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Friday, April 30, 2010

Ordered disorder, perfect imperfection....

I visited the Phillips Memorial Art Gallery in D.C. earlier this week.  Have you ever had the experience of coming across a work of art in a museum or gallery, maybe by somebody famous or maybe by someone you've never heard of, being incredibly moved by it, thinking how wonderful it would be to have it in your home, and then, in the next moment, thinking "heck, I could do that...I'll just do it myself and then I'll have it!"?  I had that experience with this piece by Linn Meyers called "at the time being".  It is a work painted directly on the museum walls---really, it is only squiggly lines....

But then you look closer....the lines are complicated, beautiful, a subtle blend of white and yellow.  You soon realize you are in the presence of something singular.  A museum essay describes this piece which is inspired by a Vincent Van Gogh painting in the museum's collection:

"Linn Meyers spent two weeks working steadily on this project.  She started by painting the walls a dark blue that evokes Van Gogh's Starry Night.  Then she laid out the circular shapes around intersecting horizontal and vertical lines that generate the overall composition, or what she calls, the matrix.  Thin lines followed, twisting and turning, connecting and disconnecting, looping around it and filling in the central blanks, resulting in a dazzling field of optical sensations."

"Meyer's circular forms are completely off-center.  Like lovers, they embrace and drift apart.  At once intense and loose, systematic and improvisational, controlled and impulsive, Meyer's drawing sucks us in, simultaneously inducing vertigo and offering solace." can see more of Meyer's work here.

Strangely, just to the right of this wall was another painting I had that "i-could-do-this" feeling:  Paul Klee's Arab Song (1932).  It is a painting in oil on rough burlap.  So muted, primitive, quirky and peaceful.....

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Noon today, The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court Building was designed by architect Cass Gilbert and built between 1932 and 1935.

"Contemplation of Justice"

"Equal Justice Under Law"

One of two identical self-supporting elliptical spiral staircases designed by the architect Cass Gilbert.  Five stories, seven spirals, 136 steps each.  Pretty amazing.

You can see here how the limestone steps are cantilevered out from the wall.

Another beautiful staircase....I love the handrail carved into the limestone wall.

Remind you of anyplace?

The Pantheon in Rome....same eight Corinthian columns across the front under a pediment.   Maybe the Pantheon originally had the front steps as well....the building has been sinking for two millennia.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Whistler's Amazing Peacock Room, Freer Gallery


I had the opportunity to visit the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. this week.  This museum, on the National Mall, is named after Charles Lang Freer who donated his extensive collection of art, including much ancient Asian art, to the Smithsonian in the early 20th century.  In one room of the Freer Gallery is The Peacock Room, which was moved intact from Freer's home in Detroit after his death in 1919.

The story of the Peacock Room is an over-the-top cautionary tale of the perils of contracting with artists.  The dining room was originally constructed by architect Thomas Jeckyll for the shipping magnate (and Pre-Raphaelite patron) Frederick Leyland; it included an elaborate lattice of shelves to display the owner's porcelain and the walls were hung with gilded leather.  Leyland had also commissioned James McNeill Whistler to paint the portrait over the fireplace, "The Princess From the Land of Porcelain" (first pic).  The room was nearly done when Jeckyll asked Whistler for advice on the color of the shutters (see below).  From this point, and with Leyland's approval (who shortly after departed on business), a series a small color adjustments were made to the room by Whistler.

But then Whistler stayed on, becoming increasingly enamored of the alterations he was making to the room (and possibly also of Leyland's wife), including gilding the ceiling and shelving, painting the leather prussian blue, and painting dramatic gold peacocks on the shutters.   Whistler wrote to Leyland saying that the dining room was "really alive with beauty — brilliant and gorgeous while at the same time delicate and refined to the last degree," and that the changes he had made were past imagining. "I assure you," he said, "you can have no more idea of the ensemble in its perfection gathered from what you last saw on the walls than you could have of a complete opera judging from a third finger exercise!" 

When Leyland got the bill for the "expanded" project he did not authorize, he refused to pay and the two got involved in a bitter lawsuit (is there any other kind?).  Whistler's revenge was his final modification to the room, two large peacocks fighting over a pile of silver at the end of room (pic above).  He called the mural "Art and Money; or, The Story of the Room." 

Years later, after Leyland's death, Freer, a long-time patron of Whistler, purchased the room (in 1904) and installed it in an addition on his house in the U.S.   The room is considered by many to be Whistler's greatest creation. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

William Morris Notebooks

pages from Merton Abbey Dye Book, 1882-91

Fruit and Daisy

I'd be so happy if my travel notebooks displayed a fraction of the beauty and grace of these "lab" notebooks from Morris & Company.  Does anyone remember this post, my third?  A moleskine inspiration....

The pictures are from Essential William Morris, William Morris by Himself, William Morris and Morris & Co., and William Morris Decor and Design.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

"It's so McKim, Mead and Depot"

That's what my friend Dan said when he saw my recent tile job on my brick fireplace surround.  Orangey-greenish mosaic tile from Home Depot grouted with pre-mixed grey grout.  The walls are C2 "Sisal" and are not quite as green as they look in picture.  My house is a Sears American Four-Square.

and a partial "before" pic....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Need and Sorrow and the "Angel of Help" -- John La Farge

I grew up in North Easton, Massachusetts, a place most architects recognize as a mecca for anyone studying H. H. Richardson, F. L. Olmstead, John La Farge and other important architects and designers of the 19th century.  After the thousands of hours spent as a child in Richardson's famous Ames Free Library, maybe it is no surprise I absorbed his aesthetic as my own.  On a walk last weekend, my dad and I stopped by the Unity Church (also designed conceptualized by Richardson, designed by donor's nephew John Ames Mitchell) to see the two famous stained glass windows by John La Farge, the "Angel of Help" and "Wisdom" windows.

The 1886 "Angel of Help" window was donated by Frederick Lothrop Ames in memory of his only sister who died suddenly at age 46, Helen Angier Ames (1836-1882).  Helen is the one Eastoners have to thank for their incredible public library.  Painter, muralist (Trinity Church), and stained glass artist John La Farge used his pioneering technique of layering glass, creating an opalescent background of fused broken glass jewels which dramatically bend light (he patented his invention of opalescent glass in 1880).  Above you can see Helen's jeweled sarcophagus being carried to heaven by angels. Below, the magenta Angel of Help is emptying her pitcher into vessels of "Need" and "Sorrow" (written in pink above woman's heads).  This window is considered by many to be La Farge's masterpiece (another picture of this window can be seen at the top of La Farge's wikipedia page, linked above).

The photographs are from the Unity Church website.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Art in the Machine

I was recently given an extraordinary book, The Machinery of Life by David S. Goodsell, by a relative who said the pictures (watercolor paintings) reminded him of my William Morris wallpaper.  The paintings are of the cells and molecules in the human body, all rendered in stunning detail by a scientist with a keen artistic vision.  I can see it, although I think we lean more toward turn of the century Art Nouveau style than Morris Arts and Crafts.  It's nice to imagine the inside of our bodies looking like this. 

 Marigold and Pea?  (Cytoplasm and Cell Wall)

 Vine and Morning Glory? (Cellular compartments)

 Lupin?  (Actin and Myosin filaments in our muscles)

 Sprout? (Blood clotting)

Sweet Pea and Lichen? (Programmed Cell Death)

If you want to learn about how our bodies work, reading this popular book is a brilliant place to start.