EST. 2009

September 29, 2018

That Downtown Drive-by


MUCH LIKE IN THE POST-REVOLUTIONARY MURALS produced by its famed artists, Mexico City continues to feature themes and scenes from its long, eclectic history. Spanish-era palaces, churches and convents co-exist with art deco buildings and Aztec ruins. Cobbled avenues are peppered with a combo of trendy joints and working-class establishments, catering side-by-side to an equally diverse mix of tourists, well-heeled locals, and everyday workers.

Ranked as one of the world’s most populous metropolitan areas, and officially renamed Ciudad de México or Mexico City since 2016, the metropolis is divided into neighborhoods called colonias. Popular ones include the trendy Roma and Condesa, the risque Zona Rosa, upscale Polanco, and the legendary Coyoacán where Frida Kahlo lived.

While I enjoy some hedonistic wining and dining, or mini sprees at polished shops de rigueur, the neighborhood I liked most was in fact downtown; a dusty, bustling, in some parts deteriorating, echo of a glorious past. Downtown Mexico is the city's historic center nonetheless, where Spanish colonizers built upon Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec Empire.

In the Centro Histórico, I found the San Ildefonso cinematic indeed, with dramatic multi-storey arches overlooking its courtyards. Considered the birthplace of Mexican muralism, its murals seemed to pale however to those at the Palacio de Bellas Artes; notable on its own for its art deco interior and art nouveau exterior. The scale it was built in gave me vertigo, as if Mexico City's altitude of over 7,000 feet doesn't cause it already.

If altitude sickness persists, there's always Mexican food.

Downtown Mexico, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Casa de los Azulejos, Palacio Nacional, and San Ildefonso College, Mexico City.

August 16, 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.
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