There is a story behind every created form of expression – and if you are familiar with my online portfolio, you already know that I include little stories along with my posts. With this particular piece I have three [maybe more!] stories, so please bear with me.
In the early 1920s my maternal grandmother Ella Sachse had chosen to study art at what is now known as Moore College in Philadelphia, PA. Many of the tools and supplies she had accumulated have been passed along to me through my mother, including this most recent and astonishing block of cold press Fabriano paper:
In my eagerness to honor this vintage paper I had to reacquaint myself with using watercolors and due to the rough surface of it, I needed to “turn off” my usual insistence of small detailing. As seen below, I realized that the spirit of the outfit was far more important than the brocade panel behind the model.
Now, I have sung my praises of Dior’s creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri before but, honestly, I don’t actually follow her or any other designer with some fanatic intent. Rather, it is Dior somehow finding me – by way of print ads or fashion headlines. The latter being the case when I read that their Spring/Summer 2021 collection of haute couture was born from a rare deck of Tarot cards…
And I have dabbled in reading Tarot cards for over 20 years. While partial to the Thoth method and for those who know little about the Tarot, there are 78 cards in total and within those there are 22 dedicated to archetypes called The Major Arcana. In my personal history with both the Thoth and Rider-Waite cards, I found a particular affinity to The Fool card [#0]. That said, it made perfect sense to me that I would gravitate to Ms Chiuri’s sartorial interpretation of The Fool!
The month of August was not mine to do as I would choose. Yet, within my home/studio [a basement apartment] the flooring in both the front and back was steadily eroding beneath me. Carpenters and plumbers and “finishers” were called in – and over the past few weeks all that I had needed to be relocated during the restoration. Of course much of the redistribution involved art supplies…
When I finally found a bit of time to create, I chose to use a long forgotten palette of – of? – that was paint which I realized was gouache. For those who might be unclear as to the difference between gouache and watercolors, one tip I would make is that gouache is harder to lift [or shift] than watercolors. Does it need mentioning that I had trouble in blending the floor?
Kiko Sitting 9″ x 12″ Gouache
The subject I’ve depicted here was taken from a Takashi Homma photo of Kiko Arai and was published in W’s “Art Issue” of 2019.
When researching for a little background story to accompany my sketch which is taken from a 1949 photo by Sir Cecil Beaton, I found Beaton himself being interviewed that the BBC had aired in 1962. Because Beaton had not just “one vocation” – his photography, theatrical stage design, and writing, to name a few – he was asked “Does photography keep going all the time?” In answer Beaton says, “No, uh… I don’t want to get stale at it. … I want to try to remain an amateur at it in order that I have the amateur’s freshness and spontaneity.”
I feel rather aligned with that belief a great deal of the time. Yes, there are times when I yearn for a level of decisiveness in mastering a medium; but would it also feel painfully repetitive?
Evelyn Tripp by Cecil Beaton 1949 9″ x 12″, Graphite and Colored Pencils
After viewing the BBC interview, I continued on this YouTube track by watching a film entitled “Beaton by Bailey”. In this, photography legend David Bailey more or less profiles Cecil Beaton in documented snippets. Some of these, lovingly. But then some, a bit tarnished. What I had taken away from the contrast is that Beaton’s works were better with seasoned muses. For Vogue, he had captured Evelyn Tripp – who does not at all fade amidst numerous Matisse cut-outs added to the set.
From the archives of Harper’s Bazaar, I was very touched by a 1948 picture that had been taken by Louise Dahl-Wolfe. As we are all now vulnerable, the way in which this [uncredited] model held a handkerchief in front of a porch beam gave me some sense of empathy and reassurance. In my own illustration and more than anything else, I tried to bring out what I sensed – rather than what is seen in the original.
Geranium Porch 2020 8″ x 11.5″, Mix Media
Photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe [b. 1895, d. 1989] is credited with influencing a number of the most coveted fashion photographers of the Mid-century era. Dahl-Wolfe did so by using naturalized settings and the advancement in producing full color images during the Forties and Fifties for fashion shoots in her role as a staff photographer for Harper’s Bazaar.
Despite having her work exhibited in galleries and museums, Louise Dahl-Wolfe – according to a quote I found online at Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago – was not of the opinion that photography could be considered Fine Art.
Last year and during a period that I found myself feeling especially grateful and generous, I began a sketch of Milton Glaser with the intention of sending it to him along with a letter of my adoration. What can I say? I got waylaid. I had overworked this little 5” X 7” portrait to an extent that poor Milton looked as if he belonged in a Kabuki theater. Really, awful. I meant to finish it but… and yet…
From childhood to present, Glaser’s artistic and illustrative designs have greatly contributed to my sense of aesthetics. However, Milton Glaser as a mentor [to me and so many others, globally] brought a profoundly strong ethos that he not only embodied but touched upon so generously in both writing and talking on the subject of art. He was a true mensch whose words were often flavored with deeply informed historical philosophies. Anyway, this has been my impression whenever I’ve streamed one of his videotaped conversations; which was quite often as I worked at my own easel.
Imagine the blow I felt when I learned of his death last week! I had to wrestle with the guilt I had for having never finished my little portrait of him… or sending that letter. I picked up that first task again and thanks to an image found on the website artsmeme.com, I pencil sketched Mr Glaser and then, for better or worse, printed out a tracing. In the colorized version, I added a personal favorite Glaser-designed metal sculpture that had been commissioned by The Rubin Museum in New York City.
This could also be titled “Penn and Patchett in Pencil” as model Jean Patchett is the poised woman holding the wine glass for photographer Irving Penn – circa 1949. Citing the caption as found online, Patchett is wearing “silk taffeta… from Vogue Design #6708”. Does the #6708 refer to a dress pattern? I wonder.
The half page size copy of Penn’s black and white photo proved mysterious in parts also. In the original, a shadowy violin player is seen in the background. Very barely! There is a dark door dividing the musician and model, obscuring outlines of her skirt. So, I used the visible clues to render all that I could…
When I do a search for a muse, my aim often is in seeking someone who feels familiar to me – while avoiding many subjects I may already be thoroughly familiar with. It is like a game where I really can’t lose because I often find remarkable stories behind these veneers.
So, after completing my sketch of a 1960s Donna Mitchell last week [“Then and There”] I went on to do a search of my subject with the hope of learning more about her. At the top of the results online I was astonished to see brilliant photos of Ms Mitchell – as she continues to model to this day! Represented by the “Iconic Focus” agency, her portfolio amazed me as she is no less stunning now than she had been in her teens. Although, and perhaps an indication of that “familiarity” factor, I found very little of her personal life and I’m quite private with my own. And while it was hard to choose from her very-very varied looks collection, the pose I settled on seemed to serve as the best narrative companion for my other Donna Mitchell sketch – in which she beams, sitting and looking quite self possessed.
While searching vintage era images I was recently very much taken with one which is so quintessential 60s Mod – yet there is more to it… Up until the moment of discovery I wasn’t at all familiar with model Donna Mitchell and yet in the expression she gave photographer David Montgomery, there is some element of personal reflection about it.
Years [and years!] ago I was – as I recall – shaped like a lollipop. From my neck down, a stick. My head, being the “lolli”. Or the “pop”? I mention this as my water brush sketch doesn’t quite do the real [and very stunning] Donna Mitchell justice; the result being an illustrated snapshot of, perhaps, personal vulnerability?
My friend Richard reminded me that today is Pati’s birthday. Had Pati Hill not departed life here in 2014 she would be 99 years old…!
Richard Torchia, who is Arcadia University’s art gallery director, had discovered the genius of Pati’s art around the time that her book “Letters to Jill” was published. In his present capacity as curator to her artistic legacy, Richard recently secured an exhibition of Pati’s works at the Kunstverein München in Munich, Germany.
And due to my friendship with Pati Hill I am honored to have as a friend her invaluable assistant, Nicole. For the past six years, dear Nicole has given me extraordinary mementos of photographs and art and more… The sketch below was rendered from a photo of Pati, wherein she sits within a window of her home in Yonne, France.
My reasons are multifold [pun intended] for sketching from Tim Walker’s photo of Sandy Powell. For starters, Ms Powell is no ingenue nor is she a fashion model – as one might typically find in my works.The vibrancy she exudes is not limited to her vivid red hair; there is joi de vie found throughout the “W” editorial and you can see this for yourself on stylist Sara Moonves’ Instagram. And better still[!], those specs which Sandy Powell wears are nearly identical to the ones worn by my mother.
You might not know my subject – but in all likelihood you have seen her award winning costume designs from a plethora of movies. In fact, I would love to wear that zipper and safety pin jacket of her own design…
The Thistle pattern, artfully applied to a Louis Vuitton jacket and as worn by Kaia Gerber, brought the word “pluck” to my mind. Found in Vogue’s March issue [“The New Edwardian”] and photographed by David Sims, I just love that diagonal action in Gerber’s hair above the uniformly vertical pattern. Does anyone say “plucky” these days? Well, this is pluck all over!
From his fairly humble beginnings, Gaultier began his breath taking career when he was employed by Pierre Cardin. Jean Paul was a mere 18 year old at the time! [Does anyone speak much of Cardin today? Would it be hubris to view Gaultier as having surpassed his mentor if we are to think of the legends of haute couture?]
Gaultier has often come across as an impish mischief maker; this being one of the many reasons I personally adore him but also gives one the sense that he will not disappear entirely. And since his own style – more often than not – is typically a striped sailor’s shirt, I felt the need to lend stripes to the model’s gloved hand.