Parting Shot

Museo_historico_nacional_santiago_chileWednesday was my last day in Santiago, and so after the morning Plenary talks I checked out of my hotel, stored my bag, and, boarding the subway, melted into the city for a few hours. I was not on the lookout for anything in particular, besides a sense (even a little) of the city’s life and flow. I also had in mind to spend a few hours at some galleries/museums (I’d already seen the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art (Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino) on Monday night, and had a tour, as that’s where the conference reception was). I wanted to check out the Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Contemporaneo Artes) and Museum of Fine Arts (Museo de Bellas Artes), as well as the Museum of National History (Museo de Histórico Nacional), back in Plaza de Armaz, where I’d done that cafe and Post office sketch on Sunday. I also wanted to wander the streets and squares and just look at the people and buildings and goings on. And then I had to get back to the hotel at 6:45pm to grab my bag and jump into the taxi I’d ordered and head to the airport for my flight back to LA.

Well, I did pretty much all of those things, with no hiccups to speak of. I was a little annoyed that 95% of the Museum of Contemporary Art was taken up by a massive David LaChappelle retrospective – not because there isn’t something in his work one can find to like or at least be amused by (I had a good look around since I was there), but because it seemed ridiculous to have flown almost 1/3 the way around the planet to see an American artist’s work when what I wanted to see was work that was more local – but all turned out ok when in the Museum of Fine Art (the adjoining building in fact) I found a great deal of interesting contemporary (and other) art that was locally sourced. The buildings themselves were interesting to look at too, so that was a bonus.

On a nearby street (Monjitas), I found a great spot for lunch and people-watching, and the woman who I took to be the proprietor of the cafe (who took my order) decided to engage me in conversation for while. Since she had little […] Click to continue reading this post

Coming Along Nicely, Broadly Speaking

Coming soon next to one of my favourite buildings…


Probably a new favourite building, the Broad Museum for Comtemporary Art. (Click for larger image.) It has been a while since I’ve been down there during the day (mostly been at Disney Concert Hall (on the right) at nights the last few months, for concerts) and so I was happy to pass by it yesterday on a […] Click to continue reading this post

LAIH Field Trip: The Clark Library!

laih_clark_library_visit_2014_07One of the things I want the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities (LAIH) to do more of is field trips – Exploring the city together! We’re an LA resource (as I’ve said in earlier posts) and so we should visit with and strengthen our relationships with some of those other LA resources, whether they be physical places, or groups of people (like us), etc.

Friday saw us take a wonderful field trip to the William A. Clark Memorial Library. It is another of those classic LA things – an amazing gem hidden away that you pass every day and don’t see. It is not far from USC, and in fact a number of USC faculty I know have used it regularly for research, since it has several important collections of papers and rare books of various sorts (Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, etc).

A lot of these were put out for us to see by Head Librarian (and LAIH Fellow) Victoria Steele and her staff, and they gave us a guided tour. During the tour […] Click to continue reading this post

Look Up In the Sky…!

graduate_electromagnetism_class_sky_watchingYesterday’s graduate class in electromagnetism had a bit of extra fun. We did a particular computation in some detail, and arrived at a pair of results. We thought about the main features of the equations we’d derived and I then asked the class if they could think of an example. An example with those equations essentially written all over it. It was the sky. Not just the blueness of the sky (for which the result supplies a partial answer) but the pattern of blueness on the sky, especially when looking through your polarised sunglasses. (You know how you tilt your head when wearing them and you can darken or lighten the sky a bit? Well, that effect is way more effective if you are looking in a direction at right angles to the sun as opposed to either toward or away from the sun.)

So I took the class outside to gaze upon the sky in person, rather than just sit and talk about it. Actually, a little bit of knowledge about the pattern of blue in the sky is useful in a lot of ways. For example it is amusing to me to see how often architects and their artist collaborators get the sky wrong in renderings of […] Click to continue reading this post

Luncheon Reflections

LIAH_Hawthorne_luncheonYou know, I never got around to mentioning here that I am now Director (co-directing with Louise Steinman who runs the ALOUD series) of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities (LAIH), a wonderful organisation that I have mentioned here before. It is full of really fascinating people from a range of disciplines: writers, artists, historians, architects, musicians, critics, filmmakers, poets, curators, museum directors, journalists, playwrights, scientists, actors, and much more. These LAIH Fellows are drawn from all over the city, and equally from academic and non-academic sources. The thing is, you’ll find us throughout the city involved in all sorts of aspects of its cultural and intellectual life, and LAIH is the one organisation in the city that tries to fully bring together this diverse range of individuals (all high-acheivers in their respective fields) into a coherent force.

One of the main things we do is simply sit together regularly and talk about whatever’s on our minds, stimulating and shaping ideas, getting updates on works in progress, making suggestions, connections, and so forth. Finding time in one’s schedule to just sit together and exchange ideas with no particular agenda is an important thing to do and we take it very seriously. We do this at […] Click to continue reading this post

Aspen Art Museum Opening


I just got back from the Aspen Art Museum‘s new building. They’ve been having a members-only series of nights before the big opening to the public in a few days, and an invitation was sent along to Aspen Center for Physics people to come along, and so (of course) I did. It was a nice thing to do at the end of a day of working on revising drafts of two papers, before settling down to a nice dinner of squash, green beans, tomatoes, and lemon-pepper pasta that I made, all from the Saturday Farmers’ Market. But I digress.

Let me say right at the outset that the building is fantastic. There will no doubt be arguments back and forth about the suitability of the building for the town, and so forth (and there have been), but as a space for both art and community (and to my mind, those should go together in a city’s main art space) it is simply […] Click to continue reading this post

Sketchy Freedom

downtown_towers_26_05_2014Memorial Day – 26th May 2014. I arrive at downtown Los Angeles to enjoy a few moments of the pure joy of looking. Of seeing something in front of me well enough to make a rough representation of it on a piece of paper in front of me, for the pure hell of it. This is the essence of sketching. It is about seeing. I’m looking for the… something.

My hunt is over. I see the scene I want, just off the Water Court, a few minutes from the top of the (closed) Angel’s Flight rail. The sun is streaming through the portal framed by the two closest buildings. The further ones make sharp geometry against the 4:00pm sky. I’m also curious to try some new coloured pens, and I like that each building suggests a different colour. I’ve got about 15 minutes before I have to leave to pick someone up.

I sit. I start. Immediately I see the guard see me from across the way, and within a minute or two he is by my side, standing in front of me. He has the “You’re not allowed to do X” look on his face, but he’s trying to start out well. I’ve had this before, right in this public space, when a guard decided that I should not take photos of the buildings. Despite all the other tourists who do so. He begins:

You know, usually we… Are you an architecture student?

Excuse me?

Are you an architecture student?

Well, what are you asking me, really?

Are you an architecture student? […] Click to continue reading this post

Art and Physics

At my meeting in San Antonio, I just saw a nice article by Brian Jacobsmeyer on APS’ Physics Central with an interesting take on art mixing with physics. (A subject you know is close to my heart, given The (graphic novel) Project) (The article was the subject of part of the meeting, ao I was paying attention!) It is actually about fluid dynamics and Rayleigh-Taylor mixing, if you want to be specific, and you’ll recognize it in other images in astronomy, and elsewhere. There’s an interesting film associated with it too, which is linked in the article. Here’s an extract to get you started (link at the end): […] Click to continue reading this post

Making it Real

I’m supposed to be writing a talk, but it’s too early to start on it. I’ve been woken up early (5:00am) and kept awake by ideas swirling around in my head, and a mockingbird’s singing – it is nesting in a tree near the house, and I think I may be doomed to listen to it every night until the Fall…

Tuesday of last week saw me hiding and working on The Project. This time, it involved a bit of stalking. Last year I wrote a story which mostly takes place in a family home, between a brother and sister. I had a very particular shape for the house in my mind. They move from room to room, and spend a bit of time on a patio at the front. This time, I decided to build the entire house and populate it with all that I needed so that I can use it as reference to design the backgrounds for the story. Some weeks before I’d started looking a bit more closely at some houses I’d seen in the area as models. It is almost like the house which existed in my head was out there somewhere in the city, and I just had to find it. Somehow it was intended to be a typical smaller Los Angeles single family home, and if I looked for it, there it would be. I saw a number of houses on my walks that looked suitable enough, and was going to choose one of them and make modifications… and then one day I found it.

I’d been walking past it every day for several weeks, and had not really been in the right mode of thought when doing so, and so had not looked at it in the right way. Also, I’d been distracted by a rather larger and grander (too grand) house almost across the street from it. As soon as I thought about what I’d designed last year, and so rejected the house across the street, I realized that this one was the house I’d been looking for all along. So I took a couple of hurried surreptitious reference photos (while walking past pretending to be fiddling with my phone), and went home and laid out some of the dimensions I’d guessed for it.

I worked up some made up floor plans (based on my story’s needs and my memory of the interior of houses like this that I remember, and then I decided to build it […] Click to continue reading this post

Nostalgia Furniture

New acquisitions. I’ve been a fan of the work of Marcel Breuer for many years now, going back to my first postdoc in the early 90s, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. There, I lived (over three years) in some lovely 1957 apartments designed by him, with furniture of his design in them too. (It’s a bit different now, I understand.) The Wassily (or, Model B3) chair is one of my favourites of his, and two days ago, when I got an email from a friend I’d not heard from in a while that she was getting rid of a leather-finished pair of them, I went to see them as soon as I could (especially when I heard of their colour, which I’d decided would match my floors rather well). I came back from the visit with (after some negotiations and handing over of payment) the pair and set them up.

Yes, they are just as wonderful as I recall (and this set is particularly well made – very good reproductions), beautiful, very comfortable, and a good fit for my living room… […] Click to continue reading this post


building_construction_paintedOh, I finished the painting of the page that, perhaps annoyingly, I’m showing you only a corner of. Now you’ve seen three stages of development in the production process, from pencils to inks to painting. See the other two pages (here and here) for comparison.

I digitally paint for this work, using a variety of techniques. This is a big silent single-panel splash page early on in the story, and I’m using it to root the reader in reality, the location, and the principal character, and so I’ve broken out the special effects a touch. Yes, I am a traditionalist, as I’ve explained before, with most of the final look of my work not being so different from what could be done in the pre-digital era, but I am not pig-headedly so, and from time to time I use (lightly, […] Click to continue reading this post

Black Lines

building_construction_inkedOk, I have inked the pencils I constructed earlier, showing parts of two real buildings that form the background to the opening pages of one of my stories.

In the end I did the curves freehand instead of fiddling with French curves*. Now for these objects, the inking (done freehand with ink drawing pens – I sometimes use brushes or brush pens too) is actually pretty much just networks of black lines since they are background details and, moreover, very simple skyscrapers. There are some others in this page that are more […] Click to continue reading this post


yacata_1(Top prize for the best name on last month’s trip.) This is the name of an existing town as well as the nearby archeological site, the subject of this post. On the Sunday I referred to in a previous post, several of the School went off on a bus to do some sightseeing West of Morelia. This is one of the places to which we went. I learned a bit about the pre-Columbian mesoamerican civilization, the P’urhépecha (or Purépecha), whose capital was Tzintzuntzan (place of the hummingbirds). The structures in my photos (click for larger view) are called Yácatas, which are on a plateau overlooking the lake Pátzcuaro. […] Click to continue reading this post

Morelia Cathedral

Morelia is a beautiful city. One of the things that strikes you is the high concentration of architectural features that are either churches or related to churches (convents, chapels, etc) in the core of the city. The queen of these is the cathedral, which was across the street from my hotel (and gave it its name). Here it is during the day. The photograph was taken quite early in the morning to take advantage of the pleasant light (click for larger view):


It has fountains and gardens on both sides of it, and so acts as an all important […] Click to continue reading this post

A Treasure Trove!

As I’ve mentioned before, I listen online to Radio 4, one of the BBC radio stations I love for its variety, breadth and depth of programming. Between it and NPR affiliate KPCC, my day is usually rather full of (spoken-word) radio of a wide variety. I’ve noticed that Radio 4 has been doing a programme called “A History of the World in 100 Objects”. The Director of the British Museum does a 15 minute programme on each of 100 objects and talks about aspects of its historical significance. (If you think you don’t like history (maybe bad experiences in school or something like that) this might be a great way back into the subject for you. Not liking a subject is usually, I find, an issue with how it was presented to you and not with the subject itself.) It’s a lovely way of quickly plugging into aspects of world culture in interesting ways, and rather reminds me of the short series that we here at USC in the College Commons called The Cultural Life of Objects, organized by my colleagues Anne Porter and Ann Marie Yasin. (See also the Collections event, and my post about it.)

The BBC series is about half way now, and it has been quite wonderful. I strongly recommend it to you. Here’s the marvellous thing: The entire series can be podcast […] Click to continue reading this post

Stairway to Heaven?

“There’s a lady who’s sure
All that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven […] “

the_orbitNot that I’m calling Boris Johnson, the [occasional village idiot] Mayor of London, a lady or anything. It just was the best bit of the song I could use for the story. This structure does not exist yet, but it seems that will. What is it? Another Big Thing for people to go up to look over London. Yay. Silly, in many ways, but I will admit that I like it as a piece of mathematical poetry squiggled in the sky. It is by Anish Kapoor. Story here from the BBC, and here from AOL news. Video of announcement from Guardian here.

Now, while looking at the picture above, I noticed something interesting. Is it just me, or is the sky wrong? I don’t mean that it is blue and over London and therefore a […] Click to continue reading this post

Twisted Bridge

twisted_bridge_covent_garden_1The Walkabout returns me to London for a short while before I head North. While wandering around Covent Garden, I spotted this lovely bit of geometry suspended between two buildings in an alleyway. It is a bridge, but with a twist.

twisted_bridge_covent_garden_2 Upon getting home and starting a post to share it with you, I see that it is called the Bridge of Aspiration, and it connects the Royal Opera House with the Royal Ballet School. More here, where you can see that the interior is quite stunning.

-cvj Click to continue reading this post


My Walkabout finds me in Madrid for a little while, and I find myself reporting joyfully on rain, once again. Not because it has been raining an unusual amount here, but because of a production I went to the other night. It was primarily a dance event, celebrating and dramatizing the work of poet Frederico Garcia Lorca during his time in New York in the 1920s. The choreography was by (I’ve forgotten… will find ticket and update shortly) [update: Blanca Li. Title: ¨Poeta en Nueva York¨] with flamenco as the primary form, mixed with several other dance traditions. dance_theatre_stillThere was a lot of good and enjoyable work to see, but I’ll admit to being blown away by the theatre’s (and associated production staff’s) ability to suddenly create a rainstorm on the stage, and sustain it for a prolonged period while one of the dances (using the water, as you can see) used it to great and stunning effect. I had to sneak a (no flash and no disturbing of neighbours of course) photo for you. Click for larger view.

A bit like the first time you saw Jurassic Park back when it was first released and utterly groundbreaking visually, I (and maybe you?) spent time thinking, “this is amazing!”, “how did they pull off this illusion?”, before concluding that maybe the […] Click to continue reading this post

Gone East, Looking West

This is exciting! Today I decided to explore the new extension of the Gold line for a little while. atlantic_stationThere’s something deeply satisfying about seeing a prominent public works project of such obvious value to the community finish the construction phase and begin regular service. I was away in Europe at the opening of it in mid-November and so today was my personal little inauguration ceremony. It runs South and then East from downtown’s Union Station to Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. Yes, you can take it all the way from Pasadena to East LA without changing trains (and similarly in the other direction) and so there’s an incentive to explore. (I’m hoping this will motivate some of the people I know in Pasadena who rarely leave it to actually get out and explore Los Angeles for real…)

I wandered the streets a little bit at one or two of the stops and of course I also sat on the trains looking out of the window and at the people around me. As with many […] Click to continue reading this post

Green Elegance

wiltern_at_angleI do love the Wiltern. It is one of my favourite classic Art Deco buildings in Los Angeles or even beyond. (Click image for larger view.) I catch glimpses of it from time to time when I am on my way from here to there, but it has been a while since I stopped and looked properly.

Yesterday I was on my way back from one place and on my way to another and I changed buses right in front of it, so lingered and admired for a while.

You can find more about the Wiltern here, among other places. […] Click to continue reading this post

The Spiritual Life of Plants

cvj sowing seedsGiven all the gardening I’ve been doing over the last week or so (there’s some seed-sowing action going on to the right – more later), it may be fitting to go and sit and participate in the event coming up today. It is another of the College Commons events I’ve been mentioning here.

It’ll be a round table discussion and workshop to kick off a series, and here’s the summary:

“The Spiritual Life of Plants” series, arranged by Natania Meeker and Antónia Szabari of French and comparative literature, aims to reunite urgent contemporary conversations around ecology and the built environment with an early modern past — a past in which plants existed both at the limits of being and at the frontier of new forms of knowledge. What might these animated plants have to tell us about the ways in which humans experience, regulate, and are transformed by the non-human beings that surround them? How can we carry these conversations forward into the present and the future?

[…] Click to continue reading this post

Light Thoughts

Last night, for one reason or another, I decided on the spur of the moment to head to the beach, in order to wander there with the darkness clinging to me while I faced the bracing wind and cleared my head of many things. Although not quite like walking, for example, the Northumbrian coastline, even this part of the Pacific can be wonderfully restless, rugged, and alive when there are strong storms in the air, as is the case right now in the area.

santa monica led ferris wheel

On my walk, heading Northwest, I saw the Santa Monica Pier in the distance, with its new (as of last Summer) Ferris Wheel sporting some 160000 LEDs (I read this – did not count them) and putting on a light show. It is interesting to look at for a number of reasons. They’ve programmed in a lot of patterns that it cycles through, some of which are nice, but the most interesting thing to me (and not depicted in my snaps) […] Click to continue reading this post

Uncommon Conversations

college commons logo smallI almost forgot to mention that tonight marks the launch of the series of events called the College Commons here at USC. Here’s a news story about the programme. This academic year, I’ve been working on the committee working on shaping the ideas that have come up from the faculty (I had promised to tell you more about this), and we’ve announced the short Spring programme, which you can see here.

There is a featured part celebrating 1859:

Where do ideas come from, and how far do they travel? One hundred and fifty years ago, the astonishing year of 1859 saw not only the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, but such pioneering works as John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, Karl Marx’s Critique of Political Economy, and Richard Wagner’s first version of Tristan and Isolde. This year also marked amazing advances in travel and communications, the first battles prefiguring the Civil War and the first trapeze act performed in Paris. Can we imagine the world 150 years from now, and imagine the place our ideas will have in it? Scholars from biology, anthropology, physics, literature, history, and gender studies, as well as poets and artists, will explore these questions together this spring.

I hope there’ll be a lot of participation in the events (I’ll say more on this later). Tonight has a free movie, Master and Commander (so there’s a reason to go, right […] Click to continue reading this post

Art Walk

Of course, being back in the city means getting back into the routine of enjoying all the fantastic things to do here during a hot Summer. There are too many things to choose from, but one of my favourites is the Downtown Art Walk. (Previous post on it here.) It’s the second Thursday of every month. Strangely, it is still not very well known, even though it is one of the best activities I can think of to do to blow off steam at the end of the day. Or for the whole day. The art is all over the place, in that there is good stuff mixed in with a lot of, uh, other stuff, and so it is fun to hunt for it. Two reliable highlights for me, and maybe the most fun of all, are (1) the fact that these galleries are housed in lots of fantastic old and decayed spaces in old buildings in the core of Los Angeles’ centre. In fact, I often find myself looking at and enjoying the spaces more than the art. (2) The people. Representatives of every Los Angeles archetype, and several more besides, can be found wandering the streets of downtown during the Art Walk… and squeezing into the galleries and sampling the free (or cheap) wine, and generally rubbing shoulders with everyone else. How often do you get a wider cross section of Angelenos out of their cars and, horror, walking and, horror of horrors, mingling with others? Worth going just for that. There’s a brief history of it here, written by Bert Green, (hey, I did not know that I’ve been coming to it almost since it started) and the website for the Art Walk is here.

I wandered around some of my favourite galleries and studios, looking at the art, people, buildings, and spaces. Everything changes so much between monthly events and so it is always a pleasant surprise to learn which gallery will interest me most on […] Click to continue reading this post

A Retreat

sketches for studyAs I get older and busier, I seem to increasingly value quiet spaces. I always loved them, but now they seem more vital to me than ever. So I seek them out constantly. It’s important to note that it is, as they say, all relative. My whole house is a quiet space in a quiet part of a neighbourhood, which is itself in a relatively quiet part of the city. Nevertheless, I’ve been monitoring my working patterns of late and noticed quite a bit of fragmentation, which bothers me a lot. Sure, a lot of it is self-inflicted (email, blogging, and so forth can always be managed better – that’s another issue to discuss), but some of it has to do with finding good spaces to work, depending upon the type of mood and type of work to hand.

I’ve lots of favourites, and many of them are cafes and bars around the city, some places on campus (my office is not high on that list though), the odd bench in a park here and there, and so forth. But those are mostly for working in my “public space” mode. Sometimes I want to work in a different mode, or sometimes I want to just stay […] Click to continue reading this post

More Encounters On the Road Less Travelled

Julia Russell - eco homesHey, guess who I saw today! Recall, that I passed a woman on a tricycle a while back? Well, at exactly the same spot, I passed her again today. She’s called Julia, as you may recall from her comment on the blog sometime later, (as I’d met her subsequently and said hello properly). I briefly said “hello and how are you” this time as our bike and trike passed each other, but I apologized for having to rush off, and rushed off. I was trying to catch the next bus in order to get to my classroom by 9:55am. The class’ first midterm was at 10:00 today and I wanted to make sure to be on time. So I dashed off to the stop…

…Only to be accompanied five minutes later by Julia, calmly arriving on her tricycle. She was also catching the same bus, it turned out, and I’d landed in the gap between buses and needed to wait anyway. After checking with me that this was indeed the stop she needed, she chained her splendid red machine to a tree. I contemplated taking a picture of us and the two extraordinary conveyances together to show you. However, while I dithered over this, the bus came. So I’ll cheat and re-use the old picture (right).

Anyway, we chatted quite a while about things (including the frustration of trying to […] Click to continue reading this post