Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Say Goodbye -- The Great Graffiti Controversy

Life is so very interesting.  Several weeks ago, I wrote about using architectural detail as a theme for my photography.  I’d planned this post as a sort of Part II -- to ramble a bit about the beauty and diversity of Street Art, Urban Art, Graffiti and Mural Art.  I’ll still do that, but I’ll be heading in a little different direction, because of something that occurred yesterday...  

For years and years, the controversy over graffiti was “those damn kids” with their spray paint; defacing property, contributing to Urban blight and the general “moral corruption” of society.  Writing that made me chuckle out loud, but I can recall my parents and their friends saying things exactly like that.

If you read my blog, you’ll know I was raised up nice and healthy in the Midwest --  Kansas to be exact -- with room to roam and the freedom to do it.  But I’ve been a city dweller now for a majority of my years and life in the city has shown me clearly that the definition of beauty is not the narrow, confined standard proscribed by society -- rather it is huge, unlimited -- sky high.  It’s whatever we want it to be and it is constantly evolving.

When I travel with my camera, I nearly always choose a city where I can unpack my bags and roam on foot finding “my” coffee shop, “my” bookstore and “my” local bar to hang in as I begin exploring.  Traveling on foot allows me to see who’s out on the streets with me, what they’re doing, what clothes they’re styling, how they maintain their homes, their trash, where they play, their music scene - it also lets me feel virtuously healthy burning a multitude of calories as I walk.  Wandering around on foot also allows me to see so many of the details that disappear in a blur breezing along in a taxicab.  Cherubs, lions, the face of a native american unexpectedly carved over a doorway and weird, wild, wonderful graffiti of all kinds.

Graffiti as an art form has evolved from the repeated signature scrawl of a name or “tag” and morphed into full fledged mural art by talented artists and biting political commentary like that of the now famous - or infamous - Banksy.  The determination of graffiti artists hasn’t changed over the years, but their work has matured, becoming much more detailed and complex - very possibly because they don’t have to paint it on the run any longer.  Graffiti - and street art have come to be appreciated as “real art” and its “ownership’ is being fought over on an international level including in auction houses. 

Because it can disappear or be completely defaced in a moment, I’m drawn to document graffiti and mural art with my camera.  While San Francisco, unlike the majority of U.S. cities, seems to embrace the work of its graffiti artists, here in Philly, it’s still painted over by city workers almost as soon as it’s painted...no matter how lovely. 

When you take an interest in photography, you are drawn toward what the photographer has seen in any given moment in time.  That moment - just like a snowflake - will never be recreated or captured identically again -- no matter what the subject.  The light will never be exactly the same, another photographer will “see” the same view very differently, a month of sunshine will fade the pigment, each camera will capture the moment just “this much” differently - making it unique.

This is the place where I was going to talk about using graffiti and mural photography as a unique way to bring contemporary art and the feel of the city into your home or office,  because I was feeling rather pleased with my little unofficial, one-woman Street Art - Graffiti Art - Mural Art Preservation Program.  Instead, today I am preparing to pull some of my favorite images from my shop.  

A San Francisco mural artist contacted me yesterday and asked me to remove my photographs of his work.  It’s disappointing for a number of reasons -- chief among them?  I was excited to share this art. The flip side though, whether legal, illegal or debatable is that I would be leaving a fellow artist feeling like his work had been stolen and that seems in poor taste...at the very least.

Conversation went back and forth a few times, I asked advice from several different sources to consolidate my thinking.  Closing in pretty quickly on the undeniable fact that I would obviously remove my photos featuring his work as requested.  Something had me unsettled and a little on edge though.  It took me awhile, but I finally worked it out in the wee hours.  The artist is convinced I willingly meant to do him harm.  There seems to be no way to convince him otherwise -- he is certain I am evil.  My offer to contribute proceeds to a Youth Mural Program or Mural Preservation Group of his choice were viewed as disingenuous, stated with harsh words.

I’m that person who happily holds doors open for young and old alike, shovels half the block when it snows because so many of my neighbors are older or in ill health and “blesses” total strangers when they sneeze in public.  Am I Mother Theresa?  Definitely not.  Can I be thoughtless?  Oh yeah.  Being seen as the devil incarnate definitely bugged me though and I spent far too much time trying to explain myself and my intentions to someone who will never hear me.  The poor man is just trying to protect his interests after all and that must be one tough job considering his work is outside in an alley -- in an area known for graffiti.  Good grief - head shaking - laughing fondly at self in a Christopher Robin sort of way.

Street art has come a long way from its public nuisance, in your face, spray paint scrawled roots.  It is now fine art -- exactly the point I was trying to make when I started writing this.  Protected, copyrighted, guarded carefully as if safe within museum walls.  Ironic, isn’t it?  This may be the last time you see several of these images...unless you plan a trip to San Francisco’s Mission District to see one of the most concentrated collections of amazing graffiti art murals...in person.  Just don’t take your camera!

E. England

The fabulous top mural was obviously created by the very cool Zio Zeigler, the stunning middle mural is by the wildly talented team of Alynn-Mag. More information may be found on these artists in my Etsy Shop.  Come visit.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Philadelphia Flower Show - 2013

Here's a fast, but fun post!

Flowers - by the first week of March I'm craving them.

The theme of the 184th Philadelphia Flower Show is Brilliant Britain with inspiration coming from -- where else?  Our talented and stylish gardening friends in England.  After a few hit-or-miss years, the Flower Show is “back” with lush, sweet-smelling displays that are big, creative, whimsical and luscious.  Piped in music highlights all-British bands and provides great energy -- "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away..."  

If you Google the show, you’ll see lots of spectacular floral displays I’m sure, but I came away with some favorite pics that are, perhaps, a little different.  Here’s what caught my eye this year...

Hats.  I adore hats and these fascinators are so stylish!  A certain amount of savoir faire would be required to pull them off and these beauties would require regular watering as well...

This gorgeous evening gown made of...l had to look very closely...nearly toppling into the display - rice.  Oh, and there's another hat involved as well...fun.
A classic display of architecture and statuary, surrounded by a verdant lawn, richly colorful, heavenly scented flowers and a fountain.  Hold on...did that statue just move?  She did.  Ever so slowly and not very often.  I loved watching the faces on the folks in the crowd as they slowly -- or suddenly -- realized the statue in the center arch was gracefully ALIVE.  Double fun.

If you haven’t been yet, this is a great year to go.  The giant reproduction of Big Ben that tolls the hour...almost allows you to believe you’re in London...not Philly.

E. England

Monday, March 4, 2013

Saturday Surprise -- Goals Unmet

This is not the blog I’d planned to write today.  I was going to write about Graffiti Art and my recent obsession photographing it, but instead, I’m going to tell a little story on myself...because I find I must brag about my pals.

My plan for Saturday was to be up, out of the house and walking by 9 a.m.  I spent the week sitting - ugh - in front of the computer working in my Etsy shop being massively productive.  As a result, my sad little bottom feels flat and flabby and I was more than ready for a brisk walk across town to the Museum of Art to run sets of the “Rocky Steps”, stop for oatmeal and coffee and then continue the walk back home.  A good six+ miles roundtrip -- and those brutal steps working up a good sweat along the way - I knew I would feel wildly virtuous afterwards.  I envisioned a halo on my head and a sleeve of Girl Scout Cookies in my future..

Here’s what actually happened on Saturday.  I got up, put on my comfy old robe and slippers, made a cup of jasmine tea...and sat down in front of the computer.  Vowing to get up and go “right after I finish this” at least a dozen times -- this led to that when three cups of tea and six hours later the doorbell rang.  Still in my P.J.’s mind you, I sheepishly answered the door to find dear friends - Ms. X and Mr. Y - in town for the day visiting Mr. Y’s lovely daughter Z who’s studying at Penn.   Pleased to meet daughter Z for the first time, we laughed, we chatted, we had a whorl-wind catch up and out the door they went.  Great fun -- they didn’t seem to mind a bit that I looked like I’d just crawled out of bed with my teeth unbrushed, my hair a fright and the house strewn with newspapers, tea cups and toast crumbs.

I was so happy to have seen them -- even briefly -- because, as I’ve known for many years, I have remarkably special friends.  Honestly, I don’t know why I’m so lucky, but I have world class, creme de la creme, hands-down the best people on earth for friends.  Here’s an example of why:  several hours after Ms. X, Mr. Y and daughter Z departed, laughing their merry way down the sidewalk, I got an email from Ms. X.  Here, in part, is what she said to me:   

You wear those silk pajamas well....It's rare that our friends are so "uptown" that they appear at 4 p.m. on a Saturday in silk pajamas and cashmere robes.  Do you know Myrna Loy???”

You know you are lucky in your friends when they surprise you at your worst...but manage to see you in fine, rare light...and of course Ms. X would know that Myrna Loy is one of my role models!  I’m afraid husband T did not receive William Powell comparisons in his sweats and baseball cap...I’ll be hunting up a vintage “smoking jacket” for him...on Etsy of course.

E. England

Friday, March 1, 2013

Home Decorating Ideas: Architectural Detail

My name is Elizabeth and I’m an addict.  Not an addict in the traditional sense, happily, but I am addicted to the beauty I find in old, romantic, classical architecture.  Specifically, the architectural detail that divinely decorates the grand old buildings constructed during the time of Kings and Queens, Czars and Czarinas and more recently in the United States, by myriad railroad, oil and steel tycoons who reigned here during the late 1800‘s well through the turn of the century.

Considering my addiction, which developed gradually while traveling in Russia, Turkey, France, Italy and England, I’m a lucky girl to live in Philadelphia -- an eminently walkable city with plenty of old money.  Close proximity to New York City and not that far from the famous Cliff Walk mansions of Newport, RI certainly helped as well.  In fact, when big name architects of the time weren’t busy with grand office buildings and palatial homes, they were commissioned to build magnificent mausoleums to celebrate the dead as well.  So, even our cemeteries offer amazing works of art.

One sweltering summer, not long after moving to Philadelphia, I offered to help a friend shut down her antiques store across town.  Every morning for much of the season, I’d set out on foot early to beat the heat, taking a different route every day to make it interesting.  With nobody yet out on the sidewalks racing to work, I could pay attention to the world around me rather than dodging cars and other pedestrians.  In this way, I discovered the extraordinary architectural detail and design of my new home and was almost giddy with excitement.

The architecture of Philadelphia has been well maintained and is wonderfully weathered, adding to the charm.  The newness has long since worn off and moss-green, rust and the patina of time enhances the beauty of each unique detail.  Harking back to an era when labor was cheap and ornamentation a sign of wealth and success, intricate ironwork, tile-work, mosaic and architectural detail embellish nearly every structure.  Thousands of masterpieces -- large and small -- can be found within the larger body of each building.  I marvel at the skill of the craftsmen who labored on these projects.  Where did they come from?  Why did they come?  How did they get here?  What has happened to their magnificent skills?

Beautifully carved cherubs, angels, and the expressive face of a native american settled over a doorway.  Horses, lions, bears -- all manner of mythological creature: the gryphon, winged dragons and gargoyles.  Oh and the Gods and Goddesses...they are lovely.  Once you begin to notice them, you see they are everywhere.  Museum-worthy works of art  -- outdoors, in plain sight, for all the world to see and yet, they are so common, they have vanished from our sight.  We walk past them every day and do not notice.

Actually, I notice them.  I stalk them with my camera...waiting for the light to mellow or shift, for the rain to come and deepen the hues, or the season to change.  I stalk them and capture them and print them out on museum quality paper made for watercolor artists because it enhances the texture of the stone, saturates the shadows and heightens the richness of streaking minerals and rust. 

Subject to the vagaries of time and weather, the architectural details are ever-changing and I know that what is captured today, may look very different a year from now and I am touched in a way that surprises me - a little window of awareness has opened.  So forgiving of the changes in the structures I am - finding them graceful, lovely and natural -- I am inspired to practice that same generosity on myself as I observe in my mirror the changes each year brings. 

Photography is remarkably versatile.  Float it in modern plexiglass.  Frame it in reclaimed wood for a rustic look, vintage frames for shabby chic style or classic black to blend with any decor.  So, indulge me if you would.  You’ve heard that walking is good for you -- take a walk in an old city -- or even in a small town that’s been around for awhile and was prosperous for a number of years.  Look at the office buildings, old banks, schools, libraries and government buildings.   Notice the doorways and windows and along the rooftops.  What do you see?  Snap your own photographs and pop them into frames, or stop into my shop and take a look at more of my images, which include a variety of travel photography, urban art and artisan jewelry featuring my photography as well.  I hope you find something new and interesting and beautiful on your walk -- or in my shop.  www.ninedragons.etsy.com

This collection of images has been pulled from Washington, DC, Charleston, SC, Philadelphia, PA, New York City and St. Augustine, FL.

E. England