Fletcher Benton – The Sculptor






Let me say it again, I feel so fortunate that my life is filled with creative people, and none more than the sculptor, Fletcher Benton, and his wife, Bobbie.

Not long time ago Steve and I spent a quiet afternoon at their Napa summer house, surrounded by Fletcher’s steel sculptures.

And so we walk around ‘the hill’ under the warm autumn sun, behind the Benton’s minimalist, box-shaped house. We stroll past geometric forms of steel angles, rods and circles. We go past cherry trees with burgundy color leafs and somewhere else, palm trees surrounding large scale vibrant painted sculptures. It’s all a beautiful harmony of forms, with the sun drawing out a rich luster from the rusted steel set against the blue sky behind.

The sunny Sunday afternoon was spent in a place where simplicity and complexity connect , like the nature and art connect in the harmony of light and shadows, creating dramatic abstract compositions.

Fletcher’s sculptures are often displayed in urban settings, in museums and universities, but better to see them in the wild, where the contradiction with nature is most profound.

An artists muse


Every artist has a muse, or wishes they had one, or need one but don’t know it.  Some choose an aspect of nature; some, a beautiful women — the way Roger Vadim chose Brigitte Bardot; or photographer Mario Testino  Kate Moss, or the artist Mel Ramos, who chose his wife, Leta, a true beauty with her dark hair and olive skin. She has been celebrated for nearly fifty years, riding a rhinoceros, sitting on a Coca Cola top…

Leta became an iconic pop image, always nude, always provocatively posed, always conveying the siren on parade.

Not long ago I was looking at books about interior design and came upon the “Interiors Now” series, published by Taschen. Among the photographs was one of a summer house in Rio De Janeiro. The house is as exotic as you can imagine and accessible only by boat. The structure consists of two reinforced concrete boxes, one on top of the other and a span of glass windows. It reminded me of an Eichler-style house, but with two levels. And then in one of the photos, on page 350, I noticed an unexpected detail: there, hanging in a hallway,  a picture of Leta, as a surfer girl in her bikini, with colorful surf boards behind her.

Which made me think how muses become an inspiration not only for the artist but many of the art collectors who come in contact with the work.  And so muses end up in the minds of people they could not imagine and in places they might be very surprised to be in —perhaps in a bond trader’s Upper East Side penthouse in Manhattan;  or maybe in some historic Fin De Siecle building in Vienna, where a collector fell in love with that image. And perhaps she’s in somebody’s house in Beverly Hills, in someone’s bedroom, along with photos of Eva Gardner, Marilyn Monroe and other classic beauties. At the other extreme, perhaps she’s in a castle in Scotland, hanging on a thick rock wall, in a recently redecorated living room, along with family portraits of people with flaming red hair and furious expressions, family ghosts dating back to the 1500s….

It would make a great book:  “the muse’s journey”; Such a book would be about the connectivity of art, collectors, interiors, as well as the  effects of obsession.

The Vanishing Points of Andy Goldsworthy

GG Reflection-10

GG Reflection-7

My appreciation of Andy Goldsworthy’s art installments began in 2001 shortly after I dragged my seven-year-old daughter, Adriana, to the Roxie, a one-hundred-and-four-year-old theater in the Mission District which, you could argue, looks its age, to see the documentary, Rivers and Tides.

Rivers and Tides has become a classic and a great inspiration to would-be artists wishing to collaborate with nature. Goldsworthy is the master collaborator, and his genius is his ability to fit things together, particles of ice, a pile of stones, a string of leaves. To fit things together, but subtly — not in an effort to decorate nature or to try to one-up natural beauty but merely to add an unexpected caption.  As though to say, ‘I offer this by way of thanks and appreciation.”

Most of Goldsworthy’s art decomposes or otherwise disappears back into the earth over time. One merely needs to look at his installations at Oliver Ranch in Sonoma. All were temporary: the longest lasted three months, the shortest, just a few minutes.

Yet the Bay Area has become a home to three of his very rare permanent installations.

The first, Drawn Stone, was installed in 2005 for the entry to the De Young Museum. The work features a continuous crack thru the floor and stone slabs, representing the fault-line of the Great Earthquake.

The second work, Spire, stands in the Presidio. It’s a 100-foot-tall structure composed in 2008 of Cypress tree trunks that were removed as part of the replanting of the Presidio’s historic forest. The wooden tower, reminiscing of Trans America Tower, looks like a natural mirror to the building that dominates the downtown skyline.

The third work is Stone River, a 320-foot wall-like serpentine on the campus of Stanford University, constructed in 2001 with sandstone from University buildings destroyed in the 1906 and 1989 earthquake.

Like Venice, where each rise in the water line reminds residents that the city is slowly disappearing into the sea, San Francisco shares the fear of a similar vanishing point, a great earthquake..

It reminds us of the recurring metaphysical message: Don’t get caught up in what might happen, even what will happen — but focus on the beauty and mystery of nature and the intersections between the man made and the mother nature-made.

Goldsworthy reminds us that everything is temporary and more important that this is all nature’s way, and our way, and not to be fought.

When Goldsworthy is done with his project, his art companion, nature, continues on with the process.

Donald Judd’s Marfa

Marfa is the West Texas town where minimalist artist Donald Judd found refuge in the early 1970s. He was fleeing the New York art scene and accidentally, or purposefully, fell in love with silence, unlimited space and the prospect of doing something with several empty residential and commercial buildings, which he purchased with help from the Dia Art Foundation.

Judd saw Marfa as an opportunity to fulfill his aesthetic beliefs about the display and preservation of his work. Everything is Minimalistic. The buildings are stripped of embellishment, exposing raw structural details. Along with permission to manage the presentation of his work, the town of Marfa allowed Judd an abundance of exhibition space and in effect enabled him to play the role of both artist and curator.
On our trip into the wild of Texas we visited the Judd Chinati Foundation, plunked down in the fields of tall yellow grass, surrounded with gently slopping mountains, everything touching an incredible big blue sky.  You walk for nearly a kilometer through an art installation of large concrete boxes.
It’s not an entirely pleasant walk, the grass blades are sharp, the air is full of bugs and there’s always the fear of rattle snakes. I felt like some sort of art pilgrim enduring the local travails to reach this very unusual synapse of art and nature.

All of a sudden the cement bricks made so much sense to me: The shadows, the placement, the balance.
I remember the first time visiting the Louvre and stopping in front of Nike, that most beautiful winged goddess. This was an oddly similar sensation. I can’t possibly explain it, only to say that it is abstract in the truest sense, and what you come away with is wonderment at the way he found a way to balance the material and the immaterial; and so these ordinary objects are set on a three dimensional canvass of weather and geography, and then enlivened and tuned, by time, sound and light.

Judd’s friend, Rudi Fuchs, described the artist’s vision in Marfa, and in life, this way: “In Judd’s scale of values … beauty and perfection are ultimately matters of dignity, not only of the artwork but of nature and culture in general. Beauty is a very special and noble state. Yet Judd fervently believed that such an idealistic notion of beauty … is, in the end, much too limited. Like the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness, people have a right to things beautiful.”

Prada Marfa Texas

A few weeks ago Steve and I took Hwy 90 East out of Van Horn,  West Texas on our way to Marfa. The speed limit is 75, but even at 100 it feels like you’re hardly moving at all.  It’s just ranch land, tumbleweeds and the big nothing on the either side of the highway, no traffic, just train tracks to keep you company.

After an hour I started to wonder if we would ever again see another human being.  Suddenly we see something off the road, a low modern building.  We’re past it and we’re thinking, “wait a minute”.  We make a U and half a mile back, there’s a Prada store right in the middle of nowhere, the symbol of haute couture in the middle of the big nothing. It was truly surrealistic: the dream of a feminine world in the ultimate cowboy country.

Prada boutique is an art installation by Berlin artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. The installation’s door is nonfunctional, it will never be opened. On the front of the structure there are two large windows displaying Prada shoes and handbags, which you can’t buy; they will stay there forever, and we will always know what the 2005 fall collection was, picked out by Miuccia Prada herself. The building was intended never to be repaired, so that eventually it will degrade back into the natural landscape.

And it reminded me of the last lines of Shelley’s poem, inspired by a statue of Ramesses II.

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bar

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Steve Werney Photography

I often receive compliments for the photography on my blog. Now I’d like to introduce you to the photographer, Steve Werney, whose photos decorate not only my blog, but also the walls in my apartment.

He is a California native, and a contractor by trade. His specialty is recasting functionality and architectural nuance.  His company transformed a meatpacking and smokehouse facility into a restaurant, a fast food restaurant into a cooking school, and an old firehouse into a slick, contemporary living space.

But his other passion is photography, and the visual arts, and like any artist you find out a good deal about him through his work.

He’s always searching for unusual places: the empty factory, the abandoned bunker, the shipyard on a day with few ships.  He gravitates to situations that involve risk or demand some counterintuitive appreciation.  He has no hesitation in jumping over fences or climbing up crumbling battlements.  Nor any hesitation in getting his subject to be provocative.  There’s always an edge in his view of the world.

And, of course, his work is distinguished by its beauty — whether looking at a person, a building, or a car. He has a special eye for cars, for the particular angle that suggests speed or the signature of an unusual design.

I should add that he brings a special feeling to his subjects, whether in a photo or in one of his buildings.  And such is his genius: he has a way of being with people that encourages trust and the knowledge that whatever he’s creating will be the best he can possibly make it.

His photography compliments my blog so well. His passion to articulate light matches my own desire to find the words.

Beverly Rayner – The art of Assemblage

On my bookshelves I keep a very dear object, a gold frame with small inlaid photos of lips on each side of the frame. Four different lips, like four different human characters. The frame was a birthday present from an artist friend named Beverly Rayner. Beverly is a mixed media artist, constructing her art pieces around photographic imaginary. She often uses photos of lips and eyes, each telling some mysterious tale.

Yes, of course, eyes are the window to the soul. Such is the aphorism. Scientists insist the secret is in the Iris. Subtle patterns indicate whether you are human or android. Whether you are in your head or in your heart… If you want to know what to make of someone, look at their lips, look at their smile..

Beverly is the consummate storyteller. No object is without a story. Remember what Chekhov said about an ashtray, and so, like a writer, she is always using found objects. She reshapes the purpose of the perfectly mundane, and gives them a different meaning. She is a master of enhancing clutter with significance. She narrates stories of  photographs by altering, reshaping, cutting, tearing them and integrating them with other materials. Her sculptures are assemblage creations always narrating a story out of existing objects, reused in a new context.

I asked her some questions…..

Who inspires you the most?

The human race as a whole is the inspiration for my art – there are endless ideas sparked in my imagination by the oddities of human nature.

What is your favorite place in Bay Area?

I have a lot of favorite spots, but San Francisco is my favorite city.

What was the last great object that you found or that was given to you?

An old, short brass stand with a cross arm. It was lent to me by a colleague in Virginia to use in my recent installation of the Museum of Mesmerism there, and it worked so eerily well in the piece that he very kindly gave it to me.

Where would you go if you had to leave right tonight to a unexpected vacation?

New York. I have been missing it a lot, and this fall there is a show of the Quay Brothers at MOMA that I really want to see.

The latest great show you visited?

Jean Paul Gaultier at the de Young. Phenomenal!

The latest great book you read?

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. A complex weaving of realities with some gorgeous use of language.

Interior Unfolded

Years ago, as an art history student, I used to spend long, languorous summers restoring frescos on the walls of centuries old churches. The sensible touch was all important. You had to be very careful not to tap too hard with your little scalpel, or brush the plaster too vigorously.  The work was all about precision, patience and taking pleasure in revealing and rediscovering…..

Which brings to mind the work of two major American artists, David Ireland and Ann Hamilton and their transformational art at the Headlands Center for the Arts located at Ft. Berry in the Marin headlands. These white painted army barracks, built in 1907, have been changed into an unexpected fine art.

Late conceptual artist David Ireland and his crew stripped  the military architectural structure down to expose historical layers, sandblasted the paint off the stamped-tin ceilings, pillars and walls. Using sandpaper and solvents they picked the paint off the beautiful stairwell, railings, and banisters. They stripped walls down to the original plaster and baseboards to their original wood. They sandblasted through layers and layers of color, stopping at the rich greens and ochres that are now visible.   Ireland’s work reminds me of how age sandblasts through the layers of memory: the most subtle smells from childhood. You travel to the past from one exposed level of paint to another.

I was very fortunate to get to know David Ireland  and to be invited to his home on Capp street while he was still alive. He was tall, with the white hair and he had a look from the past.He told me once that he use to have an African safari store, he looked like he could be safari guide or archeologist. David Ireland was an explorer, treating his home as an archaeological side, always trying to find secret of the past,taking pleasure in revealing and rediscovering…..

It is good to know that his San Francisco home on 500 Capp Street will reopen next year.

Thea Schrack, the encaustic painter

I met Thea years ago while waiting for our daughters outside their kindergarten school. She introduced herself as a photographer, but I soon discovered that she was far more than that, more an abstract artist who played with her images, painted them, and was always exploring different techniques. Indeed, the only constant in her work, her muse, was, and is, her fascination with Nature.

Her technique is elaborate and provides an extraordinary effect.  She uses heated beeswax to develop deeply atmospheric images, richly veiled with hues of honey and amber, soft gray and bluish tints.

Her ‘encaustic’ paintings remind you of ancient Byzantine iconic paintings but the role of the saint is replaced by images of swaying grass, ripe persimmons on the winter branches, and rolling hills where the only visitors are flying birds. Her work has a calming edge, a point at which abstraction and figuration meet.

Thea views nature in its most serene state. It’s also a vision of complete harmony between artist and subject.

Here is what my questions were to Thea Schrack

What is your favorite place in San Francisco?  North Beach

What is your favorite garden?  The Lost Gardens of Heligan in England

Who inspires you the most?  Writers in general.

The latest great book you read?  With Out a Map: a Memoir by Merdith Hall

The latest great show you visited?  Pam Sheehan at the Paul Thiebaud Gallery

Oliver Ranch

I’ve been invited to visit Oliver Ranch a couple of times over the years; it is always a different experience, and yet the same sculptures, the same Northern California rolling hills, the same native oaks, never changing, there for centuries. But then on a long walk through the land you forget the sameness; suddenly, you find yourself in front of these sculptures that seem unseen, that always offer a fresh revelation.  And like the oaks and the hills they make you feel they have been there for centuries, not a mere 20 years.

The artists who come here, on a creative retreat as it were, must live on the ranch, experience the land and the result is born there on the spot. And it stays there, never to be moved, never to be sold. I deeply admire Steve and Nancy Oliver for that, for their vision and commitment to art and for sharing their collection with others.

All 18 installations on the land are poetic. They each tell a story, against the rhythm of the trees and hills around them. From a footprint in Miroslaw Balka’s childhood home in Poland, to Bruce Newman’s staircase sculpture….

And there is Ann Hamilton‘s Tower, where commissioned dance, poetry, theatre, and music performances take place. The Tower goes almost as far into the earth as it does into the air, with concrete piers driven deep into the ground and a large, thick concrete pad for the tower to rest upon. It’s open to the sky at the top, with a water cistern at the base.

I especially love Roger Barry’s steel bridge. On the summer and winter solstices, the shadow cast on the ground is only from its respective arch. On the spring and autumnal equinoxes, the shadow cast is exactly split by a strip of light that comes down through the center of the arch. The accuracy of this shadow split by the light is within one millimeter.

On the hike thru the hills you see other impressive sculptures by famous artists like Martin Puryear, Richard Serra, Terry Allen, Ellen Driscoll, Bill Fontana, Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel, Andy Goldsworthy, Dennis Leon, Jim Melchert, Fred Sandback, Judith Shea, Robert Stackhouse and Ursula Von Rydingsvard.

Artists invited to the ranch live in a studio designed by Jim Jennings. The studio is actually a pair of residential units framed by two concrete walls that provide an elongated surface on which David  Rabinowitch has carved an intricate design — in dialogue with Jennings’s architecture The two seemingly parallel poured-in-place concrete walls cut through the hill.  Whenever I am there I think how this would make such a perfect refuge.


I am an interior designer, drawn to beauty in all its forms, especially in art, architecture and fashion. As a designer, I take my inspiration from my clients, and from what I find in the world.

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