‘untitled (to Piet Mondrian through his preferred colors, red, yellow and blue),’ 1986, and ‘untitled (to Piet Mondrian who lacked green) 2,’ 1986.
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam © 2010 Stephen Flavin/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

“One might not think of light as a matter of fact, but I do. And it is, as I said, as plain and open and direct an art as you will ever find.”

— Dan Flavin, American minimalist artist famous for creating sculptural objects and installations from commercially available fluorescent light fixtures. Born today, 1933, in New York City (d. November 29, 1996.)

This is one lunch I would have loved to have attended, preferably seated between Claes Oldenburg and Robert Rauschenberg. With Andy Warhol, watching, quietly bemused.

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New York, 1982, 25th Anniversary Lunch of Castelli Gallery at The Odeon. Standing left – right: Ellsworth Kelly, Dan Flavin, Joseph Kosuth, Richard Serra, Lawerence Weiner, Nassos Daphnis, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenberg, Salvatore Scarpitta, Richard Artschwager, Mia Westerlund Roosen, Cletus Johnson, Keith Sonnier Seated left – right: Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Leo Castelli, Ed Ruscha, James Rosenquist, Robert Barry. Photographed by Hans Namuth

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Earth Beings: Emma

Artists have always said that a portrait of a beautiful woman is the most difficult to paint, I feel the same way about introducing Emma for Mixarella’s Earth Beings®. Emma and I have been friends for almost as long as we have been living on this Earth. Also, she is distractingly beautiful.

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Emma grew up in a rambling farmhouse consisting of thatch rondavels all joining up to the main house called Thatchings. The gloriously lush garden and generous patio — complete with hanging rattan chairs, sleeping dogs and skittish chickens — made you forget that you were 15 minutes from the cacophonic and swirling dervish that is the Johannesburg CBD. The house was always filled with marvelous original artwork. A dazzling array of fabrics in exotic colours formed a backdrop to an eclectic collection of sculptures, antiques, books and bric-a-brac. For example, an art deco lamp lit up a carved Moroccan tray table of Africana artifacts. Larger-than-life characters, history makers and trailblazers were always welcomed to tread the large, loud, old-wood floorboards, with some showing no compunction to leave.

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For those growing up at Thatchings, Friday nights skies were often filled with the red-wine fueled impassioned debating of resistant fighters, enraged artists, hopeful expats, weary nationalists, acerbic writers and idealistic industrialists. I have a strong memory of the fragrant basmati rice and chicken curry, heaped with bright coriander leaves, in beautiful blue-and-white china platters placed along the expansive dark wood dining room table that was strewn with candles and fresh flowers.

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Emma’s striking feline features, catlike reflexes, business acumen and mesmerizing storytelling ability are bequeathed from her incomparable father, John. From her mother, El, she gets her heart, compassion, fierceness and wonderful creative verve. Her tenacity she inherits from both.

Emma, along with Pippa and myself have maintained a triumvirate of friendship that has withstood all tests life has thrown us. Along the way, we unwittingly developed a somewhat annoying tradition of surprising each other. It is still undecided who gets the most glee out of the whole surprise scenario, but after many years of Emma being the reigning (and smug) Queen of Surprises, Pippa masterminded a very successful one recently, which brought the three of us (each living in NYC, Cape Town and London) together at Emma’s lovely and inspiring London home, which she shares with her partner, Cameron, who is a knock-your-socks-off (or further clothing) handsome American with leading-man good looks and a gentle, almost blushing demeanour.

This isn’t the surprise we gave her (pictured right), this is from another one, given three days later at her 40th birthday party, after which she begged for a ceasefire

Photographs by Pippa Hetherington

Photographs by Pippa Hetherington

You might have noticed that we put the dining room table against the wall for the birthday party. That is an Emma-Pippa-Mixarella custom, as it creates more room for dancing. Emma notes, “Might be a good illustration about our general party style/get-togethers to say that what was intended to be a genteel afternoon tea party, for about 40-plus friends, with twee teacups and cupcakes everywhere, quickly became something else entirely. To the point – the next day I found 50 empty bottles of wine and one dirty tea cup …”

Photographs by Pippa Hetherington.

Photographs by Pippa Hetherington.

Now, let’s go back and take a look
at Emma’s place.

Emma’s living room shows the fantastic influence of her childhood home, Thatchings. I love the mash-up of styles, decades and textures, which draws from many global influences, including those from the bottom tip of Africa right through the top into India, with a splash of Italy, France, Scandinavia and many stops in between. Says Emma, “The rug is from travels in Morocco – a seaside village called Essaouira. Almost the only good thing about the holiday, but that’s a long, tedious story.”

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The wonderful accent of the paw-paw (papaya) coloured chair was an Ikea find, but one would never know it. As Emma explains the leather mid-century armchair on the left, “Is an eBay purchase. It was a five hour round trip to pick it up … in London. Absolutely forgot how vast this city is, missed an important work dinner and calculated that it would have been quicker to pick it up from Brighton. But it is incredibly comfortable and will make a slouch out of anyone.”

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Emma appreciates the power of mirrors and lighting when decorating a space and scours eBay and salvage shops for finds such as this black glass chandelier and fantastic mirror over the fireplace, which anchors the room. Emma explains some of the pieces, “The bric-a-brac are assorted: beaded sheep from SA from family for my 40th; the goose inherited by my great aunt; all art is Greg Kerr (as you love.)”

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All the chandeliers Emma has installed were found on the internet. Emma furthers: “The sweet guy who delivered them walked into the house, put his boxes down, looked up the stairwell and said “This house is haunted, isn’t it.”  As it turned out he was right.”

When you exit the living and dining rooms, a terrific collection of art, prints and posters lead you up the spooky stairs — with ample mirrors and shiny objects to keep the light reflecting within.

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Some years back, Emma was dealt an unwelcome blow (as chronicled in her website, Life on Ice) so her talented younger sister, Lulu, made Emma this exquisite artwork dedicated to her courage, strength and spirit.

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As Emma describes her gallery, “Everything has some meaning. Either my mother’s etchings, LuLu’s magical ‘courage’ creation made for me when I was up against it, (William) Kentridge exhibit from adventures in NY, Russian Madonna from antiques market for Cameron’s heritage, BOS poster is Grant Rushmere’s genius business … many are gifts.” (Ed: click on the last link, you’ll thank me.)

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On the upper level is the main bedroom, which Emma shares with her partner, Cameron who I mentioned, is a US football-star-turned-money man who whittled his 6’4” frame from beefcake to sinewy yoga form (note the winter collection of exercise shoes under the bench) and shed the pounding competitive mindset for a more receptive esoteric outlook.

And one of the many reasons that we love this California kid is that he always makes full use of the dance area we clear with our customary moving of the dining room table (as seen in action, above in the tea party photos, the dark blur with white Converse sneakers.)

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The facing wall serves as a dreamy gallery of their childhood memories and family, with whom they remain very close.

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Shakespeare said that every story needs comic relief, and I feel this way about décor, too. Emma and Cameron’s bathroom is a riot of grey and black marble. One cannot pass its door frame mirthless or at least mimicking an Arabian Sheik in his domain …

As Emma accepts it, “The bathroom story is that as a rented house we had to live with the scary black and grey marble–effect Arabian Nights fantasia scenario. So instead of trying to tone it down with white I decided to dial it up with high gloss black everything – cabinets, blinds and baskets. Its a ridiculous, big room with two giant his/hers basins but then a shower like a telephone box, so narrow that if you drop the soap you have to turn off the shower, open the door and step out to retrieve it. Embracing the look made me love it all though. We call the room ‘Saudi’. The dove print above the door is a Picasso I love.”

Emma_bathroom

The bottom level of this home contains the kitchen and the den, the latter of which is dominated by one of her first fine art investments, and one of my favourites of Emma’s art collection, by (the above mentioned, and my adored dean of Fine Arts) Greg Kerr. Emma pointed out the dark purple bench, “is custom made to order from a fellow up North (UK), Beaumont Furniture, who churns these out all day. Everyone should have one of these. All in velvet, as are most things in the house – curtains, loves seat, benches, footstools, outsize cushions etc. Velvet works in the cold and dark – its warm, affectionate and it glows – reflects the tiny bit of light we get.” A description like this works perfectly for me, and I love the purple. Emma adds, “The bench at the bottom of the bed in the master bedroom was made by him. The one pictured here has cushions from the fabulous Shine-Shine fabrics.

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The kitchen frustrates Emma and it is a work in progress, but I love the wire sculpture she has above the stove. A common South African roadside-merchant acquisition in an uncommon place.

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However, she puts the kitchen into good functional usage as she continues El’s lavish and embracing entertaining flair.

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Emma, who went from marketing Schweppes in South Africa, then in London, to co-ownership of a firm that headhunted financial “masters of the universe” (nod to Tom Wolfe) until she could no longer ignore the voice within her that cried for a more creative vocation. In short, if we let her, Emma will save the world. Recently, she entrusted me with designing the company logo of her newly-formed entrepreneurial venture fighting for human rights, Ocula Access.

Photograph by Pippa Hetherington

Photograph by Pippa Hetherington

Emma has always been a tremendous inspiration to me as both a champion of my art and a source of strength. Together, our Emma-Pippa-Mixarella triumvirate has weathered some stunning losses and spectacular triumphs. Always there to grasp each other should one of us veer off course, it is a great comfort to know that we will walk through the changing seasons carrying the warm, sun-soaked glory days of our friendship.

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Here’s to a new year, and thank you to The Curator for the inspiration.

New Year’s Eve has many special memories, and I wished to ignite MadKat’s mind’s eye too. So, together we put on a New Year’s Eve dinner of her fancy.
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The much-loved and oft-used plastic candelabra I found on Long Street, Cape Town in the wonderful shop, Imagnius.

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The marvelous Malawian table-cloth is a gift from my close friend Pippa, as well as the ‘Madiba’ coasters, hand-made in South Africa.

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MadKat’s menu of choice was shrimp cocktail, fish sticks with tomato sauce, fruit salad and left-over Christmas chocolate.

As for 2012, I say …

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No, just joking, party on, Earth Beings!tumblr_m7qiwa2AWo1qd7x3so1_250

Photograph by Judy Linn

 

I didn’t see myself as gifted enough to do the work, but I did think I could stir things up enough to wake people and maybe inspire those who had the greatness and should be working.”

—Patti Smith, born in Chicago, today, in 1946.

Smith photographed in her apartment, New York City, 1971, with Sam Shepard, left.

Smith photographed in her apartment, New York City, 1971, with Sam Shepard, left.


Photographs by Judy Linn

Photographs by Judy Linn

I had only lived in subtropical regions when I saw ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,’ and I thought the snow on the beach dream sequence was highly imaginative, but evidently you can get snow on the beach.

Earth Beings: Curtis & Albert

The first time I met Curtis, I politely declined his offer to help with an awkward load I was carrying. Something about my reply delighted him, so he invited me to dinner at his home with Albert and others with whom I was to became close. At the dinner, he was so cheeky, goading me with pretend ignorance about South Africa (“Can you ride water buffaloes?”). In mid-sparring, we fell in love. For a girl far away from home, he became my soulmate, older brother, playmate and, when the occasion called for it, my guardian.

His partner of many years, Albert, to whom you’ve been briefly introduced in my first post, is the gentlest soul you’ll ever meet. He has a rule that one is never allowed to talk badly of another person, and even when I get petulant and whine, “Bu-ut, I have to! Please!” He replies, “No way, no how.”

Both have impeccable taste, each slightly different. Curtis has a classical romantic style, and Albert has a more vibrant but elegant island flair. Together, they live life fabulously and with warm abundance. They suck the marrow — no, wait, first, they invite friends over, arrange it beautifully, perfect the ambient lighting, pair it with the right wine — and then they suck marrow out of life.

Over the last 12 years, they have taught me many things, one of them being how to get stuff done and beautifully. And they really get beautiful stuff done. (You should see them get the dishes done after an opulent dinner party, while I position myself, purposefully useless, as I loathe doing dishes, with the occasional, “Um, where should I put this? Uh, want me to dry?” to which Curtis’ replies in a melt-butter tone, “Darling, why ruin a perfect record?”)

The aunt whom I have spoken about told me that the people who really know how to be gemütlich are the best sort, and Curtis and Al are those such people. As well as being splendiferous chefs, they have entertaining down to an art. With gorgeous settings and food, one always ends up feeling like one of the Danes at Babette’s Feast, wanting to join hands and dance in the moonlight with sheer bliss. And they love Christmas just like I do. So what better time to introduce them than now?

Christmas edition of Earth Beings®: I present to you, Curtis & Albert.

Curtis and Albert. Photographed by Pippa Hetherington

Curtis and Albert. Photographed by Pippa Hetherington

Curtis explains:
“Christmas is a wonderful holiday. It was my Mom’s favorite holiday, so much so that she and my Dad were married two days before Christmas. Growing up, we all knew Mom would just go nuts at Christmas. The decorating, baking, cooking, shopping. We lived in a lovely Swiss style chalet on a lake, usually lots of snow. My folks would decorate lamp posts, every windowsill had bows and boughs and a huge garland on the balcony. Baking would start in October and didn’t end until New Years Day. It was in every way Currier & Ives. I have a favorite memory of being a boy and finding just a small wrapped box under the tree, in it was a little riddle, which led me to my present, snow skies outside, stuck in the snow on the roof next to the chimney. OK, good chat. Gotta go back to the kitchen.”

Albert’s reply:
“Christmas for me (in my mind) is spent going to the beach. A warm and sunny day with family and friends. A large potluck picnic that never ends. Santa in shorts. Palm trees that are decorated. Another wonderful reason to acknowledge the many terrific people in our lives and how fortunate I’ve been.” (Ed note: Sigh, he’s so lovely.)

For me, growing up in Subtropical South Africa with my Bostonian mother and I spray-painting aerosol snow on our beach cottage and Indian Ocean-facing windows, while my traditional Russian father gingerly stringing strands of tinsel (one-by-one, branch-by-branch), Christmas holds a strong visual memory for me. So I was in a thrall to find that Albert and Curtis did Christmas with the same overflowing flourish as I. This year is no different. Let’s take a look around (and imagine getting a waft of the delicious food being prepared in the kitchen).

This is their invitation for Christmas Eve.

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While we admire the tree, which they acquired on a completely “Last Christmas” video weekend in Utah, running around the hills adorably attired (sans frosted tips) until they found their dream tree, we can nibble on grilled shrimp canapé, pears with pancetta, goat cheese and honey, radish bruschetta, and Brie with almonds and fig jam.

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Every ornament is beautiful.

Curtis continues his mother's tradition of fresh traditional floral arrangement on the mantel.

Curtis continues his mother’s tradition of fresh traditional floral arrangement on the mantel.

This glorious hibiscus painting, by South African artist Hettie Saaiman, the oil is applied with such purposefully thick juicy abandon, it takes your breath away, while the colour almost hurts. The three of us had spied it in a gallery in Hout Bay, Cape Town, three years ago. Thinking it was unpractical to ship back to California, we let it go but couldn’t stop thinking about it, especially Curtis, who through a local art director and designer friend of mine, Penny Waterkeyn, tracked it down. He managed to do all of this undetected and successfully gave Albert a glorious surprise when he walked into their home! Oh, I love romantics.

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I call them chefs, as they surpass the cooks category. They are constantly exploring new, exotic and exciting (read: challenging) recipes. This recent discovery will be on the main menu: whiskey crab soup along with Thai curry meatballs, rainbow kale salad and the traditional honey-baked ham.

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Drunken crabs getting hammered.

For dessert, they and their other Antipodean friend, neighbour Caroline from Zimbabwe, make mince pies from scratch. Curtis excels in the dessert category and has made a very complicated Chocolate espresso dacquoise, below, left. (Luckily, eating it requires no exceptional skills.) As well as spicy pumpkin bundt cake and raspberry lemon coconut cake, Curtis makes his mother’s fruitcake, below right.

He defends it with:
“Fruitcake in the U.S. has a very bad rep. Years ago, The Late Show with Johnny Carson used to joke there was only one fruitcake and it just keep getting sent around to everyone. Given, I’ve had some pretty awful stuff. Nonetheless, my mother’s fruitcake was wonderful. Growing up on this in Connecticut, I remember waiting all fall for her to bring out the fruitcakes. She made them the previous winter and had them wrapped up in a soaked cheesecloth with plastic wrap. Of course, the cheesecloth was soaked in brandy and we stored them in the basement where it was cool all year round.”

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Curtis has acquired yet another skill, macaron-making:
“The blog Not So Humble Pie was my jumping-off point for the macarons. I think my best one to date has been the Matcha Tea macaron with a passion fruit butter-cream filling. A close runnerup is a raspberry lychee macaron with a rose butter cream. For the truly sadistic, this is the recipe for this macaron, and yes I’ve made it twice and love them, not only me, everyone who ate one. They are heaven.”

For those interested in attempting this at home, Curtis adds:
“While in Paris this spring, I took a class on macarons and the chef showed me a technique to gauge the temperature of the water without the pesky thermometer: Ice your hand in ice water and quickly stick it in the boiling sugar, then dunk your hand back into the ice water. Very frightening the first few times but it worked. If you can roll the sugar into a ball, it’s ready; if it falls apart, you need to keep cooking. The “softball stage.” It works every time.”

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So Happy Holidays to all! Whatever it may be for you this year, in the words of Albert:

“May it be another wonderful reason to acknowledge the many terrific people in our lives.”

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Thank you for reading. Here’s to a marvelous 2013!

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