We had the opportunity to see Francis Bacon’s reconstructed painting studio in Dublin a couple of years ago.
Francis Bacon was one of the leading figurative painters of the late twentieth century. He lived and worked in 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington, London, from 1961 until his death in 1992. The studio with its heaps of torn photographs, fragments, of illustration and artists’ catalogues provided many of his visual sources. It’s documented that his studio became his complete visual works. Apparently, Francis rarely painted from life.
The dust was deliberately mixed into his paint. The studio was cluttered, paint splattered with thick layers of debris and toxic pigments. Which apparently exacerbated his acute asthma.
Francis Bacon’s entire London studio was transplanted and reassembled – every paintbrush and speck of dust, along with the walls and floorboards – to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, Ireland. The studio took three years to reconstruct in a Dublin art gallery with every detail of the work-space faithfully re-created.
The studio was donated to the Hugh Lane Gallery in and a team of 10 archaeologists and conservators spent three years dismantling the room and its contents and transporting them across the Irish Sea.
Bacon was born in Ireland to English parents but he left Ireland when he was a teenager. He died in Spain in 1992. According to Brian Clarke, Francis Bacon’s executor, “Bacon once said that he’d never come back to Dublin until he was dead,”
“And I think frankly if he were here today to see what happened, I think he’d be touched but I think he’d probably roar with laughter as well.”
Francis Bacon’s studio was the ultimate creative mess. I recommend a visit if you are in Dublin.
After a trip to the Tate Modern in London, we headed over to meet a friend at Kings College. We walked over the elegant, sinuous Millennium Bridge. It’s has been a couple of years since our last visit and this time we noticed that everyone was looking down and pointing, not the sort of thing you expect to see in the middle of this busy thoroughfare. The once magnificent, pristine bridge has definitely aged.
The metal rungs of the bridge are now the repository for discarded chewing gum. It’s a bit shocking to see the how little regard people have for their city’s icons. I am always surprised that so many people do not consider discarded cigarette butts and chewing gum as destructive litter.
The silver lining however is that Artist Ben Wilson, aka The Chewing Gum Man, apparently a regular sight on the bridge, takes these disgusting remnants of people’s chewing gum and turns them into mini works of art.
Many of the pieces are commissioned by tourists and locals commemorating their visit or someone in their lives. The intricate paintings can take hours to make.
Ben likes to create art that means something to the people who ask for it. This was a tribute to victims of the Japanese Tsunami.
This image shows people on the bridge looking at Ben’s artwork and St Paul’s Cathedral at the end of the Millennium Bridge axis.
It’s the endless possibility of patterns that seems to excite Ben’s creative mind. As Ben explains “sometimes I can look at the shape and I can see what I want to create…the gum gets stuck between the tread and takes on an echo or a form of the bridge.”( quote is from (image from Inspiring City)
The Millennium Bridge has now become an experiential, free, outdoor art gallery. In his words, about painting onto discarded chewing gum, “it’s not criminal damage” he tells me “the chewing gum is already there I’m just transforming it into something beautiful that people would like to look at.” (Quote is from Inspiring City)).
This may be the ultimate expression of ‘taking lemons and making lemonade’. Ben Wilson has taken trash and turned it into an amazing interactive tourist attraction. Now if he could only turn his hand to those cigarette butts. (The 3 image above are from Inspiring City)
Yesterday, while rummaging around in a mid-century modern vintage store, Refind, I found a fabulous painting of a magnolia branch by an artist I had never heard of before, Vladimir Tretchikoff, the King of Kitsch. It’s actually a print with an added pencil signature by the artist. The painting is called ‘Pink Magnolias.’
Those who know me know that I have a thing for kitschy Tiki, Hawaiian and Asian objects of art. I love vintage Hawaiian postcard, I throw tiki parties, love the cocktails and will wear a Hawaiian shirt without any hesitation.
However, I have never delved into the world of kitsch paintings. Perhaps in my mind the prohibitive image of black velvet paintings is too strong. This all changed when I went to an open house in Los Angeles a few months ago. I was so inspired and taken aback by the collection of vintage Hawaiian paintings, hanging in the master bedroom, that looked so elegant and stylish, and totally complimented the aesthetics of the room.
I realize it took a certain amount of panache to combine so-called real art with the flagrantly low culture pieces. But this was done, not for Kitschy irony but for the simple beauty afforded by the combination of colours and imagery. Read my blog post here.
My husband said to me yesterday just before we bought the painting “You have to be pretty confident in your design style to hang this kind of stuff.” Well we decided we were,so we bought the signed print, replete with its original frame.
I am so pleased we did because it is amazing! I haven’t decided where to hang this gorgeous piece so, in the meantime, I decided to do a bit of research on Vladimir Tretchikoff.
It turns out I may be the only one in the world who hasn’t heard of him. Tretchikoff was a self-taught artist who painted realistic figures, portraits, still life and animals, with subjects often inspired by his early life in China, Singapore and Indonesia, and later life in South Africa. “His work was immensely popular with the general public, but is often seen by art critics as the epitome of kitsch (indeed, he was nicknamed the “King of Kitsch”). He worked in oil, watercolour, ink, charcoal and pencil but is best known for his reproduction prints, which sold worldwide in huge numbers. The reproductions were so popular that it was rumoured that Tretchikoff was the world’s richest artist after Picasso.” (Wikipedia)
The Magnolia and other tropical flowers, as well as, women from the Orient and Africa seem to be common themes in his paintings. “Arguably the prints had a populist appeal for being representational not abstract, yet they were also intriguingly exotic and enigmatic with their unfinished backgrounds, unconventional use of colour and Far Eastern or African subjects.” (Flashin’ on the 70s)
The Tretchikoff painting above, called ‘Chinese Girl’ (popularly known as “The Green Lady”), is one of the best selling art prints of the twentieth century. Recently, the original sold for nearly $1.5 million in London. The model for the painting was Monika Sing-lee who was around twenty at the time and was spotted by Tretchikoff working in her uncle’s laundrette in Cape Town.
This short Youtube video explains the interest in the painting.
The Chinese Girl painting has appeared in numerous famous depictions of popular culture. For example the painting can be seen hanging in the background of an animated living room in the music video for the song Young Folks by Peter Bjorn & John.
It can be seen adorning the living room of Bob Rusk, the killer in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Frenzy in 1972.
The painting is seen in the apartment of Ruby, Shelley Winters’ character, in Alfie (1966).
As I always knew, exploration of junk stores leads to discovery and education. So next time you see a kitschy oil painting remember that these iconic pieces have their own stories and are touchstones of their period in time. Tretchikoff was interesting and his stuff is appealing – even with the layer of nostalgia and kitsch. Remember It’s OK and even pretty darn cool to combine disparate pieces – high and low art – Let’s not forget Mr. Warhol! It shows confidence and leadership – instead of waiting to see what might be cool – you go with your instincts and have confidence in your taste.
Finally, don’t forget to drop in to some open houses because you can learn from touring real estate and seeing other peoples Mojo.
I decided to hang my Vladimir Tretchikoff, Pink Magnolias painting in my entry foyer next to my blue West German vase.
Some of the images above were found on google images. If these photos are yours and you have concerns about their usage on this blog, please contact me and I will remove them. Thanks!
Very prominant along the GTA skyline are the “Marilyn Monroe’ Towers. On our last trip to Ontario we decided it was time to stop and have a look at these towers and their very unusual, non-rectilinear massing.
Their undulating shape is the design of young Beijing-based architect, Ma Yansong, and his firm, MAD Architects. Ma entered an international design competition hosted by the tower’s developers Fernbrook Homes and Cityzen, and was awarded the project in 2006.
Within days of the announcement, the taller building had been nicknamed the “Marilyn Monroe” tower due to its curvaceous, hourglass figure likened to actress Marilyn Monroe. Burka Varacalli Architects, a Toronto firm, was hired as MAD’s local partner in April 2007.
The building represented constant challenges. In most towers, all but two of the floors are exactly the same, said engineer Yury Gelman. In this building, none of them were the same. The larger of the two towers twists 209 degrees from the base to the top. The towers are 176 metres and 158 metres tall respectively.
It was worth the detour off the Toronto freeway to see these towers in person. They are absolutely magnificent and beautiful to look at. They are indeed works of Art.
The design highlight of our recent trip to Los Angeles was a self-discovery architectural tour of Silver Lake. I had no idea Silver Lake was such a hot bed of architectural activity. So many of the houses, mid century modern in style, were designed by very well known architects, including Rudolf Schindler, Richard Neutra, John Lautner, and Frank Lloyd Wright to name a few.
The icing on the cake was a stop at an open house perched in the hills overlooking the Silver Lake Reservoir. The house was beautifully decorated and according to the real estate agent, Gisele Plouffe, the owners styled the house themselves. The owners of this house have really good taste. Before we take a closer look at the house I’d like to share a story told to us by Gisele.
Gisele described a party she attended given by the current owner of Silvertop, the Lautner designed house in the hills just behind her listing. Evidently the owner, in his 90s, told her the story of how John Lautner and Richard Neutra both had houses under construction on opposite sides of the Silverlake Reservoir, and how they tried to hide their projects from one another. As an architect, this rivalry didn’t surprise me in the least. Architects are famous for being protective of their work. If I hadn’t stopped at this open house I would never have learned about this little known, classic story.
John Lautner’s Silvertop House showing the dramatic driveway up and views to the Silver Lake Reservoir from the patio.
Here is the story in Gisele’s own words:
“This story was told to me at a cocktail party at Silvertop, by the original owner of the home. Talk about the perfect setting for a Lautner/Neutra story! It all started when John Lautner was building “Silvertop” in 1957. It is such a huge masterpiece at the top of the hill, on the West side of Silver Lake. As you can imagine at that time, it stood out for all to see. This area is known as the Moreno Highlands, named after Antonio Moreno, actor, who had a huge estate there with his mistress in a home down the street. That’s another story. “At the same time that Lautner was under construction, his rival architect, Richard Nuetra, was in the process of building a large project on the East side of Silver Lake. A cul de sac, lined with his homes. Name of the street – Neutra Place.
Silver Lake is very hilly and surrounds the lake, which enables homes to view each other from across the lake. There was quite a competitive spirit with both of these men, as well as a jealousy and mutual admiration, I suppose. Well Lautner did not want Neutra glancing across the lake to see what he was doing, perhaps stealing any ideas. So he had to do something to calm his concerns. From the street, driveway entrance to the property, you see nothing, but from across the lake it was a front row seat. He had a huge tarp designed and had it hung up to block any view to his work away from Neutra specifically. The owner thought it was ugly and ridiculous, but Lautner left it there until completion. The end.”
One of Richard Neutra’s houses in Silver Lake
The Open House:
By the way, the open house was lovely, with sweeping views of the hills and the reservoir. The house had its own putting green off the master bedroom. The owners had a fabulous collection of vintage art mixed with mid century modern pieces. In one bedroom the paintings were original, romantic, vintage Hawaiian.
The whole house was a sophisticated and eclectic mix of colour, art, quirky historic artifacts and whimsical touches, well worth the steep hill and stair climb. If you need a real estate agent in the Los Angeles area, and want to hear some interesting stories give Gisele Plouffe a call!
Sorry I’ve been MIA, but I’ve been busy working on a number of different projects that I hope to share with you soon.
Today I did some design sleuthing. The Chinatown Experiment showed up on my Instagram feed so I headed down to 434 Columbia street to see ‘ADDRESS’ an assembly of fine furniture and home accessories put together by Kate Duncan. ADDRESS is a carefully curated display of locally designed and crafted furniture, lighting, textiles, artwork, as well as natural and sculptural home accents.
I met Kate and was very impressed by the wood furniture and accents which she personally designed and made. There were beds, coffee tables, cutting boards, dressers, and an amazing bathroom cabinet made from a number of different maple finishes.
The second innovative house project, involving female clients and well-known architects, is the Schroder House, in Utrecht, Netherlands. The house was designed by Gerrit Rietveld for Truus Schroder in 1923-1924.
This house is of particular interest to me because as an architecture student I made the pilgrimage to The Netherlands specifically to see it. I was studying in London when I made the trip to see this fine example of the De Stijl (aka Neoplasticisim) movement and icon of modern architecture.
It took a while to find it and when we did it was smaller than I had imagined but so beautiful. There it stood in all its acontextual beauty like an exotic alien species against the backdrop of austere traditional dutch architecture.
The Schroder House house looks like a 3 dimensional Piet Mondrion, De Stijl painting. The two are often compared to one another and arise from the same geometric theoretical principles of pure abstraction of horizontal and vertical forms expressed using only primary colours to achieve a kind of universality of form and expression. Ironically the Schroder, while in stark contrast to its historic neighbours, still expresses the Calvinist severity and clarity of the Dutch mind.
Truus Schroder was a young widow with 3 children when her family moved into the house. She had a vision of family life in the modern world. Friedman describes this saying “the house had a double personality-playful and carefree on the one hand, yet disciplined and even moralistic on the other-reflects the complex personalities of architect and client, and the unique nature of the collaboration between Rietveld, who had never built a building before, and Schroder, a well-to-do women with strong ideas about how and where she wanted to live.”
The house was an opportunity to break free of ‘repressive traditions and rules-both social and architectural, and create a totally modern environment. The use of bright coloured elements represented freedom and choice.
Truus Schroder and Gerrit Rietveld went on to work together on a number of important projects together during the 1920s and 1930s. “The work Rietveld and Schroder did together was not simply to communicate this new sense of life but literally to guide body and mind toward clearer and more actions and thoughts”
The Red and Blue Chair was designed in 1917 by Gerrit Rietveld. It represents one of the first explorations by the De Stijl art movement in three dimensions.
All Photos are from Google Images. All quotes are from Women and the Making of the Modern House by Alice T. Friedman
American heiress, Aline Barnsdall commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design Hollyhock House because she wanted to build a theatre for her newly formed theatrical company. Her goal was to use her experience and vast wealth to establish a centre for art theatre in American to rival those found in Europe. She wanted a place where her architect, Frank Lloyd Wright “could build a theatre, a community, and a home that would match her dreams with a boldness and individuality of their own.” Aline Barnsdall hoped her experimental project for an American theatre community would grow and prosper in California.
This collaboration between Frank Lloyd Wright and Aline Barnsdall during the period of 1915 and 1923 was unusual because it called for a rethinking of building types and challenged the “notions of house design, family life, and domesticity.” Hollyhock House was not designed for the private life of a family but rather as a centrepeice in a public garden, and a theatre complex. This freed up architect and client to push the boundaries of architecture including the experiences of monumental form, theatricality, and how the house framed the landscape.
The hollyhock is used as a central theme to the house, with many symmetrical decorations adapting the plant’s general appearance. Planters are decorated with the motif and filled with the plants themselves, and Wright’s stained glass windows feature a highly-stylized hollyhock pattern.
Alice T. Friedman contends that Hollyhock has a lot to teach us about “creativity and about the sorts of new experiences that become possible when conventions of social behaviour, program, and planning are challenged.”
Disillusioned by the costs of construction and maintenance, Barnsdall donated the house to the city of Los Angeles in 1927 under the stipulation that a fifteen-year lease be given to the California Art Club for its headquarters, which it maintained until 1942.Hollyhock has been used by various organizations and has had restoration work done over the years. The U.S. Department of the Interior designated Hollyhock House a National Historic Landmark in 2007 (Wikipedia)
Why were independent female clients such powerful catalysts for innovation in the modern house?
Women and the Making of the Modern House, written by Alice T. Friedman, is a thought-provoking book that answers this question by exploring two seemingly unrelated topics: gender roles, and architecture.
Specifically, the book focuses on 6 innovative projects, involving female clients and well-known architects. These projects are the best-known examples of unprecedented architecture that had female clientele at the forefront of each project’s innovation. It combines social and architectural history to investigate the roles played by both the architects and the clients, and explores the processes of collaboration and negotiation through which decisions about program and design were made.
A conviction shared by modern architects and their women clients was that the essence of modernity was the complete alteration of the home – its construction, materials, and interior space.
“Not only did women commission avant-garde architects to provide them with houses in which to live out their visions of a new life, but these visions rested on a redefinition of domesticity that was fundamentally spatial and physical. A powerful fusion of feminism with the forces of change in architecture thus propelled these projects into uncharted realms of originality”
The 6 innovative houses are:
Hollyhock House, Los Angeles, 1919-21, by Frank Lloyd Wright for Alice Barnsdall
House 2: The Schroder House, Utrecht, the Netherlands, 1923-24, by Gerrit Rietveld for Truus Schroder
House 3: Villa Stein-de-Monzie, by Le Corbusier, was constructed from 1926-1928 and it is located in Garches, France.
House 4: Farnsworth House by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Plano, Illinois, 1945-51
House 5: The Constance Perkins House by Richard Neutra in Pasadena, California, 1952-55
House 6: Vanna Venturi House by Robert Venturi, Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, 1961-64
Stay tuned to learn more about these houses and how their women patrons of architecture were catalysts for innovation.