A Short Biography of Keith Haring Told with Comic Book Illustrations & Music

Singer-songwriter-cartoonist Jeffrey Lewis is a worthy exemplar of NYC street cred.

Born, raised, and still residing on New York City’s Lower East Side, he draws comics under the “judgmental” gaze of The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist and writes songs beneath a poster of The Terminator onto which he grafted the face of Lou Reed from a stolen Time Out New York promo.

Billing himself as “among NYC’s top slingers of folk / garagerock / antifolk,” Lewis pairs his songs with comics during live shows, projecting original illustrations or flipping the pages of a sketchbook large enough for the audience to see, a practice he refers to as “low budget films.”

He’s also an amateur historian, as evidenced by his eight-minute opus The History of Punk on the Lower East Side, 1950-1975 and  a series of extremely “low budget films” for the History channel, on topics such as the French RevolutionMarco Polo, and the fall of the Soviet Union.

His latest effort is a 3-minute biography of artist Keith Haring, above, for the Museum of Modern Art Magazine’s new Illustrated Lives series.

While Lewis isn’t a contemporary of Haring’s, they definitely breathed the same air:

While Haring was spending a couple of formative years involved with Club 57 and PS 122, there was little six-year-old me walking down the street, so I can remember and draw that early ’80s Lower East Side/East Village without much stretch. My whole brain is made out of fire escapes and fire hydrants and tenement cornices.

Lewis gives then-rising stars Jean-Michel Basquiat and performance artist Klaus Nomi cameo appearances, before escorting Haring down into the subway for a literal lightbulb moment.

In Haring’s own words:

…It seemed obvious to me when I saw the first empty subway panel that this was the perfect situation. The advertisements that fill every subway platform are changed periodically. When there aren’t enough new ads, a black paper panel is substituted. I remember noticing a panel in the Times Square station and immediately going aboveground and buying chalk. After the first drawing, things just fell into place. I began drawing in the subways as a hobby on my way to work. I had to ride the subways often and would do a drawing while waiting for a train. In a few weeks, I started to get responses from people who saw me doing it.

After a while, my subway drawings became more of a responsibility than a hobby. So many people wished me luck and told me to “keep it up” that it became difficult to stop. From the beginning, one of the main incentives was this contact with people. It became a rewarding experience to draw and to see the drawings being appreciated. The number of people passing one of these drawings in a week was phenomenal. Even if the drawing only remained up for only one day, enough people saw it to make it easily worth my effort.

Towards the end of his jam-packed, 22-page “low budget film,” Lewis wanders from his traditional approach to cartooning, revealing himself to be a keen student of Haring’s bold graphic style.

The final image, to the lyric, “Keith’s explosive short lifetime and generous heart speak like an infinite fountain from some deep wellspring of art,” is breathtaking.

Spend time with some other New York City icons that have cropped up in Jeffrey Lewis’ music, including the Chelsea Hotel, the subwaythe bridges, and St. Mark’s Place.

Watch his low budget films for the History Channel here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Download 280 Pictographs That Put Japanese Culture Into a New Visual Language: They’re Free for the Public to Use

“One of the biggest considerations when traveling to Japan is its inscrutable language,” writes Designboom’s Juliana Neira. But then, one might also consider making that language more scrutable — and making one’s experience in Japan much richer — by learning some of it. Kanji, the Chinese characters used in the written Japanese language, may at first look like small, often bewilderingly complex pictures, and many assume they visually evoke the meanings they express. In fact, to use the linguistic terms, they’re not pictograms, representations of thoughts or ideas, but logograms, representations of words or parts of words.

Resemble miniature works of art though they often do, kanji aren’t entirely unsystematic. This helps beginning learners get a handle on the first and most essential characters of the thousands they’ll eventually need to know.

So does the fact that some of them, in origin, really are pictographic — that is, they look like the meaning of the word they represent — or at least pictographic enough to make them teachable through images. The Japanese word for “mountain,” to cite an elementary example, is 山; “river” is 川; “tree” is 木. Alas, most of us who enjoy the 山, 川, and 木 of Japan — to say nothing of the 書店 and 喫茶店 in its cities — haven’t been able to visit them at all in this past pandemic year.

“After experiencing years of tourism growth, tourists to Japan are down over 95% due to the pandemic,” writes Spoon & Tamago’s Johnny Waldman. “Graphic designer Kenya Hara and his firm Nippon Design Center have self-initiated a project to release over 250 pictograms — free for anyone to use — in support of tourism in Japan from a visual design perspective.” Collectively bannered the Experience Japan Pictograms, these clear and evocative icons represent a wide range of the places and activities one can enjoy in the Land of the Rising Sun: skiing and surfing, calligraphy and open-air hot-spring bathing, Ginza and Asakusa, Tokyo’s Skytree and Osaka’s Tsūtenkaku Tower.

The Experience Japan Pictograms hardly fail to include the glories of Japanese cuisine — sushi, tempura, soba, and even the Japanified hanbāgā — which piques so many foreigners’ interest in Japan to begin with. Click on any of them and you’ll see a brief cultural and historical explanation of the item, activity, place, or concept in question, along with the relevant Japanese term (in kanji where applicable) and its pronunciation. You can also download them in the color scheme of your choice and use them for any purposes you like, including commercial ones. The more widely adopted they are, the more convenient Japanese tourism will become for those who don’t read Japanese. Those who do can hardly deny the pleasure of having another Japanese language to learn — and a truly pictographic one at that.

via Spoon & Tamago

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Surface of Mars Shown in Stunning 4K Resolution

Could you use a mental escape? Something that transports you beyond the confines of your pandemic-narrowed world? Maybe a trip to Mars will do the trick. Above and below, you can find high definition footage captured by NASA’s three Mars rovers–Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. The footage (also contributed by JPL-CaltechMSSSCornell University and ASU) was stitched together by ElderFox Documentaries, creating what they call the most lifelike experience of being on Mars.

Safe travels.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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via Laughing Squid

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Travel from Rotterdam to Amsterdam in 10 Minutes by Boat: A 4k Timelapse

In 2013, a boat traveled from Rotterdam to Amsterdam, with a timelapse camera installed 30 meters high. The resulting film “gives a unique and stunning view of the old Dutch waterways, in 4K.” And lots of bridges along the way.

All images were shot with a Canon 550d at an interval of 3 seconds. 30,000 pictures were taken in total. Initially, “the film couldn’t be published due to restrictions. After a few years it was forgotten.” But now it has been resurrected, and it’s online.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Take a Road Trip Across America with Cartoonist Lynda Barry in the 90s Documentary, Grandma’s Way Out Party

Who wouldn’t love to take a road trip with beloved cartoonist and educator Lynda Barry? As evidenced by Grandma’s Way Out Party, above, an early-90s documentary made for Twin Cities Public Television, Barry not only finds the humor in every situation, she’s always up for a detour, whether to a time honored destination like Mount Rushmore or Old Faithful, or a more impulsive pitstop, like a Washington state car repair shop decorated with sculptures made from cast off mufflers or the Montana State Prison Hobby Store.

Alternating in the driver’s seat with then-boyfriend, storyteller Kevin Kling, she makes up songs on her accordion, clowns around in a cheap cowgirl hat, samples an oversized gas station donut, and chats up everyone she encounters.

At the World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, she breaks the ice by asking a bearded local guy in official Corn Palace cap and t-shirt if his job is the fulfillment of a long held dream.

“Nah,” he says. “I thought it was a joke … in Fargo, they call it the world’s biggest bird feeder. We do have the biggest birds in South Dakota. They get fed good.”

He leads them to Cal Schultz, the art teacher who designed over 25 years worth of murals festooning the exterior walls. Nudged by Barry to pick a favorite, Schultz chooses one that his 9th grade students worked on.

“I would have loved to have been in his class,” Barry, a teacher now herself, says emphatically. “I would have given anything to have worked on a Corn Palace when I was 14-years-old.”

This point is driven home with a quick view of her best known creation, the pigtailed, bespectacled Marlys, ostensibly rendered in corn—an honor Marlys would no doubt appreciate.

Barry has long been lauded for her understanding of and respect for children’s inner lives, and we see this natural affinity in action when she befriends Desmond and Jake, two young participants in the Crow Fair Pow Wowjust south of Billings, Montana.

Frustrated by her inability to get a handle on the proceedings (“Why didn’t I learn it in school!? Why wasn’t it part of our curriculum?”), Barry retreats to the comfort of her sketchbook, which attracts the curious boys. Eventually, she draws their portraits to give them as keepsakes, getting to know them better in the process.

The drawings they make in return are treasured by the recipient, not least for the window they provide on the culture with which they are so casually familiar.

Barry and Kling also chance upon the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and after a bite at the Road Kill Cafe (“from your grill to ours”), Barry waxes philosophical about the then-unusual sight of so much tattooed flesh:

There’s something about the fact that they want something on them that they can’t wash off, that even on days when they don’t want people to know they’re a biker, it’s still there. And I have always loved that about people, like …drag queens who will shave off their eyebrows so they can draw perfect eyebrows on, or anybody who knows they’re different and does something to themselves physically so that even on their bad days, they can’t deny it. Because I think that in the end, that’s sort of what saves your life, that you wear your colors. You can’t help it.

The aforementioned muffler store prompts some musings that will be very familiar to anyone who has immersed themselves in Making ComicsPicture This, or any other of Barry’s instructional books containing her wonderfully loopy, intuitive creative exercises:

I think this urge to create is actually our animal instinct. And what’s sad is if we don’t let that come through us, I don’t think we have a full life on this earth. And I think we get sick because of it. I mean, it’s weird that it’s an instinct, but it’s an option, just like you can take a wild animal, a beautiful, wild animal and put him in a zoo. They live, they’re fine in their cage, but you don’t get to see them do the thing that a cheetah does best, which is, you know, just run like the wind and be able to jump and do the things… I mean, it’s our instinct, it’s instinctual, it’s our beautiful, beautiful, magical, poetic, mysterious instinct. And every once in a while, you see the flower of it come right up out of a gas station. 

After 1653 miles and one squabble after overshooting a scheduled stop (“You don’t want me to go to Butte!”), the two arrive at their final destination, Barry’s childhood home in Seattle. The occasion? Barry’s Filipino grandmother’s 83rd birthday, and plans are afoot for a potluck bash at the local VFW hall. Fans will swoon to meet this venerated lady and the rest of Barry’s extended clan, and hear Barry’s reflections on what it was like to grow up in a working class neighborhood where most of the families were multi-racial.

“I walked in and it was everything Lynda said,” Kling marvels.


The journey is everything we could have hoped for, too.

Listen to a post-trip interview with Kling on Minnesota Public Radio.

H/t to reader Charlotte Booker

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine – current issue: #63 Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch 36 Short Animations That Tell the Origin Stories of Mexico’s Indigenous Peoples in Their Own Languages

In our efforts to preserve endangered species we seem to overlook something equally important. To me it is a sign of a deeply disturbed civilization where tree huggers and whale huggers in their weirdness are acceptable while no one embraces the last speakers of a language.

 – Werner Herzog, Encounters at the End of the World

Trees and whales aside, we suspect the ever quotable Herzog would warm to fellow director Gabriela Badillo’s 68 Voices, 68 Hearts, a series of one-minute animations that preserve indigenous Mexican stories with narration provided by native speakers.

“It was created in order to help foster pride, respect, and the use of indigenous Mexican languages between speakers and non-speakers, as well as to help reduce discrimination and foster a sense of pride towards all communities and cultures that are part of the cultural richness that makes up Mexico,” Badillo says in an interview with Awasqa.

The project stemmed from a realization in the wake of the death of her grandfather, a Maxcanu from Yucatan:

Aside from losing a loved one, I realized that an enormous wisdom had also been lost: a language, stories, traditions and customs, a whole world had dissolved with him.

Each animation involves collaboration with the National Institute of Indigenous Language and the community whose story is being shared. Community members choose the subject, then supply narration and translation. Their children draw scenes from the selected story, which steers the style of animation.

Prior to being released to the general public, each film is presented to its community of origin, along with a booklet of suggested educational activities for parents and teachers to use in conjunction with screenings. Boxes of postcards featuring artwork from the series are donated to the community school.

Some of the entries, like the above About Earthquakes and the Origin of Life on Earth, narrated in Ch’ol by Eugenia Cruz Montejo, pack a massive amount of story into the allotted minute:

They say many years ago Ch’ujtiat, the Heaven’s lord, created the Earth with 12 immortal men to carry it. And it is when they get tired that the Earth moves, provoking earthquakes.

At the same time he created the first men, who were ungrateful, so Ch’ujtiat sent the flood and turned the survivors into monkeys, and the innocent children into stars. He then created our first parents, na’al, Ixic y Xun’Ok, who multiplied and populated the Earth. 

That’s how life on Earth began.That’s how the Ch’oles tell it.

Variants of “that’s how we tell it” are a common refrain, as in the Cora (also known as Náayeri) story of how the Mother Goddess created earth (and other gods), narrated by Pedro Muñiz López.

Here is the written version, in Cora:

E’itɨ tiuséijre cháanaka

Yaapú ti’nyúukari tɨkɨn a’najpú ɨtyáj náimi ajnáana Náasisaa, Téijkame jemín ɨ cháanaka ajtá ɨ máxkɨrai, góutaaguaka’a ɨ tabóujsimua yaati’xáata tɨkɨn mata’a já guatéchaɨn majtá tyuipuán iyakúi cháanaka japuá.

Muxáj kɨmenpú góutaaguaka’a tɨ’kí nájkɨ’ta gojoutyájtua. Áuna me’séira aɨjme taboujsimua matákua’naxɨ.

Tɨ’kí aɨjna tanáana Náasisaa, ukɨpuapú guatákɨɨnitya’a, yán guajaikagua’xɨjre uyóujmua matɨ’jmí jetsán guatyáakɨ yán miye’ntiné tajapuá. Kapú aɨn jé’i, matákua’naxɨ máj akábibɨɨ yán juté’e, makaupɨxɨɨ ujetsé matɨ’jmí chuéj kɨj tentyóu metya’úrara, ajtá ɨ Taja’as xu’rabe’táana tiuɨrɨj tyautyájtua ajpúi tanáana Náasisaa tsíikɨri guatyákɨstaka ukɨpuá kɨmen. Japuanpú aɨjna chuéj utíajka tɨ’kí goutaíjte aɨjme tabóujsimua guatáijte máj atapa’tsaren metya’tanya’tɨkɨ’káa ayaapú tiutéjbe máj tiunéitan.

Ayaapú tiuséijre cháanaka. Ayáj tigua’nyúukari Náayeri.

Badillo’s educational mission is well served by one of our favorites, The Origin of the Mountains. In addition to mountains, this Cucapá story, narrated by Inocencia González Sainz, delves into the origin of oceans and the Colorado River, though fair warning—it may be difficult to restore classroom order once the students hear that testicles and earwax figure prominently.

To watch a playlist of the 36 animations completed so far with English subtitles, click here.

68 Voices, 68 Heart’s Kickstarter page has more information about this ongoing project. Contributions will go toward animating stories in the three languages that are at the highest risk of disappearing—AkatekoPopoloca, and Ku’ahl.

As Badillo writes:

When a language disappears, not only a sound, a way of writing, a letter or a word goes away. Something much deeper than just a form of communication disappears – a way of seeing and conceiving the world, stories, tales, a way of naming and relating to things, an enormous knowledge that we should relearn because of its deep respect with nature.

via Boing Boing

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. She most recently appeared as a French Canadian bear who travels to New York City in search of food and meaning in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Rick Steves’ Europe: Binge Watch 9 Seasons of America’s Favorite Traveler Free Online

“People who are addicted to European travel, this is kind of a frustrating time for them,” says Rick Steves in a podcast interview with The New York Times‘ Sam Anderson from this past spring. He should know: since becoming a professional travel guide and educator in the late 1970s, Steves has harnessed his own European travel addiction to build a business empire. To his fellow Europhiles — and especially his fellow Europhile but monoglot Americans making their first leap across the Atlantic — Steves has sold a great many classes, tours, guidebooks, money belts, and neck pillows. Over the past three decades, almost everyone who’s got to know him has done so through his travel shows on public television, especially Rick Steves’ Europe.

“Steves is a joyful and jaunty host, all eager-beaver smiles and expressive head tilts,” writes Anderson of the show, whose star “gushes poetically about England’s Lake District (‘a lush land steeped in a rich brew of history, culture and nature’) and Erfurt, Germany (‘this half-timbered medieval town with a shallow river gurgling through its center’) and Istanbul (‘this sprawling metropolis on the Bosporus’) and Lisbon (‘like San Francisco, but older and grittier and less expensive’).”

In recent years, seasons of Rick Steves’ Europe have become free to watch on Youtube. The nine full seasons now available also include “Germany’s Romantic Rhine“; Normandy, “War-Torn Yet Full of Life“; “Feisty and Poetic” North Wales; “Little Europe: Five Micro-Countries“; Basque country; and The Best of Slovenia.

As well known for his practical-mindedness as he is for his cheerfulness, Steves has also produced such special broadcasts as a threepart series on the travel skills necessary to cross huge swaths of Europe safely and enjoyably. Given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, however, it will be a while before any of us can once again put our travel skills to the test. “This virus can stop our travel plans, but it cannot stop our travel dreams,” Steves declares on the podcast with Anderson, leading into the announcement of a new game: Rick Steves’ Europe Bingo, “where the cards have all of the little goofy clichés that show up in almost every one of my shows,” from “Rick visits a church” and “Rick enjoys a local drink” to signature lines like “Oh, baby!” and “Keep on travelin’.”

“You can turn it into a drinking game if you want,” Steves notes. And indeed, with or without the aid of alcohol, there are much worse ways for travelers to pass the remainder of the pandemic than with an extended binge-watch of Rick Steves’ Europe, whose seasons are organized into playlists below:

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletterBooks on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Deadliest Garden in the World: Visit Alnwick’s Poison Garden in Northumberland, England

The mind reels to think of all the early humans who sacrificed themselves, unwittingly, in the prehistoric quest to learn which plants were safe to eat, which were suitable for healing, and which would maim or kill whoever who touched them. Even now, of course, the great majority of us rely on experts to make these distinctions for us. Unless we’re steeped in field training and/or folk knowledge, it’s safe to say most of us wouldn’t have a clue how to avoid poisoning ourselves in the wild.

This need not overly concern us on a visit to The Poison Garden, however. Nestled in manicured lanes at Alnwick Garden, “one of north England’s most beautiful attractions,” Natasha Geiling writes at Smithsonian, the Poison Garden includes such infamous killers as hemlock, Atropa belladonna (a.k.a. Deadly Nightshade), and Strychnos nux-vomica, the source of strychnine, in its collections. Just don’t touch the plants and you should be fine. Oh, and also, guides tell visitors, “don’t even smell them.” It should go without saying that tasting is out.

The Poison Garden is hardly the main attraction at Alnwick, in Northumberland. The castle itself was used as the setting for Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films. The 14 acres of controversial modern landscape gardens–designed by the flamboyant Jane Percy, Duchess of Northumberland–have become famous in their own right, in part for violating “England’s architectural patrimony,” a scandal you can read about here. (One garden designer and critic called it a “popular entertainment, the dream of a girl who looks like Posh and lives at Hogwarts.”)

The duchess responds to criticism of her extravagant designs with a shrug. “A lot of my ideas come from Las Vegas and Euro Disney,” she admits. The Poison Garden has a much more venerable source, the Orto Botanico in Padua, the oldest extant academic botanical garden, founded in 1545, with its own poison garden that dates to the time of the Medicis. After a visit, Percy “became enthralled with the idea of creating a garden of plants that could kill instead of heal,” writes Geiling. She thought of it, specifically, as “a way to interest children.” As the duchess says:

Children don’t care that aspirin comes from the bark of a tree. What’s really interesting is to know how a plant kills you, and how the patient dies, and what you feel like before you die.

What child doesn’t wonder about such things? And if we teach kids how to avoid poisonous plants, they can keep the rest of us alive should we have to retreat into the woods and become foragers again. The Poison Garden also grows plants from which common recreational drugs derive, like cannabis and cocaine, “as a jumping-off point for drug education,” Geiling points out.

Provided visitors follow the rules, the garden is safe, “although some people still occasionally faint from inhaling toxic fumes,” Alnwick Garden’s website warns. And while it’s designed to attract and educate kids, there’s a little something for everyone. Percy’s favorite poisonous plant, for example, Brugmansia, or angel’s trumpet, acts as a powerful aphrodisiac before it kills. She explains with glee that “Victorian ladies would often keep a flower from the plant on their card tables and add small amounts of its pollen to their tea to incite an LSD-like trip.” You can learn many other fascinating facts about plants that kill, and do other things, at Alnwick’s Poison Garden when the world opens up again.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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