EST. 2009

September 22, 2018

That Dainty Drag



EACH AT LESS THAN SIX INCHES LENGTHWISE, Sylvain Levier's Série FT artworks are roughly the size of your average smart phone, not much larger than an adult hand. But what the dainty pieces lack in size, they make up for in craft and visual impact.

Levier's process for the series includes cutting up cardboard pieces to various sizes, and using them as tools for applying black acrylic onto polyester film. Dragging, pushing, and wiping the pigment renders it heavy in some areas, sparse in others, with evidence of pressure change. As with other styles of painting and printing, the tool leaves traces of itself. In this case, the cardboard leaves occasional edge marks.

The painted films are then cut into geometric shapes, and layered atop each other. Série FT has a visual nuance of being both fluid and jagged, with the strong black and white contrast seen across all of Levier's works. Inspired by medical imaging, his art thrives in ambiguity, and often sits on the boundary between the inert and the moving.

Série FT by Sylvain Levier, sylvain.levier.free.fr

June 28, 2018

Those Boucharouites


DIAMOND SHAPES RESEMBLE THE EYE, to protect from evil spells. Squares symbolize the house or the field, while zigzags represent the river. Red stands for woman, yellow for man, green for paradise, and blue for love. Color and pattern are means of expression for Berber women, who weave boucharouites or rag rugs from discarded clothing. Belonging to underprivileged sectors of society, and often unable to read or write, these weavers use craft to tell stories about their world.

On the one hand, boucharouites are highly intimate, unique pieces. Made from old garments belonging to the craftwoman's own family or community, they carry history in every fiber. On the other hand, boucharouites are a testament to the women's thrift. Weaving with recycled fabric is a much cheaper alternative to weaving with wool.

Boucharouites adorn Dar Dallah, an 18th century riad housing its namesake Musée Boucharouite. Founded in 2014 by French collector Patrick de Maillard, The museum exists to educate new generations about the craftsmanship behind its treasures, while supporting the individuals that weave them.

Musée Boucharouite, Azbezt 107, Derb El Cadi, Marrakech. Photos by Lady San Pedro.

May 17, 2018

That Close Crop


IT'S NOT IMMEDIATELY OBVIOUS WHAT THE IMAGES PORTRAY. Domenico Gnoli's close crop paintings, of subjects like hair or apparel, are rendered in such tight frames, there is little context to identify them with. A braid might be among the easier ones to recognize, but the flesh-toned inside of a woman's shoe, or a button partly concealed behind its eyelet, require closer inspection.

Domenico Gnoli was a drop-out, and dabbled in various jobs including stage design before his career as a painter took off in 1968. It was a rapid rise since then, ending in a tragic halt. Gnoli's paintings were featured at the Venice Biennale that year, followed by his debut show at New York's Sidney Janis gallery in 1969. Gnoli was 36 when he died of cancer in April of 1970.

However short-lived his career had been, Gnoli's legacy proved as large as his big, bold canvases. The acrylic-and-sand paintings of voluptuous close-ups are collected by some of the world's major museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago, MoMA, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. His Black Hair auctioned at Christie's for over £7m.

Gnoli's body of work encompasses sculpture, sketches, and other media, but it's his paintings of blown-up details that I find most striking and original. To paint everyday subjects with such allure requires an inherent sensuality.

Black Hair, Inside of Lady's Shoe, Unbuttoned Button and Braid by Domenico Gnoli. Images from wikiart.org

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
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