July 22, 2021


Calendars (wall for 2022): John Sloane’s Country Seasons; Anne Geddes; A Year of Snarky Cats. Andrews McMeel. $16.99 (Country); $14.99 each (Geddes; Cats).

     Even before the days of the Internet, digital photography and easy-to-use photo-modification programs, the notion that pictures don’t lie was at best strained. Anyone who thought about this for a moment realized it: did you really feel like smiling broadly at the exact moment when that family photo was being taken and you were told to smile? Pictures do capture moments in time, but they also create a kind of alternative reality, in which life is sanitized and scrubbed to a greater degree than it is while being lived – or, in the case of photos taken to root out some problem or injustice, in which life is made to seem worse and more demeaning than it is in truth. The ability of photos to reflect some portions of life and downplay others is increased when the pictures are modified and manipulated in various ways to bring out specific elements and accentuate the positive, the negative, or the unusual. And if that thinking seems a bit lofty when it comes to everyday items such as wall calendars – well, it isn’t. Just consider John Sloane’s Country Seasons, whose 2022 version is the 36th annual collection. As with Currier & Ives or Norman Rockwell, there is a veneer of reality throughout this wordless, handsomely designed, full-color calendar; but it is only a veneer. The old-timey sylvan scenes in this calendar surely did not occur exactly as the photograph-style illustrative art indicates. Everything here is just too perfect. There is the October scene of a horse and buggy crossing a stream, with beautifully colored autumnal trees in the background – the horse stopping midstream for a drink of what is certainly cool, refreshing, unpolluted water. There is the April scene, a perfect encapsulation of “April showers” in the country, with a little boy in full-body slicker, carrying a gigantic umbrella, walking toward a flock of ducks and ducklings spread out neatly in a V shape in front of him. And there is the December scene, gently dusted with snow, of a perfect white country church with a huge wreath on the front and a fence surrounding the building, at which sheep stand gazing toward the church as if in wonder that approaches worship. Surely none of these or the other scenes in this calendar ever happened just as shown here – but surely they create a feeling of what could once have been in country life, a pleasantly nostalgic look at a world that is not the one we live in but that can adorn our walls for a full year as a vision of what a parallel world just might include.

     A very different sort of 2022 calendar that also has a photo-realistic feeling but also creates impossible scenes is the latest from Anne Geddes, whose adorable composites of real babies (usually sleeping) and real-world objects (generally flowers, flowerpots or seeds) are at once hyper-real and surreal. These pictures reinforce, again and again, the notion of babies as founts of opportunity, cute little beings that have not developed fully – just as Geddes’ flowers have not fully opened, seeds have not begun turning into plants, flowerpots have not started showcasing the growth of what is planted in them. Geddes’ photo art is instantly recognizable and sure to be a year-long delight for fans of the adorable-and-somewhat-outlandish. Most months feature a single super-cute baby positioned very carefully within a plantlike setting, each a little sleeping angel nestled between enfolding petals or perched atop a stem amid just-opened green leaves. And a few months go further, raising the infant-photographic ante by including multiple little ones: three of them inside blue-and-white-polka-dotted flowerpots, for example, and another trio peeking perkily out of old cans that have intriguing labels. It is hard not to smile when looking at the Geddes photographic babies and their realer-than-reality poses – and that is of course the point: whatever sort of day (or week or month) you may be having, this calendar gives you one thing to look at that will make you smile.

     Somewhat less photographic than the Sloan and Geddes calendars, but based just as clearly, in its own way, on reality, A Year of Snarky Cats features Dan DiPaolo illustrations that in some cases could almost be real-world cats and in others clearly could not be – except that the attitude (or, rather, cat-itude) of the felines on this calendar clearly is of the real world, or the world as cats perceive it (which, as any cat will tell you, is all that matters). Snarkiness does seem, to the humans who share their space with cats, to go with the territory, and DiPaolo manages to make these calendar cats both cute and, well, snarky. The February cat, wearing a crown and string of pearls and identified as being “Queen of my own little world,” seems to stand for all the felines here as she proclaims, “Now fetch my supper, wench,” thereby indicating the entirely appropriate relationship between cats and those who laughingly believe they are cat “owners.” The scenes here, although not exactly photographic, have a greater element of the real world than many pictures do. For example, there is the picture of a cat perched on a countertop and saying, “Your spray bottle doesn’t scare me.” And there is the one of a cat looking at a woman’s slippers, which have make-believe decorative cat’s heads at the front, and commenting, “My human is a nutjob.” From the January cat proclaiming, “Nope, not today,” to the December one remarking, “I was good – the dog, not so much,” these felines have the sort of realism that goes beyond anything in photos or photo-like illustrative art: they sound real even though real cats cannot talk (as far as we know). Anybody who loves cats, anybody that cats tolerate (“love” sometimes seems to be pushing it), will find plenty that is recognizable in A Year of Snarky Cats, and will enjoy encountering these pictures and thoughts on the wall as an everyday reminder of what is probably going through the real-life thoughts of real-world felines.

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