Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An Exciting Video of Art and Suspense

Last week on public television, I watched a very suspenseful documentary. I really was on the edge of my seat. Besides suspense, there was passion, love, art, compassion, joy and sadness. The title of the video was, "Kings of Pastries."

The title may have you wondering if I've gone around the bend. After all, "Kings of Pastries" doesn't sound very emotional and riveting. Believe me, it was.

Let's backup for a little slice of history. Since the 1920s, France has conducted competition known as: "Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France" ("MOF") or Best Craftsman in France. There are 180 different professions that hold competitions. France is the only country that gives top honors and national recognition to craftsmanship so outstanding as to earn the title of MOF.

One of the 180 professions included is pastry. The documentary follows one top pastry chef as he prepares for the grueling process of working out designs, making the required creations, and rehearsing enough times to make sure he can perform on time. In the film, he is one among 16 international pastry chefs who are seeking the title and prestige of MOF.

In three days, the chefs have to create lollipops, chocolates, macaroons, wedding cakes, bijou (jewel), sugar sculptures and the list continues. Everything must be kept clean, they must stay within the time allowed, and they must create a coordinated pastry buffet table. Oh, did I mention that all must be tasty, too?

I won't spoil the ending nor tell you of the heartbreaking mishap. I just wanted you to know that in a world where we are told that everything is going downhill and nobody cares about quality... well, striving for MOF defies those beliefs.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Toilers of the Sea

It's officially summer and my thoughts wandered to sunny days on the beach. As thoughts will go, my mind then remembered a summer of travel and a trip to a maritime museum.

The museum was a wonderful experience. I learned so much. One thing I recalled was the beautiful crafts that the sailors made while at sea. Using available materials, intricate and imaginative crafts were made from shells, whalebone, rope and canvas.

Most of these objects were of small size in order to store them in a cramped space on board. Some items were made to give to loved ones. Others were made to sell to visitors on excursions. Whatever the purpose, the sailors used crafts to fill the time.

These sailors were mostly self-taught. They sewed torn sails, knotted rope cables worked yarn they bought in ports or observed natives. The crafts are extensive - inlaid boxes, rope mats, ships in bottles - and so the list continues. Below are images of some of the works.

These are embroidery examples of "sailors woolies" made in the 19th century by English sailors:

The hexagons below were made mostly from shells and were known as "Sailor Valentines:"

Possibly the best known sailors' art was scrimshaw. Although they etched mainly on the bones or ivory of mammals, on the right is an image of scrimshaw made from sword bill fish.

Do you have a fond memory of a summer trip to a museum?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Barefoot Artist Has Died

M. F.Husain (Maqbool Fida Husain) died a little over a week ago at age 95. An artist of Indian origin, he was often referred to as the "Picasso of India."

Husain was also known for his eccentricities. Even though his paintings sold for millions of dollars, he had no money in the bank. He wore tailored-made suits, but almost never wearing shoes and socks. (Hence he was also referred to as "The Barefoot Artist.")

Eccentricities aside, Husain was a highly-talented artist leaving a legacy as a painter, printer, film maker and photographer.

In the 1940s, he was a member of a progressive art group who broke away from traditional forms of Indian art movements. Husain developed his own forms of Cubism, Surrealism, and Impressionism.

In the 1970s, Husain created art based on the Hindu deities showing them nude or in sexually suggestive poses. This would prove his undoing some 20 years later.

Although he was among the few artists to gain recognition and accolades in his lifetime, in the 1990s,he was criticized and sued for those works he had done in the 1970s. Given the laws of India, where a lawsuit can be brought for "hurting sentiments of people," he felt he had no choice but to leave his homeland.

Husain died in London having never set his bare feet again on India's soil.

He was a very prolific painter with a long life, below is a small sampling of his works.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

It's A Relief .. an Art Relief

This last weekend, I spent Friday through Sunday in a clay sculpture workshop. It wasn't the 3-D form where you can walk all around the sculpture. This workshop was about a sculptural art form referred to as "relief sculpting."

In relief, the reduction of the background projects the object forward - not unlike what is done in a painting. With clay, it is not only possible to remove background, but also to build up the foreground. To me, this makes clay relief work a combination of 2-D and 3-D.

There are three major categories of relief sculpture. They are: "bas relief" (low relief), "alto relief" (high relief) and "sunk relief" - a form not used much nowadays. Of the three, the most commonly used is bas relief . It's even found on our coins.

Alto or high relief is the term used when more than half the figure projects from the background. Mount Rushmore is a well-known example.

The reverse of projecting the figure is sunk relief. It was used extensively in Ancient Egypt.

Now, back to the workshop... on the left is the tree branch I used as a model. On the right is my first effort at bas relief.