Monica D. Murgia

Art, creativity, and fashion
April 9th, 2014

Ineffable: Patience

I’ve been trying to cultivate patience.  It’s not something I was born with.  Things never seemed to happen fast enough for me.  My childhood impatience carried over well into my twenties.  I always felt restless, always wanted to impose my will on situations and people.  When I didn’t get the desired outcome, I’d become very irritated and upset.  I had no emotional self-control.  Constantly being ruled by emotion is exhausting.  I decided to try consciously be more patient at 25, right when I started teaching.  Having to lead a classroom made me aware that growing irritable was a quick way to lose control and the interest of my students.
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Patience is a discipline that can grow over time.  For me, it was very hard-won.  I still find it difficult to be patient with myself.  But I was lucky enough to find resources in developing a more peaceful way to deal with delays and setbacks.  I think painting has helped me tremendously.   Sometimes it comes out all wrong.  Preparing and mixing paints takes time and effort.  Then, the process of trying to make something beautiful can go terribly wrong.  My first few failed attempts would leave me outraged and angry.  Negative thoughts would stream through my mind, like: “What a waste of time. ” or  “I’m terrible.”  But for some reason, I kept showing up.  (New to my site?  You should check out my previous post, Showing Up.)
One day I realized why I kept coming back – the process of painting helped me to quiet my mind.
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I’m not sure what your mind is like, but my is complicated.  I think lots of thoughts and am easily distracted.  I make plans for the future.  I read books.  I worry about things that are out of my control.  I judge myself harshly.  With all of these plans, hopes, fears, and ideas jumping around in my head, it can be difficult to be present.  Lost in thought, I’d bump into people in the subway.  I’d get irritated that they didn’t see me.  Or I would be so distracted I’d be late to appointments or meetings.  This would lead me to blame anything or anyone external to myself.  My inability to focus and tame my mind was the problem, not the train being late or the people in the streets.
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These thoughts and feelings that were always whirling around inside of me would slow down and stop completely when I started to focus on creating.   A new-found patience started to grow within.  I could quiet my mind more.  Life became less about imposing my will on people and situations.  I experienced freedom from anger and irritation because I started to realize that there is nowhere else to be but here, now.  It’s been 5 years since I’ve made the decision to become more patient.  My relationships with other people are better, my ability to focus has improved, and I’ve learned to let go of expectations.
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Still, waiting always seems to test me.  The new paintings I’ve been making require a lot of drying time.  The linseed oil needs time to harden.  At first, it looks slick, smooth, and saturated with color.  I let my paintings dry on an old Ikea clothing rack, since I don’t have a lot of space.  As the oil dries over time, the painting starts to look very different than how it started.
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The surface hardens into textures and patterns.  It’s less shiny.
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The colors’ vibrancy also change.
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New shapes and color combinations emerge that I never intended to create.  It makes me realize the importance of being patient.  Not forcing the painting to occur in a set time period allows something more beautiful than what I set out to create to happen on its own.
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It’s almost dry enough to hang, but not quite yet.  Until then, I wait.  Sometimes patiently, sometimes not.  When I catch myself aggressively wondering how long it will take to just be done, I stop.  I think to myself, “Maybe it’s time to make a new painting”, and I move on.
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GHTime Code(s):  
April 4th, 2014

Ineffable: Knowing When to Stop

“If you don’t know what you are making, how do you know when to stop?”  That’s a reasonable question.  Yet it’s difficult to answer.  Maybe I can answer it with a personal story.  I started a new job at the end of August 2013.  It’s in a completely unrelated industry – a real suit and tie type of place.  When I went on my initial interview, we arrived at the question and answer portion.  I brazenly asked if I could remove the existing art work and replace it with my own.    (How’s that for bold?)
I got the job, and it was quite a transition.  I’m the only woman in the office (keep in mind that my previous work environments were the reverse – mostly or entirely female).  I’m also the only aesthete.  Making something for this shared space really preoccupied my thoughts.  It had to be appealing to an audience I knew very little about, and one that would have only one real strong opinion about the work – if they didn’t like it.
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This made me try doing a series of small studies on paper.  I used all kinds things, just doodling all over the page.  I used crayons, and colored pencils and markers, and pens, and ink.  When I started with ink, I used a brush to draw circles all over the paper.  Then I made circles with different colored markers.  Finally, I traced the circles with water and a brush.  The effect?  The colors started to bleed out.  All of the sudden, I saw rain drops hitting a puddle.  That’s when I knew to stop.  When I start to see something – like seaweed or rain drops – the picture is complete.  A feeling of finality washes over me.  (New to my site?  You should read my previous post – the first in the series of explaining the unexplainable.)
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So I had an idea with I approached this canvas.  This allowed me to complete the painting very quickly.  I applied the blue base coat.  Then, I swirled silver paint onto a brush, and whipped the handle in little circles.  I’d have to dip the brush into the can of paint and pull it out quickly – this lets more paint settle on the brush than taking it out slowly.  I mixed black oil paint to a thin consistency and did the same thing.
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I let it dry for a week and half.  It still needed something, so I decided to spatter yellow paint on the surface.  One of the guys commented: “Hey!  It looks great with yellow.”  That was another sign I knew this version was complete – someone so far removed from art could judge it favorably.  A man that I did not know well that had no previous interest in art liked the painting.  I’d say that’s a good point to stop.
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It took another few weeks to decide where to hang it, and which type of frame would look best.  Here’s the finished product:
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GHTime Code(s):  
March 29th, 2014

New Series: Ineffable

It’s been a while since I’ve written.  I’ve been allowing myself to really run away with my thoughts; explore my ideas more fully, read, and experiment with new media.  Somewhere, I came across this idea:
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This was such a perfect word.  To say what can’t be said.  So much of my personal work is an attempt to express what seems impossible to say.  People often ask me how long it takes me to make a painting, and I struggle to tell them.  Sometimes it can be in one sitting, other times it can take weeks.
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It’s even difficult to say how I start.  Every time is one big experiment.  Recently, I made a painting for a friend.   It was my first commission.  He was really interested in hearing around my process.  We even had a lengthy discussion about how to hang it.  It’s very difficult for me to explain my process, mostly because it’s spontaneous.
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I generally start with certain colors in mind, and not much else.  My preferred media is oil on board, and I like to use lots and lots of boiled linseed oil mixed with the paint.  (Oil paints are ground mineral pigments mixed with a carrier oil, which is usually linseed oil.  The oil makes the dusty pigments gel up into paint that can later be put into a tube.   Applying more oil to the tubed pigment makes the paint more fluid.  There are different ways to process linseed oil, each rendering a different effect when mixed with the paint.  I’ve discovered that boiled linseed oil creates this interesting, textured surface. See above.)
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I’ll apply a base color to the canvas with a thick consistency.  Then I’ll mix other colors and make them more fluid than the base coat.  Sometimes, I use a brush and thrash the paint.  Other times, I pour the mixture directly onto the surface.  (The orange, above, I poured right onto the surface.  The dark green color I applied with a brush.)
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Then, I step back and look at it.  I look at how the paint is moving.  I try to see how the colors blend, and how it makes me feel.  I noticed that the dark green paint was bleeding out.  It wasn’t really staying in the area I wanted it to.  Instead, it made these dripping, tentacle-like shapes.
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After some time had passed, I decided to edit it.  I thought it could be improved.   I picked it up on one end, and let the paint drip down to the other side.  Then, I repeated on the reverse end.  The effect much better; the colors blended so fluidly, it reminded me of seaweed.
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But I don’t work on it from strictly one direction.  I attack it from all sides.  Then, I let it dry.  As the oil dries, the values of the colors change.  The surface hardens and becomes more textured.  It takes shape.
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I wasn’t sure which side was up.  It’s difficult for me to visualize working that way.  Shouldn’t the entire process be more important than the initial concept?  I think it’s ok for the composition to change based on the process, as long as the product makes you happy.
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It made me so happy to see it framed and hanging, too.  I have several paintings that I’ve made in the past 5 months that I’d like to attempt to express in words.  It takes a lot of effort to do this, because it’s trying to explain the ineffable – the thing that can’t be said.  And yet, I’d like to try.  That’s what I’d like this new series to be about -  explaining how to see beauty in that which you don’t fully understand.
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January 26th, 2014

Grace Kelly & Fashion Illustration, Part II

Today’s post is a summary of a talk I gave at the Michener Museum a few weeks ago.  So I suppose the big question is, why fashion illustration?  This was the only method of distributing fashion information for centuries.  Paintings , prints, and drawings were the only visual methods of documenting fashion until the 1850s, with the advent of the modern camera.  Photography was problematic for several decades after this.  Exposure times were long, forcing people to sit very still for several minutes.
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Illustration for the House of Paquin, 1907.  Image courtesy of the V&A Museum.

 

Photography progressed slowly through the early 20th century.  Prices went down.  The process became better and faster.  Color photography was soon possible.  Magazines started to incorporate more photography, along side with illustrations.  As the 1930s progressed, photography became the preferred media for covers and fashion editorials.  Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar added in-house photographers in addition to their the art departments.

 

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 Left: July 15th, 1936 Vogue cover.  Photo by Edward Steichen.  Image courtesy of We Heart Vintage. Right:  November 10th, 1930 Vogue cover.  Image courtesy of Baba Yaga.

 World War II impacted the fashion industry in many ways, including the duel between illustration and photography.  The most common materials were rationed for the war effort, including textiles, cosmetics, and the chemicals used to develop film.  Illustrations continued through the war.  Editorials that used photographs focused on showing patriotic fashions and how to “make do and mend” existing items.  Staged studio photography was deemed inappropriate and unpatriotic during this time.

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 Left: Rene Gruau illustration of a Christian Dior evening dress, c. 1948.  Image courtesy of Indulgy.  Right: “Venus” dress by Christian Dior, 1948.  Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

 The Post-War period ushered in glamorous silhouettes and unbridled use of fabrics and trim.  1947 was a pivotal year in fashion, in which Christian Dior created the “New Look”.  This collection featured skirts were much longer and fuller than were available during the war.  Waists were nipped in with corsets and girdles .  The newly instated trappings required women to buy new garments.  This was initially met with some resistance.  Dior teamed with fashion illustrator Rene Gruau (1909-2004) to promote his sophisticated garments.  Gruau was one of the most prolific fashion illustrators of the Post-War era.  (New to my site?  You should read my previous post, Rene Gruau.)

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Left: Rene Gruau illustration of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit, 1947.  Image courtesy of Design Museum.  Right: Photograph of Christian Dior’s Bar Suit by Willy Maywald, 1947.  Image courtesy of Contemporary History.
Gruau’s had a clearly recognizable illustration style, which included:
  • stark outlines
  • the use of negative space throughout the composition
  • sensitivity to color used to contour figures with highlights and shadows
  • curvilinear compositions
 During this time, America’s most prominent fashion illustrators were Hollywood costume designers.  It is often easy to dismiss costume designers’ contributions to fashion history, since the focus tends to be primarily on New York.  Helen Rose (1904-1985) was an extremely influential costume designer that worked closely with Grace Kelly on and off the set.
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 Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s wedding dress.  Right: Grace Kelly in the wedding dress designed by Helen Rose.

Born in Chicago, Rose attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and began her career designing costumes for nightclubs and theaters.  During this period, she mostly worked for vaudeville acts, including the Lester Costume Company.  In 1929 she left for Los Angeles and began costuming for films.  She worked for Twentieth Century Fox from 1940-1943 and later became chief costume designer for MGM.

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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956.  Image courtesy of Gracie Bird.  Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose.  Image courtesy of Equally Wed.
From 1947 to 1966, Rose costumed over 200 films and worked with Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, grace Kelly, Deborah Kerr, and Esther Williams. Rose designed Grace Kelly’s 1956 wedding dress for her marriage to Crown Prince Rainier III of Monaco.  Rose also designed her civil ceremony outfit was a full-skirted suit of dusky rose pink taffeta with beige Alençon lace overlay (currently on view at the Michener Museum).  Many of Rose’s illustrations survive, particularly those made for Grace Kelly’s role in the film High Society.
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Left:  Helen Rose’s illustration of Grace Kelly’s costume for High Society, 1956.  Image courtesy of Live Auctioneers.  Right: Grace Kelly in her costume designed by Helen Rose.  Image courtesy of IMDB.
Edith Head (1897-1981) also worked very closely with Grace Kelly.  Born in San Bernadino, Head earned a Master’s degree in romance langauges from Stanford before switching to illustration.  She took classes at Chouinard Art college, and in 1924 was hired as a costume sketcher at Paramount Pictures.
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Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.  Right: Grace Kelly in costume.  Image courtesy of December’s Grace.

 Some of the most wonderful costumes Head designed for Grace Kelly were from the 1954 Hitchcock film Rear Window.  Grace Kelly plays the role of Lisa Freemont, a society fashion consultant.

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Left: Edith Head illustration for Grace Kelly’s costume in Rear Window.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.  Right: Grace Kelly in costume. Image courtesy of Daily Mail.

As you can see from the illustrations and photographs, the costumes are a perfect character construction.  The costumes lend an air of elegance, sophistication, and refinement of someone “in the know” about fashion.

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 Left: Right: Edith Head sketch and costume for Grace Kelly in Rear Window, 1954.  Images courtesy of Classiq and Glamour Daze.  Right:  Sketch by Edith Head.  Image courtesy of A Lovely Being.

GHTime Code(s):  
November 19th, 2013

Spontaneity

Life is spontaneous. It happens by itself. This is one of the fundamental principles of Buddhism. While it is good to make plans and set goals, it’s important to make time for life to unfold before you. This isn’t living life according to whim. There is more to spontaneity than caprice and disorder.

As an artist, I can tell you how this is true. I can’t tell you where my ideas come from. They happen spontaneously. It’s difficult for me to approach a canvas or piece of paper with an expectation. When I try to make something specific, it never seems to turn out right. So my approach has been to let the materials “speak” to me. I mix the paint right on the canvas. I see what shapes start to appear on their own.

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A few months ago, I bought some new paint. I like buying different materials. If I use unfamiliar media, I can’t go in with any expectations. I have to be observant and patient in my attempt to make something beautiful. I have to let the beautiful thing emerge on its own.
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I sprayed and sprayed several hued paints on this board. I noticed how the colors mixed together, how each can sprayed differently. The only method I had was that I would keep painting until it felt right. I did countless layers of paint. The yard was filled with a thick cloud of fumes that made me dizzy. I stopped and mixed some oil paint with stand oil and dripped it over the board. I started thrashing the paint brush wildly at the board, giggling and having fun at not caring what the outcome would be. I turned the board to let the paint drip from one end to the other. Then I alternated between layers of spray paint and oil paint.  From the photos, you can see how wildly different the painting looked at each stage.

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Suddenly, almost magically, I knew the painting was finished.  There was no way for me to schedule the right amount of time.  I just had to feel it.  To me, painting is like playing a game.  When we play games, we get most fascination out of games that combine skill and chance.  Games like poker or bridge.  You don’t feel completely at the mercy of chance, and you don’t feel completely at the mercy of skill.  It’s exciting and fun to not know the predictable outcome.  Order and randomness go together, creating surprise.  That’s how I define spontaneity – the perfect harmony of order and randomness.

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One of my favorite Buddhist philosophers is Alan Watts.  He has a great recorded talk called The Art of the Controlled Accident.  He consistently compares Buddhist philosophy to painting.  Life should be lived in a manner like painting.  You can’t have calculated expectations for everything in your life.  You have to approach situations with an open mind, only to search for possibilities and opportunities that present themselves.  Never force something.  It will only elude you.  Instead, take the approach of letting the beautiful things around you emerge on their own.  You will be surprised – and happy.

 

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If you liked this post, you should consider reading my previous posts :

Tantric Art

Looking at Buddhist Art

Showing Up

GHTime Code(s):    
September 27th, 2013

Old GRTC Bus Terminal

I mentioned in my last post that I started a new job. Part of my training took me to Richmond.  After work, I decided to roam around the city for a bit by myself.  My only plan was to check out a few vintage stores, figuring that fashion would somehow lead me to an adventure.  I hopped into the hotel shuttle bus and gave them the address to a local vintage retailer in Carytown.

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I had no real desire to buy anything, but just wanted to walk around – absorb some of the local scenery during my short time in the city.  Chatting with the driver, I looked out the window.  We passed an old bus terminal that was absolutely irresistible to me.   It was covered with hundreds of the most evocative, brightly hued art I’d seen.  Set against the warm, sunny late afternoon the setting seemed dreamlike.

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Cooing while trying to snap a few photos from the van, the driver sensed my enthusiasm.  He didn’t really know what the site was, other than it was an old bus terminal.  I asked him if we could take a quick detour and investigate the site.

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Everywhere I looked was beautiful!  The space has previously belonged to the Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC).  Built in 1902, the structure housed  trollies and buses that were not in use or needed repair.  The site was abandoned back in 2009.  Residents were unhappy with the crumbling buildings.  They pushed for a creative use of the space, hoping to install stores and restaurants to boost the local economy.

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The city’s response was to create a Street Art Festival, inviting artists from around the world to create large scale murals.  Since the time frame was limited, it became a hotbed of creativity.  Artists were working side-by-side, helping and inspiring one another.

Hamilton Glass, a Richmon-based artist, likened the festival is like a jam session for artists:

We feed off each other,” he said about five hours into his mural. “It’s great painting next to someone who’s being creative.

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The mural above was created with the help of Art on Wheels.  This Richmond-based non-profit helped in transforming the abandoned bus terminal into a work or art.  Founded in early 2007, Art on Wheels’ mission is to bring comprehensive arts programming to communities with limited access to the arts.  Their intent to make arts education accessible to all ages and abilities

 

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I could have spent all day here!  There was no evidence of any businesses within the compound.  But there was a young couple walking around taking photos.  They took a photo of me, which shows you the scale of the work.  It’s really massive and overwhelming!

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Like a kid in a candy store, I ran down the empty streets eagerly taking in as much art as I could.  Every mural was so interesting and unique.  Some were even 3-dimentional.  One of my favorites was a blue wall filled with metal birds.

 

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After closer inspection, the birds are decorated with names and poems.  If you’re in Richmond, I highly recommend stopping by to see it for yourself: 2501 W. Cary St.

To see the rest of my photos from the Old GRTC Bus Terminal, follow me on Instagram!

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GHTime Code(s):  
September 15th, 2013

Currently Reading: The Non-Objective World

All my favorite books have pictures.  While I enjoy reading and writing immensely, sometimes words are insufficient.  How do you describe a perfect sunset?  Or that moment you realize that you’re in love with someone?  Of course there are wonderful adjectives that can help explain the experience to another person, but somehow that magic moment is inexpressible with words.  I find myself in this situation often.   It’s frustrating to be unable to share a feeling or experience with someone because you can’t describe it.   This frustration is what leads me to draw or paint.
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When I enjoy the work of other artists, I’m curious as to what they are trying to express.   Looking at art always makes me feel something.  It stirs up my emotions and thoughts.  So I’m eager to see if what I feel is what the artist was hoping to express.

 

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Cosmos by Kazimir Malevich, 1917.  Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Russian abstract painter and costume designer Kazimir Malevich.  His work really fascinated me, initially because his experience as a costume designer influenced his later path as a painter.  So, I started to look at his artwork.

 

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Mystical Suprematism (Black Cross on Red Oval) by Kazimir Malevich, c. 1920-7.  Image courtesy of Malevich Paintings.

Malevich is most known for starting the art movement Suprematism. He conceived the idea of Suprematism around 1913, which focuses on basic geometric forms painted in a limited range of colors.  Malevich believed that the true power of art was it’s ability to evoke emotion in the viewer.  By using simple geometric forms, there was no way for political or social meanings to be imparted on the work of art. I loved the ideas behind his work.   He saw painting as a way to make people feel something that could not be manipulated or placed out of context.

 

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Mystical Religious Rotation of Shapes by Kazimir Malevich.  Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.

Lucky for me, Malevich wrote a manifesto on what his artwork was trying to make people feel.  He traveled to Berlin in the 1920s to exhibit his work and network with the faculty at Bauhaus. (New to my site?  You should read my previous posts on the Bauhaus.) His manifesto, The Non-Obective World, was published as book 11 in the series Die Gegenstandslose Welt.  (A friend told me this title translates to something like “a spirit without products” or “the spirit of the abstract”)

 

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Formula of Suprematism by Kazimir Malevich.  Image courtesy of Wikipaintings.

NYPL had a copy of The Non-Objective World, and I’m reading it now.  The introduction was really powerful.  It explains that, according to Malevich, art is eternally powerful because it originates from a feeling.  Artists are inspired to create something because of an almost mystical experience.  The urge to make something and share it with others is what makes an art object beautiful.

He insisted that art and the feelings which generate it are more basic and meaningful than religous beliefs and political conceptions.  Religions and the state, in the past, employed art as a means to further their aim.  The usefulness of works of technology is of short-lived but art indures forever.  If humanity is to achieve a real and absolute order this must be founded on eternal values, that is, on art.

 

 

GHTime Code(s):  
August 29th, 2013

Love is Telepathic

A few years ago, someone I knew insisted on taking me to a psychic.  Her name was Miriam Berry.  She was an old soothsayer that my grandmother used to visit, so I figured it could be amusing.  I’m not really superstitious, so I wasn’t expecting much.  Miriam was absolutely charming, her yellow-gray hair piled messily into a bun.  She flashed a smile as bright as jeweled fingers, and asked me some questions while flipping through a tarot deck.  She told me to think of a question.  This, of course, made my mind go completely blank.  What do I really want to know?  I settled on something really generic and vague, like “Will everything turn out alright?”  Much of this meeting was not memorable.  But one thing she said will never leave my mind.  She paused in the middle of a thought.  She looked at me, smiled, and said “love will prevail”.  We looked at each other and giggled.
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I think messages like this keep us going.  And if you look or listen carefully, these messages are all around.  Recently, I was introduced to Mark Samsonovich.  He is an artist that worked in solitude for many years and decided 2013 would be the year to share his work with the world.  Every week, he produces large scale installations in public spaces throughout Manhattan.  Street art is something I adore, so I was nearly beside myself with excitement to meet someone that works on such a massive scale.  (New to my site?  You should check out my previous posts on street art.)

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Before our meeting, I carefully looked at Mark’s website and Instagram feed.  I’m always curious to look at other people’s art.  It reveals so much about the way they think and experience the world.  I could tell that Mark and I had similar ideals, but perhaps he is better at expressing them more poignantly than me.

 

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As you can see, the main subject is love.  The art is really brilliant because it is inviting and interactive, welcoming people to have fun.  But there is something else that is really special about about Mark’s work.  It’s the way in which he defines what love is.  Have you ever tried to summarize what love means to you?  It certainly can be tricky to do.
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I think that Mark’s work exemplifies how love is a spectrum.  It is an underlying emotion that makes us care for others.  It may show up in various ways – like romance, lust, agape, or friendship.  However it appears, love allows us to connect others to share the experience of life.  Love can transform a mundane day into an adventure.

 

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I’m so pleased that Mark’s will be sharing new artwork at Tesla Style Night.  Buy your tickets to come check it out.  And also keep your eye out for his work throughout New York City.  It’s everywhere.

 

GHTime Code(s):  
July 20th, 2013

Triadic Ballet Costumes

Seeing the costumes from the Ballet Russe made me curious about costuming in general during this era.  This led me to do some investigating, and I was really happy to find some images of theater costumes designed by the students and faculty of the design school Bauhaus.  Back in November, I wrote a bit about the Bauhaus influence on the design world.  (New to my blog?  You should check out: Trigère vs. the Utah Tailoring Mills)
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Costumes for Triadic Ballet, designed and created by Oskar Schlemmer.  Image courtesy of Freelancer Frank.

Bauhaus (or Staatliches Bauhaus) was a German design school that operated from 1919-1933.  Founded by Walter Gropius, the school’s mission was to promote a synthesis of the arts.  Importance was placed on considering how to unify all aspects of design, from typography, fashion, architecture, interior design and so on.  (Gesamkunstwerk is the precise term in German)  The school attracted many fantastic designers.  A recognizable Bauhaus style emerged because many that attended the school were interested in functionality and minimalism.

Geometric forms, balanced compositions, and a sort of “futuristic” look are all telltale signs of Bauhaus design.

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Costume for Triadic Ballet  Image courtesy of Body Pixel.  
Bauhaus encapsulated the very ideal, utopian collective that many creative types wish they could be join.  Every art and design discipline was represented at the school.  I was familiar with some of the Bauhaus teachers, including:
  • László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946), a Hungarian born artist and painter that emphasized the integration of new technology and industrialization in design.  Moholy-Nagy taught several courses in diverse media, but was most interested with manipulating photography.  He considered cameras to be a “new eye”, capable of seeing and capturing the world in ways in which the human eye cannot.
  • Josef  Albers (1888-1976), the famed color theorist and Modernist painter.
  •  Anni Albers  (1899-1984):  a textile designer, weaver, and printmaker that helped pioneer many young women’s careers.

yet knew very little of Oskar Schlemmer (1888-1943), the instructor responsible for direction and development of these costumes.

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Wire Costume (Draht-Kostüm) from Notes and Sketches for the Triadic Ballet (Das triadische Ballett) by Oskar Shlemmer.  Image courtesy of MoMA.
Schemmer joined the faculty at Bauhaus in the early 1920s.  He taught a variety of courses, including sculpture.  His main role at the school revolved around the theater.  He choreographed and designed costumes for the school’s performances.
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Costume for Triadic Ballet by Oskar Schlemmer.  Image courtesy of Anne Cann.
 Like many of the instructors at Bauhaus, Schlemmer was eager to translate his art into everyday life.  He wanted to take his sculptures and make them come to life.  Many of the performances at Bauhaus worked on translating this concept into a reality.
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Dancer in White (Tänzerin in Weiss) from Notes and Sketches for the Triadic Ballet (Das triadische Ballett) by Oskar Shlemmer.  Image courtesy of MoMA.
Shlemmer’s first international success as a costume designer was with the Triadic Ballet.  It premiered in Stuttgart in 1922.  This avant-garde ballet explores how modern technology and design literally transform the human body.
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Dancer in White designed by Oskar Shlemmer.  Senac University Center recreation of the original costumes by the fashion and design students and faculty.  Later, these costumes were donated to the Bauhaus Institute. Image courtesy of Angela KC.
Many of the costumes transform the dancers into geometric shapes – making them resemble children’s toys.  The geometry of the costume echoed the design principles taught at Bauhaus – thus elevating the status of the school as the ballet toured the world.
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 Notes and Sketches for the Triadic Ballet (Das triadische Ballett) by Oskar Schlemmle. Image courtesy of MoMA
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Costume for the Triadic Ballet by Oskar Schlemmle.  Image courtesy of Flickr.  
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Abstract Dancer (Der Abstrakte) from Notes and Sketches for the Triadic Ballet (Das triadische Ballett) by Oskar Schlemmle.  Image courtesy of MoMA.
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Abstract Dancer by Oskar Schlemmer.  Image courtesy of ArsCenter.
The ballet also explored how technology impacted design.  Many of the dancers appear to be the personification of electricity.  Wire and metal were used to construct many of the costumes.  The stage lighting illuminated these costumes, making them shine.  This gave the illusion that the costumes were fitted with electric lights.
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Spiral (Spirale) from Notes and Sketches for the Triadic Ballet (Das triadische Ballett) by Oskar Schlemmer. Image courtesy of MoMA.
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Spiral by Oskar Schlemmer.  Image courtesy of unw0man.
Figurines of Schlemmer’s costume designs were exhibited at the Societe des Arts Decoratif in Paris in 1930.  MoMA also had a retrospective of these designs in 1938, showcasing the figurines as well as the notes and sketches appearing in this post.
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June 13th, 2013

Surrealist Legacy

Today’s post is another interview with a student.  Massiva has been writing her thesis on how the Surrealist movement impacted fashion design.  This is a topic I have been fascinated by, so I was really eager to see what she would ask me.  Her questions are really thought-provoking.
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  •  Do you think that the surrealist movement influences fashion even nowadays? 

Absolutely.  Surrealist elements have been incorporated into fashion since the movement started in the 1920s. I’d say it’s heyday for fashion designers and Surrealist collaborations was in the 1930s and 1940s, but it’s impact can be felt since.  The Postwar interest in Surrealism and fashion was definitely influenced by Wesley Simpson.  He was a New York textile converter that worked with French artists to create textile designs.  This was a way for painters to have an expanded market.  Not everyone can afford an oil painting by someone like Salvador Dali or Rene Magritte.  But a few yards of fabric designed by the artist was a brilliant way to incorporate art into everyday life, and at a price point that many people could afford.  I think recent interest in Surrealism and fashion has to do with the insight of curators like Dilys Blum (Philadelphia Museum of Art) as well as Andrew Bolton and Harold Koda (Metropolitan Museum of Art).  These curators really brought awareness of Surrealism and it’s impact on fashion with the exhibits Shocking! The Art & Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli and Schiaparelli  & Prada: Impossible Conversations, respectively.  These exhibits allowed a new generation to become familiar with Surrealism.  After these exhibits opened, there was a clear correlation of Surrealist elements showing up in contemporary fashion design.  Prada, Philip Treacy, Diane Von Furstenburg – they were just some of the numerous designers that referenced Surrealism in the past 5 years.   I think that we will continue to see Surrealism impacting fashion because it gives a certain shock value.  People want to be remembered, and that’s certainly easy if you’re wearing a gigantic lobster on your head.

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 Rhinestone encrusted lobster hat by  Philip Treacy, 2010
 

  • Do you think that art will carry on influencing fashion in the future? 
 Yes.  I think the two disciplines are intertwined.  In my mind, they are really extensions of one another.  You can’t really have fashion without art – prints on textiles, sketching new designs, draping fabric, pattern drafting – they all require an artist’s sensitivity to color, silhouette, and the medium used. To be done well, there has to be a mastery and artistry to designing fashion.  So many designers are impacted by artists because they share a similar sensitivity to color, beauty, and representing intangible ideas.  On the flip side, I think it is impossible to have a progression in art without changes in fashion.  To illustrate what I mean, look at the images below: 
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You don’t have to be an art historian to see the progression.  Art changes – it reflects the change in what is considered beautiful, how people dress, as well as innovations in techniques and materials.  It’s easy to date the paintings and art movements by how they depict clothing and the ideal silhouette.  So I think it’s a natural progression.  Future artists and designers will definitely impact each others work.
  • Dali has an important influence on the 20th century, do you think Dali is a visionary?

Honestly, I think he was a little crazy :) He famously said things like: “I don’t do drugs. I  am drugs.” and “There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad.”  But perhaps the chaos of his mind was what made him truly innovative.  He saw and experienced things that others didn’t.  I supposed that is what makes a visionary.

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  •  In your opinion, what would be Schiaparelli fashion house if it would not have been closed in 1954 ?
 I think Schiaparelli would have continued to push the envelope.  She liked being innovative and, well, shocking.  She was also extremely intelligent.  I remember reading that she once said: “Fashion is born by small facts, trends, or even politics, never by trying to make little pleats and furbelows, by trinkets, by clothes easy to copy, or by the shortening or lengthening of a skirt.” If her house remained open, I think that statement would have guided every design she made.  The house would have interpreted political sentiments and facts as they were – however beautiful or ugly they may have been.  Maybe she is like Vivienne Westwood in this way. I think she would have delivered small bits of truth via her designs.
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  • You surely heard about that, what do you think of the idea of Diego Della Valle to relaunch Schiaparelli house and give it a second breath?

I have heard this before.  When I hear about these kinds of things, I try to push it to the back of my mind.  I like to view collections and exhibitions without any expectations.  It may be magnificent, it might not.  I’m sure there will be elements of interest.  If I had any advice to Diego Della Valle, it would be to read Schiaparelli’s autobiography, Shocking Life.  If he is interested in relaunching her brand, I hope he takes the time to understand the way in which she perceived things.

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May 17th, 2013

Textile Designs by Rockwell Kent

As promised, I wanted to write more about the textile designs I saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This was the original drawing that caught my eye.  The design, entitled Swaying Trees, is by American artist Rockwell Kent.

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This was a big surprise for me!  Kent (1882 – 1971) studied painting under William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri.  I’d learned a bit about his paintings while working at an art gallery.  Henri encouraged Kent to paint landscapes of Monhegan island in Maine on his own.  This experience of painting directly in nature greatly affected Kent.  Whatever medium he chose, Kent’s work always captures the amazing power of nature.

Kent gained a reputation of a neo-Transcendentalist because of this.  Transcendentalism was a philosophy that originated in the 1830s and asserted that spiritual experiences could be observed in nature.  Time spent in nature often created a mystical or transcendental experience to those that followed this philosophy.

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You can see that his textile designs capture natural themes.  The other accompanying design is called Running Deer.  Both of these were realized in 1950.  Kent made a similar design for Bloomcraft Inc called Deer Season, which you can see below:

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Kent also completed a few other designs for Bloomcraft Inc, including Harvest Time:
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Harvest Time by Rockwell Kent.  Image courtesy of Boston Museum of Fine Arts
And Pine Tree:
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Pine Tree by Rockwell Kent.  Image courtesy of Boston Museum of Fine Arts

 Unless otherwise states, images courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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May 15th, 2013

Textile sketches by Sonia Delaunay

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of my favorite places to pass some time.  Earlier this week, I took a group of students to a special event celebrating Punk: Chaos to Couture.  As I wandered around the second floor, making my way to the exhibition, several sketches caught my eye.  The main corridor that leads to the special exhibition gallery is generally lined with works on paper – prints, drawings, and so on.  I noticed a lot of patterns, and knew they were textile designs.  (I’ll be writing more about those later!)  In the middle of this large corridor was a small table encased in plexiglass with the most wonderful sketches by Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979).

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These drawings are from 1925, and just darling!  I stood there a long time looking at them.  (They were a bit difficult to photograph without casting a shadow, as you can see.)  These sketches are simply entitled Sonia Delaunay: her paintings, her objects, her simultaneous fabrics, her fashions.  I think these are really prime examples of her design sensibilities, which included the art theory her and her husband Robert developed.  (New to my site?  You should take a look at my previous posts on Sonia & Robert Delaunay)

Sonia, along with her husband, painter Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), developed a color theory called simultaneity – the sensation of movement when contrasting colors are placed side by side.

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I love the geometry and color patterns in each of these sketches.  They clearly show a harmony between the fine and decorative arts movements at the time.  The green and black dress on the left is a nod to Cubism.  The middle dress looks uncannily like the interior of  an Art Deco building.  Perhaps it was inspired by a tiled floor.

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The silhouette is still column-like, which is a hallmark of the 1920s.  There is no defined waist, and the garments seem to hang vertically from the shoulders and obscure the shape of the body.   However, you can see that most of the hemlines are quite long – a definite contrast to the American flapper.  A nice alternative silhouette  to all The Great Gatesby buzz that’s been going around.

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All images courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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