14 April 2015

The Private Bathchamber of the Grand Duchess

a clever detail in the Grottesche ornamentation of the bath at "La Ferdinanda"

Corner of the bathchamber

Last March we ventured outside of Florence to visit the   splendid Medici Villa of Artimino known as "La Ferdinanda."   The villa was built for the Medici Duke Ferdinand I (1549-1609) as a hunting lodge and summer residence.  A World Heritage site, the estate currently hosts private events and features a winery and a hotel.

Having called ahead to explain our project and ask permission to photograph, we were warmly greeted and allowed to explore the villa and its decoration, much of which was done by the artist Domenico Passignano.

Hidden away in a corner of the first floor,  is the “Stanzino del Poggiale” a small bathroom created for the wife of Ferdinand I, Grand Duchess Christina of Lorraine, and it is completely encrusted with painted grottesca, oval landscape insets, and wild, colorful faux marble.  Closed up for hundreds of years, the room is preserved in spectacular condition.

Alison and I could hardly contain our excitement. I fumbled about with my camera.  Erling, who has long maintained that I should have my own TV show,  took a spontaneous 2 minute video with his iPhone. Which I have posted here for you.  Because you understand, don't you?

It was very difficult to photograph this tiny space (especially while hyperventilating.) Once I got a hold of myself,  I removed the giant halogen torchère from the room and inspected the charming details of the decor using only natural light, so that the true colors could best be seen. I marveled at the color palette, which alternated warm earth colors with  a cool purple and sea green.  This led to a discussion of the color of that purple, and the pigment that may have been used to make it. Is is caput mortuum?  Well not that actual "mummy brown" pigment but the hematite that makes that cardinal-robe purple.  What about that green? Malachite, of course. Sigh.

Window bay in the bath chamber- the purple borders have completely faded away

Not your usual Tuscan color scheme-- purple and seafoam green make for a cool and serene effect

Cupid and other putti on the ceiling, painted by Domenico Passignano

Passignano designed the ceiling areas with trompe l'oeil balusters and bits of sky peeking through.  Though faded, the effect is still quite convincing.   
More details:

a trompe l'oeil gold medallion with a bathing scene

lovely perspective detail with hints of gold
tiny grottesca panel over the doorway

I'll be posting more from this beautiful villa soon.

Visit:  Villa Medicea di Artimino
photos by Lynne Rutter
video by Erling Wold
thanks always to Alison Woolley

05 April 2015

UKSUS a surreal comic adventure

Roham Sheikhani, Nikola Printz, Laura Bohn, and Duncan Wold perform an OBERIU play within the opera UKSUS. Costumes by Laura Hazlett.

A few weeks ago Erling Wold's Fabrications staged the U.S. premiere of UKSUS, a surreal comic chamber opera based on the life and work of Russian absurdist writer Daniil Kharms.
UKSUS was originally commissioned by the Klagenfurter Ensemble in Austria, and the libretto was written by Felix Strasser and Yulia Izmaylova, who also there directed it in December of 2012.  I attended several performances of that production and really enjoyed myself, in part because I don’t speak German and had no idea what was going on and could therefore approach it with a totally open mind; I felt like a kid watching a Punch and Judy show.  I loved the music, the energy of the band,  the bizarreness, the smoke-filled bar in the smoke-filled lobby of the theater, the paintings of the trumpet player Richie Klammer, the snow outside, the embarrassingly long applause of the Austrian audiences.  Everyone fell in love with Erling and everyone wanted to do the show again and again and everyone wanted to come to San Francisco to do it again.

The cast of UKSUS:  the downtrodden cheer three times for Stalin
For the U.S. debut of UKSUS, it became obvious as time passed, that bringing over the Austrian cast was unfeasible.  A new and local cast was assembled with Jim Cave directing.   Jim is not afraid of nonsense, wackiness, surreal or absurd anything. He and Erling have worked together so many times they nearly finish each others sentences.  I was asked nicely to be involved with the scenic design, and was even offered a  budget.   But when Jim started talking about the lunatics putting on a play in the asylum my eyes rolled into the back of my head and stayed there until he changed the subject, and so began our collaboration.  Erling asked for three backdrops.  The guys went and rented a theater that required  the set to be struck every night to make room for the next day's classes,  necessitating a lot of portable bits rather than something grand and unwieldy.  

The UKSUS set pieces prior to lighting
I meant to write a post just about this scenic work: about the process of addressing the problems of the giant black space of Dance Mission Theater, the inspiration for the design, the tight budget and even tighter deadline;   leaving out the parts about the emotional turmoil I felt working on this project at a time when I was already insanely busy and already suffering from the all-too-familiar torture that is the lot of the long-suffering wife of a too-charming pathological liar.  Does anyone actually care that our lives were imploding while this all took place? Of course not.  After all, the show must go on.

UKSUS had only three performances in March, 2015. Despite full houses every night, lusty applause and effusive praise from the audience, especially from the younger attendees, some reviewers showed up with their cranky "Opera" pants on and just didn’t get it.  This piece didn't really get the attention it deserved, and so I feel compelled to speak up and publish these awesome photos I took.
Beth Custer is so damn cool.

Let's start with the Music.
Erling Wold's music is wonderful, transporting, by turns fun, tragic, solemn, uplifting. The orchestra gathered up like a great jazz band, rocked during the rock parts and danced through complex rhythms and delicate poignant passages thanks to our amazing conductor, Bryan Nies, whose skill is all sorts of amazing to watch as well as hear, as if everyone on the stage and in the band are strings of a single instrument, which he plays effortlessly. 
The story is ridiculous. There is no comprehensible narrative and there is no point. There is  absurdity,  nonsense, observations of everyday or imagined moments.  Pushkin makes love to his wife, an old woman falls from a window,  children are given tetanus to shut them up, the OBERIU put on a play in arty clown suits, the artist dies during one of Stalin's purges and his widow goes to Venzuela.  

Duncan Wold as Pushkin, making naughty with his wife Fefjulka (Laura Bohn)
The Old Woman falls out of a window...

These scenes are arranged in boxes; we even made hand-lettered placards to tell you which box was being opened. Erling added a somewhat pleonastic narration to the libretto, packed with context and commentary, which Jim delivered in his role as "a samovar,"  but he might not have bothered: absurdity and confusion make a nice team. 

The cast was a fantastic mix of singers and actors, mimes and clowns.  Duncan Wold, one of the writers/comedians of San Francisco’s Mission CTRL comedy troupe, starred as the poet Pushkin, who is playing the role of Kharms himself.  He approached this part as a comic actor, creating a deadpan character which added depth and contrast to his role, and it should be said that his comic timing was pitch-perfect, recalling the straight delivery a young Johnny Carson.
Our favorite soprano Laura Bohn,   with her soaring, beautiful voice, in this production got a chance to show off her physical theater skills, clowning, and dramatic unibrow.  Her scenes with Duncan were both hysterical and endearing.

Fefjulka and Our Mama (and a hand-painted Soviet-style poster)
Mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz  gave a hilarious performance as both Our Mama and a gender-bending Stalin (both mustached parts) all the while thrilling us with her rich and resonant voice, especially thrilling when paired with Laura Bohn’s during certain goosebump-producing moments. 
Both our soprani are magnificent clowns, and it's refreshing to watch such versatile performers who can become their characters, without being overly concerned with how 'pretty' they look or sound.

The cast of UKSUS performing as the OBERIU

Mary Forcade as the Karabister

Bob Ernst, an actor with a face and voice so compelling he could read the label of cereal box and make you believe it the Magna Carta, declares that you must drink vinegar (uksus), and you pretty well want to do it.  Speaking of amazing faces, it’s widely known that I have a crush on Roham Sheikhani, an actor and brilliant mime who in this show added an element of sanity as well as paranoia when needed.  A deus ex machina appearance by Mary Forcade as the Karabister very nearly stole the show.

The sets were designed to emphasize the diagonal lines and  bright palette of the Russian Avant Garde painters.   I looked to Kharms’ close friend Kazimir Malevich, and the Constructivist movement, and to the splendid film posters designed by Russian graphic artists  in the 1920s and 30’s.   Costume designer Laura Hazlett  brought this concept home with her supremely colorful pieces for the OBERIU performance within the show.

Pushkin (Duncan Wold)  is interrogated by Comrade Stalin (Nikola Printz)

Closing night we danced deliriously in the side aisle while the audience laughed and sighed,  and afterwards everyone wanted to do UKSUS again and asked when can we? After the party and the vodka, we dragged the sets and costumes back to the garage where are stored the costumes and bits from the last opera and the one before that.

More UKSUS-related rants at Erling Wold's blog.

all photos in this post by Lynne Rutter 

17 February 2015

Pascal Amblard- summer painting classes in San Francisco

Quadrattura ceiling design by Pascal Amblard
It is with great excitement that I can announce that I have the honor of hosting my friend the master muralist Pascal Amblard, for two mural painting classes at Lynne Rutter Studio in San Francisco.

Tiepolo-inspired painting by Pascal Amblard
You've read more about Pascal Amblard's work here before, and hopefully bought his amazing book, Painted Homes, which explores the wide variety of his elegant work as a muralist and decorator.

A sought-after mural artist working internationally from his studio in la Haute-Savoie,  Pascal is also well known as a generous and skilled teacher. It's been many years since he taught in the U.S., so I am thrilled to host him in my own mural studio for two special painting classes this summer.

sketch of Lake Como mural by Pascal Amblard

July 27-31, 2015    
Five-day Italianate Mural workshop
Participating artists will paint a full-size trompe l'oeil mural scene with a view of Lake Como and a charming Italian landscape,  while learning the key elements of mural painting.

"A beautiful landscape seen through a window or a door is certainly the most classic but also the most sought after type of trompe l'oeil mural. It is also a great support for a class, and this is why, as a teacher, I have specialized in this kind of composition. I can fit and transmit almost all my knowledge into such arrangements. Skies, landscapes, trees, water, foreground elements like balustrades or architectural elements, perspective, and tiled floors, all these things are exactly what you have to become familiar with and a nice panel like the one we will paint together contains them all.Each time I create a class like this I have three goals:
"The first one is to teach you how I paint and this is independent of what I paint. Key techniques are exactly the same whether you paint a tree or a bench.  The second one is to tell you about what is really specific to (for example) painting a cloud, or a tiled floor.  The third is, for those of you who want it, to make sure that you can complete the panel during the week and use it as a marketing tool or as a piece to sell.
"The design for this mural was composed from three or four different shots I took on lake Como a few years ago. This place is absolutely magic, a kind of ideal mix of the softness of Italian landscapes and of the grandeur of the Alps. I am sure we will have great results!"

Information and sign-up here: Italianate Mural class

August 3- 10, 2015
Seven day Grand Venetian Mural Intensive
This course will give the experienced painter an opportunity to work at a grand scale, employing many advanced techniques.

A preview of the type of composition we will create together ; the architecture and landscapes are borrowed from Tiepolo's frescoes in Palazzo Labbia, and the figures from his son, Giandomenico. We will use similar elements and come up with our own murals.
Pascal says:"After more than 25 years in this business I am finally organizing a "start from scratch" class.
"It is certainly the most valuable learning situation for students, and the most difficult for a teacher. I will of course prepare this class very carefully, I have already  spent quite a few hours on it~ but on day one, hour one, instead of starting to play a well mapped out part,  I will start improvising with you!   I know in which key we will play and what note to use or to avoid but I will be open to your ideas and suggestions. I will show you how I myself compose, mixing computer and centuries-old techniques.
Pascal Amblard's painted sketch proposal for the Venetian Mural Intensive
We will share and experience together in what is so rarely taught: how do we get from a blank piece of wall to a spectacular, harmonious and desirable mural composition.

"Once the composition is set we will use projectors, possibly some free-hand drawing as well.  Then we will paint, and I will teach you the techniques I have used and refined through hundreds of murals.
As we have a lot of working space, we will do this on a grand scale.  Each person will have room to work comfortably.

"A good mural painter has to know about a few  topics : skies, landscapes / trees, architecture / perspective , figures / draperies , objects / still lives.  Besides composing a large and complex mural, the point of this class is also to cover  all these fields.

"The inspiration for this course is Tiepolo (father and son).
I chose them because they were in exactly the same business as we are: dealing with commissions, clients, deadlines, a need for efficiency and precise schedule. The way they paint is beautiful and technically very sound, so, instead of one teacher you will have two."

Reservation information here:  Grand Venetian Mural Intensive
This class is limited to 8 participants

Here is a rare opportunity to learn and practice in a large, light-filled, working mural studio, with one of the true masters of this art.

Please feel free to contact the studio with questions or for application details.

25 January 2015

Every wand'ring bark

Sunset at Land's End, San Francisco
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove 

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope Love and the Maiden, 1877  Legion of Honor, San Francisco

O no, it is an ever-fixèd mark,
North tower of the Golden Gate Bridge
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Sea Monster from the baroque set painted for my wedding in 2010

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116


03 January 2015

Ancient Patterns: Battistero di San Giovanni

detail of the mosaic floor, Baptistry, Florence
I collect patterns and details.  I just do.  I will spend over an hour staring at the floor in a dark historic site while everyone else is snapping shots of the famous gold mosaic ceiling and walking through the other side in less than 5 minutes on their way to the next famous spot. Then I will go back and do it again the next day. And maybe the next as well.
You understand why I do this.  Of course you do, that's why you are here.

mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence

The Baptistry of St. John is one of Florence's oldest buildings, having been built on the remains of 4th century octagonal church which was built on the remains of a Roman-era tower.  The present building dates from 1059, and the intricate marble mosaic floors were added circa 1209.  
Surprisingly, the oldest ornamental patterns in this space are also the most modern-looking. 

mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
Similar patterns are also found in St. Mark's in Venice and other Romanesque and Byzantine interiors, many of them influenced by ancient Oriental and Arabic designs.
All of these patterns are unified in this room only by their limited palette of red, black, and white (with the occasional yellow). They are laid out on the floor in an asymmetrical grid divided by borders, with little or no repeated elements;  a marvelous collection of  flat but intricate designs that create a rich atmosphere indeed.

mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence

mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence
mosaic marble floor in the Baptistry, Florence

If you can believe it, there are even more photos of these floors in my Flickr album: Battistero di San Giovanni, Firenze

need more now?

Modern mosaic floors at New Ravenna

Dover Edition: Historic Designs and Patterns in Color from Arabic and Italian Sources



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