EST. 2009

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

September 29, 2017

That Mayan Moment


TULUM IS THE SITE OF THE ONLY MAYAN RUINS ON THE CARIBBEAN COAST. It was one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya peoples, perched on windy cliffs 39 feet high. Though it is estimated to have been constructed between 1200 and 1450, a monolith found on the site bears the inscribed date of AD 564, taking its history further back to ancient times.

In the central precint is a 25-foot tall pyramid called "El Castillo" or "castle". A stone's throw away is the Temple of the Frescoes, which was once an observatory for tracking the movements of the sun. The postcard-perfect "Templo Dios del Viento" or "God of the Winds" temple overlooks the sea. And as if archaeology dedicated to ancient gods doesn't make Tulum feel exotic enough, its natural aspects make it equally serene and savage. Soft sands meet craggy rocks. Harsh winds blow slender palms. In the foliage, I spotted a snake or two. And the lizards, they roam aplenty.

Stepping away from the shore, the coastal town offers both local and curated commerce, in the form of popular eateries and boutiques so very high in style. Hartwood is one such hotspot; a no-reservations restaurant serving dishes cooked purely with firewood. Kitchen Table is less popular but no less remarkable. Nestled in the jungle, the restaurant is built with, and using only materials native to the region.

Boutiques in Tulum were made for Pinterest boards and coolhunting. Caravana Montaecristo is a destination in itself, with its handmade clothing line exhibited in open air amidst palm trees and stone vases. Other shops dot the main road, sandwiched by resorts ranging from chic to eco-chic; the latter includes resorts operating without electricity.

Contemporary concepts may sound removed from Tulum's Mayan past, but artefacts from the site in fact present Tulum as having been an active trading town. There were copper, gold, and ceramic objects from all over the Yucatan, and obsidian from Guatemala. Salt and textiles, among other goods were brought in by traders from beyond the sea.

In Tulum, I traded off some things too. Vacations naturally add to credit card bills, but it's a time-tested, ready-made way to swap the demands of everyday life for something more extraordinary. To feel the wind, watch the sea, and observe the sun as the Maya peoples once did, was extraordinary indeed.

Tulum Ruins, Hotel Mi Amor, and Papaya Playa Project, Tulum, Quintana Roo. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

August 16, 2017

That Moment's Rest


THERE'S A MEMORABLE SCENE IN THE 2002 FILM FRIDA in which actresses Salma Hayek and Ashley Judd engage in a seductive dance. It was at a party hosted by Judd's character, photographer Tina Modotti, who was a prominent figure in the avant-garde circles of 1920s Mexico. She also photographed the image above.

An Italian immigrant attracted to the performing arts, Modotti worked as an actress and model in California, appearing on stage, as well as in film. She met photographer Edward Weston in Los Angeles, who became her lover and photography mentor. The two opened a portrait studio in Mexico City, where Modotti also photographed many of the murals painted by Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco.

While Weston's photographs were more abstract in style, Modotti's images were influenced by her political views, and her sympathy towards the peasant class. One of her most recognized photographs feature an anonymous worker's hands, resting on a tool. The powerful image captures a pause from hard labor, while suggesting the imminent resumption of work. This particular photograph has been exhibited across Mexico and the United States since 1995, after the re-discovery of Modotti's prints shined a new light on her legacy. In 2013, the photo was shown at London's Royal Academy of Arts.

Beyond photography, Modotti was an activist for the Comintern, spending over a decade entangled in murder investigations and exile. In 1939, she returned to Mexico under a pseudonym, and in 1942, died from heart failure on her way home from a dinner at poet Pablo Neruda's home. He composed her epitaph: Pure your gentle name, pure your fragile life; bees, shadows, fire, snow, silence and foam; combined with steel and wire and pollen to make up your firm and delicate being.

Modotti's body of photographic work reflects two distinct periods in her career, which have been described as romantic, and revolutionary. I personally think photographs from both periods share a certain tranquility. You wouldn't expect it after reading about Modotti's tumultuous involvements, but passion can take many forms across an individual's varied pursuits. As in Neruda's tribute, Modotti was both a firm and delicate being.

Hands resting on tool by Tina Modotti, getty.edu

July 20, 2017

That Bohemian Break


WHAT WE USUALLY CONSIDER BOHEMIAN TODAY rarely has anything to do with Medieval kings and castles. Rather, we think of the hippie fashion and avant-garde lifestyles exhibited by spiritual or artistic types. Oxford Dictionaries defines the term as both a noun and adjective, referring to "a socially unconventional person, especially one who is involved in the arts."

But long before the enduring concept of Bohemianism emerged, Bohemia was a kingdom in central Europe, preceding what is now the Czech Republic. It was first formed as a duchy in the 9th century, raised to a kingdom in the 12th, and reached its golden age in the 14th.

Charles IV, who was both King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor, is credited for this prosperity. His reign saw the flourishing of Prague, Bohemia's capital city, with the completion of such historic structures as Prague Castle, Charles Bridge, and the Saint Vitus cathedral. I vouch for their splendor, commanding even amidst Prague's rich architectural spread.

Beyond historic sites and museums, I glimpsed a bit of contemporary Prague. The boyfriend and I caught a show at Reduta: Prague's oldest jazz club famous for Bill Clinton's impromptu sax performance in 1994. An equally impromptu date with illustrator Kaori Mitsushima made for a lovely tour of her local neighborhood. Malá Strana, across the bridge from Old Town, is an elegant district of Baroque buildings and riverside dining.

So how did the name of a splendid imperial land become associated with the idea of Bohemianism? The word in this context originated in 15th century France, when artists and writers began to concentrate in the lower class Romani neighborhoods. Bohémien was the local term for the Romani, who were mistakenly believed to have arrived from Bohemia. The same word was then adopted for the neighborhood's creative new inhabitants, whether they were in fact Romani or not.

The bohemian subculture has since been celebrated in European history, through literature, theater, and in more current times, film and fashion too. Contemporary tributes to the bohemian life and style include Baz Lurhmann's Moulin Rouge, Jonathan Larson's Rent, and yes, Sienna Miller's wardrobe.

Far from being bohemian character, I had a very satisfying Bohemian break nonetheless. The Czech type. Let the folks in Rent go on singing about "hand-crafted beers made in local breweries." There's lots of that in Prague too.

Malá Strana, Old Town, Boho Hotel Prague, Municipal House, Café Savoy, Černá Madona, Prague Castle, Saint Vitus Cathedral, and Charles Bridge, Prague. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

June 26, 2017

That Architect of Fashion


THERE WEREN'T MANY JOBS FOR YOUNG ARCHITECTS IN 1960S ITALY when Gianfranco Ferré got his degree. He designed accessories for a living; an unplanned step into the fashion industry where he would eventually start his own label, and also become artistic director at Christian Dior. It was deemed controversial at the time for a non-French designer to lead a Parisian house, but Ferré's impeccable craftsmanship and innovative approach to design made him a fitting choice for the luxury brand. His creations reflected a strong architectural influence, earning him such titles as “architect of fashion” and “Frank Lloyd Wright of fashion”.

Ferré became well known for designing an array of white women's shirts that strayed from traditional patterns. He took the iconic garment, reinvented its proportions, and produced pieces that required masterful techniques. In 2015, eight years after his passing, the white shirts received a tribute through an exhibition by Milan's Palazzo Reale, the Gianfranco Ferré Foundation, and the Prato Textile Museum. La Camicia Bianca Secondo Me, or "The White Shirt According to Me" gathered and displayed drawings, photographs, installations and advertising that represent and celebrate two decades of the designer's creativity.

Among the display items were photographs by Leonardo Salvini, whose x-ray simulations of Ferré's white shirts highlighted their technical perfection. Exposing every pleat and seam, the images present the shirts from an almost architectural, blueprint-like perspective, rendering them both structural and delicate at once.

Fittingly iconic photographs of an equally iconic subject matter, Salvini's images romance both Ferré's original field of study, as well as his fashion legacy. They inspire me personally for the triumph they represent, of turning an otherwise failed attempt at a career in architecture, into one of the most celebrated fashion perspectives of the late 20th century.

Photographs of Gianfranco Ferré shirts by Leonardo Salvini, mostra.fondazionegianfrancoferre.com
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