraicMonaghan-leicester Univ./08-04/15)

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