Saturday Smile

Saturday Smile

An abstract gets close scrutiny.

Photographed at the San Francisco Museum of Art, early 1950’s for LIFE Magazine.

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Wake the Day

One of the men in my neighbourhood heard I studied fine arts. He’s in a band that was doing a fundraiser for cancer. He asked, if he provided the supplies, could I create a painting of the album’s title song that could be auctioned off at the CD release party? As he was very persistent, I eventually agreed. Then I tinkered around on Facebook, as one is wont to do when the clock is ticking, while listening to the song, by After Autumn, which is sort of sweet and sad and ultimately about not giving up.

I had no idea what to put on that blank canvas staring at me. I thought of a tree with the lyrics branching out of it. Then I realized that I’d rather do a portrait, which made me imagine a face that was open, strong, determined, and neither smiling nor frowning. Something Mona Lisa-esque. I remembered a profile picture of a Facebook friend, which I downloaded and began replicating. While staring at the tiny digital image on my screen, I gave the wonderfully expansive, egg-shell white canvas some of the broad strokes of my friend Silvia’s distinctive features: her resolute jaw and cheekbones; Jackie O wide eyes; generous, enigmatic mouth; and broad swish of eyebrows. The photo of Silvia I had chosen pleased me greatly as it had high contrasts of light and shadow, just like Silvia’s personality. She’s a tough kitten with a big heart and wicked sense of humour — a feisty, dark, cerebral beauty.

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Please excuse the thumb I rely on it for proportioning.

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Yes, the midcentury glass bowl was full of paint by the end.

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Ah, red.

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I finished the painting on stage with the band at their CD release party, as they played “Wake the Day.” The lyrics are painted in her hair. I hope you like it, dear reader.

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“C’est vrai. Voilá quelqu’un qui sent comme moi. (It is true. There is someone who feels as I do).”

Edgar Degas, born Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas, in Paris, France, today in 1834 (d. 27 September 1917.) A superb draftsman, especially identified for his sinuous and beautiful studies of ballet dancers. Ever the observer, his work also caught the dance of the more mundane: capturing a complexity of moods and movement in parts of everyday life. Here is one of my favourites:

'Laundresses Carrying Linen in Town,' Edgar Degas, 1878, oil.

‘Laundresses Carrying Linen in Town,’ Edgar Degas, 1878, oil.

As well as his raw and intriguing self-portrait he did in 1863, especially compared to his self-portrait painted almost 10 years before.

Edgar Degas "Self Portrait," 1863, oil on board. Edgar Degas "Self Portrait," 1855, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Musée d'Orsay, Paris.

Edgar Degas “Self Portrait,” 1863, oil on board. Edgar Degas “Self Portrait,” 1855, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Although a difficult and somewhat formidable ‘old curmudgeon’ personality, I do love this story: In his late years Degas was chatting in his studio with one of his few friends (and admirer,) English painter Walter Richard Sickert. They decided to visit a café. Young Sickert got ready to summon a fiacre, a horse-drawn cab. Degas objected. “Personally, I don’t like cabs. You don’t see anyone. That’s why I love to ride on the omnibus-you can look at people. We were created to look at one another, weren’t we?”

‘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

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.”

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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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Poetry fettered, fetters the human race. Nations are destroyed or flourish in proportion as their poetry, painting, and music are destroyed or flourish.”

—William Blake, born today in 1757, London (d.  1827.)

William Blake, ‘Jacob’s Ladder,’ 1800, Watercolour. British Museum, London.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earth Beings: Arthur

Many years ago, when Pete Sampras still ruled centre court, Madonna sang that we were Frozen, Tom Hanks was Saving Private Ryan, Microsoft was the biggest company in the world, and Apple Computers was urging us to “Think Different,” I sat in front of an iMac G3 in The Hollywood Reporter’s design studio on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, focusing intently on the arms, I mean, on the detailed instructions of the Henry Rollins-esque designer charged with my training, who spared only his beatific face from being inked. When I spoke, across another desk, a neatly put together boy in black-rimmed, retro Lemtosh spectacles wheeled around and leaned over his pile of copy instructions, smiling quietly victorious.

“You’re South African.”

Buddy Holly Frames continued: “I have a dear friend who is also South African, Deirdre.”

Deirdre, it was quickly revealed, had been Head Girl at my school (for reference, my school was akin to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts in ideology and structure, so Deirdre would have been the Percy Weasley of all houses). So a couple Guardian Angels must have bumped fists, mission collision accomplished, and Arthur and I have been close friends ever since.

As the days became weeks and the months became seasons, Arthur and I fell happily into an affectionate and enduring companionship that consisted of notorious party-throwing, superb introductions, exciting travel, gallery hops, laughs (mostly at my expense), his diligent friendship maintenance (and detailed city itineraries), immersion in each other’s families, keeping imp of perverse in check (mine), his trust in my fashion sense, and a shared love of art, design and culture.

 

Apart from Arthur’s astounding ear for sourcing the next big music phenomenon, snarky sense of humour, mastering the “basta” face, and knack for living in neighbourhoods in major cities that are on the cusp of becoming the next hipster desirable zip code, his dedication to acquiring art was so steadfast that it often meant not being able to buy new clothes or drinking only Château de Plonk d’Plonk for a while.

This post is one in a continuing series Mixarella’s Earth Beings® introducing interesting people (Arthur was briefly introduced to you in Heart for Art) and offering a tour of their creative spaces and inspiring acquisitions. This is Arthur’s bedroom, which looks over wide palm trees and grand old Victorians in San Francisco’s Dolores and Valencia Corridor. On the bed is a South African fabric design company product, Shine-Shine‘s “Hooray for the President” pillowcase, a gift from Pippa Hetherington, which Arthur acquired during his last trip to Cape Town, South Africa. The recessed wall he had the brain-wave to paint in the marvelously named colour, Obstinate Orange, adds an exciting depth to the room. Let’s take a walk-through, shall we? Though as Arthur has an MFA in creative writing, I’ll allow his words to explain.

 

“I’m lucky to have several pieces from this Brighton-based artist. I met him at Camden Market and fell in love with his work. The boys above the bed are actually made from one matte board with different colors painted on separate panels that then are glued to the stenciled matte.”

“That’s a wood block print from my friend Tan Huynh. It was one of his MFA final projects. He destroyed the wood blocks after making about two and what I like about it is the two colors and the fact that he was from Vietnam and a little of the war is told in that image.”

 

“My love of art began in college when I took humanities classes. That’s when I started visiting museums in every city I visited. I really didn’t begin collecting until the early ’90s when I fell in love with a piece at a gallery and spent $600, which back then was loads of money. This Morrissey/Bergama piece is one of my favorites. My friend Rob also was a huge influence on my aesthetic. He now owns an art gallery, but back in the late eighties he was collecting original art and he instilled in me a sense that art doesn’t have to be mass produced reproductions but can be something that is unique and represents your tastes. He would frame antique monographs (which were reproductions, obviously) but they were so individual that they became originals.”

“This probably is the best $425 I have ever spent. Also bought from Rob’s gallery. What I love most about this painting is the linear symmetry on display. We learned about linear symmetry in humanities and everything points to the center of the painting, much like in ‘The Last Supper’ where all the lines radiate outward from Jesus. Hold a ruler to the tops of the window frames in ‘The Last Supper’ and you’ll see how it’s a straight line to Jesus. Brilliant. My painting does something similar, where everything is lined up even if it doesn’t look that way.”

“The Drexel chair(s) belonged to my grandparents. The credenza has stereo equipment [Ed note: Arthur’s life is always accompanied by a soundtrack.] and objets d’art that I’ve picked up in my travels to Italy (sculpture), Israel (triangular bowl), Santa Fe (round bowl), Laos (narrow box), South Africa (carved head).”

“The chandelier cutlery is from my cousin’s friend who used to own a knife shop. They’re pre-WWII fruit and cheese knives and forks. They’re silver and eventually will tarnish. My cousin knew I entertained and thought I’d get more use out of them. Since I’ve never served a cheese/fruit course and I didn’t want them stuck in a drawer, I came up with this solution. All but one from the set is on display.” [Ed note: I love this very much, it reminds me of Ingo Maurer’s Chandelier.]

As we come to the end of this tour and approach the holiday season, I’ll leave you with this: Arthur shares my love for quotes, often citing his grandmother, who used to say this wonderful line, attributed to James M. Barry:

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.”

 

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