Sunday, July 31, 2011

Vroom Vroom

I guess you are looking at this going 'he's thrown us a curve ball this evening!' Well... despite my focus on fashion and flora I'd like to draw your attention to the sleek lines of the Carmen Ghia. I have a barely suppressed Pavlovian response every time one of these classic autos purrs past me. My father had a red MG when he was a young man and I'm afraid I've never possessed the typical 'sports car'. We did have neighbours in Albert Park who drove a vintage gold Mercedes with their stuffed pet cat in tow. I never quite understood the cat in the car bit but I assume it looked better than a hat in the rear window.

In a nutshell the Carmen Ghia (sounds like rollers my mother used!) was designed in the mid 1950's. Also called the Karmann Ghia they were originally produced by Volkswagen in Germany and later Brazil. They were out of production by 1974 but their distinctive silver brand is easy to spot. They were a transition towards luxury cars after the recovery from World War 2. To me they represent a time where optimism in the future was strong and the domestic architecture of the period was free of the strictures of rationing. In my humble opinion it sure beats a Commodore with fluffy dice !  

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cool Beauty

Next to my home is this wonderful old Japanese maple. It signals the changing of the seasons like clockwork and showers me in autumn with a red blanket of discarded foliage. In spring filtered light bathes the room with a soft green hue as leaves emerge. The sense of continuity and comfort is the key to it's significance. After twenty years plus in the one home you see a pattern in the neighbourhood which is repeated every season. You also know when to feed the  magpies on your footpath so they don't swoop the dogs (or yourself!). 

This image was taken this morning after another night of minus five degrees. The garden was cloaked with a dusting of white crystals which vanished as soon as the sun's rays hit them. My Japanese maple stood like a quiet sentinel outside my home and I shot this frame as I looked up at a cool blue sky. It almost appeared that the branches were mapping out the formation of crystals themselves. If you look closely at the image you can see the first buds forming. It looks like I'll have a completely different photo opportunity shortly. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Flow Chart

Inspiration is a fickle mistress. One moment you are basking in the warmth of a splendid design revelation...the next in a morass of impracticality. Today's post is a 'how to' guide from my somewhat fragmented approach to building a collection. The set of three images have no bearing in terms of chronology or location, but they clearly have a singular theme. One comes today from from New York while the second image is the cover of Vogue Italia from April 1991 (Steven Meisel). Our final shot is a spiny lizard who illustrates to us that the forms we incorporate into fashion and design can have a very primal origin. I don't know how many crocodiles or ostriches would fancy ending up as a Hermes handbag!

Sorry about the poor quality scan. 

My point is that how we interpret what we see is such a personal thing. How our recollections and exposure to images stimulate associations could explain how we reference designs subconciously. What I do know is that I'm a voracious consumer of magazines and a keen viewer of  The Simpsons. That may be more of an indicator of a mid-life crisis however than an indicator of any great artistic bent.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Final Verdict

After showing you the original model for this vessel I thought it would be good to see the final product. This small 'flock' of  fågel pitchers was shot today in the Canberra studio. It's hard to imagine the finished piece when you see a line drawing and a mess of changes scribbled across a page . When we actually reach that point it's a great feeling (accompanied by a good dose of nerves) as we open the test kiln. Sometimes the colours and shapes we trial are anything but desirable, but they are a stepping stone. With some forms I simply start with a word, 'fertile' for example, and watch how this evolves to become a series of organic vases. 

Our greatest problem (if you could call it that) is that a flood of concepts often follow after a successful shape comes to fruition. I'm thankful every day that the longer I'm in this business the more fulfillment it provides me. After all... how many people do you know who get to play in clay and colour for a living?

Photo: Brian Tunks

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Introducing the Fågel Pitcher

When we make pieces in our studio we draw on the heritage of thousands of years of collective knowledge and practical experience. I have shards of Mesopotamian, Hellenistic and Ottoman pottery, which all would have influenced the work we produce today. From the pressing of our logo in the foot of every piece, to the application of the sprig mold on various forms, the talent of my staff is supported by techniques past down and modernised over numerous millennia. We employ three forms of production to manufacture our range. Hand-thrown vessels are crafted on the wheel, a hydraulic press makes plates, and we slip cast to produce forms that are not in the round. The above Fågel Pitcher is made using the latter process. 

Fågel is actually Swedish for 'bird.' If you look at the angle of the spout and the form of the beak you can clearly see its genesis. The pitcher is a new form we have just finished testing and the photo shows the shape at the model stage before we start making molds to pour from. Each piece is removed and cleaned by hand and then we manipulate the 'beak' to create a lovely angle for the spout. Up to sixteen pairs of hands touch every piece on its path from raw clay to finished item. With this level of complexity maybe I would have been better off designing cushions! 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Vale: Margaret Olley

Sad news today with the death of the revered Australian artist Margaret Olley. Her still-life works often captured the warmth and light of her home in Paddington, and she was still painting  in her 88th year. I had seen her numerous times at social events or openings in Sydney. You always wish in retrospect you'd gone up and introduced yourself and discussed the motivation for her choice of colours. Maybe she would have been cantankerous or intensely private, but I guess now I'll never know. One undeniable fact is the impact her body of work will have on future generations of aspiring artists... or those who'll simply find quiet solace in her brushstrokes. 

I admire her courage during a stiflingly conservative period. Travelling to East Sydney Tech (from Lismore via Brisbane) to study, she eventually became the subject for William Dobell's winning entry in the Archibald Prize of 1948 . This was followed up by Ben Quilty's entry in 2011. There's a wonderful resonance with her life. It starts with her exploration of painting in Sydney and her close friendships with some of Australia's brightest artistic luminaries. She became one of our great benefactors to the arts. Her donations to The Art Gallery of NSW and The MCA built upon her own legacy as much as they reflect the talents of many other notable artists. Rest well. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Prints Charming

I was watching 'The Renovators' this evening and agreed when Robyn Holt said to one of the contestants that her room needed artwork on the walls. In order to breathe life in to a neutral space you require 'colour and movement' on large surface areas. If you haven't got a spare $40000.00 for a Minnie Pearl painting then perhaps collectible vintage posters are worth a look. I swear that if  I glimpse another feature wall with heavily patterned wallpaper I'll escape to the hills! Back to posters... have you ever purchased them online, or does the worry of buying fakes scare you off? 

I have obtained them from sellers all around the world (even in markets in Havana) and have yet to be disappointed. Regardless of subject I tend to find the best format is approximately 90cm x 128cm . This seems to be the standard for a number of prints from the 1950's and they frame up beautifully. As you saw with my earlier post on Asterix and Obelix they can change the mood of a room simply by the use of context. Vintage product or brand posters tend to be very simple in their message and often used bold colour and font. In modern homes (where warmth tends to be seen as public enemy number one!) they enliven a space and make a great conversation piece. Considering they can range from several hundred dollars upwards, posters make a viable option to start a collection.

The two last images come from Galerie Montmartre in Melbourne. They have an amazing collection for sale and possess the rare ability to discuss the provenance and style of the works.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Flame Thrower : Meghan Douglas

Let me introduce you to Ms Meghan Douglas. I read last week that science is predicting that redheads will go the way of the dodo owing to changes in global genetic diversity... I sincerely hope this isn't the case. Since Meghan is an 'enhanced' redhead I guess all this concern is irrelevant. But I digress... the point to this post is that I recall the 1990's as an extremely productive period for images which put the sense of theatre back in to design. This applied to both fashion and interiors, the legacy of which is still carrying over  to contemporary campaigns. 

I recently saw some vintage (if you can call the 90's as such) advertisements for Ferragamo loafers and Chanel bags. They both represented their products in a variety of colours but the core principle was repetition of form. I'll explore this issue more fully in another post but I guess for me these images trigger another  memory. With technology advancing and morphing at a rate that defies belief it was the mid 1990's which really saw the toddler steps of the internet age. Photoshop was also emerging in the advertising market with profound effects for blurring the line between tangible and unattainable. From a niche within the film industry it came to be the ubiquitous presence we see on every shiny magazine cover. That being said I wonder what Meghan looks like today? One can but hypothesize, but I'm betting she's still a glamazon.

Vogue Paris 1995 Cover: Mario Testino. Editorial Vogue Italia Shot: Steven Meisel. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fashion and Sport : Munsingwear

I know you probably assume I have some sort of fixation with line drawings and logos...and you're correct! This particular post is part nostalgia and an examination of the relationship between sport and fashion. My father used to wear these shirts (see image below) and I always thought the penguin icon was ( in the words of my nephews) "fully sick!" Originally established as a brand to compete with Lacoste in 1955, it specialised in a form of 'preppy chic' which predated Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger. It built a presence with a clever association between the privileged world of golfing and the more mainstream bowling community. 

The top image shows Arnold Palmer wearing an 'original Penguin' with his uber hot friend and her hat and scarf combination. On a recent trip to Miami I fell victim to compulsive shopping which required an intervention to get me out of their store. The interesting thing is that the customer base was predominantly urban hipster and numerous 40+ males. It's a tribute to any company which can be instantly identified by it's brand without text or fanfare. It's also significant that it still has positive meaning for me since first sighting one nearly 40 years ago. That's staying power!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Zenobia... Queen of the Desert

In Syria there is a beautiful oasis (or remnants of one) with a spectacular ancient city surrounding it. Palmyra, or Tadmor as the locals call it, was a trading route which flourished from the 1st to the 3rd Centuries AD. It had been in existence prior to this but was allowed special trading status under the Romans. I spent time there during the mid-season breaks with my dig team. It covers a vast area and is covered with amazing architecture and ruins. It could be mistaken for a Spielberg set as it has funerary towers sitting on a plain with an Arab castle atop a massif overlooking the city. The third image shows some of these structures which could easily reach twelve metres tall filled with niches to bury the deceased. I climbed up in one with Judith Littleton (an anthropologist from ANU) and we examined some of the scattered bones. She could even tell the sort of health problems which had impacted on the lifespan of the ancient citizens.

The Temple of Bel (Baal) had been a Hellenistic temple, expanded to a huge religious complex, and was eventually relegated to being a fortress. It has beautiful Christian paintings on the walls of the cella. Not far from this spot is an elegant Roman Theatre, a unique piece of design owing to it having five doors on the stage. My friends and I spent an evening there with no tourists anywhere to be found under the light of a shimmering full moon. This city acquired it's notoriety under the rule of the rebellious Queen Zenobia. Her beauty, intelligence and wit, were measured against the might of the Imperial Legions. Needless to say the Romans eventually won!

I know people often wonder about the association between my work and my previous life as an ancient historian. I guess the two are reconciled by the fact that beautiful design from the ancient world had a profound impact on how I see forms. Although they too had many types of decoration on their objects, the shapes themselves were simple and exquisite. A legacy which I strive to capture with my work... and one which reflects the efforts of potters from the previous millennia. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011


Early every August a huge magnolia tree blooms in a garden in St Kilda. It belongs to my sister-in-law (for whom the Julie bowl is named after) and is covered with lush branches laden with flowers. Even before they brown off and start to haphazardly fall they act as a messenger for the coming spring. With colours which just beg to be used in my glazes, they illustrate how beautiful dark brown (chocolate) can be as a foil to the green of the leaves, and the graduated pinks of the petals. 

My grandparents had an amazing garden in the Blue Mountains which was full of apple trees and hothouses with orchids. The seasonality of the trees had it's own life cycle which was translated into colour with each passing month. I often put big branches of both trees in my stores and home. Apple blossoms last an eternity and when whey fall it's like scented confetti with pale green foliage starting to poke through. Julie never commented but I would loot her tree branches to use for visual merchandising at the Gift Fair. Magnolias let me know that the days are getting longer, that my 300 bulbs will be budding up at home, and remind me that the Christmas rush is getting dangerously close yet again. When you craft so many things individually it's a welcome relief to let nature and her rich colours distract you from your work.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Collective Talent

Okay, so I know the window is so clean that you can see my reflection taking the picture... but I'll live with that!  What I'd like you to see is how we have constructed a composite number of pieces, or layers to the image,  for this display. After setting up the window I walked away and reflected on the brief we had attempted to follow. 'Design that Moves' is a very loose theme in terms of interpretation. I represented this directive in several ways. Firstly, I hand-painted a chess board ( on my kitchen bench at midnight) to allow the penguins to be situated within the framework of a game. This playing field was balanced by an origami starburst (crafted by the talented Sarah... my Sydney Bison Manager) and edged by two walls of tiered coloured vessels. 

People have been coming in to the store for the past two days offering their suggestions on what the window says to them. To me it was the sum of a number of concepts which run in tandem. Does the chess board and the opposing monochromatic teams suggest we see the world in black and white? Are we playing a game with nature and seeing crowding, global warming, and a populace of mixed races having to weigh up our actions? Or do I simply have a display designed to attract people to my store... not to reflect, but simply to admire the repetition of form with the fairy penguins? After all, they are synonymous with Victoria and to many people offer a positive association or memory. The words of Thoreau encapsulate it beautifully. It's our ability to interpret what we see rather than just note the surface of the things we observe.  

Image: Brian Tunks

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Senate

I took this image  inside our Melbourne store today. We spent an eventful evening on Sunday setting up our themed window for the Monday launch. I missed posting yesterday after I face-planted with a huge metal rubbish bin in a dark and rainy laneway. (There's wisdom in those 'Walk... don't run!' stickers you see at schools). Regardless of my adventures the display was completed on time and with a minimum of compromises. If anything this opportunity has given me a renewed enthusiasm for creative merchandising.

This image is just a tempter for you. Tomorrow I'll post the window in-full so you can see the overall effect. The above shot features the fairy penguins en masse on stands and also in rows on a chess board. They are poised like silent sentinels, each with their own colour and individuality. Some people have suggested to me that the board is full of both black and white penguins engaged in some form of conflict. Personally I love the reflection on the bellies of the gunmetal ones. The board (or game) is transposed on to the actual players as it were. Maybe you can suggest what this tableau is saying... or possibly you should wait until you see the text on the window to determine your answers. At least this is more visual than Sodoku and no answer will be the right one!

Photo: Brian Tunks

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Add concept and stir!

D-Day for setting up our window for the 'State of Design Festival' has arrived. I'll take an image tomorrow of the finished 'installation' and try and give you some insight in to how we interpreted the theme. I suppose the beauty of this year's concept is that 'Design that Moves' can be expressed in a variety of ways. You could ask yourself if it points to physical movement, emotive, or even conceptual. Rather than spend an eternity naval gazing I have pulled together numerous references which fall under the core premise of this event. 

Design events can be notoriously 'heavy' occasions. By this I mean that they can be overshadowed by designers being more concerned about how their work will be received as opposed to enjoying the exposure.( I always felt that an audience clad only in black reminded me of a pack of crows about to peck your work to pieces! ) My display will be all about colour... and movement... and completely open to interpretation. Now all I need to happen is my suitcase full of props goes to Denpassar. 

Please excuse the image. Taken with my phone in a mad hurry. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

To have or to hold?

In the course of the average day I would probably have several ideas for shapes or forms for my collection. Sometimes these concepts are just fanciful, as opposed to practical, but they help to keep me focussed. One of the most difficult aspects I face is determining which shapes I keep as classics, or selecting  pieces to retire. As we have grown steadily over the past 14 years we have increased our profiles to nearly 140 shapes in number. Add to that approximately 28 colours and you have a minefield when you try to produce all of these pieces in every possible combination. As we make our pieces either by hand; slip casting, or pressing, our range is very labour intensive.

Often I receive suggestions on objects people would like to see added to the range. The only issue we face with this is that we can't simply add potters to our workforce as their skills are not commonplace. We will be creating some new shapes later this year as I'm working on some exciting developments and shapes. I guess having your own design company and the means to make your own pieces has to have it's advantages! For those of you who collect and support Bison, we are always open to hearing your thoughts. On that note... I'll be setting up my window tomorrow for the State of Design Festival in Melbourne. I'll blog about it and try and supply you with some respectable images. If you are in Melbourne drop by as I'll be in-store sporadically on Monday and Tuesday. Best Brian.

Image: Latte Bowls Photographer: David Plummer   

Friday, July 15, 2011

Studio 54 @ Parliament House

You are probably wondering why I have a photo of myself and my BFF Jodie in South Pacific type garb! Well I was reflecting on the fact that we had such an amazing time that night (all in aid of cancer research) and I thought I should use my blog for a shameless plug for our upcoming event. Yes... I'm on the Committee for the Canberra Cancerians and every year we pick a theme for our Black and White Ball at Parliament House. It always sells out well in advance and the talented performers and MC's are central to the night. My own father passed away from cancer so I had somewhat selfish reasons for joining this group of hard-working volunteers. It's always a good thing when you feel a sense of empowerment and the ability to generate funds purely for research is motivation enough for me.

It's a freezing night here in Canberra with a glistening full moon shining cold blue light into my study. I felt tonight's post should be about something meaningful hence the details for our event are as follows. Studio 54 Ball is on at Parliament House (Great Hall) on Saturday August 27th. If you'd like to go, or get a corporate or private table together, let me know and I'll forward the booking details to you. Remember... if disco chic is your look then whip on your 'fro' and shake your 'groove thang' till the wee hours for a great cause.

Photo: David Plummer

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Procopius: The Secret History

If a salacious historical novel is your flavour then let me introduce you to the Byzantine author Procopius. Once a favourite of the great general Belisarius, he wrote a scathing attack upon the Emperor Justinian and his wife, Theodora. As a student at ANU I took guilty pleasure from his witty but incredibly acerbic descriptions of the imperial court in 6th Century Constantinople. Reading Procopius was like a date with Jackie Collins in a comfy sofa! As an ancient historian you rely upon several sources to make observations on a period or location; the literary record, the physical evidence provided by archaeology, and sometimes surviving legal records through contemporary writers of the period.

Procopius was the archetypal scorned man. He wrote from the perspective of a discarded confidant and while his writings slandered the Imperial family they successfully represented themselves as quasi divine (as seen in the mosaics of Ravenna) I have attached a description of the 'humble origins' of the Empress Theodora according to the author... "But as soon as she arrived at the age of youth, and was now ready for the world, her mother put her on the stage. Forthwith, she became a courtesan, and such as the ancient Greeks used to call a common one, at that: for she was not a flute or harp player, nor was she even trained to dance, but only gave her youth to anyone she met, in utter abandonment. Her general favors included, of course, the actors in the theater; and in their productions she took part in the low comedy scenes. For she was very funny and a good mimic, and immediately became popular in this art. There was no shame in the girl, and no one ever saw her dismayed: no role was too scandalous for her to, accept without a blush."

I have chosen a safer extract as Procopius really gets going on her after warming up. The Secret History (Anecdota) was found in the Vatican Library in the late 17th Century (probably hidden for personal reading by the Pope). And people say history is dull!

Image: Theodora in Byzantine mosaic in Basilica of San VitaleRavenna

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Slumming it on Strandvägen!

It should be clear to all that I'm a major Scandophile. Having spent an amazing year in Sweden with friends and family I have a real affinity for both the lifestyle and design ethos. The land of Ikea can be a lot more than simply blonde wood assembled furniture with brightly coloured Dalarna Horses. It is a country with a seriously harsh climate (night skiing in minus 20 is not to be recommended!) but the most incredibly beautiful long summer days. From June until August the sun scarcely sets and your energy seems to mirror this. The innumerable lakes are dotted with red summerhouses and surrounded by tracts of birch trees. 

Apart from a serious addiction to the colour combinations used in Swedish interiors... I loved the architecture. While the late 19th Century saw the rise of some of the grand boulevards in Stockholm, my family had a great apartment on Strandvägen next to Lake Mälaren. You could look across the lake to a skyline dotted with church spires and older structures with golden decoration. Boats would sail past you along the foreshore and you could take a ferry to one of the islands nearby for a swim or lazy lunch. After a childhood spent in rural Australia this was the best 'stimulus package' my education could hope for. It gave me an enduring respect for the value of heritage and the significance of a culture evolving over many centuries. I also now have an unfortunate dependency on caviar spread in a tube and goat cheese!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Chaos Theory

Poppies are one of those flowers which alert you to the arrival of spring long before it actually starts. They sit in tightly packed bunches in fruit and vegetable stores at markets offering amazing beauty for a tiny sum. For some strange reason they remind me of ballet dancers. When the flowers suddenly pop open and reveal their fabric-like petals it's always when you are not looking. They are one of those blooms which constantly surprise you. Their almost insect-like shells peel off like a chrysalis and the petals unfold in rich tones accompanied by a slightly sweet smell.

If  your central heating is on it forces them to open quickly with the added benefit of a dynamic floral display which can last up to 10 days. Our neighbour when we were children (Mrs. Fippits... we couldn't pronounce 'Phillips') took care of us after school and let us play in her garden. My brother and I would have bets on what colours her poppies would be. We'd sneakily peel back the casing and then see who'd won. This inevitably led to a floral carnage of sorts as we tried to re-seal the poppies with limited success. I always wait for them to come into season and buy huge bunches for my retail spaces. This particular display was shot in  my Canberra store and the shower of dropping petals made it even more poignant.

Image: David Plummer

Monday, July 11, 2011

Rosalie Gascoigne

Anyone who has grown up or driven through rural Australia would be familiar with the source material of Rosalie Gascoigne (1917 - 1989). Her work reflects a fascination with collecting diverse but seemingly coherant found objects. Her meticulous study and practice of ikebana meant that her translation of these pieces into works of art became an elevated form of assemblage. From being the wife of an astronomer/professor living on Mount Stromlo she rose to fame at the age of 57. Her pieces featured in the Venice Biennale and she received an Order of Australia as recognition for her creative genius.

Her found materials consisted of items such as road signs; wooden Schweppes drink cartons, sheets of galvanised iron, even discarded boxes. The beauty of her work was reflected in the symmetry of the layout of her installations. Quite often signs would be interlaced with illegible words but in the same colour and font from reconstituted signage. The repetition of form in her pieces says more about the interpretation of her work than the value of the individual components.  Her found material was particularly favoured if it had been exposed to the elements and showed fading or slight decay. She was an early adaptor of the green practices of the new millennium but without the spin!  

Image: Rosalie Gascoigne | Australia 1917–99 | Lamp lit 1989 | Retro-reflective road signs on hardwood | 183 x 183cm | Purchased 1990. Mrs JR Lucas Estate in memory of her father John Robertson Blane | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery |

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Turning Turtle

After a couple of days lazing in Tropical North Queensland I spent an afternoon 'turtle watching' on the beach in Townsville. These amazing animals would surface every 20 minutes or so for a quick peek and then dive again to graze on their own personal seafood buffet. Despite their bulky shells they moved with a lazy nonchalance that had many small children enthralled.

Eighteen months ago I was with my partner in Trinidad and Tobago. We spent several weekends at a resort called Gran Rivière which featured small bats flying around in your bungalow every evening. The real excitement happened overnight when huge leatherback turtles dragged themselves up on the beach, dug deep holes, and proceeded to lay their eggs. If you got up early enough you would see these gentle creatures dragging themselves back down to the water and out to sea. While this post appears like a commentary from David Attenborough I actually wanted to use this example of how nature continually provides me with ideas for forms and tones.

Image: David Plummer

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Casa de los Azulejos

In a blue-tiled former mansion in Mexico City Sanborns (a pioneering pharmacy group) has restaurants which have become a national institution. As with much of old Mexico City this beautiful building lists erratically as a consequence of both subsidence and successive earthquake damage. Built in the 16th Century this gracious casa is a fantastic melange of both colonial and contemporary Mexico. Deeply worn cobbled and parquet floors form a fantastic backdrop for a contemporary retail space.

I got a glimpse of the department stores of old. Gloves on staff and impeccably starched uniforms which were more like folk costumes with rich almost Pradaesque stripes. Despite the bad press Mexico, was one of the most inspiring and evocative countries I have visited. I'll do additional posts covering some of the amazing architecture and homes I had the privilege of staying at in the coming weeks. One thing that had great meaning for me was the use and re-use of the buildings and structures of earlier cultures. This seems to be a unifying feature of global evolution... A sort of absorption of earlier civilizations to build upon the next.

Photo: David Plummer

Friday, July 8, 2011

Colour Therapy

This image was taken from our balcony overlooking the Coral Sea in Far North Queensland. I've mentioned previously how layering of colour is something that I try to translate with our glaze finishes. There's a very simple reason for this... nature has evolved an uncanny knack of blending rich and complimentary shades together. The shot posted today was taken at dawn where the tones and colours of the sky convey a sense of quiet calm. On reflection when we received postcards (in the distant days of snail mail!) they often featured images with a richly lit sky or background. While the scene or subject may be beautiful it's often the colour of the framing scenery which defines the 'mood' of the image. Take away the strong natural sunlight during the majority of the day and you get angled light which allows the subtlety of colour to be clearly manifested both at dawn and dusk. Speaking of which... if you are aiming for a rich golden light for a portrait then late afternoon waning sunshine can have the same effect as a good dose of photoshop!!!!

Image: David Plummer

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

State of Design Festival Melbourne

The State of Design Festival In Melbourne has the creative community buzzing. It's a chance for emerging designers to showcase their wares at both a wholesale and retail level. People have the opportunity to get up close and personal with innovative creators and merchandising gurus. I have included this shot of Bison Melbourne (Shop 9, Howey Place) as we have been invited to be a part of this year's event. Starting on July 18th approximately 20 or so larger and individual boutique stores will create a window to support this year's theme. Each of us have to elaborate on the concept of 'Design that Moves'. The path between these venues is marked as  'Look, Stop, Shop!'  

I will take some images as we set our display up and hopefully you won't see me rocking in a corner with a shocking case of stage fright! It's a daunting yet challenging sensation putting yourself 'out there' as a designer. Being located in one of Melbourne's renowned laneways gives this space such a lovely sense of history and evolution. One small piece of trivia is that my wonderful Melbourne Manager (Lady Lee) started her working life running bolts of fabric between stores near Bison in the 1960's. The rag trade was alive and well at that point in the city and the rejuvenation of these locations has a sense of coming full circle. (We will be setting up on Sunday 17th July and 'Look. Stop. Shop' runs from Monday July 18th until Sunday July 31st). If you are in Melbourne please drop by. Tell us how you interpret our display... and let us know if it moves you!

Photo: David Plummer

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tiffany Brown 'Quiet Noise'

Tiffany Brown is a talented painter and illustrator based in Canberra. I first became aware of her in 2008 when someone advised me that my milk bottles were being copied and hanging in the Art Gallery of NSW. What transpired was that Tiffany had painted several of my pieces which were incorporated in her entry in the Sulman Prize. In the finalists exhibition one of my customers in Canberra had seen the image and contacted me. I love that someone cared deeply enough to let me know about the use of one of our pieces albeit in a lovely work of art. The upside of this was that I got to become friends with Tiffany.

Her keen visual sense is played out in many of the works she paints. The above image comes from an exhibition we did together titled 'Quiet Noise'. She had 30 canvasses of varying sizes and they were representations of something we'd made at Bison along with flowers or fruit. Needless to say the show was a complete sellout within the space of an hour. As this image was the centrepiece for the exhibition I purchased it for my own collection. For some reason I see echoes of Georgia O'Keefe and references to the strength and purity of her work. Tiffany doesn't paint much at present and I'm trying to bribe her to consider another show. Time doesn't wait for anyone and I think she has so much to offer with her unique talent.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Red Letter Day

I hope I never end up on 'Hoarders' being dragged frothing out of my studio with boxes full of old Homes and Gardens. I think in a previous life I was a magpie as I'm so attracted to shiny things. The above image shows one of my random purchases (two actually if you count the Chinese altar table). The British Royal insignia came from a demolished post office and I'm trying to find a door frame at home which can eventually support it. Weighing five kilos per piece this cast metal symbol of a fading empire attracts a lot of admiration. While I'm not a card-carrying member of the Republican Movement I'm also not a rabid Royalist. This is what's commonly referred to as a disclaimer!

One of my former staff (a man from Northern Ireland) was asked to dust this one day and took particular umbrage at the request. Upon discussing this he revealed that he felt extremely uncomfortable cleaning this emblem. It clearly demonstrated to me the power of 'branding' and it's associated political and religious guises. Small wonder there are dissertations ad infinitum on symbols and interpretation in libraries and online. The appeal for me was twofold; firstly the font and colour are very imposing, and secondly the crown gives a strange sense of assuredness. Maybe this was the intention that Australia Post had... to make you believe that anything you sent throughout the Empire would actually arrive on time and at the specified address. One can but dream. 

Photo: Brian Tunks (by iPhone)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Tin Toys

These two Disney characters were purchased on a trip to the UK several years ago. I clearly remember my mother sending my toys off to children who'd lost everything in cyclone Tracy (December 1974). I also remember (and no suppression therapy will disguise this crime!) that my Lost in Space robot was one of those items. Of course you can't begrudge goodwill but I was more concerned that the child who received this bounty would appreciate how cool he was. This brings me to my next point... does a toy have to be sophisticated to be valued?

Do we favour our lima rail over our off-cut wooden block set? Does your colouring in book rate more highly than Barbie with a campervan full of pink furniture? My answer would be that more moving parts translates to more things to lose. The funny thing about this is that as we age I notice that many of us try get to get rid of superfluous things in our homes. We in a sense devolve back to a simpler life with uncomplicated surroundings. Nevertheless I still wonder where my robot ended up and if I may even see him one night on an episode of 'Collectors'. 

Photo: Brian Tunks

Saturday, July 2, 2011

16 Pairs of Hands

In a world of mass-production and incredible seasonal turnover it's reassuring to work with such a long-life material (stoneware clay). This was more serindipitous than planned yet it continually gives me unexpected pleasures. One of these is the ability to personally meet many of the people who admire or purchase Bison. I owe them a debt of gratitude in that they both keep us afloat as well as supplying me with invaluable suggestions for the collection. This post is actually in response to a question posed to me some months ago by one such customer in my Canberra store. I was asked how many pairs of hands touched the average Bison piece? Apart from looking a bit sheepish I thought that this was a very valid query. The answer is ( insert sound of trumpets) 16! 

I estimated this figure from the processes of working with wet clay through to finishing and packing pieces in our stores. I'm often accused of being mad for having such a labour-intensive range but truthfully, when you see the results, I completely understand why we spend so much time on each vessel.  This photo shows one of these processes. The talented Helen is dipping an 'Atlantis Bowl' in liquid glaze after rolling the same glaze around the interior. The tiny droplets you see on the bottom are adhering to the wax we place on the base to stop the object sticking to a kiln shelf. While beauty may be in the eye of the beholder it takes the behind the scenes team considerable effort to produce such simple forms. 

Image: David Plummer

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mora Klockor (Mora Clocks)

In the dim recesses of my mind I recall a clock in the summerhouse of a friend in Falsterbo (Southern tip of Sweden). It was beautifully decorated with chipped layers of what passed for milk paint in a washed lettuce green and was subtly highlighted with garlands of leaves. It sat in the corner of an 18th Century wooden cottage with views down to the beach. During endless summer nights we'd sit outside and solve the problems of the world (and our futile late-teen 'relationships') or cook up crayfish. It's funny how this idyllic memory probably obscures a good portion of reality. The one constant recollection I have was the chime of this elegant clock. Ernst Zacher in Melbourne (Victoria Street in Albert Park) had the German successors to the Mora clocks in his linseed-scented store.

Mora clocks originated in the late 1780's in Mora, Dalarna (a county in Sweden). They were highly prized objects and treated as status symbols. In this former agricultural community the local villagers took up making  clocks as an innovative way to generate income. Various families specialised in individual components such as painted faces or chimes. This collective cottage industry created the highly feminised profile identified with Mora clocks today. It's astounding what productivity can emerge from snowy indeterminably long Swedish winters. Aided probably by a few shots of Absolut (or it's 18th Century equivalent!)

Image: Marie Claire Maison