Monthly Archives: April 2017

“Man of Malaysia” Book Cover Design

Many years ago, when I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was travelling two or three times a year from the U.S. through the Southeast Asian city state of Singapore. These trips were usually en route to Australia and Papua New Guinea to visit family and make “visa runs” during the summer and winter months. I got in the habit of visiting bookstores in Singapore and picking up a lot of novels along the way to satisfy my voracious reading habit on the long flights and months traveling this part of the world.

In Singapore, there’s a lot of contemporary literature by local writers published in English. One such book was “Man of Malaysia” by Tan Kok Seng. His novel reads like a memoir of a poor, working-class man coming of age and finding a life in a homeland that was going through rapid economic development and social change. For a young, white Western man, his story offered a fascinating and rare perspective. 

Many years later, I stumbled upon this book in a box we unpacked during a move to a new home. The minimalist design and line-drawn portrait on the cover make the book stand out and is probably what first got my attention when I browsed the display tables of a bookstore in a mall off Orchard Road in Singapore those many years ago.

Good design can serve many purposes. One is to invite the viewer in, to pique a curiosity and draw them to further explore. This book didn’t change my life, but it offered profound, unique insight that likely I would not have gained had I not noticed the book in the first place.

-VC

Dumpster Cactus

Cacti, like the illustrated tri-color cactus pasted onto this dumpster, dot Southern California’s natural desert landscape from Coachella to Mexico to the coastline of Santa Barbara and e eruwhete in between. So it’s fitting that street art depicting this resilient desert plant would dot the urban landscape of Los Angeles. The one on the dumpster in the pic above is in LA’s Arts District, an area that until recent gentrification was a kind of urban desert.

“Mirage” at Desert X

Like a shiny extra-terrestrial bobble tucked into the foothills above Palm Springs, “Mirage” by Los Angeles-based artist Doug Aitken is among the most striking contemporary-art experiences of 2017. It’s probably the unofficial rockstar of Desert X, an inaugural exhibition of site-specific artworks mostly in the form of installations and sculptural objects spread across the desert landscape of the Coachella Valley.

“Mirage” is a literal house of mirrors. Its loose architectural form is a single-story ranch house in a nod to the region’s traditional housing style. But it’s a ranch house with a shape augmented by contemporary touches – a skylight, a balcony, a window-less chamber.

All that architecture is just a platform for Aitken’s bold visual statement and its main feature: The mirrored surfaces of the house inside and out. The exterior walls, and interior walls and ceilings, are mirrors reflecting the desert landscape outside and multiplying the reflections inside like a silverlight echo chamber. It is not enough to look at it.

Walking through “Mirage” is to be entranced by the unceasing play of light from every angle and reflective pane and by the all the possibilities in reframing your view of the bright desert outside through the house’s many windows 

“Death Rider”

In her body of work, Los Angeles artist Liz Craft has created some fascinating and evocative sculptural objects that have death and the human form at the thematic center. In fact, a couple of notable works from her that have been shown in Los Angeles museums the past year have “death” in the title. One is the powerful and darkly comic “Death Rider,” recently on view at the Hammer Museum and pictured in this post. The other exhibitied last year at LACMA is “Death of a Clown,” which you can see here.