Some People, Quite Unintentionally, Lead a Charmed Life

Chau and Daniel bathing in Santa Barbara:

As improbable as this sounds, these pictures weren't posed -- they were swimming on the beach, and a woman just happened to show up with her pet zebra and its handler, then another man strolled by with his dalmatian. On the day they were debuting the striped bathing suits they'd sewn together. That could happen to anyone, right?

Oh, ChauChau.


Three Degrees to Elizabeth Taylor

What the story of my thrice-removed connection to Elizabeth Taylor lacks in good taste it makes up for in meaninglessness. I will mention one of the links in this puzzle only by sobriquet, as I haven't seen him in years and everyone else in my little anecdote is dead.

In the summer of 2004, I spent an awkward weekend at a cold and very beautiful house in Connecticut with two friends from RISD. Our host was an aging psychotherapist to the stars with a taste for Winslow Homer, Wiener Werkst├Ątte ceramics and young (male) artists; luckily for him, he could afford all three. The weekend most assuredly didn't go as he'd planned, but "the Good Doctor" was gracious and, as it turned out, more than happy to talk about the splendor that surrounded him. Mostly I think he was lonely.

It rained all day, keeping us from exploring the grounds, but in the library I found a row of red bound leather volumes, with SHOW written in gold on the spine of each, all from the early 60s. I read them for hours, fascinated by the glittering names dropped on every page. Glossy photos covered whole pages and the articles moved briskly through the arts and culture scene of the period. How had I missed any reference to SHOW? It looked like something that could have been seminal.

The Good Doctor explained that the books were the sole archive of the magazine, and had belonged to his best friend and founder of SHOW, Huntington Hartford. It was a familiar name; I recognized it from a row of sainted industrialists that stands outside of the Merchandise Mart in Chicago:

Long story short, the Good Doctor was talking about this Huntington Hartford,

who managed to run through one of the largest fortunes ever amassed (in 1950 alone, his interests netted 2.7 billion dollars), mostly by funding glossy money pits like SHOW.

Later that night, I slept in a bedroom with a portrait of Hartford's favorite yacht, and there were similar tokens sprinkled throughout the house. I'm not sure how the Good Doctor ended up with all this Hartford ephemera, except that they were close friends. At the time, Hartford was still alive.

In the morning the Good Doctor was feeling nostalgic, and told a story about a breakfast 40 years earlier, spent sunning on Huntington Hartford's terrace, overlooking Central Park and smoking an enormous blunt with Elizabeth Taylor.

So while people wax poetic about her eyes, her sparkle, her performances both good and bad, all I can think of is a meaningless morning 40 years ago, when to lay beside her in the sun must have felt like all the luck in the world had fallen at your feet.


Tile Murals by Laura Carlin

Longtime readers of this blog have doubtless picked up on my love for tilework, which is as consuming as it is mysterious. Don't ask me to explain it.

Latest in a long line of obsessions: the tile mural of London illustrator Laura Carlin:

Her work has just the level of studied naivety that kills me every time. I wish there was an adequate word to describe it. These depicts scenes through windows:

And a war between North & South London:

A few things I will say, though, as much as I love these -- I think they would be better served on tiles with less of a fillet at the corner, and no rounding to the edge. It's not that I want the images to be more seamless, it's just that these tiles don't seem adequately considered. Too fussy. If we were to completely humor Nick, I'd like to see them on some marvelous thick, irregular straight-cut planes of varying thicknesses, like you see in Portuguese azulejos. Like cut slabs of bread, slathered with butter.

Introduced to her ceramic work through the latest WOI, (which I totally trumped when it came to writing about the work of Ellie Curtis).


"Most of us aren't from here originally, and we came out here for a reason, it was a certain culture going on here ...

and that was communal culture."

"If a single photo could capture 1970s Northern California culture, this might be it. The hair; the clothes; the round oak table; the funky old apartment with painted-over wainscoting; the giant bowl of sangria. I ought to know, I was there. In fact, there I am, at the left, at my brother's Santa Cruz place with his wife (lower left) and their friends in October 1973. My brother's Ektachrome slide."

Once again, from Shorpy.

When I see this picture I think of my parents' lives shortly before my birth, the time and place they were in, and am just plain jealous. I have this sense of the West Coast in the late 60s and 70s as the place people who didn't fit went to fit together, and that's pretty cool.

And I love this picture for another reason -- it suggests the most beautiful centerpiece to an informal dinner party: a big bowl of sangria. Genius. I know what I'm doing this summer. The clothes, the furniture, the styling in general -- so on point, and absurdly close to an aesthetic that's been washing through design circles the last few years.

The quote I used as the title is from interviews with the makers of Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives, a wonderfully understated documentary that paints of portrait of the lives of dozens of gay people of all walks of life, centered mostly on the West Coast. It was filmed in 1977, and feels incredibly fresh -- I recommend it even if the subject matter is of less interest to you. It's so well made, a beautifully composed record; the first of its kind, and to my mind unparalleled.


Sleeping Under the Stars

I'm one of those people who adores naps -- there's really nothing more delicious in life. I love sleep, and wholeheartedly approve of spending ruinous sums on mattresses and bed linens -- by far, the single most expensive piece of furniture in our apartment is the mattress, and our decision to shell out for sleep is validated each night.

But I think I would sleep even better each night under one of these:

As described by the creator:
"Made from a standard issue Intergalactic Transport cargo blanket. I found an old cargo blanket in the docking bay of my ship. I thought it could be a great background for a star field. This is the April night sky of my home planet, Earth."

Whatever space cadet, gimme the blanket and nobody gets hurt. I feel a nap coming on, and I want a stellar blanket.



I like to imagine the illustrators of these plates from books on astronomy peering through a telescope and drawing, panning over the moons surface, getting caught for a moment in the disc of the sun.

Found here.


Raptors' Paradise

While I content myself to watch the return of red finches to our feeder, Steven caught this juvenile sharp-shin (a graceful killer) on a neighboring rooftop:

When he shrieks, pigeons take flight.

Larger raptors are too slow for a fast snack, but not so for the streamlined sharp-shin (or merlin, depending on whose identification you trust).

They like the long vistas from our hill as much as we do, and especially like winging around that statehouse: not only a magnificent example of Mckim Mead & White neoclassicism, but also a raptor's paradise.


The Nukus Museum of Uzbekistan

You must read this fascinating article on the Nukus Museum of Uzbekistan -- I would give a leg to visit it! I have such a weakness for fringe modernism.

Read it!

“The Bull,” by Vladimir Lysenko:

Politics are stupid, especially when they get in the way of art conservation. It makes me want to punch bureaucrats in the face even more than usual.


Pochoir, 4

Albert Levy, Nouvelles Variations. 1924


Parties in purple; the rest of life is brown.

This silent film is just intoxicating -- I've never seen anything that so closely resembles an Edward Gorey come to life. My friend Sarah said I must watch it after we were watching Igor Stravinsky and Coco Chanel (almost numbingly beautiful, but don't look for a great deal of depth), and she caught the reference to the party scene in After Death in the modern film we were watching:

She makes even grief seem chic.


Pochoir, 3

Albert Levy, Nouvelles Variations. 1924:

These are ugly in the best possible way -- and don't even get me started on the complexity of the color relationships going on here. Reminds me of Marni: cracked out and fun.


Pochoir, 2

George Barbier costume:


Art Deco Pochoir at the RISD Library

I'm a selfish person. I don't share the things I love without careful consideration, and jealously guard those things I adore. Only after hemming-and-hawing have I decided to show you, dear reader, the following images, and only then because I care for you so much.

On offer at the RISD Library in Providence is a glorious show of Art Deco pochoir prints from the 1920s through the early 1930s; over the next several days, I'll share a selection of these prints. From the exhibition description:

"Simply stated, pochoir is the French word for stencil. In the 1920's and 30's Art Deco era, the color application process of the stencil was rejuvenated by the French, bringing color illustration processes for books and prints to glorious new heights. This interest in exploring the stencil process came in reaction to the proliferation of machine printing and the poor quality of color reproductions in publishing. With pochoir printing, the hand application of layers of colors created dazzling effects that the camera or printing press could never replicate. Earlier stencil works, typically used for decorative surface ornament, were quite primitive, with applied color areas outlined by the supporting cutout framework. New experimental techniques in pochoir refined the process using mulitple layers of color applications for a single print.

With pochoir, a painting, a fashion plate, a decorative or interior design, or illustration to be duplicated was carefully analyzed to determine each color layer. Separate stencils were cut, sometimes in thin sheets of copper, zinc, or aluminum, for every color component. Each successive color layer, using watercolor or gouache, was applied to the stencil with a brush called a pompom. Sometimes as many as 100 stencils were used to recreate a single image. Pochoir printing was also easily combined with images made by lithography, woodcut, wood engraving, line drawings, or etchings, thus turning a decorative technique into a fine art ..."

Stage set for Orphee, by Cesar Klein:

And perhaps the best fashion illustration, be it photo or drawing, that I have ever seen:

I think "en plein coeur" translates to "to the core" or "through the heart," and it is almost painfully striking. By A.E. Martu (?) for Poiret, and published in Le Bon Ton, a magnificent fashion magazine of the time. If only you could find something like this is a contemporary magazine.


Russian Sailor, Kirill Lewerski

The stellar portrait is by Joost van den Broek, a Dutch photographer -- it recently won an award for best portrait from The Independent.

He's a cadet on this ship:

The Kruzenshtern, of the Russian Navy. It's the largest traditional sailing vessel left on the seas. Isn't it magnificent?

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