Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Delights of Dots

So, I had a sort of accident in Yastik, and I now own a pair of these, albeit these in green and pink rather than blue and cream.  And they are so beautiful, so beautiful, that they are currently on chairs in my bedroom so that they're the first thing I see as I wake up.  I don't see how one can fail to have a good day if one is greeted by Rifat Ozbek's ikat wonders, and I desperately need to eradicate the latest set of images to come out of Syria from my memory bank, because I'm feeling so impotent in regards to being able to do anything, anything to help - aside from donating money to Oxfam/ Save the Children/ etc. - that it makes me furious all day long.   

So cushions; they're just too exquisite for words, no?  Sholto helped select them; he's actually a brilliant shopping partner, I've discovered, as he gets bored and announces "Let's just buy everything, Mummy.  Everything in the whole shop,"  which is all the encouragement I need.

I feel that I had been building up to it for a while.  I regularly stroll past Yastik, and more often than not venture in, to gaze in rapture at the cushion-lined walls.  

How could anyone fail to be seduced?  Truly, Rifat Ozbek is a genius.  And that I fell for the spots in particular is no great surprise 1.) they were in the sale (and I love a bargain) 2.) I'm genuinely keen on spots most of the time; top of my current wish list is a polka-dot piano which is part of an installation at the Tate Modern, the Meschac Gaba: Museum of Contemporary African Art.  

(Please excuse the instagrammed nature of the image . . .  )

I would love nothing more than a piano in our house, polka-dot or not.   Due to constrictions of space (and believe me, I've tried to find room for an upright) Sholto has got a keyboard, but there is little point in spotting-up that, I feel.  His ukelele, on the other hand, with which he sits on the sofa making up songs - "And a monster cockadoo did come to eat me, and I did dead and die . . . . " - now that I could polka-dot.  I have a feeling my antique nail varnish collection (I've still got bottles of tipex-like Hard Candy in ice-blue and mint-green) might finally come in handy.

Of course, spots are nothing new - in fact, given the fact that the Yayoi Kusama Louis Vuitton collaboration happened a whole year ago, they're pretty much old news.  I did love them then, too, incidentally, but I had a brand new baby and a two year old and I was working, so I was kind of in survival mode:

I took Sholto to see the Bond Street store though, at the time, and he loved it.  (Esmeralda had barely yet opened her eyes, and slept through the entire excursion.)   Retrospectively, I'm now slightly sad that no one thought to give me one of these:

Because I would totally use it.  Occasionally.  Maybe.  I'd definitely keep it for Esmeralda though.  

But I must have been subliminally influenced as when it came to redo the bathroom, I made sure that the cupboards all had these for handles:

Which come from Anthropologie, and which make me deliriously happy every time I look at them.

In fact, thinking about the delights of dots, I'm now so enthusiastic that I'm almost prepared to consider Sholto's request for a spotty puppy:

Totally gratuitous image of a Dalmatian puppy.

I could then buy cushions to match the dog.  Because those amazing Yastik numbers?  They come in a whole lot of colourways, and it took every ounce of will power that I have (which actually isn't much) not to buy them all.  And I have do doubt that a Dalmatian puppy or two would bring eternal happiness to the entire family.  (Providing Cruella de Vil never shows up.)  For short-term happiness, however, I can definitely recommend a trip to the Tate Modern.  The Meschac Gaba: Museum of Contemporary Art installation is not only brilliant, but totally child-friendly, insofar as there are building blocks to build towers with (representing constant flux), another piano that children - and indeed anybody visiting - are positively encouraged to play, and an entire spotty cafe, which is part of the installation:

Okay, so you need to be up close to see the spots properly, but aren't the birds on the walls just heaven?!
Meschac Gaba: Museum of Contemporary African Art is at the Tate Modern until the 22nd September.
As for puppies, certified breeders can be found re

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Mexican Art, Un-Bought

I've essentially led a totally charmed existence.

My only regrets are retail based: all the things I didn't buy.  Occasionally I mentally line them up, and dwell on how even more perfect my life would be if only I had parted with the cash when I came across them.  Top of the list is this photograph by Noemie Goudal:

I saw it at her graduate degree show at the Royal College of Art, and was offered it at discount, but I was pregnant with Sholto and we decided that a cot, a car seat and various other baby paraphernalia was more important.  Since then this particular image has been given a full page spread in World of Interiors, and shown at the Saatchi Gallery.  All I've got is a postcard, which is propped up against the mirror on my dressing table, a daily reminder of a major mistake.

Then there's the Chanel 2.55, which I should have bought in classic black before they became so stratospherically expensive.  I was never able to justify the investment, and now it's too late:

The Yves Saint Laurent (and when this bag came out, it was Yves Saint Laurent, not Saint Laurent Paris) Mobasa in brown.  It's so chic:

Any one of these Christopher Kane gingham dresses from his Spring Summer 2009 collection, which I forgot to pre-order before I got married and went on my honeymoon.  I just know that the dress would now be a wardrobe staple:

And finally, a collection of Mexico Miracle paintings, which I should have bought when I was in Mexico for the entirety of my last university summer holidays:

There was an exhibition of them at the Wellcome Collection in 2011, which is when I realised that that would look beyond amazing progressing up the stairs in my house.  

The thing is, when I was in Mexico then, I was practically penniless.  Indeed my friend Kim and I had vastly underestimated how much a summer in Mexico and Central America would cost, to the extent that we couldn't actually afford to eat.  (God forbid we skimped on travel, diving or access to Mayan ruins.)  We both came home about two stone lighter.  I can totally recommend it as a diet plan.  

Mexico has been uppermost in my mind again of late, entirely due to the Mexico: A Revolution in Art exhibition at the Royal Academy.  My Grandfather was at the Embassy in Mexico City for a while,  and has written a book concerning the country:  Missions to Mexico,  A Tale of British Diplomacy in the 1820s.  This is a long-winded way of explaining that I went to Mexico with a brimming address book.  And my Grandparents' friends were incredibly kind:  they took me in - and fed me, when I was in Mexico City - and taught me a lot about Mexican art by ensuring that I didn't miss any gallery of any importance, or any murals by Diego Rivera.  

That last is kind of significant.  The exhibition at the RA is perfectly pleasant, but actually not amazing, because it hasn't got any of the murals.  They're all still where they ever were, taking up entire walls in a variety of public buildings, in Mexico.  So, vitally, it's missing works like this:

Diego Rivera, Man, Controller of the Universe.  Originally conceived for the Rockefeller Building in New York, destroyed because of the presence of Lenin, recreated in Mexico City at the Palacio de Bellas Artes.  It's epically huge.

However, they have got some quite nice canvases:

Francisco Goitia, Zacatecas Landscape with Hanged Man, which, minus the corpse, reminds me of the desert around San Miguel de Allende, where I spent a month supposedly learning Spanish.  

Edward Burra, El Paseo.   This reminds me of evenings spent sitting around in town squares in Oaxaca and Palenque and San Cristobal de las Casas, and indeed everywhere else we went.  We made a Coca-Cola last as long as possible and played endless games of gin rummy, because we had nothing else to do - no work, no commitments, no nothing.  It was truly blissful.  And if it weren't for the children, I'd be trying to persuade Kim that we should do it all over again.  Only this time, I'd take enough money to buy some Miracle paintings.

So, if you've ever spent a summer, or indeed any time, in Mexico, and want to go and reminisce - even if it isn't about the things that you failed to purchase - I can totally recommend half an hour at the Royal Academy.  (The exhibition is upstairs, in those attic rooms, so it really won't take long.)  And then you can go to the Summer Exhibition, which is still running, and see paintings which one day you'll regret not buying.  There are already some ceramic pots there that I keep thinking about.  (But ceramics, plus my children . . . . !)

Mexico:  A Revolution in Art is at the Royal Academy on Piccadilly until the 29th September.
Missions To Mexico:  A Tale of British Diplomacy in the 1820s, by Henry McKenzie Johnston, is available to buy on Amazon.  (As is his follow-up, Ottoman and Persian Odysseys, just in case you should find yourself gripped and want to read on.) 

Monday, 12 August 2013

Subterfuge Cushion Shopping

I believe I've mentioned, several times, the excess of cushions in our house.   And I have become exceptionally proficient at hiding any new purchases from my husband:  arranging delivery for when he's out; smuggling them in under the buggy hidden in a Boots carrier bag; stashing them in the children's tent until such a time that he's in a sufficiently good mood not to mind that I accidentally acquired more.

But recently I've found a new way to get them past door control, thus far totally successful, not least due to the beneficially discreet size which enables them to be imported in my handbag.  The trick is to bring them in in scarf format.  Yes, it's true, they're not actually cushions, but they're going to be, just as soon as I get around to backing them, decorating them with tassels or pompoms or both, and finding a suitable cushion pad:

This fabric was originally made in 1930 to celebrate the Soviet aircraft industry, and is currently available to buy, as a silk scarf, from GRAD, the recently opened Gallery for Russian Arts and Design on Little Portland Street.  I love it.  I think it is amazing.  The gallery, when organising the exhibition, got a textile factory to make them up, using the original pattern.  There's also this one:

Originally designed in 1927 to celebrate the 2nd Congress of the Textile Workers.  Again, amazing.  I love the dynamism, the futurism, the very machine-ness of it all.  As the Dada-ist George Grosz notably said "Art is Dead!  Long live the machine art of Tatlin!"  (well, actually, he didn't say it so much as write it on a placard.)

The exhibition at GRAD is not just about textiles.  It's chiefly a collection of early InTourist posters (there was a time, before World War Two, when one was positively encouraged to go and experience the utopian pleasures of Communism) and explores the stylistic differences between them, examining the legacy of artists such as Tatlin and Malevich and all those other greats of the Russian avant-garde.

Henry Milner after Nikolay Zhukov; the amazing thing about about this one is that it was made especially for the exhibition by Henry Milner, who is the son of John Milner, who wrote the book on Tatlin!  (Though I imagine that there is a limited audience who are going to be excited about that fact.)  

Aleksandr Froloff

Aleksandr Zhitomirksy

Maria Nestorova

Nikolay Zhukov

Nikolay Zhukov

It truly was a different age.  It still makes me want to load the children into the car and set off across the Caucasus, though, and doesn't that spa looks lovely?!  I took the Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Ulaan Batuur one summer.  It took days, and all there was to eat was caviar, cucumber and chocolate (actually quite an effective diet, it transpired.) I spent my time reading War and Peace, playing snap in the restaurant car and staring out of the window at the birch trees.  I'd like to do it again, only this time to Vladivostok.  One day . . .

Meanwhile, I've got cushions to make.

All images courtesy of GRAD:  Gallery for Russian Arts and Design and

GRAD, 3-4a Little Portland Street, W1W 7JB

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Spotty Pony Pictures Rock My World

I love going to the cinema.  It's basically a two hour holiday from myself.  And I've got a thing about Pic'n'Mix, and since Woolworths folded the cinema is about the only place one can still buy it. (Aside from motorway service stations, of course.)   I've seen some great films this year, but I would not count Summer in February, which I saw sometime before we went to Wales, as one of them.  It wasn't terrible, exactly, it just wasn't brilliant either, despite Dominic Cooper and Dan Stevens in the two lead male roles, and its being set in Cornwall.  It tells the story of the artist A.J. Munnings's (he of the horses) first wife, Florence Carter-Wood, who was actually in love with the character played by Dan Stevens.  I'm not giving anything away, incidentally, all that is evident from watching the trailer.  While I did learn that Munnings had a dog called Dodger - which is a questionably useful fact to have stored, but you never know, I might find myself able to answer a Trivial Pursuits question about it one day -  I had two major gripes: 1.) I found Florence Carter-Wood immeasurably irritating and 2.) I wish it had focussed just a bit more on Laura Knight.  Dame Laura Knight that is, the first female Royal Academician.

There's an exhibition of Laura Knight's work at the National Portrait Gallery at the moment.  Andrew and I went today.  The Sunday Times critic, Waldemar Januszczuk (his reviews are hilarious.  It's worth buying The Sunday Times just to read them.  And for the Style supplement, obviously) was decidedly critical of her fluctuating style - and it's true, she did seem to try out a few - but I'm fractionally less critical than Januszczuk, and easily swayed by content.  I rate almost anything with a horse in it.

Well, there weren't many horses - just a sketch with a spotty pony (although that is the holy grail of horse paintings in my opinion, all due to Rainbow the wonder pony, my skewbald first love) - but there were plenty of others with subject matter that consistently attracts me.  Paintings of ballerinas from Diaghilev's Ballet Russes.  Paintings of gypsies.  Circus scenes.  An amazing canvas of the Nuremberg Trials.  Etc.

This is a portrait of a model known as Dolly, who featured heavily in the film, Summer In February.  I detect a heavy Scottish colourist influence.

  This is a portrait of a gypsy.  There are paintings of his mother in the exhibition, too.

Love this self-portrait.

Andrew loved all the war ones of women at work.  But notice the completely different style to the portrait of the gypsy and the self-portrait viewing a nude.

There are loads more, obviously.  And I rather wish that there had been loads and loads more, because I love her work, whatever style it is in - they could have had this one, for instance:

Gratuitous spotty pony picture, not in the exhibition.

But I also like her work because I think that she led a fascinating life.  There are diaries that I'd love to read of the three months that she spent covering the Nuremberg Trials, but as ever they're exhibited as a stack of paper, so one can only read the top, which is a bit irritating.  

So in summation, while there are many better films out there than Summer in February, you could do a lot worse in terms of exhibitions than the Laura Knight.  

(I feel I should mention that my sister Alexandra informs me that the book Summer in February is brilliant.  I mainly trust her judgement - certainly when it comes to literature, and always when it comes to health for she is a vet, and should you ever find yourself accidentally in possession of a very cold doormouse she is just the person to ring, though don't ring her to try and persuade her to do pro bono work on ponies you read about in The Daily Mail because I do that the whole time and I think she might be slightly sick of it - so I'm considering downloading it.  Just as soon as I've finished watching the entirety of The White Queen on iPlayer, for I am gripped.)

Laura Knight Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery until the 13th October.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Fantasy Decorating the Imaginary Summer House

So, I've got some sort of summer flu, which sucks.  The closest I can get to achieving an upright position is lying semi-supine in bed, propped up on pillows.  Anything more ambitious provokes the constant headache/ ear popping combination  into reaching a state beyond bearable discomfort.  I've therefore spent most of the past few days watching Wallander (and yet, tragically, still don't speak Swedish) and fantasy decorating my imaginary summer house, which isn't so imaginary that the house itself doesn't exist.   My husband and I accidentally came across it when we were on holiday in Wales.   I fell so in love that it is currently haunting my dreams on a nightly basis - and it's for sale - but it would be a complete gut job, and I fear it might overstretch the budget.

The object (if a house can be an object) of my desire was built in the early years of the twentieth century by someone who had just returned from a tea plantation in Ceylon; I think it's the colonial feel that so attracts me. It takes me back to a time I spent in Ooty, in India's Blue Mountains, and it summons up Jewel in the Crown-like images, and makes me think of the stories that my Grandmother used to tell me about growing up in what is now Pakistan.  And all that from a little house on a Snowdownian hillside, somewhere in North Wales.  I just know that we could be happy there.   It's got a veranda, which is crying out for something like this:

The Bridgeport wicker sofa by Palecek - there are matching chairs, too.

I could lie on it and watch the boats sail in and out of the harbour, for the house has serious views.  Or at least, it will once the various shrubs in the somewhat overgrown garden have received a good trim.

The kitchen is currently a bit dark and poky, the walls are stained and the Aga hasn't worked for about fifteen years (apparently) but it's nothing re-wiring, re-tiling, a lick of paint and a collection of Cornishware can't fix:

The flagstones on the kitchen floor are original, and don't need anything doing to them (elsewhere the carpets need pulling up, and the floorboards probably need restoration, because I would want to have them bare, certainly downstairs) - but the kitchen would also be brightened up with a couple of these SerpentSea mats by Sophie Aschauer.  They are made from up-cycled nautical rope, and I am obsessed:

In the sitting room, which has a door leading onto the veranda and which really only needs re-wiring, re-painting and the gas fire needs removing so that the original fireplace can be reopened, I'd have ordinary sofas covered in natural linen, a couple of antique Planters' Chairs (which would be totally in keeping with the house):

And stacks of these Ian Mankin cushions.  There is something so clean and efficient about ticking.  And of course the Madras stripe works with the whole colonial feel too, though the fabric for these is handwoven in Lancashire mills:

And then on the floor in the sitting room I'd have one of these Indian dhurries, from The Rug Company.  Probably this one:

What's particularly great about everything I've earmarked is that is all very durable, which is essential, as the only way that we can possibly possibly even think about affording our fantasy summer house is if it is let for a good proportion (i.e. nearly all) of the time.  Also, when you've got children running back from the beach, covered in sand, one can't be too precious about interiors.  At least downstairs.  Upstairs is a whole other story, and one that potentially needs a few more hours of quiet contemplation, while watching Wallander.  I should probably do some maths, too, but I've got this horrible feeling that the answer is going to be no - actually, I've got no idea how it could possibly be yes because, aside from anything else, Andrew and I are both freelance - and I don't want to destroy the dream just yet. . . . (for Cornsishware)