Boston 2017: Part 3

We awoke to our third and final day in Cambridge. For those of you keeping count, that is a different place each night. Our first night was in Boston, second in Westport, and third in Cambridge. And as luck would have it, we spent our first day in Cambridge and our final day in Boston!

We headed to the one of the finest museums in the country: the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Due to the generosity of our friend, we had passes to go and were able to bypass the incredible line outside to get in. What a place. We started in the brief exhibition of paintings by Renaissance Grandmaster Raphael. Very few of works ever make their way to America. While small, it did have some really exquisite pieces of his work along with some of his contemporaries. Here, his work outshined them all.

Our next stop was a gallery of musical instruments, which I adored. There was a piano with blue white Wedgewood decorations, crazily shaped horns, and a wooden case filled with glasses that you filled with water and played! Next to the gallery was a little exhibition about revivalist jewelry; different eras of history became fashionable in jewel form.

The main special exhibition was an interesting pairing of Matisse’s paintings with the objects he owned and featured in said paintings. It had gotten really good reviews. It was thought-provoking to see certain objects depicted in multiple paintings but many weren’t his most interesting works. They did have some wonderful paintings of wall hangings and Moroccan chairs etc. that were worthwhile. You really got to see his passion for color jump out. It ended with some drawings of robes he made for the Matisse Chapel in Vence, one of my all-time favorite chapels!

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We spent the next hour or so wandering the museum as our whims took us. We ended up in the American wing to see some gigantic photos of Washington. I personally fell in love with this portraitist; I had seen his work earlier in an exhibition about food at the art Institute. This painting of a young boy and his pet squirrel made me particularly happy.

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We also ended up in the section of American indigenous art (in the same wing as the other American art!). I loved that they had incorporated some contemporary Native American art into the gallery of Native American artifacts. I always love seeing the juxtaposition of tradition and interpretation. This piece by Stan Natchez, inspired directly by Picasso’s Guernica, was particularly striking.

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By popular demand, we headed to the impressionist wing to check out the Monet’s. I found another one of Degas’ ballerinas, one of my favorite sculptures. The Art Institute has one. And so did the Harvard Art Museums. Two on one trip!

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We ended our trip to the museum with a brief foray into the contemporary art wing where I got to see a lovely Kara Walker and a Guerilla Girls piece. Next time, we’ll have to spend more time here.

We had a final lunch of sushi at a nearby restaurant and then headed to the airport.

It was a good but exhausting trip. Next time, we might try to stay put in one place and see a little bit more of Boston itself.

That’s all!

Boston 2017: Part 2

We began our second day of our trip adventuring in Rhode Island. After a good night’s sleep after the delightful dinner party, we awoke to the sounds of nature, bird calls and wind rustling through the trees. As a group, we decided to start the day with a visit to an annual local photography exhibition and then a hike through the woods. We’d have lunch at a nearby winery and then make our way back to Boston.

The local photography exhibition was held in the second floor of a public building in a local town. There were about 30 photographs; many focused on the theme of nature. Some of them were pretty good; one depicted stones and leaves, imprinted on a beach. One of the winning photos depicted a photograph to which one of our hosts noted that it was a little stereotypical given that we were in New England.

Our next stop was hiking in a nearby forest. The first part of the hike was perfect. The sun filtered through the explosion of green leaves; nearby ponds were bursting with life. Wooden planks shielded us from the wet path. We came to a large pond or lake with little nesting houses for local sea birds. It was nature at her best.


With the goodwill inspired by the first hike, we ventured off path into the grass to check out another part of the lake. Quickly the terrain became muddy and trickier to navigate. We did see some lovely birds and one or two snakes. But after about 10 minutes, we decided to turn back since the path became even thicker with mud. And then that’s when we noticed the ticks. Our friend had mentioned that it had been a boon year for them so we weren’t completely unaware of it. But it soon became a tickpocalypse. For the first time ever, I found two ticks on my pants, which we quickly dispensed of. Others in the part found a multitude more including a record of five off of my husband. Apparently, there are three independent factors for a healthy crop of ticks. First is a wet spring; the second, an explosion in population of mice (possibly dormice); and third, an increase in deer. Sadly, all three happened at once so it was tickapolooza.

We then decided to head off to the winery. We had been told by several people that the wine wasn’t the best but they had tasty food. But we soldiered on, keen to try it. I’d been to very few wineries so it seemed like a fun thing to do. When we got there, we were told that there was a wait for food. Half our party decided to go elsewhere. We decided to do a wine tasting while we waited. When we paid for our wine tasting, the cashier pointed out that my husband had a tick on his back. However, he was too busy killing a tick on the cuff of his shirt. He proceeded to find two more additional ticks during our time at the winery and a fifth when we got home and did a tick check.

The wine… it wasn’t the best, unfortunately. Each wine did have a neat associated graphic design that I appreciated. We did have a nice time chatting and enjoying the convivial atmosphere. We finally were seated and the food was rather tasty. I had some flatbread that included fig jam. Everything tastes better with fig jam.
We briefly stopped off at our host’s house to pack up and throw our hiking clothes in the dryer to get rid of any residual ticks. Then it was off back to Cambridge to return the car and then to Boston to meet our friends. We had dinner at an old fashioned Italian restaurant Marliave that was great. They had a wondrous selection of cocktails; I only wish we had time to linger there. We had an appointment for a ghost tour.

As any reader of this blog knows, we always try to go on a ghost tour no matter where we visit. This was no exception. We ran to the graveyard where the tour began and caught it just before it head off to its first stop. It was a delightful tour, focusing largely on the Boston Green. We heard tales of residual ghosts in a graveyard, a man whose burned remains were found in a toilet at an institution of learning, an accused witch hung from a tree. My favorite story was about a highwayman who decided to write the story of his life and give the book, bound in HIS OWN FLESH, to the man who caught him. It currently resides in the Boston Athenaeum. Next time we are in Boston we have to go this library (not just because of this but because the library is supposed to be lovely). We ended in the Omni Parker House that had a variety of stories of angry ghosts making life for visitors unpleasant. The best was a story of a mirror owned by Charles Dickens on the second floor. Naturally, when the tour dispersed, we made our way there to check it out. It was pretty neat.

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We ended the night at a gastropub with a healthy beer selection with our friends.

That’s all for now!

Part 3: Spring in Manhattan

The following day began at the Met, one of my favorite museums. It’s got an incredible collection but is rather overwhelming. I try to get into my head that we are only going to visit a few things because seeing the entire museum would be impossible.

Our first stop was a Seurat and circus exhibit. The exhibit featured Circus Sideshow, one of Seurat’s masterpieces, along with circus posters, other contemporary circus paintings, and sketches. It was nice to see some great circus posters from Cheret, a nice follow up to the Driehaus museum’s current exhibition. I was hoping for more of Seurat’s circus paintings since I’d had seen some really amazing works elsewhere but alas.

We then went to the rooftop garden at the Met. Every year they have an artist do some outdoor installation, which is always neat. This year’s piece was spectacular. Adrián Villar Rojas took 3D scans of pieces all over the museum, printed them, and created these sculptural collages. THey are laid out throughout the garden, some on tables, some freestanding. It’s called “The Theater of Disappearance.” I love juxtaposing things, like ancient Egyptian busts with animal parts or Ancient Greek torso. All while overlooking the beauty of Central Park and the NYC skyline. It could also be a great scavenger hunt, tracking down the pieces in the collection!

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We also visited the exhibit on ancient China featuring some incredible terracotta soldiers. Seeing them is always a treat. Someday I’ll make it to Xian to see the site! What I liked in particular about the exhibition was the sheer number of other artifacts that were included. There was a series of beautifully carved women dancing or playing instruments while another room featured animal sculptures. Wondrous!

After our brief visit to the museum, since any visit is brief at the Met, it was time to head to Broadway for a matinee of War Paint. To get there, we ended up passing by the Tax Rally (it was 4/15) and we saw some amazing puppets and signs. We had $1 pizza at a joint just off Times Square. Tasty tasty pizza.

War Paint is a musical about make up rivals, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, and their decades long feud. It was interesting to see corporate sabotage and competition played out in a musical. I’m not sure if I loved the message of the musical (you’ll just have to see it) but it definitely had some pretty neat scenes and dances.

After the play, we decided to head to a new place for us: the Morgan Library. I had come across it a few months prior and it seemed like our cup of team. It turned out that it was JP Morgan’s library. What an astonishing collection. The main library room is breathtaking. Rows and floors of books with two secret staircases taking you to the upper floors. Also, we found some pretty neat books that make you wonder about their contents!  There were some exhibitions as well on display including works by Emily Dickinson and Symbolist poets. But the rooms themselves were well worth it. It’s a research library and it made me appreciate how awesome Chicago’s own Newberry library is. Here, it’s free to check out books etc. Morgan Library requires a hefty entry ticket.

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Dinner turned into a bit of an adventure! We had reservations to Tao, a fashionable Asian cuisine place near the hotel. When we walked in, the loud overhead music enveloped us. It was all very hip looking and made me feel a bit out of place. When we sat down to eat, we learned that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, on the menu that my mom could eat. Apparently, they premake things like steaks. :-/

So we left. We found a tiny quiet Italian place called Montebello where we were the only people at the beginning of the evening. The food was tasty, we could talk, and the staff were extremely nice. They overheard me talking about how my glass of Prosecco was such much better at their place than the place from the night before so they comped us limoncello! And there were cookies too. So go to Montebello, skip Tao.

Then more adventure!  had tried calling the number on the black card from the night before but couldn’t get through for an hour. At 5pm (an hour after they opened and I started calling), I was informed that there were only taking walk-ins; they were catering to a larger party. Boo. I found the name of a speakeasy called Bathtub Gin in Chelsea that took reservations.  Bathhouse Gin was going to be the place.

We entered through a hole in the wall coffee place, serving as the coatroom. As soon as we stepped in, the noise rose up like a wall. Loud pounding music. But we trekked on. We had a little table and ordered from their cocktail menu, which is always a hit or miss. One thing was a sure fire hit though: s’mores. It wasn’t going to be high quality chocolate or marshmallows but we couldn’t resist. They actually brought us an open brazier with Hershey’s chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows. It was amazing. We even convinced the table next to us to do it too.

Plus there was a golden bathtub that you can get into. And we totally took photos lounging in the bathtub. Because golden bathtub!

That’s all for now!

The Amazing Geoffroy Mottart

I had the pleasure of speaking with Belgium artist, Geoffroy Mottart about his floral works. He places beards and wigs made of vibrant colors on public statues. With the generous French translation help of Carmen Kingsley, here is our interview.

ES: How would you describe your work?

GM: I style statues with floral compositions, because I feel like I am building a border between this long lasting art, anchored in time and ephemeral, but equally magnificent flowers.

I have been working with flowers for more than 20 years, I’m fond of the artistic creations created with them, however I love just as much the timelessness of the “Sculpture” that exists since the man discovered art .

This “border” between the ephemeral floral art and the lasting art of sculpture affects me a lot.

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Jean Delville – Photo from Geoffroy Mottart

ES: What made you decide to create these flower pieces on public sculptures?

GM: A book called International Floral Art (http://fleurbookshop.com/international-floral-art-16-17.html) spotted me during my participation in florist competitions and asked me to send pictures of my artwork and that’s where things started to fall into place.

ES: You talk about the choice of statue for your work. You mention finding the right kind of statue for your work. Could you expand on that?

GM: It is not so much that I look for a very specific statue, instead I look for statues that could become nearly human when I style them. I appreciate statues that have subtle traits, that have depth to them.

ES: How do you choose the flowers for your pieces? Color, shape, meaning?

GM: I choose flowers based on several criteria:

– The character and delicacy of the statue’s features

– The statue´s color and material.

– The place where it is located.

– The season.

ES: How long does it take to create a piece? How long does it take to install a piece on a statue?

GM: I estimate that for the entire creation of a piece of art; it takes me about ten hours, the installation generally doesn’t take so much time, I work a lot in my workshop.

ES: I read that you take the pieces down after a few days because the flowers will fade and die. You said that keeping them up would give a different meaning to the piece. Could you explain a little more?

GM: My goal is to highlight the statues, and to leave the dead flowers on them would make the passerby much less interested in appreciating them. I am someone who loves beautiful things, color, life; and so it would be senseless to let the flowers rot.

ES: How do you want people to react to your work?

GM: I am not interested in a particular reaction, just the fact that people notice my work is an end in itself, since my goal is to make them rediscover what surrounds them.

ES: Would you call yourself a street artist?

GM: Yes, I define myself as an artist working in public space.

Thanks to Geoffroy Mottart for the interview and thanks to Carmen Kingsley for her amazing French translating work.

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Photo by Geoffroy Mottart

Conversation with Jim Bachor

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking to Jim Bachor, a mosaic artist via phone. His work includes setting mosaics into potholes around Chicago and the rest of the world.

ES: How would you describe the work you do?

JB: I’m really thinking about how to leave your mark. It’s almost impossible. You might with kids or the pyramids. [When I] discovered mosaics on a trip in the 1990s in Europe, I was blown away. This is an artform that lasts so long. What a fascinating concept. You could lock concepts and thoughts all your own in this medium and it will look the same and exist 2000 years later. The durability is big. The pieces are heavy too, not [something] that could be thrown around or thrown in the trash. There is literally a weight to them. Big hunk of durability.  I noticed that art form tends to repeat itself; to me a lot of it looks the same. What I bring to the party is taking the ancient art form and doing contemporary subject matter.

ES: Do you consider yourself a street artist?

JB: I guess I am. Partly, not completely. A portion of what I do is street art but not all. It’s one of my hats. I consider myself an artist. [When you emailed me,] I thought that I’m not hip or young. I smiled to be considered a street artist.

ES: In terms of your subject matter, you juxtapose the timelessness of the mosaics with ephemera like snack bags. How did you decide on that theme?

JB: They are snapshots of today. Still lifes. Like fresh packaged meats. The meat is not going to look the same in a few days. It’s capturing a moment in time in this wrapped meat from the grocery store.  In addition, in 100 years, it’ll show folks how we used to package meat in this way.

ES: Could you talk about your series“Fanciest Pothole” and one of its pieces, “Burberry”?

JB: I spent 25 years in advertising as a designer. From that, [there’s a lot of] the branding experience. I like to juxtapose things: everyone hates potholes, so I had the ice cream series and a flowers series. In a similar vein, potholes are nasty, low class. I juxtaposed it with high end brands with identifiable patterns like Gucci, Burberry, Louis Vuitton. It’s the last place you expect overpriced brands to appear. [It’s] a window to my dry wit.

ES: Could you talk about your pothole series that contain words or numbers?

JB: The campaign started off with a branded identity. A classic Chicago Pothole was featured. [The word] “Pothole” in black and white with the Chicago flag graphic. It was proud Chicago in your face. The next series was Serial numbers because the city catalogues the potholes in the city; each pothole has its own serial number. Another series had the phone numbers of nearby car repair shops near the pothole.

“This is Not a Pothole” was a one off. It was an idea I had; it was funny. The location was choice [downtown right off Michigan avenue]. It’s one of the most popular installations by far.

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Photo: Elisa Shoenberger

ES: I noticed humor as a part of your work. Why?

JB: Every so often, I do try to impart a humorous view on what is going on. But I try to make it not beat you upside the head, something more subtle and unexpected. For the cereal box series, I did research on ridiculous brands that existed and incorporated them into ancient still lifes, food stuffs rendered into background of frescoes. It’s a little bit of my humor and fascination with ancient history. It’s capturing a little bit of my personality in mortar that might impart to someone down the road when you are gone. After the people who knew you die off, your legacy is pretty negligible. [These potholes are] a way of instilling a few more clues of what made me.

ES: Has the process changed since you started in 2013?

JB: It’s more efficient, but there is only so much you can speed it up. [You are at the] mercy of weather and concrete. I learned a lot early on: if it is colder out, it takes longer for the concrete to set. There’s a higher chance that a car will roll over it. Safety has gotten better; I have traffic cones and a vest.

The art shouldn’t fail. If it does, it’s because the asphalt around the art starts to break. If the asphalt is stable, it will last indefinitely.

The biggest hassle is finding the correct potholes. Ideal road potholes are those on a stable street, not in the center of traffic, places where people can see them. I try to expand the area that has pieces of artwork but it takes longer if it is further away from where I am. It takes more time to get there, look around [for an ideal spot]. I”m a one man show —time is always an issue.

ES: Could you talk about your commision “thrive” at the Thorndale Red Line station?

JB: It’s a balance between doing something consistent with what I do and giving the client, the CTA, something they be proud of. I gathered a lot of information about the area; the CTA gave me notes from community meetings about what people wanted to see in the art work. I did a little bit of research; that area used to be covered in swales of sand and wild rice used to grow in it. I used that impetus for these plant like veins growing from blue bands that represent Lake Michigan. Those vines grow into “iconic fruit” that represent what is going on in the neighborhood like restaurants, music, schools, pink hotels, architecture, etc.  You see something different each time when you look at it. You notice the little baseballs that are hidden like berries. There is stuff to be discovered.

ES: What do you want people to get from your potholes?

JB: An unexpected grin. [I want to] impart some of my personality. A little PR. I want them to track down and find out who is doing it. You see there are pieces all over the places.  If you like the potholes, you’ll like my other work.

ES: Is there anything you want to talk about that we didn’t talk about above?

JB:  I love doing potholes, it’s simple and goes quickly. It used to be a small percentage of what I do. The rest was fine art. Now it is swapped – 90% of my time.  The potholes are nice; it gets attention drawn to my fine art. I just don’t have a lot to sell right now. I haven’t had the time to do new stuff. To do more commissioned stuff, it takes time. I’m a stay at home day with two ten year old boys. I have a short work day – 6 hours to get what I need to get done before I need to worry about dinner.

He explained that there are some exciting prospects in the rest of 2017. So stay tuned!

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Photo: Jim Bachor

 

Interview with Pencil Pad

Many of my regular readers know that I am a big fan of street art, graffiti, etc. So I’ve decided to start doing some interviews (and thought pieces) with great artists in Chicago and beyond. I’ll still post about my travels but I’m adding this new area to the Not Without My Bowler Hat Blog. I hope you enjoy.

I have the opportunity to talk to the amazing Pencil Pad, a Chicago based sticker artist, to talk about her work.

ES: What got you interested in this art?

PP: Well, a long time ago in a land far away when I was 17 my bestie’s bf was a street artist. I was completely fascinated!! He was the coolest person I had ever met and I started sneaking out my window to go hang out with him and his crew. It didn’t take long for me to put down my pompoms and pick up a spray can. Originally my tag was Sugha (hahaha I was such a nerd). Then I took a break because life happened; I thought I was too old and I started moving all over the place and lost touch with the community. Until a few years ago, my daughter who is my biggest inspiration, my most beautiful work art and one of my soul mates, asked me to order her some 228s (USPS stickers). Her friends were making stickers and she wanted to play around. They showed up and sat on the coffee table for weeks. Then one day I started doodling, and just like that Pickle was born. I will never forget the first sticker I put up; it was on Addison by the Brown line and it was Pickle holding a sign that said “Pickles for Bernie.” I was hooked all over again just like that ex-cheerleader with spray paint under her nails.

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ES: What made you select the pickle? Romaine lettuce?

PP: The lettuce is a quicker explanation so we will start with that. I love puns and salads.

Pickle is another thing altogether. In between my teens and early 30s I battled serious depression and addiction which landed me in rehab. But J.K. Rowling said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” Anyway long story short while I was in the hospital, one of my counselors said this “Once a cucumber becomes a pickle it can’t go back to being a cucumber”. So pickle represents me. Me really accepting myself and celebrating life simply how it is.

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ES: The city is a canvas for your pickles. What is your favorite placing?

PP: Thinking about this reminds me of that skit from Portlandia Season 2: “We can Pickle That”! I like to put them everywhere, but I guess my favorite is the secret places; ones [where] you have to look for, like inside the emergency phones on the CTA platforms or the bottom of exit signs.

ES: I’ve noticed some amazing collaborations with other artists out and about. What is your favorite collaboration with other artists?

PP: This is a hard question!. So like I said before I look at everyday as a celebration and it’s way more fun when you are celebrating with friends… Right? I can definitely tell you who inspires me, teaches me things, encourages me, who I respect the most and who I adore. [I] ❤ Lucky Gnome and Frillz from Chicago, Futz from Nashville, FrancisVomit from Aberdeen and Horus Rising from Arizona.

ES: What are your future plans for PencilPad and pickle?

PP: The plan is to just keep being pickle&pencil! To continue celebrating everyday, continue to make friends and travel as much a possible.

Prague and London: Part 2

The day started with a delicious breakfast at the hotel. As regular readers know, I’m not one to talk much about hotel food or breakfasts much but this meal was notable. The seasonal special was poached egg with pumpkin and rye. Very tasty. I ended up having it three out of the four days we stayed in Prague!

Since it was December 24th, our first stop was the Prague Castle. We knew it would be closed Christmas day so we wanted to make sure we stopped by on our trip. We hired a cab that took us to the magnificent entrance/exit. We got there as a changing of the guard was occurring. Less painful than the one in the UK. We took in the amazing view from up there and enjoyed the little Christmas market. Then we got in line to get in. This ended up being a longer wait than we expected. Also, it was a bit colder than I had anticipated. I really wished I had worn boots or thicker socks. Then it began to drizzle, making the wait a bit more excruciating. Eventually, we got through security and entered the castle grounds!

We made a beeline for the St. Vitus Cathedral as the rains began to pour. It had high vaulting ceilings, beautiful carved stone and wood decorations. There was an amazing tomb with silver figures all over it including angels above it. Very impressive. There’s also the beautiful St. Wenceslas  Chapel that you can peer into with semi-precious rocks embedded into the walls and colorful paintings. There was a lovely wooden creche as well.

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After our visit to the cathedral, we wandered a bit more around the castle but it appeared that much was closed for the holiday. However, my feet were causing me some concern with the cold and damp. We found a cafe and went in despite the “Reserved” sign on the wall. A family was using part of a large table and they generously let us sit at the other end. We ordered various warm drinks. I tried out the apple cider, which was not exactly to my tasting. My husband ordered Kahlua infused warm milk, which was amazing. But the warmth. We realized after we got our drinks that we weren’t supposed to be there. The entire cafe was reserved for a tour group. We watched our waitress turn other people away. I think because we were at the table with the other family, we got in under the radar. Whatever the cause, we were grateful.

Soon after, we wandered out of the castle and made our way to the Charles Bridge. On the way, we ran into giant bevy of swans, hanging out on the river. The Charles Bridge is a walking bridge is decorated with intricate sculptures. It was an astonishing view, Two towers flanked both sides of the bridge. It was near the golden hour of the day so the world was bright.

We made our way back to the hotel as we watched Prague close for Christmas. We had a Christmas Eve dinner at a largely forgettable restaurant but it had lovely live music from two guitarists. THere was also a chopped liver mousse that was delicious (sadly, the rest of the food was not). After dinner, we decided to wander a bit more before bed. We ended up at a brewery just off the Old Square talking to a Brazilian who was a businessman for silver jewelry while drinking a Czech eggnog liquor and mead. It was a delightful end to a good day.

That’s all for now!