Mussels in Brussels

Don’t worry, I’m not about to do the blogging equivalent of a holiday slide show. Just thought I’d draw your attention to some fun things I discovered on a recent trip to rockin’ Belgium. Of course, I indulged in all the expected treats of the land: beer, mussels, choccies and chips but I also found some unexpected cultural gems:

Belgian Symbolist Art at the Musee Royaux des Beaux Arts: From a quick Google I can tell you that broadly speaking symbolism was a reaction against realism, focusing on spirituality, dreams and the power of the imagination. A stroll round the exhibition showed me that in the late nineteenth century these dark, moody paintings and sculptures were the order of the day in Belgium. While I’m not sure I’d want any of them hanging on my walls (think of the nightmares), they were certainly interesting to behold and very atmospheric. Here are a couple of examples:

Felicien Rops, La Buveuse d’absinthe, 1865:

And the very famous Orphee mort, (Ophelia’s Death), 1893, Jean Delville:

Some more Googling tells me that decorative elements of Belgian Symbolism had an influence on the subsequent Art Nouveau movement, bringing me to my next Brussels highlight: the Belgian architect Victor Horta’s house and the various cool Art Nouveau buildings around Brussels including the Music Museum, which reminds me of the glass elevator in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

Victor Horta wanted to break free from convention and redesign functional objects to make them beautiful. The interior of his house, which you can just stroll around as if you were his guest, is gorgeous and well worth a visit.

Speaking of individuals with a passion for modernity and creativity, another cool dude I learnt more about from my trip is Benedikt Taschen, a German publisher who puts out books on all things art, film,  fashion and erotica. There’s a lovely Taschen bookshop in the heart of Brussels and I spent a good deal of time browsing the pages of these beautiful books.

Which leads me nicely onto the final thing I have to say about Brussels: they have a surprisingly good shopping scene. Not blinding, in-your-face fashion saturation like London and New York, but small independent boutiques and a refreshing lack of chain stores. (This goes for their cafes and restaurants too: they just don’t do Starbucks, OK?) My favourite shopping find was a boutique store with the unusual name of Mr Ego. Its website describes it as ‘cool attitude shopping’ – I love frenglish. I picked up several nice pieces from this place, and think they will make welcome additions to my Topshopified wardrobe.

So that concludes my Belgian observations. I hope you find them useful for future trips to a land that does indeed go beyond mussels and chips. Incidentally, it is a very easy place to get to for a weekend break thanks to the legendary Eurostar! And even more convenient if, like me, you have lovely friends living out there like Tom and Laura who provided me with free accommodation, a guided tour and invaluable local knowledge.

May 16, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , . architecture, art, books, fashion, travel. Leave a comment.

Some ‘graphic’ art

No I don’t mean anything rude by that. Graphic art is ‘a term applied historically to the art of printmaking and drawing’ (according to Wikipedia). Basically, it’s posters and prints, often used for things like gig posters, display ads and promo flyers.  The reason for my sudden interest in it? I went to a rather good graphic art fair last weekend called ‘Pick Me Up’. I browsed the prints and posters (some a bit generic but mostly top quality), watched artists at work and fantasised about which ones I’d buy if I spent money on art instead of shoes (which I don’t but I really should. A much better investment). This quirky little fair was only on for a week so for those of you who missed it here are some highlights:

1) Erin Petson: I love her sketchy, messy but delicate style. Gorgeous. It says on her website she’s done work for Vogue. I’d love to see more of that kind of thing in mainstream fashion media. (See previous blog post!)

2) Everything is Everything: A video about objects. What happens (or doesn’t happen) when you touch, pick up, throw, put on, drop and jump on everyday things. Intermittently accompanied by some rancid-looking Chinese food. I can’t say any more about it except you should watch it because it is mindlessly hypnotic.

3) The humble art of screen printing: So easily ignored in the age of digital printing but really satisfying to watch the swiping of the paint and the building up of colours. It is still very much alive today at the likes of Print Club London where trendy East Londoners unite to seep paint onto paper.

4) Rob Ryan: Paper cutout artiste  extraordinaire breathes new life into the  humble paper chain and doily with amazingly intricate poster templates which are transposed onto all sorts of medium, including bags, books and mugs. Although as my housemate Jim said ‘It’s a bit girlie, isn’t it?’

5) Big Ideas (don’t get any) by James Houston: The most original Radiohead cover you’ll ever hear, Houston covers ‘Nude’ from In Rainbows using old school technology. What it is doing at a graphic art fair I’ve not idea but it is very clever stuff. I love seeing all that clunky technology put to good use!

May 2, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . art, fashion, London. Leave a comment.

What’s the deal with the dress up?

Boys in waistcoats, trilby hats, sharp suits, braces  and leather jackets. Hair in quiffs. Girls in polka dots, full circle skirts, neckerchiefs and stockings. Hair in waves. During a recent party at my place of residence I remember looking around the room thinking how stylish everybody looked (not sure these pics quite capture that vibe but for further proof of the chicness see Mars’ blog..)
It was, as is customary for our house parties, a fancy dress party. The theme? The rockin’ 1950s. My conclusion? Everyone looks better in old school dress up. And if you need further convincing of why a decade-themed party is necessary, here it is:
1. Great ice breaker to help with the initial mingling process- ‘love the Buddy Holly glasses! Who are you?…’
2. Perfect excuse to put together a vintage playlist of classic tunes. (Although these do tend to go out the window when various drunks decide they’d rather hear Meat Loaf)
3. Handy for identifying random out-of-era gate crashers.
4. Easy identification of individuals for post-party gossip sessions. ‘Oh you mean the one in the rubber elvis quiff? You didn’t?!’
5. The perfect excuse to put together a retro feast. In our case, candy coloured cupcakes and the haze-inducing Gin Daisy cocktail, which went down exceedingly well.
6. Aesthetics: For those concerned with such things at a house party and for some reason I am one of these people, a chic fifties or sixties themed party lends a little fantasy to what can otherwise be an ordinary  affair.
Now if only we could replicate the surrealism and humour of the notorious cake fight in the 1960s Nouvelle Vague classic Pierrot Le Fou!

April 3, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . fashion, films, Me, nights out. Leave a comment.

Fembots and Zoids

This post should come with a warning that it  involves a high horse and me getting on it. So read on if you dare…

Flicking through the pages of the well-known fashion mag, Grazia, there are lots of lovely things to behold: pretty people, sexy clothes and outrageous footwear – you know how it goes. (Don’t pretend you don’t, boys). I’m drawn to this eye candyfest as much as the next person

BUT

I’m getting increasingly upset by the number of what I would describe as ‘fembots and zoids’ on the pages, mainly in the ads. What I mean by this is the extent to which the faces and figures are airbrushed and distorted till they resemble no woman on earth. The one that caught my attention as a particularly horrendous example of this is the two headed, flat-faced monstrosity I spied the other day, which could also be described as two ‘beautiful’ women advertising lipstick.

Something about the vacant airbrushed faces upset me more than usual. I think because there are two of them and they’ve been done up to look like clones this is a particularly strong example of the  attack of the ‘fembots’. (Is it me or do they also look a little bit evil?)

What I wonder is how much further the airbrushed zoid look can go before they all merge into one generic computer manipulated image of ‘the perfect woman’ (which would probably look like Kate Moss as she is in every second ad anyway).

In a book of past Vogue covers that I have it is really interesting to see how much more creative editors had to be before the days of airbrushing and even fashion photography. It would be brilliant to see this type of artwork come back into mainstream fashion but I guess that’s a big ask.

Call me a blind optimist but I do believe it is possible, however, that one day we will see an airbrushing backlash which acknowledges the fact that no one really looks like this and nor should they want to!

March 28, 2010. Tags: , , , . art, fashion, feminism. 2 comments.