January 31, 2005

Color Your World

Filed under: Art and About Kids — admin @ 1:43 pm

I am a fan of the Home and Garden section of the newspaper, and a card-carrying member of the home improvement/do-it-yourself club. I find that a design project, or even the smallest repair, provides a tremendously satisfying creative outlet for me.

Paint color is a topic often covered in the newspaper, on television and in magazines. Usually, professional designers and artists encourage the reader or viewer to be bold with their paint color choices, urging them to stray from the mind-numbing pull of builder’s white, beige or, for the ultra-daring, grey-blue.

I happen to adore color, so I agree with those battling to rid this culture of vanilla decorating. However, an article about paint color in a recent Contra Costa Times Home and Garden section got my ire up. A sidebar about Style Notes read, “For those who are nervous about bold colors, start with a child’s room or a study. Those areas are more forgiving than public rooms.”

What I don’t like about this statement is the re-enforcement of the faulty notion that bold color is for kids, or that we can hide behind kids as an excuse to express the colors within ourselves. Rather than stating, “those areas are more forgiving,” the second sentence of the Style Notes should have read, “Children are more accepting.”

Elementary school classrooms are often bright displays of primary colors, inviting a child to enter and learn. But once we hit high school, the oppression of beige, white and grey-blue becomes the environmental color palette.

An article in Child magazine showed pictures of the wonderfully colorful and creative ways in which children’s hospitals are decorated throughout the United States. Abstract and vivid mobiles are hung from a glass ceiling in Philadelphia. Whimsically dressed cow statuary greets the children in Houston. A purple, red and yellow locomotive sits in the emergency room in St. Louis. I would love to see how medical statistic would be affected if adult hospitals were as cheerfully and inspirationally decorated.

I envy the colorful world in which children get to grow up. What I don’t understand is the loss of color in our surroundings once we leave childhood and the perception that beige, white and grey-blue are synonymous with maturity. It seems more like lethargy to me.

There are businesses generally perceived as fun places to work, and that reputation is often reflected in spiffy wall colors. Fun restaurants follow the same recipe, and I don’t mean Chuck E. Cheese, but rather Chow and those of its ilk. A lot of hot retailers also know that happy colors mean happy customers. For some reason, “serious” businesses and cube farms stick to the psychologically uninspiring beige, white and grey-blue. Can’t employees or customers be productive and happy at the same time with a little lift from a red wall? I wouldn’t be surprised.

I know for some folks, beige, white and grey-blue actually cause your heart to flutter. I’m not talking to you for you are the lucky ones for whom walking into a bank must be sheer excitement itself. But for anyone else who dreams of living in a more colorful world but for some culturally bizarre reason thinks this is the province of children, please know that you can be free of this misperception. Artistically expressing yourself through color, and being acted upon by the properties of color, is a true delight of the human experience.

Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Society rewards us for conforming in so many ways that in this one inconsequential area, I encourage you to fight the power with all the spunk, vigor and wild abandonment of a two-year-old.

January 17, 2005

Artsy Debris in Our New Bathroom

Filed under: Art and About Recycling — admin @ 9:19 pm

I have two avocational passions – anything to do with art and reuse/recycling. Although once in a while the two become intertwined, I admit that don’t go dumpster diving specifically to create an art piece. And I generally get more satisfaction giving or donating an item to be reused or recycled by someone who has a vision rather than forcing an unwanted item to stay in my home to be reused or recycled by me. I participate in the circle of life by bringing other people’s unwanted stuff into my home.

Since the twain rarely meet, I don’t go looking for intersections of art and recycling. But a reuse/recycle lightening bolt recently struck our home and I’m now seriously energized about taking reuse and recycling to the artistic level.

In our home was a seriously dated 1950s bathroom with a rotting subfloor. My husband and I considered many options on how to deal with the space to make the necessary repairs, please our aesthetic sensibilities, and not completely sell our souls to consumer culture by throwing out all of the old just so we could have something new. But Lucifer came a-knockin’ and we did decided to gut the space and start over. Our guilt and anguish quickly gave way to excitement and anticipation, even though I’m sure in some celestial courtroom someday I’ll have to answer to my great-great grandchildren about why I chose to destroy the Earth.

To us, this wasn’t just a bathroom remodel. We were designing Art. And we wanted it to be Art that stood the test of time, in style, taste, materials and individuality. The one thing I admired about our pink 1950s bathroom is that is made a statement in 1958 and it made a statement in 2004. We just disagreed with what it was stating.

As we started to search for materials, I ran across a tile company in San Jose that made tiles from recycled materials. The Fireclay Tile Debris Series is a handmade terra cotta tile containing 50% post-consumer and post-industrial recycled materials designed specifically to reduce landfill. Included in the body of the tile is granite dust from sandblasted electronic parts, recycled brown and green glass bottles and windowpanes.

This is very cool on an intellectual level, but true art has to speak to the heart, and the Debris Series is fluent. The result of the recycled products mixing with the traditional terra cotta recipe is that the finished tile has the richest red-brown hue, and a slightly rough and rustic texture for those of us who prefer our design shabby-chic. When glazed, the Debris Series tiles have a luscious depth of color. Instead of being completely opaque, you can just barely see the recycled tile product underneath the glaze. The tile would not be what it is without the uniquely recycled foundation.

I admit, when I thought of recycled art before now, I thought of sculptures made from junkyard finds, or old plates and tiles broken to become mosaic elements. The original purpose of the recycled element is evident and often obvious, even in its newly artistic rebirth. What gives me those artistic goosebumps with the Fireclay Tile is that their artisans have transcended an intellectual exercise on recycling and reached me emotionally.

The new bathroom is only a few weeks old and I actually think about this stuff every time I go in there. We didn’t select the tile expecting it to inspire internal dialogues on art and ecology during a routine bathroom visit. Still, I’ve always advocated that you should have art in every part of your life.

January 4, 2005

Cornerstone Festival of Gardens

Filed under: Art and About Art — admin @ 3:17 pm

There is little that satisfies me as much as being taken to heights of extreme emotion via a theatrical, musical, dance or visual art experience. But I think my favorite relationship with the arts happens when I see or hear something that inspires me to go home and create art myself. The Cornerstone Festival of Gardens in Sonoma provided such inspiration.

The Cornerstone Festival of Gardens (www.cornerstonegardens.com) opened last July as an art exhibit by landscape designers who, using innovative and unusual materials, demonstrate how a garden can become a living and changing art piece surrounding your home. In 20 exhibits, traditional and unusual garden plants subsist with salvaged materials, creative reinventions of common household items and wacky, imaginative applications of outdoor structures. There is a maze constructed of recycled screen doors. A dying tree is completely covered in blue Christmas balls. White birch planted among crushed-seashell ground cover make an obstacle course for an informal game of bocce ball. Broken terracotta pots line a suggestive path invoking the journey of immigrant farm workers across the Mexican border to California. And a field of giant pinwheels spins wildly on the windy Sonoma flatlands.

Chris Hougie, the founder of Cornerstone, says of the idea behind the festival, “Designers are encouraged to invent, inform and create beautiful and compelling gardens that engage and inspire the viewer intellectually, emotionally and aesthetically.” The approach sure worked for me.

You see, I’m a lazy gardener, but I love a beautiful garden. I particularly love roses. I aspire to have a rose garden that reminds visitors of Orchard Nursery’s glorious rose section, where myriad varieties form endless rows of splendor all season until the last plant is sold. All my roses have names and stories about how they became a part of the family. Feeding my roses and pruning them is relaxing and rewarding. Sitting in my home and gazing at the sea of color from April through December is one of life’s simple pleasures.

And then in January, both the roses and I go into dormancy and for three months I hibernate in the house. This is where the art comes in, at least in my theory. Although I consider the severely pruned back stems of the rose to be sculptural, it occurred to me when I went on an art and garden fundraising tour several years ago that my rose garden would be greatly enhanced in the wintertime by the inclusion of outdoor art. On that tour, I saw spectacular gardens surrounding even more spectacular homes. The sculptures on display in the gardens were beautiful, but pricey. I thought to myself, “When I make my millions, I will buy high-ticket art and enhance my garden with magnificent sculpture.”

This turned out to be a frustrating statement. Since patience is not one of my virtues and I haven’t won the lottery yet, I’ve been trying to brainstorm alternate avenues for acquiring art. I thought about taking a welding class to create my own figures. I thought about building statues out of salvaged materials. I even asked a local church music director if I could have the pipes from the church’s old organ to make an art statement. None of these ideas have come to fruition.

A light bulb went off for me while strolling through Cornerstone. Our garden can be creatively enhanced with something as simple as red spray-painted bamboo uniquely arranged. Or monochromatic rocks piled in an unusual way. Textures from common building materials can be abstract and alluring when displayed in an unusual orientation.

For me, creating art is more enjoyable the tighter my budget and the freer my imagination. Winter is here, and this year I look forward to searching for inspiration in my garden canvas.