The Fantastic World of Edvard Mordake

two painted roomscapes which will form Mordake's bedroom
Mordake, Erling Wold's latest opera, tells the story of the 19th century aristocrat, Edvard Mordake, who was driven mad by his twin sister - a female face on the back of his own head.
I was asked to help visualize the setting- a suite of rooms fit for a Victorian gentleman.

I found plenty of inspiration at Richard Reutlinger's lovingly restored Victorian house in San Francisco, especially in the master bedroom, which features a Dresser-inspired frieze painted by my late friend and mentor, Larry Boyce.
I photographed some rooms, and made a Thurber-esque line drawing, as well as a simplified gouache painting of the bedroom (above) which are all to be computer- modified by Erling and German visual artist Freider Weiß, and then projected on stage to create Edvard's world. The large mirror I left blank, as they will be adding some invented reflections there. The set will alternate between photos, video, drawings, and paintings, to create varying levels of reality and fantasy.
And I hope Larry won't mind that in making my paintings of this room, I filled in his rather glaring persian flaw, so as to leave room for one of my own.

Mordake by Erling Wold, a solo performance with tenor John Duykers, premiers May 22 and runs through June 7, 2008

More information and musings on this subject can be found on Erling's blog.

Mordake is featured on the cover of Theater Bay Area this month!


Missa Beati Notkeri Balbuli Sancti Galli Monachi

interior of the Cathedral of St Gallen
After an incredibly lovely train trip from Milan through the Alps we arrived in St Gallen, Switzerland, for the premier of Erling Wold's mass, which he named for one of St. Gallen's most beloved monks, Notker the Stammerer.

Nearly 500 people attended the concert held in the choir of the Dom Cathedral. Erling's beautiful and moving music was brought to life by soprano Kim Brockman, whose voice really does remind one of angels, and the rock star of organists, Willibald, who handled the cathedral's 300+ year old instrument like it was a turbo-powered sports car.
The applause lasted over 10 minutes.

A recording of the concert is here.


Grotesque obsession

window detail from the Gallery of Maps, Vatican Museums
As an Ornamentalist I can't help but obsess just a bit about the grottesca ornamentation that covers entire ceilings and indeed whole rooms in some of the places I have  been visiting recently here in Italy.
I am also absolutely thrilled with my newest book aquisition: Les Grotesques by Allessandra Zamperini.  A comprehensive and lavishly illustrated book that traces the history of this form of ornamentation, from ancient Pompeii to the bestiaries and drolleries of medieval manuscripts, to the discovery of the Domus Aurea in the 15th century, which in turn inspired Raphael and his contemporaries to create an entire system of "grottesca" ornamentation, and what we might consider the first decorative painting of the modern era.   
Grottesca has endured as a major influence in painted decor for centuries, including singerie, neo-classical, and 19th century revival interiors. I bought the French version of this astounding book while in Florence and have only slightly minded its weight in my luggage this last week.

As a designer I notice how Grottesca could be adapted to any shape or size of area, and offered the decorative artist a chance add some personal statements into their work. Details designed to simpy ornament space, could have more meaning.

Rome: ground zero for Grottesca 

In future travels I'd love to visit the Guila Romano, Palazzo Farnese, Villa d'Este and some of the other fabulous villas that sport this kind of painting.
This time, I did get to spend a long day at the Vatican Museums, as well as a few places elsewhere in Rome.

Spandrel ornament in the entry stairways, Vatican Museums
Grottesca ceiling in the entry stairway to the Vatican Museums
wall ornament in the  stairway entrance to the Vatican Museums, the ornament is tilted to match the angle of the stairs
Vatican - Museo Pio Clementino: detail of ornamentation by Christoforo Unterperger circa 1776
 Santa Maria dell'Anima, Rome: detail of a chapel painted by Francesco Salviati, 1548.

Florence:  The Uffizi

A large number of ceilings in the Uffizi  Galleries are ornamented with this Grottesca style. Most were painted far later than the Vatican, by about 40 years. They are busier, and full of interesting details.
Spectacular painted ceilings in the main corridors, many of which were painted by Antonio Tempesta and Alessandro Allori around 1580
detail of above Uffizi ceiling
a later style of Grottesca,  painted in the lower floor of the Uffizi, Florence
note: at this time photography is not permitted inside the Uffizi, so my images were taken by stealth.

All of the images in this post photographed by Lynne Rutter, April 2008. 


Les Grotesques is now available at in English as:
Ornament and the Grotesque: Fantastical Decoration from Antiquity to Art Nouveau

also recommended: "La grottesque" by Andre Chastel 

Art and Techniques of Grottesca 
Incredible book detailing painting techniques by contemporary master Carolina d'Ayala Valva.

dissolving/evolving facades

Postcard from Rome...

Near the Campo de' Fiore there is a small building of some considerable age, bent and worn, the lower part covered in graffiti.
At the top of the facade, you can see a lovely frieze decoration that cleverly marries neoclassical and art nouveau styles: angel figures, fountains, and horses, and a vitruvian wave border, created from horse heads.

If you look very closely at the surface in the center of the building, you can see the ghost of an earlier decoration - a simple trompe l'oeil grid pattern that was all the rage in the 16th century.

The more exposed base of this facade has worn down to its bricks, and a new buildup of spray painted sentiments has begun.

Vitruvian wave is in the glossary!