Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Retrospection for a Ragtime King: Scott Joplin and the American devaluation of Black art

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I found the above in a post that collected seven performances of Scott Joplin’s compositions. I wanted to go beyond the familiar pieces — The Entertainer and Maple Leaf Rag. I was looking for a Joplin introduction to Adrienne Davich’s fine essay in Van Magazine, which begins:

In 1991, when I was eight years old, I found a simplified version of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” and relished playing it for most of the year that I was in third grade. My parents had recently divorced. I’d moved from Las Vegas to Reno with my mother, a kindergarten teacher. Before and after school, I played “The Entertainer” on an out-of-tune piano in my mother’s classroom. I played it obsessively, perhaps because it occupied my hands and sounded jolly. I didn’t feel sad when I played it, though I missed my dad fiercely; instead, I felt indefatigable and industrious. The lyrics on my sheet music described a clownish performer doing “snappy patter and jokes” that please “the folks.” I know I imagined a Black man on stage, but I didn’t know about minstrel shows or much else about America’s racist past and present. 

My babysitter, who was 13 and also white, loved “The Entertainer” so much that she asked me to teach her how to play it. She’d never taken piano lessons, but she patiently learned the right-hand notes and I accompanied her with the left-hand part. We created a duet and took turns singing the words. I don’t know about her, but I never once thought deeply about what the lyrics evoked: a “mask that grins and lies.” The entertainer I envisioned was a lot like Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, who looks happy tap-dancing alongside Shirley Temple in her childhood movie series. I presumed that the imagery associated with minstrelsy was normal and innocuous, just as I thought topless showgirls performing in my city’s casinos was. I’m not ashamed of this, but it’s baffling to think that in the 1990s I lived in a place where I was able to spend a year playing “The Entertainer” and learn absolutely nothing about the history of African American music, specifically ragtime, and the life of Scott Joplin.

I still knew nothing about Joplin, the man, when I was 14 and my piano teacher asked me to learn “Maple Leaf Rag.” Or I knew almost nothing. I’d at least learned that Joplin was Black because his photo appeared on my spiral-bound volume of his music. His race didn’t register with me as particularly important, but on the other hand, from somewhere I’d absorbed the idea that ragtime music was simpler and less important than the music of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. When my teacher, who was a professor of music at the university, handed me the “Maple Leaf,” I presumed it was because he’d disqualified me from playing other, “more serious” pieces. I felt bad about being asked to devote my time to a piece that’s often programmed into player pianos. 

That is, until something unexpected happened: I began playing it reasonably well and people loved it. When guests came to my mother’s house, my stepfather urged me to play it. He never asked for Mozart or Scarlatti. Joplin’s rag was more delightful and impressive. It is, after all, a vivacious, happy piece that looks harder to play than it actually is.

Can you play a piece of music well without knowing its background? Is everything you need to know really on the page? 

During the years I studied piano, we presumed yes. At weekly lessons, I learned theory, practiced sight-reading, and played pieces from every musical period. Although I was expected to know the dates and features of different musical styles, my teachers rarely if ever contextualized the music they asked me to play. It’s curious to me now that we didn’t talk about historical backdrops and personal tragedies. I know for certain that my teachers had rigorously studied classical music history. Did they think that I didn’t care? Or had they found that students fared better focusing solely on the music as written and their technique in playing it? 

I’ve asked these questions because the pieces I played during my formative years are embedded in my soul. They’re part of my identity. I didn’t choose to bring them into my life (a teacher usually did), but ultimately, I did choose them, because I stuck with them. The two pieces that have haunted me the most are ones I started playing at 13 and 14 years old. I felt proud to play the first of these, Debussy’s “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair”; I believed it represented me, with its melancholic air and evocation of loneliness and longing. But the other piece, Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” didn’t flow from somewhere inside me. I would have to inhabit it in a different way.

Joplin was born around 1868, possibly in the vicinity of  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 January 2023 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Art, History, Jazz, Music

How the White Cube Came to Dominate the Art World

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Abigail Cain writes at Artsy.net:

In 1976, artist and critic  set the art world abuzz with a three-part essay published in Artforum. Titled “Inside the White Cube,” it gave a catchy new name to a mode of display that had long ago achieved dominance in museums and commercial galleries. As the story goes, copies of the magazine flew off the shelves. O’Doherty himself has said that the level of response shocked him: “It was a huge wave, and I said, ‘What is this?’… It struck a nerve, to the point where several people came up to me and said, ‘You know, I was about to write that.’”

More recently, in a 2012 paper, the writer Whitney Birkett traced the history of the “white cube”—looking at its origins before O’Doherty’s 1976 essay. In Birkett’s paper, she also analyzes the ways in which the white cube’s dominance, which was once revolutionary, has come to feel static as well as potentially off-putting to modern audiences. In Birkett’s words, the white cube, “now elevates art above its earthly origins, alienating uninitiated visitors and supporting traditional power relationships.”

As Birkett’s paper points out, while O’Doherty deserves credit for coining the phrase white cube (a label that has since become a staple of the art-world lexicon), the actual display strategy was invented decades earlier. Today, New York’s Museum of Modern Art is widely credited with institutionalizing the approach in the 1930s. But the evolution of the white cube goes back much further, with MoMA representing the culmination of a long stretch of experimentation and debate by museum directors and curators spanning continents and centuries.

Major public museums began to spring up in the 18th century, most notably the British Museum in 1759 and the Louvre in 1793. These institutions had largely grown out of private collections, in which artworks were displayed in dense, symmetrical arrangements that connoisseurs believed allowed for a better comparison of styles and movements. They were also influenced by the Paris salons, where paintings jostled for space on walls hung floor to ceiling with art. Artists were captivated by these new public spaces, and museum galleries were a frequent subject of early 19th-century painting.

It wasn’t just artists who were fascinated by these institutions. Attendance swelled throughout the 19th century, with London’s South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria & Albert Museum) reporting 456,000 annual visitors in 1857, compared to over a million in 1870. Collections also grew over time, and soon the museums of the Victorian era were dealing with issues of overcrowding in terms of both people and paintings.

“Even in the middle of the 19th century, it was generally recognized that museums should isolate works of art on walls to avoid overcrowding and to accentuate quality for visitors,” Andrew McClellan, a professor of art history at Tufts University, told me. “It was recognized that crowded walls hampered proper appreciation of individual works of art.” As English economist William Stanley Jevons put it in an 1881–82 essay, “the general mental state produced by such vast displays is one of perplexity and vagueness, together with some impression of sore feet and aching heads.”

Taking note of these criticisms, the National Gallery in London began to experiment with picture placement in the mid-1800s. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 January 2023 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life

Why Bonsai Scissors Can Cost $26,000

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Written by Leisureguy

18 January 2023 at 7:48 pm

M. Scott Peck’s “People of the Lie”

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Some books change over time — or they seem to. It’s as when you are on a hike through a forest and view a mountain through the trees. As you continue your course, the next day you again glimpse that mountain, and its appearance has changed. The mountain, of course, has remained the same, but you now view it from a different angle.

That happens with books: what you pick up from a book are those aspects that resonate with your experience. When you read the book later, with a greater range of experience, you’ll see different things. For me, this was vividly brought home by my readings of Madame Bovary. When I read the book in high school, it was so boring I could not finish it. When I read it for a seminar as an upperclassman in college, it was more interesting but still a bit of a slog. But when I was 40 and read it again, I could not put it down. It was totally gripping. The book had not changed; it was simply written for adults, whose life experience is greater than a schoolboy’s.

Another book that seemed to change completely from one reading to the next was J.F. Powers’s Morte d’Urban, which the second reading revealed to be much more interesting, though even after the first reading I liked the book a lot (thus the second reading).

Ford K. Brown, a tutor at my alma mater St. John’s College in Annapolis, told of a business executive he knew whose schedule was so crowded that he had only enough time to read a single book each year, and every year he read Don Quixote, which, like the mountain, presents different aspects as you journey through life, provide you look closely at it.

The above is a specific example of a more general situation: when a fixed thing looks very different to person A than it does to person B. In the above, A and B are the same person, but A is the person when younger and B when older, with the fixed thing a book. But A and B can also be different people who view the fixed thing with their difference in background making a difference in perspective, so that they thus find different things in it. A (relatively) famous example is a review of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover originally published in Field & Streamin which the reviewer’s background gives a view of the novel that most people would not see.

Although written many years ago, Lady Chatterley’s Lover has just been reissued by the Grove Press, and this fictional account of the day-to-day life of an English gamekeeper is still of considerable interest to outdoor-minded readers, as it contains many passages on pheasant raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways to control vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper.

Unfortunately, one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savor these sidelights on the management of a Midlands shooting estate, and in this reviewer’s opinion this book cannot take the place of J.R. Miller’s Practical Gamekeeping.

(Ed Zern, Field & Stream, November 1959, p. 142)

The phenomenon is also observed when A and B are from different cultures; an example of that is found in the previous post.

Another example — when A and B are from the same general culture but have different spheres of knowledge and experience and thus belong to different subcultures — can be found in Post-Captain, the second volume of the trilogy — Master and Commander (1969), Post-Captain (1972), and HMS Surprise (1973) — that begins Patrick O’Brian’s wonderful series of British naval novels about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. It begins with a scene at a party, with young Cecilia Williams eager to move about but temporarily in the company Mrs. Williams and Jack Aubrey:

‘Mama says they mean to go and look at the Magdalene. That is what Dr Maaturin is pointing at.’

‘Yes? Oh, yes. Certainly. A Guido, I believe?’ [said Aubrey.]

‘No, Sir,’ said Mrs Williams, who understood these things better than other people. ‘It is an oil painting, a very valuable oil painting, though not quite in the modern taste.’

A bit later, Jack Aubrey and Diana Villiers take a look at the painting.

It was clear that the Magdalene had not yet repented: she was standing on a quay with blue ruins in the background – a blue that swept with varying intensities through her robe to the sea – with gold plates, ewers and basins heaped up on a crimson cloth, and an expression of mild complacency on her face. Her blue dress had blown off – a fresh double-reef topsail breeze – and so had a filmy white garment, exposing handsome limbs and a firm, though opulent bosom. Jack had been a long time at sea, and this drew his attention; however, he shifted his gaze after a moment, surveyed the rest of the picture and sought for something appropriate, perhaps even witty, to say. He longed to produce a subtle and ingenious remark, but he longed in vain – perhaps the day had been too full – and he was obliged to fall back on ‘Very fine – such a blue.’ Then a small vessel in the lower left-hand corner caught his eye, something in the nature of a pink; she was beating up for the harbour, but it was obvious from the direction of the lady’s clothes that the pink would be taken aback the moment she rounded the headland. ‘As soon as she catches the land-breeze she will be in trouble,’ he said. ‘She will never stay, not with those unhandy lateens, and there is no room to wear; so there she is on a lee-shore. Poor fellows. I am afraid there is no hope for them.’

‘That is exactly what Maturin told me you would say,’ cried Diana, squeezing his arm. ‘How well he knows you, Aubrey.’

‘Well, a man don’t have to be a Nostradamus to tell what a sailor will say, when he sees an infernal tub like that laid by the lee. But Stephen is a very deep old file, to be sure,’ he added, his good humour returning. ‘And a great cognoscento, I make no doubt. For my part I know nothing about painting at all.’


.
With that as prologue: I was much impressed decades ago when around age 40 I read M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. I went on to read The People of the Lie but was not so pleased by that. But I want to read it again, for with more knowledge and experience, I now see active in the public sphere many whom I would have to say are people of the lie. George Santos is an obvious example — but those who readily accept and support him, like Kevin McCarthy, must also count as people of the lie, people who will embrace and use the lie.

Kevin Drum points out an egregiously false and misleading column by Marc Thiessen. Thiessen is an intelligent and well-educated person, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush, and he undoubtedly knows that what he wrote is false and misleading. His decision to write those words marks him as one of the people of the lie.

I must read again The People of the Lie. I think this time it will seem a very different book, for I have traveled farther along life’s course and seen more.

Written by Leisureguy

12 January 2023 at 7:32 am

Two views of The Great Wave

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Three rowboats carrying Japanese fishermen after rushing into the onslaught of a great wave while in the background Mount Fuji is visible against a reddish horizon.

What do you notice first? Look at the image for a while, then read this post

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2023 at 9:36 pm

Posted in Art, Memes

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Making a bonsai: A Christmas-tree spruce

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A very nice video on the details of bonsai work.

Written by Leisureguy

11 January 2023 at 6:17 am

Posted in Art, Daily life, Video

In the Stacks, a short story by Robin Sloan

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Short, but good. I hope you read it.

Written by Leisureguy

6 January 2023 at 1:55 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Memes, Music, Writing

I Ain’t Got Nothing But Time: The mostly true legend of Hank Williams

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David Ramsey writes in Oxford American:

BUT SLEEP WON’T COME

It seems fitting to begin at the end. The final recording session Hank Williams had was banged out over a couple hours in a studio in Nashville on September 23, 1952. Four songs, four classics—including “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” That’s just how it was for Hank, even then, at the tail end of drinking himself to death. A little more than three months later, he died in the backseat of a baby blue Cadillac. He was in a bad way on booze and pills and injections, but the circumstances of his death, like his life, remain murky. We’ll get to that.

Hank’s second wife swore “Your Cheatin’ Heart” was about his first wife; his first wife swore he had written it about himself. It hardly matters.

On the one hand, we can say heartbreak is an essentially generic topic for a song, and the lament of the cuckold is a rather sour brand of the form. Still: Just listen. The lilt and longing in Hank’s voice. The freakish adrenaline in his delivery. His rubbery tenor, the way the tune yo-yos up and down like something about to snap. It is just one of those songs: Slinks up as lazily as a python; before you know it, you’re smothered. Sometimes I think it’s the meanest lullaby ever written.

The brief career of Hank Williams became such a definitional anchor for what was then mostly known as hillbilly music and is now known as country that you can catch yourself wondering if the whole genre might have had slightly different preoccupations if Hank wasn’t so fixated on cheating and drinking. There’s a tear in my beer, and so on and on. But he was a medium. He knew what the people wanted.

“If you’re gonna sing,” Hank said, “sing ’em something they can understand.”

After he died, a Wisconsin woman wrote in to a newspaper in Montgomery: “We have listened to Hank Williams on disc jockey shows so often that we felt he was a friend of ours; someone we had known for a long time.”

Hank called it folk music, before that term took on another connotation. Songs for the people. Drinking and cheating are familiar troubles, but they are also proxies, let’s say. There are so many ways to feel cheated, so many longings and lacks. There are so many troubles. I’m not here to tell you what country music is, but that’s what it is to me. You’ll cry and cry, and try to sleep.

They called him the Hillbilly Shakespeare, but that almost seems to miss the point. There is no meter to a certain sort of sorrow. Sometimes all we can do is howl. When the light fades to dusk, when the night is quiet and our mind is not, when the medicine wears off, when the road is long, when time is short. I got a feeling called the blues.

THE BOOK OF KINGS

He was born outside of Georgiana, Alabama, to Lon and Lillie Williams. His first name, according to state records, was Hiriam. They meant to give him the Old Testament name Hiram, but there was a mix-up on the birth certificate. As a boy, he went by “Harm” or “Herky” or “Skeets.”

His mother ran a boarding house that may or may not have doubled as a brothel. She was a large, intimidating woman who eventually worked the door when he played shows. “There ain’t nobody I’d rather have alongside me in a fight,” her son was heard to say, “than my mama with a broken bottle in her hand.”

His father sustained a serious head injury during his service in World War I, which may or may not have happened in a fight with another soldier over a French girl. Later, Lon had either an aneurysm or something like shellshock, and he left for the VA hospital when the boy was six years old. Likely in part due to Lillie’s efforts, he was mostly . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 December 2022 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Music, Video

Amazing if you like dance: Maurice Ravel – Boléro (choreographed by Maurice Béjart) with Nicolas Le Riche

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Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2022 at 4:53 pm

Posted in Art, Video

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Turns: A Life’s Work

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11 December 2022 at 11:49 am

Posted in Art, Daily life, Video

The Broccoli Tree: A Parable

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Written by Leisureguy

2 December 2022 at 3:52 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Video

Good(bye) Design

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Video by Miki Nemcek, who writes:

Goodbye Design was a passion project of summer 2018. The idea was born when I walked out of a museum a few months ago amazed by a product design exhibition from around ’50s. The geniality of minimal design mixed with used retro flavor and playful accent colors of everyday objects (mainly Braun) were the essentials for the concept of this short movie. Everything is driven by an excellent track from Dirty Art Club which was a perfect match with the rhythmical side of the concept. “Good(bye) Design ” is a reminder of how people slowly lose a relationship with true Good Design. Let’s look back at immortal design icons in this audiovisual experience! Enjoy 😉

Music: Dirty Art Club – Sincerely Yours, the D.A.C.

Bē: behance.net/mikinemcek
IG: instagram.com/obsedant/

Written by Leisureguy

1 December 2022 at 8:48 pm

Posted in Art, Video

Pencils & Drawing

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Written by Leisureguy

22 November 2022 at 2:12 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Technology

AI images for Shakespeare’s plays

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One image per play.

Written by Leisureguy

17 November 2022 at 5:55 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Software, Technology

The Beautiful, Brutal World of Bonsai

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39-year-old Ryan Neil, seated next to a large bonsai and leaning against it.

In the New Yorker, Suzanne Saroff has a profile (no paywall) of an American bonsai master who studied in Japan. The profile begins:

In the winter of 2002, a young American named Ryan Neil joined an unusual pilgrimage: he and several others flew to Tokyo, to begin a tour of Japan’s finest collections of bonsai trees. He was nineteen, with an athlete’s body and a sunny, symmetrical face. The next-youngest adult in the group was fifty-seven. Then, as now, rearing tiny trees in ornamental pots was not commonly considered a young man’s hobby.

Neil had grown up in a small Colorado mountain town. For much of his youth, he was focussed on playing sports, especially basketball, which he approached with an almost clinical rigor: during high-school summer breaks, he’d wake up every day at five-thirty and attempt twelve hundred jump shots before going to the gym to lift weights. By his junior year, he was the best player on the team. By his senior year, he had torn one of his quadriceps—“It was hanging on by just a thread,” he recalls—and was looking for a new obsession.

Like many Americans of his generation, Neil had discovered bonsai through the “Karate Kid” films. He was especially fond of the third movie in the series, which features dreamy shots of characters rappelling down a cliff face to collect a miniature juniper. In the films, the wise karate instructor, Mr. Miyagi, practices the art of bonsai, and in Neil’s young mind it came to represent a romantic ideal: the pursuit of perfection through calm discipline. One day, after seeing bonsai for sale at a local fair, he rode his bike to the library, checked out every book on bonsai, and lugged them all home.

About a month later, he got his hands on a trade magazine, Bonsai Today, which featured an article about Masahiko Kimura, the so-called magician of bonsai, who is regarded by many enthusiasts as the field’s most innovative living figure. (Kunio Kobayashi, one of Kimura’s chief rivals at the time, called him “the kind of genius who comes along once every hundred years, or maybe more.”) The article described how Kimura had transformed and refined a small juniper tree that had been collected in the wild. A scruffy, shapeless plant had become a cantilevered sculpture. As Neil saw it, Kimura had given the tree not just a new shape but a soul.

Near the end of high school, Neil laid out a meticulous long-term plan that would culminate in his travelling across the Pacific to apprentice under Kimura, who was considered the toughest bonsai master in Japan. Neil knew that the work would not be easy. Bonsai apprenticeships could last anywhere between five and ten years. At the time, some fifty people had begun working under Kimura, but only five had completed the apprenticeship, all of them Japanese.

Neil went to college at California Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo, where he majored in horticulture and studied Japanese. He helped take care of the university’s bonsai collection and travelled around the West Coast to attend master classes with renowned practitioners. While other students were partying, he stayed home looking at bonsai blogs, or drove his pickup truck to remote mountain locations in search of wild miniature trees. “He was possessed,” his father recalls.

Neil signed up for the tour of Japan during his sophomore year, and took a short leave from school. On the second day of the trip, the group visited Kimura’s garden, in a rural area some thirty miles northwest of Tokyo. It was a cool, gray morning; Neil wore a hoodie. The group was met by one of Kimura’s apprentices and ushered past rows of ancient and pristinely shaped bonsai into the back garden—the workshop—where few visitors were allowed.

Neil later likened the moment to peering into the mind of a mad genius. Hundreds of knee-high trees, in various states of arboreal surgery, were lined up on benches and beer crates. Custom-made power tools were scattered around the workshop, including a machine, used to sculpt trunks, that shot out tiny glass beads. Kimura was famed for his deft use of these devices to carve rippling torrents of shari—bone-white deadwood that is laced with thin veins of living wood.

That day, Kimura, who was then in his sixties, was working on . . .

Continue reading. (no paywall) 

Photos of bonsai.

A bonsai created by Kimura called "The Dance of the Flying Dragon," discussed and described in the article
Kimura’s “The Dance of the Flying Dragon”

Written by Leisureguy

14 November 2022 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Memes

Mural in Kyiv

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From an article in the Guardian.

Written by Leisureguy

12 November 2022 at 4:54 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Ukraine, War

What the Mona Lisa originally looked like

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Actual reconstruction (not Photoshop bullshit):

Written by Leisureguy

7 November 2022 at 10:38 am

Posted in Art, Software, Technology

Using the Astronomicum Caesareum Book

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Written by Leisureguy

3 November 2022 at 3:43 pm

Wonderful chairs (including a rocking chair)

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I was about to blog an article, when I realized I had already blogged it long ago — but it’s worth pointing out again. Here are two related posts, a short one followed by a longer one.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2022 at 1:24 pm

Posted in Art, Business, Daily life

What level of pain are you experiencing?

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Click to enlarge.

Written by Leisureguy

22 October 2022 at 3:21 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Medical

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