August 05, 2010


2011 Calendars: 365-Day—M.C. Escher; Shakespeare’s Insults; Wall— Exquisite Creatures; Man Ray; Edward Gorey’s “The Deranged Cousins”; B. Kliban Coloring Cat Calendar. Pomegranate. $12.99 each (Escher; Shakespeare); $13.99 each (Creatures, Man Ray, Gorey); $9.99 (Kliban).

     No, the middle of summer is not too early to look ahead to the wintry days in the northern hemisphere that we humans designate as the end of one year and the start of another – certainly not when there are such delights as the 2011 Pomegranate calendars around. In fact, a flurry of anticipation of the new year can make summer more fun, even in the knowledge that buying a 2011 calendar early won’t actually let you start using it early. Unless, of course, you cannot resist looking at the calendar’s contents…which means you will probably be thoroughly familiar with them by the time winter rolls around…which means you will probably want another of these calendars for the new year. And what is wrong with that?

     You may very well want several Pomegranate calendars in any case. The company offers an unusually wide variety of them, in an unusually wide number of styles – with particular emphasis on calendars with visual impact (lots and lots of fine-arts offerings) but with equally high quality in calendars focused on words. Consider, to take two examples among many, the 365-day calendars based on works by M.C. Escher (strong visual orientation) and Shakespeare (strong verbal focus). Pomegranate’s Escher calendar is a feast for people who do not want the world to seem exactly the same day in and day out. The Dutch artist, who told the world that he was “deliberately inconsistent,” was a master at applying strict geometrical principles in ways that led to the creation of highly realistic-looking objects and scenes that cannot, in fact, exist. The notorious box in which it is impossible to decide what is inside and what is outside – shown on the cover of the 2011 calendar – is but one example. This calendar offers 261 Escher images in all, ranging from Möbius strips to fish-eye-lens views of cities to brilliantly realized blendings in which objects change subtly but quite definitely into other things, often while switching from black to white or from two to (apparently) three dimensions. Escher was not a sensationalist – his work was very carefully thought through, and he had a fine analytical mind as well as the ability to use perspective effectively in traditional ways (as seen mainly in his earlier works). The 2011 calendar’s weekend pages offer 52 excerpts from Escher’s writings, in which he explains the way he saw the world and the reasons behind some of his deliberate distortions of reality. This calendar is a recipe for year-long fascination, one day at a time.

     So is Shakespeare’s Insults, where words are the entire focus – and what words! Known for the beauty of his expressions and his skill at fulsome praise, Shakespeare was equally adept at mining the language of his day for purposes of innuendo, insult and all-around nastiness. There are 313 examples of his brilliant but less-than-kind verbiage here – one for each weekday and one per weekend. And non-scholars need not be put off by any presumptive erudition – anyone can understand what is going on quite well, because each day’s insult comes complete with explanations of no-longer-familiar words and of who is attacking whom. There is something highly satisfying in knowing that the greatest writer in the English language was quite as clever with curses and sexual puns as with highflown sentiment. “All villains that do stand, by [compared with] thee, are pure,” he writes in Timon of Athens, and “Foul-spoken coward, that thund’rest with thy tongue/ And with thy weapon nothing dar’st perform,” in Titus Andronicus. It is especially enjoyable, after reading less-known quotations like these, to stumble upon better-known and equally insulting ones, such as, from Julius Caesar, “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!” Erudition in the service of malediction – what a combination!

     If Pomegranate’s 365-day calendars offer both visual and verbal focuses, its many wall calendars are primarily oriented toward the visual – but in very different ways. Consider, for example, the color ones compared with those in black-and-white. You will not find a more colorful 2011 calendar than Exquisite Creatures, which displays a dozen of artist/entomologist Christopher Marley’s minimalist works based on insects. There is no “yuck” factor here; in fact, in some displays it is hard to tell that insects are involved at all: “Blistered Ground Beetles,” for example, looks like a brightly colored school of fish until a close examination reveals that the fish “heads” are actually the beetles’ rears, and “Various Beetles” appears, even in close view, to be a starburst-shaped multicolored jewel. From a gorgeous blowup of a single swallowtail butterfly to cascades of brilliant-hued beetles and weevils, Marley’s art enchants and delights with colors that seem too bright to be found in nature – but are.

     At the opposite extreme is the surrealistic black-and-white work of Man Ray, a Dadaist who went beyond the “everything is art” pronouncement of other such artists to use old photographic processes in the creation of striking and often disturbing images. Perhaps the two oddest and most intriguing among the dozen in this 2011 calendar are Les larmes (Glass Tears), an extreme closeup of a woman’s eyes and nose with five tiny glass beads carefully placed on her face, and Le violon d’Ingres, a view of a woman’s naked back with two F holes (the shapes that let sound come out of a stringed instrument) above her hips. But other images here are almost equally strange and involving, from self-portraits to beautifully framed but distinctly odd visions of people.

     Speaking of distinctly odd black-and-white art: Edward Gorey is another artist whose work appears in a number of Pomegranate offerings, and The Deranged Cousins calendar is not only a fine example of Gorey’s work but also a good choice for anyone who would like a bit more verbiage in a wall calendar than is customary. There is, of course, little that is “customary” about Gorey, among whose oddly skewed Victorian/Edwardian tales of murder and mayhem The Deranged Cousins is a standout. The 12 calendar illustrations take this typically dark tale through the entire year, starting with the three cousins “seventy-nine years ago” and ending when all three have succumbed to mayhem or mayhap “an unusually high tide.” Gorey’s dark humor and meticulous craftsmanship pervade the illustrations from January through December and will be a treat for those with a suitably sinister turn of mind.

     For 2011, buyers do not even have to make a final decision between color and black-and-white Pomegranate wall calendars if they do not want to. In an expansion of its offerings into a line called Pomegranate Kids, the company makes it possible to start with something in black-and-white and end (or continue) with it in color. Fans of B. Kliban know his fascination with cats very well indeed, and the dozen pictures in the suitable-for-coloring 2011 Cat Calendar are feline-filled, from the two cats indulging in ballet to the one wearing a Hawaiian shirt to the small one surrounded by 10 very large fish. Kliban’s cartoons are fun even in black-and-white, so there is certainly no need to color them in order to enjoy this calendar; and there is certainly no requirement to try to duplicate the colors for the pictures that are shown on the back of the calendar. But as a yearlong project to bring some brightness into a child’s (or adult fan’s) life, this calendar combines amusement with artistry – fine fun for feline fanciers, and something suitable to contemplate when thinking ahead to the still-distant new year.

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