Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sgraffito: After and Before

Sgraffito has enhanced buildings and pottery for thousands of years. The word comes from the Italian "graffiare," to scratch, which pretty much explains the technique. A layer of plaster or clay slip is covered with a different colored layer. Scraping or carving down through the layers reveals the colors underneath. Many European buildings were decorated with sgraffito during the Belle Epoque, when skilled labor was cheaper than more permanent ceramic tiles. Time and weather have not been kind to these sibling sgraffito-embellished doorways in Brussels. One has been "rehabilitated," with its colors preserved, but it is not truly restored to its original state. Look closely at its decrepit sister, with the same set of colors used in a different arrangement. You can see the deeply-gouged outlines that are a feature of most Art Nouveau sgraffito. I dream of appliqued quilts or perhaps lovely little pieces of polymer clay jewelry inspired by these designs.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Door Handle, Rue Charles Quint

Yes, I do look closely at doors and windows while walking down a street. This one advertised that it was a modern, stylish home in circa-1900 Brussels. I love its curvy art nouveauness. Every day, designers create items large and small in whatever happens to be the current style. The reversed S curve of this handle has welcomed the grasp of many hands over the past 100 years. Ergonomically, it's a good design. Perhaps this is why it was not replaced when Art Nouveau fell from fashion. We can still enjoy its beauty. Now if only it was in the Renovation Hardware catalog...

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cherry Tomatoes

Friends with vegetable gardens will be blessed eventually with too much of something. We welcomed the cherry tomatoes, still warm from the sun. The usual  phrase to describe ripeness is "a nice red  tomato." Although tomatoes come in every color except blue,  I'd bet that any paint color currently named "Tomato" looks more like the multitude of orange hues in my colander. I took a photo, but stark reality did not capture their sweet-acid balance, the ready-to-burst ripeness, the...summerness of them. So here, with a little editing, is an image of how they taste, rather than how they look. This is how I will remember them in February.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Orvieto's Duomo

Last week’s photo was of a modern building with polka dots. This week, let's visit the Duomo in Orvieto, Italy. This cathedral, begun in 1290, was a 300-year-long undertaking. Is it possible to NOT think of zebras when viewing the side of the Duomo for the first time? White travertine and dark gray basalt stripes curve around columns and converge in dizzying ways. Our modern eyes are so used to architectural minimalism with its severe swaths of unadorned concrete and glass. We tend to associate ornamentation with fussiness, but the Duomo is crisp and bold. Let's call it (with apologies to Robert Hughes) the shock of the old. If you would like to view my posting about the Duomo's magnificent golden facade, go to

Sunday, September 2, 2012

High Line Dots

Near the north end of Manhattan's High Line Park there is a building painted with a mural by the french artist known as JR. Although the full mural, with its portrait of a member of the Lakota tribe, is interesting, I was taken by the background of giant polka dots. The discipline of their regular spacing and the black-and-white boldness banish the sense of whimsicality or flightiness that one often associates with polka dots. And it just looks really, really cool against a bright blue sky.