Meet the King of Kitsch, Vladimir Tretchikoff

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.’

magnolia croppedThose 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.

50s kitschHowever, 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.

Silverlake vintage paintingsI 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.

close up of the magnoliasignaturecloseup magnolia 1I 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)

girlsanother girl with magnoliasThe 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)

more flowers

vladimir-tretchikoff-chinese-girl-1384999207_org

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.

monika


This short Youtube video explains the interest in the painting.

young folk

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.

frenzy-barry-foster

It can be seen adorning the living room of Bob Rusk, the killer in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Frenzy in 1972.

alfie-1966

The painting is seen in the apartment of Ruby, Shelley Winters’ character, in Alfie (1966).

david bowie

It is featured in his living room in the 2013 music video for The Stars (Are Out Tonight) by David Bowie.

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.

final hanging spot

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!

Vintage Love: Vancouver

If you read my last blog you will know that I love buying vintage.  This includes clothing, jewelry, home furnishings or interesting chachkas. These two items came from a great shop on the west side of Vancouver. The punchbowl, made of turquoise milk glass, is probably from the 30s but I have been told it could be a late as the 40’s or 50s.   The punch bowl has a grapevine pattern and comes with 10 matching cups. Although I am very drawn to the colour and shape of the bowl, I can’t justify paying the hefty $750 price tag.  When I shop vintage I am looking for really good deals!

The chandelier has hanging crystal golf balls mixed with circular chrome details giving the light a modernist look. This light would definitely add some sparkle to any modern room.  What do you think?

Had any interesting vintage buys lately?  I’d love to hear about them!

Vintage Love: The Tourist

One of Graham’s and my favourite things to do when we travel is to visit flea markets, vintage shops and thrift stores.  We have visited these in Santa Barbara, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Seattle as well as many Canadian cities.  In Europe, we have been to the famous Amsterdam flea market, the seemingly endless Portobello Road in London and riverside markets by the Seine in Paris, to name a few.  You may well wonder WHY do we do this.  Well, I think it is part of our tourist curiosity. It is part of really exploring a place in that it tells us something about the city we are visiting.  There is something intimate and unique about looking through peoples discarded treasures. You learn something about the place and the people who live there that conventional retail just doesn’t offer.  The Good Will in Santa Barbara was full of designer clothes and wet suits.  I bought my favourite vase for $5.00 from here.  Graham was not keen on traveling with glass but I told him I would put it in my carry on and would not leave the store without it.  I use that vase regularly and always think about Santa Barbara and how I must get back to that Good Will soon. 

We also bought a pair of beautiful oriental figurines from an antique store in Berkeley, California. They were $25.00 and I had to have them.  I love these Kitschy Chinoiserie figurines from the late 50’s with their incredible verdigris green and gold colour combination. In Paris we bought vintage keys in a used building supply yard and old pocket watch faces in the riverside market in London.

Of course, the main reason we love vintage shopping is the treasure hunt. We secretly hope we are smarter than the average local and will cleverly discover an unrecognized, unappreciated treasure. Or, we imagine that others may find the activity unsavory yet we will sally forth and heroically find the treasure. At any rate, travel is not about consuming generic, prefab souvenirs (Did I get this at the Chicago or San Francisco Macy’s?) Authentic tourist-vintage-love is about bringing home a unique item that is specific to its place.  Let’s face it, a chain store item can be found almost anywhere but a vintage piece from a quirky, backstreet shop is a one-of-a-kind memento.

It’s also a great way to meet interesting people, either shoppers or shopkeepers who share your interest in the unusual, esoteric world of vintage.  They often have a sophisticated appreciation of a piece’s history and origins and this inevitably leads to a bit of local lore – sometimes even a touch of celebrity – like when we happened upon Leonard Cohen’s daughter’s shop in L.A.  So next time you travel be bold and venture off the main drag.  Look for that charming down-market area, with that dowdy/funky little shop to discover something unexpected, fun and most likely affordable.  You’ll find yourself with a cool souvenir plus a great story to go with it.