Thursday, 30 April 2009

Eyes Wide Open


Settle down in the back there.

Now children, let's take out our pastel-coloured work books, sharpen our HB pencils and write down this equation: 

 + Nostalgic
 + Aesthetically Pleasing
 - Traumatic Childhood Memories
 = Irresistable.

Yes, considering that I had a pretty rotten time at school, it's quite amazing how fascinated I am by educational style. Whether it's re-appraising the outfits that my geography teachers used to wear (beards, tweed jackets and tank tops all seem to be strangely alluring right now), or adopting an Eighties 'preppie' look - there's no doubt that those formative years will always have an influence.

That's never more true than when I come across old school supplies or furniture. I love a blackboard or a wallmap, a primary school frieze or a vintage globe. I dream of modelling a room after a 1940's school gym - filled with leather mats, metal lockers and a sculptural wooden pommel-horse as a centrepiece. 

Science labs are a particularly rich source of goodies. Beakers and test tubes, workbenches and lightboxes - all incredibly stylish, and when we get to the biology department, we find beauties like this:


I found this vintage educational model of an eye at in San Francisco. The handpainting on it is so gorgeous and the object itself so strangely fascinating, that it definitely transcends the classroom. It's a perfect example of the 'accidental art' that I'm always looking for. This is truly a curious (and glorious) eye.


Monday, 27 April 2009

salone del mobile : Sottsass

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I first discovered the work of the Memphis Group when I visited Milan as a student in the mid-Eighties. Of course, that was the golden age of the Memphis Group and Ettore Sottsass was one of the stalwarts of the movement. So, it seems somehow fitting that the last exhibition that I saw at the Salone was 10 Anni Con Sottsass. Sadly, Sottsass died a little more than a year ago, aged 90, and this poignant exhibition commemorated 10 years of collaboration with the Galleria Clio Calvi Rudi Volpi.

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The following quote accompanied the room where these 3 masks were displayed


There are memories and there are 'souvenirs'
A memory is a more or less reliable recollection of something that, good or bad, happened to us; a souvenir is a suggested memory, an invented memory, the reminder of something we may never have seen or something that never happened to us.
Let's imagine that I had never seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa and a friend brought me a souvenir, an alabaster replica of it. He really did see the Tower and I did not. I have a souvenir. Once I was given a souvenir of transparent glass. If I turned it, snow fell on a wooden Alpine hut. It may have come from the Cortina area.
Now there's the Furniture Show and every one's happy because this show is a very serious thing. There are lots of products, primarily kitchens, tables, sofas, beds, and a great many chairs.
But the last time I visited this show I found no souvenir that could help me remember something I had seen or never saw.
So I designed three souvenirs for friends ....

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Good Baby Infant Learning Wall Maps

As you probably know by now, there are certain things that we at The Curious Eye really like. For example, we like exciting colour combinations. We like things that are unexpectedly aesthetic. We like things that are educational. And we really like a bargain.


Imagine my delight then, when I came across these excitingly coloured, aesthetically pleasing, educational bargains in a dollar store in Brooklyn. These Good Baby Infants Learning Wall Maps are made in Korea, and if you have a good baby infant of your own, I highly recommend them.

Not only are they fantastic to look at and touch (the 3-D effect is particularly exciting), they're also full of fascinating facts and observations.

For example:


I had never realised that 'Pear looks like baby' - but, now that it's been brought to my attention, I can totally see it. 



The leopard has got wonderful vein - thank you for pointing that out Good Baby Infant Learning Map!


Best of all is the insect one - it's practically pop art.  Amazing.

Any child growing up with these on their wall is guaranteed to grow up with a highly quirky and vibrant aesthetic (and a full understanding of the insect world).  All for a buck - that's what I call a good investment in a child's future.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Curtains Beautiful


I started writing this post with the sentence:
"I've always loved Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture and furniture" - and then I realised what a redundant statement that was. Of course I love Lloyd-Wright, everyone loves Lloyd-Wright. Without him, our whole understanding of design and decoration would be completely different. It's like saying you love Einstein's theories, or Shakespeare's plays - a no-brainer.

I had no idea that along with revolutionising architecture, designing classic furniture, and basically redefining our whole concept of modern interiors, Lloyd-Wright also designed textiles. I came across these amazing curtains of his at Mark McDonald in Hudson. Designed in the mid-fifties for F.Schumacher, they're like a textile version of his stained glass windows, and incredibly chic. Possibly the ultimate modernist curtains - it's amazing that they've never been re-issued.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Illustrated Book Of The Week -How to Get Strong and How to Stay So


In the immortal words of Olivia Newton-John - "let's get physical (physical)". 

This weeks illustrated book is another selection from the Ellis-Jayne Library of Esoterica. It's a fitness classic from 1883 - William Blaikie's How to Get Strong, and How to Stay So. This was the Jane Fonda's Workout of the era - a best-selling guide to health and fitness. Sadly there are rather less headbands in action - but the magnificent beards definitely make up for that.


Blaikie was one of the first people to popularise the idea of exercise as a path to well being. Common opinion in the nineteenth century held that inactivity was the safest way to avoid illness. People would take 'rest cures' and swore that fresh air would solve most physical problems.


The idea that strength training and physical movement would lead to a healthy body was radical - and Blaikie's beliefs were way ahead of their time. The exercise machines that he recommends do look slightly terrifying - but the principles that he talks about are still widely in practice.


This is just a very scary looking 'abdominiser'. Apparently all those Victorian gents had six-packs under their tailcoats...

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Barn in the USA


I always admire people with a strong personal aesthetic. Whether someone loves 60's mod style or classical simplicity - if they truly get it right, it's always a pleasure to behold.

Of all my friends, I think that Christopher Griffith has the most all-encompassing visual point of view. As a photographer he has a very specific 'eye' - his work pares down everything he shoots to the most powerful graphic, textural shapes - almost to a point of abstraction. This sensibility can be seen in every part of his life. He dresses almost exclusively in black, white and grey. He decorates his home in monochromatic tones, using simple punchy shapes and surface texture to add interest. Everything he surrounds himself with looks like something out of a signature "Christopher Griffith" photograph.

Tempering the hard edges of Christopher's style is his girlfriend's equally refined vision. Rebecca O'Donnell is an amazingly talented art director, whose taste is similarly minimal - but whose love of modernism and simplicity helps to 'warm up' their shared spaces and add a slightly softer, more human touch. She's also a fabulous cook, who manages to even make her food look as beautiful as it tastes (that's the mark of a true art director, isn't it? When even the pies look like something out of a photoshoot)

So, when I was invited to visit their newly built barn in Upstate New York - I pretty much knew what to expect. Graphic lines, beautiful furniture, great food - blah blah blah. Even so, I was extremely impressed.


The space itself is incredible, with insanely high ceilings and the largest living room I think I've ever seen. The vertical and horizontal lines of the exposed beams serve to emphasise the scale of the place, and add the prerequisite graphic touch. Decoration is minimal, but specific - filled with pieces that manage to be both rugged and romantic at the same time.


Most importantly, the way that the barn utilises the natural light is extraordinary. The living rooms four huge windows allow the light to flood in from dawn to dusk, while every corner of the space is softly lit by additional windows. And the light that they benefit from is breathtaking. As you can see from this post's opening picture, the evening light is positively cinematic in its beauty.


As a demonstration of Christopher and Bec's particular aesthetics - the barn is a triumph. A brilliantly realised statement about who they are and what they find beautiful. One of the most inspiring spaces I've been into in many years.


See what I mean about the light? Crazy!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Ahmedabad Adventure : The Artisans


Well now for a bit more about what I have been doing in India. I was invited by the Alliance Francaise of Ahmedabad (they're like the french version of the British Council) to collaborate on a textile project with a group called SEWA. the results are to be exhibited as part of a cultural event to take place in Ahmedabad later this year and then travel to other cities in India. The objective being to promote the work of this NGO.I jumped at the opportunity. I agreed that expenses only would be paid and I would spend 3 weeks working with women embroiderers some of whom live in the villages in the Kutch region. I spent 2 days in their regional center where about 15 women were gathered together, and we worked on some of the ideas I had begun to develop in Ahmedabad. The rest of the 3 weeks were spent in SEWAS production center based in an old textile factory on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.Here are some of those women hard at work. What is interesting is that each village will be specialised in a particular stitch which has been traditionally practised to embellish their clothing. Sewas Aim is to facilitate the earning power of these women through their traditional craft. Many live in remote villages where there is little or no employment . I have tried to use their traditional know how but develop it into new directions. In 3 weeks we have put together a collection of about 30 pieces, including accessories, scarves, clothes, quilts, bags etc.







Monday, 13 April 2009


To mark the last day of Easter this year, we have a very unconventional Easter Bunny for you - another random find from the streets of Williamsburg.


Graffiti used to be made by gangs to mark their turf. Now it is made by artists out of turf. Times, they are a-changin'.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Illustrated Book of the Week - Garden Flowers in Color


Although Garden Flowers in Color was written by G.A.Stevens  in 1933 - it is his printer J.Horace Mcfarland, who is our main focus with this weeks Illustrated Book of the Week.

Mcfarland was an early 20th Century pioneer. One of the first American's to realise the importance of preserving the environment, he was a tireless campaigner, constantly trying to beautify urban spaces and save important areas of natural beauty. 

As a horticulturalist, he is also a seminal figure - founder of the American Rose Society, he invented modern forms of plant identification, while his gardens were internationally famous as testing grounds for new species.

And as if that weren't enough - he was one of the earliest printers of colour photography in America - as far back as 1894 he was producing colour catalogs with horticultural imagery.

Stevens' book is a fantastic example of this colour printing. The saturation and life in the images is incredible, and eighty years later, they jump right off the page.

I particularly like the 'decoupage' style of layout too - the combination of super-bright colours and a slightly naive feel to the way the pictures are displayed make the whole book look completely contemporary. Very similar in feel to the super-fashionable, 'hand-crafted' spreads that designers like M/M Paris are so keen on.





Ahmedabad Adventure : Ramabhai


This is Ramabhai, everyone over here gets a term of endearment added to the end of their name, generaly it's bhai for men and ben for women, which means brother or sister, brother Rama has been looking after me during my visit to the village center where women embroiderers come to work, he is the gate keeper of the centre, and has been generaly making sure I'm ok. When we got up after the first night at the centre he took me out for a walk so the women could get washed in privacy. Of course he doesn't speak a word of English but that doesn't stop him joking around with me . He's made me promise to send a print of the standing photo ! and those sunglasses, yes they're a permanent fixture.


Friday, 10 April 2009

Easter - Joy, Pain and Chocolate


We've already seen how inspiring Fortnum and Mason's Easter eggs are - but, as it's Good Friday, we thought it was time to look at their chocolate animals.

The detailing on them is, of course, exquisite. But what is strange is that the animals seem to be in radically different moods. The bunny is in hysterics, while the bear seems to have missed his daily anti-depressant. It's all a little bi-polar for my liking (and of course, as he's rendered in white chocolate, that would make him a bi-polar Polar Bear).

Maybe it's appropriate for the Easter story. Eat the Bear today in a sombre and contemplative way (to commemorate the crucifixion), and then celebrate the resurrection on Sunday with the Bunny of Joy. 

Yes, I'm sure that's it...

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Ahmedebad Adventure : Romeo and Juliet 2


Here they are again this time with their daughter, and a few more of their amazing creations







Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Ahmedabad Adventure : Romeo and Juliet


Meet Romeo and Juliet, or so they're known as they are never seen apart! They are quilt makers, Pakistani of origin but living in Ahmedabad for many years. I went to their house last week to look at their work, and I was blown away. I was told that he was good but I couldn't imagine how good. These quilts take 6 months to make, and are created alongside the orders that they have for more simple ones. These ones are their own,that they sell from time to time when they have a visit from someone like me. Of course I have bought a few pieces. I was especially lucky to be taken to meet them. Their son and daughter are marrying next week and they said the money would help out with the wedding.






There were so many amazing quilts that I'm splitting them into 2 posts, part 2 will follow soon!

The Storefront for Art and Architecture


I've always loved things that transform. Folding chairs that turn into stepladders, bags that magically become picnic blankets. Tables that double in size with the turn of a hinge. Anything that pivots, folds or concertinas makes me as excited as a kid seeing a rabbit pulled out of a conjurer's hat. 

So I was thrilled to find The Storefront for Art and Architecture open in all its glory in the Manhattan sunshine a few days ago 

I must have walked past the space a hundred times but I've never seen it open before. It's always been one of those intriguing New York mysteries that promises hidden treasures - It doesn't disappoint. 

Open since 1982, its present incarnation has been around since '93 when artist Vito Acconci and architect Steven Holl worked together on the facade. Twelve panels are fully articulated and can pivot vertically and horizontally to suit the interior installation. It's not only versatile, it looks fantastic too - simple geometric planes that interact in a way that would make Le Corbusier proud.





The Storefront for Art and Architecture is at 97 Kenmare Street New York, NY 10012