August 2002 Archives

I Love Jaguar

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This site has been up and down for the past few days while I upgraded to MacOS X 10.2. I love the new OS, particularly CUPS. I set up Gimp-Print and now my Epson 1520 printer works in MacOS X! Unfortunately, my scanner is dead again, SilverfastSE needs an upgrade. The new Quicktime Streaming Server works well, Movable Type didn't break, my CDR still works, PHP and MySQL have been updated, I'm very happy. Oh there is so much to love in the MacOS X 10.2 update.

Bill Gates: Druglord

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Bill Gates is in the process of assimilating the pharmaceutical industry. Gates has made massive investments in Merck, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Abbott Labs, Bristol Myers Squibb, Pharmacia, Johnson & Johnson, and Schering-Plough. These investments exceed any other of Gates' holdings, with the exception of Microsoft stock. Gates is shifting hundreds of millions of dollars of illegally-obtained wealth into other industries. Apparently selling drugs is even more profitable than a monopoly on operating systems.
The irony of this is that it makes the most vicious joke about Gates into the truth. Long ago, Craig Kilborn joked that Gates had announced his initiative to eradicate AIDS, by buying up all competing viruses and using his monopoly power to drive the AIDS virus to extinction.

The History of Pigment

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Long ago, someone posted a question on Usenet about the history of pigments. It turned out they were searching the internet for a term paper to copy. So I whipped one together, the most preposterous mangled history I could think up. I posted it and actually got an offer out of the blue to publish the satire in some obscure art magazine, but I declined. I lost the text for years, it was written before the days of and Google, I could never find it in Usenet archives, but I ran across it today, quite by surprise. So here it is.
The History of Pigment
The first pigments are commonly thought to have been used at the time of paleolithic man, in cave paintings, however, scientific evidence indicates that pigments first appeared during the early development of the planet. As the earth's molten surface cooled, minerals condensed and formed colorful pools of pigment. As meteorites impacted the surface, these pools were flung across the surface of the earth in bright patterns remeniscent of modern splatter paintings. Unfortunately, due to the effects of rain and erosion, these bright paintings can no longer be seen, however, evidence of these pigments can still be seen today on the surface of the moon, in its pattern of cratering. Unfortunately, due to the lack of oxygen on the surface of the moon, only white and black pigments are visible. The colors found in such abundance on earth, such as chromium oxide (green), iron oxide (reds) and other oxygen compounds are notably missing. However, scientists have been unable to explain the appearance of titanium oxide (white) in such abundance on the lunar surface. Apollo astronauts returned with samples of this paint, however the analysis has been inconclusive due to the lunar pigments milleniums of bombardment with cosmic rays.
Let us move forward, past the dawn of life, when the protoplasmic life in the primordial ooze, rich with pigments, gave birth to the first paintbrushes--the cillia of these single-celled creatures (see my prior essay on the origin of the paintbrush). The final event in the paleolithic era was the cataclysmic impact of a meteor, causing widespread pollution due to the immense release of airborne particles of toxic pigments such as vanadium, cadmium, and chromium. This resulted in the extinction of the dinosaurs, the surviving mammals, such as Man, showed his adaptability to working in toxic environments, such as painting studios. Thus, it could be said that Mankind 's development as a species was modified by the existence of pigments, and the ecological niche he now occupies was opened by his high tolerance for these toxic pigments.
Let us zoom past the ice age, when aqueous pigments were impossible to use, and move forward to later geological eras, when oil started bubbling from oozing tar pits. The discovery of these highly persistent pigments led to further experimentation, which, alas, led to the deaths of many of this race of budding artists, both through the exposure to the harmful vapors, and from falling into the tar pits. Once again, evolution of the human species is adapted to the use of these toxic chemicals. However, use of these oil based tars as pigments gradually ceased, as it only came in one color, black. It would take centuries of human history to invent oil refining, and chemical pigments. But more about that later.
As man became more adapted to the niche of artist and pigment-user, he multiplied and spread throughout the earth, mining and manufacturing pigments for local artists. Early trade routes between far-flung civilizations were common, and pigments became the currency of exchange for these traders. Unfortunately, it was difficult to transport these dry pigments through long travels, as they tended to blow away in the slightest winds. The quest for suitable packages for these pigments ensued. Early attempts at storing these pigments in pig bladders were only partially successful, due to the scarcity of domesticated livestock in these primitive civilizations, and also the pigs didn't like to stand still long enough to have the pigments deposited. It would take several thousands of years, for the development of agricultural civilizations, for the discovery of the Gourd's usefulness in pigment storage. For many years, development of primitive packaging ceased, it seemed that the invention of more useful storage devices like the tin tube would have to wait. However, trade flourished, with the new boom in the economy, traders discovered that by storing their pigments in gourds, they now arrived with almost 95% of their original pigments, rather than about 1% in prior eras. The wealth from the trade in pigments caused the rise in the early Nation-States, and political upheaval, war, and the evils of slavery wracked the continents. But let us not dwell on these evil events, as every schoolchild knows about the biblical accounts of Pharoh and the enslaved races working in his pigment factories, and their quest to escape from bondage with the secrets of pigment manufacturing, and their 10 secret formulas written on stone tablets (manufacturing 'commandments').
As civilization arose from its turbulent formative era, pigment development stalled completely. It seemed that all the chemical pigments had been discovered, and extensively mined. The sources of biological pigments (such as the rich purple that comes from certain species of beetles) caused the extinction of many plants and lower creatures. It is only a wonder that nobody discovered the human body is a rich source of red pigment! However, no serious breakthroughs would come about until early in the 19th century, when German chemists developed anniline dyes, and the color spectrum exploded! The voracious appetite for german pigments eventually lead to the expansionist Nazi policies of annexing nearby territories rich in coal and oil (for anniline dyes were made from these materials). However, these dyes went largely into the immediate production of textiles, as the secret of storing pigments in tin tubes had eluded these German scientists. It was only when german scientists visited the kitchens of the great pastry chefs in Paris, and noticed how they decorated pastry with squeeze tubes, that the Fuhrer decided upon his great gamble: France and its technologies must be captured! The Maginot Line (drawn with great pipes of white pigment, like cake decorations) must be crossed! And so, the greatest conflict in the history of man began, the quest to subjugate a continent, and to unite the largest producer of pigments with the only country that knew the secret of how to neatly package squishy goo.
Once France has been subjugated, the secret of tin tubes was at the disposal of the Nazis. Previously, it had been only known to chefs, and was a rather obscure invention, used only to hold foodstuffs like anchovy paste. But now, with its newly obtained technologies, Germany was unstoppable. Its manufacturing conglomerates employed millions of forced laborers, producing these tubes of pigments in uncountable numbers, but at what price? The holocaust killed millions of these forced laborers, including most of the artist and intellectuals who were most likely to use these chemical pigments. Most of the artists who had not been imprisoned in work camps had already fled germany, and moved to America.
In 1939, Albert Eisenstadt wrote the infamous letter to President Roosevelt, warning him of the strategic importance of Germany's secret research in oil paints, and urged that the US begin an emergency program to develop a comparable technology. The Manhattan Project was begun. In lofts throughout Manhattan, expatriate artists from all over europe collaborated with American painters, establishing completely new methods of using paint, and completely new methods of fabrication. Most notably, the contribution from the New York "Ash Can" school of painters (named after their method of storing bulk pigments in large 'ash cans', lacking tin tubes for storage lead to the mass production of pigments in quantities the Nazis could not compete with. America's soldiers flooded europe with their brightly camouflaged tanks and colorfully ribboned uniforms (it was not mere coincidence that the most precious pigments were reserved for 'Purple Heart' medals).. Eventually, faced with overwhelming superiority, the Nazi war engine ground to a halt. Throughout Germany, both Russian and American recovery teams scoured through the wreckage of the Nazi industrial empire for pigment chemists, and manufacturing equipment to be siezed as war reparations. These teams managed to recover the largest cache of paintings ever assembled (for the Nazis were voracious collectors of oil paintings), as well as teams of German scientists developing the secret 'V-2" Strategic Pigment Delivery systems. But let us not belabor the point, every schoolchild knows the history of these German pigment scientists, and their chief, Werner von Grumbacher.

Tales of Paint and Canvas

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When painters get together, we rarely talk about painting, we talk about paint and canvas. Painters tend to be unable to express in words what they express in their visual works, but we all have one thing in common, we all love to talk about the tools of the trade. We'll talk your ear off about the trivialities of pigments and brushes, and the debates over the merits of different methods of preparing canvas and stretcher bars is a particularly hot topic. I even have a few favorite stretchers I use over and over. I've been known to take perfectly good paintings off of my stretchers because I like the stretchers better than the painting. Here's an odd tale about my favorite stretcher bars.
One day I arrived early for painting class, and just inside the the door was a huge pile of bare stretcher bars, all set up but with no canvas. There was a note attached, it was a gift from the university's grad student painting archives, they'd stripped some worthless damaged and destroyed paintings off the stretchers and donated them to the painting students. I thought it was a great idea, stretchers are expensive and I like recycling, especially when I get there first and get first pick. I looked through the pile and there was a huge stretcher, about 16x8 feet with massive crossbars, the most beautiful carpentry I'd ever seen, and it was made from solid California redwood. A storage sticker indicated it was made in the early 1950s. Today, a stretcher like that would cost hundreds of bucks, perhaps over a thousand. I grabbed it immediately. I felt like an environmental rapist, like I was cutting down the majestic redwood trees to paint on, but I figured, better my painting on such a beautiful stretcher than some other crappy art student.
My painting teacher helped me stretch the canvas, it was a lot of work even with expert help. I bought a higher grade of canvas than usual, this stretcher deserved nothing less. It took 2 weeks to prime the canvas, I wanted to make sure the surface was perfect. I laid it flat on the floor and brushed on the white gesso. About 5 minutes after I put the first coat on the canvas, the cloth became taut, and the crossbars bent and bowed out from behind, the whole assembly was shaped like a square canoe frame with a canvas cover. I didn't see it happen, I was washing the gesso off my hands when one of the other students yelled, "hey Charles, get over here quick, you better see this!" I couldn't believe it, I thought it would rip apart and explode into splinters at any moment. But in an hour or so, everything was settled down and flat again. The same thing happened on the second and third coats, but a little less each time. I was worried I'd stretched it too taught and bent the bars permanently, but I measured it and it was square. It was absolutely perfect, the finished canvas was as taut as a drumhead, something really hard to do with a canvas that size.
I painted on it for about a week, when suddenly one day in class, the teacher came up to me and said, "hey, the Dean wants to talk to you." I looked up from my easel and he was pointing at the Dean, standing in the far corner of the studio near the door. I went over to talk to him, and before I could even say hello, his face got red, and he burst out in an accusatory tone, "where did you get that stretcher bar?" I briefly told him the story, and he said nothing until I was done, and then said, "oh," and turned on his heel and walked right out of the studio without saying another word.
I went back to my teacher and asked him what that was all about. He said the Dean saw my stretcher, looked at the tag from the archives, and he thought broken in I'd stolen it. Good thing we got that cleared up, the Dean had to sign off on my degree the next semester.