Thursday, 26 March 2009

Chinoiserie Musings

Chinoiserie by Francois Boucher

I have a small obsession with all things chinoiseried. The bold, saturated colours combined with the elegance and whimsy of rococo result in well, bold beautiful elegance! I have often seen similarities between the palette of Mexico and South America with that of China, but here these exotic features have been re-assembled to suit the grand tastes of the European aristocracy. Chinoiserie reached its peak in popularity around the mid-18th century with palaces and garden follies, country estates and whole purpose-built villages transformed by the asymmetrical whimsy and romance of the Euro-Chinese aesthetic. 

The Chinese began painting landscapes, birds, flowers and figures of history on long strips of silk in the 1600s. Mounted on sheets of rice paper, these panels were used as wallpaper or framed for the wall. By the 17th century the East India Company opened up trading routes between the far east and Europe, bringing with them objets de art, porcelain, lacquered furniture and other collectibles. The aesthetic was adapted by European artists to create interiors and especially silk wall panels inspired by the Orient rooted in the current fashions of the time. These panels were often hung side by side to create stories and a wallpaper effect. The style was particularly favoured by King Louis XVI and his court and in 1785 the French invented a paper printer that increased the variety and availability of designs by local artists.

The house of De Gournay here in London has continued to turn out exquisite hand-painted wallpapers, fabrics and indeed whole interiors in the tradition of the chinoiserie of the 18th - early 19th centuries. Any of their designs may be adapted colour or design-wise, and they really get me itching to do my own rather more naive take on them in the form of murals or perhaps even on paper banners. The image above and those below all feature the glorious De Gournay, and they sum up for me what vast sums of money combined with artistic talent can achieve...

A little gold to get your imagination blazing, if you will.

See? Mexico and China have things in common... hot pinks and verdant greens, sunny yellows too...

Oh just one panel would do me! Look at that! Time to get painting. Gorgeous.

Each time I grit my teeth at the bareness of my bathroom walls I see a school of these ghost-like graceful fishes wavering across the white expanses. Oh what I would do to gaze upon this silvery underwater haven from my bathtub. 

These two rooms sum up the two moods of chinoiserie perfectly. Ethereal, serene, soothing and contemplative above; bold, vibrant, lively, happiness-inducing, bright brilliance below. One for meditating and writing in a fabulous silk-bound diary with a long quill and emerald ink, the other for dancing madly in layers of vivid Chinese gowns, peonies strewn across the parquet flooring, kumquats in careless piles and copper fountains singing. I was recently told a story of a lady who inhabited the largest room in England. She had parrots and birds of paradise flying in the vast height of the ceiling. That's the sort of palace I'd have...

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Stories from the East

I've been on a bit of a roll with my posts lately. There's just so much I feel like I want to catch up on! 
This here one is inspired by a research I did a couple of years ago on the Russian fairy tales of Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Beautiful. I was read them as a child and they were quite chilling what with the witch who rides in a mortar steered by a pestle, and lives in a house made out of chicken bones that can run! The mad imagination and vivacity of the stories have stayed with me, and have inspired a love for all things Eastern European.

Baba Yaga as illustrated by Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin, riding her mortar back home.

Here is an image I found which I used as a character reference for the old grandmother - look at those eyes!
What I love about Baba Yaga is that she is not considered to be simply evil. She is also regarded with respect as a wise woman, despite her penchant for eating small children. Occasionally she will appear to be helpful, as a guider to lost souls, and seems to embody the saying "you reap what you sow".

Here is Vasilisa the Beautiful, a kind of Russian Cinderella. She is sent out by her wicked stepmother to visit the old grandmother witch Baba Yaga in the deep forest, to collect a flame so as to relight their fires and candles. The hut is built of dancing chicken bones, and a tall fence of human bones surrounds it, skulls glowing on staffs. After completing three impossible tasks, she is given a glowing skull to take home. She happily marries the Tzar of Russia after she weaves him the finest of cloths for a shirt. Yes. That's right.

Some beautiful maidens in their beautiful clothes. I learnt recently that the embroidery is focused on the collar, wrists and other spots likely to wear down as the thread work strengthens the cloth. I actually plan on making a simple blouse based these to wear hiking, as my shirts usually return absolutely shredded. And I want to look a little prettier than I normally do!

I found a website a long time ago (I'm afraid I could not find it again) with these collage/illustrations of the variations in peasant wear across the Slavic regions. They're so charming, and also really rather useful!

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Relic Addendum

Medieval, around AD 1200, from Hildesheim, Lower Saxony, Germany, in the British Museum.

Literally minutes after I posted 'Cabinet of Curiosities', Arabella (doing the crossword by the kitchen burner it's so chilly in our house at the moment) asks me "did you know that the British Museum opened a portable altar they've had since 1902 to discover the relics of 39 saints?" 
"You're kidding."

It's true. The altar was due for an inspection and cleaning, and to the surprise of the curator a large linen bundle was discovered. Within it, each relic was wrapped up individually and labeled on vellum, one scrap even dating from 12th century Germany! The most renowned relic belongs to St Benedict and is wrapped in a 8th or 9th century piece of silk from Byzantium. The names of forty saints are engraved on the altar, and therefore leads us to believe that one of the relics must have been lost at some point in time. However, the safe arrival of the other 39 is miraculous, and they will now be on display in the 19th century section - the date of the latest scrap of fabric.

Trust the British Museum to never bother opening up a 12th century German altar - for over one hundred years. 
"Oh rah rah, yah we have sooo many ancient artifacts of religious importance, whot's another eh?"

Monday, 23 March 2009

Cabinet of Curiosities

The last few lines from our scrawled directions was "keep the clock tower on your right... turn right into the mews... the second wooden gate on the left after a pair of pointed old-fashioned bollards, then up the cast iron stairs up to the front door lined with many flower pots..." And so we arrived at Jane Wildgoose's Memorial Library.

The charming door opened to reveal Jane herself, who ushered us in from the soggy weather outside and into her warm, inviting and quite frankly fascinating home. Minutes later we found ourselves in the library - Jane's studio and study - gas-fire glowing, gold and white tea set tinkling.

Behind me was this marvelous cabinet of curiosities (image below), glass doors open and inviting the visitor to engage their every sense, including touch. It is this in part that makes this a library and not a museum, as Jane believes that objects can be read and indeed carry a life of their own. She recalls her memories as a child by the seaside and, like many children, her instinct to peruse and collect from the offerings of the tide; this instinct to collect combined with her early experiences of old age and death as a child combined into a fascination and exploration of our treatment of death, life and all its rituals.

Each object and item is "... designed to facilitate meditation and free associations on subjects pertaining to the mysteries of the living in relation to the dead, transience, memory and immortality." The thoughtful placement of each object creates a visual language that allows us to consider the items within a greater subject; This talent for display is essential to the work as without their context certain pieces could be discarded as mundane or common, but within their frames they come alive with meaning. 

Among the many items arrayed, I inspected Victorian locks of hair encased in glass-fronted lockets and rings, coiled and twisted to resemble feather plumes; I was part horrified, part comically delighted by a ridiculous armadillo handbag with little claws that encircled it's round body, the clasp a gleaming cyclops; Various glass boxes contained petrified animal remains, crumbling in their beds of velvet in their miniature coffins. Dried and decaying pomegranates also feature regularly throughout the display as the library is dedicated to the mythic Queen of the Underworld, Persephone.

There is a striking sense of peace in the library, a calmness and sense of belonging conveyed through the warm presence of Jane. She provides a dedicated space for reflection without the implications or specific rituals of religion. Her patience and eagerness to share her work and discoveries over steaming cups of tea is infectious, and we left the Wildgoose Memorial Library brimming with enthusiasm and small awakenings. Thank you Jane for a truly inspiring day.

Inspired by our afternoon at the library, I did a little image search for 'cabinet of curiosities'. Taxidermy, shells, coral, fossils, minerals and other petrified life-forms are popular themes, as are anatomical anomalies and wonders. The strange, the unusual, the ugly and the beautiful are all welcome here in our efforts to understand ourselves and the world in which we find ourselves, or indeed simply to appreciate them for their aesthetic and individual properties.

The Artist in his Museum, Charles Willson Peale (self-portrait), 1822.

The partially lost collection or Georg Gasser (1857 - 1931), an artist and painter who collected 2000 mineral specimens, 5000 petrefacts, 2000 shells, and various animals and skeletons of all kinds. The remains of his collection have formed a new museum in Bozen.

Teylers Museum, Haarlem, The Netherlands.

Cabinet of Curiosities, Unknown, late 17th century,
oil on canvas, Florence, Opficio delle Pietre Dure.

A medical book from the marvelous blog Morbid Anatomy at blogspot.

Cabinet of Curiosities, second half of the 17th C., Dommuseum du Salzburg, Austria.

Ole Worm, Museum Wormianum, Leiden, 1655. Illustration of a 17th century cabinet of curiosities.

And with that, I close the curtain upon this particular cabinet and I hope it contained some inspiring wonders. Thank you for reading...

Friday, 20 March 2009

Collages Parisienne

As I've managed to leave my camera behind at my dad's house, I wasn't able to take any photos of my trip to Paris, but I hope to nab some off some of the girls soon. So instead, I collected my ticket stubs, programmes and postcards and I scanned them in rather haphazardly today. In fact, today is definitely a good day, as we have officially broken up for Easter!

The two dresses below came from two different exhibitions. The top beauty is described as a Robe de bal, from circa 1866 in grenadine, ivory, rose and black, from Chantilly. It's one of the first dresses in the magnificent displays for the Crinoline exhibition at the Musee Galliera, Paris.
The lime dress is a costume for Titania by Jean-Pierre Ponelle for tthe Opera-Comique circa 1958. The blue tendrils have been painstakingly appliqued and finished with chain stitch, and is on show at the 'Au fil des fleurs, scenes de jardins' exhibition at the CNCS in Moulins-sur-Alliers.

The following three images are some postcards I picked up from the shop at the National Museum of Costumes for Theatre, otherwise known as the CNCS. They are by Christian Lacroix for a hotel he designed and I absolutely fell in love with them and intend to create my own inspired by his beautiful overlapping of images. They're titled 'Les modes Parisiennes' by for L'hotel du Petit Moulin, Paris.

Here are a few juicy tit-bits from L'hotel du Petit Moulin and Lacroix's perfectly clashing and textured interiors. I hear it has four stars...

Monday, 16 March 2009

Twisted Stories

The past few days have been utterly packed. First there was the run-up to our performance, right down to the insane tweaking that occurs seconds before the audience enter. The following morning I trundled my way to Kings Cross St Pancras where I joined my fellow students and tutors for a whirlwind weekend in Paris.

But first, I must address the performance. Now, I'm not usually one to get excited about actually taking part in a show. Make stuff for it yes, be in it, NO. Well that was my first reaction, but this project managed to work its way into my heart, not to mention the fabulous group I worked with

To give a little backround on the project, we worked with an outside practicing tutor on creating and performing a site-specific piece inspired by the space and the fairy-tales we chose as a platform. It was an intensive eight-week process that required a lot of editing and compromising skills, but I gained so much from it and I like to think our results were worth it all...

I'm afraid I don't have as many photos just yet as i'd like, but here are a couple of peeks into our piece and some of those of the rest of my class. I also want to say thank you to my Laurel of the fabulous blog A RoRo in London, who came in that afternoon and selflessly posed as an usher for us. Thank you x

A terrified Rapunzel/wife of Bluebeard hacks at her own mane of golden locks as an act of self-preservation.

This long corridor immediately caught our eye, and we decided to place each one of Bluebeard's past wives in front of one of the slim windows, each filled with relics he'd collected from each wife and enshrined. Each woman is tied at the throat by a continuous maroon ribbon that loops from their throats to the ceiling, before tangling in pools between them.

Another group's Rapunzel sits in her tower, streaky mascara and glazed gaze revealing her misery.
Perhaps she is
not even aware of her glass prison within a prison? Eerie and beautiful in the way only a fairy tale can capture.

Here we follow another group's take on Bluebeard, as this charming girl in the blue dress leads us on a clue-ridden journey through the college; we see her being flattered by a charming photographer, who then proceeds to click away at us, the audience. Ghostly women line an avenue of black & white photographs of lost women, before she finds his studio (above). From there, she discovers the dark room, and the horror of a pile of discarded dead models backlit by the red lights. Eventually we are led outside where our girl in the blue dress is running for her life down the street, (not in an uncomical fashion).

And of course, the last group who also took to Bluebeard. They had a striking vintage theme, and this particular tableau caught my eye. Their final set was magnificently done, but my photos were somewhat limited to my enormous dismay!

I shall post some more details and some of my discoveries from my janut to La Jolie Paris!