I've been cracking into this 1000-piecer over the last couple of days, kindly lent by a friend in the neighbourhood. It's an insect mosaic by Christopher Marley. I'm not sure how I feel about the use of exotic animal carcasses in his work—I'm not convinced that even the good intentions come through for people how just want a pretty object on the wall. But there's no denying these are exquisite beasts and it's not often you get a chance to scrutinise so many at close quarters. I'm more used to pastoral mountain landscapes and the like, so this is a bit of a departure for me.
The jigsaw is a tough starter, considering the interchangeable beetle parts in similar shades and formations, but once I'd got the edges done and started to get my bearings around some of the more distinctive beetles, I settled in pretty well. There's something unique about each bug which can be navigated reasonably quickly: without big blocks of undifferentiated colour and inscrutable patterns, it's a steady solve.
For me the experience of doing jigsaws is one of getting lost in an image for hours at a time, which is why I prefer landscapes because it's like visiting a place—a way to travel when you're stuck at home. This piece is obviously more abstract, and feels more like a trip to a natural history museum, but these little guys are a rainbow of intricately-coloured beauty, with lots of variation, and we're all buddies now.
This'll be done in a day or two, so keep donating...
Tunes for this sitting: 'Jigsaw Youth' - Bikini Kill / 'Monkey Puzzle' - Polaris / 'Beetles' - Warpaint
As David Grohl once inconsequentially sang: “done, done and I’m on to the next one.” Toe-tapping jigsaw fans may remember this moment in the history of grunge as signalling the altogether brief prospect of a return to form in the output of the Foo Fighters, which in the short term apparently consisted mainly of ripping off the far superior ‘Feel Good Hit of the Summer’. The return to form never came, of course. But anyway, on to the next jigsaw.
Having dispatched the beetles by midweek, I promptly cleared the jigsaw board and returned to more familiar fare: a village set in the South Tyrolean hills, languishing in the long shadows of late-afternoon. Now, I don’t know much about South Tyrol, but a quick bit of web-sleuthing leads me to discover that the village in question is Santa Maddalena, some 40-odd miles from the Austrian border in the shade of the Dolomites. Clearly the view chosen across the church towards the mountains is a popular one for stock photographers, since it comes up on repeated searches, rendered in all seasons and in myriad tones of Bob Ross-like mountain shade. The actual image selected by the manufacturers is an odd choice perhaps, capturing as it does a smattering of building materials in the foreground, but it’s a pleasant enough afternoon in the north Italian countryside nevertheless, and I crack on.
In terms of jigsaw difficulty this isn’t a big ask, and I’ve broken the back of this in two Saturday sittings. The jigsaw is divided into areas of distinctive colour: the grass on the left is a different texture to that on the right, and the hard lines of shadow break up the topography, facilitating quick piece recognition. Most helpful of all, in the near distance the image is framed by a fringe of limbs and leaves: I calculate that a good 15% of the jigsaw contains these twig fragments, meaning much less fretting over open skies.
As for the scene itself, I’m into it. The evidence of building work and one or two stray figures in frame are actually reminders this is a working, lived-in place. There’s something reassuring about the muddy shadows stretching across the village, over the road and into the hills beyond. I could spend a few days here, watching the light change across the side of the mountain. Just don’t ruin it by playing the Foo Fighters.
Tunes for this sitting: ‘I Set My Face to the Hillside’ - Tortoise / ‘Mollusc In Tyrol’ - The Fall / ‘Shadows’ - Yo La Tengo
Back at the puzzleface, I'm confronted by a montage of 24 vintage Mentos advertisements, scoured apparently from the archives of the Van Melle company, the Dutch confectioners who originated the minty pastille in the 1930s. This is probably the easiest jigsaw I've done on this lockdown: the discreet subdivisions on the image mean most pieces can be situated almost straight away. Progress is quick.
As I start to construct it, I’m rubbed up the wrong way by this this image though. On full display are the smoke and mirrors of modern graphic design which make the montage as compelling as it is redundant. Instead of just displaying the advertisements as they were originally designed, we get to see them processed, coloured, distressed and intercut. Now, I'm as guilty as the next graphic designer of using Photoshop as an agent of deconstruction, playing with modes, levels and opacities and generally 'weathering' imagery in order to make it more lived-in (see every record sleeve I've ever made). This is all well and good in the name of creative mark-making: digital tools can be so clinical, so I'm all for re-introducing a sense of the haphazard. But I'm leery of the way these tools are appropriated in the name of commercial 'style'. It reminds of me of an article in Slanted magazine about 'the Global Style', decrying recent design forms in which "the picture plane isn't composed, it is just temporarily occupied". It's as if the very history of the Mento is not enough, so it has to be mystified and implied as 'interesting'. As consumers, we're all too aware how little it takes to sell something as simple an oval of mint. The Mento, a minty lozenge of a kind we're all familiar with, is what Barthes might call a "lively totem", supporting "a varied mythology which is not embarrassed by contradictions". So why the need to mystify it?
These are images from another time, and I get the sense that now we have to self-consciously ironicise imagery that looks this outdated but was once deployed innocently to sell a product—the cheerful grinning faces of (white) mid-century women and children, the aspirational symbols of adventurers, aviators, sailors. We must collectively move on from our pasts, disavow them, start again—much as we finish one mint and reach for the next.
Still, I don’t have to dwell on this for long. Although tempted, I haven't timed my sittings for this puzzle, but I'm pretty sure I get this whole puzzle done within five or six hours. Like the past, I must now clear it from the board and start over.
Tunes for this sitting: 'Forget About Him, I'm Mint' - Mclusky / 'Squares' - Beta Band / 'Massage the History' - Sonic Youth