EST. 2009

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. nationalgalleries.org Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

April 12, 2017

Those Cultivars


WE LIVE IN AN AGE OF ICONS. From the symbols that fill our interfaces, to the logos that influence our purchases, icons serve to guide, communicate, inform and inspire our behavior. In Peter H. Karlen's 2008 journal The Aesthetics Of Trademarks, he cites that the average person encounters more than 1,000 trademarks per day. Just imagine how much that figure has multiplied since.

As a graphic representation of a thing, an icon tends to work better as a simplified version of the thing it represents. Colors are flattened, forms are converted into shape, and details are generally minimized. Think of a heart icon in comparison to an actual human heart. Think of a smiley face versus an actual human face.

Simplification also works for icons representing an idea. With the aid of cultural cues and tactics, icons can influence our brains to associate symbols with unrelated concepts. A swoosh can signal running shoes. Scales indicate justice.

While the abundance of symbols reflects a certain level of cultural advancement, one downside of living in an icon-driven culture is that it oversimplifies how we picture things. A mention of "apple" in 2017 likely brings to mind a logo for electronic devices, or the image of a red, cardioid shape. It's rare to think about the actual apple fruit looking short and squat, or slim and elongated, with patchy or streaky skin in a spectrum of colors. These details are seen as a novelty.

And yet, details are plentiful for anyone who takes notice. Working with the USDA between 1904 and 1914, illustrator Ellen Isham Schutt produced a few dozen apple paintings that now form part of the Pomological Watercolor Collection. Depicting both subtle and stark differences between a wide range of apple cultivars, the watercolors demonstrate Schutt's careful, almost tedious observation of an ordinary subject.


Apple cultivars from the Pomological Watercolor Collection:



Looking through the collection instantly broadens one's visual perception of an apple, adding forms, shades and patterns beyond a basic red cardioid. It's no doubt enriching, so how then can we develop a keener sense of observation in our icon-driven lives? Taking inspiration from Schutt, the answer must be in nature: its fruits, its flaws, and the novelty of it all. Away from a thousand trademarks per day, a thousand details await.

Images of the Liveland Raspberry variety, the Tom Blake Hard Times variety, the Chenango variety, and the Spotless variety of apples by Ellen Isham Schutt. Images from commons.wikimedia.org

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, english-heritage.org.uk Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

February 22, 2017

That Limbo by the Loire











FOLLOWING SOME TYPOGRAPHICALLY ELEGANT OPENING CREDITS AGAINST THE LOIRE RIVER,  Jacques Demy's Lola begins with a young man at a cafe, idling about in spite of being late for work. He goes on to be fired from his job, and in what appears to be the same afternoon, goes to watch a film at the cinema.

Newly unemployed, Roland's listless self indulgence is contrasted with the busy life of Cécile, a cabaret dancer under the stage name of Lola. She is shown in the film ending a work day in the morning, picking up laundry on the way home, her young son waiting outside while she continues to entertain a client in her apartment.

Through a chance encounter, the film reveals that Roland and Cécile were childhood sweethearts. They go out to dinner, in which Roland discovers that he still feels affection for the enchanting Cécile. She, on the other hand, continues to pine for Michel: the father of her child who left for America, promising to return once he had made his fortune.

Peripheral characters populate Roland and Cécile's quaint and compact world. Among them are the easygoing American sailor Frankie, the prudish Madame Desnoyers, her liberated adolescent daughter Cécile Desnoyers, and the hysterical Jeanne, who also happens to be Michel's mother.

The characters cross paths at many points in the film, echoing each other's histories while drifting through the picturesque city. Nantes in the 1960s summertime, at least according to Jacques Demy, is an inescapable maze of perfect light and shadow, idleness, longing and first loves. Throw in some mid-century automobiles, renaissance-style architecture, sailors and cabaret dancers, and you're almost distracted from the state of limbo engulfing the discontented bunch.

The film didn't get me very invested in any of the characters' fates, but I was glad it granted its more willful characters some favorable resolutions. Even in such dreamy scenarios, it's hard to root for someone who luxuriates in their stagnancy. Lola at least shows you, in 90 stunning minutes, that faith, will and action have their rewards.

Lola, 1961. Directed by Jacques Demy.

January 11, 2017

That Little Luxury


AS SNEAKER CULTURE, MOBILE WORKING and other mobility-embracing trends secure their place in the mainstream, you'd expect form to follow function with the triumph of commuter-friendly fashion. But history shows that practical isn't always necessarily the most coveted. Many of us still readily make room in our lives for beautiful, albeit impractical, things.

Such is the case with what has been dubbed "the smallest it bag ever." Launched in 2015, Simon Miller's Bonsai bag measures a mere 12 x 12.5 x 17 centimeters, with a pair of hoops as handles measuring 6 centimeters across. For scale, the iPhone 6 at 13.8 centimeters is taller than this bag. The average female palm, at 6.8 centimeters, is wider than the bag's handles.

Still, it sold out on Barneys' pre-order even before stocks reached stores. “We wanted to create something cool and cute, and to help women streamline their lives by only allowing the essentials." Simon Miller founders Daniel Corrigan and Chelsea Hansford shared with the Telegraph. The cylindrical bag has no zips or fastenings for securing its contents, and only saw the addition of straps and a slightly larger version introduced in Fall 2016.

Priced accessibly for its category, what the Bonsai truly signals, in my opinion, is luxury. I imagine that this bag's owner has nothing to lug around; neither a laptop nor an umbrella, which a P.A. or chauffeur could fetch. She wouldn't travel by bus or bicycle, because even in the absence of theft, it seems unlikely that the Bonsai would hold its contents through a rigorous commute.

That's not to say I don't want one of my own. William Morris, a 19th-century designer and poet associated with the British Arts and Crafts Movement, once said in a lecture: "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." Whether it's an item of cult status or a randomly-found pebble, driftwood or seashell from a shore, objects of beauty gain their value not from their function but from the way we regard them. And therein lies their luxury.

Simon Miller Bonsai bags, images from simonmillerusa.com
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