Meet Artist Ben Wilson, the Millennium Bridge Chewing Gum Man

people on bridge copy

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.

viewersThe 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.

vististor taking a photoThe 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.

art 4

artist at workartist close upcustomerMany 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.

japaneseBen likes to create art that means something to the people who ask for it. This was a tribute to victims of the Japanese Tsunami.

larger st paulsThis image shows people on the bridge looking at Ben’s artwork and St Paul’s Cathedral at the end of the Millennium Bridge axis.

art peice 2

 

nudes

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)

art 3girl green head girl in coatThe 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)).

bridge art with boots

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)

Women and the Making of the Modern House: The Schroder House

schroder houseThe 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.

direct view of the Schroder House

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.

Schroder House in context

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.

piet-mondrian

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.

Rietveld_Schroder_House_Ground_PlanTruus 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.”

full size schroder-house-living-room

full sizeSchroeder_House_interior_01_691d710999The 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.

schroder kitchen

 

067-schroder-house-interior

Gerrit-Rietveld-Adaptable-Rietveld-Schröder-House-Utrecht-10full size schroder disappearing corner1Truus 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”

Rietveld_chair_1The 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

Chateau Marmont: LA’s Notorious Icon of Hedonism

Little did I know when my daughter suggested we have a drink at the Chateau Marmont, after a day of home tours in the Canyons, that it was the quintessential Los Angeles Hotel. Apparently the Eagles’ 1977 song ‘Hotel California’ is rumoured to be about the Chateau Marmont.

I have to thank the Vancouver Art Gallery’s latest show called, Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life for enlightening and informing me of the hotel’s notorious reputation for being the ultimate hedonist’s hangout. Without seeing this exhibition, I doubt I would have delved further into the seedier history of Los Angeles. Although I knew something was up when the hotel staff asked me to put my camera away. Anyone who knows me, knows, this is very hard for me to do. I did manage to sneak a few pictures, but my friends were nervous about being thrown out, so I had to limit my shots. We did see some recognizable faces in the courtyard so I assumed this request was in deference to their guest’s privacy. Evidently the Chateau’s tradition of carefully guarded guest privacy dates back to its opening in 1927.

chateau marmont reverse templateThe hotel was loosely modeled after the French Loire Valley’s Chateau d’Amboise and was purposely built and envisioned, as a place where entertainment industry talent could feel at home. The hotel was designed to allow guests to come and go discretely, resulting in the Chateau’s reputation as a place for intrigue and indiscretion.  Most importantly, guests could come and go without being observed by the press.

chateau marmont lightingThe Marmont was originally conceived as a deluxe residential apartment complex. However, with the onset of the Great Depression, changes to the business model were required, so the Chateau became a hotel instead. The new owner capitalized on the flagging economy by purchasing antique furniture from estate sales, resulting in the Chateau’s distinctive style, so loved by visitors.

revsied chateau marmount 3 courtyard

In the late 60s and 70s the Chateau Marmont was very popular with musicians and became the locus for the emerging Los Angeles music scene based in the Laurel Canyon. According to the exhibition, Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life, the Marmont was a retreat for some of the most famous musicians of the folk-rock revival, including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Jim Morrison, The Mamas and the Papas, and the The Byrds. The Marmont emerged as the place to meet, hang out, jam and engage in a variety of shenanigans.

The exhibition further explains, “The stories are legendary: Janis Joplin wandering the halls at all hours of the night in a drug induced haze; Jim Morrison, in a fog of Jack Daniels and LSD, falling from his second-storey window and injuring his back; Led Zeppelin, in a juvenile gesture of rock ‘n’ roll tomfoolery, famously riding their motorcycles through the lobby; and Alice Cooper engaging in a spirited game of nude football. The Marmont assumed a tawdry feel in the 1970s, becoming a place to score drugs, entertain suicidal thoughts or hide from the world for a while.”  John Belushi died of a drug overdose in his room, Bungalow #3 at the Chateau Marmont. Below is a 1956 view of the Marmont bungalows.

bungalow view

old hollywood at the marmont

It wasn’t just musicians who made the Chateau Marmont their home. It also was a favourite place for old Hollywood from the 1930s through the 1950s. “Deals were made, careers established and destroyed, and relationships were forged and broken within the hallowed walls of the Marmont.” The founder of Columbia Pictures is known to have told young actors, “If you must get into trouble. Do it at the Marmont.”

wine testing

Personally, we found the service to be incredible. When we were indecisive about which wine to order, our server brought us 3 varieties to try! I want to thank my agents provocateurs, Shelina, Devon and Paisley for making our Chateau Marmont experience so memorable! When in Los Angeles, pay the Chateau Marmont a visit, and if you are in Vancouver, go see the show, Grand Hotel: Redesigning Modern Life.

Listen to Lana Del Rey’s interview on youtube where she talks about why she uses the Chateau Marmont in her videos.

Photo credit: All black and white photos are from the Vancouver Art Gallery and all others are taken by me.

Getting Inspired

Nothing inspires me more than travelling. For some reason, I open my eyes wider when I am in a new place. As an example, during these past few days in Los Angeles I toured some remarkable Canyon and Valley homes, took a blogshop course, and got to see some extremely cool restaurants and shops.

My point: It is amazing what you can learn and absorb by just looking around a new place with fresh eyes. Particular pieces will resonate with you and you just have to stop and ask yourself why it moves you. It definitely gives insight into your own feelings about design and style. Here are a few things that inspired me this past week.

The Dwell On Design Modern design event at the LA convention Centre

trubridge lightingcopy[pinit]
David Trubridge lighting. David Trubridgeconsiders himself a “Cultural Designer,” one whose designs encourage sustainable living while also nourishing people spiritually and culturally. Each design is manufactured on site in New Zealand using sustainable practices throughout the process, from the harvesting of sustainably harvested timber to the use of non-toxic oil-based finishes to shipping each finished piece as a compact kit set for low-energy (and low-cost) shipping. (A beneficial side effect of this practice: Needing to assemble each piece at home makes the owner part of the cultural design process and serves to enhance the bond between the two.)

Pygmy Hippo Gift Store

emee

Meet Emee. Emee has a lovely shop in the Fairfax area of Los Angeles. The shop is tiny, not more than 60 sf but is full of all kinds of interesting finds. From vintage books and cards, to jewlery and ‘zines’. Meeting Emee is worth the visit alone. Have a look below at some Emee’s stuff: hairpins in the shape of records, vintage squirrels and state plates. Emee is doing what she loves. This is inspiring!

pygmyhippo goodssqirrels

Street Life

These trailers were parked across the street from where I was staying. Not only did they look out of place, but the fact that there were two of them, made me wonder what their story was. Why?vintage trailers Who? What? The stories your mind can create with the right stimulus….

The Watts Towers

Watts is a working class community in South LA with a reputation as a violence-prone and impoverished area, known for gang violence and riots.  In recent years community leaders have tried to give extra attention to museums and the landmark Watts Towers, hoping to bring visitors to the community, and help lift the negative stigma that Watts has had.

The Watts Towers have become a sculptural and architectural landmark that has attracted many artists and professionals to the area. Museums and art galleries have opened near the towers as part of a community revitalization strategy.

The Watts Towers, now a nationally recognized historical landmark in Los Angeles, is a collection of 17 interconnected structures. They were built by Italian immigrant construction worker, Sam Rodia in his spare time over a period of 33 years, from 1921 to 1954. The work is clearly is evocative of the work of Spanish Architect Antonio Gaudi.

The sculptures’ armatures are constructed from steel pipes and rods, wrapped with wire mesh and coated with mortar. The main supports are embedded with pieces of porcelain, tile, and glass. They are decorated with found objects, including bed frames, bottles, ceramic tiles, scrap metal and sea shells.

At the time Rodia’s neighbors did not appreciate his towers, and thought they were ugly. Others, thought it was some kind of secret government spy antennae. This resulted in Rodia being harassed, and the towers being vandalized. Sick of it all, Rodia eventually gave the property away, and moved to Martinez, CA never to be seen in Watts again.

The city was all set to demolish the Watts Towers, Rodia’s home had burned down, and it seemed like the end for the Watts Towers, but a Curator from LACMA and prominent actors, film editors, artists and architects formed the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts, and negotiated with the city to test the structure’s stability, and eventually were granted permission to restore the site.  The Committee negotiated with the city to allow for an engineering test to establish the safety of the structures. (for more info).

 

LA is a Great Big Freeway?

I apologize for being M.I.A. for the last month or so. However, I will be filling you in on what I have been up to and, at the same time, keep up my commitment to blog more frequently.

The holiday season was busy with two of my children preparing to go off to study in international locations. One is off to do an exchange at Trinity College Dublin. The other is starting her M.F.A. at the University of Southern California. Today’s blog is about my trip to LA to help her settle in.

Anticipating our impending LA adventure I lost sleep thinking about the two of us alone in the vast and sprawling LA. I must admit one of my biggest fears was the thought of driving in Los Angeles. After picking up our rental car our first priority was to find my daughter a place to live. As a spring session admission she didn’t get a spot in graduate housing and, with scant knowledge of the LA neighbourhoods, we were scrambling.

L.A. is a great big freeway.
Put a hundred down and buy a car.
In a week maybe two they’ll make you a star
Weeks turn into years. How quick they pass
And all the stars that never were
Are parking cars and pumping gas”

Images of L.A.

 Despite my fears the trip started smoothly enough. We found housing, the rental car was awesome and driving around LA was actually quite easy. What made the trip so wonderful though was the sunny, warm weather of Southern California.  I finally got it! ‘It’ being why snowbirds head to the warm climates of the southern United States. There is an energy and optimism that comes from being in the sun. You can feel this when dealing with the people who are all so warm and friendly.  This is less common in Vancouver, where the service is so often indifferent or worse.  This openness and friendliness is where the Americans get it right.

“Got on board a westbound 747

Didn’t think before deciding what to do

Ooh, that talk of opportunities

TV breaks and movies

Rang true

Sure rang true
 
Seems it never rains in southern California

Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before

It never rains in California

But girl don’t they warn ya

It pours, man it pours”

I found this vintage postage of the Beatles in California at a street market in Amsterdam.

Yes, LA can be ‘a great big freeway’ but this perception is the result of trying to find a centre which simply does not exist. It is more useful to see LA a series of individual communities tied together by the freeway like a string of pearls.

More LA neighbourhoods to come…..