Sunday, March 25, 2012

Art Nouveau - A Magnificent Obsession

This week, while awaiting the delivery of goods ordered at the New York Gift Show this past January, the insomniac  decided to examine her obsession with Art Nouveau in greater detail. In case there is some difficulty figuring out the connection, the delivery included a few Art Nouveau pieces, which is what initiated this train of thought. Bear in mind, the Blogger Profile does mention “incoherent ramblings” and at the time of this writing (4:07 a.m.) the mind is definitely not functioning at full capacity.

Thinking back, the infatuation with Art Nouveau began when the insomniac  first left the nest and relocated to a run-down house in a somewhat seedy neighbourhood. In those early years, decorating style was determined mainly by whatever cast-offs or  hand-me-downs were available. But artwork was where the insomniac  had a chance to truly express herself, as posters were relatively inexpensive Back in the Day (as the offspring are fond of pointing out, quite unnecessarily IMHO). And so, above the second-hand wood veneer bed with the built-in bookshelf headboard (shudder), were posters of the four stars by Alfons Mucha. And if one squinted, tilted the head at just the right angle and tried to focus solely on the three foot high posters, one could almost ignore the unsightly bed. Almost.

Evening Star
   Pole Star   
Morning Star

Years later, the appeal of Art Nouveau has not abated in the slightest. Even though many of the pieces that have been lusted after have been sadly out of reach in terms of budget, well-made reproduction items have been a satisfactory compromise. Hopefully, these reproductions will be handed down and become the expensive and out of reach antiques of the future, and not thrown in a laundry hamper and trundled off to the Salvation Army Donation Centre by the offspring.

This obsession has precipitated two trips to the Czech Republic, where even if one is forced (literally) to leave the most exquisite pieces behind in the antique store, all one need do is walk down any street in Prague and gaze upwards (consequently tripping over cobblestones and running into other tourists) to capture the most magnificent examples in a snapshot. And all of this for free (well, except for the cost of airfare, hotel, food, etc.).

Random building in Prague ...

... another random building ...

... and yet another. Really, they're everywhere ...

Mucha's window in St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague ...

One could seriously contemplate apartment living
with a balcony like this ...

Window in the Church of St. Barbara, Kutna Hora ...

This beauty was discovered in a Prague antique shop last fall, but regrettably had to be left behind so the insomniac  and her spouse could continue to eat for the remainder of the trip. In hindsight, a three week fast would have been the better choice.

Maybe she's still there,
waiting patiently for the insomniac to return ...

In lieu of the bust, the insomniac  acquired a seven foot poster of Medea from the Mucha Museum instead; certainly not as impressive but infinitely easier to haul around in a suitcase for three weeks, considering a small bronze Art Nouveau statue was already causing some shoulder issues. The poster is printed in two pieces, as was the original, and is currently awaiting framing by a professional framer. The difficult part (other than coming up with the cash for the framing, which the insomniac  is almost positive will induce massive heart failure) will be to find a wall large enough in the Gothic Mansion to showcase a poster this large.

Medea, 1898

Over the years, the insomniac's  tastes have remained pretty much the same, other than possibly having become more expensive. But many of the acquisitions still reside in the Gothic Mansion to this day, proving that a well considered purchase, no matter how far it may stretch the budget, is well worth the investment. Provided, of course, the object in question doesn't cause endless sleepless nights fretting over the size of the credit card bill, not that one is speaking from experience or anything.

The original Mucha posters are stored in the real third-floor Attic, rolled up and awaiting reuse by one of the offspring (should they ever decide the insomniac  has much better taste than they currently credit her with). The Moon was always the favorite of the four stars and a smaller version is now displayed in the kitchen. Mercifully, the wood veneer bed was chopped up and used for firewood long ago ...

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams ... as for the insomniac, currently wide awake and planning her next trip to the Czech Republic. Goodnight, my pretties.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Gothic Garden Decor on a Beer Budget

Gazing gloomily out the pantry window at the barren landscape this week, the insomniac started daydreaming about the imminent return of spring. Even the bunnies that inhabit the grounds surrounding the Gothic Mansion were acting in a most spring-like manner, ensuring that in a few months the garden will be overrun with bunnies and their progeny, busily chewing their way through all the newly purchased plants.

The Estate Surrounding the Gothic Mansion - Last Week

This cheerful thought of spring instigated an entire week's worth of scrutinizing the gardening catalogues, deciding which items were absolute necessities for both the Gothic Mansion and the Attic, and which items needed to be eliminated (contract work doesn't pay that well, you know). And while the insomniac would love to order the $4,000 (each) Art Nouveau marble statues of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, the $56,000 reproduction Victorian cast iron conservatory or the $3,800 griffin bench, as her Sainted Father used to constantly remind her “you have champagne tastes on a beer budget, dear”. And no matter how much time has elapsed since those words were last uttered, it remains to this day a very accurate statement.

Yes, please ...

This is the type of garden decor the insomniac WISHES  she could afford. But as her  Sainted Father also used to say, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride”. On further reflection, it would seem as though the SF had an idiom for almost every occasion, and it must be fairly obvious by now that the nut didn't fall far from the tree.

Gothic Folly I

Gothic Folly II

If one can't afford to build an actual Gothic Folly in one's yard, then one could always substitute some Gothic mirrors with artistically draped ivy to reproduce the look on a smaller scale. And apparently using mirrors in garden decor is The New Black, at least according to all the gardening magazines who are in the know about such matters. But once an idea firmly takes root in the insomniac's  mind it never really goes away, and so eventually a Gothic Folly will be making its way across the ocean, perhaps in time for next year's gardening season, and the cost be damned!

Walls, fences or even garage walls provide endless decorating possibilities
as a backdrop for plaques, mirrors, etc. ...

Ornate cast iron garden furniture is always a good investment for the Gothic garden. Sometimes old pieces can be picked up at garage sales, and if they happen to be painted that ghastly green that everyone seems to feel is an attractive colour for garden furniture, please bear in mind that black spray paint was invented for a reason.

Winterthur Garden

Fill a beautiful black urn with flowers, moss (or even dead twigs if your gardening skills are anything like the insomniac's), add a small piece of statuary and there you have it; an affordable decorating option that can be brought indoors at the end of the season to be enjoyed during the long, bitter winter, which will inevitably arrive far too early.   

This planter will make even dead flowers look beautiful ...

A unique decorating idea suggested by a dear friend was to place the decapitated head from a broken cherub statue in a basin of water, gazing up towards the sky (sort of like a miniature Ophelia tableau, if Ophelia had lost her head when she drowned, that is). The friend created this little display in her own garden but after one too many queer looks from the neighbours, decided it was maybe a bit too morbid and donated both pieces to the insomniac's  garden instead. The cherub's body now sits beside the waterfall with its head under the falls, both pieces undoubtedly longing for the day they will be reunited (please don't tell the cherub, but this is very unlikely).  

Where does one even begin to find
something like this?

Now make no mistake, the physical act of gardening - weeding, pruning, getting dirt under one's nails - does not appeal to the insomniac  in the slightest. Quite frankly, the only contribution she makes is to pore over the catalogues and decree what will be ordered with the next paycheque. But she does enjoy cracking a beer (no champagne due to budget constraints), flopping down on the sofa in the gazebo and from this prone position admiring the handiwork of the long-suffering spouse; the person who actually does all the necessary hard labour to get the garden looking this lovely.

The Estate Surrounding the Gothic Mansion - Last Summer

But having a limited budget inspires one to be more creative with their garden. And since the yard surrounding the Gothic Mansion is almost half an acre, one most definitely cannot afford to fill every available inch with yard decorations, as much as one would like to do exactly that. So every year, a different corner of the yard is worked on and added to, and perhaps just before the inevitable relocation to The Sunny Retirement Condo in Palm Springs, the garden will finally look exactly how the insomniac  and her spouse have envisioned it in their minds for the past twenty-five years. Maybe this year's project will be the wrought iron driveway gate with bats, just like the one that was seen enclosing a grave somewhere in Transylvania and that will continue to gnaw away at the insomniac  until it's eventually completed.

Please visit the Attic closer to the end of April when the newly ordered garden decor should start arriving, even though there will inevitably be at least two more blizzards before spring finally makes itself known and the gardening (or, in the insomniac's case, the consumption of beer in the gazebo) can commence.

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams of springtime, which will hopefully arrive sooner rather than later ... Goodnight, my pretties.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sarah Bernhardt - Original Goth?

Staring vacuously at the computer screen and wondering what the devil to write about this week, the insomniac's  eye came to rest on a picture that hangs in the Computer slash Television slash Family Room in the Gothic Mansion. Sadly, there is actually a demand for such a room in the Mansion, even though the insomniac  would prefer a Library slash Conservatory slash Turkish Den instead.

Returning to the point the insomniac  was originally attempting to make ... the picture in question is of the famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt, her faithful Borzoi sprawled at her feet which, while we're on the subject of Borzoi, is the insomniac's  favourite breed. And now that the offspring have pretty much vacated the Gothic Mansion for the most part and it is feeling rather desolate, perhaps the acquisition of another Baby Borzoi should be considered so that once again we could be routinely entertained by the pitter-patter of giant feet galloping down the deserted hallways.

Sarah Bernhardt by Georges Clairin, 1876

Returning once more to the topic of this week's post: Sarah Bernhardt - Original Goth? How else could you describe a woman who, instead of wearing a bird on her hat as was the current fashion, flaunted a bat. Incidentally, the insomniac  is seriously contemplating the recreation of this magnificent hat as her next craft project. It would seem a midnight eBay excursion to locate a taxidermy bat will be required in the not-to-distant future.

Sarah sporting her Bat Chapeau ...

And who, besides a true Goth, would sleep in a coffin? Truly, only a woman with a grand sense of the theatrical - but also of the practical, since these photographs were widely sold and brought her tremendous notoriety.

Sarah dans son Cercueil
(that's French for coffin) ...

The insomniac  adores this next photograph of Sarah. Back in the day, she attempted to emulate this look herself, with pale foundation to create that deathly pallor and kohl to mimic those sunken eyes, blissfully unaware that thirty years later a deathly pallor and sunken eyes would be achievable without any makeup at all. Mmmphh.

Sarah with Lily Langtry

What a contrast of styles, and oh, that fur coat ...

Sarah led an eccentric life, often wearing magnificent clothing she designed herself. As Alfons Mucha wrote: “Sarah's outfits were marked by their originality. She didn't worry about fashion, she dressed in accordance with her own tastes.” Please feel free to correct the insomniac  if she's mistaken, but doesn't dressing in opulent brocades, furs and embroidered belts with dangling bits sound like the very definition of Goth? Provided it's all done in varying shades of black, of course.

Definitely not what you'd call a casual dresser ...

This postcard is another favorite in the insomniac's  rather large collection of obscure postcards that reside in the real third-floor attic, in The Box Stuffed with Postcards which sits on top of The Box Stuffed with Prints which sits on top of - well, you get the idea ...

This table makes the insomniac  lightheaded with envy ...

... as does this chair.

Now this is the insomniac's  idea of a proper Family Room, although there doesn't seem to be a spot for the computer or the television. And perhaps the barcalounger also needs to find a new home?

Sarah, with her back to the camera and Clairin's painting behind the chandelier ...

The Painter
The Sculptor

As well as a gifted actress, Bernhardt was also a brilliant sculptor (Gustave Doré was her tutor) and exhibited regularly in the Paris Salon for almost twenty-five years. She kept a studio in Paris and at her holiday home at Belle-Ile-en-Mer. Perhaps it isn't too late for the insomniac  to revisit the idea of Art School, and instead of a Family Room conversion maybe an Artist's Studio is in order.

But if one has an Artist's Studio, then one would be under pressure to create great works of art. On second thought, redecorating the Family Room is clearly the better idea.

Ophelia Drowning
Bronze Inkwell
Self-Portrait, 1880

After the Tempest

Marble Funerary Portrait of Jacques Damala, 1889

Sarah made her début at the Théâtre-Français in 1862 and gave her last performance in 1923, filming La Voyante just before she died - over 60 years of acting on stage and in silent films. A few melodramatic poses from her theatrical roles ...



La Tosca

Following is a short clip of Sarah in the silent film La Reine Élisabeth from 1912 - the flinging of the arms and the wringing of the hands - so Gothic, so Dramatic, so Divine!

Until next time,the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams ... and if not, perhaps one could otherwise occupy themselves watching one of Sarah's theatrical performances or listening to a recording of her mesmerizing voice on YouTube. Merely a suggestion, of course. Goodnight, my pretties...


   Sarah The Life of Sarah Bernhard, Robert Gottlieb

   Sarah and Her World, Joanna Richard
   The Divine Sarah, Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Crafting Day with the Insomniac

This week, the insomniac  had some unexpected time off from contract work and so decided to venture up to her real third-floor attic for a crafting day. Rather than spend the entire week purchasing more goodies on eBay (obviously not the brightest idea when one is unemployed), it was decided the time could be better spent getting some recent purchases ready for display. And the insomniac  always adores a good crafting project, whenever she can manage to drag herself away from the computer, that is.

Frequenting neighbourhood thrift stores and unearthing items that can be re-purposed into something more suited to the Gothic lifestyle is the insomniac's  idea of a Really Good Time. On her last trip to the thrift shop, an inspiring motivational poster in a lovely silver wood frame was exhumed. Now while one certainly agrees with the sentiment expressed (and if one actually had an office in which to hang a motivational poster, this is definitely the sort that would be chosen), it was not exactly up to snuff for display on any  of the walls in the Gothic Mansion. However, the frame was the perfect size for an antique owl print which had been purchased then left to languish in The Box Stuffed with Prints that Lives in the Attic.

The insomniac  toyed with the idea of replacing one of
the motivational pictures at her last contract job with this one.
Fortunately, common sense prevailed ...

Skipping through the boring details of this project, the frame and picture were removed, one from the other. To complement the colouring of the owl print, vials of Ranger alcohol ink in black and copper were selected. Then, working feverishly with Q-tip in hand, black ink was smeared in an indiscriminate fashion around the frame, and subsequently, the copper ink was added. After much back and forthing between black and copper inks, the desired effect was finally achieved. Since the owl print and frame were not a perfect fit, a black mat was cut, then print and frame reassembled. All in all with very satisfying results, although perhaps next time one will try harder to summon up enough patience to locate the stash of latex gloves before  working with black alcohol ink.

Vintage owl print in its new (well, old actually)
but definitely improved frame ...

When the insomniac  first started collecting and reframing old prints, the length of time between the procurement of the print and a suitable frame seemed to stretch on ad infinitum. Patience not being one of her strong suits, as has been previously noted, she decided a mat cutter and point driver would be the perfect additions to the profusion of crafting tools already on hand in the attic. Since procuring these tools, it is estimated thousands of dollars in framing costs have been saved, with the added bonus of never having to step foot in a mall again to take in yet another print or poster for framing - invaluable tools indeed.

But even without a mat cutter, there are many other options for disguising an appalling mat. Scrapbook paper now comes in lovely Gothic damask designs and can be pasted onto the original mat, effectively disguising the usual boring beige. And Ranger Distress Inks can be used to age a plain mat until it resembles something that has been around since the Middle Ages (see photos below for examples of these techniques). 

Vintage crow print from an old book, matted with scrapbook paper
in a German Gothic text ...

Magpie print from 1867, with damask scrapbook paper disguising the mat.
Plain black frame distressed with sandpaper, and also below ...

John William Waterhouse's Circe
The insomniac discovered Waterhouse at least 40 years ago, 
waaaay before anyone else ...

Brunhilde and her Viking “friend” in a vintage frame. 
Plain beige mat aged with Ranger Distress Inks ...

One of the insomniac's  most cherished prints -
a prepubescent fairy, bat-surfing in the moonlight ...

Until next time, the insomniac  wishes you nights of blissful sleep filled with pleasant dreams ... and if sleep eludes you as well, then perhaps a good crafting project is in order. Goodnight, my pretties.