EST. 2009

April 12, 2018

That Invitation to View


SAUL LEITER WAS ONE OF THE FIRST PHOTOGRAPHERS TO CAPTURE NEW YORK CITY IN COLOR, but as there was no art market for color photos at the time, he made a living as a fashion photographer for such titles as Elle, Harper's Bazaar, and British Vogue. His work differed from other commercial images of the period, with products' and models' faces partly obscured or out of focus. This elusive quality set his photos apart, inviting the viewer in with their mystery and visual abstraction.

“A window covered with raindrops interests me more than a photograph of a famous person,” Leiter says in the 2014 documentary In No Great Hurry. His photographs often feature passers-by glimped through doorways, reflected in windows, or concealed by layers of foreground obstructions. They never blatantly present a subject, and rather take their time to unveil mood, setting, and narrative, with rich yet hazy detail. There's something new to see each time you look.

Leiter was considered a member of the esteemed New York School of photographers, along with Dianne Arbus and Richard Avedon, but he was always an outsider. Throughout his career, he experienced cyclically being forgotten and rediscovered, expressing contentment of the fact: "Being ignored is a great privilege. That is how I think I learned to see what others do not see and to react to situations differently."

A most elegant attitude to being overshadowed.

Photographs by Saul Leiter, images from artnet.com

March 30, 2018

That Casa Azul


IT WAS IN THIS HOUSE, AFTER A TRAGIC ACCIDENT THAT LEFT HER IN A CAST FOR THREE MONTHS, that she taught herself to paint. Casa Azul, in Mexico City's Coyoacán borough, was artist Frida Kahlo's home from childhood, through to marriage, and final days.

Opened as a museum four years after her death in 1954, the house preserves and presents the objects of Frida's life, offering glimpses into her suffering and strength. Originally built in a French style, Casa Azul was later adapted by Frida and her husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, to have a bigger garden and bolder colors. Though striking from the outside with vivid blues, reds, and greens, Casa Azul feels much more intimate inside, presenting Frida as an artist, wife, and proud Mexican.

Pre-Hispanic artefacts demonstrate her affection for indigenous people and culture. Books and painting showcase her intellectual curiosity. A scientific artwork of intra-uterine development reminds of her unfulfilled desire for motherhood. "All of her objects are there, and people are present in the things they choose to have around them during their life." explains biographer Hayden Herrera. There is evidence of sorrow, but also of joy and resilience.

A number of Frida's works are on display at the museum, including Frida and the Cesarean, an unfinished painting that expresses her obsession with maternity. There's also Viva la vida, her final painting which pays tribute to life in spite of deteriorating health.

Although Diego Rivera's name is prominently spelled out on the kitchen wall, and on an inscription in the garden, his presence in the house is subdued. Casa Azul breathes the essence of Frida Kahlo, with her love of objects revealing her many dimensions.

La Casa Azul, Coyoacán, Mexico City.

February 20, 2018

That Natural Finnish


IT'S EASY TO MISTAKE THE LABEL FOR A JAPANESE WORD. Samuji's aesthetic is after all very functional, embodied by the natural textures and notable tailoring associated with Japanese brands. Samuji is however, of Nordic origin, founded and led by Finnish designer Samu-Jussi Koski.

Launched in spring 2011, the label has since grown to offer two womenswear lines, accessories, and a homeware line Samuji Koti, named after the Finnish word for "home". Koski explained to T Magazine that doing so has been on the to-do list from the start. "I wanted a complete world, not only a fashion label, but something deeper.”

Nature serves as an inspiration for Koski, who grew up in Muurame: a municipality of Finland situated between two lakes. He also considers Finnish architect Alvar Aalto as an influence, with his pieces, as well as spaces, echoing the modern sensibilities of the architect's designs. Naturally, Samuji also carries the spirit of Marimekko, the Finnish textile company where Koski was previously creative director. Nature-inspired patterns and sumptuous surfaces demonstrate his masterful approach to material.

I'm loving Samuji's straw hats and handbags, particularly the Vasella Bag with its sculptural silhouette and woven surface. Partly globular, fully lined, and with a long, flat strap, the bag is not quite a beach bag, not quite a basket bag, and sits somewhere between casual and elegant.

Samuji Vasella Bags, samuji.com

January 17, 2018

Those Subtle Stills


IN THE 17TH CENTURY, STILL LIFE WAS RANKED LOWEST in the hierarchy of figurative art. The hierarchy, decided by the French Académie de peinture et de sculpture, ranked art genres in terms of prestige and cultural value, and deemed still life inferior because it did not involve human subject matter.

Still life is a genre of painting or drawing that features both man-made and natural objects. It spans anything that does not move, including dead forms and figures. As such, skulls, bones, dead fish and game fall within still life, although they are not automatically associated with the genre today.

Flowers, fruits, bowls, bottles, and vases are likelier subjects to be associated with still life. Perhaps most responsible for this link is Giorgio Morandi, an Italian painter and printmaker who worked with these objects over and over throughout his career. The paintings are easily identifiable by their repetitive subjects, rendered with minimal variation in color and arrangement.

In spite of the repetition, Morandi was a master of different techniques. He drew, engraved, and painted his fruits, bowls, and bottles in oil or watercolor, giving them subtly varying atmospheres. Morandi valued what each technique had to offer, experimenting with their nuances.

Critics of Morandi's work noted how his representation of objects revealed his monastic habits. Morandi lived his entire lifetime in Bologna, sharing a small apartment with his three unmarried sisters. He seldom traveled, claiming that "One can travel this world and see nothing. To achieve understanding it is necessary not to see many things, but to look hard at what you do see."

And what Morandi did see was poetry in still objects. His clean lines and subtle palettes exhibited a modern vision that preceded, even inspired, the minimalist aesthetic. It was a an exercise in devotion, perhaps even a lesson in love, to not only sustain interest in a chosen subject, but to study and romance it for a lifetime. Inferior though the genre might have been, Morandi elevated still life by treating ordinary objects with affection.

Paintings by Giorgio Morandi. Images from arthistoryproject.com

December 20, 2017

Those Ballet Beginnings


BEFORE STARTING HER ACTING CAREER, BRIGITTE BARDOT WAS AN ASPIRING BALLERINA. She took lessons three days a week at a dance studio in Paris' 16th arrondissement, and by age 13 was accepted to the Conservatoire de Paris.

There, Brigitte attended classes taught by Boris Knyazev, a ballet dancer and choreographer who trained prima ballerina and 1964 Légion d’Honneur honouree Yvette Chauviré. Brigitte did not come to the same status in ballet, instead becoming an actress, singer, and model of international fame.

Over three decades, Brigitte appeared in 47 films, and released over a dozen albums and singles, before retiring from entertainment. She has since dedicated herself to animal activism, and was named a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur in 1984 for her efforts. Brigitte however refused this honor, claiming that the awarding government permitted the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals.

And what of the young ballerina Brigitte? Though she did not pursue ballet, Brigitte contributed to bringing some of its essence to everyday fashion. She asked Rose Repetto, a dancer and founder of her namesake ballet shoe company, to create something as soft, comfortable, and flexible as a ballet shoe.

In 1956, Repetto released the Cendrillon: a ballet-inspired shoe of lasting appeal, widely replicated by brands and manufacturers the world over. To this day, the French brand celebrates the shoe's origin story, paying tribute to the world-renowned multi-hyphenate who once aspired to be a ballerina.

Brigitte Bardot photos by Walter Carone. Images from mashable.com

November 3, 2017

Those Ships on Showcase


ON A PLEASANTLY OVERCAST AFTERNOON, 40 PASSENGERS ABOARD THE LOTH LORIËN drifted off the Woolwich riverfront. Another 50 on the J. R. Tolkien followed behind. Webs of rope trembled overhead, and soon, bare masts carried sails, sweeping us gently down the Thames.

Since 2012, Maritime Greenwich and Royal Arsenal Woolwich have hosted festivities around the Tall Ships Regatta. Live musicians and street performers in historic costume entertain by land, while towering ships dock at the pier or take guests on a river cruise. The Loth Loriën and J. R. Tolkien were among this year's 30 tall ships on showcase, prepping for a 7,000 nautical mile transatlantic race to Quebec.

Sailing is very much a novelty to me. Until I googled them, I had no knowledge of port or starboard, aft or bow. That's the left, the right, the front, and the back of the ship respectively. Windward is the direction the wind is blowing. Leeward goes the other way. Sea legs I already knew; an attribute I like to believe I have, although it was hardly required on the very smooth ride.

Outside of boating-specific terminology, there are in fact many words and phrases in everyday speech that originate from seafaring. To know the ropes or understand how to do something, comes from sailors learning which rope raised which sail. To be startled or taken aback hails from the sails of a ship being aback when the wind blows them flat against their masts and spars. To be stranded, or left high and dry originally referred to ships that had been out of the water for some time.

The age of sail, from which most nautical phrases originate, may have declined long ago. But shipping and maritime transport in general continue to thrive as effective, more economical alternatives to transport by air. Recreational boating on the other hand offers a delightful departure from life on land; there's the breeze, buoyancy, and on the Loth Loriën at least, waffles and wine.

The Van der Rest Sail Charter's two tall ships sail under the Dutch flag, with Tolkien aficionado Captain Jaap Van der Rest at the helm. Yes, another nautical term referring to the literal steering of a boat, or being generally in charge.

I say trust a Lord of the Rings fan to show you a fine time.

The Loth Loriën at the 2017 Tall Ships Festival in Greenwich, restchart.com Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

October 12, 2017

That Reserved Space


IN THE GRAPHIC ARTS, WHITE SPACE makes or breaks visual communication. Too much of it makes the design look unfinished. Too little makes it hard to understand.

White space refers to any portion of a page left unmarked, including margins and gutters, as well as the space between columns, lines of type, characters, images, and graphics. The widespread use of black ink on white paper throughout history has given rise to the term, although white space doesn’t necessarily need to be white in color.

As a designer by trade, I love white space, and use it liberally. This preference extends beyond graphic design and typesetting, and into the broader fields of applied and visual arts.

Of the applied arts, I seek white space in packaging labels, interiors, and textiles. Premium products are therefore a weakness, as are the minimalist interiors that dominate Instagram feeds and Pinterest boards. In the visual arts, portraits and depictions of individual objects normally exhibit good use of white space, balancing positive and negative spaces to direct the viewer's gaze.

I've gathered a selection of works demonstrating fine use of white space; mostly etchings by some leading figures of 20th century art. Matisse's bold yet sparse Nadia portraits use white space around and within the drawings. Hockney's Tulips and Potted Daffodils juxtapose densely-shaded subjects with a generous amount of unmarked page. Picasso's L'Age de soleil uses white space similarly to Matisse's portraits, while his Salomé leaves white space to inspire imagination.

White space isn't for everyone, with consumers and creators, audiences and artists alike favoring richer, or fuller compositions. I personally find it sublime. In a cluttered world, beauty reserves restful spaces for tired eyes.

Nadia au menton pointu by Henri Matisse, Potted Daffodils by David Hockney, Salomé by Pablo Picasso, Nadia regardant à droite by Henri Matisse, L'Age de soleil - Pour Roby by Pablo Picasso, and Tulips by David Hockney. All images from artsy.net
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