Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bye Bye El Bulli

Quick!  What's the best restaurant in the world?  Is it located in New York, London, or Dubai?  NO!  It is located in sleepy Spain, near Roses, Catalan and its name is El Bulli. Who would have thought that Spain of all places would launch a gastronomic revolution?  And that it has taken place in our own lifetime, is exciting indeed.

Photo courtesy of Charles Haynes

Entrance to El Bulli

Despite its fine reputation by top chefs and industry experts, consistent awards and a rack of Michelin stars, the restaurant served its last dinner July 30.  It never did turn a profit, likely due to its lack of compromise in the pursuit of culinary excellence. The idea that flavors and presentation might evoke memories and feelings suggested raising the bar to the level of fine art.

Photo courtesy of Charles Haynes

Kitchen of El Bulli

As clean and organized as an operating room, this is where the experimental magic of "molecular gastronomy" took place.  Forty-two chefs were employed under the direction of Ferran Adria. Traditional recipes were questioned, transformed and re-created.  The art of cooking metamorphosed into performance art and menus offered imaginative combinations never seen before. 

Creative Director Ferran Adria

Adria promises that El Bulli will re-open as a culinary think-tank. Though I was never lucky enough to win the lottery for a seat at El Bulli, I know that I have experienced its influence, whether dining at an expensive restaurant or popping into a casual corner eatery. A toast to future innovations!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Oh Gee, Geometry 101!

...the branch of mathematics concerned with the properties, relationships, and measurement of points, lines, curves and surfaces...a shape, configuration, or arrangement...from Greek geometria "measurement of earth or land, geometry, from ge "earth, land" + metria, from metrein "to measure"...

Bedroom of Axel Vervoordt's Castle 's-Gravenwezel, Antwerp, Belgium
"Peace Ball"
Circle painting by Jef Verheyen
Interior design by Axel Vervoordt

I always look for basic geometric shapes, patterns, and arrangements to help ground an interior design concept.  It never fails to make things simpler and and invokes relief when asymmetry and curving lines are running rampant.  I find the simplest designs the most complex, and ultimately the most satisfying. Mathematics, as it was taught to me as a child, did not come easily. However, geometry seemed logical and I grasped onto the principles intuitively. 

Parsons Table
Home Decorators Collection

When designing a room, we start with the shape of the room.  Is it a box?  A rectangular shape?  Are the window panes in a grid pattern?  How are they subdivided?  Can we relate the architecture with what we put into the space?

Rafael Area Rug
Home Decorators Collection

Grids are always good.  A rug is a good place to start when designing a room.  

Interior design by Geoffrey Bradfield
Bradfield's New York townhouse

Artwork is another great way to inspire the design concept. I love the minimalist painting juxtaposed with the six apples on a classical mantel.  Geometry is the pure mathematics of points, lines, curves and surfaces.

Out on a neighborhood walk, there's a triangular street blockade looking quite comfortable out of doors in nature.

Mason Wood-Top Desk
Williams Sonoma 

This basic table, or sawhorse, gets translated into a desk.

7777 Old Bonhomme, St. Louis Missouri

This is where my accountant Reece has his office.  I always enjoy the feeling of being under a geometric spider web.

Table by Robert Bristow
Ralph Pucci International

 This subdivision of space mixes things up a little bit, allowing for more sturdy bracing.

Polyhedron Model
Restoration Hardware

I advised my Boston client to throw one of these on the top of her built in bookcase.  It is a form that has fascinated great thinkers for ages.

The pause that refreshes.

So go ahead, analyze your favorite rooms, and note the relative arrangements, angles, symmetry, shapes, lines, and volumes. Is there a nice balance of basic geometric forms with figurative and free-form?  A great room can always be reduced to simple geometry! 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Only In London

As I chomp on a couple of pieces of  Wintermint-flavored Orbit chewing gum, I realize I am creating material for art.  Actually, I always thought the wad of chewed gum had some sculptural interest and potential, but I never imagined using it as a medium for painting!

Ben Wilson, outsider artist
London, England
Photograph by Andrew Testa for the New York Times

Well, what if you were walking around London and came across a man lying on his side on the sidewalk?  On closer inspection, you would find him using a blowtorch to soften sidewalk chewing gum, shape it, and apply color and a lacquer finish for protection.  You might slap yourself for never having thought of the idea yourself!  As it is, Ben Wilson, 47, has beat you to it, having already made thousands of chewing gum pictures around London, painting in any kind of weather.  His little pictures describe the immediate neighborhood, its inhabitants and personal events in their lives. He generally does not charge for his work. "Everything is transitory.  What's important is the creative process", he explains.  He feels the way that the paintings relate to the community are sufficiently satisfying.

Ben Wilson doing his part to beautify the sidewalks of London
Photograph by Andrew Testa for the New York Times

What can you do about the unsightliness and mess of chewing gum on the street?  And what about  focusing on  artwork rather than the constant barrage of advertisements?  These were some of the concerns that inspired Mr. Wilson.  He also does normal-size paintings that are for sale.

Tiny chewing gum painting by Ben Wilson
Photograph by Andrew Testa for the New York Times

So keep an eye out, everyone, for how you can help the community and make art, too, using something that is very likely right under your nose, in your mouth, or stuck under the table! You, too, could be an outsider artist, and you wouldn't necessarily have to work outside.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pretending To Be In Paris

Le Tour Eiffel

And so another Bastille Day was celebrated with my fellow francophile friend, Pat, at BRASSERIE by Niche in St. Louis.  Pat traditionally awards me with a Bastille Day gift; this year it was a Gourmet cookbook featuring the flavors of Paris.  I love to cook, but truth be told, I prefer going to a good restaurant and being waited upon!  After a nice little cocktail of tequila, cassis, lime and bitters, I craved the  mussels and frites.  Hearty portions necessitated un sac de chien at the end of the meal when I could eat no more.  The serveur should have attached a leash to the sac because I immediately forgot it until halfway home and had to loop around, half-looped, to retrieve it.  Never mind, it was worth the effort.  I always enjoy leftovers to recall a memorable evening! 

Bastille Day 2011

 Happy Bastille Day  tout le monde!  Perhaps next year we can all be in Paris together!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Word On The Street

On a recent visit to St. Louis from New Orleans, my daughter Emily and her friend Henry decided to set up shop on the street selling poetry.  Hard sell?  In this economy?  Actually, they did pretty well and had a lot of fun, too!  Their  first task was to procure manual ribbon typewriters; something of course that was the equivalent of  them attempting to drive a Model T.  Other supplies included an oriental rug, a card table, and a pharmacy lamp, in order to set up a nice ambiance.


The idea was to offer a personalized poem on commission.  They hit a few hot spots around town, enjoying what seemed to be, at least for St. Louis,  a novel  form of street entertainment.  People were both perplexed and pleased.  Each morning I was regaled with amazing stories of the previous night's adventures by Emily.  I wanted to see them in action, so a few nights into their joint venture,  I cruised down the street where they said they would be.  There they were, like a little oasis of culture, a mirage of civility rising from the sidewalk on a steamy summer night.

Manual Meltdown

I lurked in the shadows for a few minutes to watch them interacting with the public.  Then I observed that there seemed to be a problem  Perhaps mother's intuition had kicked in; they had just encountered a technical glitch that had them both stupefied:  Emily's typewriter ribbon had run to the end of the spool.  It wasn't a matter of unplugging or rebooting.  Henry beseeched me:  "Please, Ms. Flanders, reach into the recesses of your mind.  Surely you can remember how to fix this!"  

Henry and Emily

And just like how you never forget how to ride a bike, I pushed a little silver button with my left thumb and made a twirly motion on the reel with my right index finger.  Problem solved!  They were so impressed with my technical prowess and grateful for me salvaging what would have been an otherwise disappointing evening.  On their third night of plying their poetry, writer Kavita Kumar of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch interviewed them for a wonderful article the following week:

Most recently, they were featured in a blog by Nicki Dwyer: (7/12/11 the street poet).

Taking their talent to the street, their old English teachers should be proud of them!  

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sidewalk Art

It's the height of summer and the neighborhood comes to life with children's irrepressible desire to make art.   They are confident and uninhibited; there is an admirable assurance in every single stroke.  For this special time in their life, they exhibit the urgency of creativity without constraints.  It is, being in the moment of their very core. I like that these little girls are floating or flying in space.  They are as free as they will ever be!

I'm impressed with the drafting deftness; the lines are beautifully lyrical.  This budding artist even tackled the challenging hands.  Perhaps the child is already developing a sense of artistic perfectionism in crossing out the figure and drawing another.  

I don't remember where I found this photo of a chalk artist all grown up and still creating magic on the sidewalk.  Do you ever imagine what might be under the sidewalk?  Would you believe exotic palaces,   elephants, and palm trees?

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Oh My!

I audibly articulated "Oh my!" when I received the April issue of Architectural Digest. Long an admirer of Robert Shapiro's work, this new masterpiece is what great design is all about. It was enough to make one weep, it was so beautiful.

Malibu beachfront home
Living Room
Robert Shapiro

Shapiro, an antiques dealer, artist, and founder of Studiolo furnishings,  is a beacon of light and hope in the field of interior design.  Like Axel Vervoordt, another antiques dealer and designer that I hold in the highest regard, there is no compromise with quality, artistry, comfort and design.

 Los Angeles home
Robert Shapiro

The sensitivity to color and texture is eye candy to the extreme.  Examine and analyze these room ingredients:   Minoma chair, sofa by Studiolo, English captain's chair, Chinese drum serving as a cocktail table, diptych by Shapiro, antique gilt-wood mirror, and Turkish kilim on a stained concrete floor. Note the variance in scale; it's like a symphony orchestra with the bass violins and piccolos, backed up by a whole section of strings. Note the editing, the restraint in judicious color and texture as appropriate.  Note the authenticity of the objects and artwork.  The mirror is not resin and the paintings are not giclee on canvas. Note the masterful blending of art and artifacts, of centuries of civilization.  Note especially, how you could imagine yourself plunking down on one of these chairs or sofa and engaging in a great conversation or just reading a good book, knowingly surrounded by visual poetry.

And then we have the most recent issue of Architectural Digest. When I opened it, I audibly articulated "What the ----"?  After the Shapiro cover, I had hoped that the magazine was going to raise the bar for high design.  Since when does a magazine that now calls itself "The International Design Authority" (previously called The International Magazine of Design) showcase a project that only serves to confuse the public?  What do they mean by Design Authority, only that if you're rich, famous, and arrogant enough, that anything goes?  For me, it's plain ignorance and the public deserves better.

No, I don't think a white shag rug in a California ranch style home makes sense.  What's with the modern ceiling fixture, the dinky little Hepplewhite table, the upholstered furniture arranged so that you'd have to shout to be heard, and the clutter of masterpiece paintings strewn across the wall?  I'm sure Elizabeth Taylor (rest in peace) was a very nice woman and loved by family and friends, but there is nothing here that convinces me that her home should be showcased in a magazine of AD's caliber.  Sure, I might be interested in seeing her home, but perhaps a magazine like People or something like that would be a better format.  This is NOT high design!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

So Long Cy

CY TWOMBLY 1928-2011

Cy Twombly

I always liked Cy.  First of all, I liked his name. The sounds rolled around in my mouth enunciating the "tw", drawing out the short "o",  and then blowing out the lips "mbly".  I liked that he always marched to his own drum, settling in Italy rather than New York, and never in step with any ongoing "isms".  The joy of creating is described aptly, when he described that each line that he made was "the actual does not illustrate.  It is the sensation of its own realization."  Years later, he described more explicitly, "It's more like I'm having an experience than making a picture." Dada was an early interest and influence.  Soon out of art school,  he used the Surrealist method of working in the dark so as to rely on his instincts and liberate himself from the very art school techniques he had just learned.  He worked nearly up to his death, completing a 2010 ceiling painting commission for the Louvre, before he succumbed to a battle with cancer. Cy Twombly was an inspiration  for his inventiveness;  forging fearlessly into the future without a lot of fanfare.  His unique marks will live on, and on, and on.  

Friday, July 1, 2011

Just Imagine!

Just around the corner,
There's a rainbow in the sky.
So let's have another cup of coffee,
Let's have another piece of pie! *

I drove through a double rainbow and it seemed a divine and magical omen.  Certainly, it never fails to put a smile on my face, and optimistic feelings abound.  To see any segment of a rainbow seems always a wonder special to behold.  It is free for all.  It travels the world without prejudice, available to thousands of people who bother to look up into the sky.  To experience the rainbow from our urban streetscape may not seem very inspiring, but for artists, ideas can spring from the poorest of materials.

Alberto Bora
plastic bags
photo courtesy of Librado Romero/The New York Times

How many of us would take the idea of a rainbow and use the lowly plastic bag to describe the spectrum of color in a three-dimensional sculpture?  This is the value of an artist: to imagine and then create.  You could say, "Well, I could do that...anyone could do that!"  But you or they didn't!  And thankfully Alberto Bora did turn his idea into reality.  I am happy that the plastic bags were able to live another life beyond the landfill.  But then sadly, I think of how many times our plastic bags could encircle the world, outliving us all.  Alberto Boro demonstrates that the medium of plastic bags can be more evocative than the simple coloring of of a grade school child.

note:  In New York City, El Museo del Barrio is hosting its bi-annual show entitled The (S) Files 2011.  It is a show composed of 75 Latino, Caribbean and Latin American artists, taking the theme of the street as their subject, hence the (S).   

* Depression era ditty