Life

swimmer’s itch

January 10, 2024

It’s rather unfortunate, given how much I love the ocean, that a hot red rash spreads across my entire body within seconds of stepping into it. My skin starts to mottle. I may as well be wearing a lacy fishnet body suit. Lake water, sea water, river or ocean. It happens every time. I’m resolved to it now. I brace myself. Let the water rush over me. Love every second I’m in it. Hate every second I itch. Know it will pass.

pezzettino

January 9, 2024

In Pieces But Still Holding It Together sounds like an apt description of most people I know. In fact, the longer I’m here, the more I realize that we’re all a bit shredded up inside. What I love about Bouke de Vries‘ ceramic sculptures is how all the shattered pieces find a home within one beautiful, translucent vessel. Because that’s what we all are, walking vessels, custodians of all our little pieces.

past present

December 27, 2023

It’s a beautiful idea to take relics from different cultures and time periods and re-imagine them as contemporary sculptures. French artist, Nicolas Lefebvre does exactly this. A background in antiques informs his work. As does his extensive travel. Imagine an antique Amazonian headdress and Nigerian coins, or a Khmer mirror and a Berber tent peg. Each one of his “objets montés” are a delicate balance of colour, texture and scale. As is often the case with collections such as these, choosing just one is impossible. I want them all.

try hard

December 23, 2023

Robert De Niro hit the nail on the head when he said there’s no right or wrong in art. “There’s only good and bad. And “bad” usually happens when you’re trying too hard to do it right.” Kate Semple‘s ceramics are a glorious example of the possibilities available to an artist when she, as De Niro says, “feels loose enough to create what you want to create.” Conventional forms –– vase, bowl, cup –– take on a life of their own in Semple’s hands. Each piece is just a little bit lopsided. Seams are unfinished. She makes no apology for running glazes or wonky rims. Quite the opposite, she celebrates them. “Getting it right” often means denying ourselves the eccentricities that make us unique. That render a piece (or a person) interesting. Human. This is a slow and painful learning curve for me. I’m grateful to have a studio space, finally, where I am “free to try anything. To have choices.” I hope to “loosen up” a little more every year. What I’m most drawn to in Semple’s work is exactly that, that it feels free and unfettered. And what is more beautiful than that?

heart of gold

December 22, 2023

There are five people living in our home, and three more if you count our neighbour, Angelo and his niece and nephew, Nicole and Carlos. Our walls are so thin that we may as well share a home. Sometimes, I hear Ange’s radio and I wince thinking about all the wailing, roaring, singing, dancing, bashing, squealing he must hear from us. A few years ago, Nicole knocked on the wall at 7 a.m. to signal to the kids to stop making so much noise. That’s the one and only complaint we’ve ever had. “I’ll take the noise over silence any day,” he used to say to me after his Mum died. Christina was a woman of few words. Tough as nails. An immigrant. A widow. She wore a teal blue coat in the winter and loved pro-wrestling. Whenever the kids and I got locked out of the house we’d go next door to watch guys pummel one another in her front room. Ange would give them Coca Cola, or some other fizzy beverage they’d never be allowed to drink at home. They’d bring out the family albums —Ange in a tux at his brother Alvaro’s wedding — and share immigrant stories reminiscent of the ones we’d hear from Jason’s grandparents. I remember coming home one day a few years after Christina died to find four large garbage bags on the porch, her teal coat peeking through one of them. Shortly after that, Alvaro’s grown kids came to live with Angelo and life was restored to his side of the house. He was born in this house –– Ange is almost 70 –– “and they’ll take me out in a coffin.” He went to all our local schools, and ran around our lanes at night like our kids do today. Some nights, he and his pals would get as far the Philosopher’s Walk, lift up the grates, climb into the sewers and make their way into the Royal Ontario Museum. Angelo never married. He worked in a printing factory. He’s one of my favourite people on earth. When we renovated our house, a massive headache for Ange, his response was, “you have to break some eggs to make an omelette. I’d take yous guys over anyone else.” We bring him Ferrero Rocher’s at Christmas and a pizza on his Birthday. I’d like to think he knows how much we love him. He knows our rhythms, and we know his. He was there when we moved in. When we brought our first baby home. The terrible nights. The joyful mornings. To Ange, I feel a forever debt of thanks. I sat in his kitchen today catching up on Coronation Street. He’s the only person I know who still watches it. He smelled, as he always does of soap, coffee and cigarettes. And I thought to myself, of all of the houses, of all the streets, we landed here, next to you.

the constant gardener

December 21, 2023

“The things I did were the things I wanted to do…. so little by little, it became what it is,” says the German-born artist and landscape designer, Robert Jakob of his garden in Springs, NY. Irises, foxgloves, peonies, roses, geraniums, forget-me-nots and lavender all grow in his garden and inspire his paintings. There’s a sense of urgency to his flowers; immediate, fleeting, intense. “One tends to want to be in control, if you make a painting or a drawing,” he says. “Yet things happen that you don’t plan for—they just sneak in. But you can erase them, fix them, paint over them. In nature it’s different, because things never stand still and you can’t do anything about them.”

line dance

December 18, 2023

“It’s cool to see an old lady on the front cover of Vogue,” says my teenage daughter on seeing Isabella Rossellini on the cover of this month’s Italian Vogue. We’re standing in line at the supermarket with a week’s worth of food in our trolley. “71 isn’t old,” I shoot back, tossing a parsnip on the conveyor belt. But I know what she means. And I couldn’t agree more. I had zero interest in the hoopla around The Supers’ September Vogue cover. As the New York Times writer, Vanessa Friedman put it, Do Supermodels age, or just get airbrushed? This cover though, this cover is beautiful and majestic and real. “I find it very reductive to appear younger than my age and in any case it’s a losing battle,” says Rossellini. “I asked Vogue Italia not to retouch the photos and leave me with my wrinkles. Francesca Ragazzi, who directs the magazine, accepted: the new generations are looking for more modern and intelligent definitions of beauty.’ I hope so.

Oh, Christmas tree

December 9, 2023

I rarely saw my Mum cry as a kid, but I do remember the time she cried over the Christmas lights. Tangled wires are enough to make most of us cry. I think it was a string of burnt-out bulbs that sent her over the edge. Seeing my Mum, the very essence of Christmas magic, cry like that was my first glimpse into another side to Christmas, another side to her, one that didn’t become clear until many years later. Now that I have three children of my own, I understand. Christmas is a fraught and intense season for parents, mainly because we’re now the magicians. We’re the conjurers of twinkling lights, gifts in shiny paper and amaryllises in golden pots. We’re icing gingerbread houses and stuffing turkeys with chestnuts and dried fruit. We’re filling charity boxes with toothpaste, winter woollies and cans of tomato soup. We’re filling stockings with slime and tangerines, scoffing down carrots and leaving trails of biscuit crumbs in the fireplace. We are the magicians. We are the dancing elves. We are Father Christmas and his herd of merry reindeer. No wonder my Mum came undone over the lights. No wonder we all do. Heavy is the head that wears the magician’s hat. And the elf’s hat. And Santa’s hat. And the chef’s toque. It’s a lot. And I’m learning that it doesn’t have to be. In recent years, thanks in part to a pandemic that showed me how wonderfully blissful a no-fuss, zero-events, paired down, steak-lunch-for-five can be, I have given up the hats. And the sugar plum fairy’s wings, too. So much so, that when our ten-foot Balsam Fir, fully decked in lights, bunting and baubles collapsed into the sofa yesterday like a drunk teenager, I actually considered leaving it there until boxing day. Two hours, three arguments and eight billion needles later, the tree was once again standing in all its festive splendour. No one person can be responsible for the magic, and no one person can be responsible for the mess. The best part of the tree falling down was all five of us putting it back up together. It really is a beautiful tree.

koutales

November 29, 2023

The biggest spoon I’ve ever seen was at a periptero in the suburbs of Athens near the port where my Dad docks his boat. Peripteros, our little pavement kiosks, carry everything from chips, chocolates and cigarettes to batteries and bubbly drinks. Just picture the tiniest supermarket in the world. This one was special though. Positioned just metres away from the roadside, the old man inside the kiosk –– we called him, “O Koutalas,” the big spoon –– would deliver our snacks on a large wooden vessel with a metre long stem. This was my earliest experience of a drive-thu. We’d throw our drachmas into the spoon and whizz onward. The smallest spoons I’ve ever seen were the tiny silver ones we’d use to scoop up mint jelly at our Sunday roasts. My half British Dad loves pomp and ceremony –– crystal salt and pepper shakers, porcelain gravy boats, sterling silver forks for every course –– as much as he does Sunday lunch. My only frustration with the tiny spoons was that I could never fit very much mint jelly on them. Maybe that was the point. When my maternal grandmother died, I inherited her silver. I still keep it wrapped in her flannel washcloths. We try to use it as often as possible. The soup spoons, beautifully shiny and round, like miniature antique gilt mirrors, are my favourite pieces in the set. I once gave a set of vintage ice cream spoons to a dear friend as a wedding gift. It makes me smile to think of her family eating Ben & Jerry’s off silver spoons. I’m not alone in my affection for spoons. There’s something in their soft shape that’s so appealing. They are also a vessel for soups, stews and vanilla ice cream, all comforting foods. Is our fondness for them somehow connected to the fact that our first tastes of solid food come mashed up on a spoon? Look through your kitchen drawers, and I’m sure there are wooden spoons with a hundred memories embedded in the grain. You may even have a beloved one. Given my love for spoons, I’m not sure why it took me so long to make ceramic ones. I was inspired by Paula Grief‘s spoons. And Suzanne Sullivan‘s too. Both potters have elevated the simple spoon to something of an ornament, something we can treasure for years to come. And how wonderful is that?

raw talent

November 17, 2023

Heyja Do. Holy moly. A truly talented ceramicist can take a lump of clay and turn it into something beautiful, refined and unique while still preserving the rawness of its original mud-like state. That’s the magic. That’s Heyja Do. Honey Vase, case in point. Alabaster Object VII, ditto. Canto II reminds me of a piece of limestone that holds down the table cloth in my studio. There isn’t a collection of hers that I’m not drawn to and that I’m not Inspired by. If I were to pick a favourite I might say, Reed II; the fragile, rough edged wing is so moving.

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