Sometimes I really do get lucky. Last week I had the great fortune to bump into the photographer Paul Lange and his wife Jennifer in the cafeteria at the Chicago Botanic Garden. They were visiting from New York, having been invited by the The Botanic Garden to exhibit a series that Lange has been working on for the last few years entitled Big Blooms. The Big Blooms series (on exhibit at the CBG through April) is as much a celebration of the miracle of flowers as fine art portraiture. Each flower is captured on a white background, as to illuminate the insane color palette of nature. I found the transparency of each subject’s petals to be mesmerizing. The scale of these pieces is dramatic. Each flower piece is enormous, as big as a tabletop, the bloom being centered on the piece like a face. Jennifer Lange explained to me that each flower is named after subjects (often models) that Paul, a longtime fashion photographer for Conde Nast, worked with. The Bette, for example is a straight-up Bette Midler. I mean dead- on, with such personality! The Paulina is very much evocative of Paulina Porizkova, the Czech model.
It’s a Vigilante-esque story, Paul’s transition from fashion photography at the highest levels in the field (on contract with Vogue, etc.) to a more personally-directed fine art career based on his passions. He now does what he loves. I asked Paul about it, and we joked that it was nice to have the freedom to work with people you like. One of their early collectors has been Aerin Lauder of the Estee Lauder makeup empire, whom they have enjoyed working with. I will have to post separately about his Fowl Portraits series, which, like Big Blooms, captures the personalities of chickens and roosters, illuminating their majestic colors and plumes but against a black background that given them a certain gravitas.
On a sidenote, why is it that brilliance often occurs when an expert in his/her field attempts something slightly off-topic? Like the seasoned fashion photographer turning to nature as his subject (Paul Lange) or the experienced New Yorker cartoonist turning to illustrating children’s books (Ian Falconer), etc. There is a nugget in there. Like, own your field but then shift just slightly off center to find your sweet spot. I just have not sorted out just what this formula is. But in the meantime, soak in some beauty on Paul Lange’s site and get yourself primed for the budding of spring.
One of the challenges in practicing illustration is steering clear of the cliches that saturate the design world. The ubiquitous trend of the moment appears to be the chevron pattern. First lauded in the pages of the now-defunct Domino Magazine which was laid to rest in 2009, the chevron pattern was used first in chic area rugs and bed linens. Five years later, it’s on everything from blouses to Christmas cards. I am bored to tears by this pattern, as much as I genuinely liked it at first. When you see something everywhere it loses it’s potency. Another such cliche is the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster, which also took flight as a trend via Domino Magazine. Now part of the public domain, this World War II era poster is now re-purposed by Paper Source and other trendy stationers on cocktail platters that say “Stay Calm and Eat Latkes.” Jesus! Could this be any more a grotesque distortion of the purpose of these posters — to assuage the fear of Londoners during the extended arial bombing of their city? WTF Paper Source? Not to point fingers, but I now look to Paper Source if I want to know what to avoid drawing for my clients. Right now, they’re showing a lot of octopus-strewn paper products, owls (a now nauseating trend since 2010 or so), prisms, mason jars, and still (!) the ever-present deer with antlers.
If I am 100% honest, I am guilty of following trends in my own work too. My logo for Vigilante Paper is surrounded by antlers. (I’ll be changing my logo in 2014.). Similarly, I offer a really fun wedding invitation on my shop that features a prism-esque pattern. Perhaps the most difficult for me, as an illustrator and hand-letterer is the proliferation of “naive lettering” which everyone & their step-brother is attempting — in particular in the manner of the talented Anna Bond of Rifle Paper. I feel bad for Mrs. Bond: she was so original and cool that the establishment has stolen her great ideas. Her calligraphic approach to lettering has snowballed into a naive movement of sorts — especially now at the holidays when you’ll see Happy Holidays printed in gold foil cursive. It’s not easy to stay ahead of the curve. And it’s not easy to drop one of your signature moves (in my case, naive lettering) once it becomes an official trend on the shelves of Paper Source. One must keep inventing new drawings and themes and stylistic forms to stay relevant and not get sucked off the cliff, an illustrator lemming.
One of my goals as an artist is to seek inspiration from within and bring it to paper. And also to crush convention. Why can’t a wedding invitation feature a VW Bus? Why can’t a birthday party invitation just feature a bunch of trees and a hammock? Can a holiday card reference Soviet style from the 1970s? The longer I am in the marketplace as a stationer, the longer I realize that it’s pointless to look at what others are doing. It will flavor your work subconsciously and taint your original ideas. At least this is what is working for me right now. And that is why you will not be finding a chevron pattern on my holiday card this year. But you might indeed find a weird portrait of Yul Brenner. Or a bowl of acorns. Or anything else amusing and out of the depths of my perverse noggin.
At Vigilante Living we applaud unconventional living, and to that end we have become aware of an exceptionally unconventional online project from two New York City designers called 40 Days of Dating. The project is the concept of Jessica Walsh (the brilliant new parter of Stefan Sagmeister at Sagmeister & Walsh) and Timothy Goodman, an illustrator, art director and designer with his own firm too. Their project is one part sociology experiment, one part performance art, and one part sincere quest for love. The rules of their game are this, excerpted from their own words:
“What do you do when you’re tired of the prospect of dating? Two good friends with opposite relationship problems found themselves single at the same time. As an experiment, they dated for 40 days.”
On a daily basis, they answer a questionnaire that summarizes there they are in the relationship’s development. From a design standpoint, its an elegant website, where two illustrators hand letter phrases that capture that moment in time — one for Jessica, one for Timothy, each day. Critics might call it a little like a reality TV show, but actually much more substantive. These two hard-working young people have different issues they’re trying to conquer (fear of commitment, and a constant longing for companionship) and it seems like they might be getting somewhere with this art installation.
Watch the relationship unfold at: http://fortydaysofdating.com/
I just cant help but wonder if this is all a well designed publicity effort for two accomplished young designers… Regardless, I admire their sense of risk-taking. Bravo, young people! Go for broke.
Portraits by Osvaldo Ponton & illustrators for lettering credited here.
Bryan Nash Gill is a multimedia artist from rural Connecticut who has recently enjoyed a popular traveling show of woodcut prints made from old growth tree sections. I stumbled upon his show Woodcut at the Chicago Botanic Garden this winter, when I’d take my girls to huddle in the conservatory, where amid orchid-filled air, we were allowed a brief reprieve from Chicago’s worst months. En route to the greenhouses one day, I passed a corridor displaying Bryan Nash Gill’s show of massive prints made from trees in a wonderful limited palette of reds, inky black, cobalt blue, and green. I was blown away. His process involves sawing fallen trees, then charring them with a torch to bring out the rings sections (accentuating their topography), then making woodcut prints. He is the epitome of everyone’s fantasy of the manly outdoor artist lumberjack. The strange thing is, the tree itself does most of the storytelling for the artist. There is a tale to be told in each print. From the rings can be read the history of the tree’s life: if it had been struck my lightening, endured a few drought years, had been damaged in a fire, etc. I love the environment like the next girl, but I am so bored to tears with being hit over the head with Green Living mandates and preachy hippies. Bryan Nash Gill employs the tree itself as a storyteller: the most elegant environmentalism I have seen. I also must commend him on his marvelous use of color and large format prints. His prints are like a tree’s memoir, encapsulated in one perfect lifesize print — without words.
All photographs by Olivia Joffrey of artwork by Brian Nash Gill.
Todd Hido is a Bay Area photographer who gained prominence around the time of the millenium for his ghostly, poetic large format color photographs of houses in the fog. Immediately his work spoke to me in the darkly beautiful way that Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel The Virgin Suicides and the movie Donnie Darko spoke to me. Hido’s photography is about anonymity and what you do not know about seemingly innocuous places, like a typical suburban home. When lit from within, and with fog encasing his subject matter at twilight, the untold stories of these houses and their inhabitants leave an eerie, hypnotic imprint. You also might feel like The Arcade Fire’s 2010 album The Suburbs took some creative energy from the work of Hido, as evidenced in their album cover. Andy Grunberg, in an Artforum piece on Hido entitled “House Sitting” (1998) describes Hido’s photography well: “The houses in Hido’s outdoor shots seem to glow in the dark. While the bright light that shines through the windows gives some indication that these structures are lived in, one can also sense their gloomy desolation.” In addition to his exteriors of houses, Hido also shoots interiors, primarily of foreclosed houses and hotels. For me, Todd Hido is an expert in Northern California noir. There is much made of Southern California, Raymond Chandler-esque landscapes, but Hido alludes to another side of this stereotypically happy, surfers-and-redwoods part of the Golden State. I like lugubrious; it just has to be pretty.
All photography by Todd Hido.
Album art of The Arcade Fire’s album, The Suburbs: Design by Caroline Robert, Art Direction by Vincent Morisset, Photos by Gabriel Jones
White Woman, Lithograph 1967 is a piece I grew up with in my house. We’re pretty sure its of my mother.
When you grow up with the work of a particular artist around your house, their art becomes a part of you. In my case, that person was the Northern California painter, sculptor, and printmaker Nathan Oliveira. Wherever we lived, the lithograph White Woman hung above our fireplace. The piece had significance to my family, as is was suspected to be a depiction of my mother, a San Francisco stage actress in 1960s San Francisco who was a founding member of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Perhaps Oliveira had seen her in a performance? Regardless, the mystery of how this lithograph so resembled my mother was always of great intrigue. Later, when I went to college at Stanford University, Oliveira was a Professor in the Art Department and I’d go visit his shows. I felt a personal stake in his work; his work shaped my eyes from an early age.
My mother Anne-Marie. Her stage name was Mimi Carlile.
Blue Head, Oil on Canvas, 1990
Oliveira’s lithographs and other prints are superb (he was a member of San Francisco’s Crown Point Press) but his paintings are marvelous too. I love his command of color and the human form. And his references to shadows in his figures. He was lauded in his lifetime, having over 100 solo exhibitions, but I am surprised that he was not more famous. I adore his work for it’s subtle and quiet quality. His 2010 obituary included this statement form him, that made sense to me: “I’m not part of the avant-garde. I’m part of the garde that comes afterward, assimilates, consolidates, refines.” I agree with the last part especially: exceptionally refined.
Man with a Hat, Cane and Glove, Oil on Canvas, 1961
Nineteen twenty-nine, Oil on Canvas, 1961.
Nathan Oliveira 1928 – 2010.
As much as Lou Lou de la Falaise inspired people with her irreverent and whimsical style of dressing, her home was equally inventive. There are rich people who hire famous decorators to design their houses and apartments, but Lou Lou, daughter of a French aristocrat and an Anglo-Irish fashion model, was more personal and bohemian in the way that she laid out her home. She filled it with colorful textiles from all over the globe (suzanis, Moroccan fabrics and rugs, and traditional French fabrics) and placed them artfully in her high-ceilinged Paris apartment. Lou Lou’s immensely appealing habit of casting antique chairs casually around the room alongside wild ethnic prints is perfectly haute bohemienne. In a breezy, worldly way, it is very rebellious. There is nothing self-conscious or stuffy about these rooms despite their grand proportions. If anything, these rooms have the rare quality of reflecting their owner’s life, not about adhering to any strict stylistic sensibility. I love houses like this. Lou Lou inspires me to take my house’s interiors to the next level in terms of color and mismatched, magpie layers of visual interest and storytelling. Dear Lou Lou, could you be any more brilliant? Bravo!
Suzani bed with layers of florals, tartar pillows — it might make some people cringe with it’s busy-ness but I adore it.
Wonderful red walls and a North African seating area: so warm and casual but refined.
Lou Lou’s library and dining rom; I adore the theatrically draped fabric to separate the rooms.
I suppose even some broken Ikea furniture would look marvelous in this window. But it’s the perfect balance of spare and warm. I appreciate Lou Lou’s asymmetrical tableau of plants.
The seating area with bold pops of red.
Another shoot of the same seating area: casually grand and colorful.
A fairly neutral white room with a glorious red carpet is certainly an idea to take away.
This scene from the film American Beauty has stayed with me, years after I first saw it. It was such an eloquent way of demonstrating how visually poetic little everyday moments can be. You just have to open your eyes to them. Below are some random photographs I’ve taken in places that should ostensibly be deemed ugly — but are not when you look at them in the right way.
The dancing plastic bag scene from the film American Beauty.
A wet street somewhere in the suburban Palm Springs area,
The view out of my old San Francisco studio apartment.
A messy music studio.
The Canadian painter Graham Gillmore is my favorite contemporary artist. He is brilliant in his ability to capture emotion using common phrases — to dissect them and and manipulate language to reveal a mysterious new meaning. Visually, it is impossible to get tired of his paintings. They are gorgeous, layered, massive and intricate — and literally blow you away in person.
I Love You In Theory
Pencil me in, Pencil me out
Good Rev Bad Rev (L) The Artist (R)
A mixed media work on ledger paper. Mind blowing.
Throughout my twenties and into my thirties I collected (hoarded?) postcards. I used to snag the free ones outside of ladies rooms at bars, in train station lobbies and coffee houses in New York and London; bought postcards at museums; kept promotional postcards for art openings at galleries, or stickers for art house movies. In San Francisco, where I was living throughout the dot-com boom and crash around the millenium, I saved a ton of amazing postcards advertising the epic launch parties for various tech companies. The only common denominator among all these little paper scraps is that the image, color or type spoke to me. But now that I am thirty-eight, these postcards bring another layer of meaning — they are like a journal of places I lived in my pre-family transient years. The killer parties I will never forget, the great old pre-hipster dive bars, the art shows that inspired me to go for it and become an illustrator. I’m never sorry I kept a postcard.
Old box of postcards, fragments of my history from the last 15 years.