July 28, 2011


Notecards: M.C. Escher—Dreams and Illusions; The Art of Man Ray; Dard Hunter; Picasso; Picasso Folio. Pomegranate. $14.95 each (Escher, Ray, Hunter, Picasso); $9.95 (Picasso Folio).

     If all written relationships between humans are heading in the direction of text messages, something is definitely going to be lost: beauty of communication. The notion may seem quaint nowadays, and perhaps it is, but a well-delivered message has a certain eloquence that sets it apart from everything else and gets it attention that the same message would not receive if sent via E-mail, chat or text. Therefore, there remains a place for forms of message delivery that are far more personal than texting and far more likely to convey the emotional quality of a message – and simply to get noticed by standing out from the huge crowd of everyday comments sent by efficient but rather soulless everyday means.

     It is for those seeking the personal touch, the standout remark, that Pomegranate makes and sells its remarkably attractive series of art-based notecards. Beautifully boxed and filled with excellent reproductions of outstanding works of art of all types, the cards invite thoughtfulness on the part of users and will engage recipients immediately, unlike more-instant and more-ordinary types of communication. The boxed cards can also make excellent gifts, but only if the recipient is the sort of person who will genuinely appreciate both the art shown on the cards and the underlying compliment that says he or she is the sort of person who would actually use these attractive notecards to pass along his or her thoughts or wishes to others. Aside from their value as presents – for the right people – the boxed cards offer a wonderful way to express oneself not only in words but also in the selection of the particular card on which one chooses to communicate one’s thoughts.

     Thus, the cards in the box called M.C. Escher—Dreams and Illusions are for someone whose view of the world is, like that of Escher (1898-1972) himself, subtly but attractively skewed. Like the other boxed card sets, this one contains 20 cards – five each of four designs – and 20 envelopes. The four Escher works shown here are among his most famous and most intellectually intriguing: “Reptiles,” in which a flat and stylized creature emerges into three dimensions and then walks back to two-dimensionality; “Drawing Hands,” in which two hands create each other; “Ascending and Descending,” which features a staircase that goes both perpetually up and perpetually down; and “Convex and Concave,” a puzzlement of angles and directions in which up and down depend on how and from where one looks. The black-and-white cards, which like Pomegranate’s other notecards are blank inside, invite creativity in thinking and presentation alike.

     The abstract/surrealistic color art of Man Ray (1890-1976) offers, and asks for, creativity of a different type. The four images here range from the Dali-esque “La Fortune,” which shows clouds in different bright and unnatural colors floating above a desert landscape while a table of some sort (possibly a billiards table without pockets) looms in the foreground, to “À l’heure de l’observatoire—Les Amoureux,” which features giant and very red floating lips. Also here are “Seguidilla,” a study in green and brown in which six green objects seem to move across the foreground, and “Symphony Orchestra,” a riot of color and of shapes that suggest both instruments and musical notes. These cards are best for expressing ideas that are on the wild side, outré and perhaps difficult to pin down, and highly creative. In fact, the cards invite offbeat creativity in a way that no smartphone or tablet computer ever could.

     It could be argued that, as silicon-based electronic equipment represents the height of industrial design today, the elegant simplicity of Dard Hunter’s designs represents an earlier time, when books were indisputably the preeminent form of communication. The four simple, symmetrical and beautifully colored illustrations in the Dard Hunter notecard box all relate to books in some way: one is a Hunter book design, one is a design for a title page, and two are designs for book covers. The work of Hunter (1883-1966) fits more into the arts-and-crafts category than into that of fine art, but this is a distinction without difference in terms of the impact of the highly attractive designs showcased on these notecards. Floral and vegetal motifs predominate, from stylized roses to equally stylized grapes, in illustrations that invite the recipient of one of these cards to open it quickly in order to find out what treasures it contains.

     The treasures of Picasso (1881-1973) are of a very different type, with many of his works extremely well-known and many others instantly identifiable because of their style. Elements that most people associate with Picasso – such as cubism and facial views with both eyes on the same side of the nose – predominate in Pomegranate’s notecard box, which actually shows several different facets of the painter’s career: both “Portrait of Dora Maar” and “Woman Seated Before a Window” date to 1937 and are highly angular, while “Reading” (1932) is much more rounded, and “Jacqueline with Crossed Hands” (1954) features a kind of Egyptian look for the figure and big blocks of color in the background. The pleasures of Picasso are many, and in fact Pomegranate makes them available not only in a notecard box but also in a notecard folio, which contains 10 cards (five each of two designs). Here there are two early-1930s works, “Large Still Life with a Pedestal Table” (1931) and “Reclining Nude” (1932), both built around circles and ovals and both tempting the eye to see beyond their titles (the nude, for example, strongly resembles an octopus). Picasso’s art continues to enthrall and enchant. These cards offer 21st-century communicators a way to piggyback on the great works of the 20th century and produce notes that will themselves capture the imagination of the recipients – in a way that more-mundane forms of communication are unlikely to do.

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