Monday, March 29, 2010

The Fabulous 'Belle Otéro’
- Carolina Otéro (1868-1965)

I've been on the edge of this post for quite a bit - but it had seemed to fit me into a category in which I didn't think I necessarily belonged!

Whatever, here goes.

As a kid, I had a late C19 postcard of ‘La Belle Otéro’, a larger-than-life figure of the stage who seemed at the same time both fabulously beautiful, and curiously and sensually modern - a kind of Mata Hari without espionage. This unusual mix in part reflected, I later realised, her 'unconventional' theatrical beginnings.

Years passed as they do. And I hadn't given a thought to 'La Belle Otéro'.

And then
to my utter amazement, I recently saw some film of her dancing ‘La Valse Brillante’ in St Petersburg in 1898 - shot by French film operator Felix Mesguich, a Lumiere Brothers employee.

There is such unexpected gusto and exuberance in the performance that I was curious to find out more about this intriguing character, who had made such an early appearance on my radar.

Barcelona born, Carolina Otéro worked her way through cafes, bordellos and music halls to become employed at the Folies Bèrgere in Paris in 1889, creating the gypsy character ‘La Belle Otéro’. Not unlike Louise Weber had done had done with the persona of ‘La Goulue’ (‘The Glutton’) at Le Moulin Rouge. But with the Spaniard being perhaps more on the 'refined' side.

It was at the Folies Bèrgere that Otéro indistinguishably meshed her private and public image– in part through a wardrobe of outlandish clothing, including her famous jewel and pearl encrusted brassieres.

(Please refrain from the obvious comment here! LOL)

From Paris, Otéro launched herself on the world – travelling and performing in all corners of the globe - Moscow, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Paris … .

Carolina Otero 'La Belle Otero' by Leo Rauth (1910)

And became, it was thought, the lover of King Edward VII, Tsar Nicholas II, the Grand Duke Peter, the Duke of Westminster … .

She amassed and lost a fortune ... in the approved manner.

At the height of her career,
Otéro declared ...

Women have one mission in life: to be beautiful. When one gets old, one must learn how to break mirrors

However something of the allure of this actress/dancer/Folies Bèrgere star/courtesan lingers on today ...

... as legend has it that her breasts were the inspiration in 1912 for the cupolas of the Carlton Hotel in Cannes, France.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Don't Pandas Manage To Do Cute ... VERY VERY Well!

This is the post where I'm obviously feeling ever so slightly less hairy-chested than usual ...

... though I suspect the feeling will have dissipated by the next post!
Getting In

A man and his dog were walking along a road. The man was enjoying the scenery, when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead.

He remembered dying, and that the dog walking beside him had been dead for years.

He wondered where the road was leading them.

After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall along one side of the road.

It looked like fine marble ... .

At the top of a long hill, it was broken by a tall arch that
glowed in the sunlight.

When he was standing before it, he saw a magnificent
gate in the arch that looked like mother-of-pearl, and the street that led to the gate looked like pure gold.

He and the dog walked toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side.

When he was close enough, he called out, 'Excuse me, where are we?'

'This is Heaven, sir,' the man answered.

'Wow! Would you happen to have some water?' the man asked.

'Of course sir. Come right in, and I'll have some ice
water brought right up.'

The man gestured, and the gate began to open. 'Can my friend,' gesturing toward his dog, 'come in, too?' the traveller asked.

'I'm sorry sir, but we don't accept pets.'

The man thought a moment and then turned back toward the road and continued the way he had been going with his dog.

After another long walk, and at the top of another long hill, he came to a dirt road leading through a farm gate that looked as if it had never been closed. There was no fence.

As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside,
leaning against a tree and reading a book . . .

'Excuse me!' he called to the man. 'Do you have any water?'

'Yeah, sure, there's a pump over there, come on in.'

'How about my friend here?' the traveller gestured to the dog.

'There should be a bowl by the pump,' said the man.

They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old-fashioned hand pump with a bowl beside it.

The traveller filled the water bowl and took a long drink himself,
then he gave some to the dog.

When they were full, he and the dog walked back
toward the man who was standing by the tree.

'What do you call this place?' the traveller asked.

'This is Heaven,' he answered.

'Well, that's confusing,' the traveller said.

'The man down the road said that was Heaven, too.'

'Oh, you mean the place with the gold street and pearly gates? Nope. That's hell.'

'Doesn't it make you mad for them to use your name like that?'

'No, we're just happy that they screen out the folks who would leave their best friends behind'.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Jessie Tait Ceramics

I'm sure it's far far too early to do another 50s ceramics post ... but couldn't we just say we're following through on a very important theme?

Cos I've just googled across Jessie Tait (1928-2010) ...

... and been bowled over by the output I've seen.

She died in January, so it could also be seen as a memoriam kinda thing, if further justification is needed.

Some of the designs that really grabbed my attention were ...

Left 'Quartic' shaped plate 'Nature Study' by Terence Conran. Right, a vase by Jessie Tait

If you feel like having your hair blown right back at the table as I do on occasion, how bout the aptly named Zambesi ...

Or for when you're feeling just a bit more restrained ...

For me and when I'm not Zambesi-ing my head off, it's Homemaker to start the day ...

... as I luckily discovered a large cache in a local second hand shop not so long ago. Not long after my Zambesi haul.

Jessie Tait's designs seem a bit less adventurous when compared with her Italian counter-parts. More controlled and regular. More conventionally elegant and with a higher production 'finish'.

The bio-bit is that Tait was a ceramic designer working in the Stoke-on-Trent pottery industry. She studied at the Burslem School of Art and initially assisted Charlotte Rhead as a junior designer. Spending most of her time with the Midwinter Pottery, which was taken over by J and G Meakin in 1968 and then by Wedgwood in 1970. She retired in the early 1990s.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Profligate and Prodigal Sons

Looking round the place this morning I noticed how the 50s 'objets' boldly and irreverently jump right out at me, however deeply embedded they are in the more polite antiquities, denizens of cabinets of curiosities and more traditionally collected whatevers.

Of course, it's the boldness and simplicity of the geometric designs, the quirky asymmetry, the bright fresh primary colours ... their sheer sense of unbridled fun.

Which awaken the naughty and rebellious child buried not-so-deeply within me ...

... and who in fact can quite easily be released, as evidenced by the Mardi Gras dance party last week.

And while I genuinely value the approved objects for collection of some of my more standard model buddies, it's the profligate and prodigal sons of 50s 'objets' that are my real favourites.

They are my antidote to the deadening and ultimately suffocating mainstream convention that everywhere surrounds and tries so aggressively to engulf us.

Which reminds me, I've just gotta slip out for a bit to make a couple more life-enhancing purchases ... at my local 50s retro shop, '506070'!
A Few More Dorothy Parkerisms


If I had a shiny gun,
I could have a world of fun
Speeding bullets through the brains
Of the folk who give me pains

Or if I had some poison gas
I could make the moments pass
Bumping off a number of
People whom I do not love

But I have no lethal weapon
Thus does Fate our pleasure step on!
So they still are quick and well
Who should be, by rights, in hell

Classic Dorothy Parker.

I've posted on this central denizen of the Algonquin Hotel - more than once - but I couldn't quite resist another. I'm downing my first coffee of the day and needed something of her sort to sort me out.

And so moving on to a few witty maxims - should there be any other kind!

[1] If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit by me ... .

[2] Someone told Dorothy that Claire Boothe Luce was even kind to her inferiors; Parker replied "Where does she find them?"

[3] Suggested for her tombstone "This is on me"

[4] It's like meeting God without dying

[5] A girl's best friend is her mutter

[6] With the crown of thorns I wear, why should I bother with a prick like you

[7] I've never been a millionaire but I just know I'd be darling at it

[8] Scratch an actor and find an actress

[9] This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly
It should be thrown with great force

[10] Sorrow is tranquillity remembered in emotion

[11] If all the girls who attended Yale prom were laid end to end,
I wouldn't be a bit surprised

[12] 'Too fucking busy and visa versa'
(To an editor pressing for a late article)

And to finish up an oldie and a goodie ...

I like to have a Martini,

Two at the very most.

After three I'm under the table,

After four I'm under my host!

Ok, now I'm really well set up for the day!

Any of these favourites of yours?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Cousin Of The One That Got Away

'Sydney Harbour by Night' Brett Whiteley - Linocut on Rice Paper 34x34 cm (1981)

Flicking through a book on the iconoclast Australian artist Brett Whiteley (1939-1992) I came across the linocut above ... and felt yet another sharp pang of regret for its cousin that got away.

Brett Whitely

You know those auctions where you set yourself a limit and rather foolishly stick to it ... only to have the work knocked down just a smidgeon above. An event which is usually followed by teeth gnashing and various forms of mental self-abuse.

What I particularly liked about both works is the economy with which the Sydney Harbour scene is conveyed - through just a few lines and shapes. And the powerful sense of night that is achieved by these forms being in white rather black - almost giving the feeling of a photographic negative.

Whitely worked in many styles but I very much like his uncompromisingly sensual and erotic figurative painting with its distortion and exaggeration, not unlike the C16 Mannerists. It's not 'polite' work but deliciously confronting.

'Woman in Bath' (1964)

'Washing the Salt Off' (1985)

'Portrait of Wendy' - Oil, material, pencil, charcoal, pen and ink on paper

This sexual charge also infuses his landscapes ...

'Summer at Carcoar' (1977) - Oil and mixed media on pine board, 244x199 cm

Whiteley challenged in his choice of material - such as including samples of his own hair stuck to the canvas of a self portrait - and in his selection of subject matter - such as dog pisses ...

'The 15 Great Dog Pisses of Paris' (1989)

... often exploring boundaries and crossing them deep into new territory.

I guess being the kind of gay guy I am, I can appreciate Whiteley's being drawn to rebellion and excess. He lived large and died at 53 of a drug over-dose.

His wife Wendy opened a large black-tie retrospective in Sydney a few years back and, looking round at the work hung on the walls, said she was glad so see so many of her old 'friends' again. Adding that many had originally been sold to pay for the 'exotic substance's they were using at the time.

There was an almost audible recoil from the 'black ties' - and I was very glad that, even in her little black dress and pearls, Wendy had not completely passed over into the art establishment!

Okay, writing about 'The one That Got Away' and shamefully using you in the process has calmed me. A bit. For the moment ... and till next time. And there certainly will be a next time. Bugger!