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Pierre Bonnard, Design Observer, and the slow life

About a week and a half ago, I bravely ventured into the Tate to catch the last Saturday of Pierre Bonnard’s special exhibition. As you can imagine, it was more than a little hectic, but I’m still glad I went to go see it.

Prior to this exhibition (and I suppose even after), I had very little knowledge of the processes of Bonnard’s work, and I don’t think I have ever isolated it from his peers’ contributions. Which is to say that I’ve never really thought of this body of work standing by itself. So, seeing a few rooms-full of them was a treat. Despite the crowds and despite my unintended crash course.

These are all out of order, and I have to say that I have no internal means of locating them within a specific time or period. I have to say that the work is enjoyable, despite that. It was kind of a joyful experience, seeing the careful layering and juxtaposition of colour, which I cannot wrap my head around replicating (which, I assume, added to the joy of seeing these pieces come together so well and fluently).

The title of the exhibition is The Colour of Memory, which obviously points to his acute sense of it, but it also points to the method utilised by Bonnard when creating these images. Rather than paint en plein air, he often made several sketches of the images, to get the composition right, and at times, used a bit of photography. These are stitched together with the imprints of these rooms and landscapes in his memory.

If you can’t already tell from the abundance of the paintings of interiors that have caught my eye enough for me to share them… Well, I love those. Haha. There’s something about choosing to paint something that looks to be ordinary and creating a sort of ceremonial celebration around it. I love that Bonnard chooses to paint stacks of books, plates of food, the quiet stillness of everyday life — in extraordinary bursts of colour.

The inclusion of several animal companions grounds these work in a specific kind of cosy domesticity, where we, as viewers, bear witness to a shared life.

Of course, reading about Bonnard and his personal life left me, as they say, disappointed but not surprised. Blame it on cultural behaviour or accepted norms, but artists — especially those tagged with “genius,” though bafflingly, even those who aren’t particularly gifted — seem to really engage with interpersonal relationships that damage the other in irreparable ways. I think it’s also quite a disservice to these women, Marthe de Méligny (who he married) and Renée Monchaty, who were a large part of his life, to be mentioned in the notes as sort of anecdotes. Even Monchaty’s suicide, which was made out to have been due to his marriage to de Méligny, but was also mentioned very briefly. As if that was that. Understandably, there is little room for wordiness when you’re trying to cover the breadth of someone’s life, but a single sentence seems quite thin, and it just seems sad that even after having quite a life with another person, the ending of yours becomes a little footnote.

Still, I have a fondness for these quiet little rooms, looking inward or outward, and the stillness they carefully capture.

Although it was packed, one of the rooms served as reprieve for me, and I felt a little bit brave, taking out my iPad to sketch. I didn’t plan on doing any quiet sitting to draw (mainly because I had planned — and failed — to go to the last day of the Joan Cornellía show), so I had no other recourse but to go digital. To be quite frank, it was a really nice afternoon.

It’s become my sort of ritual after any visit to the Tate to pass by the ramen place close to it. Any post on the slow life, particularly slow food, feels incomplete without the mention of ramen, in my humble opinion.

And ramen is my ideal slow-cooked dish, I think. I always dream about making my own broth, but it seems like a steep learning curve, and also, I am not going to boil bones for 12 hours just for myself.

It’s not like getting ramen from a restaurant is cheap by any stretch, but I won’t have to spend 12 hours in cooking time and electricity bills for one fresh bowl (or two, if my flatmate Laura fancied one) and leftovers. Anyway, this is my favourite, I think — the classic and reliable tonkotsu — though I am quite liberal with adding some of the chilli and garlic bits, because, you know, it’s not like this isn’t rich enough already.

(I went to the Tate again on Tuesday for the Design Observer talk, and you know I got another bowl. It’s my comfort food; I need to be comforted!)

Speaking of Design Observer, it was quite a treat to see the panel on D.O. + Culture is Not Always Popular, which a book by MIT Press that collects a selection of “fifteen years of Design Observer” along with some of the comments printed in the marginalia, which all five speakers (L-R in photo: Adrian Shaughnessy, Jessica Helfand, Rick Poynor, Alice Twemlow, and Michael fucken Bierut) stressed added to the richness of the design community and the discourse they were having with one another, often with dissenting opinions, but enriching the landscape all the same.

They were talking about a time they called its “heyday,” and during the Q&A, someone from the audience asked about why they were talking about the Design Observer as though it were dead (which, it’s not). And for all the nostalgia from the panel surrounding this project, they stressed that even though it seems like a bulk of these discussions have retreated into the academe, many conversations are still happening in different ways, and expressed differently, and sometimes through different mediums.

It’s hard to keep a richness in conversation going, when there is so much shit people are trying to get your attention for that’s available and accessible and there. The saturation of content makes for a lot of distractions, and this frequency may lead some to believe that there is no market for the long-form or thoughtful writing anymore, but I really appreciated that Rick Poynor insisted that the appetite for learning and listening is still there. That just because these numerous distractions and avenues exist, it doesn’t mean that nobody has the patience for reading anymore. These are just distractions that we need to fight against.

Sometimes it feels like living a slower version of life is just a nicer way of saying “lazy” or “unproductive,” but being thoughtful and present allows for a different, and in some ways, more fulfilling view.

Life Lately No. 6

Thought I’d revive this update format last visited in 2015, which I feel is already very self-explanatory. (Yes? Okay.) In case you were wondering about my life for some reason, lol.

I am still working on my MRes (which is a research masters, but basically I say MA in conversation to keep things simple), but it’s all kind of self-motivated, so I don’t actually go to uni that much and work by myself a lot of the time. (I’ve worked extensively as a freelance writer and designer, so you’d think I’d have self-motivation in the bag. Alas, I do not.) It’s is kind of a weird set-up, since I liked being in school and having seminars so much, and those are what made things feel a bit more like a back-to-school thing, but I suppose that’s what happens when you’re an adult in school and have other things to worry about.

Speaking of other things, I have been working in retail for about seven months, and when I say it is a hellscape, I am very much not exaggerating. The Job Itself is Not That Bad, and I love a lot of my coworkers, but people really shit on you when you work in service industries, it seems like. It is BANANAS. I have thankfully not encountered anything overtly cruel — e.g. a friend works at a cinema and her coworkers have been told to “get an education,” since I guess jobs like ours don’t require brain juice?, and to “learn English” — but people can get really fucking awful and entitled when it comes to mass-produced clothing.

Basically, you’re not a person. You are a cog in a machine. And the machine is capitalism. I feel good that what we sell is at least nice. However, some patrons are not so nice. Also, it’s situated on a street that is very well-known for its shopping, so we get a lot of tourists who have some money (or, really, a lot of money) to burn.

It is not bad, but obviously not where I prefer to be, but again, it’s not bad. At least, it’s not the worst. But (again) obviously, it’s never really very smart to be somewhere or to be doing something just because “it’s not the worst.”

I’m trying to think of other ways to make money that doesn’t involve me selling my used underwear for some coin. So far, I’ve been looking for part-time and freelance work, and I’ve been applying to a few places, but it’s a challenge, because so are so many other great people who can a) work longer hours (my visa allows me 20 hours of work per week), and b) should it be for a full-time position in the future, don’t require a sponsorship from the employer.

I’ve been working on some small print things, and am trying to see if I can earn a little bit off of that. In case that’s of interest to any of you, my shop is here and I ship worldwide. I kind of feel a little funny plugging stuff, especially when it doesn’t come organically (i.e. a suffusion of enthusiasm! which is what happens when I don’t stop talking about something cool that brings me joy), but you know what? You can’t live off pride and shyness is what I’ve learned. Perhaps a late lesson, but a lesson nonetheless!

I think I’ve spent too much time on self-doubt instead of just making something. And when the paralysis hits, all I do is tune out and watch T.V. I don’t even really read all that much anymore, which is a shame, because now is the perfect time to be doing all of that. And I think, at the end of it, even if it doesn’t amount to whatever it is that I thought it would, I’d have made something and I’ll have something more than finishing a shitload of T.V. series to show for my time here.

Most days I just feel sort of useless, which deep, deep, deep down, I know isn’t true. But I still feel that way, and whether or not the sentiment is accurate, the feeling is still strong and vivid and there.

Most of the time, I don’t know what I’m doing or why I’m doing what I’ve chosen to do, but I don’t really like to think about that too much because it’s going to eat me up from the inside, and like I said, I’ve been thinking about how useless I feel a lot as it is. (For example, in the middle of writing this rather sad post about how much I feel worthless, lol, I’ve gotten two less-than-ideal responses to some things I’d applied to that said they went on to other people/applicants.)

On the upside, the sun has been out a lot more than usual. I don’t really like the heat all that much, but in England, when the sun is out, you get out of bed and go outside, even just for a little bit. And that little step out of your own little cave is sometimes good enough, at least for the day.

Three Things No. 3

I KNOW I KEEP SAYING THIS BUT I SHOULD DO THIS MORE OFTEN. Ahem.

(Three Things is mainly a post of things I have been enjoying for an unspecified amount of time. I enjoy many things and I know that I should be writing these things down. For my daughter, Posterity? For the sake of oversharing? Who knows, but here it is.)

Television

It’s not a secret that I watch a lot of television, but over the course of the past couple of weeks, I’ve finished entire series of things. I can’t say that I am unsure how, because I know exactly how, lol. But just to highlight a few that I can fully recommend with my whole heart: The Good Wife (particularly series three to five), The Good FightCRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND!, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (particularly the last three episodes, and particularly if you take into account that the last batch of episodes was a continuation of “part one” of the first series), and Fleabag. Also been enjoying a bunch of other shows, but… I like to pretend that I watch a reasonable amount of T.V. Also, it’s kind of insane how the last show I mentioned on here is probably Homecoming, which I watched forever ago, but yes. These are gr8.

I am wondering if I should just keep writing about T.V., because I watch entirely too much of it and don’t update quite as often as I’d like, and like I said, I love T.V., and I want other people to quit judging the medium, because it is such an amazing vehicle for telling stories.

Casting mountains

I’ve been using a non-toxic resin to make some mountains — kind of like translating my paintings into a miniature field. Expanding the landscape into a different dimension, so to speak.

I’ve been enjoying it a lot, but I’ve also hit a wall, because I’d like to scale it up, but haven’t had much luck with the logistics of it.

Film photography

I’ve been doing a bit of photographing again, because I missed doing it. I admit that I’m a bit stuck with what to take pictures of, lol. I have just been sitting at home, going to work or the studio, and even though it’s sunny at this very moment, the grey atmosphere has been rather uninspiring.



Honourable mention: Fried Food

I’ve been eating french fries, fried chicken, and donuts the whole of last weekend. It wasn’t very smart, so it’s only an honourable mention. I’ve also been trying to cook a bit more and be more mindful about what I eat. It’s because I have gotten rather round, but also because I know I’m not taking care of myself very well.

Which is a bit unacceptable for someone in their thirties… but here we are. Here’s to trying, anyway. I’ve been doing a bit of yoga and small exercises. I think I owe it to myself to try.

Detours with Laura and Pearlie + Betty Tompkins’ “Fuck Paintings, Etc.”

Pearlie visited Laura a week or so ago, and I tagged along with them one day to see a show by Betty Tompkins, which we thought was in Soho, but was actually waaaaay up north (by Archway at J Hammond Projects, which is at The Bomb Factory, which is close to CSM’s other campus). Although it was quite a bit of distance away from where we had decided to have lunch (Chinatown, of course), we made the trek anyway, because why not?

“Fuck Paintings, Etc.” is a collection of new work by Betty Tompkins whose projects seem to have resonated with recent developments such as #MeToo (covered here by Elephant, and here by Artsy). Pairing close-cropped images of genitalia, some in the act of fucking, and others superimposed with text which is often taken from contributions of actual statements or gleaned from news headlines.

(For some reason, the lighting reacted really bizarrely with my phone and Pearlie’s, both Androids.)

I think it’s pretty obvious that my favourites are the ones with the text, though there is something intriguing and, dare I say, attractive about the large-scale ones. The cropping is such a conservative use of space, but maintains a gracefulness about it, if that makes sense. I need to think about this some more, because I think it’s a bit easy to cop out and there are obvious ways to read the show, but also those readings are often uninteresting, so… uh, stay tuned???

From Archway, we ended up by Southbank at the Hayward for Diane Arbus! Alas, no pictures were allowed to be taken. So, uh… we went ham outside.

I will say, though, that Diane Arbus made me feel very encouraged to capture things on film, so to speak. Even just taking photos of your phone. It’s a kind of bearing witness, you know?

(This was in the ladies’ bathroom at the Hayward.)

Here’s a photo from a book that was out there. I think that’s a good note to end on.

Hello, hello, hello

Let me begin by saying that this platform is not that ideal for the “pick up where we left off” sort of outlook in life. If it were ideal, I’d either have left out a lot of details in my sort of sordid life (a joke) or I’d have a lot of catching up to do. And retroactively trying to remember your emotional state after you’ve been through a flurry of emotions is, similarly, not very ideal. I’d like to not go back to feeling like fucking shit, thank you very much.

In any case, here I am, trying to make the same excuse of absence sound like something else. I’ve been writing on the Internet since 2002, when I was a freshman in high school. I did it because my best friend, Isa, did it, though of course her journal came with a format and a vision and a voice. All I did was post quiz results and moan about school. I didn’t really know how to talk to people back then, and even though I am better at human interaction these days (or so I’d like to think), there is still that comfort of just sort of talking to yourself with the vague idea that someone out there is paying attention.

So, to recap: I am on my last year at uni, working on a practice-led project, which is just a funny way of saying that I’m incorporating my research directly into the new work I produce. The text component of this option is much shorter and uncomfortably inward-looking, and I am a little bit sorry about the number of words for research and theory that I’m relinquishing, but also, I did go back to school for this marriage of theory and praxis, and as is established by this little nothing of a space on the internet, words can exist basically anywhere, so… here we are.

This morning, I went to a tutorial with the most helpful tutor I have, and even though it was brief, I’m approaching this with more clarity than I’ve had in the past two months or so. I’ve written a bunch of words and researched and read, but I realised that there was a disconnect with the work. The good thing is that we can start again.

I’ve been a bit hazy-headed lately, which I’d like to chalk up to SSRI withdrawals. It’s always helpful to have something to blame for your bad behaviour (again, a joke), but this time around, I had to go chase down some medication I desperately needed for about a week and a half, so that was fun. The problem with housing in London is that it’s expensive and uncertain, and in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve lived in three places, and it didn’t occur to me to check with the first address. It was there but I didn’t have access to it, but that story is boring.

Just to reassure whoever is reading this, I am O.K. However—

My last move was not particularly pleasant, in the sense that I moved from something sort of awful, with manipulative and opportunistic people, into a house and situation that I am cautiously optimistic about, so I suppose that is already one good thing.

Another good thing is that the studio I’ve been renting out (and making things in) is beside a nice pub, where they have quite a good selection of beer — with great prices for take away — although the food is not particularly amazing. Let it be said that I am sick of toasties.

But I do feel quite lucky to have chanced upon this studio, which has all the space I need and is quite cheap (please adjust standards for geography), and again, as I’ve mentioned, is right beside a pub. However, there are rumours of its demolition, so, lol. I don’t know. I’m staying put until I have to leave, basically. 

I’ve also made a friend at the studio. Partly because I locked myself out one time, and then partly because she locked herself out another time. The good thing about that ordeal is that I met said friend, Minyoung, and another good thing about that same ordeal is that I can be sure of the security of the actual warehouse.

The studio is also close to the London Centre for Book Arts, which is a place where I am trying to learn how to use their machines for making books. I’ve always said that that was what I wanted to so with my life: make books. And that a dream of mine is to own a small press. I realised that that didn’t have to mean actually owning a printing press, not really, so let’s see if this roundabout route is a step towards somewhere. But, even if it’s not, that’s okay, too.