Monday, December 17, 2012

Louise Dahl-Wolfe

Louise Dahl-Wolfe (1895 -1989) is without a doubt one of my favourite photographers. Her images were infused with historical references (as with Horst) and her use of natural light was legendary. Originally her work leaned more towards portraiture but in time she became the house photographer for Harpers-Bazaar in New York (1936 - 1958). Her discovery of a young Lauren Bacall is the stuff of fashion and movie legend... so much so that she even placed her on the cover.

She was referred to as an 'environmental' fashion photographer in the sense that she'd use exotic locations as her backdrops for styled shots. To me she represents one of the group of photographers whose work in the 1950's, in particular, shed light on a rapidly changing world. A world in which women were joining the workforce in ever increasing numbers and where 'cruise collections' were making an appearance. Her window in to the rarified hothouse of haute couture and extensive work in advertising lends her work a very personal touch. People on a beach casually looking over their shoulders, unaware of her lens, or Diana Vreeland sitting imperiously in profile as if engaged in a conversation with friends. Whatever the desired effect was it certainly makes the vapid 'selfies' of Facebook look more meaningless than we can imagine. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

When in Rio

Last week we lost a great architect with the passing of Oscar Niemeyer. Assuming we last to 104, as he did, this Brazilian architect has left an amazing legacy of modernist structures throughout South America and the world. From the United Nations Secretariat in New York to the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Brasilia (pictured above) his work captured the zeitgeist of architectural evolution in the 20th Century. His soaring buttresses and graceful arches have embodied his public buildings with a sense of freedom in a world still scarred from the deprivations of the Second World War.

His later works (such as the Niteroi Museum of Contemporary Art in Rio c1996) still resonate with his modernist approach but feel more in harmony with the landscape. This is in stark contrast to his masterpiece in Brasilia in the 1960's. Some would call his work brutalist, others 'retro', but to me he represents a pinnacle in design evolution. A bridge between the 50's and a global culture in flux in the 60's and 70's. His close ties to Fidel Castro and membership of the communist party may have hurt his commissions with his more conservative clients, but talk about giving you street cred!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Heavy Wreathing!

Photo: Brian Tunks

Once upon a time Christmas decorations came out from musty boxes at the beginning of December. The scent of pine (ruthlessly cut down by a father on a mission) would waft throughout the house until the needles turned stiff and brown. The tree would then be unceremoniously dumped in a ute and ferried out of sight. Similarly, in our department stores we'd be tempted by amazing windows with animated characters and winter wonderlands while eating ice-cream in 30 degree heat. The one thing that is consistent about Australian Christmas is how surreal images of reindeers and a man in thermals and a red costume find a place in our hybrid culture. 

One decoration that works in any part of the world, or climate for that matter, is the traditional juletide wreath. My ever-creative friend Belinda came up with the idea of using raw and textural fabrics for my Christmas windows this year. The result (after several hours of dying fragments in a vat at home) is the beautiful material and vinyl (complete with selvage) wreath in our store windows. I love it because of the pared-back simplicity of the design. I also asked for a single peace logo to be placed on one of the grey pieces to give some detail to the otherwise clean fabric pieces. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pesce del giorno

It's easy to fill a home with a multitude of pieces that share more of a resemblance to a paint catalogue than indicating your own personal style. A very talented (and stylish) friend of mine once told me that the essence of creating a sense of visual harmony in a space was to layer a number of elements. Thinking that this sounded more like advanced alchemy than interior design I delved further to try and understand the concept. In principal it goes something like this; if you are conceptualising a room you should never have just stone or wood together. Fabric softens or adds texture. It creates a visual (and auditory) buffer which allows the viewer to see greater depth and warmth in an otherwise barren space.

My way of achieving this is somewhat simpler. I have always believed that a home requires a heart. I'm not referring to some Danielle Steele novel, rather that the objects which proliferate our spaces have some personal or historical meaning. They need a sort of cultural relevance which allows you to show your individuality but at the same time demonstrates a layering of taste. 

This fish-patterned plate was a gift I received today from my mother. Its' provenance is about 120 years old from Cambodia. To me is has a timeless simplicity to the form and the brushstrokes are measured and fluid. This also begs the question of how many homes and families has this vessel been a part of? When you look at the pieces in your own home try doing this experiment with one vintage piece and seeing how far you can go. It's quite daunting when you realise the combined ages of many of the things we live with day-to-day, and that each and every one of them has a story.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The New Life of Brian

Hello there...I know it has been a long time between drinks as it were but there's been some good reasons for our radio silence. Bison, under the guise of my direction, has been travelling with some tentative steps towards an exciting new future. No... I'm not joining a doomsday cult or waiting for the end of civilisation in a French Village high in the Alps. I'm actually completely restructuring Bison to allow us to move out of the glazing booth and into 'the home'. I have had over fourteen amazing years producing quality ceramics in my small local studio. The production process, and manufacturing in general, has presented me with an increasing array of challenges on a daily basis. This, coupled with a health issue has forced to to either leave ceramics entirely... or to try and resolve these issues through sharing my production with other studios. 

One of the things I miss working in isolation in a small space was the collegiality of working with other designers. Now I have the ability to create not only just ceramics, but to explore the whole gamut of media to create objects for the home. Seeing a ceramic vessel sitting on a wooden tray of your design, paired with a napkin printed with your motif in an array of colours... that's the stuff that lights my fire! Please stick around and share this path with us. My team and customers have been among my strongest supporters and for this I'm truly grateful.



Monday, May 7, 2012

Pointe Break

Bolshoi Ballet rehersal. 1952
Sometimes a break from the everyday is exactly what the doctor ordered. You emerge fresh and inspired from disengaging from the everyday, and approach life with a fervour that borders on the irrational. As someone with far too many ideas to bring to reality I rely on the ability to distance myself and get a fresh perspective. If you are wondering what I've been up to then watch this space....

In August this year I'll be showcasing a new collection for Bison and also launching several lifestyle ranges. It's a scary thought to move outside your comfort zone but also incredibly liberating. People who possess the rare ability to transform themselves, or to morph seamlessly towards a new career, are my idols. There's something fearless about taking that step...a type of multi-tasking which almost means engaging other areas of your mind to move forward. That being said, it's painfully obvious to anyone who knows me that my interest in vintage photography never fails to lead me in new directions. Some people look for a subtext in an image...I shamelessly look at the simple beauty of form and colour. Call me greedy and let me eat cake...but it's all about the framing! Stay tuned



Saturday, April 21, 2012


Gemma Ward by Meisel

Sometimes a photo captures the essence of a moment more succinctly than actually witnessing an event.  Their beauty lies in the fact that the image generally lasts a lot longer than a simple recollection. In an age of point and click style street photography (not that I regard that as a inferior form of expression) some artists manage to transcend the banality of advertising and imbue it with a story. Steven Meisel, a notoriously reclusive and private photographer, is a case in point. His work would be familiar to all of my readers as he has shot the Prada and Louis Vuitton campaigns during the past several years, but his work with Vogue Italia contains the greatest archive of his images.

He has held an almost exclusive role with the Italian Conde Nast editor, Franca Sozzani, where he has shot the covers of Vogue Italia for about twenty years. His images explore more than surface beauty with editorials covering topics from cosmetic surgery to civil liberties. The celebrated "Black Issue' in 2008 highlighted both the beauty of his models and the fact that even today women of colour  are marginalised in print media. 

His friends, such as Madonna (The subject for his 'Sex' book in the 90's) allow him to fuse celebrity, fashion and contemporary design. In some aspects his work reminds me of that of Horst. There are clear references to old masters and his lighting is brilliantly executed. Frankly speaking... if anyone was every going to take my portrait I'd love it to be Meisel. His digital mastery could seriously work miracles!

Linda Evangelista getting her Botox on in Vogue Italia. 
Versace 2008 Campaign
Stella Tennant & Tom Ford for US Vogue

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fringe Dweller

Diane Arbus (1923 - 1976) was one of America's preeminent photographers of the 20th Century. Her work  fascinates me as it examined people who traditionally inhabited the 'grey' zones of society. From a position of great wealth she chose chose to portray people who would have made for uncomfortable viewing for the vast majority of the population. Her attraction to physical deformity, or self-inflicted physical changes, was accompanied by a focus on difference rather than homogeneity. 

In my past career as a postgraduate student at ANU my thesis was on 'Masculinity and Marginality in Ancient Rome'. An examination of attitudes to male prostitution in the 1st and 2nd Centuries opened the door to many prejudices which we could translate to the contemporary world. It also, somewhat surprisingly, illustrated the changes in our perception of what society viewed as 'normal'. What emerged for me was that people living on the boundaries of society formed the template for what was 'decent'. I think Arbus captured this in her choice of images and subjects. Possibly our discomfort stems from the fact that we need to be jolted by difference to make ourselves feel more acceptable?

Transvestite. Diane Arbus
Wrestlers. Diane Arbus
The Dan Twins. Diane Arbus

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Breaking the Habit

Sister Bertrille (Sally Field) with her aeronautical wimple
As a child I had a strange, but not pathological, nervousness around nuns. I think it stemmed from my somewhat unholy music teacher, Sister Bernard. I guess things can only go from bad to worse when your playing scales is accompanied by the question " Why did God name you after a dog?" Needless to say my flirtation with the catholic faith was tempered by the rabid rantings of the aforesaid sister. Unlike the charitable Sally Field (a.k.a Sister Bertrille) my teacher inhabited a dark, red brick convent, which backed on to the tennis club. Her favourite pastime was to beat my brother over his knuckles with a ruler when he missed a note. My question at this point would be if all convents were like that of The Flying Nun in Puerto Rico then surely they'd be in a better mood with their vulnerable charges!

Actually, on a serious note (yes... really!) I have often admired the work of these women but my designers eye has been fascinated by their headgear. As an ancient history student we were taught that the Vestal Virgins in  Rome later  became nuns with the rise of Christianity. I think it's the organic form of their wimples which transforms them into something quite beautiful. En masse they could be a bunch of orchids or alternatively an architectural framework. Good works aside, it's easy to see why they make such good subject material for photography!

David Moore's seminal image of the Sister's of Charity in Washington DC, 1956.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bison Paddington End of Lease Sale


Just a quick post today as we have started our End of Lease Sale in our Bison Sydney Store. I can't believe nearly 3 years have gone by but that's the power of being busy I guess. I'm sad we'll be leaving this space but am really excited about the new direction we are taking. Change is cathartic on a number of levels, none more so than when you are creating a collection. From July onwards you'll start noticing changes in our stores and online. I'm busy working on some new forms and accessories which will both refresh the current range and introduce a new audience to our work.

Thanks to all of you who have dropped by the Sydney store over the past few years and rest assured we'll be back... In the interim we'll have our online store (Being launched mid-April) and our Canberra and Melbourne stores. We'll also have a good selection of stockists throughout Australia and several internationally as well. Just watch this space!

If you are in Sydney and would like to drop by the store our sale starts today and finishes on Saturday March 31st. We'll have a great selection of firsts, seconds and samples with generous reductions across the collection. Simply mention the blog/Facebook or copy this voucher to obtain an extra 5% off the already marked-down prices on Bison firsts.*

*Offer excludes plates. One voucher per purchase and only valid at the Bison Paddington store. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Artist

Some days just work like a charm. By that I mean all the goals and plans you have work to perfection and it just flows. Friday in Melbourne was such a day. I spent several hours with the talented Melinda Ashton-Turner replacing our previous window display with a new theme. As colour has always been my weakness (as opposed to alcohol and fast women!) I really enjoyed pulling the elements for this concept together. One of the refreshing aspects to my role is having the time to think through a 'story' for the stores.

Photo: Brian Tunks
One of the highlights was watching the staff in Eckersley's Art Supplies in Canberra as I was clearing them out of brushes and mini still-life figures. I have to give Melinda a lot of credit also for getting our quote by Picasso in a straight line. You should try doing this on an old building with irregular corners. Please drop by and have a look. We'll be doing the same theme in our Canberra store next week.

Photo: Brian Tunks.

Bison would like to thanks Dulux Paints for kindly colour matching their finished paints to our glazes for the windows in both Melbourne and Canberra. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Thar She Blows!

Balenciaga Hats. 2012. Photo: Emma Summerton. Vogue Australia
During the average day we are bombarded by countless images of products which are touted as the 'next big thing', or my personal stomach-churner, 'on trend!' As a designer I often find it incredibly amusing as taste is such a personal thing. How the themes of fashion seasons are selected is up there with the Oracle of Delphi. If I could determine how these seemingly communal patterns or appliqué mysteriously arrive en masse, I'd have a consultancy to rival that of Cherry Ripe in New York.
Model wearing Balenciaga Hat S/S 2012
Don't get me wrong... I personally love the hats in the above shot. They'd be equally at home fighting a sou'wester on a trawler off Maine as trolling the Place Vendome on your way to Boucheron. That sums up one of the beautiful aspects of design and interpretation, that of applying one's own meaning to the form and function of objects. Whereas beauty is purportedly viewed through the eye of the beholder one would hope their vision is not myopic.

Vogue Editor (Japan) Anna Della Russo at Paris fashion Week 2012
This post would not be complete without a couple of images which illustrate how an image from Vogue filters through the layers of the cognoscenti and trickles down to the mere mortals (henceforth known as 'consumers') who are convinced of the transformative power of fashion. At least these hats would have been practical at least during the past rain-sodden week!
Jennifer Connolly for Balenciaga S/S 2008
Illustrates how even designers recycle!

Monday, March 5, 2012

All Aboard!

I don't know if you travel for work or leisure but there are several things which make it pleasurable. The first would be a surprise upgrade to first class from Sydney to London... the second is some seriously sexy luggage. Taking ceramics as samples generally requires a good deal of ingenuity and a Samsonite shell case. When I don't have to lug 25 kilos of stoneware for meetings I like to imagine I have a matching set of steamline luggage. This latest discovery of mine can be yours for a relatively modest sum and purchased from their online store: .

Yes, I know the corners will get knocked and scuffed on conveyor belts. Who cares... this feels like you are en route to the Orient Express as opposed to the City Flyer between Albury and Canberra!  I know they ship from the EU, UK and the States, so let your mind wander to distant climes and visualise the Lear jet with matching crew waiting to take you away. I know just the person to help you. Patti Stanger, author, fashionista,  and Bravo host for The Millionaire Matchmaker. I do think a more natural pose would work better for her when meeting clients. Possibly the luggage would distract your eyes long enough for that not to matter. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Franckly Speaking

1970's Enamel Bowl by Kaj Franck for Finel
Kaj Franck (1911 - 1989) was a Finnish designer who many of us would know by forms rather than by name. If you are a denizen of the world of Ebay then his enamel pieces often pop up in the same categories as Cathrineholm and Scandinavian mid-century objects. His output was extensive and he crossed over between glass, enamelware, and ceramic forms. He also experimented with plastics but these seem disparate to his original inspiration. Supposedly a mediocre student at a school near Helsinki he rose to become one of Scandinavia's most pre-eminent 'industrial' designers. I use that term with respect as I don't wish to imply his work was 'mass' by virtue of his scale of production.

Kartio Glasses by Franck for Iittala. 
The fact that he straddled the gap between mass-market and prestige has long fascinated me. As a producer based in a small studio I can only imagine his excitement in having the means to work with other materials and techniques. To be able to translate your designs in to glass after creating a ceramic collection with a company like Arabia must have been both professionally, as well as personally, liberating. His work with glass was greatly influenced by restrictions in colours after the war and the training he received at Murano in Italy. He also displays a reference to the cubist Georges Braque in his glass production. 

Pumukka Ceramic jars for Iittala by Franck
With his ceramics he also captured the consumer mood as he exploded the sales at Arabia with his Kilta collection. His practical fusion of utilitarian and high design made his works both desirable as well as functional. In modern parlance it was a 'win win' situation for the sales division! Apart from the fact his work has a timeless feel to it, his simplicity creates a sense of familiarity which in turn evokes a sense of comfort. Not bad for a so-so student who was told he'd be a good potter because he rowed in circles!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Moore or Less

The work of Henry Moore (1898 - 1986) is one of those things which appears familiar but strangely removed from our collective memories. With a proliferation of public art in our day-to-day lives it's quite rare to see forms which evoke such reflective responses to seemingly simple shapes. His work in bronze has been called  Modernist by many people but I view it as a fantastic combination of ancient cultural influences. After a recent trip to the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City (a migraine inducing overload of inspiration!) I can see glimpses of pre-Columbian figures in his pieces. He also drew on Classical and African references and there are shades of Modigliani with his exaggeration of anatomical features. 

Moore used bronze as his medium from the 1940's and found it a more expressive and probably more malleable material to work with. For me the subtle interplay between organic forms and the green oxidation provided by verdigris on bronze gives his work a sense of timelessness. It's almost as if he made the pieces to look as if they have been abraded by history and the elements of nature. Whatever his inspiration was I certainly think we're the richer for his talent. 

Mix of African and Surrealist possibly?

The reclining woman was a common theme in Moore's work

Monday, February 13, 2012

Brave New World

Photography: Tim Brotherton/Katie Lock

People often decry new year resolutions as the deluded hopes of years past. A kind of projection of how you'd like to view oneself. For me the past month in South America was truly cathartic. Amazing scenery, brilliant architecture and use of colour, and a sense of 'place' all led to the following conclusion. 
(Insert Sound of drum roll here....) I need a complete evolution in the direction of my design and future work. While I've had 14 (yes...that's correct!) wonderful years working on Bison I feel I need to inject new energy and style in to the mix. To that end I'm busily drawing new shapes and profiles... maybe not even ceramic forms... egad! Add to that the fact that my long-suffering partner of 23 years has spent the past 7 of those commuting between Trinidad and Tobago, Amsterdam (and now Townsville) then I think a less patient person would have called a timeout on me! You'll see me posting from numerous locations (still including Canberra) as I explore possibilities to create an even more dynamic range and collection of lifestyle pieces. 

You may wonder how this image relates to my end game??? Well, my taste has evolved over these past years along with my business. The above room is a really good reflection of how I feel I need to be as a designer... a neutral canvas with lots of splashes of colour and texture. A sense of purpose and 'integrity' doesn't go astray either. This image actually allows me to segue to an earlier post where I mentioned the work of Melinda Ashton-Turner. Despite the fact we work together on concepts for my stores and product marketing and visual merchandising, her talent with her much-touted blog has inspired me to change the way I view my work. This image is analysed in depth by her this week. Have a look at her fresh take on colour and style... you won't be disappointed!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Max Dupain

Max Dupain was one of our most iconic modernist photographers (1911 - 1992). His unaffected and pared back style encompassed a world which stretched from the beach, to the theatre, and his role as a visual social historian. His iconic 'Sunbaker' image was taken in the early 1930's and yet it seems to be the most well-known of all of his works. He possessed a rare clarity in the way he lensed his subjects. They appear natural and at rest as opposed to the heavy (but nevertheless beautiful) propping by photographers such as Horst. I guess I'm really attracted to images which give you a sensory experience by simply reflecting on the shot. 

A friend of mine has the following photo in his home. It's a statement on postwar Australia when meat rationing was still being implemented and all the bleakness and pain of war is etched on the faces of the women. The power of this image is undeniable and yet it still allows the viewer to reflect on the context of the photo. It's a shame that more of Dupain's works are not given the same exposure as his beach images. I have been told the Art Gallery of NSW has a good representation of his works. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ice Ice Baby!

This is the only picture I'll post from my trip to Antarctica. While I try to avoid the cliches of holiday blogs I just thought I should share this image with you. In terms of scale this iceberg would have been up to 30 plus metres tall. I have an image of the front of our cruiser filled with people gawking at it. They look like ants by comparison and the quietness as you sailed through was remarkable. Penguins would scuttle in a chaotic fashion from one iceberg to the next. They seemed to be always looking for a safer perch away from the killer whales who patrolled the area. 

The one thing that really struck me was the pristine condition of Antarctica. We were on the last large cruise liner ever to be allowed through these waters and it was an amazing privilege. Despite temperatures hovering near zero it amused me to spot power walkers obsessively pounding the decks. Occasionally you'd hear, or see, huge sheets of ice shearing off the ice shelf. It gives you the true sense of what insignificance feels like. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

We're Back!!!!!!

Hello patient readers... finally we are back on the air! After a tumultuous late December and January (where I was stuck on a cruise in Antarctica and in the steaming jungles of Brazil) I have finally got both a reliable internet connection and time. Okay... so the Brazilian jungle was actually Iguassu Falls at Hotel das Cataratas and the boat was a cruise from Santiago to the Chilean Fjords; Antarctica, the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas for our Argentinian friends!) Montevideo and Buenos Aires. To be honest I think having a mid-life crisis means you are entitled to a little luxury!

Back to the issue at hand. I am seriously considering a segue into the world of fashion. Every time I pick a colour of motif it seems to surface in a collection somewhere. This campaign for Prada (Spring/Summer 2012) reminds me so much of how my mother dressed that I'm in danger of having flashbacks. I have a serious case of the green-eyed monster when I consider how much budget they would have to style and film this ode to the late fifties/early sixties. For those of you trying to do the maths I was born in December 1964 but country NSW got everything a few years later.

Enjoy and I'm looking forward to sharing some exciting changes with you this year.