EST. 2009

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,

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,

May 17, 2017

That Super Studio

THERE APPEARED TO BE AT LEAST A THOUSAND FIGURINES of human forms, machine-like parts, and hybrid man-machine creations. Scattered among them were mostly books and art supplies, some chairs and makeshift stools obscured by objects. There were shipping crates and a flat-file cabinet, again, covered in sculptures and clutter. The only uncrowded item was a propeller mounted against a bit of clear wall space.

Welcome to the late Eduardo Paolozzi's studio, or at least a re-creation of it, on display at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. While the display is designed to evoke the artist's London and Munich studios, most of its contents are in fact Paolozzi's works or personal possessions, which he gave to the gallery in 1994.

On one hand, the studio's hodgepodge reflects Paolozzi's penchant for collage. Though he is associated with sculpture, he worked in a wide range of media and movements, with his 1947 collage "I was a Rich Man's Plaything" considered the earliest representation of Pop Art. Beyond this work, and decades' worth of paper collages, Paolozzi's fondness for the technique carried onto his sculpture, often appearing to have cubic shapes added or removed, and onto his textile designs, which appeared collage-like as well.

On the other hand, the overflow of sculptures, with their multiple versions of multiple subjects, portray an industrious worker with a love for craft. It's great to be able to view an artist's body of work, but it's vitalizing to see evidence of their process and practice.

As a digital designer working off a Macbook and Adobe, I could only wish that my own multiple versions of a subject would produce anything other than digital clutter. But it seems I'll need to dedicate an actual, physical studio for that. Let you know when I do!

Paolozzi Studio, Modern Two, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

April 18, 2017

That Graphic Tectonic

JOSEPH ALBERS WAS EXPLORING OPTICAL ILLUSIONS when he produced his Graphic Tectonic series. Referencing geological matter and movement, the monochromatic lithographs use geometry to give the perception of dimension to otherwise flat graphics.

Although Albers is more popularly known for the hundreds of colorful paintings comprising his Homage to the Square series, Graphic Tectonic reflects his distinct approach to composition. Creating "maximum effect from minimum means" the lithographs embody the phrase widely used to describe his principles in general.

Beyond his art, Albers was an educator recognized for laying the groundwork for some of the most influential art education programs of the 20th century. Between Germany and the United States, he held a string of teaching positions at such schools as the Bauhaus in 1923, the Black Mountain College in 1933, and at Yale until his retirement in 1958. Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg were among his notable students.

Noted for putting practice before theory, Albers advocated learning through conscious practice and required his pupils to become familiar with the physical nature of the world. Producing countless renowned artists, as well as students who became teachers themselves, Albers's legacy and influence on art is understated. Or shall we say: it was tectonic.

Shrine, Ascension and Interim from the series Graphic Tectonic by Josef Albers. Images from

March 10, 2017

That Eclectic Eltham Experience

THAT A HOME IS A REFLECTION OF ITS INHABITANTS could not be more true with Eltham Palace: the lavish, eclectic former residence of Stephen and Virginia Courtauld, Interwar London socialites and patrons of the arts. They were in their 40s when they married, and a decade later sought a home accessible to London that was large enough for their parties.

In 1933, the couple took a lease on the palace, historically one of only six royal residences that could accommodate the Tudor court's 800 people. Destroyed by Puritans in the 1600s, Eltham's great hall survived, with its restoration serving as a condition for the Courtaulds' permission to build. At 30.8 meters long by 10.9 meters wide, it is only second to Westminster Hall as the largest surviving pre-Tudor great hall without an aisle.

Building at Eltham took place from 1933 to 1936, led by architects John Seely and Paul Paget. They designed the house on a butterfly plan, with one wing linking to the great hall and the other comprising living areas. Highlights of the residence include the entrance hall with blackbean veneer walls, the art deco dining room with animals drawn from life at London Zoo, Virginia's gold and onyx bathroom featuring a statue of the goddess Psyche, and of course, the medieval great hall with its hammerbeam roof and minstrels' gallery.

Details from Virginia's bedroom, the dining room and entrance hall:

The variety of styles offer a strange yet sumptuous experience of Eltham, giving hints as to what the Courtaulds' home life might have been like. Modern and historic, pristine and playful, the space echoes its host and hostess' own personalities, said to have been a contrasting combination. Calm, quiet Stephen was scion of the Courtauld textile empire and a keen mountaineer. Impulsive Virginia was a marchioness divorcée with a snake tattoo.

And as if a palace and parties weren't opulent enough, the couple shared their luxuries with their Great Dane Caesar and pet lemur Mah-Jongg, who enjoyed his own heated jungle-fresco room. Historians say the house was perhaps the most advanced in England on its completion, featuring a plumbed-in vacuum cleaner, centrally powered electric clocks, speakers relaying radio or gramophone records to every room, and built-in cocktail bars.

Stephen and Virginia continued to entertain at Eltham through the Second World War, retreating to the basement during air raids. Weary of the bombing, they eventually moved out in 1944 to Scotland, and then to Southern Rhodesia.

The restored Eltham Palace today informs about design for luxury in the early half of the 20th century, but it also spells the bittersweet fact that there are luxuries even wealth cannot buy. Across the varying and eclectic ways in which we desire to live, there will always be common elements among the differences: peace and freedom to be oneself amidst people and things we love. What could be more luxurious than that?

Eltham Palace, Greenwich, London, Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.