EST. 2009

October 22, 2014

That Veneration

RUSSIAN ARTIST ANDREY REMNEV takes inspiration from his native town Yachroma, where as a child he watched small rivers and springs, woods, fields and villages, the railway, ships and trains, all through a window in his home. There are indeed touches of nature in Remnev's work but they are anything but pastoral landscapes. Most striking about his paintings is the opulent, somewhat devotional quality they possess, of characters rendered in elaborate costume and ornately ambiguous environments. They have no halos or wings but their poses and gazes remind almost of angels and saints in medieval paintings.

It was in 1996 that Remnev studied icon painting in Moscow's Spaso-Andronikov monastery. From Greek icon meaning "image" or "likeness", icon paintings depict sacred persons or events, and are normally venerated in Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches. Russian icons in particular are painted on wood panels, with pigments tempered with egg or wax. They are sometimes displayed with a metal cover called riza to protect the paint from darkening. Made of gilt or silvered metal, the rizas are filigreed and at times set with artificial, precious or semi-precious stones, while being punctured to reveal elements of the painting underneath; the faces normally. Though some icons on their own contain gold or silver leaf, rizas are often more elaborate than the icons, looking like jeweled cases attached to the paintings.

Remnev's works do not come with rizas but their depictions of intricately-adorned garments and backdrops more than make up for the lack of a bejeweled cover. As with icon painting, Remnev paints with egg yolk, and bases his own technique on a combination of Russian icon painting, 18th century Russian painting, Constructivism and the composition methods of the Mir Iskusstva.

Of course, Remnev's paintings do not serve to inspire religious veneration. This, however, does not exempt its onlookers from other forms of reverence, be it for the paintings' sartorial aptitude or the artist's sheer talent, among other things. Are Remnev's icon-influenced paintings a reflection of the more trivial qualities we venerate today?

Paintings by Andrey Remnev, Images from

October 9, 2014

That Roma Aeterna

THE AGE, THE SCALE, THE SPLENDOR. The geometric perfection. The monolithic might. The grandeur of millennia long past. If I am being verbose, it's because no small set of words can seem to describe what I found in Rome. A week now since we visited and I am still filled with awe.

At the major attractions, there is little escape from the hordes of tourists. But even motley crowds are unable to dilute Rome's cinematic appeal. From atop the Il Vittoriano, a vision in itself, views of the Eternal City sweep like a scene from a movie. Ornate domes tower over stone pines as Vespas splutter on the cobblestones below. Stealing the show is the Colosseum; iconic like a veteran star unfaded by age. Used originally for holding spectacles both grand and gruesome, the amphitheatre today is the main attraction, visited by thousands of tourists every year. The grand. The gruesome. We're all still here taking selfies.

Over at the Vatican, Bernini's Piazza San Pietro won my affection not only for being my namesake, but for its dramatic, almost theatrical layout. With colonnades on either side of St. Peter's Basilica, each lined with four rows of columns, the piazza was designed to "embrace visitors in the maternal arms of mother church." An obelisk moved thrice since importing from Egypt punctuates the center of the piazza, serving as a gnomon to a giant sundial on the limestone floor.

Also imported with such arduous performance were the columns fronting the Pantheon. Each weighing 60 tons, the columns were quarried in Egypt and either dragged or floated through the Nile, the Mediterranean, the Tiber, and any land mass along the way. The scene to see, however, is inside the building. Up top. Shining in through an oculus at the dome's apex, a spotlight of sunlight slowly circles the interiors, illuminating its rich carvings and marble patterns.

When in Rome, it seems, do look to the heavens. At the Vatican Museums' Gallery of Maps, paintings and decorations fill a 120-meter-long ceiling. But even with its length, it is no rival to Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel masterpiece. The Creation of Adam was directly above where we stood amidst a sea of other tourists, and like a true drama queen, I teared up in heart-swelling awe. “In a secularising world," says Alain de Botton, "art has replaced religion as a touchstone of our reverence and devotion.” But what then of art that depicts religious themes?

The trip was my first to Rome, and in just a few days, it made me wish I were an artist, an architect, a scholar, or even a mere resident of the city, just to be surrounded by its beautiful, millennia-spanning profundity. If I could channel Anouk Aimée in La Dolce Vita, I would love that too.

Maybe it's the spectacle of tourism. Maybe it's the glamor of cinema. Gore Vidal in Fellini's Roma calls Rome "the city of illusions. Not only by chance you have here the church, the government, the cinema. They each produce illusions."

No matter. "Veni, vidi, vici." I came. I saw. But it was Rome that conquered me.

Colosseum, Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, Hotel Pulitzer Roma, La Zanzara, Pantheon, Vatican Museums, Tre Scalini Piazza Navona and Piazza San Pietro, Rome. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.

October 1, 2014

That Spoonful of Julie

WE KNOW HER BEST having "confidence in sunshine," longing to "have danced all night" or advocating a "spoonful of sugar" to help the medicine go down. But less known about Dame Julie Elizabeth Andrews is the hard childhood she endured, which instilled in her a tough off-screen character in stark contrast with her very celebrated, very wholesome roles. Within the industry, she's been dubbed "nun with a switchblade" for possessing traits some considered shrewd, even repulsive. My Fair Lady co-star Rex Harrison threatened to quit the production if Andrews were to stay. The Sound of Music co-legend Christopher Plummer remarked that working with her was "like getting hit over the head with a Valentine card."

On her appearance, Cecil Beaton called her "the most hopelessly unphotogenic person" he had ever met. The photos above proves otherwise, being not only beautiful, but feeling symbolic of Andrews's ability to triumph over inadequacies; superficial and otherwise. A child from an impoverished, broken home becomes Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first Cinderella. A stage actress rejected from playing the film version of her role goes on to win an Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA award for a role in a contending film. Late in the 60s, Julie Andrews starred in a couple of commercially disappointing films, and in the late 90s, lost her four-octave soprano in a tragic attempt to remove nodules from her throat. 

But Andrews surpassed all that. The new millennium established the film and theater veteran as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to the performing arts. Perhaps "Dame" pales in comparison to Queen Guinevere but it's no doubt a big leap from Cockney flower girl. And unlike the latter two, Andrews's damehood is a real-life role to play.

"Perhaps I had a wicked childhood. Perhaps I had a miserable youth." Maria sings a most beautiful song in what may be the most awkward scene in The Sound of Music. "But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past, there must have been a moment of truth. For here you are, standing there, loving me. Whether or not you should."

Yes, Dame Julie. For filling our childhood with melodious magic and wholesome song, we love you. Whether or not we should.

Julie Andrews by Cecil Beaton, and by Philippe Halsman,


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