The Art of Doing Laundry

Drying Rack 2 Small

I love my laundry rack.  It makes me want to do laundry.  It is so beautiful to look at and yet holds an entire large load so it saves me money every time I use it. For years I wanted to hang my laundry outside but I really hated the ugly laundry racks that were available.  When my wife Dita and I went to the Netherlands in 2011 we visited the Zuiderzee Museum in Enkhuizen. This museum is a recreation of an old seaside village.  There, among other artifacts, I spotted this beautiful old laundry rack.

Trip to the Netherlands 239

When we got home Dita began to design and she built me a laundry rack drawing on some of the same design details but with a very west coast look. Dita is a designer/builder who was born in Amsterdam but moved to Vancouver when she was six.

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Drying rack Closeup MediumOur laundry rack is made of cedar, not a wood commonly found in Europe. But she uses oak dowels for strength and contrast. It is unfinished while the Dutch rack is painted.  And it is taller and narrower, an elegant look favored by Dita.  But it is very Dutch!

Drying Rack 1 Medium

I love the combination of form and function in Dutch art. The Zuiderzee Museum exists on one hand, to represent or recreate a way of life now gone.  But throughout the village they display modern art and commentary to take you into the realm of abstraction.  When we were there in 2011 they had a show called From craftsmanship to abstraction design route. Throughout the museum they would juxtapose modern art interpretations of traditional materials next to artifacts.  Or they would present artifacts in such a way to be seen as art.  A fascinating way to view history and a way of making Abstract Art feel more accessible.

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Just recently they installed a very interesting permanent exhibition called Monument by the British artist Clare Twomey. This piece is made up of hundreds of shards of household crockery and antique ceramic tiles cascading in a monumental way.  Broken crockery seems to contradict the purpose of a museum which is to preserve artifacts for future generations.  This work plays with the idea that everyday items can be elevated to museum status.  But it is also a comment on our over consumption of consumer goods. The tiles come from the sizable tile collection of the Zuiderzee museum, the “D” collection rejected and yet now put to good use as Art!

monument zuiderzee

Ruminations on Rothko and the Meaning of Art

Rothko 1I have only every seen photographs of Mark Rothko’s paintings but I would love to see them in person.  A dream of mine would be to visit the Rothko room at the Tate Modern.  This is kind of unusual for me because I am usually not attracted to modern art.  But reading about Rothko and his philosophy of art has intrigued me. Alain de Botton who has written a book called Art as Therapy talks about sitting in the Rothko room as a teenager and being overwhelmed by a feeling that he did not really understand at the time.  Later in life he made the connection when reading the following answer that Rothko made when he was asked what was the meaning of his art. Rothko replied;

Life is difficult for you and for me.  My canvases are places where the sadness in you and the sadness in me can meet.  That way, we have a little less grief to deal with“.

To this end, Rothko donated nine of his paintings to the Tate Museum to be permanently displayed in such a way to allow this emotional connection between artist, art and viewer.

rothko_room_tate_modernThis fact is made more interesting by the history of these paintings which were originally commissioned by the Seagram Company to be displayed in the Four Seasons Restaurant in their newly built modernist building in Manhattan. In a famous move Rothko rejected the commission, (worth about two million in today’s currency), because he felt that the true meaning and value of his work would be lost in that world.  To Rothko, finishing a painting was just the beginning of the artistic process.  What happened after, how the painting was viewed, was crucial.

maquette for installation of seagram murals

As such Rothko was extremely fussy and controlling about how his paintings were hung.  Low to the floor, close together and in a space that was dimly lit was his preference. The Seagram Paintings are large, (he called them murals), and he wanted to bring the viewer into the interior of the painting in order to connect with its subject which, to Rothko, was the elemental emotions of the human experience.

Caravaggio is one of my favorite artists.  I have seen his paintings in books and in Art Galleries.  His work is so powerful I always find it striking, even in photographs. Nothing can compare, however, to the experience of seeing his work in the French church, San Luigi des Francesi in Rome.

The calling of St. Mathew -coin box

The Church is dimly lit and the paintings are in the very back.  They are clothed in darkness until you put a euro in the coin box and then a light comes on illuminating the trio.  They are all about the life of St. Matthew but The Calling of St. Matthew is my favorite. The church never seems to be crowded and I always feel I can stand there forever. Some argue that the lighting in the Church is too dim to truly appreciate the brushstrokes and details of these paintings but I love the feeling of the place.

The-Calling-of-Saint-Matthew_CaravaggioThe story is of Levi the tax collector who is summoned by Christ and leaves everything behind to follow him. The story takes place in a Custom house and Caravaggio skillfully illuminates the hand of Christ and the surprise on the face of St. Matthew.  Yet what is going on in the shadows, is equally illuminating. Jesus himself is hard to see, only his hand is illuminated.  Most of the people surrounding St. Matthew are in darkness simply going about their business oblivious to the drama going on in front of them. Caravaggio was known for his use of chiaroscuro, (light and shadow), for dramatic affect.

Whether you are a religious person or not, this painting tells a universal story.  Of those moments, really seconds in time, when we feel truly touched by something outside ourselves calling us to change.  We often are not even truly aware of what this is and those around us are usually completely unaware of what is happening.  These moments are astonishing but essentially private and inexplicable. Yet, if you let them, they can change your life.

How to Design a Sign

I am fascinated by the artistic process. Living with such a person gives me an opportunity to observe this up close and it is always so interesting to see how many, seemingly disparate, aspects come together in a completed project.  For example, we just installed a sign for the entrance to our studio which on the surface is a fairly mundane thing to do.

. Sign - 1

As you can see this sign is anything but mundane.  The idea first came up in a business meeting talking about ways to increase the visibility of our business.  We had decided to open to the public on Saturdays and wanted ways to become more noticeable to drive by traffic and we also wanted a clearly defined business entrance.

Initially we thought of a hand lettered sign on the side of our house, (which is also our studio), with perhaps some unique lighting to make it interesting.  So that was one idea.  At the same time Dita, (the artist in question), was designing a prototype of an owl house which in itself had come from the birdhouse design she had previously done.  Somehow the connection to houses for non human creatures and art turned into a design for an insect house.  An insect house is created in order to attract certain specific insects such as ladybugs which are beneficial to the garden. Of course an insect house designed by Dita is aesthetically appealing as well as functional.

Insect house

So how did an insect house become a sign?  Well we had a customer who had requested a sign for a rural property.  Dita had this beautiful cedar post and from somewhere came the idea of putting the lettering on the post but building an insect house to be installed on top both to increase visibility and add a practical component to the sign.  While that project is still pending, Dita took this original design and added lighting using the post to create this stunning entrance to our business.

photo-3Of course the installation skills, the joinery, the ability to hide electrical wires and the use of the right finish all come from years of experience in designing and building for the out of doors.  It starts with the spark or sparks of inspiration but requires true expertise for completion.  To me both the end product and the process itself are equally inspiring.


The View from my Backyard

photo of my yard 1This is the view from my backyard. Why does it please me so much? Something about the connection between the curves of the pond and the straight lines of the furniture.  The brightness of the red in the foreground mirrored by the same chair in green in the background.  The two areas seem inviting and social to me. They remind me of dinner parties and sitting around the fire pit.  This yard feels like a real place to me.  Not a posed place for a magazine but a place where people really live.  I even love the glimpse of the wheelbarrow in the background.  Yards involve work!

Full disclosure.  I co-own a business called Victoria Wood Studio and we design and build wooden furniture and structures for the out of doors.  So this is my backyard but in the fall we will open it to the public on Saturdays as a way for people to gain exposure to our work and even to sell some of the smaller items we make like these modern bird houses.Birdhouse HabitatBut I never want to look like a store.  My yard will always be busy, social and even slightly messy. But also truly beautiful.  A place for me to just hang out.  A place for us to entertain our friends.  And, on Saturdays, it will be a place for people to find out more about us and our work.

It Happened at the Rijksmuseum


I love Rembrandt.  I don’t know why.  Something about the way he paints eyes that seem to look directly inside me.  I especially love this self portrait he painted at a later age.  It was a time in his life where things were not going too well for him.  His beloved first wife had died and his career as an artist was stagnating.  He had been in favour and now he was not.  The expression on his face seems to convey both weariness and defiance.  Although life is not great you can see his internal sense of self is undiminished.  Battered but not beaten.

Last June we were in Amsterdam and I was excited to visit the newly renovated Rijksmuseum.  This would combine a trip to an architecturally interesting renovation with the ability to see many of the Rembrandt’s that had been unavailable to the last time we were there.  It turns out there was a third treat in store for me.  One of my favourite authors, Alain de Botton was the Curator of a show at the Museum called, Art is Therapy, based on a book he had written with Co-Curator John Armstrong called Art as Therapy.

Alain di Botton

I had not heard of his book and I was intrigued by his presence at such a venerable  institution as the Rijksmuseum. The premise of both the book and the show was that Art should have a point and that point should be to improve the lives of its viewers.  The authors take exception to the way art is portrayed and viewed in the modern world and feel that Art Galleries and Museums totally miss the point.  This has not made them very popular with the art world. But, as I know from my wife Dita, the Dutch are very open to new ideas and concepts.  Alain happened to be at a cocktail party with Wim Pijbes the General Director of the Rijksmuseum.  After reading his book, Wim immediately invited de Botton to curate a show encouraging a more accessible approach to the viewing of art, even down to a neon sign on the front of the historical museum declaring Art is Therapy.


Throughout the museum squares of yellow paper posed an alternative view of certain important works.  Rather than describing an historical period or style, the curators create  an emotional context such as tenderness, love, anxiety or sorrow.  Talking about what the works might invoke inside the viewer rather than their status in the art world was intended to make art, even and especially the great masters, more accessible to the human experience now.De Joodse bruid, Rijksmuseum

In one very exciting moment for me, Dita and I were sitting and looking at this painting by Rembrandt called The Jewish Bride, The accompanying note talked about the tenderness displayed and how hard it is to maintain that newly wed tenderness in our relationships over time. I was reflecting on that in terms of my own relationship, (Dita and I had just gotten married after twenty five years together), when I happened to glance behind me and saw Alain de Botton and John Cameron watching the public reaction to their show.  So now I can say I truly have been a part of the curatorial experience. A living example of Art is Therapy!

How I Came to Love Art

Z Bench 2
I love this photo so much.  It is of my majestic BouvierJoop posed beside one of our curved benches.  It is taken outside Zambri’s restaurant in Victoria where I work as a Sommelier.  But even if I were not connected to all these things I would still enjoy looking at this photograph.  I would love the angle the photo is taken from where the bench seems to snake onward to infinity.  I love the way the dog is caught staring at someone outside the photo. It captures his intelligence and intensity.  I love the way his eyes match the colour of the bench and curve of his leash mirrors the curves in the rebar. I love the way the photographer gives us a sense of a busy street and and a busy restaurant in the background while ensuring our eye remains drawn to the dog and bench.This is a photo taken by my good friend and extremely talented photographer Jacqueline, (Jax) Downey.

I have a funny story I tell at dinner parties about when my wife Dita and I first moved in together.  At the time I had an apartment that was filled from top to bottom with Ikea, including the “artwork” on the walls.  Dita brought with her a mishmash of stuff including several works of original art brought over when her family immigrated from the Netherlands. I was quite upset at the thought of the beautiful symmetry of my Ikea look being messed up by her things.  I thought her artwork looked old and worn and somewhat depressing while my new Ikea stuff was so bright and perfect and new.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think Ikea definitely has its place.  I just tell the story to show how tastes develop and change. Now, of course, her paintings hang in our home and I can not even remember my Ikea “art”. (Photo taken by me not Jax)

Dutch ARt

Developing an appreciation for art takes time.  I often find I have a hard time going to an Art Gallery or Museum.  Mostly I feel anxious in these places.  I have an easier time reading about art and then looking at it. Or someone can help me with the process like the very good docent at a museum in Phoenix, who really helped me to connect with Modern Art for the first time. Yet, I have also been deeply touched in a seemingly spontaneous way by certain pieces and these moments stand out for me.

Functional Art is a something that I feel a lot more comfortable with.  By this I mean art that is both aesthetically pleasing and functionally satisfying. I have developed a love and appreciation for beautiful homes and the furnishings that go in them and now that my eyes have been opened to this it brings me great pleasure.  Alain de Botton in his book, The Architecture of Happiness, examines why this is so. He states;

“We value certain buildings for their ability to rebalance our misshapen natures and encourage emotions which our predominant commitments force us to sacrifice. Feelings of competitiveness envy and aggression hardly need elaboration, but feelings of humility amid an immense and sublime universe, of a desire for calm at the onset of evening or of an aspiration for gravity and kindness – these form no correspondingly reliable part of our inner landscape, a rueful absence which may explain our wish to bind such emotions to the fabric of our homes”.

I am lucky to live in a home that evokes this feeling in me every day.

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