Click on photos to enlarge.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Stone Pavement Art

The perfect example of paving enhancing the
structure and plant life.
Last fall we had installed a wall. (Sounds like the opening line of a poem, doesn't it?) This fall we're planning a stone sidewalk to coordinate with it and the previous landscaping in order to enhance the curb appeal of our Mid-century Modern, split-foyer home. Just in those few lines I've encapsulated the three primary considerations in domestic landscaping--the materials, the plant-life, and the type and style of the centerpiece of the whole front yard endeavor. (The design considerations differ somewhat for a more informal backyard.)
What a difference a little planning, creativity, and design
expertise makes when supported by a healthy credit card.
(This is not our home, but derives from the same era.)
As with all such design projects over the years, I've done my homework and learned a lot. I'm no landscape architect nor stone mason, but I've learned to speak their language well enough to express my own design ideas and coordinate with the professionals. I've learned when to nod and when to say "no." In doing so, I like to think I'm more likely to get my money's worth, keeping in mind that materials and labor are often at odds. I'm suddenly reminded of the old joke--everyone knows who designed the Sistine Chapel ceiling but no one remembers who designed the floor. (It was the Cosmati family.)
The National Theatre D. Maria II, Rossio Square,
in the center of Lisbon, Portugal.
Stone pavements go back in history to a time when ancient rulers got tired of muddy or dusty feet (probably the Greeks and Egyptians). However such pavements also got muddy and dusty themselves, to the point they sometimes all but disappeared. The Romans solved this problem by making them beautiful, and thus more likely to be swept clean from time to time. Still today we can admire the classic beauty of Roman mosaics in Pompeii and elsewhere. From Rome, paved roads spread far and wide across the empire and with them the paver's art. Portugal (also Brazil), for instance, is famed for its vast plazas and swirling stone pavements (above).

In that bricks come in just about every size and shape (even stone-shaped), any of these designs should fall well within the expertise of most do-it-yourselfers. Fan patterns are the most difficult, quarry-tile style the simplest. (Leave the bottom row to the experts.)
In discussing paved surfaces, front yard on in back, I'm well aware that bricks have their advantages as to cost, simplicity, and low labor costs. They're also often monotonous in use and barely one step up from plain old concrete. Some people like them. I'm not one of them. I do sometimes find them attractive when used with stone, gravel, or grass. That brings us to the subject of materials. I should add to the list above wood, terrazzo, and various mosaic materials, though they're relatively uncommon as outside paving (They don't stand up well to weathering.)

Colored cement adds a little pizzazz to the project.
The mold tessellates on all four sides.
I should also add at this point, for the sake of the budget conscious, there is an inexpensive alternative to the more costly brick and stone. It's not particularly creative and goes by various names, but I'll call it interlocking molded concrete (above). If you like to play in mud, a few bags of Quikrete and a $35 mold, maybe some sand for a flat base, and you're in the faux stone sidewalk business. Alas, no one would ever mistake it for stone.

Keep in mind, the more texture, the harder it's going to be to sweep or shovel away snow. Smooth textures may be slick in winter. If mixing stone types, avoid differing thickness (they shift over time and become toe-stubbers).
If you're considering a stone walkway (the term sidewalk is too mundane), the first step is to collect as many samples as possible (above), being careful to note with a marker on the back the source and the price per square foot (or yard, or meter). Then take them outside and experiment. Lay them out, creating your own tentative walkway. Discard those you don't like or can't afford, keeping in mind which ones would likely entail the most cost of installation.

How hard are you going to make your stone mason work?
An oriental theme pavement
with LED lighting imbedded
in the "path."
At this point, you have some really big decisions to make. Natural (irregular, above); or fancy design motifs (below)? Geometric or freeform? Mixed media or perhaps a combination of grass and stone. From here on it's a matter of costs, taste, imagination, and daring. Do you want to hear, "how nice," or "WOW!" (left).Be care-ful your paving project doesn't end up costing more than your house. Likewise, something "too radical" may turn off a potential buyer years from now. What you decide at this point will literally be "etched in stone."

With these, you need an artist, not just a stone mason.
You know how much an artist charges?
With those decisions made and a plan forming in the back of your mind (if not yet on paper), it's time to absorb other considerations. What about lighting? You don't want guests stumbling around in the dark and landing in your prize rosebush. How much paving do you want...just a pleasant path to the front door or the whole damned driveway (which demands thicker stone up to 40mm)? I mentioned earlier a combination of stone and grass (below) which offers a pleasant, but firm, base for outdoor furniture, entertaining, and dining. But then again, what's the point of putting in a patio if you still have to mow the grass once a week.

                                              A safe, well-lit path
                                               is an inviting path.

Cobblestones are no fun to walk upon.
And finally, one last consideration which I alluded to earlier. All the plants and paving in the world are not going to add one dime to the value of your home if they don't complement the dwelling. In fact, highly personal outdoor design elements could actually detract from the curb appeal and result in lowering the property's value. The Wright-like home below is perfectly dressed for success with its wooden "bridge" and starkly rectilinear landscaping. Imagine what it would be with the roughshod mixed-media that also enhances the garden cottage (top).

Inviting, yet tastefully reserved.
Short of ideas? Get out your magnifying glass.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Toy Boats (for billionaires)

The Epiphany, said to be the most expensive private yacht in the world (a claim shared with at least half a dozen other floating palaces). Though still under construction the "guesstimated" price comes in at about 500,000,000. That's British pounds sterling, by the way, not dollars.
About once a month I like to write about architects and their art. Sometimes the emphasis is on the artist, sometimes on their art, which is often the case in other artistic endeavors as well, depending upon which is the more interesting or enlightening. However, one area of architecture I've never written about is that of marine architects. The last time I wrote about private yachts was about three years ago when I highlighted what I termed Yacht Ott,--paintings done of these millionaires' toys rather than the toys themselves. Here I'm not talking about recounting the history of, or evolution of, ship design. That form of marine architecture, in any case, is more science than art, though some of the mega-vessel cruise ships now being designed and built come very close to being works of art themselves, quite apart from their intended economic purpose of allowing passengers to eat, drink, and gamble 24-7.
The 425-foot-long Epiphany boasts an extravagant design and is estimated to require about five years for construction. The completion date is set for 2020.
There's an old saying my mother (and my wife) have long muttered in reference to me: "The only difference in men and boys is the price of their toys." That surely would apply to the boats boys and men like to play with. A boy's toy boat can be purchased for as little as a dollar (at the right marina gift shop), while a toy boat for the young boy's wealthy father can go for upwards to a billion dollars, literally with all the bells and whistles.Notwithstanding the fact that such exorbitant prices may be inflated somewhat for the sake of bragging rights, that's still a lot of green to grope just to float your boat.
Zaha Hadid's superyacht of the future. The 420-foot design is meant to evoke a “natural aesthetic” influenced by the sea’s underwater environment.
Big boys' boats (better known as motor yachts) have changed a lot over just the past fifty years. And inasmuch as such ships (most are too big to be accurately termed boats) tend to be built quite sturdily, it's not unusual to see in major marinas in the temperate belt around the earth, steel and wood motorized sailing yachts from the 1920s moored next to gleaming white yachts looking more like spacecraft than seagoing vessels. Today, in fact, we have numerous European car companies lending their names and design skills to the business of building such exotic crafts. Not surprisingly, some of their designs look very much like automobiles. Whereas there used to be a standard design formula for motor yachts harkening back to the days of wind power--a white hull, a teak promenade deck, topped with a varnished wood superstructure. Not today. In fact it would seem that there is no standard formula other than sleek and slippery.
Take your pick, small, medium, or large.
Not only do today's motor yachts come in dozens of shapes, they also come in a similar number of sizes, as seen in Oceanport's small, medium, and large models (above). And that's just the tip of the...(oops, we never use the "I" word in talking about ships). Actually, sizes range from less than fifty feet in length up to the neighborhood of five-hundred. After that you're in the range of renovated cruise ships.
The History Supreme also boasts as being the most expensive superyacht coming in at a cool billion, though in fact, that figure has more to do with the extravagant fittings and décor than the ship itself.
As an indication of just how far motor yacht design has come in just the last decade or two, take a look at the Dubai, built just over ten years ago (below). At 524 feet, the Dubai is the yachting equivalent of its namesake city. It's owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Emirate of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates. It's the third largest private yacht in the world and comes with seven gorgeous decks, along with a small submarine to view the marine life below.

The Dubai dates from 2005.
Now compare the design of the Dubai with the MADPAC Star, (below). The design is so radical that the first question which comes to mind might be, "what is it?" The Star is 433 feet long and an amazing 200 feet high. The ship's name and shape were inspired directly from the stars, according to its designer, Ignor Lobanov: “The profile of the yacht makes a perfect star when reflected in the water.” The vessel was created in collaboration with BMT Group and Alex Malybaev. Their goal was to redefine luxury yachts. The Star has been developed as a private yacht, but could also be the world’s most exclusive floating hotel, as it can host up to 200 day guests and 36 overnight guests. The Star also has a helipad, an underwater viewing deck, and four elevators providing access to the boat's eight decks.

The MADPAC Star.
The incredible vessel has been designed with a maximum speed of 18 knots and over 37,600 square feet of luxury interior space. The top deck of the yacht will also have a range of visibility of over 20 kilometers offering incredible views. According to Lobanov, the Star’s innovative technical developments include a symmetrical fore and aft double ended hull form, with all electric architecture and fully azimuthing propulsion. The Star will have a feature allowing it to rotate easily without the constraints of traditional anchors.

The MADPAC Star, designed today for tomorrow.
The Star is a tangible view of a 21st-century interpretation of art and science, an era where technology makes the delivery of bolder designs possible for clients who are adventurous and innovators who deem virtually anything as truly possible. This remarkable concept will not come cheap. The lavish superyacht will cost around €400-million, or about $500-million.

Just when you thought you’d seen it all as to the world
of yachts, Yacht Island Design has introduced the
immaculate Streets of Monaco superyacht.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Lisa Ober

Bob and Dog, Lisa Ober--a moment of warmth and love.
(Yes, it's a painting.)
Having dipped my brushes into tromp l'oeil (fool the eye) still-life painting from time to time over the years, I've developed a weakness for such work. If done well, they catch my eye virtually every time I encounter such work. Lisa Ober is one such example. She not only paints microscopically well, she has a knack for choosing her still-life objects instinctively in such a manner as they complement her style and skills. The still-life paintings that first caught (and held) my eye are the ones I've labeled "Painted Paint" (below). Each one could probably do with a hand-printed tag bearing the words: "wet paint." And yet...and yet Lisa Ober considers herself first and foremost a portrait artist as seen in her Bob and Dog (top). Obviously from a photo, I love the spontaneity of the moment she has captured ;with such natural lighting, color, and composition.

If it's true that an artist should paint that which is most familiar to them, then Lisa Ober certainly does.
In looking over Lisa's portrait portfolio, it's impressive, with moments of brilliance. But, having said that, for the most part they are no better or worse than hundreds of other professional portrait artist with whom she undoubtedly competes. I am, of course, well aware of the reasoning behind Lisa Ober's emphasis on promoting her portrait talents over her much more exciting still-lifes. Artists, not unlike those of many other professions, follow the money. And while portraiture is not the easiest of arts to master, having once done so, it becomes "easy money," especially after the first several dozen satisfied clients. Still-lifes, even those as masterful as Lisa Ober's are, to coin a phrase, hard as hell to sell.
Lisa Ober's OA Gallery, Kirkwood, Missouri

It helps that Lisa Ober owns her own art gallery, the OA Gallery (above) in Kirkwood, Missouri, (a western suburb of St. Louis just inside the I-270 outer belt). It's fortunate that Lisa also paints animals (mostly dogs), show-stopping still-lifes, and the occasional landscape or seascape. Her portraits don't hang around long after completion and thus her cleverly titled still-lifes (I cracked up when I saw the one she called Tromp l'Oil) serve to cover her gallery walls.

I Promise Transparency,
Lisa Ober
Talented, hard working, and smart, the all-important requirements for managing an art gallery and an art career.
Having a Screw Loose, Lisa Ober
A Missouri native, born and raised in St. Louis, Lisa began painting portraits in 1983 while working on her BFA in Gra-phic Design and Illustration at Washington University. She had originally intended to pursue a career in commercial illustration, but by 1987 her growing list of clients and her enthusiasm for painting peo-ple led her to "quit her day job" and pursue a full time career as a portrait artist instead. It was a smart move. Lisa has since enjoyed consistent pri-vate and corporate commis-sions including paintings of major league sports figures, noted religious figures, United States Supreme Court Just-ices, corporate executives, government officials, and private individuals. She has also il-lustrated several books. Her work resides in private and institutional collections across the U.S. and abroad.

I would venture a guess that Lisa has a sweet tooth.

A portrait artist has to love people, love painting, and most of all love painting people. Those words perfectly describe Lisa Ober. Add to that the many hats she wears as an artist, mentor, workshop teacher, gallery owner, marketer, sales person, social media court jester, graphic designer, web designer, photo editor, and computer tech. On top of that there's the attention to spouse and kids, friends and family, and much of the gallery work. It's not a job for the weak-willed or lazy.
A still-life commission by Lisa Ober. Yes, people do commission still-lifes.
Easter, Lisa Ober
Lisa Ober has been described as a painting ping-pong ball. She continually bounces between portraits and still-life painting, teaching workshops, and owning one of the best representational fine art galleries in the St. Louis area. She describes her husband of 24 years as a ridiculously understanding guy. They are parents to two college students. Though Lisa loves painting, she also loves to meet artists, inspire students of all ages, talk their heads off, and eat like a man. As a true multitasker (or perhaps, someone who can’t focus), Lisa has been known to do all of the above at one time. She typically paints between the hours of 9pm and 5am to the sounds of hard rock and heavy metal music or geeky sci-fi shows in re-runs. She laughs so often that you wonder what she knows that others don't. Nevertheless, Lisa Ober is serious about her career. She thinks God is cool and has loaded upon her many undeserved opportunities.

Oddball, Lisa Ober

We once had a sheltie who
looked very much like his.


Monday, August 21, 2017

Carl Larsson

Christmas Eve, 1904–05, Carl Larsson
My work has often been compared to that of Norman Rockwell. I'm flattered, I suppose, but I'm also tired of hearing such shallow comparisons. In retribution, I've looked up the artists who Rockwell has cited as having influenced him, painters and illustrators such as Howard Pyle, J.C. Leyendecker, N.C. Wyeth, and Maxfield Parrish. I like the work of each of these artists but Wyeth and Parrish are the only two I ever paid much attention to. Like Rockwell, these men would be considered by most to be primarily illustrators (doing work for publication) than what we've come to call "fine" artists as in those painting on canvas and collected mostly by museums.
Could these not easily pass for the work of Norman Rockwell?
Moreover, in each case the professional distinction has become something of a moot point in that they all have work in museums around the world, and there paintings are no more likely to be published as prints than those of any other famous artist. One other name I'd like to add to the list of those who influenced Rockwell would be that of the Swedish painter, Carl Larsson. That's based solely on the style of their work (above) which, though not identical at all times, is remarkably similar. Yet, even at that, Larsson is much more linear than was Rockwell once his style had matured. As seen in Larsson's Christmas Eve (top) from 1904, and his Cray Fishing with the Family (below) from 1896 (two years after Rockwell's birth) even the spirit of their work is quite similar. Larsson was born in 1853, making him a full generation older than the American painter. Larsson died in 1917, about the time Rockwell was just getting started. Also he lived and worked his entire life in Stockholm, so it's highly doubtful Rockwell even knew of him, much less felt any influence from the much older artist.
Cray Fishing with the Family, 1896, Carl Larsson
Living and growing up in the latter years of the 19th-century was not easy, especially in small European countries like Sweden, and doubly difficult in a one-parent family. Carl Larsson's father was an alcoholic, to mention just one of his vices, and perhaps a lesser one at that. When Carl and his brother, Johan, were still small children, their father literally put them and their mother out on the sidewalk. Eventually they landed in what amounted to a tenement hell-hole in which as many as three other families were housed in the same room. As a rule, each room was rife with penury and filth. Vice thrived leisurely there seething and smoldering, among rotting, eaten-away bodies and souls. Such an environment is the natural breeding ground for cholera.
Larsson rose from extreme poverty solely as the
result of his artistic talents.
At the age of thirteen, his teacher at the school for poor children urged the young boy to apply to the "principskola" (principle school) of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts. He was admitted. During his first years there, Larsson battled feelings of social inferiority, confusion, and profound shyness. However, In 1869, at the age of sixteen, Larsson was promoted to the "antique school" of the same academy. There he gained confidence. He even became a central figure in student life while earning his first medal in nude drawing. In the meantime, Larsson worked as a caricaturist for the humor paper Kasper and as a graphic artist for the newspaper Ny Illustrerad Tidning (New Illustrated Newspaper). His earnings were sufficient to allow him to help support his mother financially.
Larsson's studio was typical of artists' turn of the century workplaces.
After several years working as an illustrator of books, magazines, and newspapers, Larsson moved to Paris in 1877. There he spent several frustrating years as a hardworking artist with little or no success. Larsson resisted establishing contact with the progressive French Impressionists, cutting himself off from what he considered a radical movement of change for the sake of change. After spending two summers in Barbizon, the refuge of the plein-air painters, he met a fellow student named Karin Bergöö, who subsequently became his wife and the turning point in his life. She led him to paint in watercolors, which altered his style completely, leading to the more linear, illustrative works seen above and below.
The Larsson family bungalow, still owned by the family but now a museum featuring their father's work.
A studio Idyll, 1884-85, Carl
Larsson, the artist's wife with
their first child, Suzanne.
Between 1884 and 1900 Karin and Carl had eight children, (two of whom died in child-hood). His family became his favorite models. His son, Esbjorn (seen earlier) was their youngest. Fortunately, in 1888, Karin's fath-er gave the family a small house In Sunborn, which they, named Little Hyttnäs. The artistic couple decorated and furnished this house according to their particular artistic taste as well as the needs of the growing family. In later years, Larsson suf-fered from bouts of depression. While work-ing on a large mural titled Midvinterblot (Midwinter Sacrifice) for the vestibule of the National Museum, Larsson experienced the onset of an eye problem and a worsening of his frequent headaches. Nonetheless he continued working on what is today con-sidered his masterpiece (below). After suf-fering a mild stroke in Janu-ary 1919, Lars-son spent his remaining time completing his memoirs. He died later that same month.

The painting depicts a legend from Norse mythology in which the Swedish king Domalde was sacrificed in order to avert a famine. After a long controversy it was rejected by the museum. But the debate resurfaced again in the late 20th century, after which it was finally honored with the place where Carl Larsson intended it to be.

Brita and Me,
Carl Larsson


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Briton Riviere

 Giants at Play, 1882, Briton Riviere
Naughty Boy, Briton Riviere.
In that the child appears to
be a girl, I assume the title
refers to the dog.
Very few artists have ever ended their careers having never painted at least one dog. I've probably done a dozen or two myself, which I won't post here in that I have far more fascinating paintings by the British painter Briton Riviere to highlight here and now (click on my website banner at the bottom if you're that interested). I've grown particularly adept at painting canines and their rambunctious offspring, which is to say you can usually tell most of mine from cats (probably the only animal I've painted more often than dogs). Inasmuch as I paint almost solely from photos, I can experiment all I like with poses and fidgety subject manner. I have, however, taught some of my junior high students the tricks of drawing animals from life, including dogs and cats, of course, but also rabbits, piglets, ponies, lambs, one or two other species.

Apollo Playing the Lute, Briton Riviere
Briton, Riviera, 1880,  by Philip
Hermogenes Calderon.
Briton Riviere did not start out to become a dog painter. Few artists do. He was born in London in 1840. His father and uncle were also artists, his father a university drawing master, while his uncle, Henry Parsons Riviere, was a watercolorist. One of Briton's sons, Hugh Goldwin Riviere became a portrait painter. Briton was educated at Chel-tenham College and Oxford, where he earned his degree in 1867. For his art training he was indebted almost entirely to his father. An exhibition Riviere's first paintings appeared at the British In-stitution, then in 1857 he exhibited three works at the Royal Academy. But it was not until 1863 that he became a regular contributor to the Academy exhibitions.

Una and the Lion, Briton Riviere
Aphrodite, 1902, Briton Riviere
Although quite competent as a painter of history and mythological subjects such as his Una and the Lion (above) and his work titled Aphrodite (right), from 1902, Riviere discovered he liked painting animals more than portraits. As Una and the Lion demonstrates, he had a knack for it. He especially loved painting lions. Actually, he propped up the carcass of one in his studio to serve as a model. At a time when other artists were also developing a knack for painting from photos, Riviere resisted the trend and worked from live (or dead) models exclusively. This affection for the king of beast can also be seen in the two biblical versions of Daniel in the Lion Den (below).

Riviere familiarized himself with his animal subject matter to the point of dissecting them much as did Leonardo centuries earlier.
I suppose the lion propped up in the corner of his studio began to smell bad after a few weeks. Riviere began to branch off into more domestic animals. One might guess that more than one of the geese seen below may have met the same fate as the lion. I can't imagine his drawing or painting them from life as seen in his An Anxious Moment (below). The title is somewhat ambivalent as to the cause of such avian anxiety, but one might guess Riviere's wife and seven children frequently had roast goose during the time the painting was under way.

An Anxious Moment, 1878, Briton Riviere

Very many of Riviere's paintings are undated so it would be unwise to assume that he went from lions to geese to dogs in some kind of orderly chronological progression. His discourse on drawing live animals, whatever the species, is as interesting as it is enlightening:
 "I have always been a great lover of dogs but I have worked at them so much that I've grown tired of having them about me. However, you can never paint a dog unless you are fond of it. I never work from a dog without the assistance of a man who is well acquainted with animals. Collies, I think, are the most restless dogs. Greyhounds are also very restless, and so are fox terriers. The only way to paint wild animals is to gradually accumulate a large number of studies and a great knowledge of the animal itself, before you can paint its picture. I paint from dead animals as well as from live ones. I have had the body of a fine lioness in my studio. I have also done a great deal of work in the dissecting rooms at the Zoological Gardens from time to time."

I can't disagree with any of that but I should add that cats are easier to draw from life than dogs with most domestic animals falling somewhere in between. (Cats take naps...dogs, not so much.) I always put the animal on a short leash atop a folded towel, on a tabletop, with someone holding the leash and petting or calming the animal. The room should be as quiet as possible. Then I instructed my students to draw small sketches starting in the upper left corner of their paper. If (when) the animal moves, they were to start over each time until the model returns to a position similar to an earlier sketch, at which time they should return to the earlier effort and hopefully complete at leas one good drawing. To some extent, though, the artist is at the mercy of his or her model.
Painted animals are always more captivating when interacting with humans, but beware of injecting too much sentimentality into the work. Victorian artists very sometimes did, and have been often criticized for doing so. 

Sympathy, Briton Riviere.
Too sentimental?