Tuesday
Mar222011

Jeremiah Goodman & Thomas Persson in Conversation: Acne Paper #11

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"The elegant brushstrokes of Jeremiah Goodman have dazzled art directors, decorators, designers, and the rich and famous for almost seven decades. Growing up as an impoverished Jewish butcher's son during the Great Depression, Jeremiah's dream of more glamorous surroundings was brought about by this rare talent for capturing the spirit of an interior, skillfully reflecting the personality who shaped it. By creating numerous remarkable covers for Interior Design magazine and countless illustrated advertisements for Lord & Taylor, a department store for which his style was a signature for 35 years, the commercial artist became a one-of-a-kind celebrity portrait painter of rooms. On a recent trip to new York Jeremiah welcomed us into his stunning uptown apartment to show his new paintings of artist's studios, especially made for this issue, and to talk with us about the imaginative mode of his interiors, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, the struggle of making it against all odds, and how, at 87, he still gets his creative juices flowing."

MODEST MOUSE: PEOPLE AS PLACES AS PEOPLE

Jeremiah Goodman working in Haiti, 1947

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[4L/4R]

"Thomas Persson: Jeremiah, it is so nice to finally meet you properly. Jeremiah Goodman: Thomas, if we met fifty years ago, we would have met improperly. TP: [Laughs] I've been thinking about our last phone conversation when you quoted Mae West, saying: "You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough." Looking back, you've had a pretty amazing life... JG: Yeah, I did. But I don't know how to embellish it more than that. It just moved along. Now, unfortunately, I'm going to be 88 and I still feel immature. TP: Because you are young at heart. JG: It's the only place left. TP: I hope I'll be in as good shape as you if I ever get to be 88. Now, let's talk about your house in the East Hamptons where you used to have a great studio, a beautiful room that you have painted in this portfolio. Your friend Dean told me you bought the house in a derelict state. JG: How simplistic shall I make it? TP: In any form or tone you want. JG: Well, I was on the beach with friends in real estate and a mutual friend of ours, Kate, said she knew of some great barns that were available. I bought it for 18,000 dollars. This is in 1957. TP: Was it a house you used especially for entertaining in those days? JG: Yeah, it was great but I don't think I should go any further on that subject [laughs]. Well, I can say that the mighty Hermione Gingold was staying with me. while she was appearing in the theatre there. So, of course, all these social women and men wanted to meet her. They got to be so sticky about it that I decided to throw a party for her. I invited 100 guys and named the party "100 men and a girl". TP: [Laughs] Your studio there looked so elegant, white and spacious, full of books... JG: The studio was almost too clean for most people. It certainly wasn't like Francis Bacon's. I ended up doing my Lord & Taylor ads there. I used to go there in spring and stayed until September. It was wonderful. TP: Looking at the selection of artwork in your book, Jeremiah: A Romantic Vision, I wonder how you read a room when you enter it and how you translate its atmosphere into a painting. JG: Well, the truth is that it's more about a private memory in my mind than the actuality of it. That's always been the way I have thought of rooms - their spirit – and yet to give the information of the room and not going into total abstraction. TP: You master it very well because you get the details of the furniture, you get the texture of the fabrics, and with only a few brushstrokes you can evoke a very elaborate object, like an opulent chandelier. But then there is this incredible sense of mood, the feeling of being in the room that you manage to create. In a way you belong to a tradition of artists who have made their careers painting rooms and interiors, such as Alexandre Serebriakoff who did drawings of the Hotel Lambert in Paris, for instance. But these drawings are more like an account of a room - a description, which is very different from your style. JG: Well, they are done without emotion and that's not my interest. I mean, what do you want to see? It's ten times better if Yves Saint Laurent does a sweep of a drawing than somebody else drawing all the buttons up the back. My interest is the feeling of light and again, the romantic quality of the picture. That's the thing I'm trying to do. And, hopefully, that the person who sees them receives them in that spirit. TP: You have· a particular fondness for a Brazilian word, saudade meaning a mysterious longing. You have said that this word is an inspiration to your work. JG: Yes, it is the most marvellous word. We don't have that word in our vocabulary. It is about a feeling of having been somewhere before. It is similar to dreams and you feel that you had another life because it is so foreign to your actual life, and that the reality of your dream bewilders you. Saudade means a longing for something that you can't quite put your finger on. Like a longing to go back to Venice and walk along one of those strange streets in the fog and hoping that something very exciting is going to happen to you. Exactly what, you don't know. But secretly, you do, but you can't print that. TP: [Laughs] It reminds me of something Mr Pearl talks about in this issue, about walking in the streets of Paris and feeling the spirits, feeling the people that have lived there before. JG: Yes, Paris can have that feeling of mystery and romance. Have you been to the Camondo Museum? It is something you should reintroduce in your magazine. The Camondos were a Sephardic Jewish family who owned one of the largest banks in the Ottoman Empire and became enormously wealthy before the First World War. Comte Mo'ise de Camondo had a son, Nissim, that he adored, but who was killed during the war. At the time, Camondo was building this incredible mansion for his son to give to him on the day when he got married. Nissim never got that chance, but his father finished the house and then closed it up.You can go there today and everything is exactly the way it ~ould have been if his son had returned. It's the most elegant house. TP: Talking of elegant houses, when I look at the drawings you did of rooms from when you were as young as 14 you were already remarkably skilled, so close to being a fully developed illustrator. Your parents must have been aware that they had something very special in you. JG: Yes, to the extent that when my dad had a chance to get a job, which was in another city, and not anything well paid at all, they stayed on in Buffalo because I had this opportunity to go to an art high school. They stayed on for me to be able to do that, which was amazing."

Edward Albee's loft, New York City

 

"TP: Tell me about your parents. Your father was a butcher. JG: Well, yes. My mother and father met in New York City, then went to the coal mining section of Pennsylvania. They both spoke Polish and Russian, and my mother also spoke some German. At least she said she did. They had a general store and became impoverished, because, during the coal mine strike, they let people charge food and supplies at their store, and they got busted, went out of business and moved to Niagara Falls where they opened a small grocery store – a meat market. TP: And when you were nine you and your family moved to Buffalo where, by coincidence, there was a very good art high school. JG: Yes, with no fewer than five art teachers, all first class. One of them was an incredible American/German teacher called Elizabeth Weiffenbach and she did something so ahead of her time, even for now. When we started our classes she asked us what our ambitions were. I said that I wanted to be a Hollywood set designer. and after that I was permitted to carry out all my art projects with that in mind. If the assignment had to do with Scotland, I would design stage sets for Macbeth. That's how I began to acquire the skills to paint interiors. I wanted to go to Hollywood and be a set designer. That was my goal, always, right from the start. TP: This was during the Great Depression. JG: Oh yeah, and I was crazy about all these escape things. When I was about ten years old I saw a movie called Broadway Melody. It was about two small-town girls who came to New York City to become Broadway stars and they ended up as chorus girls. At the last moment, before the opening night, the star of the show couldn't appear. So one of the girls got their chance. After the show, the girl who suddenly became a star is asked out by a playboy. After being out all night she goes back to her room, to her girlfriend who is weeping alone in her bed. She undresses, gets into bed, and lets her arm fall over towards the other girl, and there's a huge diamond bracelet on her arm. And I thought, "Isn't that neat! To go out for one night and get a diamond bracelet!""

Jeremiah Goodman's studio, East Hampton

 

[5L/5R]

"TP: And when you were 18 you "greyhounded" to New York City to try your luck yourself. JG: Well, you know, for some reason I had in my head that I would survive all the unfortunate things that were in my way, such as getting a job, which was hard to get at that time. But somehow I put little pieces together and got going. It was a certain naivete that I think came from seeing Hollywood movies, such as this story of the chorus girl. I think I always had that thing embedded in me - that something wonderful would happen. Sometimes people would say, "Oh don't bother going there, they are not hiring people" or "You are not the son of person they are looking for". Quite often, I did go anyway, I wasn't aggressive but I always hoped some magical piece of luck would come my way, TP: And it did ... JG: Yes. And other times it didn't. I can tell you I did a lot of crying privately. A lot of dreadful things happened to me - huge disappointments. But New York has changed tremendously. When I came to the city, to see a black person in a department store was a shocker. The big thing about New York now is the ease and acceptance of everyone. Much, much more than it was before. I distinctly remember telling my relations that I was going to apply for a job at one of the department stores, and they said, "Don't bother, they don't hire Jews," It was always this attitude of, "Why do you try? You are not going to get there." It always amazed me how mean people could be, for no reason at all. I found that there could be a lot of bewildering resentment, in many ways, about a person. The only good thing about all the bad things that happened to me was that I lost a lot of weight and I thought that was worth all the torture. TP: I think as creative people we are often very vulnerable and it makes such a huge difference meeting people who see you for what you are and help you because they like you and think you are talented. Meeting people like that is a very positive upward spiral and suddenly one feels that life can be quite magical. For instance, when you met the British actor John Gielgud in the late 1940s he invited you to England, It was a trip that changed a lot of things for you. JG: Oh, absolutely. What amazed me in England was that even though I had so many strikes against me - being American, being gay, being poor, being Jewish, being whatever, not connected - so many people were wonderful to me there. I think that English people had much more respect for talent. Through John I met so many people who made their houses accessible for me to 'paint, They all seemed to' love houses and being illustrative. TP: When you did your paintings of rooms back then, you used to sit there in the actual room painting the interior portraits. JG: Yes, in the beginning I did. My first go of painting in England was very difficult because there wasn't much electrical lighting in these places. And if you did use lights it could blow the whole thing up. And also the damp weather created a different technique for me. That part has held me in good state because I sort of naturally paint according to the atmosphere of the climate of the place. TP: And when you came back to New York you meet Harry Rodman, the marvelous art director of the department store Lord & Taylor, where you began your career illustrating their newspaper advertising. JG: Yes, and Harry Rodman was absolutely unique - unique and a blessing. He was the dream person that just doesn't happen. He truly believed in getting his artists to express themselves. He probably had seven or eight separate artists working at Lord & Taylor, like Dorothy Hood for fashion, Carl Wilson, who was a brilliant men's fashion illustrator, and he had Arnold Hall who did interiors, and his wife. Helen Hall, who was a fashion illustrator and very important, particularly known for doing young people's fashions. When Helen and Arnold went away to Europe on vacation, I somehow had the opportunity to step in, and I never left."

[6L/6R]

Picasso's studio, Vallauris

 

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"TP: You were with Lord & Taylor for 35 years, and during those years, illustration was still a big part of the advertising world. JG: Yes, and Harry Rodman had this very incredible idea to not be specific about a dress or an object. TP: Why? JG: Because they felt that if a woman came there and didn't find the dress in the ad, they didn't want her to walk out. They wanted her to feel that if that dress didn't fit her, there would be something else because the illustration presented itself as a look that she would think grand or wonderful. It was the mood that counted. TP: Harry Rodman said: "Jeremiah, there isn't anything that you can't do if you just put your mind to it." JG: Yes, and it was just so wonderful against the experience of Conde Nast where everyone felt that they couldn't keep their job unless they found a flaw somewhere in your drawings. I was very fortunate to have met him, to have that amazing bit o fluck. TP: How important do you think luck is in life? JG: Well, I think you have to know when luck does come your way. You have to be able to recognize it. I think it's about not closing the door but always leaving it open. TP: I feel very lucky to have met you, Jeremiah. Thank you so much for this interview and for the beautiful portfolio of work that you have done especially for this issue of our magazine. JG: You know, Thomas, I keep being conflicted by people saying, "For Christ's sake, give it up!" But I can say this: I am 87 years old and I'm still doing it. I really feel alive when I do. Not that it's easy for me to get to the drawing board, but I do get certain energy from it. I'm so amazed at how things can still happen. It's like the mail. It can be weeks of just getting dreary ads, or even a notice that you have to do jury duty. But then you suddenly experience something that respects your talent, and that to me is the wonderful part."

Picasso's studio, Vallauris

ALL IMAGES OF WORK BY JEREMIAH GOODMAN TAKEN FROM ACNE PAPER #11; INTERVIEW WITH JEREMIAH GOODMAN BY THOMAS PERSSON, ALSO TAKEN FROM ACNE PAPER #11; PHOTOS OF JEREMIAH GOODMAN'S NEW YORK APARTMENT, [1-4, 7-8] BY HEATHER CLAWSON FOR HABITUALLY CHIC, SEPTEMBER 28, 2010; [5,6] BY WENDY GOODMAN FOR NEW YORK MAGAZINE, AUGUST 27, 2010

Wednesday
Mar162011

Ferdinando Scarfiotti II: "Toys"

[ED: This is the second in a series of posts on the work of Ferdinando Scarfiotti, this post focusing on his work for the 1992 film Toys. Youtube has disallowed embedding, but you can view the music video sequence from the film (referenced in the text below), featuring the song "The Mirror" by Thomas Dolby here.]

TORI AMOS: HAPPY WORKER

"By 1987 Scarfiotti was firmly ensconced in Los Angeles, but he returned briefly to Italy for a terrific little picture called Mamba. The plot is a vicious treat: Gregg Henry plays a sneering, self-contained software magnate who elects to punish his ex-lover (Trudi Styler) by penning her within her apartment in the company of a drug-crazed snake. The mamba has the luxurious advantage of an hour in which to puncture its prey before overdosing on venom, but it finds in Styler a resourceful opponent. The loft which Scarfiotti designed for Styler is a riot of postmodern design flourishes in the seriously playful style of Ettore Sottsass, accordingly making merry with conventional notions of architectural syntax. It is a kind of erotic fantasy for subscribers to Blueprint, so much so that, when in the course of her frenetic flight from the mamba, Styler scatters her furniture and tarnishes her pristine floors, the viewer feels a sharp and unexpected pang of sorrow.

In 1989 Scarfiotti was all too briefly reunited with Bertolucci on The Sheltering Sky, a project of which he had schemed and dreamed. Nicolas Valle had recommended Paul Bowles’s novel to Scarfiotti who, his partner remembers, ’fell totally in love with the book and gave it to Bernardo saying, “If ever I direct a movie, this is what it would be”’. Scarfiotti’s notion, tellingly, was to film The Sheltering Sky entirely on stage, gradually descending into surrealism. But Bertolucci was the man who got the money to make the film, and was determined to go forth into the desert. Scarfiotti gamely set about the location-hunt, but contracted hepatitis deep in the Sahara and was forced to retire from the film." [1]

"Scarfiotti returned to work in 1990 on Barry Levinson’s Toys. This project dated from 1978, its fanciful story (of a bombastic general and his holy fool of a nephew who feud over the family toy factory) having found little favour or funding before Levinson’s later triumphs. Toys plainly required a strong and guiding design concept, and Levinson went after the best man: what he got in return, over their first breakfast meeting, was Dada. ’When I read the script,’ Scarfiotti claimed, ‘I told Barry I would do it if he’d allow me to stay away from traditional American fantasy - such as the Disneyland themes - and instead go back to the European modernist movement of the early century which included surrealism, dadaism and futurism’.

This was no idle threat, so to speak. Scarfiotti’s touchstone for Toys would be the Italian Futurist Fortunato Depero, a crackerjack of all trades whose inventions included patterned waistcoats, bolted books, sets for Diaghilev, and covers for Vanity Fair. The choice was inspired. Depero had also been a compulsive maker and illustrator of figurines, and, with Giacomo Balla, penned in 1915 Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe, hymning a new world order ’run according to the principles of the Futurist toy’. M Depero’s joyful paeans to fighting dolls (not nearly so grimace-worthy as Marinetti’s conviction that war was a form of hygiene for civilisation) gave Scarfiotti a line straight into the highly coloured whimsy Toys required.

Scarfiotti was by now much perturbed by the industry’s changing perception of ‘visual style’. ’If you look at what commercials and MTV are doing now, they’re so technologically advanced that it‘s scary,’ he confessed. ‘But at one point all these new technologies become very unimaginative, and it gets very tiring for the eye and the mind to be bombarded with an enormous amount of images in a very short time’. Toys is therefore a clarion-call for the hand-made magnificence of which Scarfiotti was the master: the film came before its audience unarmed, with a child-like ingenuousness. ‘We have a tradition of whimsy here at Zevo Toys’, Leslie Zevo (Robin Williams) cautions his uncle Leland, sounding the keynote of the picture. In search of a unified concept for the Zevo Toys, Scarfiotti elected to shun the mass-produced and seek out the rare. ‘I decided that the old-fashioned wind-up toys . . . had a common look. They are very innocent and have a fantasy element to them, unlike the modern toys of today’. Thus Scarfiotti found himself realising what Depero only dreamed of, building a number of adorable toys with concealed war-waging capabilities." [1]

"Scarfiotti conjures the innocence of the Zevo operation, and the subsequent threat to its purity, through boldly contrasting strokes. Initially Kenneth Zevo’s office is littered with wind-up toys, the walls awash in Depero‘s carefree colourful frescoes; but upon his demise and the installation of brother Leland, military murals in gross parody of Russian Constructivism are painted over, and towering, threatening robots line the walls. As influential as Depero upon Scarfiotti’s internal logic was Magritte, who provided inspiration for mechanical wheezes (a pop-up house) and colour-schemes (several Zevo interiors are daubed after his inimitable skies). When required, somewhat to his distaste, to design a pop-video sequence, Scarfiotti appropriated Magritte’s enigmatic bowler-hatted mannequins, and in a barrage of cuts Robin Williams and Joan Cusack bring to life Golconda, Le Faux Miroir, and Le Mois des Vendunges, amongst others. There is even a canny homage to De Stijl, the design movement which gave a rational order to Futurism’s romantic, anarchic ’machine aesthetic’. The Zevo factory‘s canteen is a loving recreation of the classic Cine-Dancing room created by The Van Doesburg in 1928 for the Aubette entertainment complex in Strasbourg; coloured squares on stucco panels climb the walls in Van Doesburg’s dynamic, diagonal style of ’Counter-Composition’." [1]

"Scarfiotti celebrated his experiences on the film in terms which, for him, signified the highest praise: ’Toys was the closest thing to theatre you can imagine. You start from a blank page and make a drawing, then a painting, and you have it reproduced on stage exactly the way you want’. His adventures in the cinema almost at an end, Scarfiotti had emphatically achieved something he had always sought. Paul Schrader, however, feels that Scarfiotti‘s work on Toys was overshadowed by graver matters. ’I think Scarfiotti was approaching an aesthetic crisis at the end of his career,’ Schrader reflects. ’It’s a crisis not uncommon to exploratory, hugely influential artists. Nando had become so imitated towards the end of his life that it was harder and harder to work in his style without seeming to be derivative of the films which were derivative of him. I think if his health had been better, he could have attacked this dilemma frontally, gone back to work in Europe or done something more experimental. After The Sheltering Sky, health became an overriding concern. He didn’t want to be too far away from medical help and his friends. This meant maintaining a relatively expensive lifestyle, which meant big budget studio films. Toys can beseen as his attempt to reinvent himself: new palate, new tone, new shapes. A big budget Hollywood comedy is not the ideal place, to my mind, to reinvent yourself'." [1]

"As Nicolas Valle confirms, ’Nando was constantly approached with all the top films being made (or not) in Hollywood’. Ill health and the toil of Toys compelled him to pass on several cherished projects. Finally, he committed to Love Affair, a vehicle for Warren Beatty and wife Annette Bening. The picture was a pleasant piece of romantic pabulum for which Scarfiotti provided warm, subtle interiors indicative of his personal taste. One of these is a tropical retreat designed for a character played by Katherine Hepburn. ’If Nando could have designed a ”dream home” for himself,’ Valle laughs fondly, ’that set was very much how it would have looked’. Scarfiotti passed away on April 30, 1994, and Love Affair salutes him In Memoriam." [1]

ALL IMAGES AND ANIMATIONS TAKEN FROM THE BARRY LEVINSON FILM TOYS, 1992; ALL TEXT [1] BY RICHARD KELLY, TAKEN FROM "FERDINANDO SCARFIOTTI 1941-1994: EXCURSIONS INTO STYLE" AS IT ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN CRITICAL QUARTERLY, VOL. 38, ISSUE 2, JUNE 1996

Wednesday
Mar092011

Ferdinando Scarfiotti & "American Gigolo"

BLONDIE: CALL ME [BEN LIEBRAND REMIX 1989]

"There is a simple sense in which set design engages first and foremost with the (generally rather vague) expectations of the audience. Ferdinando Scarfiotti was acutely conscious of this, as the inventor of a Forbidden City which audiences may still imagine to be the authentic dwelling of The Last Emperor of China. Just as we might say that the essence of dramatic form is to engineer a sequence of outlandish events in such a way as to make them seem retrospectively inevitable, so it might also be contended that the essence of ’art direction’ is to choose and construct places and spaces which seem finally and obviously to be the only possible sites for such drama to be enacted. We respond perfunctorily and immediately to the decor of Death in Venice (one of Scarfiotti’s most renowned efforts, if not his happiest), because the Venice Lido is indeed a beautiful place for sad happenings to befall beautiful people. But supreme design is not merely concerned with what the viewer finds pretty or plausible. Rather it is intimately linked at the highest level of conception with the sum of complex meanings which is the internal logic of a film.

’What interests me, ’ Scarfiotti once declared, ’is taking everyday reality and making it my ownl. The greatest test of a designer’s gift is not in the scouring of museum and source-book which underpins the recreation of period styles. It comes at that imaginative point of departure where ’visual literacy’ must progress to a creative vision of how decor denotes character, how settings enhance dramatic conflict. It is, in truth, when the designer starts to build. The greatest designers are master-builders, even though their sound-stage constructions are doomed to demolition. Celluloid survives, and at its best embodies the dur desir de durer (’the harsh, demanding desire for durance’) common to any serious form of art-making." [1]

"Boris Leven once anatomised the designer as a fusion of architect, artist, designer, illustrator and draughtsman - with the overarching perspectives of ’a dreamer, a businessman, a diplomat’. He stressed the designer’s financial devotion to ’visual continuity’ and ‘the final look’; he counselled the merits of deep research, and the value of a steeping in culture (’I think a creative person should see and feel as much as possible’); and he emphasised the rapport between designer and director (‘There must exist between them a complete trust and understanding’) In considering Ferdinando Scarfiotti, it is crucial to keep every last one of Leven’s criteria in mind. When Paul Schrader asked Scarfiotti to perform a Milanese makeover on Los Angeles for American Gigolo, he found a collaborator minutely preoccupied ’with the look of things: locales, building of sets, colour schemes, clothing schemes, lighting schemes - everything‘. Perfectionism in matters of detail cannot guarantee perfection of the whole, but every director who procured Scarfiotti’s gifts was taxed to measure up to his brilliance, for he was an artist to the very tips of his fingers."

"Similarly chi-chi is the apartment of Marcello’s skittish fiancee Giulia [ED: this passage references Bertolucci’s 1970 film The Conformist], where louvres on the windows refract the light, and shades of the prison- house roll over the embracing couple. This is a touch of Vittorio Storaro’s brilliance, but the slim dress in monochrome stripe worn by Giulia shows the impact of total design. Scarfiotti was instrumental in creating this look (evoking both the glamour of 1930s MGM and the neurosis of 1940s noir) and he would use it again in American Gigolo. ‘When you have an idea,’ Scarfiotti later explained, ’you really have to follow it through, exaggerating a little bit so it has a visual impact. Otherwise it only becomes the usual venetian blinds which you see in every office...

In the wake of American Gigolo’s role in launching Giorgio Armani’s couture in America, Scarfiotti would argue that ’good design has to pick up a trend before it becomes recognisable - while it’s there as a seed’. The Conformist certainly exhumed Art Deco furnishings, architecture and movies in the seventies. More crucially, it acquired iconic status among American cineastes. Francis Coppola was moved to purchase the production’s original clapperboard for his office, and also acquired a print of the picture which he viewed repeatedly and urged upon every member of his circle. (To a Conformist aficionado, Dean Tavoularis’s funereal stylings for The Godfather (1971) came as little surprise.) The long shadow cast by the film deepened in years to come." [1]

"Scarfiotti’s film work in the mid-seventies was sporadic. He helped Derek Jarman to find a location to make his low-budget labour of love Sebastiane; enjoyed a sojourn in Amsterdam designing the modish Burocco for Andre Techine and Marilyn Goldin; and laboured lucklessly on Nicolas Roeg’s unrealised Flash Gordon for Dino de Laurentiis. In the late seventies, weary of the Italian film industry, he settled in America. For some years, he had rented a small house in Bolinas, Marin County, favoured enclave of well-heeled hippies where, as Treviglio remembers, ‘you could look all around and see nothing but country‘. Initially Scarfiotti pursued a quiet professional path, designing several stage productions for his friend, director Kelly English, in neighbouring Sonoma. When he was finally lured to Hollywood, the enduring legacy of The Conformist, unsurprisingly, had much to account for.

Preparing to direct his screenplay American Gigolo in 1978, Paul Schrader was conscious of the need for ’high style’. The script told an improbable tale of a high-priced, socially aspirant male escort, Julian Kay, who faces retribution for his sins in a murder-frame, but is finally delivered from despond by a Bressonian intervention of grace. Schrader wanted to swathe this character (a walking commodity, a man of manicured surfaces) in a suitably tailored universe. Moreover, like any filmmaker in a city plagued by camera crews, Schrader sought a fresh perception of Los Angeles. His epiphany came when cinematographer John Bailey screened The Conformist for their mutual reference: ’I sent Nando the script and explained what I wanted and he rose to the bait. I think the whole sexual chic of the film appealed to him’.

As novelist Edmund White decreed whilst dallying in Los Angeles, ’in gay life the body as well as the soul is elected’, and Julian Kay, a sexually ambiguous creature, embodied this dualism. Schrader admitted to the influence upon his script of moving in modish gay circles, and Scarfiotti supplied the appropriately seductive surfaces. ‘In 1978 Los Angeles was on the verge of a big change,’ he recalled. ’So it was a big playground to rediscover and to reinvent’. Superficially, American Gigolo evokes Los Angeles in the fashion of Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man or David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash: ‘bright, clean, bland and permissive’. A gay ambience pervades the film, not least because its protagonist is conspicuously groomed, there to be gazed at and to give pleasure. ’It was a very pro-gay time in the arts in general,’ Schrader recalls. ’The homosexual sensibility was dictating music, clubs, fashion, dance, design. There was a feeling in the gay community that whatever we’re doing today, everybody else will be doing next year - and they were right’. Ironically, while the style of Gigolo titillated gay viewers, the content appeared to disapprove of them entirely. This was somewhat to the eventual embarrassment of Schrader, who considered his influential designer ’militantly gay‘." [1]

"The film necessitated copious construction on Paramount’s stages, and Scarfiotti achieved a uniformly spare elegance. ’All of these sets, these spaces were built by Scarfiotti for an overall look and feeling’, confirms Schrader. Julian’s apartment is a monastic gymnasium shaded in ash-grey and sea-breeze blue, devoid of anything but structural decoration (’the on-going motif is whether to hang a painting’, Schrader joked). The achievement of American Gigolo in rendering plausible its gossamer-thin dramatic conceit owes much to the gorgeous solidity of that apartment, sealed by its hard ceiling specified by Scarfiotti, which in turn dictated the use of augmented source-light. Such was the discipline Scarfiotti had learned from Visconti and admired in Orson Welles (witness those low angles in The Trial and Touch of Evil).

Scarfiotti’s most severe set simulates a Palm Springs apartment wherein Julian turns an especially sordid, sado-masochistic trick. Neutral colours, pre-Columbian art behind glass, a free-standing black marble wall and furnishings in the precise and comfort-threatening manner of Mies van der Rohe create a profoundly cold and ominous ambience (’I mean, no-one could live in a place like that, it was so bizarre’, Schrader remarked). Even the choice of exterior for this sinister dwelling (a white facade against black mountains and dark blue sky) was dictated by the finical Scarfiotti. Schrader treasured his designer’s perfectionism (‘If he comes to the set and something has been moved, he gets very upset’) his severe eye for the expression of ideas through decor. ’Schrader’s crazy,’ laughs Nicolas Valle, ’but he worshipped Nando, and he always really stood up for what Nando wanted to do on a film’." [1]

 

ALL STILLS TAKEN FROM THE PAUL SCHRADER FILM AMERICAN GIGOLO, 1980, PRODUCTION DESIGN BY FERDINANDO SCARFIOTTI; ALL TEXT [1] BY RICHARD KELLY, TAKEN FROM "FERDINANDO SCARFIOTTI 1941-1994: EXCURSIONS INTO STYLE" AS IT ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN CRITICAL QUARTERLY, VOL. 38, ISSUE 2, JUNE 1996

Tuesday
Mar012011

Sue Timney

"Sue Timney is the celebrated designer whose company, Timney-Fowler, is best known for its distinctive graphic black and white imagery. It is also one of a rare breed of design companies whose work flows effortlessly between fashion and interiors.

Timney left the Royal College of Art in 1979 after which she formed Timney-Fowler with Grahame Fowler. Sue and Grahame collaborated with designers such as Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Ralph Lauren and Diane von Furstenberg, producing fashion and fabric concepts for their labels.

2010 is the 30th anniversary of Timney-Fowler and will be marked by an exhibition at the FTM - a retrospective of both Sue's career as a designer and her work with Timney-Fowler, featuring some unique and exclusive material in an exciting, bold display developed in collaboration with Sue.  The exhibition will explore the history and themes of this world-recognised design firm. It will be a real experience for the senses and will bring the FTM alive including a wall of fabrics and samples; furniture; and scarves and shirts bearing her distinctive designs. It will be a must for anyone interested in the artistic design process.

Sue Timney's client list appeals to fellow creatives and includes such names as Ringo Starr, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman, Billy Connelly, Paul Smith, Elton John, Betty Jackson, Duro Olowu and Stella McCartney."

ALL TEXTILES AND INTERIORS BY SUE TIMNEY; INTERIOR IMAGES TAKEN FROM SUETIMNEY.COM; "CLOCK" RUG IMAGE VIA THERUGCOMPANY.INFO; ALL OTHER IMAGES TAKEN FROM DISPLAY CASE, ZOOT, AND FASHION AND TEXTILE MUSEUM; IMPETUS VIA DISPLAY CASE; TEXT TAKEN FROM FTMLONDON.ORG

Monday
Feb282011

Augmented Reality, 3D Mapping & Projection