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!

10th Annual Jane Addams Day!

This past Saturday was the 10th annual Jane Addams Day in Illinois. It was my fourth helping the American Association of University Women Chicago, Inc. celebrate this excellent day. We partner with our Illinois chapter and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association to host an amazing event.

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We started with speaker, Louise Knight, historian and author, who talked about the alliance with Jane Addams and Theodore Roosevelt. He needed her progressive support while she needed his audience in order to help the cause of suffrage. It wasn’t an easy alliance; Theodore Roosevelt was not as fully committed to women’s universal suffrage right then and now. He advocated for the approach of having women decide themselves, which was never going to realistically happen. One thing I learned was that the biggest group against women’s suffrage was the brewers and those involved in the alcohol trade because they feared (rightly) about their influence on anti-alcohol laws. So much of the opposition was funded by them. However, when the 18th Amendment ushering in Prohibition was passed, they gave up. Months later, the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote, was passed. I had no idea about the connection! For more information on Louise Knight and her work on Jane Addams, check out her website: http://www.louisewknight.com/the-author.html

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Our second speaker was Annie Storr, visiting professor from Brandeis. She talked about Ellen Gates Starr and her work in elections. Professor Storr talked about how Ellen Gates Starr ran for alderman and later (i think) trustee for the University of Illinois. She lost both of them by a large margin. However, the next woman to run for trustee won. It was a nice reminder that sometimes you may not get the result you want but it’s an important step in the right direction.

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Our final presenter was singer and songwriter Kristin Lems, who was our featured guest in 2015. She sang two of her songs in her musical about Jane Addams and talked about her own family history intertwined with Hull House. She finished with two feminist songs including “We will Never Give up.” She sang this song while working to get the ERA amendment passed. I think it’s an important message for us all. For more on Kristin Lems and her amazing music: http://www.kristinlems.com/

What a wonderful Jane Addams day!

China and Cambodia: Part 5

That morning, I was determined to have more red bean paste. We stopped at the bakery where we had the egg bean paste thing. This time I chose poorly. One of the things was filled with dried chicken (I thought it tasted like dry lotus paste – awkward) and another with pork. Sad panda.

We decided to go on a little journey on the far side of town to Qibao. It’s supposed to look like what a river village would. So we took a few train changes to get there (saw some amazing surreal vegetable and fruit advertisements). I tried what I think was a red bean and chocolate bubble tea from a kiosk in the train station. It was pretty good.

Qibao was amazing. The bridge was beautiful. You saw boats hanging out in the water. Old buildings surrounded it. It was worth the side trip. It also had great tourist shopping; it was less chaotic than Yu gardens area. We had fun looking at the vendors, bought some canvas shoes. And there was a food area! There were lots of meat on skewers but the heat of the day made me want for something refreshing. We bought pickles from a vendor sold them from vats. I also got this tasty gooey red bean paste thing. We hung out in a tiny cafe next to the water to cool down from the heat. I watched amazing ice cream concoctions being made but I wanted to wait for the real prize that afternoon.

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Skewers

After we felt sufficiently cooled down, we decided to wander a little bit more in the area to see the little museums. We found the Shadow Puppet museum that we had to go to. Sadly, we were not there on a day with a show. It was tiny but we saw the intricate shadow puppets. Not a lot to read but it was a cute little pit stop.

Then we decided to head back to the French Concession for one last hurrah. My goal: ridiculous ice cream. Before we explored the warrens of the Tianzifang, we found a little market that sold fruits, veggies and meat. We got several fruits including: dragon fruit, clementines, and these lychee like fruits. I tried eating one of the lychee like fruits and it exploded over me. 🙂

Then it was time to find my crazy ice cream. It was ice cream with cotton candy and fruit pebbles. It has to be one of the most insane things I’ve had. I’ll admit the sight of it was better than the actual taste (the ice cream was akin to soft serve but not quite). But it was worth the experience. We wandered around a bit more, taking in the other ridiculous things to eat.

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Panda egg tarts

Then it was time to head to the train to meet my family for dinner at their apartment. We ended up in the food court of a mall where the train station had an entrance. Again, we saw amazing food experiences but we had to pass them up since we were going to dinner.

That’s all for now!

NYC Spring 2016: Part 2

The next day started with a trip to the Union Square Green Market. It’s a favorite of my parents and we always try to go when the weather is nice. It was a little brisk and early in the season so they weren’t many vendors out. But there were waves of beautiful fragrant flowers. Goodness, winter makes me miss nature so much! We had breakfast nearby at the Coffee Shop where I had delicious omelette. I love the entry walls to the place are covered in crushed up chinaware. Very cute.

I spent sometime wandering around the Strand bookstore, one of my favorites in NYC. Not only does it have a fantastic collection of books, it always has an amazing literary/nerdy selection of socks. There I said it.

Afterwards, we decided to walk up from Union Square to Macy’s. We briefly stopped into Rizzoli, a fancy bookstore, on the way. There used to be Rizzoli in Chicago but the chain contracted. Now it’s got a lovely bookstore near 26th street but it’s high end with lots of beautiful books. We continued our walk, watching as the neighborhood changed over and over. There were fancy boutique shops, then costume jewelry shops, and then to giant stores like Macy’s. The Flower Show was going on, which is one of my favorite retail events each year. While I prefer Chicago’s Macy’s Flower show, the one at Macy’s flagship was nice. The windows were fine but the interior is exciting. Throughout the first floor, there are flower displays that are out of this world. The theme this year was America so there were displays for the Midwest, the Pacific, NYC, and more. One display had mannequins modeling hats that I wanted to steal. Alas! There were some very patriotic flower displays as well. Good times.

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Macy’s. I want the hats.

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Macy’s

I continued my walk back to the hotel in midtown. I had a special mission to go to a coffee/chocolate shop on Park Avenue called 2bean. It was one of the few shops carrying a new spectacular chocolate bar called Marou, which was written about in the NYTimesThe bars are colored coded due to the color of the beans! They had just gotten a shipment the day before (I called) and were already out of two or three bar types by the time I got there. I was getting a birthday present for my best friend. The shop reminded me a lot of Hannah’s Bretzel because it is covered in different kinds of fancy candy bars. But it has even more than Hannah’s Bretzel. So cool.

I then walked up to Momofuku for my favorite truffle balls. There was a fairly healthy line but the balls are totally worth it. I got three packs of “Birthday Cake,” “Dulce de Leche,” and “Mint Chocolate.” I didn’t love the “Dulce de Leche” ones but they are still good.

Then I ran off to meet my husband who had just arrived in NYC. We decided to walk through Central Park to the Museum of Natural History and have tea at Alice’s, an Alice in Wonderland themed tea shop. I’ve been in Alice’s before but I had never stayed. It’s near the museum. We got there just in time as we were the top of a long line to get seats. The place was charming but not overwhelming in Alice in Wonderland mania. That was a bit of a disappointment. There were murals (especially in the bathroom) that made me very pleased. There were doors to the kitchen with keyhole windows in them, which was cool. But it could have upped the theme. We decided to keep it simple with tea and scones. (High tea seems to be too much for me these days). We had the Alice tea and I had the pumpkin scone. Both were delicious. So that was nice. It’s a tad pricey for tea and scones but it was nice to do once.

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Alice’s

I was excited about taking my husband to the museum since he had never been before. The last time I went was in graduate school when I was visiting my best friend who worked at school nearby. I had spent the entire time in the Ancient Americas’ rooms. When we got there, there was a line. Thankfully, it moved quickly so we were in the ticket line inside within about 10 minutes. Once in, we wandered accidentally into the Carl Akeley Hall, which was amazing. I had read a biography about him. He’s basically the man that made taxidermy into what we think of today. Many of the dioramas and specimens at the Field are his work. (The two elephants in the entryway were shot by him and his wife. She shot the larger of the two). So the hall at the NYC museum was wonderful. There was a herd of elephants in the middle (Possibly all shot by him though). Around the first floor were beautiful scenes of animals in the wild. Magnificent.

Then we made a beeline for the dinosaurs, both of our favorites. There was a dinosaur, titanosaur, that was so big that it couldn’t be kept in a single room. It kinda looks like a giant brontosaurus. Very neat. They had a good collection of dinosaurs including many triceratops skulls.

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We imagined this dino was a lot like my husband

We also wandered into the Ancient Americas to say hello to old friends. They have a giant Olmec head, which most would recognize as Olmec from Legends of the Hidden Temple. Of course, the people who made the head are actually the Olmecs…but anyway, it was nice to check out their collection. It’s smaller than the Field but I love checking out the pottery and stone carvings.

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Possibly Moche pottery

Before we left, we did check out the famous blue whale, which freaked me out as a kid. It’s still kinda insane. The museum has moved away whatever used to be beneath it and now you can lie down and stare up at it.

On our way back to the hotel, we strolled through Central Park. It was a really wonderful walk as nature was beginning to wake up. Budding trees, tiny daffodils pushing their heads up through the dirt. There were plenty of rocks to climb (though I never seem to wear the right kind of shoe for that kind of thing). We even shared a pretzel while walking through the Poet’s Corner. So classic NYC movie, I feel. But fun to do, nonetheless.

That night, we ate Italian food in a nearby restaurant named Teodora, that had food from Reggio Emilia. It feels like they took someone’s home and converted it into a restaurant. I had a wonderful plate of gnocchi, my favorite. Afterwards, we met a friend in Union Square for a drink. The place kinda had a speakeasy feel since there weren’t any signs. Inside, it was richly furnished with deep wood and low lighting. The cocktails were wonderful; I had champagne with raspberries, which made me happy. My husband got a wonderful drink of prosecco, sorbet and a third ingredient that I have forgotten. Very tasty. It was a lovely place to end the day.

That’s all for now!