I don’t want to overstate the obvious, but most of you would know that I am neither a New Yorker nor a fashion expert. While I enjoy style and design and I’m somewhat awed by the city, it’s clear to any observer that I’m native to neither. But, there’s something about Bill Cunningham that makes me feel comfortable with both. He lives and roams in the intimidating worlds of fashion and Manhattan, but manages to do so in an unpretentious way.
This weekend I re-watched the feature-length documentary Bill Cunningham New York, which profiles this prolific photographer and wise fashion observer and, once again, this eighty-something gentleman captured all my heart. Sometimes, as a fashion outsider, I imagine that NY style begins and ends on the runway. Bill Cunningham is a firm believer that this notion is not true. “The best fashion show is definitely on the street – always has been, always will be,” he assures us. His “On the Street,” column in the New York Times is a collage of on-trend people, items, movements, and real-time style progressions. In the film, Harold Koda, Curator of the Costume Institute/Metropolitan Museum of Art, explains that Bill attempts to “tease out trends in terms of the reality of how people dress.” Cunningham himself demurs, “I don’t decide anything. I let the street speak to ME.”
In his classic tome on two-dimensional design, Wucius Wong indicates that it takes at least three elements for something to be considered repeating. Repeating elements is one of the first theories you learn as a textile designer. I spent an entire semester discussing the theory of words and their meanings in design language. We were all in agreement: for repetition, two isn’t enough. What about over three hundred?
Wucius Wong’s theory is the first thing that comes to mind when I look at these pictures from an exhibition by the artist Francis Alys, showcased at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In room after room, over 300 portraits of Saint Fabiola are displayed: the same woman in the same pose, the same traditional rendition. Repetition – the same image seen over and over again.
The artist has collected these paintings from flea markets and garage sales in his adopted home of Mexico City. Most are painted by amateur artists. All portray the same woman, again, and again, and again. What Alys points out is that, though the images are similar – they all portray this woman, Saint Fabiola, in the same traditional veil, seated in the same pose and with the same background color – each individual image is unique. Each bears the mark of the artist. One may paint her nose with a slant; another may paint her with makeup or a solemn expression. The artists have copied a widely known image, but interpreted through their own eyes. We see repetition, but without absolutely identical images.
The larger art here is in the repetition of the “pattern,” or image. But, Francis Alys is showing us that even copies bear the mark of the creator. Seeing the same image repeated hundreds of times makes for an impressive impact. Viewed as a whole they represent merely a single pattern; viewed more closely, they demonstrate that, even when re-creating someone else’s work of art, the artist’s uniqueness shines through.
Last week, I was on the phone with my dear friend Lisa who talking about Dr. Ruth and organizing a book reading with the famed doctor in the mattress section of a well-known store. Genius.
Dr. Ruth was suddenly on my radar and, in the process, I discovered her Twitter account (follow Dr. Ruth; you will thank me). So, as one thing leads to another on the internet, I follow one of the links to the video below, which brings me back to literature, specifically erotica:
So, I admit that when the Fifty Shades Series arrived on my radar, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Many women today are reading this series openly. I see school moms posting about the characters on Facebook and little old ladies sitting in coffee shops with the book proudly lying open beside their tea. So while I am thankful that erotica has found its way out-of-the-closet, I found the series (ahem) not as engaging as some of the classic tomes from my earlier days; however, I ADORE Dr. Ruth’s take:
All of this in a round-about-way to say Happy Valentine’s Month ahead of us. Here’s to a bit of literature (erotic or otherwise)–perhaps read aloud to a loved one.
These days, I mostly enjoy Ivy and Bean, recited aloud by my budding reader (if I can stay awake long enough).
I’ve written a couple of times about what happens when your heroes and heroines become friends. For me, it brings about a feeling of connection to the ever-expanding universe; all things are possible. A girl from the countryside in Alabama can dine with royalty (in all its meanings). The picture above is proof. When I look at this picture, I laughingly think of The Death of Roy Batty in Blade Runner: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain….” However, those moments will not be lost. Knowing and dining with Les Blank gives me a connection to the stories and tiny details of human nature that make me a bigger, and better, person. His contribution to the genre of documentary film is exceptional; his contribution to my life is priceless. His clear vision of humanity (like that of The Kitchen Sisters) helped mold the designer, story lover, and human being I am today. I am so sad to write that my friend, and hero, is very ill with a protracted cancer. The City of Berkeley, California declared January 22nd the official Les Blank Day and wrote this: “With a soft spoken demeanor, an eye for beauty, an insightful mind and great enthusiasm, Les Blank has captured the essence of aspects of American culture,” and “through his respectful, quiet presence, and non-didactic style created films that allow his subjects to reveal their true selves in a unique way.” Well deserved. The world is a better place because of Les Blank, visionary wayfarer. P.S.: Photo above with Les and Alice Waters from April 2008 at The Edible Schoolyard (where Les first filmed and then cleaned everyone’s plate).
Schools, government offices, and many businesses are closed today to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We are closing our studio a few hours early and to take part in MLK’s Day of Service. In the spirit of King’s Beloved Community, we will take some time today to serve others, while reflecting on our theme for the year: peace.
As early as 1956, Dr. King spoke of The Beloved Community as the end goal of nonviolent boycotts. As he said in a speech at a victory rally following the announcement of a favorable U.S. Supreme Court Decision desegregating the seats on Montgomery’s busses, “the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”
Read more about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s teachings and achievements here.
It’s the time of the year when the shape of a heart makes its prolific comeback (although with a six-year-old girl at home, the heart shape is a pretty common part of daily life). Graphic symbols often carry with them deep histories (and controversies) over where the shape emerged. This simple shape is no different. Apparently it is found in cave paintings dating as far back as 10,000 B.C.E.
Some believe that the shape was a simplification of the silhouette of the human heart; others believe that it was a sign used for a now-extinct plant called silphium, which was used as a form of birth-control—therefore becoming the sign of love. Still others believe that the inverted heart symbolized the hanging scrotum —perhaps a stretch of the (over-active) imagination.
Wherever your beliefs land, it can’t be denied that the heart is possibly the most (over?) used symbol of our time. But then, why should that stop us?
Here is our version of the heart in stencil form:
Check back this week as we elaborate on all things love (and heart shaped), from Dr. Ruth to DIY Kits, and little girls’ valentines (to themselves). “I love you. I love you. I love you,” she murmured as she gazed in the mirror.
Should we all find such self-love in these next two weeks… and for the rest of our lives.
You can download the Hearts Stencil from our Resources page and sign yourself (and a loved one) up for our One-Day Studio workshop to get in the mood.
Valentine’s Special: Buy a One-Day Studio workshop at full price and get a second one for $295.
P.S.: Heart rocks above were carefully selected from Natalie and Maggie’s collection.
I’m going to admit something that might seem a little pedestrian to some of you, perhaps a little familiar to others: I watch a lot of television, all kinds. I’m simultaneously a television snob and a consumer of frivolous content. I’m not sure how I rationalize all of that, but to quote Whitman in a post about popular culture: I am large, I contain multitudes.
So, as a consumer of all of this entertainment content, I include among my weekly dvr selections a show called Project Runway. I’m going to go ahead and guess that most of you have heard of or watched this reality-based competition. If so, you may be aware that each season, the contestants are given the challenge of designing for “real women,” that is, women who are not models and have normal, everyday shapes and sizes. And, without fail, every season there is a designer who throws an absolute tantrum about how difficult this challenge is, about how this isn’t what they “do” as a designer.
I know that what happens on television might not be the most accurate representation of reality, how designers design in the privacy of their studios, or how garments travel from paper to product. But, the fact that this attitude continues to present itself causes me to ask: whom do designers think that they are designing for, if not real people?
In 2008, to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of the peace symbol, National Geographic published Peace: the Biography of a Symbol, by Ken Kolsbun with Michael S. Sweeney.
The book documents the symbol, from its creation in 1958, through its usage in the folk scene of the 1960s, its very visible presence in the 1970s at Woodstock, Vietnam war protests, and in the artwork of Peter Max, until today, with its wide use in commerce and as a cultural icon.
National Geographic has a moving photo gallery of the peace symbol that you can view here, starting with the gorgeous photo of Arlo Guthrie below by Bettman/CORBIS.