Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Science of Art

Often the closest we get to our own inner artist, hungry and willing to create, is by marveling in awe at the greatness of an outwardly skilled musician, dancer, painter, singer, or writer, often first hand and not without pangs, longings of a spontaneous ability to do the same, but in our, with our own “voice.”
In me, it can become an immediate, almost insatiable hunger of furious intensity. A beast called forth by the melody and unison of a symphony and the memories of plies, piques, relevĂ©s, and rond de jambs in ¾ time, grand battements and tendus done over and over in half time with the accompanying Steinway, which sat just as grand and waiting and hungry as I in that ballet studio.
Or of my immaturely stunted mastering and love for the violin, of pizzicato and staccato, stopped short for no other reason than playful youth, but that carries a sense of loss that haunts me like a death, and taunts me with challenges to learn guitar or piano that I entertain but I am yet to win.
Perhaps the need to create is as fundamental to the existence of the human soul as is food and water. There is no literal versus figurative interpretation. Yes, we as a species are driven to reproduce, but somewhere in that tableau of chemistry, coupling, love, hunger, protection, fight and flight, there is also an art waiting to be made, born, heard, as new to ourselves as to the world, that fulfills, sates, justifies, pushes, inspires and lives on. Art must be the currency, food of the soul. Just as food is the currency of the body.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

David Goldblatt's South Africa: Architecture, Structure, Society

Holdup in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, November 1963
Goldblatt's other appeal, to me, is his own apparent interest in what I call the "Architecture of Life." Using seemingly innocuous subject matter--homes, churches, temples, shacks, building sites, carts--Goldblatt explores how architectural design and built structures convey past, present and future hopes, yet wield considerable cultural and societal power. By simply existing--or not--a built structure can deeply affect the lives lived by those near it.

House in 'authentic Cape Dutch' style. Agatha, Tzaneen, Transvaal. 10 April 1989

These photos are from The Structure of Things Then, a photoessay and biography of South Africa from the 1960s to 1990 published by Goldblatt in 1998. It is full of remarkable photographs of a land and a culture so singular and distilled in its history and experience, yet wildly beautiful in its imperfections and resilience.

Luke Kgatitsoe at his house, destroyed by government bulldozers in February 1984. Magopa, Ventersdorp district, Transvaal. 21 October

From the book: "Gradually I came to see structures and their form as expressions of value. If it is a truism that all structures are necessarily the outcome of choices made by their makers, and are therefore an expression of their makers' values, the quality of that expression is as varied as the people who make the choices...The period 1652 to 1990 was the time of the White in South Africa. White power prevailed. That time has now passed. We are in a new time. What its values and spirit will be and how they will be expressed and evidenced in the structures brought forth has hardly begun to emerge."

Dutch Reformed Church, built in about 1954. Lothair, Transvaal. 8 January 1984

Goldblatt won the Hasselblad award in 2006, and is the current recipient of the prestigious Henri Cartier-Bresson photography award. The HCB award, given to Goldblatt in 2009 (when he was 78), is "a prize to stimulate a photographer's creativity by offering the opportunity to carry out a project that would otherwise be difficult to achieve." I find this ironic.The project? Walled housing estates in suburban Johannesburg and crime and protection against it as a way of life in the city. The project is titled TJ (the prefix on license plates prior to computerized registrations), and is currently on exhibition around the world.

Read Goldblatt's writings and view more photos at Goldblatt's agency or here. I welcome all comments and suggestions. © 2008 Michael Stevenson. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Lady Godiva: Chocolate & Wine or Pre-Raphaelite Lust?

The legend of Lady Godiva riding naked through the streets of Coventry, either in penitence or securing an abolishment of excessive taxes on the people by her husband, dates back to possibly the 1200s. Yet she is most immortalized in this painting by pre-Raphaelite painter John Collier.

It is further said that her legend inspired the term voyeur, for while when she rode all were supposed to be inside, one man, "peeping Tom" the tailor, did not. And was struck blind.

I am a voyeur... to this painting that excels any fantasy imagined. By the hand and skill of Collier, Lady Godiva is indeed a goddess here, lithe and humble yet seductive in her nakedness, letting the dressings of her beautiful horse embody her class, purpose and confidence. The lust of this painting pales in comparison to any dark chocolate. I will couple this with a poem from one of my favorite pre-Raphaelite poets, Christina Rossetti.

The Rose
The lily has a smooth stalk,
Will never hurt your hand;
But the rose upon her brier
Is Lady of the land.

There's sweetness in an apple tree,
And profit in the corn;
But Lady of all beauty
Is a rose upon a thorn.

When with moss and honey
She tips her bending brier,
And half unfolds her glowing heart,
She sets the world on fire.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Hands of Time

The concept of time. The meaning and value of an old watch, to become an heirloom. A New Year.

I have long loved this Cape Cod watch from Hermes. I cannot explain why, other than there is something familiar about it to me—perhaps it is the leather that reminds me of bridles from days of riding horses. It is petite. Nautical. Simple. Cape Cod. Hermes describes it as being inspired by the solitary anchor chain link. My father grew up on Cape Cod. My great grandfather was a boat builder—by hand. The sea is in me. Horses are in me. Time is all around me, encompassing all of us.

Perhaps it is because my father always cherished excellent timepieces. I remember from a very young age his particularity with his watches--his handling of an old Tudor watch of my grandfather's.

To him, they were investments, emotional and financial. They were precious. They were symbolic and offered as such.

I once summed my father up with the following six words: He was firm, but had finesse. He was simple yet refined. He was precise and punctual, yet always with a wild spirit. I proudly wear his watch now, just as my sister wears one of his other favorites. They hold within them, their delicate mechanisms, a magical way to hold memories, too.

Just as time passes, my father did too. A few years back. And many would say far too early for his time, time, time… Yet time is a construct of humanity. And we can learn to embrace it, often with the help of beautiful timepieces, old and new, or watch it, count it down, fear it. I’d prefer to remember that it just is… time. As we are upon a New Year, it is time to reflect, grow, feel, see, smile, love, touch, remember, hope, believe… in this time... on our hands.

Tudor Oyster Prince Submariner by Rolex - Original Papers, 8mm Big Crown, circa 1950, courtesy of Fourtane in Carmel, Calif.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Juxtaposition 2: Tina Modotti

Illustration for a Mexican Song, 1927
If we were to capture the moments of stillness, or windows that reframe what we see, would we, could we preserve time? Isn't that a memory? Is there an art to this juxtaposition of a juxtaposition? And if there is, can it then, actually become art?

The Italian photographer Tina Modotti (born in Udine, 1896-1942) had an incredible knack, at least for my eye and soul, for capturing the ephemeral of the everyday using early photographic tools

Mother and Child, 1929
A noted political activist, artist, model and muse of fellow photographer Edward Weston, Modotti saw weight in the angles, the moments, the humanity, the simplicity, and left a gift that resonates endlessly.

Convent of Tepotzotlán, Mexico, 1924 


Modotti focused on still life, architecture, the hands of mothers and laborers, and compositions that could speak, invoke emotions to support a political or humanitarian movement, particularly in Mexico.

Photos courtesy of the MOMA

Juxtaposition: Woman & Horse

If there were a moment in every day to capture what seems inane, or that which is fleeting, what would you capture? Would you start to anticipate the moments? Could you be satisfied with only one moment captured? Would you start to see new angles in old experiences? Would you feel a small lift of freedom?

I am captivated by this photo, not only for its obvious beauty, but because of the juxtaposition and the question of its organic origin. Do you think she kissed the horse? Would she have if she were not so perfectly covered? Was this a candid moment between the model and horse luckily captured by photographer Georges Dambier? Not likely considering it was taken in 1953. And yet it is nearly impossible to coax a horse more than once to be so intrigued. Where is she? What was she doing and what did she do that evening...? Why do we love the juxtaposition?

Photo courtesy of Bonni Benrubi Gallery. Title: Fiona Campbell

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Circle of Life: On the Bird's Wing...

My  grandmother, a beautiful and quiet woman of resolute will and refined grace, would wait every morning by her kitchen window for Spencer. And every morning he came. If, perchance, he were late, she would move through the kitchen to the pantry and out the garage to the front yard, and she would call in her sweet Southern drawl "Spennnnccerrr..." only to be followed by a perfect bird's whistling. Something I could never do. Within minutes the bird would answer back, and all would be well.

For years this went on. I do not remember how Spencer got his name, nor do I remember exactly what Spencer was. A sparrow, warbler, blue bird? He was one of the many joys of her life -- a life smoothed on the edges with constancy, delighted in by discovery, and brightened by beauty. She loved her roses, freshly cut from her own garden. She lived by her pink lipstick. And graced herself with gifted jewelry, never garishly, which was almost always lovingly, passed on, doled out in secret trysts in the hallway.

Grandmother Hazel has flown. And we all know she is flying high. But her legacy circles around us in a ring of love, a circle of life. In my own discovery, I found this beautiful, vintage gold and diamond circle brooch with birds playfully in flight by the famed Italian jewelry designer Duke Fulco di Verdura, he himself deeply influenced by his own grandmother growing up in Sicily. I know Miss Hazel would wear it oh so proudly.

Designed as three birds in flight forming a circle, with beautifully chased gold wings, diamond-set heads and tails, further accented with ruby eyes, signed VERDURA, mounted in 14kt gold, double pin clip back with safety catch, circa 1953. Accompanied by original vintage turquoise Verdura cloth case stamped 712 Fifth Avenue. Courtesy of Neil Marrs.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Flight Path

We speak of being grounded as a good thing, a stability, a force that keeps us centered. Yet don't we all long for flight? The lift -- off and out. The ascent, the fight, the climb. The hope to attain a leveling out, but with a view. Perspective anew. And with moments of grace, too?
Fluidity and force.

It's a fight to defy our fundamental law of physics.
If even for temporary moments, it promises transformation. It lifts us, flight. Releases us from the weight of grounded gravity. If not, then why do we look to the skies for hope? The bird's wing. So fine and feathered, hollowed, patterned and layered, yet so structured, strong with one sole purpose... To fill with breath and lightness to soar.

This bird's wing is made of polished aluminum (Al), a fundamental element (metal), noted for its light weight and non-toxic, non-magnetic and non-sparking properties. It's abundant in the earth's crust but interestingly not found in its free form in nature.

"Bird in Flight" 1960's abstract sculpture in polished aluminum,

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Visceral Art - Odilon Redon - Part 1

Can there be a visceral, energy field that draws us, each individually, to art? To feelings elicited from seeing what is our own interpretation of what was the artist's expression? Is there a certain path that takes us along, like a Disney World ride, and delivers us, serendipitously, to those artists with whom we, as yet, unknowingly connect most?

This is Smiling Spider, a charcoal drawing from 1881 by Odilon Redon, a French Symbolist painter, printmaker and draughtsman. I'm sorry, Smiling Spider!?! It is fantastical.

I fell in love with Redon's work perusing MOMA's collections one late night. I am pulled to his work. In a visceral, whole body way.

This is Underwater Vision (1910).

Imagine any art you remember or feel. Explore the artist and tell me what you learn about him or her and then yourself.
I created the title of this post without knowing exactly what I would say, or how it would come to be. It is how I try to make all of my posts. It is a circuitous route to the destination. Much like my life. But in my searches of his paintings, I found a book of his letters, then a quote. Then another. It all fit. It's too much to fit here.

While I recognize the necessity for a basis of observed reality... true art lies in a reality that is felt.

My drawings inspire and are not to be defined. They determine nothing. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous world of the undetermined. They are a kind of metaphor.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Veiled in Vellum, Treasures Abound

Set of six 18th Century books bound in Vellum including The History of Alexander the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas' Doctor Anglicus Summa Theologica.

If you've ever had the pleasure of tracing architectural forms, grew up around draftsmen, or simply have a love of paper like I do you probably have filed away in your favorites list the opaque and gossamer-like paper Vellum. Similar in texture to tracing paper, vellum has held its place in our history for hundreds of years, acting as the primary repository for the important recordings of our history, the era, the day.

In this amazing structure of life, the Vellum of old was primarily made from calf's skin, or animal skin, that was cleaned, dried, stretched and shaved, and then treated to receive ink (modern vellum is made from cotton). I find such a tedious process a testament to the once-important meaning of the act of writing, of putting to permanence, events, times, people, places, feelings, sights, births, deaths, laws... in essence, who we are as a human race. Clearly vellum and parchment (a related paper from animal skin) have been instrumental vehicles in our innate need to create, express and document the human experience. Antique Books available from English Country Antiques in Bridgehampton, NY. $1,150.

Friday, July 23, 2010

World Cup Delayed Reaction - Victory Blue

The World Cup is over, I know. But I couldn't start something and not finish it. Truthfully, there are too many wonderful pieces from Spain to have to choose one, especially something to reflect the grandeur of a victory as tremendous as the World Cup. So employing my father's old adage "less is more," I went for a splash of color and simple lines: These teal, vintage velvet X-base folding 1960s stools are from Spain. Their lines have something regal about them, as if they could sit their entire life never serving their function and not miss the patronage of a human rump. And the amazing color brings to life the azure seas splashed against sun-bleached rock in all shades of beige, white and sand. The scene is almost cool to the touch... A perfect antidote to the heavy heat of the summer.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Summer Break -- What of a Dovecote?

Summer has flown in, fast and hot and almost unnoticed, like the Mourning Dove who makes her nest under our nose, quiet except for her cooing. Given the 4th of July is just behind us, I thought of taking a little "independence" from the standard fare.
Somehow this Italian, 18th-century limestone Dovecote from Roarke Antiques in East Hampton caught my eye, if not simply for the deliberate intent of the carving to house such a simple yet symbolic bird. As a universal symbol of peace, she's a statement of transformative grace, and seemed to be ever-present during my latest flight from town.
Imagine this dovecote in a beautiful open room, perched on a French side table, beside it, a book opened to a passage by Eudora Welty, offering a literary juxtaposition of the hard and soft:

"It was July when Jenny left The Landing. The grass was tall and gently ticking between the tracks of the road. The stupor of the air, the quiet river that now went behind a veil, the sheen of heat and the gray sheen of summering trees, and the silence of the day and night seemed all to touch, to bathe and administer to The Landing. The little town took a languor and a kind of beauty from the treatment of time and place. It stretched and swooned...
Pears lying on the ground warmed and soured, bees gathered at the figs, birds put their little holes of possession in each single fruit in the world that they could fly to. The scent of lilies rolled sweetly from their heavy cornucopias and trickled down by shady paths to fill the golden air of the valley. The mourning dove called its three notes, kept its short silence--which was its mourning?--and called three more." -- Eudora Welty, The Landing

Thursday, July 1, 2010

World Cup Love - "Bitter" Orange Crush from the Netherlands?

If anyone knows anything about me, they know I love words. Word play, word origin, words with multiple meanings. Well, the Netherlands team, referred to as Laranja Mecanica or "Clockwork Orange" for their precision passing, can certainly have more than a "bit" part in this World Cup if they can "curb" the most successful football team in World Cup history: the "Little Canaries" of Brazil.
If the precision and detail with which the Dutch designed their bits to curb their horses are any indication of what they're capable of, as demonstrated by these fabulous prints from an original 17th century engraving (yes, indeed from the 1600s!), Laranja Mecanica, like a big fat orange cat, should certainly put the bite on the Brasilians. I'll even bet a bit on it. Should I lose, I'll devote a few "bits" of web space to my South American neighbors.

If you don't care an ounce about the World Cup, then just imagine how wonderful these would look on an austere wall inside a renovated farmhouse... wide plank reclaimed pine floors... or perhaps that perfect Paris flat with polished concrete floors and rustic barn doors rolling on a metal bar. These Dutch prints are keepers! Eight in all. $375 each, from Irwinfeld Design, Stamford, Conn.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

World Cup Love - Vive l'Allemagne!

Yes, it has been a long time in the waiting, but Germany is due it's space in World Cup Love. Not only must I honor my strong German lineage (much love to Grandma Hazel Zoerner Baughman's sauerkraut and springerle anise cookies), but also my father's exceptional design taste in filling our house as children with wonderful functional, child-friendly architectural pieces, i.e., furniture.

These cantilevered chrome chairs by storied German architect and designer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe were first exhibited in 1927. They have been in our family since before I was born, and are now proudly sitting tall in my house. There was a playfulness to the bounce that the cantilever creates, and the woven cane made them alive to me as a child. Now, in profile, there is a certain perfection to the arc of their design. So simple, so fluid, a wonderful blend of the hard and soft, cool and warm. Vive l'Allemagne!!

Friday, June 18, 2010

World Cup Love - Merci England

Heraldry. Legacy. History. Asymmetrical stone walls that over kilometers become symmetrical, encircling hectares of rolling lush countryside.

The land of a stonemason's dream, archeologist's best dig and a sailor's playground. All creative fodder for writers sitting in dim-lit taverns on cobbled and storied streets all over Great Britain. My favorite city? Oxford. Who can resist it?

Dragons. Crowns. Swords. Dachshunds. DACHSHUNDS!?
Give thanks to Club England for keeping the U.S. in play, and rest your head on one of these regal, hand-crafted linen pillows from HELKAT DESIGN in Wiltshire, U.K. I'm so fond of the muted tones and soft colors. Hand-printed. $44-54 each. (and here's a little secret... click the title of this post and it will take you to HELKAT's site. Cheerio!)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

World Cup Love! A.T.O.-Style...

So all of this World Cup 2010 buzz got me thinking of how I could pay homage to the sport, the countries and my diverse set of friends (you know who you are!) in an authentic Archi.Type.Ologie (A.T.O.)-style. Behold the result... Each day I'll highlight a hand-picked find from at least one of my favorite countries in play.

To kick it off are these fantastic vintage leather British football and rugby balls from the 1930s. Found at Urban Country Antiques in Venice, Calif.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

1stdibs Introspective - Required Reading - Horse

1stdibs Introspective - Required Reading - Horse

Nautical Love

I have been saving this amazing vintage Sailor's Bag because I am possessively smitten. A perfect example of functional object-cum-decorative art. It's romance, the high seas, adventure and stoicism all captured in a simple bag made of what appears to be linen rucksack or hemp and jute rope. Once belonged to a Mr. K.P. Gerstner as labeled on the front... what stories it could tell.

The beauty is in the details... Of course it can be found at our friends at Battersea Antiques in San Francisco. If anyone is need of a gift idea for moi... C'est ca!

Oxymorons for Summer Lazing

What is summer without lazing about? I can't resist this simple, distressed yet elegant French metal daybed, restored with a tufted linen cushion. It would seem the perfect spot to nap away the toils of summer play. It's the perfect oxymoron for summer... a day... bed.

Serene beiges, whites, and blues reflect the coastal colors of sand and sea. You can find this lounger at a nifty little shop in Newport, Calif., called Juxtaposition Antiques. They have other wonderful found objects and creative linen textiles.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Wheel of Light

Obsessed...with...this chandelier! Ingenuity. Curiosity. Invention. Reinvention. The force behind these concepts drives (literally) our industries, technology and even our thirst for a new self. Take this beautiful, austere and exquisitely restrained wooden wheel, err, gear part, light, chandelier!?! The crafty and creative folks at Battersea Antiques in San Francisco have reclaimed and restored the function and posterity of this beautiful new marriage of the old--an antique wooden machine cog/gear part/wheel and electricity. Genius! Someone call Mensa. A clear glass lightbulb offers clarity on its simplicity. See the French Cast Zinc Horse Head below for my love affair with wood. And expect to see more amazing found objects and decorative arts from Battersea Antiques. I'm becoming a fanatic for their wares.