We all have a preference for a certain color. It may remind you of a memory or even a feeling. It is storied that Yves Klein was lying on his back at the Côte d'Azur while he was gifted the idea of painting cobalt blue. But what if you can't see? Can you feel color? A blind person once told me that her favorite color was green, because she liked the way it sounds. May we all enjoy the complexity and simplicity of color.
'Own gray' or 'own light' is what you see when nothing is there. Modern language would call it 'visual noise' and label it something undesirable in photography. We even have invented editing software and photography techniques to reduce it for its much sought after bright, white light sister. What is it about eigengrau that makes us so uncomfortable? Next time you are waking up or going to sleep, lie in bed and search for the absence of light and there lies the ever omnipresent, eigengrau.
We once had a client describe Lavender as nature's gray. She has disregarded the somber skies on an overcast day for the Lavender herb. A color that is so subtle and quiet that it goes with so many other colors. Try it—Take a piece of lavender fabric and place it next to others. It plays nice. Once the studio started thinking about it, we saw it everywhere. At the edge of a prairie field the other day there was a smattering of pale purple just touching the line between the sky and earth. The following day in traffic, shades of lavender were breaking through the asphalt lanes as far as the eye could see and looked so good even next the most humble of foliage—Nature's gray.
TASTE/ COCHINEAL BEETLE
Cardinals are easy to spot in nature. Their rich, brilliant red against the green leaved trees is quite striking and hard to replicate. Campari, the aperitif, carries the same visual weight of the cardinal but only through the cochineal beetle's sacrifice. The ruby red dye is achieved by using the body of the beetle. Next time you sip a Negroni, toast the creature you never knew, but gave us this royal color to hold, to view, and to taste.
TOUCH/ THE BLIND
Perhaps color is a concept. If you've never had the chance to see color, is there is a way to feel it and become familiar with it? If you have been so lucky to see the world's colors it may be a nice exercise to step into someone else's shoes.
Obtain a pile of dirt and hold it in your hands. Imagine that brown feels like the earth. Hold an orange, peel it back while smelling the sweet, bright oil of the fruit. Remind yourself that it took a lot of sun to grow that piece of fruit, and then perhaps take a moment to consider and feel the color of the sun.
SIGHT/ INTERNATIONAL KLEIN BLUE
Don't you want to dive in? That was part of the inspiration of Yves Klein the maker of International Klein Blue. A color he felt so possessed by that he covered everything, anyone, and more in this invented pigmented powder. I have stood at the threshold of his deep blue high pigment art installations and they pull you. You want to reach out and touch it, be part of it. French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, once said it best ‘First there is nothing, then a depth of nothingness, then a profundity of blue.'
By the time it is July we have seen barren trees go from a pile of twigs to an abundant holder of leaves—transformation surrounds us. Transformation is a continual process that relies on one thing existing to aid another in its journey. In July, we examine the moment that nature and humans come face to face with one another to transform humble pieces of nature into objects of desire.
SIGHT / DAVID
“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”
As my eyes set on the imposing David, I was drawn to the seemingly flawless complexion. A perfect creation formed from perfect material can be commendable. But what about an ideal corporeal quality resurrected from an imperfect medium? Its “taroli,” or imperfections, in the finely-grained marble exhibit inferiority and proved difficult to work with. However, Michelangelo embraced the neglected marble of poor caliber. Originally carrying the weight of religion, David became a symbol of Florence’s beauty and foreshadowed the flourishing city amidst the political unrest of the early 16th century.
After the pope asked how he sculpted David, Michelangelo answered, “It’s simple. I just remove everything that is not David.”
How might you embrace imperfection to usher yourself towards freedom, as Michelangelo liberated David from his stone walls?
I hope embracing imperfection leads you to liberty.
TASTE / SALT
The cure for anything is salt water—salt, water, or the sea.
-Karen Blixen aka Isak Denison
Have you ever stood at the edge of the sea with the Earth's brine washing over you? She can be calm, wild or free. And in those undisciplined waves lives the true transformer of life: salt. The elixir of life, the true feral forces that be.
SMELL / AMBERGRIS
Beauty does not always equal goodness. As seducing as a colorful flower may be it can also surprise you just how off it can be. Faint aromas can linger once you have even pulled your self away. Other times we are so attracted by a smell that we inherently think it is good and derived from some divinely beautiful source, but we cab be wrong. Ambergris a sweet and magnetic scent proves that anomaly. Derived from the great Sperm Whale and formed by a digestive enzymatic expulsion. With time this substance petrifies and evolves into a nectar that becomes so rare and prized that only the most dedicated perfumers will get to behold and smell.
SOUND / A NOTE
An upside down bell and a wand. It sounds simple because it is. Yet upon hearing the vibrational melody that one can create by a singular motion even the most apathetic listener alters into an intrigued spectator. By radial and tangential motion a magnetic orbiting sound emits from the bronze casted bowl in a gracious rhythm. Once one has mastered the delicate movement of wand to bowl, each pair shares its own language and the note becomes part of the air—It sounds elusive because it is.
SENTIMENT / VALUE
Tell em to take my bare walls down
my cement abutments
their parties thereof
and clause of claws
Leave me the land
Scratch out: the land
May prose and property both die out
and leave me peace"
- Foreclosure, Lorine Niedecker,
The Wu Xing, the 5 phases of life. A fivefold conceptual scheme to include the paradigm of the mutual generation of all our lives—Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water. How many materials can we say truly touch our lives? Our experience with the world is elemental so in June we explore the creation cycle element—Wood.
A split here, some discoloration there. On an object, a structure, or piece of furniture these marks create the passage of time— the breath of Wabi. In the East it is a philosophy and way of life that has slowly been visiting the West. Axel Vervoordt, purveyor of objects and interiors wisely once said that wabi is "...a reminder of the transience and imperfection of all things." So next time you run your hand along an imperfect floor board try to call to mind "appearance is impermanence."
SOUND/ IF A TREE FALLS IN A FOREST...
"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" After you answer that, ask your self— why? George Berkely, the father of this question was asking a philosophical question not a quantum physics condundrum. But technically, yes it does make sound.
'Elegant, delicate, and perfumed' are not typical adjectives one would use to describe wood but for Chefs and Sommeliers they are. As we examined Jess Hirsch's, 'Emotional Pairings' we also should explore the aromatics of wood and how they touch our food and wine. Oak is a classic for not just smoked meats but for our wines. Next time you reach for a bottle, seek a bottle of France's Meursault. She isn't your typecast California Cab drenched in oak but a pretty and soft representation of what oak can be. Cheers!
I once brought a piece of wood to a carpenter, asking him if he could identify the species. He looked at it, then held it to his nose and chin - and inhaled. After a lifetime of cutting woods, their quiet scent was as recognizable as the face of a loved one. I had a moment of epiphany, that perhaps I had been approaching the world wrong all along.
At Prospect Refuge Studio we gain a great deal of creative energy through exploration of analogous aesthetic fields. We imagine what we want to reconstitute and bring it into the present by way of collective inquiry and association. It sometimes starts with a type of music or maybe a place, a piece of furniture, or just a whim. Storytelling is our goal. The creation of a connection or a reference, that perfect moment, helps guide our design and bring it to holistic fruition. This spring we turned that process upon ourselves and embarked on the journey of developing a studio scent. This particular scent started with a single image...
The birds are done singing and the dew has dried from the leaves. We notice that our day is half over. The fire's embers are smoldering low, kept up to keep the late spring temperatures at bay. Well-loved hides wrap the chairs that have watched generations while books of aging cellulose and lignin breathe time. The breeze sneaks in under the old oak door stirring yesterday's fresh picked flowers, relaxing in their vase and whispering faintly but brightly as you pass. The tea kettle hisses and reminds us that we have floated off in a day dream and brings us back home.
Photo courtesy of Bill Phelps Photography
In the coming days, we'll work through process of selecting and layering scents that tell this story. The end result, a piece of our studio spirit, will be available to clients and collaborators in an effort to bring a more complex and rounded experience to our spaces and objects.
Our senses are a catalyst for how we consume our life. And although five are talked about the most, the auxiliary senses define how we live. This month, as we embark on designs for an upcoming capsule furniture collection with GATHER Table Co. we explore the fringe senses and how we interact with design- and thus the world.
Impermanent balance, present in nature, found in the way snow settles or the precarious stones of the Garden of the Gods, or by hand built cairns serving as markers and rites of passage. While people question the profundity of cairns and the perfect stance of their colliding corners and edges; the elemental response is: Balance. Take note on the practice of stacking and imitate the primal days of building shelter from stones and seeking poetic gravity.
TIME/ LICHEN & MOSS
I was 12 years old and standing at the trailhead of the Superior hiking trail with nothing but a backpack full of food and an extra pair of wool socks. Leading up to camp that summer I received a letter of all the things to pack and as strongly as sunscreen was encouraged, leaving all traces of time at home was too. For weeks that summer I had no concept of the ante meridiem-post meridian pace and relied on only the sun's cycle and the cues from the people around me. We ate when the group was collectively hungry and went to bed as fast as the sun set. And when you have nothing to do but walk, you keep your eye's gaze focused on your feet and you get to know the earth. It was then that I fell in love with the subtleties of moss. A plant that clings to the earth and craws wherever its conditions have led it. It's vivd and unassuming- quiet and a most beautiful color.
PRESSURE/ VIKING CHAIR
As sophisticated and uncomplicated as furniture construction gets. This paradox may seem a tad dramatized but look at this chair. Two boards joined by slotting a very long tenon through a simple mortise. The 'Stargazer' or 'Viking' chair is traced back to the Viking Age (c. 800-1050AD) and hallmarked by its 'X' construction. Archeologists say it was designed to be transportable for long oceanic voyages. And we thought IKEA invented flat pack shipping.
From Winter to Spring, and Summer to Fall these recurrent transitions complete one another. To see the sun set later is to know Spring and with each sunset we fall back later and later till she moves in a circle back home again. For March, Prospect Refuge examines cause and effects; The principle of causation through Ponti's "endless refractions".
SIGHT/ GIO PONTI
Giovanni "Gio" Ponti, a Milanese born aesthetic prophet once decreed, "Beautiful architecture has lasted beyond its initial aspect, scope, and function, and has often successfully served different purposes. The right architectonic work- and (...) in the end its right to last as well- is based on its beauty, and not on its function. Because it takes up a new function: Beauty. Beauty is the most resisting material. It opposes itself to destruction by man, who is time's most fierce ally."
TOUCH/ EGG KNOBS
To feel the body of a red pear and the gentle curve of a river polished stone is to stir maternal emotions and a sense of passing time. Hearty roundness is evocative of flesh, a womb, our bodily origins - to a feeling of before home, before we understood home. To the moment we take our first sip of air to the memory of remembering the softness of our mothers. A knob, a handle, a place of contact with architecture can bring you there, and the oval, egg shape, so ingrained in us, can give comfort and familiarity in a foreign space.
Pope John XII was so fond of mustard that he created a new Vatican position—grand moutardier du pape (mustard-maker to the pope) and promptly filled the post with his nephew. His nephew was from the Dijon region, which soon became the mustard center of the world.
This past month I had the pleasure to escape. With my children, my husband, and (yes!) parents. We tucked away in a quiet bay for 10 blissful days in the Yucatan. My 'beach read' was Proust - In Search of Lost Time (but let's be real, I have two kids, so I'm lucky to have made it through Combray.)
The story, elderly Aunts and long days of childhood, cloistered rooms and dusty streets... and madeleines... all centered around this elusive thing - evocative moments and involuntary memories. That crystal clear moment when your senses are awakened and you are somewhere else you've been before.
I am fascinated by the art of an engaging, holistic experience, whether creationary or transportational. What builds these moments? What tucks them away for a future reference, and what draws them out again? Is it truly, as Proust thought, outside our control?
Consider your personal experience: let's say (for example) ... lighting (dim), scent (briny), temperature (seeing your breath for the first time this year), humidity (crackling), reflections (morning ripples), shadows (taunting your imagination), movement (swinging), sound (rasping leaves)... memories? anything?
Personally, a whiff of diesel and I'm transported to a motorcycle in the Bulgarian countryside. The enameled body and firm leather seat, bodies pressed close and heads heavy with helmets while bare arms dare the asphalt and sun to touch them. Sweet pipe tobacco and I'm in my Great Grandparent's home: it's Christmas and everything is gold and Naugahyde and fluorescent. The faintest smell of sunscreen puts the warm, soft, weight of a child in my lap.
Only recently have we begun to re-examine the complete construction of an environment, with scent, as a part, known to be one of the most powerful memory stimulators. From sleepy Le Labo perfumed halls of Chicago's Robey to the overcompensating teenage retail dens of Abercrombie et cetera, to liltingly scented exhibits at our own MIA, designers have begun to explore the potential of utilizing all the senses. Consider the power (and the pleasure) available to us if we were to tap into more.
Avoid ambivalence and surround yourself with the feeling of self assurance. These people and things have left impressions on us that endures the ephemera of everyday life. In the month of February dive with us, into the depths of reaction and define it through these illustrious examples. Read about Rothko's colors, Yayoi Kusama's strength in fragility, and other champions of influence.
SIGHT/ MARK ROTHKO
Stop, breath, observe, take another breath, and look again. This is how a Rothko should be consumed. Stand close and avail yourself to the large blocks of layered colors. Allow yourself to feel the interaction of tone and how the reds, burgundies, browns harmonize and accentuate one another. The abstract expressionists of the 1950s were not just throwing paint on a canvases and calling it 'Art'; They were reaching toward an aesthetic congruent with a feeling, not a subject.
TASTE/ GEORGIA O'KEEFE
In the late spring Georgia O'Keefe and resident chef, Margaret Wood would walk together and admire the scented locust blossoms that would hang over the adobe wall. As one would expect, Georgia's reverance for nature entered her kitchen and the boundaries would blur. Fried flowers become a significant springtime offering in the household. If you pay attention in the coming months, a sweet pea scent wafts even in the city air and it may be your chance to try fried flowers too.
From A Painter's Kitchen, Georgia O'Keefe & Margaret Wood
2- washed 4 - 5 inch blooming locust springs
1 egg, separated and beaten whites
1 ½ tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon unbleached flower
dash of salt
2 tablespoons oil
Honey , to taste, as a topping
Combine egg yolk, milk, flour, and salt till smooth. Fold liquid into the egg white and set aside. Heat oil over low flame. Gently dip each locust sprig in the batter and brown flower in oil. Rotate the flowers until golden brown. Serve immediately with a garnish of honey.
In the darkest months of the year we reach for light, warmth, and refuge. Our winter time is inherently monastic and links us to the rhythm of the Earth's brevity. Follow us on our visual journey of collected ideals, creatures of the sea, and discover a poem from a 20th century Monk.
TOUCH/ THE ROW
In 2006, The Row was founded on ideals that involved perfect t-shirts and US based high-end fashion manufacturing. Much to our surprise the designer duo has held their own since entering the fashion world. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have curated a brand language that is consistent, timeless, and elegant. Season after season, we see billowing silhouettes, limited adornment, and luxurious materials. Ahead of their time the Olsen twins set the bar high in fashion with chunky, handmade lambswool layers and ankle grazing skirts.
Neolithic to Modern. The amphora is being spotted outside luxury retreats and inside residential homes world wide. These lingering wheel-thrown terra-cotta containers were once utilized for domestic use in the Roman Republic home. Masterfully decorated to exist table side, the silhouette was one of function for the contents would have been used for wine or other dry goods. The amphorae have preserved themselves in their own right and have become a principle motif in vessel design.
Fruit de mer, has earned an auspicious place on our dinner table and hearts. Famed by some, disregard by others and endorsed by one, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova. Oysters have chiseled their way to the top of the list of aphrodisiacs by their ability to create; Create pearls and create femininity. All oysters start off as male and 90% of the time become female. During their lifetime they have the ability to go from one sex to another and regress back again. Love them or leave them, the purity of the oyster is infallible.