Barry Moser the Gold Standard of Illustration and Printmaking

Barry Moser
Design and Build: The Art of the Book
Hampshire College Art Gallery
Through September 30, 2016.

Illustrators often bring out the snobbery in art critics. Much of the time when you read the words, "competent draftsman" or "skilled illustrator," it really means, "But of course, it's not real art."

I hope you are not one of those misguided souls, but if you are, allow me to suggest Barry Moser as the antidote to your malady. More specifically, get thee to Hampshire College to sample the sublime Moser wood blocks, posters, illustrations and prints currently on display. Anyone who can gaze upon these with anything less than respect and awe is more Philistine than critic. Drawn from its permanent collection, Design and Build inspires, delights and, yes, illustrates the many splendors of Barry Moser (1940-). The Tennessee-born Moser came into his own in Western Massachusetts during the 1960s, first as a teacher/artist-in-residence at the Williston-Northampton School, and later at Smith College, where he is now based in his semi-retirement and is rightfully lionized as one of the nation's finest artists. Don't be swayed by anyone who denigrates draftsmanship or illustration; Moser's work has found its way into such august collections as those of the Met in New York, the Library of Congress, the Vatican Library, and the British Museum. His design for the Pennyroyal Caxton Bible led the National Gallery in Washington, DC to bestow upon him a singular honor: he is the only living artist to whom it has devoted a solo show. Moser has also won a National Book Award for his illustrations for an edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, though I much prefer the way in which he conceptualized Herman Melville's Moby Dick. (Confession: Moby Dick is on my list of most overrated novels of all time, though Moser's illustrations infuse life into parched sections of the novel in which Melville chronicles whale processing.)   

The Hampshire College show captures Moser's many moods: his investigations of faith, his   To my eye, his block prints invoke what I call nouveau medievalism and, if one overlooks monetary value, I'd prefer owning a Moser print to most Renaissance masters. I especially marvel over how much emotion Moser conveys in heavily inked shapes, cross-hatching, and meticulously rendered detail. Though it's personal taste to be sure, I like Moser's black and white works more than those in color.
whimsical side, his penchant of playing the trickster, his self-deprecating humor, and his love of spinning fantasy.

This fine overview of a half century of Moser's work reinforces the old saw that a picture is worth a thousand words, but it also forces us to reconceptualize it. The old adage suggests that printed word and image are at odds with one another; Barry Moser's prints enhance how we respond to text. It's as if he takes our half-formed imagination and renders it in full detail. If that's not art, the word is without meaning. –Rob Weir

PS: Apologies for the reflection on these images. One downside of the Hampshire show is that it is poorly lighted. The spot track lighting of the gallery simply needs to be redone as it flatters almost nothing everything displayed in this space (lower level of the colelge library). 


Room: A Small, Brilliant and Terrifying Film

ROOM (2015)
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
A24, 118 minutes, R [Sexual situations, violence]
* * *

Brie Larson won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Joy Newsome in this film. One can debate whether it was the best female performance of 2015, but Ms. Larson was certainly deserving of being honored. Most of you will probably need to see this film as I did: on DVD. Its theme is so harrowing that it pulled in a paltry $18 million at the North American box office. But see it you should.

Room is based on the eponymous novel of Emma Donoghue, who also penned the screenplay. It’s fiction, but it resonates with enough verisimilitude to explain why it didn’t generate an audience as big as its critical acclaim. It tells the story of a woman (Larson) who was abducted when she was 17 and imprisoned in a locked shed by a man she knows only as Old Nick (Sean Bridger). We meet her when she is 24 and is both Old Nick’s sex slave and the mother of five-year Jack (Jacob Tremblay). Jack knows nothing of the world; insofar as he knows, “Room” is the entire universe and “Ma” and Old Nick the only inhabitants. All of the stuff he sees on the snowy TV in Room is just “make-believe,” a story Joy tells him to help him cope and be happy. She also breast-feeds him, a way to reinforce intimacy as well as preventing another pregnancy. Room is Jack’s world and he is Joy’s. When sheer boredom and a perceived threat to Jack’s safety ensues, Joy enlists Jack’s aid in hatching an escape plan—no easy task as it involves undoing his socialization and deconstructing his worldview.

Think upon this. What would it mean to a five-year-old raised in a single room with one skylight to learn that there was an entire universe beyond the walls? Jack is, in essence, a feral child, so how would he adjust to having grandparents and neighbors? How would he make friends? What about Joy, who entered Room as a high school student? How would she cope with freedom? With the reality that her parents (Joan Allen and William H. Macy) had split and mom was now romantically linked to a former family friend (Tom McCanus)? One of the biggest challenges–adeptly handled in the film–is that Joy is also instant fodder for the mass media’s sensationalist lust. How can she psychologically cope with a gotcha question of why she didn’t ask her abductor to anonymously drop off her infant son at a hospital so he could grow up normally? That’s cruel and unfair, but do the inquisitors care?

This film begs the question of whether an amoral world is, in many ways, just as much a prison as Room. So yes, this is a tough film, but it’s also a superb one. It manages to be terrifying without being graphic and harrowing more through silences than histrionics. Kudos to Abrahamson for his appreciation of the principle of less is more. One can only imagine what a hash HBO would have made of this smart Canadian-Irish production. I must say that I was pleasantly surprised that the Academy honored a performance as nuanced as Ms. Larson’s. Rob Weir


All Star MLB Predictions Update

All Star Check-In:
Smudge on the Crystal Ball

How's Round-ball Nostradamus doing at mid season? Like most baseball analysts, my track record is a mixed bag. That's because, despite what the Stat Heads try to tell you, baseball has too many variables to allow for absolute certainty. Every year those of us who love the game end up with egg as a fashion accessory. But, thus far, I'm not doing too badly.

I'm 100% on the money re: the National League Central and close on all the rest, except the American League East, which I declared a toss up, and the AL Central, though I did pick the Indians as my dark horse. The Blue Jays were my pick in the AL East and they are coming on strong and the Orioles are fading.

Biggest Screw-ups: I really thought the Twins and the Diamondbacks would be much better. The Twins have been absolutely putrid–so bad, in fact, that one must contemplate whether their passel of young 'can't miss' players might be busts. The D-Backs spent a lot of money to assemble a win-now team, but are so lost in Roadrunner's dust that the only logical course is to fire the entire management team and hold a fire sale. Right now I would appear to be wrong about the White Sox, who are currently hovering near 2nd in the AL Central. But I still maintain they are overrated and point out that they are just two games over .500.

Just as Bad as I Predicted: The Rays are a lost cause and my mantra remains: "Sell this AAA team to a MLB city." The A's prove that Billy Beane's sabermetrics are as worthless as his pitching staff. The Reds blew up their team, as did the Brewers, so there wasn't much hope there from the start. (Okay, I'll raise the issue: Does faded Cincinnati still warrant a MLB franchise?) The Padres are simply a mess I don't see getting better for some time. We also knew the Braves and Phillies were rebuilding, but the Phils are exactly as predicted: a team that loses more than it wins, but is really fun to watch–as in "watch out" in 2-3 years.

Things to Watch in the Second Half:

1. The Cubs have come back to earth and–as yours truly said–if you live by young talent, you can also die by it. Since the end of May, the Cubs haven't even been a good team, let alone a World Series favorite. I'm standing by my remark that the Cubbies will be hibernating long before the Fall Classic begins.

2. The injury bug has returned the to Mets young staff and this doesn't bode well, as the Mets remain offensively challenged. I look for the Marlins to overtake them in the standings and for the Nationals to win the NL East.

3. It probably doesn't matter who comes out of the NL Central and East, because the Giants and Dodgers are the best teams in the NL. I still think the Giants will win the World Series. The Dodgers are actually a flawed "team," but their pitching will make them dangerous in the postseason. Clayton Kershaw, if he remains healthy, is the hands-down Cy Young winner and, perhaps, MVP as well. 

4. I said the Red Sox would be better and they have been, but I doubt they are good enough. Their pitching is pretty bad, actually and, at present, the David Price contract looks like Rusney Castillo Part Two. Look for Steve Wright to return to earth around September 1; knuckleballers need summer air for their pitches to flutter. The Sox must get pitching help to go very far and they will have to overpay to get it. The days of GM hoarding young studs and offloading duds is over.

5. The Yankees have been worse than mediocre; they've become boring! So much to be done, but first: get prospects for Beltran and try your best to get someone to nibble on McCann, Ellsbury, and Sabathia. McCann should definitely be moved—catchers seldom stay in their prime beyond 4 years and he's well past his better days. Either trade or resign Chapman. I'd trade him, but not for middling prospects. If the Cubs want him—and they do–the price is Kyle Schwarber; take it or leave it, because if you leave it, the Cardinals and Pirates both have higher-ranked farm systems. Dump Pineda for any pitching prospect whose pitches travel under 400 feet. Teixeira would normally be a trade prospect too, but his bad knee makes that unlikely. There are very few untouchables on this team: Tanaka, Gregorius, Castro, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo…. The A-Rod Problem: Ultimatum time. Here's the deal: A buy-out if he announces he's done at season's end, then a final swing through the AL with requisite ceremonies. Otherwise, release him and he'll finish his career elsewhere on Yankee bucks, but sans the acclaim he so dearly desires.

6. The Tigers may be facing many of the same decisions as the Yanks. It's simply hard to imagine this team as good enough, especially with the crippling loss of J D Martinez. Should they limp into the postseason and pray for a miracle, or sell ageing assets (Verlander, Maybin, Victor Martinez, Kinsler) while they still have value? If it's my team, I sell. 

7. Believe it or not, the Angels are more of a mess still. Their farm system is the worst in MLB and an already horrible pitching staff just lost C J Wilson for the year. Tim Lincecum isn't anyone's answer with an ERA north of 7.50. Mike Trout is having another monster year–­so much so that SABR manlove/numbers-crunchers have already proclaimed him MVP. I say he's not an MVP for the simple reason that he's not very valuable on this roster. The Angels could finish 4th or last without him and should consider trading him for the gadzillion prospects he'd bring. Unless they rebuild radically, the future looks more hellish than heavenly for this team.

8. Was the Royals championship a fluke? Let's just say I'm not predicting another in the foreseeable future.

9. Like I said above, I like the Giants to win the World Series, though it sure would be neat if the Indians did so. If not the Giants my favorites are (in order): the Pirates, the Rangers, the Jays, or the Dodgers. Darkhorse? The Indians, of course. The would-need-to-get-lucky possibilities are (in order): Nationals, Red Sox, Astros, Marlins, Tigers, Royals, Mets.