Saturday, February 27, 2010

Beyond The Silver Screen

Previously on Corbu’s Cave I presented a mural in a movie. This post isn't about that but I’m starting with a reference to a mural in a movie nevertheless. The movie is Star! which includes exuberant murals for one particular set. It’s room, a large room, decorated with a shiny mural. I painted a large room with a shiny mural. That’s the connection.

My project was large enough that by the time I was comfortable in the process my mind wandered to other possibilities given the same materials. The painting I was doing was rather precise so I couldn’t help thinking of a radically different approach that also would be stunning on silver. I thought of Cy Twombly’s elegant, scumbling, rude, mark-making. The murals in Star! hardly compare to Twombly's work and yet they have expressiveness and energy that’s a little wild and I like that.

Some of these painting jobs of mine are so involved they’re like a making a movie. One morning I got a call at 9:00 asking if I could meet at 11:00 on the other side of town. I scrambled to get it together for a pre-production meeting where I met for the first time, the builder, the client, the architect, and the designer. I knew ahead of time they were interested in some sort of chinoiserie mural but because that’s open to interpretation I was basically just pitching myself - that I was the one for the job, whatever it was. When I finished showing my portfolio Marc Appleton , the architect, immediately got me a set of plans and elevations. I felt that was a good sign and it turned out to be.

First sight of the room where I was to work was a bit chaotic. There were rough-around-the-edges doorways cut into what was left of Garth Benton’s trompe l’oeil work. (Benton painted the murals at The Getty Villa.) The garden trellis painting was nice, well executed, but perhaps too literal, too heavy. In my version it’s still a garden room but a fantasy version floating in cloud.

Windsor Smith, the designer, expected a lot and there’s nothing better than that. "Through all the world there goes one long cry from the heart of the artist: Give me a chance to do my best." I always remembered that quote from Babette’s Feast. It was a leap of faith on the Windsor’s part since I didn’t have anything in my portfolio quite like what she had in mind and we’d never met much less worked together before. On the other hand diversity is the modus operandi in my commission work so I took in stride. She gave me parameters, a vocabulary of imagery and palette, and instructions: make it great.

The first step was essentially to create a story board, just like a movie. I had to design a different scene for each wall and make certain the imagery had continuity around the corners. This I did in Photoshop and printed my work on cardstock to make a maquette of the room. It was my map to get me where I needed to go. I also did some test painting on the substrate, which was silver leaf on silk backed with paper. The desired effect for the paint was a matt finish. For practical reasons I used acrylic paint and mediums but I added diatomaceous earth for a flat gouache like appearance.

The pre-production phase can be a little frustrating because it looks like not much is going on. Even when I began the full-scale work the first step was to draw the entire room in pencil, which was practically invisible to the casual observer. Once the painting began I think Windsor breathed a sigh of relief and realized she could leave it to me. The room became my domain until I finished. It was a pretty special job site to come to everyday. Throughout the day the silver bounced light around that streamed in through the French doors. Like a sunny day being inside the room was a total mood elevator. My assistant and I would take our lunch by the pool or sometimes in the hillside garden where we may as well have been in Italy, a pretty fabulous environment all around.

The principle painting took about a month during which time I didn’t really know what was happening in the room next door, the ballroom. Can you imagine? Who has a ballroom? It was a big cold room and I kept the door to it closed. In the end it seemed to spring to life practically over night and felt like a wonderful extension of the garden room dream. They're both so photogenic like something out a movie.

Hand painted Chinoiserie murals can be ordered through some wonderful old bespoke companies but you wouldn't get anything like the one I produced. I think those mail order murals tend to be rather rote since they're produced in a factory-like assembly line. My work always has a sense of search and discovery and of course wabi-sabi. If you know exactly where you'll end up when you start out what's the point of the journey?

Click on Tumblr for more pictures of this and other projects. Thanks!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bodhi Wind

I remember trepidation the moment I first touched a brush to a wall with the intent to paint something other than just a single color. It's thrilling too because I think it's a primal urge, a relic behavior, like cave painting. After you start painting imagery on walls you notice that sort of thing more. Actually I have a vivid memory of noticing an instance of murals years before I became a muralist. It was in the movie: 3 Women. Tellingly the director, Robert Altman, said of his work as a film maker, "I look at it like a painting". His movie is absolutely fascinating, conceived in a dream and dream-like itself.

Janice Rule plays the dark and mysterious painter and but it was Bodhi Wind behind the scenes who conceived and painted the murals for the sets. The imagery is fantastical and ultimately symbolic of the dynamics in the narrative and subtext. There are creatures which I interpret as not so much male and female but apsects of our personalities: Jungian, Freudian, or what have you. It's been tucked in the back of my mind ever since. I mean I've not only been haunted by the film, the characters, and the paintings, but also the idea of wanting to paint a pool.

In the movie there are actually a number of instances of Bodhi Wind's paintings including the opening and closing credits. There are two pools, one is derelict and empty, the other filled with water. Both ideas have an appeal as a blank canvas. An unfilled one might be a skateboard park. That could be fun and add an extra vertiginous thrill for the skateboarders. I'm not sure what I'd paint but there is a sort of figure that appears now and then in my work that is reminiscent of the 3 Women paintings. It's slinky and scaly and has strange ways.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Less is Bore.

One of the most pronounced characteristics of postwar Modernism was its apathetic approach to interiors. ...unthinkable to earlier architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Rennie Mackintosh who believed that the design of the building, inside and out, is an indivisible unity.

So writes Martin Filler in his 1984 HG piece on Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. It's a revelatory article on Venturi and Brown, for me anyway. I knew of Venturi from the iconic house he did for his mother but beyond that little. At the time of the article Post Modernism in architecture was exploding and Venturi was getting a lot of attention for what he'd been saying for years. At the same time the whole decorative painting field was exploding as well. At least I was getting a lot of attention. If only I had clients as smart as Venturi and Brown who brilliantly layered seemingly disparate elements into a messy vitality!

Even if I didn't have clients like the Venturis I did have some fantastic opportunities to paint on architecture. It began with a job working at the Fox Theater (restoration) in Atlanta, an Egyptian-Moorish theater palace. Directly after that I moved across the street to The Ponce , a 1913 Edwardian building that was restored after decades of abuse and neglect. Decorative painting was integral to those environments as it should be to interiors in my opinion. Whether you live in a cave or a modernist apartment there's a mural for you. The separate profession of interior designer grew out of the fabric industry so most interior designers are overly obsessed with fabrics I think.

Around 1983 I began working with a couple who were building a house in Atlanta inspired by providential French designs. They called me when their house was hardly even a scribble on a napkin. Not a moment too soon really. They understood the importance my work as a decorative painter would be. I worked with them for more than a year going from room to room in their house. The children's play room on the second floor had a tray ceiling for which I designed a Viollet-le-Duc inspired motif.

I was into Goth a little ahead of the curve. My Atlanta clients' place wasn't Gothic but Eugene Viollet-le-Duc is a central figure in Gothic Revival and he was my springboard. He and I share a birthday too for whatever it's worth. My last residence in Atlanta was just down the street from an architectural salvage place. Once I discovered it I went slightly nuts. There were so many pieces within my budget. A number of the pieces I bought were from a Gothic Revival church. Eventually all those antiques moved with me to San Francisco where I created an environment for them.

Since I didn't want to leave my work behind in my rental flat I painted on burlap and muslin. The textured fabric was more like a tapestry anyway which was the effect I was after. My apartment was my testing ground for so much painting. My place was published in a local design magazine just months after I moved in and several times over the years after that. I kept adding to or changing things so there was always another story to tell. And so it goes. On to the next blog post.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Learning From Las Vegas

Actually, I don't know that I've learned anything from Las Vegas. I've only been as close as changing planes in the airport and I haven't even read the venerated manifesto by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour. Now we have Learning From Las Vegas, 2.0 so I really need to catch up. I am going to revisited the Venturi's in a future post and recently I did received my first commissions to create some paintings for Las Vegas so that's how I'm justifying the title of this entry. The paintings below are not for Vegas but they were my first commission for a hotel so I decided to include them here.

When I was in art school I often did whatever I could to avoid making anything that resembled a traditional sort of painting. That was somewhat common for the time as the art world was just shaking off the minimalism / conceptualism stronghold. Neoexpresionism was just emerging. Anyway with school behind me I almost immediately made my living as a paintbrush for hire making paintings which would have been inconceivable to me as a student. The deal was getting paid for it and the goal was to make it fun and interesting for me.

The architect, Stanford Hughes , was finishing up one of his last projects for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill which was the restoration of The Palace Hotel in San Francisco. He asked me to come up with an idea for paintings for Maxfield's restaurant. Maxfield's adjoins The Pied Piper Bar where there's a Maxfield Parrish mural. The rarefied atmosphere of the hotel suggested something historic and traditional to me and there was no directive to relate to the Parrish mural so I came up with the idea of 17th c Dutch still lifes. Exact copies seemed a little cloying so I cropped and enlarge details from a tasty selection from four different old masters. It was me challenging myself to paint detailed subject matter in oils and I had fun with it for the most part.

Las Vegas is suppose to be fun for the most part and escapist. Part of the escape is by virtue of historical and iconic sampling in the hotels' architecture and interior design and I added to it. I got two Vegas commissions back to back. One commission called for 10 separated panels and three distinct skill sets. There was a pair of gold leafed panels that I art directed and subcontracted out because I don't trust myself with that much 18k gold leaf. I had to paint six 10 foot panels each with three classical Roman figures. The panels were awkward to handle because of their sizes relative to my studio space. The third piece, a pair of paintings meant to resemble Italian Renaissance tapestries, made my knuckles bleed. How fun is that?

The one commission that consisted of three separate projects is in an apartment that rents for $300,000./night. Can you imagine? It's part of the Octavius Villas complex at Caesars Palace designed by Wilson and Associates . If you stay there you're suppose to imagine you're a Roman emperor, or perhaps William Randolph Hearst, Sean Combs? It's not my crowd for sure.

The gold leaf panels are nice but not terribly interesting so I'm not including pictures of them. I'm glad to have made the acquaintance of a good gilder should the need arise in the future. I have worked on top of silver leaf and there is something wonderful about those metallic surfaces. The next time I work on a leafed surface I want to use radical imagery, expressionistic, insouciant. Who's going to pay for that? I'm not sure, perhaps me.

So I did the historicist's works for Las Vegas and another commission for a large abstract canvas. That piece is installed at the Madarin Oriental in CityCenter . My last post was about Hong Kong and work I did there. Hong Kong is adjacent Macau which is essentially Vegas for China. There's the through line. The funny thing is that my painting for the Mandarin Las Vegas like my painting for the Chinese client in Hong Kong is not in anyway related to The East. Or maybe it is. It's definitely related to Santiago, Chile and I'll explain later.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Peak Experience

Over the years I worked on a great variety of decorative painting projects and art commissions for architects, interior designers, art consultants, and private individuals. Fortunately I've come up with a contract and method that's simple and adaptable to every sort of circumstance and project. Occasionally I'm put to the test by someone who seems to want to make things more complicated which was the case (initially) with my Hong Kong project.

All of the design consideration were between me, Pamela Babey , and other designers at BAMO but my contract was actually with a division of BSC in Hong Kong. After our slightly drawn out negotiations during which I somewhat anxiously stuck to my terms that they eventually agreed to I was a little shocked to find the BSC job site was composed of what looked like a rag tag group assembled from a Home Depot parking lot. Where was that fearsome multinational corporate mandarin I had met through faxes and emails?

In fact from the moment I touched down at Hong Kong International the BSC people could hardly have been nicer or more accommodating. They arranged my stay at the Park Lane , a room with a rather spectacular view, and throughout my visit only asked what else they could do for me. The ragtag group of workers at the job site turned out to be friendly, hardworking, and helpful as well.

The owner of the home was a mystery to me. I hadn't heard much about him. I think I met him on my first day at the his house on The Peak . I had the chance to see him interact a bit with someone on site before he made his way over the introduce himself to me. I immediately sensed a Napoleon complex owning to his stature, strut, and authoritative voice. A couple of days later when he could see the room coming together in a very pleasing way he inviting me to join his family for a day of yachting. I was given my own cabin with en-suite bath, a drawer full of clothing including bathing suits for my use, a plush double bed, flat screen TV, and am I forgetting anything? I hardly spent much time in my cabin. There was sight seeing, wake boarding, island hopping, dining, and movie watching until late that night.

I also managed to wandered around Hong Kong by myself unfettered and alive. I was perfectly happy to get lost. It felt simultaneously safe and exciting. The Blade Runner visual cacophony felt comforting to me. My own personal work, my paintings, have that kind vibrancy so perhaps this is why I felt at home. Not to mention the fact I spent some time growing up in Florida: a good preparation for the heat and humidity in Hong Kong.

It's easy to understand why the owner would choose the side of Victoria Peak opposite the city to build his home since it is the quiet respite from frenetic city life. I didn't see it complete but the designers seemed to understand this need for a cool calm environment for it's reflected in their work. The selection of materials and fittings was rich yet understated. I could see this even in the raw state. The process of putting it all together fascinated me as well. The construction of the bamboo scaffolding was marvelous.

In selecting pictures for this post I couldn't bring myself to include any of the house's exterior. It's so mundane. BAMO had nothing to do with that. Too bad. I was taken with the neighbor's house, however, and shot it with my long lens. What colonial family dynasty lives there? I don't suppose I'll ever know.

Next post: Vegas, baby, Vegas.

Click on Tumblr for more pictures of this and other projects. Thanks!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Dining in Hong Kong

I had a wonderful time in Hong Kong: great food, friendly natives, exotic sights, and a little shopping. My working vacation was the culmination of a commission project for BAMO begun in 2001. Through the design process and various scheduling and logistical issues I didn't actually go for the installation until 2003. The last delay I had to contend with was the SARS threat . In fact I had my ticket and travel plans arranged while the news from Hong Kong about a mysterious illness grew increasingly alarming. I had to cancel just days before my flight but ended up going a few months later.

Having lived in San Francisco for many years Hong Kong wasn't a cultural shock and although my installers and I had a language barrier things went quite smoothly. There was a bit of trouble getting the large octagonal panel up even with all the hands available so I suggested the "T" shaped device which the carpenters quickly constructed. (see the smiling face above.)

I was able to see the dining room largely complete by the time I left. There's a table that seats 100 people I think and an enormous chandelier made in France by Claire Cormier Fauvel that in decorator speak is "to die for". The mirrored lazy susan holds enough dim sum for the immediate family and one or two guests. I didn't eat there but the clients very kindly took me out for a day trip in their 125' yacht. We stopped at some little fishing village for take out which was quite tasty. I'll post a pic of the yacht and a few more of Hong Kong in my next post.

Click on Tumblr for more pictures of this and other projects. Thanks!

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