Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Decorative ceiling, dressing room

Here's a project I loved working on.

This was without doubt the most extravagant home I have ever seen. That could mean anything really, but in this case it meant tastefully decorated and elegantly proportioned, with an unlimited budget. Every day I worked there I just shook my head when I looked at the craftsmanship on display. A real highpoint for me.

In this case, I gave the designer a price for what he asked for; a coffered ceiling. As I was looking through my books I came across this next image. It's from Queen Charlotte's dressing room from Rosersberg palace, designed by Gustaf af Sillén. I thought that the Neoclassical Pompeiian decoration might be a good fit, and he went for it.

I kind of came to regret that, because it was a whole lot more work than I had anticipated. Maybe I should have just kept my mouth shut, oh well!

First I had to adjust my image so that it worked for a squared-off dome.

I made a paper template on-site of each surface. Using Photoshop I isolated one section of the original design, then re-configured and designed it to fit the new shorter ceiling and squared top edge. I used that as a guide to paint a full section as a sample. I then went back into Photoshop, repeated and skewed it to fit my paper template. Here are a couple of my rough Photoshop drawings...

Once I had Photoshop layouts for each side of the ceiling, I printed them out small and used an overhead projector to cast their image onto sheets of canvas, which I had hung and base-coated on my studio walls. Then I set about hand-painting each side, step-and-repeat. Simple!

I probably could have created the entire job in Photoshop, since with my other company, Decorative Imaging, I had been experimenting with digitally created and printed decoration, but the designer wanted it to be painted. Besides, the measurements called for a lot of hand re-touching on site.

Here's a shot of the finished ceiling, which I installed. The thin green foliated border on the top edge was a separate piece, as was the bottom border. Once all the canvases were installed I over-glazed the whole thing lightly, and then added the shadows to create the tented pillowing effect.

Brian Dettmer, Book Dissections

I was at the Brooklyn flea market in the Williamsburg Savings Bank building the other day, looking through piles of prints for sale. I couldn't help but feel as though I was raking the coals after some book burning. All these wonderful antique books had been cut open because I assume you can make more money from the parts than from the sum.

Here's a guy who throws that on it's head. Brian Dettmer has been cutting apart books for years, yet they add up to a lot more once he's done with them.

Here's what he has to say about Book Dissections:

"In this work I begin with an existing book and seal its edges, creating an enclosed vessel full of unearthed potential. I cut into the cover of the book and dissect through it from the front. I work with knives, tweezers and other surgical tools to carve one page at a time, exposing each page while cutting around ideas and images of interest. Nothing inside the books is relocated or implanted, only removed. Images and ideas are revealed to expose a book’s hidden, fragmented memory. The completed pieces expose new relationships of a book’s internal elements exactly where they have been since their original conception."

Domus Aurea

Here are some images of the magnificent Domus Aurea or Golden House, with frescoes by Fabullus (variously, Famullus or Amulius) in Pompeiian style showing an incredible abundance of grottesque ornament. The discovery and excavation of these ruins led to the popularization by artist's such as Filippino Lippi and Raphael (in the Vatican Loggia) of the style known as Grottesca.

It's interesting to me how we have come to perceive of artwork such as this through a lens foggy with the patina of age. Our modern taste tends to prefer the aged look of the frescoes as they appear now, and generally considers the original coloration a little too gaudy. The artist who created these images applied his Neo-Classical artistic license for sure, but no doubt they would have appeared very brightly colored when first painted.

These paintings are the work of Marco Carloni who, along with architect Vincenzo Brenna and Polish painter Francesco Smuglewicz, was commissioned around 1774 to illustrate the interior decor.

The present images belong to a unique series of prints now at the Louvre, which were colored entirely in bright gouache. It is not known if they were a singular set from a later edition of Vestigia delle Terme di Tito e Loro Interne Pitture, issued by Carletti. Bibiophiles (and Italian speakers) can download a pdf of that book here.

German Grottesca

Here are some slides I have that I scanned of German Grottesca painted on gilded panels. As always, I try to reproduce them at sizes that are useful to the decorative artist.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Builder's Companion, by Benjamin Asher

Good old Benny the Builder.

They don't make them like Old Ben anymore. I'll bet he never charged the client when he ran off to do personal errands at the candlestick maker or piano tuner. Benjy Boy wouldn't dream of adding more than 20% on any of his sub-contractors, blaming the dog when he sat on the chaise longue with a pair of painty pantaloons, or dashing off for elevenses to the toffee shop for a bag of Mrs. Miggin's delicious homemade fudge while pretending he just had to nip out and 'grab a tool from the chariot'.

Here are a couple of plates from the book by Benjamin, Asher (1773-1845) with the mouthful of a title; "The American builder's companion; or, A new system of architecture: particularly adapted to the present style of building in the United States of America." (1806)

Antiques in Italian Interiors

The book Antiques in Italian Interiors, Vol. I, written in English by Roberto Valeriani and illustrated throughout with beautiful full page photographs by Mario Ciampi, should be on everyone's coffee table.

Vol. II is coming out this year in April, and is definitely on my birthday present list. I can't imagine how he might top Volume I, but with Ciampi on the job I'm sure it'll be worth the price of admission.

For the decorative artist, there are some gorgeous images of painted ornament that are sure to inspire. Until the new book comes out, you can take a look at these from the first one.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Feau & Cie.

I came across this from the now defunct Condé Nast publication House and Garden.

They printed an article (US edition) in September 2006 about the French company Feau et Cie. I started daydreaming about those huge stockpiles from demolished homes. What I wouldn't do to browse through their storage rooms full of antique painted and carved boiserie. Absolutely gorgeous.

The following text block is from a fascinating article titled "The Fine Art of House Dismantling," which appeared in the New York Times:

"Today few specialist dealers survive. The most serious is J. Féau et Cie, founded in Paris in 1876, which has an enormous stock. Its customers include the Wrightsmans, the Frick Museum and the Getty.
“We are the last ones,” the company’s Guillaume Féau said. “We bought the inventory of companies like Jansen and Carlhian when they closed, and we are lucky to have a few truly important rooms.”
His favorite, he said, is a room the neo-Classical French architects Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine designed for one of Napoleon’s generals in about 1802. It was rescued from a palazzo in Florence.
Mr. Féau sells boiseries — mostly French, but sometimes Italian, Austrian and German — from the 16th century through the 1970s. He works with designers like Alberto Pinto, Robert Couturier, Michael S. Smith and Brian McCarthy. Room prices range from about $44,000 to $5.3 million; half his customers are American.
“Among my biggest sales now are 20th-century rooms designed by Jean-Michel Frank, Emilio Terry, Ruhlmann and Eugene Printz,” he said."
 Wendy Moonan, New York Times, December 14, 2007

Take a look at the Feau et Cie website too.

The Perished Collection, Studio Job

"...The case had its beginning
when I entered into the Art Exhibition.
To buy furniture that was my goal
In the newest, newest style.
There were chairs made out of human bodies
And even out of naked women,
there were books that were tables,
In the place of music stands there were octopuses,
Instead of lamps there were fire tongs,
Instead of footstools there were boa-constrictors,
Over the bookcases scrambled young scamps
And the glasses perched on iron poles.
And that was just exactly what I wanted.
It cost, of course, an ingot of gold,
But then as a reward,
My entire apartment glittered in the newest style..."

Kory Towska

 "We inhabit the space between art and design, function and sculpture - the area where one thing floats into another."

Furniture ensemble exhibited in the Greenwich Village Design Art Gallery, London. Pieces are made from tropical hardwood decorated with inlays depicting animal skeletons. It recalls Art Deco as well as Flemish Art and is proposed as a precious collector's set. The inlays were cut using high-tech lasers and assembled by expert craftsmen.

"We wanted to create a collection that is exclusive for the quality of the materials and techniques; haute couture products that will last at least a hundred years," says Studio Job.
From the book Furnish, describing the work shown here

Studio Job are clearly great designers, and this piece and others by the team of Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel are beautifully constructed heirlooms, but I disagree with the contention that 'high-tech' lasers constitutes haute couture.

I'm for the democratization of Art and the process of making it. The advent of digital technology in general, and CNC technology in this particular case, has given every one of us the possibility to create pieces such as these. Short run and prototype technology is within all our reach.

The Perished Collection is beautiful, and serves as motivation for all artists to think outside the confines of his or her chosen discipline. There are many companies out there that will take your vector drawing and convert it into custom inlay. Pretty much every woodwork or sign shop has a CNC machine, so let's get to work!

Here's a great interview with Job Smeets and Nynke Tynagel of Studio Job. I love the freedom with which they approach design. There's a complete lack of creative constraint which is extremely refreshing, and very inspirational. (Thanks Arthur for pointing me towards that).