All posts by VickieVictoria

Intrepid traveler. Architect and appreciator of design, art, language, opera, history, and anthropology.

Drawing Marathon

Last week’s challenge to draw 100 people in five days was exhausting but satisfying! It took a bit of planning, but I managed to stalk strangers at the following locations:

1. City College of San Francisco students;
2. UCSF Osher Mini-Medical School evening class;
3. Hollow Cafe on Irving Street, San Francisco with fellow artists Karen and Lorna (in sketches), and Farley’s Cafe on Potrero Hill, San Francisco
4. Sunset Library, Adult and Juvenile Divisions
5. BART late-nite transit passengers and SFO International Airport

100 People 1 Week Drawing Challenge

Budding sketch artists will tell you that stationary models are the best for sketching purposes. Subjects who move around are at free will to ruin your intentions! The worst were those at the airport, who were already crazed and erratic in behavior. The ones in classes were probably the easiest to draw. If you haven’t ever tried it, give it a shot! It keeps you focused and out of trouble.

In order to learn more about developing sketching techniques, I joined the San Francisco Sketchers. There are normally two to three meet-ups a week. The last three included drawing during the preparations for the Chinese New Year Parade, the Annual History Day at the U.S. Mint in San Francisco, and a portrait party.

Last week’s portrait party hosted by author Julia Kay required us to draw each other in small groups of 4-6 sketchers. We started with a 30 second blind gesture using our non-dominant hand, then with the dominant hand. Portrait sketches, as the one you see in the header, were 10-minute sketches. Totally fun, especially getting to see other interpretations of you, as well as of others in the group.

I will continue to draw, especially during future trips. It gives you an entirely different memory experience and way of looking at things.

By the way, take a look at my newly posted world trip 2018 page (on the menu at the top) for details of my upcoming travels!

Islamic Art at the Metropolitan Museum, New York City, and the Grassi Museum, Leipzig

Having visited many fine museums throughout the world and being an avid student of art history, I enjoy venturing beyond the usual Eurocentric and Asian collections to investigate Islamic Art. I also like to pair my interest in art with world history and Silk Road civilizations. I am currently reading The Silk Roads, A New History of the World, by Peter Frankopan. It was recommended to us by Oxford scholar Craig Clunis. It turns traditional thinking about world history on its head and is a fascinating read.

My quest for understanding the Silk Road was initiated a few years ago during my first world journey in 2014 through Northwest China and the relatively untouristic path from Dunhuang through Turfan and Urumqi to Uzbekistan (See World Travels 2014 Page). My current personal research on Iran at the opposite end of my initial travels on the Silk Road  (originally named Seidene Strasse by a German academic) will hopefully culminate in a trip to Persia in the near future.

I couldn’t resist a stop at the Metropolitan Museum’s expanded and comprehensive collection of Near Eastern Artwork.  I two-timed the Michelangelo exhibit, the primary purpose of my visit,  that I saw with my sister in New York last month. The section includes an entire room with a soothing trickling water fountain and narrowly proportioned, elegant tracery windows made to simulate a traditional courtyard. Selected items in the collection are below, some with captions (but not all) .

As a design major in my undergraduate days at UC Berkeley, I learned Western calligraphy styles, such as Carolingian, Uncial, and Gothic. I couldn’t help but want to master the Islamic calligraphic style that now suddenly appeared so beautiful and balanced to me. Of course, learning how to read it would be part of the goal, a simple feat…

My earliest curiosity over the wide stretches between Asia and Europe came from specific designs of “Oriental” carpets, such as Bokhara, Tabriz, Caucasian, and Isfahan. I had no idea what they meant. Lo and behold, the places where they were made exist, or once did.  It was exciting for me to discover that Bokhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan were also UNESCO world heritage sites.

Below are a representative collection of carpets in the Near East Gallery at the MET. The weavers of the Anhalt Medallion carpet (2nd from the left below) followed a paper cartoon in creating the design.  The carpet is derived from the Anhalt prince of Dessau, whose ancestors may have acquired it through military campaigns against the Ottoman Turks in the late 17th C.

Porcelain was a coveted item from China. In addition to silk, these goods pwere transported along what became the Silk Road. The Sogdian traders based in Samarkand were the kings of the highway, and were adept at managing, bargaining and anticipating desirable goods along the route. In turn, cobalt and copper were brought from the Near to the Far. The beautiful calligraphy and inscription to the bowl below reads “Planning before work protects you from regret; good luck and well being”.

There were only a few sculptural ceramics but I particularly liked the whimsical and creative “bird woman” shown below.

I’m including a few of the beautiful floral-themed beauties that I discovered at the Grassi Museum in Leipzig (descriptions are in German) below, to compare with those from the MET.

The featured map above also comes from the Grassi. I could stare at maps like these forever, to contemplate and realize how little we know about the vast array of significant dots between Europe and Asia. You can’t really study the Silk Road without knowing the key place names that put them in time and order!

Michelangelo Drawings at the Met

As an earnest and diligent student of figure drawing, I followed my art instructor’s recommendation to see the Michelangelo exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. The drawings are culled from multiple collections, both public and private, throughout Europe and the U.S. I was enraptured by each contour, hatchline, and the shade and shadows that created three-dimensional images on a flat piece of paper. These magical acts come from a discipline unmatched by any other since Renaissance times, and I was able to view these hundred or more performances all at once.

I first joined an exclusive after-hours evening at the Met to digest and sip the information slowly. The next morning, with a courtesy admission, I was able to quickly document the exhibition so I could later savor this encounter with Michelangelo.

Here are a few visual highlights with associated text from the exhibition. They are annotated in the order that resonates the most for my interest in figure drawing:

Portraiture

 

The Human Figure

 

 

Early Precedents: These show how and from whom he learned. The white highlights on tone paper provide contrast and depth to the drawings.

 

Painting Preparation and Students

 

Architecture

 

Sculpture

 

City Planning

 

There’s still time to see this magnificent exhibition until February 12! If you are unable to attend, I invite you to please study and relish these reproduced copies carefully. In order to share these in a timely fashion, I have not captioned or annotated every image. I hope you will nevertheless catch the whiff of Michelangelo’s development, intentions, and success.  We should appreciate the wealth of information we now have at our disposal. The contributors to the exhibition are listed below. Congratulations and thanks to the Metropolitan Museum for this incredible effort.

P.S. I wanna be this guy!!

IMG_1390

Nippy in NewYork

Coming to New York in the middle of the winter sounds like a crazy thing to do, but we did. It started as a nippy 18 degrees in New York, but so far it didn’t deter any plans or ability to walk outdoors. In fact, the noticeably fewer tourists, being able to get into restaurants and museums easily, and bargain hotel rates were all incentives for risking unpredictable weather. I came with my sister to show her all my favorite sights that include the Highline, the Mighty Mets (Metopera and the Metropolitan Museum) and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).

We power-walked the first morning from Midtown Manhattan and bee-lined down Third Avenue to Balthazar (shown on previous posts) for a brisk three-mile stretch, then made a quick stop to see the 911 Memorial. The fountain, a bottomless pit, was a sobering reminder of that fateful day that changed America and the world forever.

The new highrise developments in the area are stunningly beautiful, including Calatrava’s Transportation Center (also in header above). We headed over to the Highline afterwards for another short walk from 23rd to 34th Streets. Being able to walk everywhere is heaven, and staying in Midtown Manhattan makes everything all the more accessible. We clocked an average of 5-7 miles per day, so felt alert and energized.

My dear friends Lisa and Dick, who have been residents of NYC for over 35 years were ready to assist with event planning.  We started with dinner at Le Bateau Ivre downstairs from the Pod Hotel, tasted wine from the Chef & Sommelier glassware they brought to show us, then met the next evening for opera. Lisa was a bit skeptical of long, drawn-out operas that last well into the night, but the two short, hour-long verismo operas Cavallera Rusticana and Pagliacci were perfect to convince her that opera is a worthy investment.  The music is among some of the most beautiful in opera, so there wasn’t much convincing to do.

Starring Roberto Alagna in both operas, they were emotionally satisfying and the music was glorious. His performance was bright and powerful.  The story about a vaudeville troupe is a play within a play. Canio, the clown, whose wife is in love with another man, must perform his comedy act for the audience even though he is heartbroken inside. In an interview with Roberto Alagna, he commented on how relevant the story is to opera performers, but how unique it was to be sharing the lead roles with his real-life wife, Aleksandra Kurdak. (She played Nedda, Canio’s wife).

Later in the short week, we were also treated to a performance by the New York City Ballet. This time it was my turn to experience and appreciate dance through the joy of physicality combined with artistic talent.IMG_1537

In addition to Balthazar and Ess-a-Bagel, our dining events include Bar Boulud and the Smith (both conveniently next to Lincoln Center), and Pastrami Queen at 1125 Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side. Some creative soups at the MOMA cafe filled both our eyes and appetites.

IMG_8927

When you can park yourself at one of New York’s best kept secrets–the Pod Hotel (at 230 E. 51st Street, between 2nd and Third Avenues) for $75 a night for two in bunk beds with a shared bath down the hall, mingle with international visitors of all ages, and spare the rest for all the food and entertainment in the Big Apple–what’s not to like? I normally do not mention hotels in my posts, but for variety and voracious urban consumers like me, this is it. Originally called the Pickwick Arms, we’ve stayed in this location in NYC off and on for over 30 years. To top it off, the Pod serves Ess-a-Bagels and Balthazar almond croissants in their cafe!!

The extensive Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition of Michelangelo’s Drawings, culled from over 23 sources throughout the world, was my primary purpose in coming to New York City. The private tour I took will follow in a separate post.

…seems it sometimes rains in Southern California…

Coming from Northern California to Southern California and finding drippy rain is a real downer. We Northerners never dispute the better weather LA gets…but what happens when it rains an entire day, causing plans to change and the wet weather gear to be pulled out…when it’s supposed to be an endless summer kind of town!?!

San Francisco rises to the ratings meteorically as a result. Better public transit, food, art, museums. Hands down. We don’t even have to make apologies for the fog this way.

Nevertheless, I continued my independent sketching exercises at the LA County Museum today. A painting of sketchers in an art studio gave me inspiration:

4EB8A603-63EB-4D5B-9942-F3638AC17BC9

Despite a host of Chagalls, Monets and other famous artists, we focused this time instead on a fine collection of German Expressionists.

Each time I explore this period of modern German art, I learn new means and methods for this group. I am drawn to them, not only because I am learning the German language, but because the techniques and emotional content speak to me.

They may even  seem a bit primitive (as in the large wooden sculpture in the featured image above), but apparently this particular artist studied the people and art in Palau, an island in the S. Pacific. Many of the artists have been displayed in museums I have visited in Germany, Chicago, and New York. Particularly those derived from the Bauhaus movement in Weimar and Dessau are represented(Feinnger), but also artists from Die Brücke movement or the Dresden artists were included.

Our antidote to wet days in LA was dining in two restaurants: a new one in the Arts District called Manuela, and an old favorite, Carlitos Gardel.

Manuela displays original artwork, including this mural by Raymond Pettibon.

 

 

Gettin’ it at the Getty

During this January’s post-holiday doldrums, we switched plans from an icy drive to Utah in favor of an old-fashioned schlep from San Francisco to Los Angeles. To clue in my international friends, SF-LA is about 400 miles away and it takes about six hours direct by Interstate 5 through the Central Valley.

I had forgotten how easy it is to travel by car. Instead of minimizing and condensing all my baggage and items to be packed like I normally do for international travel  (I usually pack months in advance of a world trip to test out everything), I could really slob out, be disorganized, and rely on last-minute tosses of extra shoes, jackets, snacks, etc. into the car. I’m not sure I like traveling this way, but why not?

We chose to take the more leisurely Hwy. 101 route. After two-hour drives between restful overnight stops in Aptos and San Luis Obispo (SLO stands for Slow Traveling), we beelined for the Getty Museum in LA. My primary goal for coming to Southern California this time was a drawing session at the Getty Museum on a late and lazy Sunday afternoon.

Once introductions were made, the art guide supplied us with pads, paper and written drawing tips for mark-making. The mixed crowd of all ages, both men and women, quickly learned how to hold a pencil six different ways, the benefit of hatching, and how to express emotions.

I was very impressed with the results of other participants. (See group review, above). A first timer but professional photographer clearly had his lighting nailed. If you are looking for a way to spend a satisfying, fun and active afternoon at a world-class museum, this is highly recommended.

Drawing in a gallery with all the masters is a bit daunting, but it’s much easier in the company of others. After observing sketchers in a few other museums that I visited (the latest at the Art Institute of Chicago), I was ready to try some drawing myself. Below is the result of a bust I attempted.

CC50C058-9F20-4C7B-99CC-5F2937CDF664

Pick Your Poison

The Mushroom Madness event last week at the San Francisco Arboretum showcased not only the infinite variety of fungi, lichen, and spores that surround us, but it also surfaced many mycological fanatics. Not mythological, but close. In case you ever wondered whether the ones growing in your backyard were edible, this was the place to rub noses with those in the know.

The society reminded me of a similar group of astronomical buffs. When we stayed overnight at Fremont Peak years ago to stargaze, the featured delicacy of the evening, aside from Saturn and Jupiter,  was blue jello hidden below a frothy cloud of white meringue.

We couldn’t resist the Mushroom Soup this time either. Nothing too exotic, but we slurped and savored the mushy mess despite a few lingering trails of what looked like earthy seaweed in the broth.

December is wrap-up time for the academic fall semester. The student art show at City College of San Francisco’s Fort Mason campus brought together many new and old faces. Paper versions were displayed, while friends and family proudly gathered to admire the visual works. Below is a quick scan of a part of the Figure Drawing class exhibition’s earnest efforts.

And last night’s presentation of the SF Opera’s new and upcoming young singers from the Adler Program:

IMG_7894

Birthday wishes this month go to Eric, Melissa, Ruth, Jeff and Sherry!
Continue reading Pick Your Poison

A Thanksgiving Sketch 2017

Visiting Chicago earlier this month already seems like lightyears away, especially with the advent of the annual year-end Holiday Season. Eleven of the mostly Fong clan gathered around our dining table for a home-made traditional feast with basic turkey and trimmings, Chinese sticky rice “stuffing”, yams, vegetables, apple pie and pumpkin custard.

To throw in a few world influences from traveling this year, I kicked off the event with Peruvian pisco sours and yucca fries followed by Moroccan zaalouk. A bit eclectic, but I couldn’t resist the yummy new recipes I learned by being in these fascinating countries with deep food cultures.

Naturally, it was fun to see everyone. We are all older and wiser, and the lone child under thirty was the highlight of the evening. Our conversations shift from children’s activities to adult careers, friends, and travels. It was a leisurely, enjoyable evening, and indeed, a very satisfying and thankful one.

I noticed this year a focus on food preparation. Ladies in my classes, on the street, and in between were into some serious food therapy. Everyone delved into and savored the minutest details beyond what was described above.  They seemed to taste and smack their lips at each morsel being described.

A professional therapist would probably diagnose that these women (I did not notice if there were men engaged in the same conversations, but there could have been) are finding comfort in what little can be controlled in an uncontrollable world. It gave me a smile to think of these small pleasures, and to appreciate these heartwarming conversations.

The day after Thanksgiving was highly anticipated with the opera world premiere of the “Girls of the Golden West”. Unlike Puccini’s opera by the same name (except singular instead of plural), it is a factual account of the events during the California Gold Rush of 1849. It reveals many of the dirty little secrets of that golden era, now mystified and synthesized into a romantic vision of California’s genesis.

The opera features characters who suffered incredible brutality during that era: fugitive Black slaves, Hispanic workers, Chinese prostitutes being chased out of town, murdered, or lynched. Even the environment was not unscathed: a 24-foot wide redwood was cut to a stump and used as a stage. This formed part of the backdrop for what was a fascinating historical event in American history.

Unfortunately, converting a Ken Burns-style docudrama to opera did not translate. Librettist Peter Sellars and composer John Adams (Nixon in China fame) made a noble effort, but somehow the decent singing, decent music, and decent story–all necessary ingredients for a decent opera–did not come together. Even our upgraded Center Box Seats where you can sip sparkling wine during the performance could not salvage the evening. Hopefully time will mellow this opera like all others.

Above: Pre-Opera chat with Librettist Peter Sellars, and the curtain call with dancers. Note the reproduced tree stump and felled tree in the background.

Below: the final curtain call with both Peter Sellars and John Adams, and young cast

As the Fall Semester winds down, I am still busily preparing for final exams and projects. I continue to practice sketching at Meet-ups. The last one I attended at the Apple Store in Union Square produced an encounter with none other than Emperor Norton. Another character from the Gold Rush days, this impersonated, once-real character gives tours of historic San Francisco. I cartooned him while he anachronistically used his cell phone to schedule tours and take care of business of the day.

img_2544.jpg

…On State Street, that Great Street, I Just Want to Say…

A return visit to the Chicago Cultural Center, just down the street from State, gave us additional time to devote and absorb the energetic and inspirational Chicago Architectural Biennial submittals from architects around the world.

Here are a few of the three-dimensional models and miniaturization of the world on display:

Here’s a link to the Bamboo House (my favorite model above) if you are interested:
http://archi.ocean-site.com/bamboo.html

And the “Supermodels”, 16′ high models of the 1922 Chicago Tribune competition reinterpreted:

An endless array of aesthetic and architectural textures, patterns and rhythms to explore and adore:

Real World great rooms with views inside and from the Chicago Cultural Center (formerly the Chicago Public Library):

Earlier in the morning, a six hour tour of the S.C. Johnson Wax Research Building and Laboratories in Racine, Wisconsin gave us a glimpse of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s major clients. Johnson produced some of the most prolific household products, including Raid, Deet, Kiwi Shoe Polish, and Pride Furniture Polish. Wingspread, the 14,000 sf private home of S.C. Johnson and the last major residence designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, was also a featured stop on the tour.

Here are a few of the highlights of the company facilities. We were only allowed to take photos of exteriors of buildings and grounds:

The alien landing of the Company Reception Center was designed by Lord Norman Foster:

Needless to say, everything in the original buildings was meticulously designed by Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, including all details and finishes for flooring, ceiling, walls, and furniture.

At Wingspread, the interior of the private home was also highly controlled by Wright.

He had many disagreements with his client H.C. Johnson and his third wife Irene Purcell, a former Hollywood actress. Although he often tripled the cost of construction, Wright designed and built many quality homes applying his innovative concepts of horizontal lines that blended in with the landscape, use of natural materials, and attention to detail.

The dining table was designed to move on wheels into the servant’s area so staff did not have to be seen by guests. Whenever the roof leaked, the clients and staff often had to bring buckets out to catch the rain.

At an important state dinner held at the Johnson residence on a rainy evening  the roof leaked again, but this time directly on the owner’s bald head at the table. He immediately summoned Wright in Arizona and asked what should be done. Wright simply retorted: “You should move your chair!” Wright’s ego was seldom matched by his clients’.

In the final analysis, Chicago is a must see if: (1) you are contemplating a career in architecture; (2) need to be reminded of why you became one in the first place; and (3) need another fix for the architectural addiction you always had.

Fong & Daughter’s 72-hours in Chicago  achieved our desire for at least two of the three. We also succeeded in pursuing and understanding architecture as craft. I hope you enjoyed traveling here with us on this whirlwindy weekend. Chicago has great streets with great people in a great city.