Saturday, 21 May 2016

ROM's ¡Viva México! guest blog post

Please click here to read my contribution to the ROM's blog regarding their exhibition ¡Viva México! curated by Chlöe Sayer.
I hope you have a chance to check the exhibition out before it comes to an end in a couple of days.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

the healing power of linen

As mentioned in the previous post, my most recent visit to the AGO left me a bit unsettled. A good hour after visiting the Moore and Bacon show, I was finally able to somewhat regain my composure. The need to bring back order into the chaos of my mind (Bacon can do that to anybody) was overwhelming.
Remembering Sennett's words "making is thinking", a bag of linen scraps from past projects was emptied and sorted, selecting the most adequate ones to iron and piece. This mechanical motion gradually brought a soothing sense of purpose, until it resulted into beautiful reconstructed linen swatches with a marvelous haptic and a very particular weight and drape.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

overcoming moore+bacon

The AGO once more houses a fantastic exhibit, "Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty" up until July 20th. Though most of us are no strangers to the work of either artist, having them in the same room is not something to be taken lightly. If you are planning to go to the show, do so on a happy-go-lucky day, so that the optimist in you can handle it without much effort. Be sure to load up on sugary treats before you get there (spoonful of honey, an apple, chocolate) to grant the much needed sustenance during and after your visit. The show's title makes no effort in concealing the somewhat disconcerting theme to the exposition, and I confess I was deeply affected by its content, Bacon has that particular effect on me. It's been a few days since my visit, and I'm still struggling to articulate a coherent thought about it, a testament to a most emotional and exceptional subject matter.
Painting (left) by Francis Bacon, Three Figures and a Portrait, 1975. Sculpture (right) by Henry Moore. Photo by Derek Flack for blogTO.

Through the enlightening accounts found all over the galleries, the viewer is not only educated but also eased into the historical context that melds these two artists, offering further acumen through Bill Brandt's beautiful photographs.
Henry Moore by Bill Brandt, 1960.
Francis Bacon by Bill Brandt, 1963.

The exhibition is spectacular and exquisitely curated, grand in both scale and theme, a perfect exercise in contrast and comparison. The great discovery: Moore's London's shelter drawings during World War II. Extraordinarily beguiling.

Interestingly enough, Henry Moore created some beautiful designs for textiles (not included in the show), a discipline he delved into quite prolifically.
Click here to get you started on this particular aspect of his work.
Henry Moore, textile design. Barbed Wire, c.1946, spun rayon, printed by ASCHER.
Please click here and here and here  if you would like to learn more about the show.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

the grandeur of the latest wes anderson film

Warning: The words shot and grid will appear time and again, there are only so many synonyms at hand.

Confession: Friday afternoon (12:30 pm!!!) found me at the movie theatre catching Wes Anderson's latest gem, The Grand Budapest Hotel. I was feeling so guilty about the whole experience, yet all that negativity dissipated the moment the movie started. Ever since The Royal Tenenbaums I have been irremediably at his mercy. Hook, line... sinker.
As I already mentioned in a much earlier post regarding Moonrise Kingdom, with Wes (we are on a first name basis nowadays) it all starts with the styling and carries on seamlessly into the intentionality of every decision behind the shot while allowing the story to always be at the forefront. All aesthetic decisions are there to set off the scene and never to distract, admittedly, my brain gets so transfixed in a frame, that I tend to fall a little behind in the story.  Just a few minutes into account, the first bit of analysis pops up.
This particular still in one of the scenes had me processing every aspect of it, or as much as could be gathered in a few seconds.

This is what was immediately evident: The setting was harmoniously composed within a golden section (a golden ratio, sección aura in Spanish) corroborated in the juxtaposed grid of the bottom image with an almost flawless fit.

The linchpin of the composition, drum roll please... the plant! If all the emphasis of colour would have been where a is located, the whole frame would have fallen to the right. Anchoring it in position (and creating perfect symmetry) is the area where the plant is placed (b) and most certainly colour. The greens in the plant coyly complement the reds and aubergine of Mr. Moustafa's (F. Murray Abraham) attire.

Another example: The use of adjacent colours (analogous harmony--red to purple), fully saturated and perfectly contrasted by the blacks and whites.

In pure Wes Anderson fashion, the stoicism of the main characters (Madame D.--Tilda Swinton-- and M. Gustave--Ralph Fiennes) is emphasized by the almost perfect fit of another golden section grid.

Since the above reticulation was not ideal, another way to confirm harmony of composition is by fitting the picture in a grid, created by the most dominant area of the composition, in this case, Madame D.'s facial expression and outfit (the black accessories). This new sequence immediately corroborates that Wes Anderson does work within a grid and carefully plans most of his shots. The extraordinary thing within the analysis is that I'm certain this is easily verified in most every single main shot throughout the film. This element of careful configuration can easily support the whole movie all the way through the end yet, on top of this, he has a most intelligent screenplay and an impressive cast of characters working in his favour as well. A true renaissance man.

The last example and very traditional to his style is symmetry, as represented in this face shot.

In this particular instance, the character is at the centre of the foreground, and as indicated by the white line, the frame is perfectly divided by two (I read Kubrick shot this way as well).

Another interesting asset to each character, or so it seemed in the case of TGBH, is the colour scheme in their apparel, very representative of their comportment throughout the film. In this particular instance, Edward Norton's persona (Henckels) was not as animated as the rest, evident in the severeness and neutrality of his garments.

In my opinion, from Wes Anderson's body of work, this is perhaps the film in which the traditional methodology of the art/design process is most recognisable and sustained throughout the movie. Exceedingly encouraging.
If possible catch it in the big screen, it will be a much more enjoyable experience.

NOTE: Another post is required to further discuss fabrics, carpets and patterns (mostly on wall paper), all luscious across the film. I think however, that I would need to watch the movie a second and third time to be able to eloquently comment on the topic.
  • I find the younger generations are not very familiar with the concept of the golden ratio, but it is still the bread and butter of good art/design composition (regardless of what is being designed, from the Parthenon to a web page). Click here to visit an excellently written blog post around the golden section. Easily explained and easily understood.
  • For more traditional yet contemporary approaches to the theme, I highly recommend Scott Olsen's The Golden Section: Nature's Greatest Secret and Layout Essentials: 100 Design Principles for Using Grids by Beth Tondreau.
  • Click here for a very quick review on colour harmonies., You may also want to check on the classics: The Elements of Color: A Treatise On The Color System (based on the color system of Johannes Itten) by Johannes Itten and Interaction Of Color by Josef Albers.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

the winter of the iguana

We are under cold weather advisory tonight and this is what our winter has been like as of late:
From left to right: 1-Our drive to school during the first hour of a snow storm. 2-Our driveway after said storm. 3-A stroll down our street captured the beauty of what the storm left behind.

As the winter seems to linger on, and on, the promise of warmer, snow-free days to come have me yearning for summer, which immediately brings to mind iguanas. Why? Simply because last summer, while visiting the Yucatán peninsula, we kept stumbling upon them everywhere! From the hotel grounds, to the sidewalks to the ruins in Chichén Itzá. The reptiles were completely unaffected by our presence, showcasing a remarkable capacity to contently bask under the sun for hours on end. Then again, what else are you going to do if you happen to be an iguana?
A majestic iguana in Chichén Itzá. Photo credit, EC.

Later that summer at the Hall of Bones in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C., we came across the skeleton of an iguana, which allowed a close examination.

Thereafter, I could not stop thinking about Timorous Beasties, a Glasgow design studio well known for its self-described "surreal and provocative textiles and wallpapers". The phrases original artwork and trend setters can only start to describe what this Scottish atelier's brilliant body of work is all about. After learning more about iguanas (by mere observation), it was easy to understand how and why Alistair McAuley and Paul Simmons, the creative forces behind the studio, may have been inspired to create their incredible iguana pattern.
©Timorous Beasties, Iguana.
At some point they had to follow the great tradition of excellence in the creative process (think Mondrian, think Glaser) and became one with their subject matter, in this particular instance, they became one with the iguana. This is what art and design of the highest order is all about, the artist/designer has to be knowledgeable and passionate about the project at hand, Picasso and his Guernica immediately come to mind.
In the world of textile design this happens mainly due to the extensive research and sketching/drawing that takes place during the ideation process, resulting in conceptually strong, well-informed, very successful designs. When visiting Toronto, while imparting a seminar at Harbourfront Centre (back in 2010), Alistair elaborated precisely on this particular matter and illustrated the point by showing us a plethora of drawings and rough sketches he had recently been working on in his sketchbook.
The moral of the story: Inform your work, be prolific, edit.
Now, if you will excuse me, I will proceed to follow my own advice.
The V&A has a brief and fabulous video interview with Timorous Beasties. Click here to watch it.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

on drawing and the metaphysical doodle

Late in August, Canadian artist Shelagh Keeley offered a drawing workshop to CTS members and friends. This was my third and last workshop of the summer and the perfect follow up to Maxine's class. The environment was once again most amiable and the hours soon saw us building up to different exercises in drawing. It was fun and substantial, with relevant handouts and visual aids. One way or another, we all benefited from diverse and sometimes unconventional ways of drawing, all of which rendered very auspicious results.
Some of our drawings on the table.

In the end, we all managed to reconnect with the joy of letting the hand glide freely on the paper and respond to various visual and tactile stimuli, leading to the creation of a significant number of marks that eventually transcended professional backgrounds and most importantly, expectations.
A closer view of our drawings.

Fully recharged after this workshop, September found me back in the studio with a new goal: To fully resolve and print one [new] design a week. I continue to draw as often as possible, but so far, the two designs that have been produced these last couple of weeks are from my drawings during Shelagh's workshop.
From left to right: Original drawing for "hecha nudos" (in knots). The right-most is a turned overprint.
Hecha nudos, infinity scarves.
The left image is the original drawing for "esto no es un chayote" (this is not a chayote). The right one is printed on  a fabulous cotton/hemp canvas in three colours.
"Esto no es un chayote" in pillow form out for a test drive at home.

Continuing on the subject of trying new things and making them work, I find the following merge of talents intriguingly successful. How did this ever happen? And it's been six years! It is September, let's continue the creative celebration.
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Gone, Gone, Gone. Rounder Records, 2007.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

stitch. print. repeat.

"I think your self emerges more clearly over time"
                                                        MERYL STREEP

Regardless of age and all histrionics aside, this quote is perfectly applicable to any stage of personal and professional growth. It seems even more pertinent after participating in a five-day intensive  workshop with visiting fibre artist Maxine Sutton (my second workshop this summer). The class was offered in late June to CTS Co-op members as part of our annual professional development practice. It was accompanied by a lovely lecture at the Textile Museum  of Canada, open to all interested in Maxine's work.
Left: Maxine Sutton during demo at CTS.
Right: Image on the cover of EMBROIDERY magazine, September/October 2008.

Skills wise, the workshop delved mostly in cloth embellishment, manipulation processes and printing. Concept wise, it presented our immediate environment as the muse. We created pages for our hand-stitched sketchbook which we were encouraged to continue building as part of our creative endeavours. I'm truly enjoying this particular process.
One of my pages (channeling Morandi), still a work in progress.

Besides our individual work, Maxine had us involved in two collaborative projects. The first one required us to hand over one of our pages so one of our colleagues could finish it up. This exercise rendered beautiful results.
Cathy finished this piece for me. What she originally received was the background cloth with the white square, red rectangle and French knots on the right. The end result is so very quiet and beautiful, the perfect memory.
A more detailed view of Cathy's lovely embroidery and superb quote.

This is what I'm finishing up for Cathy. So far, my contribution is the appliqué of the lower piece and the filling of the bird's body, plus the red French knots which will eventually to become the horizon.
I find the back extremely engaging.

The second collaboration was more ambitious. We created a still life at the centre of (half) the table and proceeded to "react" to it by picking some items to sketch on cloth. We would then incorporate our objects to a larger piece of linen to complete the group effort.
Work in progress. Each of us contributed to an area of the piece.
My selections: White sea urchin, coral and driftwood.
My interpretation of the urchin. Paper template, natural dyed fabrics and sewing thread.
I don't remember when was the last time I did appliqué.
Sea urchin with coral, drift wood and polka dot. The authorized palette: Blue, orange and yellow
We all continued to embellish and print over different areas of the piece.
Text stencils are positioned. A lot of editing takes place (in the picture, CTS members Fionna, Kerry and Cathy).
Work in progress over a small portion (this segment represents about a third of the piece). Text stencils are now in place and waiting to be printed (which still needs to happen). I'll be sure to update this last step once it is completed.

In the end, two things became apparent. One: unequivocally, we all experienced very significant and powerful moments of discernment. Two: the sense of community that was already in place at our  studio was most definitely nourished and strengthened by these collaborative projects.

On a very personal level, the impact was of seismic proportions (hence the opening quote). Besides providing invaluable feedback, Maxine's workshop helped inject vitality and freshness to  work that seemed to have plateaued due to some serious over-thinking. It offered the much needed nudge to propel what was ready to be put back into motion with full clarity of purpose. What a privilege it is to enunciate such words.

Y'all, thank you.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

natural dyes, an introduction

Every term, our CTS Co-op  offers splendid workshops related to the field of fibre arts. This summer I was able to participate in three of them.
The first one, Natural Dye Printing, took place in  early June as part of the CTS's Sustainable Design Series and offered by former member Thea Haines. During these two sessions, Thea delivered a clear  and very engaging introduction to various basic, yet rich techniques within the discipline.  For a few hours that weekend we became alchemists deeply involved in the processes, discovering the gentle nature of the materials while achieving surprising and alluring results.

We started by reviewing the very important steps of pre-treating (better known as mordanting) the fabric so that it could easily "take" the dyes (1). We followed by creating very useful colour charts with the aid of "thickened" dyes (such as pomegranate, black walnut, osage orange, madder and Brazil wood, to name a few) plus iron and allum as "colour changers" (2). The last step consisted in "steaming" these charts to "set" the colours properly (3).
3-The charts were rolled in muslin, then coiled and later placed in the steamer.
Steamer. A large rice bamboo steamer worked perfectly.

After carefully studying the charts, the final choices were made, and so the printing started by using different mark-making tools, blocks and most certainly, silk screens.
Some mark-making tools and blocks (commercial and hand-made) provided by Thea.

The following are images of one design I'm just taking out for a "test drive" for which the natural dyes worked perfectly!
The first image is a close up of the screen against the window, I've always loved how light filters through the screens. The second image is of cloth dyed with logwood and "discharged" with citric acid (!!!!). The back of the fabric shows how thorough the colour extraction was. The third image is of my favourite print resulting from these two days. The perennial considerations: editing and end use.
Instructor: You may look up Thea's blog and website by clicking here and here.
Suppliers: Maiwa, of course. And from my end, while in Asheville a couple of weeks ago, I visited Earth Guild and as expected, it had pretty much everything.
Another voice: Please visit our CTS Co-op's blog, where our own Roohi Qureshi writes about the workshop while showcasing more images and a fun video of her print! A very complete resource guide is offered as well. You may check it out here.
Book: The most recommended was Wild Color by Jenny Dean.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

artista del mes: anne luz castellanos

Anne Luz represents, just like Nadia, the next generation of talented Mexican creators, makers, artists. I met her about 4 years ago while visiting Bazar Fusión, a pop-up market that fully embraces the spirit of the one-of-a-kind genre in Mexico City. I was immediately drawn to the unique point of view represented in each of her pieces, all of them manufactured under the imprint AnLuz.
©Anne Luz Castellanos for AnLuz. Necklace: "Life".
Featured in Showcase 500 Art Necklaces (500 Series), published by Lark.
I am an industrial designer devoted to jewelry. Nothing makes me happier than spending hours in my workshop imagining, drawing and creating...
Born and raised in Mexico, with a French mother, I have always been exposed to the juxtaposition of ideas and perspectives. In my art I express multiculturalism and the feelings it brings through the integration of shapes and colors. Recently, life has brought me to Buenos Aires, Argetina where once again I have been able to enhance perspectives and incorporate new elements to my work.
I work with sterling silver and colorful enamels to bestow life and unique character to each of my creations.
©Anne Luz Castellanos for AnLuz. Earrings and pendant: "Alga".

It's hard to have one foot in Argentina, while the other one has remained in Mexico. But I know I have to learn to deal with it. These two markets are actually very different due to their circumstances and because clients look for quite different things too.
Seasons in Mexico and Argentina do not coincide: When it's summer in Argentina, it's winter in Mexico. This simple fact poses challenges for the design of my jewelry because if I design fresh pieces for the Argentinian summer, these pieces might not fit in the Mexican winter trends. This messes my head up a bit! However, I have to admit that I can get around this particular challenge thanks to the versatility brought by working with colorful enamels, I can play with the colors of the season and adapt the pieces accordingly. So I can use fresh colors for the Argentinian summer, and incorporate cooler and wintry colors for the pieces we offer in Mexico.
Argentinian and Mexican girls have different preferences in size and style. For instance, I have noticed that in Argentina my clients prefer large fashion pieces, while my Mexican clientele tends to like smaller silver pieces.
By breaking into these two very different markets I have learned how to satisfy diverse tastes embedded in different contexts. I love this! Challenges make me grow as an artist.   
©Anne Luz Castellanos for AnLuz. Rings, clockwise: "Cazuelas", "Ostra", "Feux".

I have been involved with contemporary jewelry for more than three years now. When I moved to Argentina, I met a contemporary jewelry artist who was hosting a creativity workshop. I wanted to increase my social circle and I was curious about what she had to say about contemporary art. So I joined... and I loved it! Ever since then I have taken workshops and courses to encourage creativity and to learn new ways of expressing myself through more conceptual pieces. I also like participating in exhibitions, and there are many more contemporary exhibits! These are additional motivation to keep being involved.
©Anne Luz Castellanos for AnLuz, "Charro".

My day to day. Reading. Drawing. Every detail and moment. Being attentinve and observant to everything. I like collecting things everything can help...
Then one day everything comes together and inspiration flourishes.
©Anne Luz Castellanos for AnLuz. Pendant: "Bite".

Anne Luz bestows a minimalist spirit to each of her pieces, paying attention to the smallest of details  while fully considering matters of colour and composition resulting in quaint, sophisticated and fully resolved bits of wearable art.

©Anne Luz Castellanos for AnLuz. Earrings and pendant: "Gitanos".
©Anne Luz Castellanos for AnLuz. Earrings and pendant: "Tut".
©Anne Luz Castellanos for AnLuz. Earrings: "Antifaz".
©Anne Luz Castellanos for AnLuz. Ring: "Huichol".
The atelier, where it all happens.