EST. 2009

November 12, 2014

That Visual Impediment

HOW WOULD YOU WALK DOWN THE AISLE of a church without an aisle? The Church of the Jacobins in Toulouse is unique for its double-nave plan, separated at the center by a colonnade from door to altar. So where you are accustomed to seeing straight through from one end to the other, there's only column after column impeding your view. There's still much to see though. Each of the Jacobin's columnar piers rise up to 22 meters high, crowned by radiating ribs that resemble the branches of a palm tree. The seventh and end-most column features the most magnificent of the palms, with a height of 28 meters, and with 22 ribs radiating out over the apse.

Built between 1230 and 1385 by the Dominicans, the convent complex comprises the Jacobin church, a cloister, refectory, chapter house and the chapel of Saint-Antonin. The cloister is lovely, as most cloisters are, and the refectory today serves as an exhibition space in collaboration with contemporary art museum Les Abattoirs. 

For students of philosophy and Catholic theology, the Jacobins is also notable for housing the remains of Saint Thomas Aquinas; Dominican friar, priest, philosopher and theologian whose ideas, or the negation of which, helped to shape modern philosophy. Aquinas' relics have been at the Jacobins since 1369, interrupted by a 185-year period in which it was kept at the Basilica of St. Sernin. They may be rightly home in both the cradle city of the Dominican order, as well as the church the Dominicans built, but poetic too for Aquinas' resting place to be in a church so uniquely and unconventionally constructed with visual impediments.

"Faith has to do with things that are not seen and hope with things that are not at hand." Thomas Aquinas

Jacobin Convent, Toulouse. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

October 28, 2014

That Costume Queen

"WE MAY REHEARSE OUR LINES, OUR MOVEMENTS, AND OUR EXPRESSIONS," Bette Davis writes in the foreword to Edith Head's Hollywood, "but not until we finally slip into the costumes does everything come together so that we actually become the character. If we are not comfortable in those clothes, if they do not project the character, the costume designer has failed us. Edith Head never failed."

Bette Davis was just one of countless actors for whom Edith Head worked her sartorial magic. As chief designer at Paramount's costume department, Head designed for hundreds of films, starred in by some of Hollywood's most stellar leading ladies: Grace Kelly, Anne Baxter, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Gloria Swanson and Tippi Hedren, to name a few.

With a motto asserting that "the audience should notice the actors, not the clothes" Head created costumes that were flattering to the actors, but ultimately essential to the roles they played. It's hard to think of Anne Baxter's Nefertiri gowns without thinking of Anne Baxter, or Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond ensembles without thinking of Gloria Swanson. There is no other skirt suit for Tippi Hedren to be attacked by "the birds" in, and no other anything for Audrey Hepburn to do her Funny Face dance in. Under Head's charge, the roles, actors and costumes appeared one and whole, in a congruence we now seldom see in contemporary film.

For a position she somewhat cheated her way into, Edith Head proved phenomenally deserving. In 1924, with no relevant training or experience, she applied for a costume sketch artist job at Paramount, using illustrations that weren't even her own. A decade later, she was chief designer, and with the establishment of the Academy Awards category for costume design, Head went on to make history with 35 nominations and eight wins. She still holds the record for the woman with the most number of Oscars.

Edith Head worked industriously until her death in 1981, ending a career that spanned 57 years. For what would have been her 116th birthday, on this day last year, Head was commemorated with a Google Doodle featuring six of her costumes.

It feels almost serendipitous for a person, born just days before Halloween, to fashion a career in costume design. "Between magic and camouflage," as she herself put it, Head's work embodies the might and the mirth of costume, in transforming its wearers, and how other people perceive those wearers. "What a costume designer does" she said, "is a cross between magic and camouflage. We create the illusion of changing the actors into what they are not. We ask the public to believe that every time they see a performer on the screen, he's become a different person."

Comforting to know that we can emulate new personas with clothing and costume. What will you wear today?

Edith Head, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Gloria Swanson, Bette Davis, and Anne Baxter, images from,,,,,,

October 22, 2014

That Veneration

RUSSIAN ARTIST ANDREY REMNEV takes inspiration from his native town Yachroma, where as a child he watched small rivers and springs, woods, fields and villages, the railway, ships and trains, all through a window in his home. There are indeed touches of nature in Remnev's work but they are anything but pastoral landscapes. Most striking about his paintings is the opulent, somewhat devotional quality they possess, of characters rendered in elaborate costume and ornately ambiguous environments. They have no halos or wings but their poses and gazes remind almost of angels and saints in medieval paintings.

It was in 1996 that Remnev studied icon painting in Moscow's Spaso-Andronikov monastery. From Greek icon meaning "image" or "likeness", icon paintings depict sacred persons or events, and are normally venerated in Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. Russian icons in particular are painted on wood panels, with pigments tempered with egg or wax. They are sometimes displayed with a metal cover called riza to protect the paint from darkening. Made of gilt or silvered metal, the rizas are filigreed and at times set with artificial, precious or semi-precious stones, while being punctured to reveal elements of the painting underneath; the faces normally. Though some icons on their own contain gold or silver leaf, rizas are often more elaborate than the icons, looking like jeweled cases attached to the paintings.

Remnev's works do not come with rizas but their depictions of intricately-adorned garments and backdrops more than make up for the lack of a bejeweled cover. As with icon painting, Remnev paints with egg yolk, and bases his own technique on a combination of Russian icon painting, 18th century Russian painting, Constructivism and the composition methods of the Mir Iskusstva.

Of course, Remnev's paintings do not serve to inspire religious veneration. This, however, does not exempt its onlookers from other forms of reverence, be it for the paintings' sartorial aptitude or the artist's sheer talent, among other things. Are Remnev's icon-influenced paintings a reflection of the more trivial qualities we venerate today?

Paintings by Andrey Remnev, Images from