Dining in the Dark

January 31, 2016

black rectangle

Recently, Mia and I went to dinner at a restaurant called Dark Table in Vancouver, B.C. This restaurant offers a “blind dining” experience, that is, there is no light whatsoever. Not even a speck. The blackness is thick and complete. I may have seen a couple of static-electric sparks when I took off my jacket, but that was the extent of the light source for the next couple of hours. Dinner is served and eaten in complete darkness. The servers are literally blind. You’re led to and from your table by putting your hands on a blind escort’s shoulders and trusting them to lead you safely through the tables, patrons and staff.

The experience was incredible and unexpected. One of the first surprises for us was to touch the edge of our table and feel that it was shaped like an oddball curvy wedge. We kept saying, Why would this table be shaped so weirdly? We kept running our fingers along it and marveling at the shape.

Meanwhile, we ordered the Surprise entree and cocktail, because we wanted to try to parse the mystery dishes and really taste the ingredients. I tasted the coconut right away in our drinks, but we were both shocked by how long it took us to figure out what we were eating. Besides that, we had different opinions about what it was. There was a rich blend of crunchy vs. smooth textures, and even hot and cool temperatures mixed throughout the entree. After chewing and thinking for several minutes, I suggested beets were in the dish, but otherwise I had no idea. It was tasty and fresh, though.

Mia kept asking what color I thought our food was, how I was sitting in my chair, where my hands were, what I really thought about the table, if I had felt the food and the bowls (Disclosure: I touched my food with my fingers before my first bite). While I could hear the anxiety in her voice, I felt completely relaxed, even meditative. It was comforting to vaguely hear the other patrons and know I was in a crowd, but equally comforting to know that I didn’t have to worry about them, that they didn’t even know I was there. For once, I wasn’t interested in the color of something! When Mia kept insisting that something must be mustard yellow, I said it didn’t matter because we weren’t meant to see it; it didn’t have anything to do with our understanding of it today.

Back to sleuthing out what we were eating: after about ten minutes, Mia finally shouted “Risotto!”. I was shocked that it took us so long to realize such a familiar – and favorite – food. And at some point, Mia suggested we put our elbows on the corners of the table that were nearest to us, and then try to touch each others’ hands. We did this, and realized that our arms perfectly outlined the square edges of the table…it wasn’t wedge-shaped at all! That was a revelation we almost couldn’t believe. How could we have been tricked into thinking something so outlandish…who would have a wedge-shaped table with curlicue “corners” anyway? We were really so dependent on our vision and couldn’t rely on our other senses to give us correct information.

As we paid our bill, we asked about the ingredients, to check our answers. We got some of it (coconut cocktail, yes. risotto, yes. beets, yes.), but there were many things we hadn’t tasted at all. But that wasn’t all…we boxed a bit of our risotto that we didn’t finish. The next day, I opened the box and had an idea of what I’d see in there, even though I hadn’t looked at it the night before. I was expecting to see a pale, neutral-colored dish…pale like rice and cheese. Once we settled on the idea of eating risotto, that’s probably what I assumed, even though I wasn’t actively thinking about colors. But one look at this risotto made me gasp because it was the brightest red and green I’d ever seen!

So what does this have to do with art? It made me really think about my eyes, which I take for granted quite a bit. Because I had to use my other senses, I had to think about them more than I ever do. It was a good check-in about the power of variation in an artwork, just like the variety of textures and temperatures we were presented with. Most of all, it was one more reminder that our eyes, and our brains, thrust us into default mode more than we realize.

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If Renoir Can Do It…

January 16, 2016

I watch this video of Renoir, painting with his curled-up arthritic hands. Then I think how dedicated he must have been to go at it, near the end of his life, with those painful claws. Then I wonder why I have a hard time getting in the studio, when I’m as healthy as they come.

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“Deeds Not Words”

January 11, 2016

Image courtesy of Google

Image courtesy of Google

I love this Google Doodle today, which celebrates the 131st birthday of Alice Paul, feminist and suffragette. Great activist, great graphic design, and all-around words to live by!

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Road Trip: Van Gogh’s Arles, Part 2

October 29, 2015

Garden of Hospital of Arles, 1888, Van Gogh; Photograph of Espace Van Gogh (formerly the hospital), 2015

Garden of Hospital of Arles, 1888, Van Gogh; Photograph of Espace Van Gogh (formerly the hospital), 2015

Arles has managed to keep the look and feel captured by Vincent van Gogh in 1888. Here is the hospital where he stayed after he cut off his ear. It’s been converted into an art center called Espace Van Gogh, with small souvenir shops (mostly related to art) on the ground level. The garden is maintained with plants like the ones that were there in Vincent’s day. For me, it was a very somber place, knowing that this was really the beginning of the end for Vincent

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Road Trip: Van Gogh’s Arles

October 27, 2015

Van Gogh's Cafe Terrace at Night; Van Gogh Cafe in Arles, 2015

Van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace at Night; Van Gogh Cafe in Arles, 2015

One of the most stunning places I’ve been to is Arles, in the south of France, specifically retracing some of Van Gogh’s steps. This is where Vincent van Gogh spent about a year – probably the most eventful year of his life. Arles is where he created many of his masterpieces (the painting of his bedroom, Cafe Terrace at Night, Night Cafe, his yellow sunflowers, and many more). It’s also where he was – briefly – roommates with Paul Gauguin, and where he cut off his ear. It was an artistic high point, and also the beginning of the end.

In Arles, the cafe where Vincent spent many evenings and immortalized in oil paint still stands. The yellow awning is still there, even the green of the neighboring shop down the way, and the blue-gray door jamb of the neighbor on the other side. It’s amazing to be able to see this little piece of history, practically unchanged after over 130 years, and to even walk into the painting, so to speak.

This left a huge impression on me, and made my eyes a little misty. When I came home, I put a reproduction of the Cafe Terrace at Night on my studio wall, to remind me about being hard-working, and sensitive, and how great things can happen from everyday moments.

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Keep Getting Out of the Tent

June 14, 2015

By euphro (Flickr: Horseshoe I Mount Searle with Sally Cove) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons By euphro (Flickr: Horseshoe I Mount Searle with Sally Cove) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
”Mount

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New Beginnings

February 1, 2015

St. Brigid's Cross

St. Brigid’s Cross

Happy Celtic Spring! (Also known as Imbolc or St. Brigid’s Feast Day).

Today we’re halfway between the winter and spring equinoxes, and this was traditionally a pagan feast day to celebrate the lengthening of the days. That increasing daylight means a lot to me on a physical level, as well as a metaphorical one. It feels good to see the sun shining more, and to feel as though we’re all crawling out of hibernation.

Catholicism, of course, co-opted the day and it became St. Brigid’s Feast Day. I can’t object too much, since she seems pretty great. A patron saint of Ireland, she also founded an art school and was quite possibly a lesbian. St. Brigid’s crosses are still made in Ireland to celebrate the day, and are hung above doorways or windows to protect the house and its inhabitants.

This time of year is so full of promise. Here’s to longer days and new beginnings!

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365 Days of Art: December 31 – Brunelleschi Wins Competition to Top Duomo with Lantern

December 31, 2014

August 19-Duomo

December 31, 1436

Wardens for the Santa Maria Fiore cathedral meet in Florence to award the winner of a competition to top the Duomo with a lantern. There are five entries, and Brunelleschi wins. This is a like an Oscar-winner having to audition for a bit part, though: Brunelleschi has already built the duomo, inventing machinery to make it happen, engineering something many people think isn’t possible…and they didn’t trust him enough to put the cherry on top? That stings.

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365 Days of Art: December 30 – Mob Destroys Michelangelo’s Statue

December 30, 2014

Raphael, Pope Julius II, 1511-1512

Raphael, Pope Julius II, 1511-1512

December 30, 1511

Michelangelo’s statue of his frenemy Pope Julius II, who is patron of the Sistine Chapel and other projects, is destroyed by a mob. The tie a rope around its neck and pull the 10,000 pound statue from its pedestal. It smashes into pieces, but not before it leaves a crater in the ground. Alfonso d’Este, an enemy of Julius, melts it into cannon–an ignominious end!

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365 Days of Art: December 29 – Eisenhower Orders Soldiers to Take Responsibility for Protecting World’s Art

December 29, 2014

General Eisenhower surveying looted artwork.

General Eisenhower surveying looted artwork.

December 29, 1943

In an extraordinary memo, General Dwight Eisenhower clearly and directly charges each soldier with the responsibility of protecting the world’s cultural treasures:

To: All Commanders

Today we are fighting in a country which has contributed a great deal to our cultural inheritance, a country rich in monuments which by their creation helped and now in their old age illustrate the growth of the civilization which is ours. We are bound to respect those monuments so far as war allows.

If we have to choose between destroying a famous building and sacrificing our own men, then our men’s lives count infinitely more and the building must go. But the choice is not always so clear-cut as that. In many cases the monuments can be spared without any detriment to operational needs. Nothing can stand against the argument of military necessity. That is an accepted principle. But the phrase “military necessity” is sometimes used where it would be more truthful to speak of military convenience or even of personal convenience. I do not want it to cloak slackness or indifference.

It is a responsibility of higher commanders to determine through A.M.G. Officers the locations of historical monuments whether they be immediately ahead of our front lines or in areas occupied by us. This information passed to lower echelons through normal channels places the responsibility of all Commanders of complying with the spirit of this letter.

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER”

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365 Days of Art: December 28 – Leonardo Sketches Hanged Corpse

December 28, 2014

Leonardo da Vinci, Study of the Hanged Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli, assassin of Giuliano de Medici, 1479

Leonardo da Vinci, Study of the Hanged Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli, assassin of Giuliano de Medici, 1479

December 28, 1479

Leonardo sketches the hanging of corpse of Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli, who is executed for last year’s murder of Giuliano de Medici.

That murder is organized by the Pazzi family, in a power grab, as they hope to replace the incredibly influential Medici family as political and civic leaders. A gang of assassins surround Giuliano in the Duomo, with Baroncelli being the first to strike at him with a dagger. Giuliano dies, but the plot goes wrong, and Baroncelli has to flee to Istanbul. Unfortunately for him, Istanbul has very lucrative trade agreements with Florence, and they’re happy to extradite him back to Florence upon request.

Remember also that the Medici family is one of the biggest supporters of the arts, which may explain Leonardo’s marking of the event in his journal. Or perhaps he’s there only as a native Florentine, interested in current events; this would surely be big news and a well-attended public occasion.

Accompanying the drawing, Leonardo takes stock of Baroncelli’s clothing:

A tan colored skull-cap, a doublet of black serge, a black jerkin, lined and the collar covered with a black and red stippled velvet.
A blue coat lined with fur of fox’s breasts.
Black hose.
Bernardo di Bandino Baroncelli.

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365 Days of Art: December 27 – NYC Mayor Doesn’t Understand Gorky’s Work

December 27, 2014

Arshile Gorky, Man's Conquest of the Air, 1939 World's Fair mural, now destroyed

Arshile Gorky, Man’s Conquest of the Air, 1939 World’s Fair mural, now destroyed

December 27, 1935

At the opening for a group exhibition that features one of Gorky’s sketches, for his airport mural, New York City Mayor Fiorella La Guardia meets Gorky, views his work, and tells a reporter:

I am conservative in my art, as I am a progressive in my politics. That’s why I perhaps cannot understand it.”

Poor Gorky!

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365 Days of Art: December 26 – Diego Conquers NY

December 26, 2014

Diego Rivera, Agrarian Leader Zapata, 1931

Diego Rivera, Agrarian Leader Zapata, 1931

December 26, 1931

New York art critic Henry McBride describes Diego Rivera as “the most talked-about man on this side of the Atlantic”.

At this point, he’s installed as artist-in-residence at special studio space within MoMA, creating a total of eight “portable murals” that are exhibited for five weeks from December to January. The exhibition, only MoMA’s second to feature just one artist, is setting exhibition records. Diego is working around the clock with two assistants to depict Mexican subject matter, and for the final three murals, turns his attention to New York’s working class during the Great Depression. He loves the attention and publicity he’s getting, and the painting above, Agrarian Leader Zapata, is one of MoMA’s most prized works.

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365 Days of Art: December 25 – Cornell Prefers His Exhibitions to Fall on Christmas

December 25, 2014

Cockatoo with Watch Faces, by Joseph Cornell, 1949

Cockatoo with Watch Faces, by Joseph Cornell, 1949

December 25

This is one of the most important dates on the calendar for Joseph Cornell, because he is born the day before, on December 24. His associations with happy childhood memories lead him to try to arrange all of his exhibitions to coincide with his birthday, and therefore, most of them fall on Christmas as well. Dealers are happy to comply with this request, since Cornell’s work–already attractively boxed–can easily be marketed as holiday gifts.

He’s emerged as one of my favorite artists of the year, from his children-only art exhibition, to his heartfelt sadness over Marilyn Monroe’s death, to his courteous correspondence, his sweet tooth and love of animals, and his genuine joy at small moments.

I feel compelled to point out that Cornell would’ve hated this project because he put no importance whatsoever on specific calendar dates.

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365 Days of Art: December 24 – Las Meninas Saved from Fire; Over 500 Other Works Burned

December 25, 2014

Las Meninas, by Diego Velazquez, 1656

Las Meninas, by Diego Velazquez, 1656

December 24, 1734

Las Meninas by Velasquez is saved from a devastating fire by throwing it out the window. The fire at the Alcazar, where the Spanish royal family lives, originates in the rooms of French painter Jean Ranc. Alarm bells are mistaken for the call to Christmas Eve Mass, so the fire takes hold and burns for four days, completely destroying the Alcazar in the process. Many more artworks would have been lost, except that King Philip reorganizes and moves much of his art collection just before the fire.

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