14 Apr 2017

Mechanical Animals

The art of Edouard Martinet celebrates the union between animal and metal, between the natural environment and the manufactured one, two worlds that ordinarily sit at odds next to each other. Yet in successfully bringing them together, Edouard demonstrates the loving nature of such an incongru relationship. His art brings two worlds apart together; and those opposites attract - and charmingly distract the viewers, with a little steampunk quirkiness for some of them.

The iron-clad animals neither have a heart of glass nor a mind of metal! They use a little poetic licence to soften the metal that inhabits them, give it soul and emotion, imbued with the fragility of life as it stands, a heartbeat away, a flutter away.

The French artist is equally inspired by nature's creatures as he is by parts from bicycles, motorcycles and automobiles from an era where elegance was fluent in design. Martinet is a visionary master magpie, who painstakingly collects and selects parts, restores them, upcycles them into a clever assemblage that mimics the natural world, the visual interpretation of a buoyant mind.

It wasn't long before the not-so-crazy professor had caught the eye of the talent chasers over at Colossal. When such thing happens, you know as an artist that you are striking gold out of the confidential into the mainstream, and the publicity will warrant a certain level of celebrity status and attract 'the bigger guns' - eventually.

Of note is the fact that these mechanical animals proudly wear badges of long-gone French brands prominently displayed, a delight of curves and cursives, appliqué embellished typefaces that resemble signatures. The creatures wear them like they would their heart, on their sleeves or on the collar, and this really is monsieur Martinet's craftsman's tradesmark. Brands like Koehler Escoffier, Monet & Goyon, Luxor, Lorette, Mobylette, Phares Besnard, brands that sing like the birds and bugs who wear them.

Source: (1-8) Photography via Edouard Martinet, except for (3) 'Sardine' (detail) and (5) 'Big Crapeau', both via Colossal.

28 Mar 2017

American Palazzo: Ornate Fragments of Faded Corsica

In the Cape area of Corsica where I reside are little architectural gems that stand tall and proud: Maisons d'Américains, plantation-style American palazzi built during the second half of the 19th century by Corsican Cape landowners who had emigrated to the Americas (specifically to Alabama, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Mexico and Venezuela). Under the Real Cédula de Gracias, an immigration-based settlement Decree promulgated in 1815 by the Spanish Crown and aimed at keeping its New World territories pacified, trade incentives were offered alongside free land and fast-track settlement and naturalization process to eligible applicants. Corsican landowners like my ancestors took advantage of the Royal Decree of Graces to emigrate to the New World. Colonists set up sugar cane and coffee plantations, but some ventured into the lucrative gold mining industry. Dedication and hard graft rewarded them in the short space of one generation (25 years) with the proverbial fortune, the American Dream come true!

This maison d'Américains is our case-study house!

The Americans (as they would be referred to) returned to Corsica to flaunt their newly-acquired wealth and elevated status in society. They had opulent and prominent - slightly ostentatious - stone houses erected, in that nouveau riche style which redefined modern living expectations for the rest of the populace. Comfort by way of spacious room lay-out with tall ornate ceilings, long and wide corridors, sweeping stone staircases that resembled a sweep train dress, large windows flanked by wooden persiennes (louvred shutters) to filter in light and keep away the sun, and above all a refined, uncompromising neo-classical architecture with Toscan and Caribbean influences, that set new standards of living. It incorporated marble cladding, wall panelling, colonnades, rosaces, cornices, rotundas, porches, loggias and imposing balconies over 360° vistas. Not to mention the luxury of modern convenience: running water, cast-iron stoves, bathrooms, and a marked desire for further domestic innovations (electricity and telephone). There are approximately 140 maisons d'Américains in northern Corsica.

The villa palazzo in Erbalunga embodies the archetypal colonial retreat. (pict source)

The landscaped grounds of such properties featured belvederes, outbuildings (stables), dovecotes, gazebos, fountains, basins, panoramic terraces, urn planters, ornamental trees and shrubbery with a lush exotic inclination. In any way, the ornamental garden was a marked move away from the traditional Corsican working garden organised around efficiency (fruit and vegetables).

Palazzo Altieri a.k.a. Villa Henri, Bastia

Those fairytale manor houses were meant to recreate an enchanted colonial lifestyle. Yet the way these properties met their fate was a mixed bag after WWII, in disenchanted ways mostly, bar for the odd estate that had remained unspoilt by the vagaries of fashion fads, progress and changing fortunes, still bringing to this day delight to those fortunate enough to tread its threshold.

Château Stopielle, a bijou of a place, protected by two (Napoleonic?) eagles.

Yet the majority of maisons d'Américains have had the misfortune to be reinvented distastefully, by impoverished owners, whimsical idealists with more money than sense, unscrupulous property developers chasing the quick buck, neophyte interior designers who got their styles and budgets mixed up, self-appointed architects who bit more than they could chew, and the despicable curse of the cowboy builder who looted the riches and wrecked the dream, with the catastrophic consequences that such a potent combination of flawed talent entails: botched cosmetic surgery at 'best', deadly open-heart surgery at worst!

Some American properties like our case-study house (cf. top picture) have met an unfortunate and deadly demise called indivision, which plagues many a property, big or small in Corsica. A number of disagreeing/ divided heirs scattered around Corsica, France or the wider world fail to reach an agreement over the fate of a property which they each inherit in part. More often than not, such a property with multiple owners ends up in limbo, falling into disarray, i.e. decay. Let's not blame decay on the ravages of time for looters, professional or otherwise, are the main culprits. This is exactly what happened here. The mansion was eventually boarded up, albeit too late: more than 30 years after being abandonned. Plenty of time for looters (namely builders, architectural salvage dealers, antiques dealers, and private individuals) to mercilessly dismantle it down to the husk of its bare walls. The walls may be bare and the rooms empty but from the outside, you can make out that the ceilings are everything but bare, tantalising us with what once was. This revelation is a delightful and bittersweet insight.

The big reveal, observable with the naked eye from outside!
The ceiling through one of the south-facing windows on the first floor is shrouded in guipure.

And how exquisitely ornate the ceilings are! A welcome burst of colour, freshness and originality that breaks down the solemn, almost sinister-looking environs. As crept out as I felt, all by myself with only Tickle (my Jack Russell) as bodyguard and unlikely ghostbuster, I still relished on those glimpses of civilised, domestic, rural bourgeoisie bliss that my lens clumsily captured from afar. May I be forgiven for imagining a Balzac damsel in distress waving from one of the gaping windows. But no Rastignac shall dash to her rescue, I'm afraid.

Trompe l'oeil painted ceiling, Erbalunga, 2009 (pict source)

In Corsican society, painted ceilings were a status symbol, a tangible sign of social advancement and financial achievement, in other words material prosperity. As a rule of thumb, the more ornate the ceiling, the more coins in the coffers... Built in the early 1860s, our case-study house has additional kudos; in 1869, Empress Eugénie (the wife of Emperor Napoléon III) stayed over for the night!

'L'Impératrice Eugénie entourée de ses dames d'honneur au Palais de Fontainebleau', by Franz Xavier Winterhalter, 1855 © Photo RMN-Grand Palais, Domaine de Compiègne/ Daniel Arnaudet
ibid, (detail of Eugénie) © Photo RMN-Grand Palais, Domaine de Compiègne/ Daniel Arnaudet

Here is how the story unfolds. Empress Eugénie's ship was returning from the Suez Canal opening ceremony and got caught in a storm. It took shelter in a safe harbour off the northern Corsican coast. The Empress disembarked upon the recommendation of one member of the crew who originated from the village off the harbour. Along she went (up what is now referred to as the Chemin de l'Impératrice) on an impromptu visit to the village and met its inhabitants (including my great great grand parents), all gathered to welcome her. The Empress was so touched by the warm welcome that she bestowed the village church a magnificent white and pink Carrara marble balustrade, for which she would receive undying gratitude and appreciation.

Our ceiling bird of Paradise as he appears through the window.
I flipped him over for a better appreciation of his plumage!

Now let's take a look at my close-ups. I have pushed the capabilities of my Sony digital camera (not a DSLR although I mean to purchase one) as far as they can accompany me in photographic prowess by wide and large. The limited capabilities have been tested to the limit here, hence do pardon the mediocre result. We manage nonetheless to work out the rough lines of the meticulous ceiling decor, albeit in a truncated fashion since the photos were taken from outside. A peek of note: vignettes featuring exotic birds (a magnificent bird of Paradise which I originally mistook for a parrot, see above) and floral fronds that celebrate the promised land of The Americas. We note scalloped medallions that may be holding a monogram or insignia, but which the blurred photographic renderings make it impossible to decipher. We have ceiling roses and trompe-l'oeil stucco motifs that recreate 3D frescoes.

My heart breaks for this house. I have witnessed its long, steady and unrelentless demise in my 40-plus years of visiting the family village in Corsica. I have only trespassed its grounds twice (and felt terribly bad every time!): a few days ago for a few snatched photographic moments, and six years prior, on my mum's insistence. We had ventured beyond the gardens and tiptoed into the vacant, door-less property, witnessing its pitiful state. Curiosity got the better off my mum as she dragged me upstairs but I could not go beyond the top of the staircase to the first floor. I felt a malaise that crippled me to the point of fretting. It was as if I could feel the pain of the place standing in its graceful desolation, its mute, interiorised sorrow and bitter abandonment. I felt like we didn't belong there, that we were intruding upon a forced introspection. I dashed down the stairs and ran outside. I left the house but I felt the house in me, an odd feeling that has never quite left me.

My grandma remembered the house when it used to be lived in, happy, vibrant and ordained, in its elegant demeanour, with its prim and proper wooden shutters, painted green, its charming picket gate and well-kept grounds. Now it stands orphaned, wrecked and dishevelled. The grapevine regularly delivers news of the house being saved and redeveloped, magically bouncing back into life thanks to some mysterious samaritan, whoever they might be. Like Sleeping Beauty waiting for her prince, I am enclined to believe that fairytales have a way to materialise when - and only when - we put our heart and soul into it. And fairy godmothers busy themselves around like pollinators, sprinkling the magic pollen - financial magic that is - to make dreams happen. May the grand dame be resurrected into life for it needs - and so deserves - its happy ever after!

Further Reading:
  • [French article] Built in 1875, Château Stopielle is one of the most ravishing palazzi that is and which I had the privilege to visit nearly 5 years ago. The exuberantly-decorated family home is for sale and a local governmental agency is raising funds in order to purchase it so as to preserve the coveted estate's invaluable history which is testament to the socio-economical history of the Cape area of the island.
  • Corsican Interiors and Exteriors by Mirabelle, is an introduction to Corsican living, with a brief reference to the American palazzi.
  • From Home to Rubble in Sixty Years, a two-part article I wrote on my sister blog La Baguette Magique in 2011. A first-hand insight into the ravages of indivision and the organised pillage of older properties, as witnessed through the pillage of a house... which my family owns.

12 Mar 2017

Literary Classics by The Folio Society

The old adage, 'Don't judge a book by its cover', is a cracking old chesnut - especially when aimed at... books! We understand it unwise to base an opinion upon the look of a book alone, and by extension to everything and everyone we come into contact with in life. As much as we are trying to underplay this though, poor artwork does no justice to a good story whatsoever!

A novel, a political treatise, or a poem anthology, for example, might not command the imperious need for illustration per se, yet a little visual wouldn't go amiss. We would expect a few lithographs or photographs for a cookbook, travel guide or garden book - as essential descriptive triggers that entice you to turn your hand to a recipe, visualise a place or identify a particular plant - yet in my life I have come across books within those disciplines that were devoid of such illustrative artefacts. A big let down!

Overall, books with any sort of visual appeal (binding, jacket, slipcase, illustrations, endpapers, etc.) are bound to be more eye-catching and engaging than those that puritanically resemble an austere brick on the outside, and open up to an uninterrupted flow of words, cover to cover, without much as a blank page or typographical embellishment to punctuate - lighten up - the flow. War & Peace, anyone?!

Inveterate book worms might shrug this off as a bout of coquettishness, superficiality or distraction on my part. But bear with me on this one; our modern times are so infused with visual stimulus that we find it hard to imagine a book without the seeming artifice of decor. Artifice, come again! If you come across a book you know nothing about, your first opinion will be subjectively based upon its looks. To the design-conscious and those in touch with their feminine side, the book cover is an appetizer, the first encounter, the deal breaker as to whether or not they will wish to find out more about the book, grab it, leaf through it and purchase it... or leave it behind on the shelf and walk away.

A book makes more sense when it is illustrated. It makes it whole; it personifies it and makes it come to life. Of course disaster may strike there too: you do get those books with great word content, marred by a disappointingly poor set of images - I have encountered those in spades! Not helping the final purchasing decision, unless you can just blank them out and concentrate on words alone.

As a niche upmarket publishing company that respects both authors and readers in their expectations, with collector appeal and hence no compromise over quality of detail and creativity, The Folio Society (est. 1947) understands that literary classics deserve impeccable styling. The house delivers "carefully crafted editions of the world’s finest literature". There you are welcomed by creativity across the board and books that are anything but bland, cheap and predictable. Literature is praised and embraced as an art, where it feels special once again. A nice observation to be had when Amazon's mass-consumerism is pretty much crushing out the last gasps of what a great book should be looking like: fine and regal! A beautiful book makes for a beautiful read.

"We believe that great books deserve to be presented in a form worthy of their contents. For nearly 70 years we have celebrated the unique joy to be derived from owning, holding and reading a beautiful printed edition." - The Folio Society

Sources: All books published by The Folio Society, do check out the production credentials! (1)  Paradisaea apoda, illustration by John Gould and William Hart, from A Monograph of the Paradiseidae, or Birds of Paradise by Richard Bowdler Sharpe, 1891–98., © The University of Manchester. Extracted from The Malay Archipelago: The Land of the Orang-Utan and the Bird of Paradise by Alfred Russel Wallace. Introduced by George Beccaloni, preface by Steve Jones. Bound in printed and blocked cloth. Set in Dante. Volume one: 392 pages; volume two: 352 pages. Frontispiece and 32 pages of colour plates in each volume. Maps and over 60 integrated black & white illustrations in total. Blocked slipcase. P.S: The Paradisaea apoda illustration is also found in the limited edition, Sharpe's Birds of Paradise by
Richard Bowdler Sharpe, which collates his 79 plates. Introduction by Sir David Attenborough.

(2-5) Montage by Mirabelle, assisted by Picmonkey. Clockwise from left: (2) Paradisaea apoda, cf. (1) for details.

(3) The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates. Introduced by Ian Jack, illustrated by Alice Tait. Bound in cloth. Printed with a design by Alice Tait. Set in Bembo. Frontispiece and 6 colour illustrations. 160 pages.

(4) The Camberwell Beauty and Other Stories by V.S. Pritchett. Selected and introduced by William Trevor, illustrated by Clifford Harper. Bound in cloth, printed and blocked with a design by Clifford Harper. Set in Goudy. Frontispiece and 10 colour illustrations. 408 pages.

(5) The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Illustrated by Eric Fraser. Bound in paper blocked in gold with a design by Francis Mosley. Set in Fournier with Omnia display. 19 black & white illustrations. Printed map endpapers. 248 pages.

"In the digital age, information is served to us instantaneously. Success is measured by speed, and we can dispose of the written word at the click of a mouse. This is why Folio books are the perfect tonic. We offer the reader an opportunity to pause and reflect; to spend time appreciating beauty and wisdom. The books we select for publication are timeless – and in the editions we produce, they will be enjoyed and valued now and in generations to come." - ibid

(6-9) Montage by Mirabelle, assisted by Picmonkey. The Temple Flora, by Robert Thornton, a Folio Society limited edition, introduced by Stephen Harris. Illustrations clockwise from top left: The Queen Flowers, The Aloe, The American Cowslip, Night-Blowing Cereus. Quarter-bound in Nigerian goatskin, cloth sides. Front board printed and blocked with design by David Eccles from 'The Night-Blowing Cereus'. 232 pages with 9 preliminary monochrome plates, 5 preliminary colour plates and 29 flower illustrations. Text printed on felt-marked Modigliani Neve paper and plates printed on Modigliani Insize. Green ribbon marker, coloured top edges. (10) Commentary volume by Stephen Harris, The Temple Flora, presented in solander box, bound in buckram, 128 pages.

6 Feb 2017

How Unopiù Ushers Italian Riviera Into the Home

If there is ONE catalogue release that fills me with both excitement and anticipation, Unopiu's catalogue is it. Year upon year it comes up with a feast for the eyes, as much in terms of innovative product design and quality of materials, as in the photographic style and select photoshoot locations of geographical and architectural interest (Italian lakeside, Tuscany and seaside as appetizers, anyone?). We are talking the stuff of glossies, so if you happen to be an Architectural Digest aficionado, Unopiù is of that sleek calibre.

Therefore no dreaded dingy studio with zero art direction and snapshots on the cheap here! Everything is carefully thought out in its minute detail, and to the highest spec, from the products to the catalogue layout and quality of the paper itself. Talk about immersive experience, you got it right here at Unopiù!

Of course the catalogue's aim is not to detract, distract or deflect from the product ranges themselves. This is a retail company after all. The marketing material enhances what is to be expected when you shop from a place like Unopiù. Expect no-negotiable quality: weatherproof garden furniture, sturdy pergolas, homeware pieces that are made to stand out, and ingenious carports and greenhouses that become one with their surroundings.

All is delivered in style and originality and Unopiù shows us how it's done. I might be French and credit a little patriotic excellence in arts and design to my country where credit's due, there is however nothing like Italian design to tone that French chauvinism right down! Design italiano e bellissimo!

Source: All photography by Unopiù.

23 Jan 2017

Marble Effects

Spider veins, ombré streaks, swirls and translucence. Over its lifetime, nature has mastered the art of the marble effect to the point of sublimation where imagination becomes restriction. For us mere humans, to aim to emulate it in its depth of colour palette on a compressed timeline becomes a superfluous bout of vanity. But let us not be deterred by the feat. As long as it is not overdone, a marble effect is a chic and effective way of carrying a style or brand identity. The beauty of it is that, with a little talent and persistence, you can create it from scratch, without a slab of marble in sight!

Sources: (1-3) Nothing does it better than nature itself. Take a height and keep those peepers peeled because marble patterns occur naturally in the wild... with no marble in sight. Their majestic occurrence stands at the confluence of rivers, deltas and shorelines; it covers wide perimeters! Aerial photography in Australia by talented French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. (1) Sandbanks on the coast of Whitsunday Island, and (2) ibid., Queensland, Australia. (3) Shark Bay Sandbanks, L'Haridon Bight, Peron Peninsula, Western Australia. Those aerial seascapes exemplify nature's artistry at play. (4) In Chilean Patagonia, the aptly-named marble caves (Cuevas de Mármol) on Lake General Carrera display nature's intriguing marble sculptures. 'Marble Cathedral, Chile', photography by Karl-Heinz Raach, laif/ Redux, via National Geographic. From this point forward, anything manmade will irrevocably pale into less significance compared to nature's feat. (5) Yet would you believe this to be faux marble? Grand Antique by BVK Paintworks. Dutch master painter Barre Verkerke stands as close to nature as possible in his decorative representations. He applies his specialist skills to decoration and restoration projects alike. (6) Marbleised stationery is ever so stylish; when this is achieved by putting those seldom-used nail varnishes to good use, it's creative upcycling! Marbleizing Stationery by Kendra Smoot for A Cup of Jo, photography by Seth Smoot. (7) Why sweat the small stuff when you can purchase the template? Nude + Pink Marble Business Card Template by The Design Label (Meera G), via Creative Market.

P.S: Marble effects take on another dimension when paint is applied to a viscous water solution under the Ebru technique in order to (re)create a Fine Art painting that is then transferred to paper. Turkish artist Garip Ay shows us his step-by-step approach, recreating Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night (1889) and Self-Portrait (1887) to great effect: