Patina

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Over the course of the past month, Fazlalizadeh’s mural has started to peel slightly, cracking along the lines of brick, the residual paint of earlier murals. Everyday, this piece morphs and shifts, reveals a little more about what works came before it, becomes a part of the trajectory of the neighborhood.

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There is something I love about the idea of these women — and this crucial message — becoming an integrated, organic part of place.

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Ceramics Sale

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This weekend I finally made it over to Baltimore Clayworks’ annual Seconds Sale in Mt. Washington.  Some of the pieces were nearly flawless, clearly overstocks and donations.  But even the obvious seconds — misshapen, with drips of glaze — had an appealingly hand-wrought quality.  They offered a glimpse into process, a touchpoint.  Given that I always want to touch the pieces at ceramic exhibits, at this sale, I touched nearly everything.  It felt nice to move through that airy space, letting the ceramics’ shapes fill my hands, feeling that variety of heft and texture.

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If you haven’t been before, mark your calendars for next summer.  A fundraiser for Clayworks, the sale includes seconds, overstock, and pieces donated by its students.  And it includes lots of them.  Even on Saturday evening, well into the weekend-long event, there were still tables and shelves packed with great pieces.  This sale thrives on its stylistic variety and its (very) low price points.

I wish I’d made it back Sunday night for the end-of-weekend box sale.  It would have been great to pick up a couple more pieces.

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Murals

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Jenny and James and I went for a walk in Station North this past weekend to see more of the murals.  I love this one.  The graphic lines of the woman’s age, the flat planes of sheets, drying.  The evocative slope of her eyes and the arc of her finger, vigilant.  Her wary surveillance of this neighborhood’s change.

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The building is covered in murals: on its walls and in its windows.  I find I like unbounded ones the best: these ones that seem to grow from the bricks and concrete of the buildings.  Unframed, with no painted backgrounds, they fill these city shapes and spaces, their negative space formed by the background of this neighborhood.

Here is another one unbound like this: the telephone wires and winnowy trees interrupted only by the architectural squares of our own real sky, the boy about to ride out from this wall on his outsized bicycle.  This moment is full of power: the boy’s size, the baroquian potential of his movement, his handlebars highlighted by the building’s silvered cement.

These pieces do not try to cover up their context; in their form and content they inhabit, insist, on place.

Window / Frame

On a walk with my friend John, we spotted this window in a Station North drycleaner.  I love that in this shot, the frames in the shop window play against the reflected windows in the buildings opposite, the sheet glass against the tactile brownstones, the 19th century arches against the spare wood frames.

Plus, I love that the site of this piece is in the window of the emerging arts district’s drycleaner.  Art is everywhere in this pocket of Baltimore.

If you look closely, you can see John and — if you look even a little more closely — me in this photo.  Which I think is kind of great.  Portrait of the artists, lingering in a Station North drycleaner.

I’ve noticed that there seems to be an interest in displaying frames in windows lately. We saw this frame display in a Mt. Vernon window the same day.

I like it: the concept suggests a playfulness about windowframes — and probes some larger questions about framing, the act of viewing, and art. There could be some good academic scholarship here. These pieces enact an age-old idea: Art as a window?

Street Art

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Tatyana Fazlalizadeh recently completed a Stop Telling Women to Smile residency in Baltimore.  She was here for a week at the end of April, and this weekend I headed up to Station North and check out some of the results of her public art project.

Fazlalizadeh’s project in response to street harassment is powerful, and particularly impactful because she places it in the context of the streets where so much of this subtle and not-so-subtle gender bias plays out.  Her residency in Baltimore included two public meetings with women from the neighborhood in addition to the street art she created.

Interestingly, I was stopped twice while walking through Station North to see Fazlalizadeh’s pieces.  Both times by women, the first of whom asked me where I got my walking shoes, and the second of whom exchanged extemporaneous banter with me about the unpredictable weather this May (Neither of us ever knows whether to wear a jacket these days).

There was something light — almost defiantly jubilant, free — in both these conversations, the second of which happened right across the street from this Fazlalizadeh mural.  There’s something to the idea that Fazlalizadeh’s pieces work to reclaim these public spaces.  To re-gender them.  To make them spaces for women to reach out to one another on sidewalks and engage in an entirely different form of discourse.

You can read more about Fazlalizadeh’s Stop Telling Women to Smile residencies in the New York Times.  Or join my friend Jenny and me in coveting her prints on the project’s website.

Portico: Industrial

For the first few months after I moved in to my apartment, this building nearby was covered in scaffolding.  I’ve been thinking about how scaffolding creates temporary spaces in the streetscape of a city.

This pedestrian archway holds its own beauty: the yellow-caged lightbulbs, one with its slight tilt, the slender gleam of the braces, the wood and rust.  The experience of partial enclosure, of being on and also apart from the street.

Over the past few weeks, the scaffolding has come down from this building in sections, until now it’s completely removed.  My experience walking this sidewalk is palpably different since.  There is a change in the way my vision focuses.  A way this pop-up urban architecture shifts the dynamic of place.

Interplay / Contemporary Japanese Ceramics

The Walters Art Museum is currently showing a special exhibit of contemporary Japanese ceramics.  I feel sort of the same way about ceramics as I do about textiles.  I love the infinite range of textures they carry.  They seem to invite touch both in their making and in their appreciation.  Which makes visiting textile museums and ceramics exhibits a little bit of an exercise in frustration.  I always want to touch these pieces.

The Walter’s current exhibit showcases the variety of approaches, processes, and aesthetics that define (or refuse to define) contemporary Japanese ceramics.  I was drawn to many of the exhibit’s more organic pieces, those influenced by natural shapes and textures.

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These you almost do not need to touch in order to engage in a tactile sensory experience.

Even the piece below, which plays on more traditional motifs, has a distinctly tactile quality in the organic shape of its handle.

The exhibit does a good job of contextualizing these pieces in the tradition of Japanese ceramics and floral arranging, and in providing insight into the philosophical values with which they engage.

“Objects that express the wabi aesthetic are irregular, rustic, and tinged with sadness….” one of the display plaques explains.  How lovely and unexpected and true that feels, that tinge of sadness.

The curators have also given us a sense of artistic interplay: the exhibit is layered with haikus and luminous painted screens, the vases sometimes anchored in the context of interior decor and domestic display.

This is a fascinating glimpse into how dynamic contemporary Japanese ceramics are; both the radical reinvention of the vase in contemporary work, and the vibrant interconnections between art forms and traditions.

“Designed for Flowers” at the Walters closes on Sunday.  If you’re able to, I highly recommend going.  And even if not, there’s lots more to learn on the museum’s website.

Street Books

Walking home from the cafe the other night, I found a half dozen cardboard boxes of books set out at the street corner two blocks from my apartment.  Someone was moving out and discarded a selection of their book collection.  Whoever it was had pretty eclectic reading tastes: the boxes were full of philosophy and politics and vintage copies of paperback fiction and foreign-language art books.  (Just like looking through other people’s bookcases, it’s awfully interesting to flip through boxes of someone’s discards.)

I was already trekking home with a bottle of wine and a laptop, but I filled my arms with a dozen street books.  I’ve already been tucking into Dorothy Parker and Salinger’s Franny and Zooey.  And there’s this wonderful drawing from a 1954 art book:

Life has been pretty tough lately.  But every so often even in the midst of terrible times, there’s the alchemic gift of street books.

Walking Around

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One of the things I like about my new apartment is the neighborhood, which is rich with architectural detail.  I’ve spent a lot of time walking around noticing.  This lion is on my regular route, and I love the saturation of color.  There’s a paired lion on the other side of the stoop, but this one is the exception: there is something to the curves of his nose and lips, the tendrils and etchings, and to the deep, expressive carve of eye.

p.s.  The rich coloration makes me think of this painting by Mark Rothko.