Monday, April 16, 2012

Imagine a Mirror!

"No, but I used to like walking backwards", Rosemary said in response to my question if she used to walk around with mirrors held horizontal as a child, so as to imagine walking on the ceiling.  Ah yes, another way to experience sensory perceptions from a time long ago. Both required curiosity and courage. It does allow you to see things differently and gain a better perspective. Nice to see  the artist Anish Kapoor using the medium of mirrors in the lofty realm of fine art.

Sky Mirror
Rockefeller Center NYC 2006 
Anish Kapoor
photo by Brad Patrick at en.Wikipedia

To think that we started with gazing into a bowl of water in prehistoric times, we've come a long way baby.  But can you believe that it has been only 177 years that we've had mirrors as we are used to today? Prior to this, mirrors were enormously rare and expensive, so the populous had to make do with the puddle.  It was the old 1% deal.

6000 BC from Anatolia, Turkey

These polished and burnished slabs of rock may have been wetted to help with the reflection. Copper mirrors were found in 4000 BC Mesopotamia.  

Early Chinese octagon mirror, front and back

Bronze followed suit in China and India c. 2000 BC, which required periodic polishing by the 99%.  

Egyptian,  New Kingdom (1550-1070 BC)

This one could use a little elbow grease, too!

43 x 81 cm
Homage to Carlo Mollino (1937)

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the fairest of them all? Have an instant great figure, courtesy of Venus de Milo!  Art and architecture made huge strides in ancient Greece, but a bronze hand-held mirror was likely all that Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty ever owned.

Mirror, Roman

Metal-coated glass was invented in modern-day Lebanon around 100 AD. Later, the Romans made the leap to using molten lead on blown glass. Cleopatra (69-30 BC) likely enjoyed reflecting her renowned beauty with this new technology via Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. 

Mirror, Middle Ages

People muddled with their murky mirrors in the middle ages until the big breakthrough of glass-blowing in the 14th century. Little pieces of broken blown glass were used as convex mirrors, which seemed an improvement over the unevenness of lumpy metal.  They didn't mind, probably because they had to worry about plague rather than obesity as we do nowadays! 

I like the connection those early mirrors have with modern day security mirrors, which I enjoy using in residential interiors. 

Girandole mirror
England/America 1800's
giltwood, mercury, gesso
4'11"h  x  11"d  x  45"w
David Skinner Antiques

Really, wasn't this just a fore-runner of the security mirrors commonplace at convenience markets today? Likely the homeowner was ensuring that the silver wasn't pocketed!

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 - 1519) 
Vitruvian Man, 1487
shown with mirror writing

Leonardo was fascinated with mirrors.  He suggested that artists use mirrors to compare their work with the reflection of what they were painting from.  This was a technique that I was taught in art school, and I use it to look at my art or interiors with more objectivity.  It's like flipping your right brain with your left brain.  Leonardo frequently wrote backwards, in what is called 'mirror writing'.  It's easy to read if you hold it up to a mirror, as all schoolchildren know.

Venetian Giltwood Mirror c. 1685
112"h  x 48"h
Richard Shapiro Antiques and Works of Art

In the 16th century, the Italian island of Murano, near Venice, became the most important center of mirror production.  Methods were perfected using an amalgam of tin and mercury over ever larger sheets of glass. It was not until 1835, when Justus von Leibig discovered how to thinly layer silver onto glass, that we came to have the mirrors that we take for granted today! Nowadays less expensive processes and materials allow the mass-production of mirrors to the minions. 

The imperfect reflections of ancient mirrors are amusement for us today - we don't know how hard things were in the old days! These purposely warped mirrors are good to have around to keep your sense of humor intact -  doctors agree that a  good laugh is important to your physical and mental health!

vacuum deposited silver metal surface on polyester sheet
84" x 56"

Here's a cool, inexpensive product (about $170)  just ripe for imaginative minds.

design Marta Laudani - Marco Romanelli
100 x 8 x 100 cm
Hanging mirror in 6mm - thick curved silver-backed glass 
Fiam Italia

This mirror would nicely accommodate someone with multiple personalities.  Or, the planes of glass could suggest a past, present, and a future. The largest central area could be the present, right now on April 16th, 2012. Indeed, walking backwards in time, we can see that we've come a long way since peering into a pool!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Born To Be Wide

Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
    His wife could eat no lean,
And so betwixt them both, you see,
    They licked the platter clean.

In a household of dogs, I call licking the platter the first cycle of the dishwashing process.  They do enjoy it so much, and I hate to deprive them of this seemingly innocent pleasure.  But sometimes good intentions can  be led astray. This is the story of the dogs Alice and Monica; one who is fat, and one who is lean. This is a dog blog.

Alice shows a svelte silhouette shot at the shelter. 

The fatness of Alice didn't start that way.  Some of you may recall her adoption a couple of years ago.  She had the look of a junkyard dog with a wiry brindle coat. Naming her Alice was an attempt to impart some femininity to her appearance. Here she is shown at a trim 32 pounds. I thought she looked a bit lean.  Her ensuing weight-gain, I supposed was due to dietary deprivations suffered while out on the lam. Actually, I felt we had a lot in common, having grown up with six siblings and never knowing where my next meal would be coming from.

Chewbacca, Dog of Flanders

Alice was chosen to be a companion to Chewy, but we found that Chewy, being 10 years of age, could not care less about the 2-year old upstart. The love match that I had hoped to make was a complete failure.  Chewy was aloof to her attentions and I anthropomorphically felt that she languished in the relationship.

Alice enjoying street food.

As it turned out, Alice was mostly interested in eating.  Apart from the 5 course meals she would find on her daily walks, she was frequently getting into the cat food and Chewy's, too, if he didn't eat it fast enough.   The new dog from the pound started to put on pounds.  I personally thought she had just 'filled out' a little, but a trip to the vet produced surprising concern.  Even the receptionist commented that she didn't have "much of a waist", which, looking at the receptionist, was calling the kettle black. Alice had mysteriously ballooned to 42 pounds!  Seemed like she was being fed next to nothing, but perhaps the stolen snacks and street food were taking their toll. Had her tail been straightened and was she a pot-bellied pig in disguise?  Had she been mis-identified at the animal shelter? 

When Emily visited with her own newly adopted dog, Monica, Alice found a fast friend.  You might make the mistake of thinking that Monica is malnourished, but she is part Whippet, which is a racing breed that is naturally slender.  She is extremely agile and can run like the wind.  Alice tries valiantly to keep up, but to no avail; not many dogs are as fast and willowy as Monica.  Not many dogs are as fat and wide as Alice.  She and Monica are a study in contrasts, like Lady and the Tramp.  Like a junkyard dog, Alice can't get enough to eat, and like a lady,  Monica is dainty and disinterested in all-you-can-eat buffets .


It was decided that the two young dogs would be better off with each other, plus, there was the hope that Alice would lose a few pounds with the extra exercise of playing with Monica and visits to the Dog Bark. Seems like an oxymoron to go to New Orleans to lose weight, but off to the 'fat farm' she went.  At first, things seemed to improve, and regulars of the Dog Bark complimented Alice's new figure, saying that "she looked less like a potato" and "had developed the semblance of a waist".  But the waist was not won for long.

Alice in her favorite play position

Despite a seemingly stringent diet, Alice exploits a household of 20-something roommates who are sometimes unwittingly careless.  A carrot cake, for instance, was too close to the counter edge.  A visit from a Bolivian study-abroad house guest resulted in the mysterious disappearance of his sheep-hoof necklace, a full bag of cocoa, and another trip to the vet.  "Oh, you like the snacks, don't you!", smirked Dr. Dog.  Alice did not eat for three days.

Alice in Underwear 

There's no sexy Victoria's Secret for this mutt!  Emily got some 'emergency underwear' as a gag gift when she recently went to South America.  It was a little paper packet that expanded when put in a glass of water. It seemed to be on the large size, but Emily decided the size was just right for Alice.

Arcs in space - one thick and one thin

"Now I know it might be unrealistic to expect her to get back down to 32 pounds, but maybe you could go for 34 or 35", the vet gently offered.  At their most recent visit, Emily hadn't volunteered discussion about Alice's weight, but the vet brought it up as if to a parent bringing in an obese child.  "I guess I can see it now, but I just wanted to believe that she was husky", explains Emily.  Dog Bark regulars sympathized that maybe she was "just a chunky little brewster and there's nothing you can do about it".  

New Orleans-style King cake with plastic Baby Jesus in center

It didn't help her gluttonous reputation that at a recent Mardi Gras party, Alice got into the King cake, but in this case, we should call it the Queen cake.  Custom is that whoever gets the piece containing the baby is King or Queen of the day.  Fortunately, Alice threw up the baby and escaped another trip to Dr. Dog. When Emily told me this story, I took her literally and thought that Alice had thrown up on an actual baby in attendance.

Queen Alice, queen-size on the queen bed
aka "The Bearded Weasel" for her interests in burrowing into holes
aka "Dr. Alice B. Scruffington" for her medical acuity

Alice snores.  She growls if you try to push her cinder-block-like body away on couch or bed.  Although loved by her guardians, she seems to take pride in her savagery.  As if of an ancient barbarian culture that can never forget her scavenger roots, she is only partially domesticated and diet-defiant.  Alice is wild and wire-haired, and perhaps as a new American breed, born to be wide.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Through the Looking Glass

One of my favorite past times as a child was walking around with a mirror, held horizontally, and imagining that I was walking on the ceiling.  This gave me an entirely new perspective on the space in which I lived, and guaranteed endless entertainment. Grasping everything from a hand mirror to a picture size mirror so as to increase the effect, I would carefully step over door headers and ceiling beams, skirt around light fixtures and plunge into the abyss above a staircase. The magic of the mirror has never ceased to fascinate me.

Photograph by Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

The New Museum in New York recently hosted "Carsten Holler: Experience",  where you could don a pair of "upside-down-goggles" so that your eyes would do a back flip. The show was hailed as an art world amusement park and included corkscrew slides, a sensory deprivation tank, and light shows that would leave you hallucinating. Just my kind of show!  For those of you who missed it, I recommend the my old-fashioned method of walking around your home with as big a mirror as you can manage, an epsom salt bath, and some psychedelic drugs (Steve Jobs would approve). 

I was amazed to find this unique clothing boutique image in my files. I believe it may be in Paris, showing a room completely upside down. Just imagine how discombobulating but fun it must be! Just imagine the designer selling the concept to the client: "Let's make the showroom upside down"! The herringbone parquet installers might not have been so enthralled, but obviously the client took the bait.

Christie's auction of The Collection of Will Fisher, founder of Jamb

Otherwise, a safe, tamer and more affordable way of delving into the "other-world" of the mirror is simply to see what your wall mirrors are reflecting.  We can get "turned on" by how artfully the reflection is arranged.  It's a simple way for you to "make art".

Vicente Wolf

Vicente Wolf has been using large mirrors for years to tell a different story of what is typically reflected.  In this case, he calls attention to the interesting table legs and echoes the beckoning hand sculpture. The mirror is actually a three-dimensional piece of stainless steel, polished and framed with a satin finish bevel. He likes that there is a bit of distortion; that is when the fun begins!


New mirrors are like children and teenagers. They are lucky to survive a generation, given the throw-away society that we now live in. Funny that Ikea included dinosaurs as props. These mirrors will be extinct, too, in no time flat.  But instead of being frozen, they'll be melted!

design by Philippe Starck
Fiam Italia

Until that day of extinction comes, the more expensive and better quality new mirrors, as this one, will surely endure and be handed down by the generations, the equivalent of the computer age external hard drive, storing 21st century memories.

17th c. Italian giltwood mirror
Interior Design by Michael S. Smith

I am captivated by the souls and the history that antique mirrors contain.  What stories could they tell of the countless scenes that have unfolded in their presence?  How have they witnessed the aging of persons gazing into their never-ending depths?  I view mirrors with the greatest respect for the history that they hold within.  These old mirrors, with beautiful frames, silvered backing on thick glass, are a treasure, and perhaps someday their code of silence will be cracked and their secrets will spill forth. Perhaps someday the technology will allow them to be as a television History Channel. Just touch the mirror and be transported to another world!