Parmesan cheese

The image above is readily recognizable as street graffiti. But expression can take many forms. “What is art?” you might ask. Let’s take that “what is . . . ” question in another direction. For example, “what is food?” Or, “can food be art?” Or, “when does food take a form that lends itself to interpretation?” Are these cheesy hypothetical questions? Perhaps not. For example, what is the difference between making delicious cheese like Parmesan vs processing cheese food? Let’s explore.

The original Kraft

Turning milk into cheese requires six important steps. Signature techniques have created world-famous products that have literally become art forms, yet the basic steps remain the same. Then, in 1916,  James L. Kraft patented his curious idea. Suddenly, there was a new twist to cheesemaking—American cheese appeared on the scene. Is it a new art form or is it vandalism of an age-old beautiful product? The newly created food soon came to be known as a “modern cheese product”—cheese but not cheese.

Kraft Singles

American cheese is a mild, creamy, salty concoction that is highly processed and artificially colored to achieve a shiny orange-yellow hue. To preserve its luster there needed to be a final touch—individually wrapped in plastic. Although this last step may improve shelf-life, we suppose that its true purpose is to keep the goo from melting together forming some sort of cheesy brick—no, that’s a different product: Kraft Velveeta.

As kids we ate the lower-cost substitute on our burgers, in mac-n-cheese and even as a handy snack sometimes. As adults, however, many of us kicked the pseudo-cheese habit since we have complete control of our eating choices. But, our opinion of that cheesy product took a turn yesterday, thanks to an experience with RJ, our 5-year-old granddaughter.

Where’s the cheese?

Driving RJ home after camp, she enthusiastically called out from the back seat, “Look at the American cheese!” Our response was, “What?” She repeated her request a little louder. This prompted a second response, “What in the world are you talking about?” She said, “Look, right there (pointing somewhere to the left)—American cheese.” Slowing the car, we both peered down the street, more confused than ever.

RJ was right, as usual

Cheryl said, “Oh, I thought you said, “American cheese.” RJ said, “I did say American cheese,” this time pointing slightly behind us since we had rolled a few feet farther. I turned the car around so we could see exactly what she was pointing toward. As we slowly approached the speed limit sign on the right, she said, “There it is!” I stopped the car and we honed our glances more intently. Sure enough, there on the black and white sign were pieces of American cheese randomly stuck over the 25 mph warning, as if tossed for point value like darts.

We immediately recognized the famed cheese product because of the unmistakable sun-faded color, as well as the iconic size of the squares. Evidently their sticky texture and low melting point made them ideal for quick and long-lasting adherence on a warm street sign.

Stop sign—gross!

It appeared that “suburban vandals” had attacked the entire area just nights before. Upon further inspection we found cheese squares on the stop sign, on top of the playground posts and other equipment in the park. They must have used an entire package of cheese-food on their rampage as they ran from sign to sign. But was it a violent outburst or an artistic expression?

Another option

When we were kids, we threw expensive eggs as a sticky statement of displeasure. We never imagined that we could have hurled processed cheesy orange squares instead. But, while the eggs were readily available and easy to snatch out of their carton, those squares known as “Singles,” had to be painstakingly unwrapped before they could be slapped into place or Frisbee-tossed at their targets. If the message of the “suburban vandals” was one of displeasure, the meticulous unveiling of each slice of cheese-food would certainly have quelled their rage. In addition, by opting for the Kraft Singles as their “paint,” the extra time involved could have slowed their escape—caught red-handed orange handed!

Whether the culprits use spray paint on walls or Kraft Singles on signs, the process is pretty much the same. Art or vandalism remains squarely in the eye of the beholder.

So now, for the final question: Did Mr. Kraft commit an act of artistic expression by reformulating real cheese or did he knowingly vandalize a public institution?  We cast our cheesy votes for the latter.

Related Photos

Following is a gallery of pictures we captured of roadside art in Florence Italy. The creativity is wonderful and the implementation must have been a real challenge. Hopefully you can still see what the original sign was signaling, yet discover an unexpected drive-by chuckle as well.

 

 

Ben Day dots

In 1879, the printer/illustrator Benjamin Henry Day invented “Ben Day dots,” those ubiquitous dots that illustrate comics. This invention opened up possibilities for creative expression. Day concluded that images don’t need to be rendered in full color, but rather, could be made from thousands of tiny equal-size dots with varied spacing, color or even overlapping to create a desired effect or illusion. Creating optical illusions is a visual magic act, based on knowledge of how the eye and brain work together to fill in the blanks. The human eye picks up patterns and the brain finishes the rest.

Day’s brilliant technique has been around for nearly 150 years, and we’ve all figured out the game. Comic strips are predictably constructed of those pervasive dots. In fact, they’re so obvious that we actually anticipate them. We all know the clever trick, yet it still works like magic—dots can be interpreted as people, animals, buildings, or anything else needed to create a comic strip story-line. It’s as though we all share a secret code, a magic key to deciphering clues.

“Ohhh…Alright” detail

The Pop Artist, Roy Fox Lichtenstein, took the visual illusions to a playful and lucrative new level in 1961. His son challenged Roy to paint as realistically as one of his favorite Disney cartoons appeared. The result was Lichtenstein’s first major piece, “Look Mickey.” He had an “Aha!” moment and the resulting style became synonymous with Lichtenstein’s name. Even his exploration into dots of monumental proportions resulted in the same success—the trick worked better than ever.

Daytime “Opaque” Graphics

The city of San Diego is preparing for the upcoming “Comic-Con International” (comic book convention). The city is abuzz with anticipation. The Marriott Hotel, hosting and supporting some of the festivities, has a sweeping curved glass facade. Right before our eyes, skilled workers applied huge comic-style graphics in the form of an opaque film to “wallpaper” the glass. The transformation was dramatic as the massive window-wall suddenly appeared solid, filled with vivid imagery. However, to our surprise, in the same evening, the huge wall of graphics seemed to have been completely removed. Or, so we thought. How was that possible, and why would they go to all of that expense for just one day? Strangely enough, the next morning the graphic once again reappeared over the entire glass facade.

Nighttime transparency

We discovered that the “skin” applied to the glass isn’t really opaque. It actually has thousands of tiny holes (reverse Ben Day dots) that allow the graphic to look monolithic and solid during the day. Likewise, when the interior lights are on in the evening, the skin seems to magically disappear. The eye/brain team do the rest—always ready to fill-in gaps with the “imagined” missing bits to make it complete. It seems that we are hard-wired with a built-in bias for completion—imagining everything just as we think it should be.

Incomplete information? No problem. We just fill in the gaps and fabricate the missing parts. That message from the brain seems to be enough for us to accept the illusion, in fact we embrace it. But just because we go along with the trick doesn’t mean that what we see is real, true or even complete. Clearly we only need enough Ben Day Dots to prompt us. We then connect, complete and accept  the implied image.

It must be quite Comic-al for the Marriott folks to watch the quizzical and curiosity-filled  faces passing by the facade.

Credits

Marriott Marquis Hotel, San Diego – Graphic installation
“Ahhh . . . Alright” detail – 1964 Roy Lichtenstein
“Ben Day dots” detail MoMA
“Both Sides, Now” – Joni Mitchell – courtesy of YouTube
Featured image above – Marriott graphic screen detail

Related Music

Joni Mitchell wrote about the serious implications of life’s illusions back in 1966 with her famous song “Both Sides, Now.” Over 30 years later, she recorded the song again, but from a more mature, reflective position—a different view of life’s illusions. Her poetry speaks: “I’ve looked at love from both sides now/ From give and take and still somehow/ It’s love’s illusions I recall/ I really don’t know love at all.” You can listen to her 2000 rendition below.

 

 

 

If you have a great life, but still sense a longing for something more; if you ever considered acting on your special dream that has waited patiently for what seems like an entire lifetime; or if you’ve ever tried to create, or even change a long-term relationship, this book may be for you.

The title is Time to Partner—Relationship Changed Through Dreams, Intuition, Trust and Courage.

The story of our journey into a new way to partner together is now available thanks to the wonderful capabilities of Apple Books. Originally, we documented our process of personal change by writing the story and then binding the books by hand—creating only 27 copies. That was over 20 years ago. However, more recently, technology has opened doors to other possibilities.

The entire book has been transformed into a digital format, exactly like the original (amazingly close, except for a few improvements). The new version includes stories, art, poetry, quotes and 14 original songs. In the book we share the details of the first four years of our partnered journey, openly disclosing the dissatisfaction, risk, creative spark, intuition, dream and magic exactly as it happened. Now, our hope of sharing it with a broader group has become a reality. As we pass the 50-year mark in our relationship, we think it is a good time to reissue the digital story.

Join us on our adventure

You can easily get the e-book with just a few clicks. However, the app is only available at the App Store for iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Simply go to Apple Books and search for Time to Partner—download for free and you’re ready to start reading, viewing and listening.

Below is a short video called Accidental Authors, we made as a way to introduce the book. Check it out to discover something that might spark your own insights and inspirations. Also, feel free to share the link with any friends you think could be interested. Basically, we’re inviting you to take Time to Partner!

Cheryl and Emerson

Accidental Authors (Trailer)

Uncommon Promise (Music)

An “uncommon promise” became extremely important to us in the early years of our relationship. We knew we had to become impeccable with our word, and open and honest like never before. It was then, that we decided to use “Uncommon Promise” as the name for all of the art, music and stories we were creating together. Then, we decided to write our feelings of recommitment into a new song so we could capture that feeling and sincerity for all times. At that moment, we envisioned our journey into a stronger relationship like trying to discover an unimaginably beautiful Pearl. We haven’t yet uncovered everything we’ve been searching for, but remain committed to the quest.

Niki de Saint Phalle was a French-American artist/sculptor, born near Paris in 1930, and died in San Diego, California in 2002. She was a pioneer and celebrated the world over in feminist and monumental art. During the later years of her life she lived in San Diego, where there are many sculptural masterpieces that can be found throughout the area. If you aren’t already familiar with her work, please allow us to introduce you to Niki by way of this digital “tour” of her incredible legacy—culminating in her magical “Tarot Garden” in Tuscany, Italy. Shall we begin? Please follow us!

Mingei International Museum—San Diego

Huge glass marbles

 

Balboa Park is legendary in San Diego.

It’s composed of 1200 beautiful rolling acres of urban green space. Several museums, gardens, theaters, and an outdoor amphitheater. Located on El Prado, in the heart of the park is the Mingei International Museum. Outside the entrance is Niki’s “Nikigator—a large lizard-like form made of colorful mosaics and mirrored pieces, inviting children to climb and explore the art from every possible angle. The materials, style and spirit of the sculpture is classic Niki, as we will see throughout this tour. Sit back, spark your imagination and enjoy! 

Poet and Muse—San Diego

The second sculpture just outside the Mingei museum is called “Poet and Muse,” completed in 1998. This is a two figure piece, featuring a female angel or muse perched atop a male figure. The angel is a favorite motif that Niki uses again and again in her works to represent “feminine energy,” or unbounded creativity. The male form is a bit more buttoned-up in a suit, orange shirt and finished with a red tie. 

We wonder if Niki was inspired by Rodin‘s Poet and Muse sculpture by the same name. Perhaps. Rodin also used the female figure as a muse, hovering over a male poet. But, Rodin‘s sculpture created around 1900 is a monochromatic, realisitic, serious carved marble statue, while Niki’s is bright, whimsical, and colorful, with shimmering mosaics. She always enjoyed making her art controversial and certainly used techniques that were unique to her, that others seemingly dared not do. Perhaps Niki was a bit of an idealistic artist contrarian.

Rodin’s “Poet and Muse”

Museum of Contemporary Art—La Jolla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thirteen miles up the coast is La Jolla Village, where more Niki sculpture lives. Although it’s technically located “in the museum,” it’s actually in the garden area behind the museum which makes it easily accessible, as well as free! The first thing you’ll notice about this piece is that there are no mosaics. Big Ganesh is smooth and painted to be compatible with the previous Niki style, but is made of fiberglass instead—a technique that Niki used for many of her later works. 

Ganesh(a) is one of the best known gods in Hinduism and is the remover of obstacles. Ganesh is depicted as having a human form, but with the trunk of an elephant, Traditionally, riding on a lowly mouse. Here, the mouse has gained independence and is actually standing alongside Ganesh—a companion in equal standing—the much preferred Niki interpretation

Sun God—University of California San Diego

Perched atop a topiary hedge, Sun God watches over a peaceful grassy area on the UCSD campus. Installed in 1983, it was Niki’s first outdoor commission in the US. The fourteen-foot bird is made of painted fiberglass and is carefully hidden from view within the greenery. 

The Sun God is a deity celebrated in many myths and religions. In Hindu, it’s a Bird God, while Helios (Sun God) was the Greek version. Perhaps Niki’s Sun God blends these two entities into one magnificent creature. 

In July, 2016, Sun God received a “make-over.” Restorers removed the original paint down to its base layer. The paint had suffered cracking due to its proximity to the ocean. After removing the surface damage and sanding the base coat, the sculpture received fresh acrylic paint. Finally, clear coats were added to seal out the harsh elements. The next restoration will most likely not be needed for another 20 years. We hope!

Kit Carson Park—Escondido

About 17 miles northeast of Sun God, is the town of Escondido. The park there is a delightful place for a picnic or family outing. But, in addition to being a destination, the park has the distinction of being the site of Niki‘s amazing sculpture garden—Queen Califia’s Magical Circle. It’s the last major international project that Niki created, which was completed in 2003. Nine sculptures are encircled within a serpentine wall. All of the pieces are mosaic with ceramic and mirrored tiles. 

Queen Califia on Eagle

Queen Califia stands on the back of a five-legged eagle in the center of the garden. The surrounding totems include representations and symbols from many cultures, including Native American, Mexican and Pre-Colombian. As is typical of her style, Niki embraced and interpreted these cultures through her vivid imagination. The result is both fantastical and whimsical, yet always highly provocative. The playfulness of her work can sometimes hide the seriousness of her underlying messages.

Queen Califia was a warrior-queen who ruled the mythical island of California. The fictional character was invented by Spanish writer Garci Rodrigues de Montalvo around 1500. Califia’s story is the reconciliation between Islam and Christianity, probably representing the struggles between the two religions which had collided in Spain. Califia is also thought to be the preferred depiction of California, symbolizing bounty and beauty with an untamed nature. 

Coming together—back in downtown San Diego

This is one of our favorite pieces. It stands majestically in a small garden, adjacent to the Convention Center on beautiful Harbor Drive. Niki’s design depicts the human challenge of integrating the opposing forces within all of us—the wholeness that comes from acknowledging the yin and yang of our existence.

The sculpture speaks to our ephemeral and delicate nature with the lacy design—almost invisible and translucent at times. The striking task she highlights is to bring the two halves of our existence together, integrating the shadow, depicted in the black and white portion of the sculpture, with the incredible bright colors reflecting the light of our limitless possibilities. The colors and contrasts on a sunny California day are awesome, much like the beauty of human form.

You may want to visit our “Behind the Scenes” story about Niki and her “Coming Together” sculpture—We call our story “Neither Black Nor White. Just click on the title.

Waterfront Park—San Diego

Serpent Tree

Three whimsical Niki sculptures grace Waterfront Park: Serpent Tree, Cat and Baseball Player, forming a trio of playful pieces that are irresistible to children and adults alike. The sculptures are on loan from Niki’s charitable foundation, but hopefully will be able to stay long term, making Waterfront Park the perfect location as their permanent home. Swing by and take a look, and maybe even play for a while!

 

The Tarot Garden—Tuscany, Italy

Niki discovered the incredible work of architect Antoní Gaudí in Barcelona Spain and was inspired to create her own magical park in Italy. She found a large wooded property to develop in southern Tuscany where she would design and build her fantastic creations—each year a new sculptural form emerged, peeking out above the tree-tops. This ongoing project was truly the culmination of her life’s work as an artist/sculptor.

Allow us to take you there by way of the following short video. The house you will see that’s literally built inside an enormous woman—Black Nana, as she called her, was Niki’s home where she would live while working every summer on her forever growing garden paradise. The Nana series was a favorite that Niki sculpted again and again, representing feminine energy. She created black versions, as well as white.

Notes/Credits

The mechanical sculptures shown in the Taro Garden video were done by Niki’s husband Jean Tinguely, a famous Swiss sculptor. They completed many projects together over their lifetimes.

Niki and Jean

The beautiful opening photo of Niki with a stylized snake painted on her face was first seen in the French Quarter magazine in an article called “Niki de Saint Phalle, French-American Heroine.”

Niki’s work can also be found around the world in Paris, France; Nice, France; Kiryat Hayovel Jerusalem, Israel; Stockholm, Sweden and Zurich, Switzerland. You will also find a number of artists with similar works that were influenced by her style. 

 

Ferruccio Lamborghini decided to create super sports cars to compete with Ferrari, which already had a 16 year head-startan almost impossible challenge. He was 47 years old at the time, and already a famous Italian entrepreneur. People thought he was crazy to risk his fortune to build specialty cars that were clearly an unjustifiable extravagance. But the strong-willed businessman was already a proven success. He reasoned that if he could amass a fortune making tractors, why not sports cars? In November of 1963, he unveiled his first masterpiece—the 350GT. The rest is automotive history. (more…)

We turned around and saw one for the first time. It was outside the coffee bar, just across the narrow street in Fiesole. On the sportello (little door) that covers the gas meter was a painting of a street scene—specifically, the very house that belonged with the painted door! It was signed FL and dated 2013. We smiled at our discovery and asked Riccardo, the owner of the bar, what that colorful picture was all about. He told us about an artist in town who likes to paint pictures on those little utility doors. Interesting! (more…)

So here’s the situation: In our Italian neck of the woods, there is a law that permits only a certain number of windows per room. Yes, that’s right. Apparently, the practice started years ago when farmers didn’t want so many windows due to their inefficiency—you know, drafty winters, vulnerability, etc. So, over the centuries, they just made the practice into an architectural common law of sorts. Why not? You can do that kind of thing here  . . . it’s Italy! (more…)

Imagine a hiking trail 100 miles long with no particular destination. Sound strange? What if you could actually see the focus of your wanderings, yet never arrive there? What if the trail encircled the most magnificent symbol of the Italian Renaissance—the Duomo, Cattedrale Santa Maria del Fiore—the main cathedral in the heart of Florence? Now, this is really getting interesting. Well, there is such a trail—where the real destination is a deepening of the magic and mystery of that special place known as Firenze—the heart of Tuscany—an experience like no other! (more…)

Over 2,000 years ago, the comic playwright of ancient Athens, Aristophanes said: “Let each man exercise the art he knows!” We think he had it right.

Yesterday, we were having lunch in Fiesole. It was balmy in the shade of the street-side cafe. We were fascinated, watching the installation of a new sculpture, a colorful contraption, on Piazza Mino. Made of hundreds of small brightly enameled pieces, all fastened together into a collage; much like one of those erector set creations of 50 years ago—wheels, gears, nuts and bolts, angles and edges. The sun really made this one pop! It was playful and riveting. We liked it. (more…)