August 07, 2014


2015 Calendars: Wall—Coffee; Pearls Before Swine; Serpentine; Matisse Jazz. Andrews McMeel, $15.99 (Coffee); Andrews McMeel, $14.99 each (Pearls Before Swine; Serpentine); Universe/Andrews McMeel, $14.99 (Matisse Jazz).

2015 Calendars: Desktop—Cartoons from The New Yorker; National Gallery of Art. Andrews McMeel, $14.99 (The New Yorker); Universe/Andrews McMeel, $14.99 (National Gallery).

     Whatever your inclination in visualizing the coming year may be, there is a wall calendar to fit and complement it for 2015 – and provide a decorative touch for the room where you hang it, too. In the case of Coffee, the issue of “taste” is a literal one – if you are a coffee fanatic, this will be a must-have item. Or even if you are only a semi-fanatic, since this is a highly attractive and, yes, coffee-color-background calendar. And it goes beyond the months of 2015, or rather before them: in addition to the 12 months of 2015, it offers September through December of 2014 combined on a single page, which is topped with a stylized steaming cup of (what else?) coffee. As for the months of 2015 themselves, every one sports a coffee cup in some context: a large restaurant-ish one for May with the words “Coffee Served Hot Here 24 Hours”; eight different ones for June highlighting “morning blend,” “dark roast,” “macchiato” and so on; one nestled beside a coffee pot for December, with the words, “Get Up and Smell the Coffee”; and more. From “I Need Coffee Now” (some of the July words) to “Free Trade” (some for October), this handsome calendar – which comes in a matching, highly attractive envelope – is sure to perk up coffee lovers throughout the rest of this year and all of the one to come.

     “Perky” would be a bit of an overstatement where Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine is concerned, but this dark and sarcastic comic strip will certainly get you up and moving as you trace 2015 month by month with a calendar called “Life of Pig” – a parody of Life of Pi, complete with suitably altered lettering, lifeboat and characters on the front cover. Each of the 12 months here includes a small-size Pearls strip with one of its panels blown up and shown in color atop the month, and each of those large panels encapsulates one or another of the recurring Pearls themes: satire of The Family Circus; bad puns (“resting on Laurels” has Pig atop the heads of two women named Laurel); the ugliness of Pastis’ cartoon version of himself; the unceasingly optimistic determination of those ever-unsuccessful predators, the crocodiles; and general weirdness (three lemmings at the edge of a cliff, watching a fourth descend gently, using a parachute). Pearls is an acquired taste that many people will have little interest in acquiring, but if you do find the strip tasty (if perhaps a touch acidic or bitter), this calendar will let you proclaim your preference at wall level throughout the coming year.

     Speaking of a non-universal preference, Serpentine is an extraordinarily beautiful, colorful and elegant 16-month calendar created by Mark Laita – but one that will appall some people, because every month features a beautifully photographed snake. Some people simply cannot abide serpents, no matter how wonderfully they are photographed, how gorgeous their colors are, and how ecologically important they are known to be. Those people will keep their distance from this calendar, and that will be a shame, because the photos are so exceptional and the snakes’ colors so brilliant that it is hard to believe such beauty exists in nature. From high contrast (black above, brilliant red below) to gorgeously consistent (rich green with elegant, evenly spaced patterns), these snakes – most of them harmless, as are most snakes throughout the world – are not only shown but also described. Each month gives information such as the snake’s scientific name, geographical distribution, habitat, size and feeding habits. This is certainly not a calendar that ophidiophobes will want anything to do with, but those who appreciate the rich diversity of life on our planet – and admire the exceptionally lovely colors present in so many serpents – will very much enjoy spending next year seeing Serpentine on the wall.

     A more-usual wall hanging, at least in a museum, is the work of an artist such as Henri Matisse – but Matisse Jazz is something a bit different from that. Matisse was invited in 1942 to produce an illustrated book, and did so by cutting forms from painted papers. Matisse hand-wrote the book’s text, and he chose the title Jazz because he saw a resemblance between his art and a musical form that focuses on improvisation. The 12 illustrations in this 2015 calendar are all bright and colorful, ranging from the wholly abstract to the not-quite-representational: the word “cirque” appears twice in one of them, a horse-drawn wagon in another, vaguely human forms in others. Actually, “cirque” (circus) is the recurring theme here – there are apparent performers in several of these illustrations, a pair of trapeze in one of them, and so forth. The enjoyment of this calendar lies partly in the sheer exuberance of the design and colors it contains and partly in the “decoding” element involved in figuring out just what variation on just what theme appears in a given month. Unusual among Matisse’s works, Jazz results in an unusually attractive wall-mounted statement for the year to come.

     Using a wall calendar is not in itself a statement of anything except enjoyment of the calendar’s visual impact. But using a desk calendar – a spiral-bound weekly planner – is a statement in these days of electronic everything. When so many people use phones, tablets or computers to track and manage their appointments and schedules, the decision to use a desktop planner is an assertion of individuality, or being old-fashioned, or liking the tactile element of the on-desk book, or – well, what it means depends on who is extracting the meaning. But there is certainly some meaning there. One possibility: the layout of the best of these planning books, including their illustrations, provides visual pleasure in a way that electronic tracking methods do not. Cartoons from The New Yorker for 2015, for example, offers plenty of the wry and sophisticated black-and-white single-panel cartoons that have long been synonymous with the magazine. In one, a man climbing the proverbial mountain in search of truth, wisdom and knowledge finds them all – in vending machines; so he uses his cell phone to call someone down below, saying, “And bring a ton of quarters.” In another panel, a woman using an e-reader as her partner tries to sleep asks if she is “reading too brightly.” In another, one airline passenger tells another, “I have two children from a previous Las Vegas off-site meeting.” And in yet another, a boy tells his teacher, “The cloud ate my homework.” Obviously The New Yorker cartoonists are well aware of the electronic infiltration of pretty much everything in life nowadays; and equally obviously, they choose to play with that reality, not ignore it, through the panels in this desk planner – which, in addition to a cartoon on every left-hand page, offers seven blank spaces on each right-hand one for jotting down notes, listing appointments, and so on.

     The cartoons in The New Yorker are not to everyone’s taste, and cartoons in general may not be what you want in a desktop planner. In that case, how about fine art? The National Gallery of Art planner for 2015 offers a wide variety of paintings and sculptures from the museum’s collection in Washington, D.C. The art here is on the right, with each left-hand page offering space for notes for every day of the week (Saturday and Sunday getting less space than weekdays – a different design from the planner using cartoons from The New Yorker, which accords every day equal space). Adjacent to the boxes for notes is a reduced-size version of the right-hand-page art work, with information on who created it, when, and in what medium. Edgar Degas’ Ballet Dancers from 1877 appears on one page; Paul Cézanne’s The Bend in the Road from 1900/1906 on another; Andrea del Verocchio’s sculpture of Putto Poised on a Globe, from 1480, on a third; and William Blake’s distinctly odd and visionary The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun, from 1805, on a fourth. Paintings predominate here, but there are also sculptures, photographs, etchings, and even a cyanotype (a photographic process that produces work with a bluish tint). The works come from many countries and many time periods, are very well reproduced, and create, taken as a whole, a miniature year-long museum tour for anyone with a taste for some of the world’s great and fascinating art. This fine calendar shows – as do all the other wall and desk ones from Andrews McMeel, each in its own way – that whatever your taste may be, you can spend next year indulging it visually by simply selecting a calendar that you happen to find, well, tasteful.

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