Tag Archives: bonsai

Abbeville Book Buzz – November 2012


While the Abbeville Blog has been exploring Abbeville’s new releases in depth throughout the fall, other media outlets have been buzzing about our books as well. Here’s a roundup of some of the more notable November coverage.

The New York Times chose Renaissance Intarsia and Greek and Roman Mosaics for its Holiday Gift Guide, praising them both as books that pack “intellectual heft and emotional wallop.” The editors particularly enjoyed the arcane trivia and fantastic lore offered in each:

[Greek and Roman Mosaics'] glossary is entertaining: ancient installers called themselves tessellators, and a favorite squiggly motif was known as “opus vermiculatum. ” Many of the mosaics have been removed from their original mortar beds; a petaled frame from a Tivoli villa’s scene of doves around a birdbath has been cut apart and dispersed among collections in Germany, England and France.”

Scholars liked intarsia images of musical instruments and books, and popes and monks ordered portraits of saints. The wood grain lines, dotted with mother-of-pearl, were positioned to represent tiny gleaming swords, bird feathers and draped robes. The raw material, the [Intarsia] authors explain quite evocatively, came from trees felled in winter, “and only during the waning phase of the moon.”

Equally evocative was the review of Pieter Bruegel in the Journal of the Northern Renaissance, which revels in the sensuous thrills of the volume:

This lavish book looks and feels indulgent; revealing with thrilling intimacy details of large panel paintings, including dress, gesture, facial expressions and under-drawing, it offers the closest thing to a museum experience … Taken together with [Larry] Silver’s Hieronymous Bosch (2006), Pieter Bruegel presents a masterful survey of Northern Renaissance visual trends over a span of more than a century. The book provides a fabulous resource of images, supported by a lively text that re-engages with a much loved master, and is sure to inspire many more people to look again at Bruegel.”

The reviewer also salutes author Larry Silver for deftly negotiating the vast body of scholarship on Bruegel—a painter who has become “a brand in every sense”—while at the same time keeping the emphasis where it ought to be: “Silver’s tome…rightly declares its central purpose to be the contemplation of pictures.”

Speaking of contemplation, the JapanCulture NYC blog found a whole garden’s worth of blissful serenity in Jonathan Singer’s photographic opus, Fine Bonsai: Art & Nature: “Dr. Singer creates bold, colorful images that spring off the page and demonstrate how nature can at once be both delicate and powerful…each of [the book's] 596 pages offers moments of contemplation and meditation.” In the Journal of the American Bonsai Society, editor Bob King agreed that “this is more than your average coffee table book”:

Jonathan Singer with his grounding as an art-based photographer has revealed what he sees as the true nature of the trees through the use of selective lighting. The same black background makes the trees “pop” from the pages … As I viewed the book, I also considered the educational component for the bonsai community. The book is not just a collection of photographs of bonsai. It appears that the planned design was to have trees shown without detailed information close at hand, thereby forcing the viewer to appreciate the individual tree without the prejudgment of who was involved in the development. The sections of the history, aesthetics, and container selection all add value to this book as a comprehensive book on the art of bonsai.

And there, like a master gardener trimming a bonsai plant, we will cut off the roundup before it sprawls untidily. We hope you’ll continue to follow the Abbeville Blog throughout December for more Abbeville news, author interviews, and reflections on art and art history, as well as holiday gift ideas. See you Monday!

Joy on the Grand Scale: Jonathan Singer at the New Jersey State Museum

When a fellow scholar interested in botanical illustration pointed Dr. Karen Reeds to a Smithsonian.com article on Jonathan Singer, she was struck right away by what she saw. “Within five minutes,” she recalls, “I thought: this is something that would make a good exhibition.”

Actually bringing Singer’s photography to the New Jersey State Museum, where Dr. Reeds is a freelance curator, took some time and negotiation. For one thing, the project would be an ambitious one for the museum, which “didn’t have any frames large enough on hand” for Singer’s giant-sized photographs. Still, says Dr. Reeds, the publication of Singer’s Botanica Magnifica, with its gorgeous full-color images of rare and exotic plants, was a “tremendous advertisement” that wowed her fellow curators.

Asked why the images appealed so much to her own eye, Reeds praised “the contrast of the absolutely luminous color against the black background…that makes them all the more vivid.” She noted the influence on Singer of still life paintings by Dutch Old Masters, which, she said, were “ingrained in me from a very early age as a beautiful thing to see” (a reproduction of one of them hung in her grandmother’s house as a child). She pointed, too, to the way their size works in the photographs’ favor; they’re “so large that you see things that you could not actually see on the living plant”–or under a microscope, which doesn’t permit a view of the entire specimen. Finally, she said, there is the artist’s personal imprint, independent of technical considerations: his “sheer joy in the forms and colors of the plant.”

Once the exhibition was set to go forward, Reeds worked with Singer and her fellow curators to, as she puts it, “create a story.” Their choice of materials dictated by what was already framed, they grouped images to create a logical flow for each section of exhibition, juxtaposing them with the museum’s John James Audubon prints to emphasize their continuity with the “historical tradition of natural history illustration on the grand scale.”

How was the show received? “Very well,” says Reeds: it attracted praise from ARTNews, ART TIMES, and Princeton Magazine, among other outlets, as well as considerable community interest in Trenton and beyond. It satisfied the most demanding critics, too: Reeds noticed that children were quite fond of the work, responding in particular to “Jonathan’s more abstract images”–those that “hom[ed] in on an abstract piece of color and form.” From little kids to the Smithsonian, from Botanica Magnifica to Fine Bonsai, it seems that the wow factor in Singer’s work remains a constant.