A Head for Art

S

elf-portraits include some of the greatest works of all time. As a genre, self-portraits have so much to say. With some self-portraits, the artists look as if they were painting themselves into the haven of artistic greatness. Others appear to show self-mockery and modesty. They have a story to tell for those that can see it, that can portray all sorts of messages. Self-portraiture is also about the time and skill that the artists bestowed on their own representations. Whatever your views on this old artistic genre, they were that days answer to the newfangled selfies of today, a paintbrush or pencil in hand, instead of a front-facing camera or selfie-stick.

 

William Dobson’s Portrait of the Artist

Some might say that William Dobson is the ‘Forgotten Man’ of British Art. The court ‘painter on hand’ to Charles I in the 1640s following the death of Anthony van Dyck, is the genius English painter that should never be allowed to be forgotten. William Dobson’s Portrait of the Artist is one of the best self-portraits created in British art. Dobson’s youthful features are a mop of curly black hair down to his shoulders, dark eyes, skin punctuated by rigid eyebrows, a prominent mustache, and a minimalist goatee. You can’t really tell if he’s happy or sad – but Dobson must have been happy about his face and there is nothing wrong with that. His facial expressions appearing to shift from wariness to a glare of satisfaction. Dobson painted forceful images of himself and his second wife Judith in Portrait Of The Artist’s Wife (c. 1630-40), as companion works. The paintings were finally and rightly reunited after 30 years apart and are currently on display at the Tate. William Dobson was certainly a true genius of self-portraiture. Not to be referred to as Doby.

William Dobson’s Portrait of the Artist
William Dobson’s Portrait of the Artist painted in about 1637.

Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas

This ensemble portrait by Velázquez is a stunning as it is frustrating and mysterious. Not only does Velázquez paint himself into this portrait, like Alfred Hitchcock making a cameo appearance in one of his own films, there are some other interesting subjects there too. Thankfully some of the subjects in the painting are identifiable but there are some hidden clues put there like a ‘Spot the Ball Competition’, just waiting for you to find them. In the center of the painting, there is Infanta Margarita Teresa, who reigned from 1666 to 1673. She was to be Velázquez’s subject in many of his portraits. Then there are the Maids of Honor, who are surrounded by the princess, and some servants. The patining itself is a day-in-the-life perspective of a Spanish Court. Above the princess’s head, you can spot a dark wooden frame with two figures within it. They are King Philip IV of Spain and Mariana of Austria – her mother and father. Drawing your eyes to the left of the picture is Velázquez himself – an emerging photobomb, standing there with brush in hand, not a selfie-stick or front-facing camera in sight.

 

Diego Velzquezs Las Meninas
Diego Velázquez’s 1656 painting Las Meninas.

Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait

It was not until after his death, that Vincent van Gogh was appreciated. Only having sold one painting during his lifetime, it’s his paintings of sunflowers, textured landscapes, and his portraits and self-portraits that are now widely recognized throughout the world. This self-portrait is emotive in color, yielding energetic brushwork, and was painted by him shortly after suffering a breakdown in Saint Remy. Van Gogh painted no less than 36 self-portraits during his lifetime of 37 years. This three-quarter length pose captures his true character, with a serious expression, art props in hand, that those other great painters used in their own self-portraits. It shows Vincent van Gogh both as a self-conscious, thinking individual, perhaps conveying a wish to be taken seriously as an artist. It’s anyone’s guess as to what he is trying to say to the viewer in this self-portrait. Perhaps he just wished to see and be seen.

 

Vincent van Goghs Self-Portrait on Pennzer
Vincent van Gogh’s Self-Portrait 1889.

The Pattern Cutter

B

ehind the creations of any designer lurk individuals who get little recognition for the essential and vital work they contribute to the fashion industry – the pattern cutters! These are the hard working, behind the scenes, an invisible team of people, who inhabit the design department of a manufacturing company. Their skill and ability will ultimately bring into existence the finished clothes worn by the buying public, from the simple skirt, the trousers, the casual shirt, the sheath dress to the prom dress or the sharp man’s suit.

Sweetheart Long Prom Dress on Pennzer
Sweetheart Long Prom Dress.

The designer produces the original illustrations, but these usually give little indication of how the pieces of a garment fit together, if at all, and may even be unworkable. The pattern cutter must then work his or her magic and translate a ‘pretty sketch’ into workable pattern pieces or templates. These are cut in calico, sewn up to create a toile and fitted over a tailors dummy to give an idea of what the garment will look like.

A pattern cutter will work closely with an expert machinist so together they can do the necessary alterations needed to the toile, before machining the final sample clothes. Only then will the fashion designer analyze the samples before deciding what pieces are wanted for the collection or should be put into production.

Other methods used by the pattern cutter include (1) draping pieces of material over a dummy, shaping and pinning them around this ‘body’ until they fit correctly (termed as draping), then cutting out a pattern from the pieces.

(2) Taking a flat standard pattern block and altering and shaping it to the desired style (3) Using an existing pattern base from a company’s pattern bank, and then modifying it as is necessary. Alternately, some pattern cutters will use computer-generated models, CAD, to get a sense of how the patterns will look or importantly see how the different shapes can best be laid on a width of fabric to make an outfit cost effective.

A pattern cutter will work with a diverse selection of fabrics, from cotton, linens, silks, wovens, jersey, knitwear and synthetics, which will be used in the manufacture of tailored garments, lingerie, casual wear across the broad spectrum of womenswear, menswear or childrenswear.

The designer may achieve fame and recognition, but the pattern cutters have the necessary talents to produce wearable, beautiful or functional garments out of a ‘sketchy’ idea. Their vital talents will encompass an interest in fashion and trends, the ability to interpret a designer’s drawing, team-working skills and be able to work quickly and accurately. Additionally, math’s skills are needed for measurements and calculations, and a good eye for detail, shape, and proportion. Finally, technical drawing skills, either those of computer or hand are needed.

The pattern cutter certainly is a person of great talent and someone to be lauded!

Is Art Good?

As debates go, the art debate is perhaps one that will never truly satisfy both sides – but art will always be about whatever people perceive it to be. Not even the powers that be or the so-called art system that designates what art is,  successfully manages to answer questions such as What is Art? Is it any good? and Why should some art forms be considered art, and others not?

Some artists are more comfortable with video, then they are with canvas or marble. It doesn’t mean that their chosen art form is silly, and it shouldn’t be dismissed as art just because it doesn’t resemble a Gainsborough, a Michelangelo, or a Jackson Pollock. The setting shouldn’t be a factor either or if the art is exhibited in a Gallery or Museum. It is not necessarily a work of art because of where it is. It is not necessarily art because it was written about in an art magazine or because it was shown on an art documentary on TV.

There are some of us that get irritated by what is art or if its any good. It can be hard for some of us to look at a piece of art and be expected to understand it. So we just have to continue to be irritated. It seems that when art takes a particular form that we don’t recognize, we ask “Is this art?”.  A group of people in a room trying to agree on what is art? may never reach a consensus on what is good art or bad art. Not even when they try to put themselves in the artist’s shoes. All you can do is to try and understand their work, to discover the artist’s hand, to try to relate to the artwork if you can.  If we can’t relate to it, then is it art? Does art even have a consensus? Do we need to change the way we define art? or do we dare to? Perhaps there does have to be some sort of consensus from knowledgeable art people (whoever they are), to let us know if something they deem as art is good or bad, to give us something that we can appreciate, something that can act as a flagship for what is art, and what is good art. The problem is that when you do that and there is nothing to see, then it may no longer exist as art in some people’s eyes.

Being knowledgeable about art or having a good eye, might not be enough to convince people if something is art or if its any good. The way art is evolving, anything might end up being considered as art. You have to ask yourself what it’s about, what does it mean (if anything), when was it made, how was it made, does it make any social contribution, what range of emotions does it provoke to the viewer. By asking good questions as to what art is, this can help us to determine what is or isn’t art.

Art has become more important to us, judging by the number of people that visit galleries and museums, the numbers are up, and people have become and are becoming more ‘art aware’. We are comfortably becoming our own art critics, while still listening to the art elite and to their knowledgeable opinions of what art is. As we become more art aware, we will be able to make more subjective determinations on what art is, and we will know art when we see it. As art becomes more ubiquitous, it might not matter where art is exhibited, or if museums decide not to show it because they don’t think its good enough, it will be more about if we believe it is and when we just get it, regardless of whatever its art form is.

The Rise of the Kindle

The enduring debate between paperback and the Kindle is something that I am sure many book lovers have contested at one time or another. So much about the Kindle has changed since it made its way into our lives for just over 10 years now. Perhaps the book world shouldn’t worry about the uncertain future of print just yet?

There are those readers that have migrated to the Kindle, and its ebook relation, and who return to print or they become “hybrid” readers. They juggle between the two, the Kindle and paper. Recently, Arnaud Nourry, CEO of one of the world’s largest book publishers, declared the Kindle to be a “stupid product”.

Publishing is not immune to technical upheaval, and it’s not clear if it will weather the wave of technology better than other forms of media like television and music.  It’s hard to say as the world is changing so fast to declare that this wave of digital technology is waning.

The cost of books is a factor for a lot of people nowadays, and that if you are able to obtain text, it might not matter if you are reading it in paper format or electronic format. Some might prefer the Kindle for a variety of reasons such as convenience, cost-effectiveness, portability, and accessibility.

The Kindle might also be a lot lighter than a pile of books, and might not fall apart so easily, or get dog-eared like one of your favorite books – which just makes a paperback all the more personal or as superlative as it is understated. Another thing is that you can’t dry your Kindle on your radiator after it gets dropped in the bath – which you can safely do with your paperback.

It might not be time to clear your bookshelves of your sentimental and treasured belongings and replace them with the Kindle just yet, or perhaps they can both share a space there. Who knows if the next generation will want to read books on a Kindle or some other form of electronic device. For now, maybe its more about picking what side you are on, or just getting used to both

Off White X Jimmy Choo

Off -White’s collaboration with Jimmy Choo is classy, colorful, dramatic, and according to Vogue “the most exciting new thing to happen between the ankle in quite some time”.

Off White Jimmy Choo Spring 2018 Paris launch
Off-White x Jimmy Choo collection. Spring 2018 Paris.

Off-White have been on the collaboration circuit for a while now, and have created collections with Nike, Vans, and Converse. It seems collaborations and partnerships are the way to go these days. The designer Virgil Abloh of cult fashion label Off-White is now moving towards interior design and has announced an upcoming partnership with IKEA. But it’s all about his teaming up with luxury shoe brand Jimmy Choo on a spring collection, that’s causing ripples.

Jimmy Choo was perhaps an interesting choice for Off-White to add to its long list of collaborations, but Jimmy Choo embraces shoe designs that comprise of (very pricey) conceptual plastics, tulles and bold floral prints.