Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

The Artwork I Bought From The Devil

The first time I went to Prague was during the summer of ’98. It was the moment “Mezzanine” was released by Massive Attack.

Traveling solo and lightly, I had no plans, no phone and certainly no camera. I discovered a hostel run out of a school building and found myself swept down into underground passageways, drinking Velvet, dancing at parties, accompanied by a former Russian sniper, and walking the sinuous cobblestone streets that taught me the freedom of not knowing what was around the corner or even where exactly I was. The city, then, had a magnetism for risk and magic that was nothing but seductive.

The second and third time I visited Prague, while crossing the Charles Bridge, there was an older man wearing knobby red horns on his head, working on his paintings, selling his art. His work consisted mostly of self-portraits: images of himself with his horns on his head posed on the Charles Bridge, looking away, his tongue flailing out to one side. Sometimes he had a sun visor on and painted himself with the visor, but he always had his little red horns, and he was always stationed on a particular edge of the bridge.  He did, however, also paint pastoral scenes of the Czech countryside and some of the Charles Bridge itself. He seemed to be there every day regardless of weather: He baked under the summer sun and on my winter trip, there he was again, selling and making his art. I made it a point to talk to him before I left to go home, conversing with him a bit in German, and ended up buying a few of his paintings. It was irresistible.

All I’ve had were these paintings and my memories of this artist, until I decided to look him up again to see if he was still around, only to find out that he had passed away, sometime over the past couple of years. I kept reading that he was also referred to as “Devil Man” or “Devil of the Charles Bridge.” He was known, as I remember then, by locals as “The Professor of the Charles Bridge.” Apparently, he had been a professor prior to his Charles Bridge post.

His real name is Antonin Votava and I imagine that he continues to contribute to the fog, fading in and out, over the bridge that crosses the Vltava River.

Here are my paintings by Antonin Votava and some images I found of him online. I’m glad someone took photos.

Jeff Koons Reflects The Self–Perfectly



After going to see ‘Jeff Koons: A Retrospective’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art, it’s no wonder why he is considered one of the great American artists of our time. I didn’t always think that way about him.

There are so many topics that are interesting to explore throughout the retrospective ranging from the significance of the salesman, mass production, social mobility, the readymade object, kitsch, fetish art, advertising and celebrity. And it doesn’t stop there.

I watched people at the museum interact with some of his oversized relatable, and sometimes seemingly inflatable, objects that draw you in, like the primal instincts humans have towards shiny reflective things. To see these masterfully created objects, scaled larger than life, literally reflecting the viewers, was marvelous. And what were most people doing? Taking “selfies” and sharing them (inflate lips here).

The Man Behind the MasterCard Logo

My Papaw, born (Norman) Earl Picker, designed the original concept of the MasterCard logo for Jim Hoag in the late 1960′s: the concept, artistry, and typography of two intersecting circles, one red-orange and one ochre-colored, originally coined “Master Charge, The Interbank Card.” This was during the MAD MEN era. It was a time of countless stiff drinks, easy women and easier men, late nights entertaining while sealing deals with clients, and high-pressure deadlines, under-the-gun.  Only, Earl Picker wasn’t working on Madison Avenue.  He was a commercial artist working on a drafting table from his Lindell Blvd. art studio in Midtown St. Louis, Missouri.

Picker, or “Pic,” as he was known, started off designing light fixtures for Day-Brite Lighting. He then entered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was sent to clear way for the groundwork of the ALCAN Highway, connecting the Lower 48 to Alaska.  From there, he was sent to start combat training. He would finally arrive on Utah beachhead in Normandy, France in WWII.  In late 1944, he fought in the early part of The Battle of the Bulge.

It was his former boss from Day-Brite Lighting, Leo G. Stahlhut, who was approached while working at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force in the Trianon Palace Hotel in Versailles, France. He was asked to recommend an experienced cartographer to hand-draw war maps and he recommended Cpl. Earl Picker, Serial No. 37131253. He lied about him being a cartographer, but he must have known from experience that Pic was a talented artist who could handle the job. Pic told a story of receiving his transfer orders: Mid-transit, he peered out the window on the train to Versailles, only to see an awful-looking soldier. A worn, haggard man. Then he realized that the soldier he saw was his own reflection. He would go on to create maps for the war, as a cartographer, for General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who also called him “Pic.”


After the war, Pic returned to St. Louis and worked for Day-Brite Lighting once again before starting his own company, Earl Picker Art Studio. He would go on to not only design the original MasterCard logo, but also design the original Visa and Enterprise (street “e”) logos. He did work for FABICK CAT (Caterpillar Inc.), Cadbury, Hussmann, Anheuser Busch, Emerson Electric, and more. There were no big payouts for logo design, yet it was still a decent living.  The type of handwork artistry that could, for example, make a drawing of a red, perfectly looped bow, look just like a photograph.

Pic’s children remember him working constantly in his studio. It was a messy job to make commercial art at the time. With everything by hand, when multiple changes and corrections needed to be made, it was literally back to the drawing board. Vellum and trace paper, graphite and charcoal pencils, RICH ART Watercolors, French curves, green templates, paintbrushes, markers, and samples of every Pantone color filled his art studio. He would pull many all-nighters, working through to the following day on projects for clients. It was in his studio, while working on the MasterCard logo, that he told his kids, “When you go to the store, you’ll be able to use a plastic card with a code instead of money.” His daughters remember him showing them logo options and asking them, “What do you think? Which one do you like?”

Our family believes that Leo Stahlhut, with his twist of the truth, likely saved Pic’s life. That, in turn, allowed Picker to have seven children with his wife Bethel after the war and a strong, growing legacy.

Earl Picker died in 1982 at the age of 63. His portfolio is missing and remains a bit of a controversy, though many members of the family would love to see it. Our immediate family has only a few remaining pieces from his body of work, yet his children still have memories of seeing his projects. I’m lucky enough to display his original Master Charge, Interbank Card prototype on the wall of our W 68th St. apartment in New York.

Anytime I see a MasterCard logo, I’m reminded of him: how much working and living goes into simple design, creating symbols, and the power of how far it can sometimes travel.


Grue and Boats in Unknown Waters

I’ve had this little French armchair for quite a while before finding an Austrian toile with a watercolor scene: entwining cherry blossom trees meeting a bridge, a boat, and a pagoda set on a rolling coastline. The name of the toile is Aomori and in Japanese and Ainu languages it literally means “blue forest,” however it could possibly be translated also as “green forest.” Aomori refers to a small forest on a hill that fishermen used as a landmark near the town, which is a mountainous area on the coast in the northern Tohoku region of Japan.

I’m fascinated by this idea of a forest that could be considered both blue and green. Come to find out, in many languages there aren’t separate terms for certain colors on the visible spectrum, such as blue and green. Grue, although may not be an actual English word for color, has been used to describe the paradox to translate certain languages usage of words that can mean both green and blue. If you think about water that can appear blue and green or blue-green.

I rarely shop for myself and if I do it’s usually by accident, while looking for something else for a client. This painting is a find from one of my favorite antique shops by an artist marked “Nettle,” whom I  haven’t been able to find any information on. Considering the thatched roof in the background, it could be a setting located somewhere in Scandinavia.

What drew me into the work were these two main sailboats: one blue and one green. One boat is docked, while the other boat appears to be either also docked, headed back in, or headed out. Only Nettle knows. However, I do enjoy attempting interpretation, imagining these blue and green sailboats traveling off, into unknown waters, to find ancient islands with grue forests.

Art Direction for ABC Makeover


Last night, Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition aired on ABC, the episode I art directed for the makeover for Chantell’s apartment in Elgin, IL.

It brought back memories of working last year, driving back and forth from Chicago in stop-and-go traffic, in an un-airconditioned black car, during one of the hottest damn summers on record.

Little did we know when we started the makeover that her building would soon be condemned.

In the meantime, though, there was a lot of good news: I was working on transforming a home for someone who would lose nearly half her body weight over the course of a year, and she would work to finish her degree. That environment had to be motivating.

After hearing more about Chantell from the producers, I knew that I wanted to create something lively and colorful to accentuate the original fireplace detail—as well as her warm personality. This room had to be more than just a bed; it had to also be a gym, a functioning kitchen and a place for Chantell to kick off her shoes and sit down after a long day’s workout.

I wanted to do a collection of dreamcatchers over her bed, so I had them custom made by Sara from Seven Wishes Dream Catchers. Dreamcatchers were originally an Ojibwe concept. Nightmares begone. Manifest dreams.

The colors added in the room made a huge difference. Paint for the space was by Devine Color, which is a refreshing paint to work with since it’s a rather creamy consistency that covers well. There are so many fun palates to choose from. We got serious with the color and used the pale yellow “Devine Butter” on the ceiling, “Devine Poppy” in the kitchen and “Devine Mo’ Pink” in the bedroom/gym/living room. The thick crown moldings, baseboards and architectural trim were painted in “Devine Rino,” a dark, brownish black.

Thankfully, many businesses in the Chicago area contributed to the studio apartment as well. Antique chairs, gold French mirror, floor lamp and lingerie chest were found at The Find, where Julie, the owner, is an absolute delight. I love so many things that she gathers and assembles in her stores.

The metal café chairs and ironwork piece, which I added as a diamond cap or crown to the graffiti graphic was sourced at Architectural Artifacts, where I also found four antique tile pieces that made two pink bows. I had the bows framed as an art piece and hung them over the lingerie chest, where the mason jars of marbles represented lbs lost.

Fabric for upholstering the chairs was sourced from Architex International, as were the yellow sheers and stipe draperies that I sewed up for the windows. The plush hemp and silk rug is from Organic Looms, which sources incredible custom rugs from Nepal and India. You must feel these rugs under your feet and explore the possibilities for your own space.

Kristie Kahns created the gorgeous photograph of a flamenco dancer, an action shot, capturing an animated shawl mid-twirl. The energy of this shot adds to the motivation of the space and acts as a reminder to dance and keep on moving. The goldish-silver frame for the print was done by Frames Graphics Studio—this place does a super job and is very affordable.

Many people helped make this little studio makeover possible, including two remarkable neighbors living below and hands from the rockstar field producers who brought me on.

I’m glad that Chantell did the work to create her self-transformation. As we all are hopefully opening up, reflecting, learning, risking and moving toward something, the known and unknown. So when the building is being condemned, you keep on keeping on.

For me, reality is still more interesting than Reality TV. If only you could capture THAT. Better said, I’ll continue to live it.

For those who missed the episode, check it out.

Convergence in Hell’s Kitchen

It was six years ago that I met a man out in a bar in Brooklyn Heights, New York. He drew me into a question for the patrons, while I was ordering a round of drinks. I answered and that was the beginning of one of many conversations. It would have been an entirely ordinary way to have met if I hadn’t been there with my grandmother, celebrating her 85th birthday, whom later that night taught him the fox trot. We were all out until the morning light crept in over the Heights and it was time to go back to Chicago. It was a chance meeting that would mark the pivot of our becomingness.

But we would both have to wait almost five years before he would see me one evening, from the back of a cab, entering Regents Park. I wasn’t there in the park then, but he did indeed manage to find me, once again. With perhaps some help from the Gods and credit to ourselves, we didn’t hold back.  I was finally ready to let this someone, brilliantly beautiful, in.

After nearly seven months of writing and reading love letters from my side of Chicago, a trip to London on Randy Ave, rambling across the green heaths and moorlands of The Peak District admist Bronze Age stone formations, and tuning into a deep comforting voice across the ocean that could only be my best friend; I now find myself in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, smiling and playing frisbee in Central Park, in a convergence that is our sui generis.

Here, in our living room, is where some of our art comes together: A Dempsy vs. Firpo, possibly the best fight of the first half of the 20th century, Apsaroke Indians, Waiting For the Signal, Henry Miller on his bicycle, Hunter S. Thompson smoking on the beach, a Leroy Neiman polaroid art copy of a painting of Vegas ladies, Prada in Marfa Texas, a three dimensional Roman Colosseum, Frazier, Ali, Liston and Patterson, a photo of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, a preserved Exile on Main St.album, more American Indians in canoes off the coast of Washington State during sundown, my family’s saloon on the mudded streets of Broadway, St. Louis, a cobbler shop in the Netherlands and a Parisian bicyclist, images of rural Illinois meets the suburbs, an unleashing of butterflies from a man’s chest, flecks of gold and Free Air, all mingling with us.

From here, who knows what we will find together to add to our collection or where we will find ourselves in love. What I do know, is that I’m with someone that I can find beauty, art, and truth in everyday life with. And at the end of the day, here’s where we both become further encouraged.

More images of the art and design elements of this work in progress….

The Deco frame sofa was finished as I was loading the truck for New York and I had one word for it once I saw it–badass. It was upholstered with three fabrics that I had been saving for three different upholstering projects, which I decided to use all together in making this one piece for our apartment.  I enjoy the labyrinth black and white graphic against the warm stripes. The glass beaded, copper end table is also an upholstered piece that holds a brass lamp from my late grandfather; similar tailored silk shades flank the sofa. Reflections of the copper beads, brass, glass and dashes of gold play up the room and call for many candle lit evenings.


Make up your life!

This blushy peach photo from Moschino’s Cheap and Chic, Autumn/Winter 2012 collection, at London’s Fashion Week, makes me smile. A simple yet bold statement that is such a great reminder for living life. A reminder to let go of anything holding you back, trust your intuition and continue to blaze your own damn trail.

Zebras living in Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater

To see zebras playing in the wild, among countless species of animals, is mind blowing. The markings or withers on the necks are what allow the zebras to recognize one another, band together, as protection to confuse other animals. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to kill them just for their hides or why many African animals are killed to feed the “collectors” and their need to feel more “exotic,” by expressing a sort of style or statement on a floor or a wall? It’s perhaps part of the reason why I have never been a fan of the zebra print itself used in interiors. But here on safari in Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater, these zebras roam freely. This is where I found myself able to appreciate their unique beauty, along with all the other animals, and it’s truly where I think they belong–among the living.

freeing butterflies

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the SCA70 Benefit for The Society for Contemporary Art of Chicago with my good friend, private butler Joseph Goins. It was not until almost the end of the artful evening and Gallery 3 was about to come to a close, when I came across the most stunning watercolor pencil piece by artist, Maximo Gonzalez. All I saw was this figure reaching for the sky and unleashing from an opening in his chest- a massive flock of butterflies! In the plexiglass foreground of the piece clung scattered static flecks of silver and gold leaf, making the effect three dimensional and hopefully sentimental. I was tearfully in awe. When I read the title of the work, I feel butterflies, somehow it called to me eloquently, exactly how I feel about love and joy at this point in my life. At the close of the silent auction some little good-natured flutterer found me on my side. I feel butterflies by Maximo Gonzalez became my contemporary art tattoo for my living room, where I believe it will continue to make me smile and feel butterflies.

I feel butterflies, 2008 by Gonzalez Maximo

Maximo Gonzalez is Argentinean born and based in Mexico City.