All photos courtesy Vanleles Diamonds.
Vanleles Diamonds — focused on producing jewelry sourced from ethical mining — is the first-ever female-owned African fine jewelry brand.
Living and working all around the world has allowed Vania Leles to develop an edge in her work, drawing from her experiences to shape Vanleles Diamonds into a global luxury brand. “Growing up, I studied in between Guinea-Bissau and Portugal, returning to Africa during breaks to travel around the continent with my family,” Leles says. “Upon graduating from NOVA University Lisbon, I moved to London to learn English and became a social worker. I changed careers after being discovered by a modeling scout, and lived and worked as a model in Paris and New York for a few years.”
Leles’ ties to her African heritage are evident in her designs. “Then came that fateful day when I decided to join the jewelry world,” Leles says. “All these events and influences are reflected in details of the Vanleles collection. Some people expect my jewelry to be tribal or ethnic, but it is a combination of my memories of Africa and my experiences traveling throughout the world and living in Europe.”
Leles is no stranger to the world of luxury. While working as a model, she was inspired by the fine jewelry on set, and connected this to her home in Africa. “Around 2003, I was modeling on a shoot with fine jewelry when someone on the set told me that all precious and many semiprecious stones can be found in Africa,” Leles explains. “Intrigued, as I am from the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau, I did some research. I discovered that at that time, there were no African haute-jewelry designers working with these materials native to their continents.”
With this in mind, Leles set out to begin her own company. “This was enough for me to decide that I would establish the world’s first female-founded African high jewelry house,” Leles says.
Leles’ breakout into the world of jewelry was not immediate. “When I told my mother about my plans, she suggested I get 10 years of experience before launching my own company,” Leles reflects. “This seemed like a long time, but I agreed, quitting modeling and enrolling in classes on gems, design and business at the Gemological Institute of America.”
Leles then traveled to New York City, learning and graduating from the Gemological Institute of America. Heeding her mother’s advice, Leles spent over a decade working and learning from world-renowned fine jewelry brands GRAFF, De Beers and Sotheby’s. To launch the jewelry business she had dreamed about since her modeling days, London’s New Bond Street, the heart of the international fine jewelry world, was a clear-cut choice for the location of Vanleles Diamonds flagship atelier. “I came here over 20 years ago to learn English and never went back.”
Vanleles Diamonds offers a variety of jewelry styles, including rings, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets, each crafted by skilled jewelry makers. Leles explained that her goal is to allow the wearers of her jewelry pieces to feel “empowered, happy, and with a knowledge that we created their jewelry in the most transparent and ethical way possible.”
Pieces from The Nile Collection, inspired by Ancient Egypt.
The Nile Yellow Gold and Diamonds Fringe Earrings.
Enchanted Garden Titanium Paraiba Flower Earrings.
Legends of Africa Grand Bangle.
According to Vanleles Diamonds’ website, its “unparalleled belief in responsible mining” and commitment to the ethical sourcing of gemstones and precious metals has brought a new direction to the world of fine jewelry, one that is based in purposeful luxury and beauty.
“For my collections, and depending on which gems I need, I will mainly source them in Africa; Zambian for emeralds, Mozambique for rubies, tourmalines of all colors, Namibia for diamonds and Madagascar for pink and other multi-color sapphires,” Leles explained. “Most recently, Nigeria for blue sapphires. When I can, I travel to these locations personally to buy my gems, other times we work with suppliers that adhere to human rights policies and have strong corporate social responsibility.”
Vanleles Diamonds’ strong commitment to responsible mining and the African community is evident in its philanthropies, mainly the Malaika Foundation, a charity that seeks to empower Congolese girls and their communities through education and health programs.
“The funds we give go straight into these communities that so desperately need them, and in a very fast manner,” Leles says. “For Malaika, for instance, they only have one employee outside Congo, and no real estate rent, so the money is really going into the community and not to pay high salaries and rents in the West. We sponsor girls, and I can see tangible results directly. We chose charities that are small and the employees are on the ground.”
For an especially unique piece, Vanleles Diamonds offers bespoke consultations for custom made, handcrafted jewels. “The design process always starts with the client’s wishes.” Leles says. “During our meeting, I am able to capture their true desire, understand their lifestyle and then we embark on a unique journey to create something exceptional that will last generations to come.”
Finding friendship in diamonds allows Leles to focus on the most important things in her life — her family and business. “[I have] freedom of creations, where to source, how to send my message and freedom for being a mother of young children, I can work when I put them to bed and not miss many matches and activities,” Leles says. “But I certainly work longer and harder!”
Above: Out of Africa Fan Earrings crafted in 18k Rose Gold with Mozambican responsibly sourced rubies and rubelites.
Below: Statement Cocktail Ring
Featured image ©istockphoto.com / AntonioGuillem
New technology and the need to adapt have transformed the traditional feel of museums and galleries around the world.
From smartphones to staying at home, the way we experience art has metamorphosed into something more comprehensive.
In a world ruled by social media, viewers are allowed an inside look into the lives of artists all over and their unique way of making art. Everything from gathering materials, to creating pieces, to live streaming exhibits are available. Now, we’re getting an inside look at entire collections, and it’s easy and accessible.
In Rotterdam, Netherlands, and part of the lush, rosebush-filled Museumpark, is the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. The museum displays an incredibly diverse collection of art and right beside it, donned in over 1,500 mirrored panels is the museum’s depot.
“Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has a collection of more than 151,000 artworks but — like all museums worldwide — only displays between 6 to 8 percent in the galleries. The remaining objects are kept in storage facilities, closed to the public,” says Ina Klaassen, museum director of Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. The first of its kind, the depot will transform the way visitors view the museum’s collection.
The Musée du Louvre has never before been so accessible. The museum’s most obscure and most well-known pieces are just a click away.
©istockphoto.com / TomasSereda
Open since autumn 2021, the depot creates a one-of-a-kind opportunity in the art world. “The entire collection will be accessible to the public — a world first — and will be stored at a single location next to the museum,” according to Klaassen. Even the building itself is a masterpiece. Created by the architects of MVRDV — a global architecture practice — the mirrors brilliantly reflect the surrounding museumpark, which allows the depot to seamlessly blend into the existing cityscape.
Certainly not alone in their quest to enhance the art world, the Musée du Louvre in Paris, France is also striving for something similar. The museum has moved the impressive entirety of its collection to an online platform and launched a new website, which extends the experience for those who have already visited or hope to visit in the future. “Today, the Louvre is dusting off its treasures, even the least-known,” according to Jean-Luc Martinez, president/director of the Musée du Louvre. “For the first time, anyone can access the entire collection of works from a computer or smartphone for free, whether they are on display in the museum, on loan, or in storage.”
The architects of MVRDV have created an iconic building, giving a boost to the Rotterdam Museumpark. The choice to use mirrors came with the idea to make the surrounding park appear bigger, integrating the building into the landscape.
Photo by Ossip van Duivenbode.
Even prior to the pandemic, museums, galleries, and artists were working to bring art from all over the world to the masses. The British Museum, in partnership with the Google Cultural Institute, created a highly interactive timeline through history with the option to explore multiple eras, continents, and cultures throughout history and art. The Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum offers virtual exhibits that take advantage of the additional space for lengthier descriptions and personal narratives from artists.
These innovative techniques continue to expand the way we experience museums and galleries. “A museum and the new publicly accessible art depot are very different,” says Klaassen. “The museum has three main functions: namely the displaying of a collection in an art/historical context, as well as conserving and researching it. The museum is the showroom, the depot is behind-the-scenes.”
The idea that an entire collection can be available is a glimpse into the future of art and adds an element of freedom when viewing it.
Typically, art in a closed depository is not accessible to the public; only a small, select group has the privilege. Approximately 95-percent of the Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen is open to the public where they can “witness museum activities such as the packaging of objects out for loan and other conservation and restoration activities,” says Klaassen.
These new types of displays and virtual tours extend the art — even the most prestigious pieces — to the far corners of the world. “The dynamics in the depot will be different from those of the museum: in the museum, exhibitions are presented, whereas the depot allows for the visitor to explore the collection of more than 151,000 objects in whatever way they like,” adds Klaassen.
France’s iconic museum has integrated an interactive map and its website allows visitors to easily navigate through different mediums, themes, or even specific rooms in the museum. “The Louvre’s stunning cultural heritage is all now just a click away,” says Martinez. Each entry is a comprehensive display of the piece, with data such as the title, artist, inventory number, dimensions, materials and techniques, date and place of production, object history, current location, and bibliography included.
For the first time in history, the art in the Musée du Louvre is accessible for viewers at any time. It is suddenly possible for visitors who missed an exhibit or simply wish to revisit a piece to do just that. These changes are shifting the relationship between art and viewers to a new level, which will only elevate the overall experience of museums and galleries. “I am sure that this digital content is going to further inspire people to come to the Louvre to discover the collections in person,” says Martinez.
The Musée du Louvre’s new website is also a place where original content is made accessible for both in-person and virtual visitors, such as live and recorded podcasts, lectures, and concerts, web series, animated stories, filmed exhibition walk-throughs, interviews, and more. “We look forward to welcoming the public to join us on a journey behind the scenes and experience all facets of working with such a high-end art collection,” notes Klaassen about the depot.
The sleek, modern design of the exterior continues inside the depot. Once inside, visitors will have the option for guided tours or to explore the building independently and peek inside restoration studios and other spaces normally closed to the public.
Photo by Ossip van Duivenbode;
Rendering courtesy of Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen
Photo by Rick Chaffiotte Photography.
Interior Designer Marissa Stokes aims for designs that are classic and timeless. And says don’t overlook the ceiling.
For designer Marissa Stokes, home has been a variety of places. Home was growing up in New Jersey, where creative parents and a need for change led to an intense love for interior design at a young age. Home was also New York, where she earned a degree from Parsons School of Design and worked her first jobs at elite design firms, including David Kleinberg Design Associates, Victoria Hagan Interiors and Jayne Design Studio. And now as an accomplished designer, home is more than just a place — it’s every threshold she passes, every piece of furniture she chooses, every decision she makes in order to help craft the perfect space for her clients. We spoke with Stokes about her experiences in the industry and how her love of interior design has transformed her career so far.
How do you think living in New York affected your design style and preferences?
You’re just exposed to so many amazing things, being in and around New York City. The architecture alone, having incredible museums at your fingertips. I also went to school in NYC; I think that was an incredible experience, but also had a huge influence on my design aesthetic, just having everything at your fingertips, between different cultures, food, architecture. I feel fortunate to have lived there and so close to there still now. I love New York City.
When was the first time that you ever thought about working in design?
I really have always wanted to be an interior designer from a very young age.… I think it’s because my parents are both very creative people, always doing things to improve our home.… My dad made furniture, we even had a woodshop in our basement. I just had this love for transforming spaces and the process, and I just fell into it very naturally.
Did you learn wood craftsmanship yourself?
Yes! I had all the tools at my fingertips in the shop, and I am still able to use them now, a bandsaw, a tablesaw, et cetera. We also had a sewing machine, so I grew up sewing at a young age — we’d be making window treatments and pillows. I was always transforming my personal space, shifting things around, changing them or painting them. Making them look different. It was just something I always loved to do, and still love it.
A bright living room situated in an Upper East Side apartment.
The corner of a library in a Montana lodge.
A Mediterranean Revival home on the Intracoastal in Palm Beach.
Why do you do what you do, what about art and design draws you into doing it every day?
I love making people’s dreams come true. There’s something so rewarding about helping a client transform their space so it’s not only functional, but beautiful. In terms of art and design, there’s so many artists and creatives out there who are doing incredible work, and I’m being exposed to them, just learning and growing. It’s another reason why I love what I do. Every day is different and I just love that.
Are there any activities outside of work that help inspire you or your work?
Outside of work, I’m always trying to get out in nature, go for a walk or hike — nature is always inspiring. I feel like I can always pull things from that. I love to travel as well, even though it’s been a bit difficult to do so.
Where’s somewhere you love or would love to go?
My dream place I’d love to go is Greece. It really offers everything. It has ancient and historical sights, of course, but also beautiful landscapes and amazing food.
What has been your favorite project to do?
I worked on a project for Jayne Design Studio in Palm Beach. It was my first project as a senior designer for the firm. It’s a Venetian-inspired home on the Intracoastal. The clients were art collectors who wanted to enjoy the views and display their art. We designed and decorated a home that was quiet, clean and sophisticated to balance their collection and the architecture. I loved the home, its location and the clients. I will always have a soft spot for it.
When it comes to designing, what is the most important element you have to remember?
Well one thing that tends to be overlooked, I think, is the ceiling. It’s very important to design from top to bottom, to think about ceiling work, a lighting plan, and overall how it’s treated and how it affects the space.
Is there a piece of art in your own home that you would never consider selling?
Everything is here for a reason, so not one specific piece.
It’s always important to surround yourself with things you love, even if it’s a bit eclectic, surround yourself with furniture and art that you love. When you do that, things just kind of work together. There’s no standard.
What do you want people to take away when they look at your work?
I want people to find it classic and timeless, something that could last forever. I don’t want someone to walk into a space and instantly date it. I want the clients to be comfortable in their home for a long time. Keep things sophisticated.
What advice would you give to someone going into design?
Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves, you have to wear a lot of hats in this industry. Maybe start with an internship, but, all in all, do whatever you need to do to learn.
At left: A cozy breakfast room nook with a custom-designed banquette. Photo by Aaron Thompson.
Above: An outdoor terrace overlooks Dutchess County. Photo by Aaron Thompson.
Bette Ridgeway creates magic. She pours her heart and soul into the artwork that she creates. When the American abstract artist felt the rush of loneliness during the COVID-19 lockdown in her Santa Fe, New Mexico home, she turned that feeling into a work of art. With tones of grey, blue-grey, and white, Ridgeway let the paint (and gravity) speak for itself. She stepped back and knew that the name of the painting was Loneliness.
Ridgeway doesn’t use any paint brushes. Her canvases don’t sit atop an easel. Instead, she uses acrylic paint, a canvas, stools and plastic cups. The rest, she leaves to gravity.
“I call the technique ‘pouring’ and use the phrase, which I copyrighted, ‘layering light,’” Ridgeway explains.
The artist accomplishes the “layering light” look by mixing her paints in her nine-inch plastic cups, where she then pours the colorful mixture on her canvas. Ridgeway explains that she manipulates the canvas by stretching it over stools and ladders, allowing the paint to create her signature style. “If you look at the work, you’ll see there’s motion in it and that’s achieved by the speed of the pour, the angle of the pour and that’s what makes it unique, no brush work,” says Ridgeway.
Fandango — Inspired by New Mexican flamenco dancer María Benítez. The twists and turns of the orange and red reminded Ridgeway of the dancer flowing and dancing the flamenco.
With over 30 years of experience as a commercial painter under her belt, Ridgeway has an endless portfolio of paintings, each with its own look. “Every single one of them is so different,” she explains. “Some are really bold and strong. Some are lighter and more transparent. Transparency is what makes the work different because when you pour a watered-down color over another watered-down color, you get a third color. You compose as you go.”
As an abstract artist, Ridgeway says, she pulls inspiration for her pieces from a memory, a feeling, or simply a color combination she envisioned or saw. “I don’t set out to paint something,” she says about when she approaches her canvas to paint. “I don’t set out to paint happiness or joy, or anything like that.”
Instead, Ridgeway takes what’s inside of her at the time and lets the colors and the pour shape the painting. This is one of the things that led Ridgeway to transition from figurative painting (painting an object or subject that is real) to abstract painting. “Abstract work is harder because it comes from inside you, you’re not looking at anything. You’re painting a thought, a feeling,” she says. “You’re painting a certain thing that’s come outside of you.”
Harvest Time — “When I started out, I wanted to use earth tones — amber and gold and a little bit of gray — more earthy than primary colors.” Ridgeway explains that when she threw the deep raspberry color and the white on the canvas, it reminded her of the rainforest. She squirted water in the center of the painting and let it drip. “A lot of people don’t know rainforests, but it’s like a soft, misty rain the whole time, so moist,” Ridgeway says. “Fruit everywhere, flowers everywhere, so you get that feeling of Mother Earth, just so abundant and rich and lifegiving.”
When a dear friend of Ridgeway’s passed away in 1999, the feeling that came out of her was sadness. To cope, she took this feeling and created a masterpiece. “I did this gigantic piece with only red and black, on a white canvas and I named it, Mi Corazón Roto, which means ‘my broken heart.’ And it looked like that, to me — an abstract broken heart.” It hung in her studio for a long time, until a best friend and collector of hers lost her husband. Ridgeway gifted the painting to her “and she hung it in her living room and it was like her broken heart,” she says. Ridgeway got the painting back after her friend passed away, saving it from being sold in a consignment shop. “So each piece kind of has a life of its own,” she says, going on to share that the piece recently found a new wall to call home.
Mi Corazón Roto
One of the best parts of what Ridgeway does is when people get to see her paintings. “The viewer is actually the one that completes [the painting] because they see what they see and it might not have anything to do with what I did,” she says. “It’s so much fun to hear what people see. It’s never what I see.”
A Day in the Surf — “You know, with this COVID, we’re not able to travel, at least I’m not, and so I’m missing going to a beach this summer, I’m missing the water,” Ridgeway explains about this piece. Inspired by the water, Ridgeway created this piece that is reminiscent of the beautiful ebb and flow of the waves on a beach.
In a way, Ridgeway has come full circle in her career. In the mid 1970s, the artist visited a big gallery in New York to see the work of abstract artist Paul Jenkins, who used the same method of pouring in his work. “The paintings were enormous and they were in primary colors — red, blue, green, orange, yellow, a lot of black — and it just brought me to my knees,” Ridgeway says. “I had never seen anything like it and it was so powerful, and this entire gallery, with huge walls, was filled with this magnificent work, that I just stood there and cried. It was so beautiful.”
It is Jenkins, according to Ridgeway, that led her down the path to finding her creative voice. “I owe so much to my friend Paul who became a mentor over the years,” she says. “He passed away in 2012 and was a master, his work is in all the major museums in the world.”
Although Ridgeway has accomplished so much during her career and continues to show in galleries and paint commissions, she acknowledges she still has room for growth, “I’m learning every day. I don’t have all the answers,” she says. “And that’s the beauty of this work, it’s so different and every single day I learn something new. And that’s what’s exciting…. I’m just having the time of my life.”
For more information on Bette Ridgeway, upcoming showings, and paintings, go to RidgewayStudio.com or BetteRidgeway.com
Photos of artwork and Bette Ridgeway courtesy of Bette Ridgeway.
Slick, a native of Hawaii, painted this mural on the exterior of the Museum of Graffiti in Miami.
Photo courtesy Museum of Grafitti.
Its earliest practitioners were considered criminals, but now the work of some graffiti artists hangs in the nation’s most prestigious museums.
After society’s initial outrage over acts of vandalism in the name of creativity, art enthusiasts begrudgingly acknowledged that some wayward, urban painters were genuinely gifted. Over time, graffiti and street art earned a place in prestigious collections, private galleries and museums like the Museum of
Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
While graffiti is often viewed as an American-born genre, Michael Rooks, a curator of modern and contemporary art at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, provides some historical context. “Graffiti and street art have their origins in the history of 20th century art — from Dada wherein text replaced image to inveigh against WWI on the streets of Zürich, to the Mexican muralist movement’s large-scale murals in post-revolution Mexico City, to Les Affichistes artists whose affiches lacérées (layers of torn posters and advertisements) were literally sourced from the streets and walls of post-WWII Paris.”
The evolution of American street art has been well documented in L.A. and New York, but the acceptance of this form of artistic expression has also occurred in Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, and San Francisco.
“Bunny Kitty’s Dreamstate Room” is a vibrant, playful work from artist Persue.
Photo courtesy Museum of Graffiti.
Some street artists are commissioned as muralists, a transition that monetizes and legitimizes their work, before eventually being discovered by curators. Ultimately, gallery representation leads to their art appearing in chic restaurants, hotels and private collections. Artists like Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Shepard Fairey — all once confined to the fringes of the art world — became creative celebrities. In L.A., the exclusive fashion boutique of Elyse Walker features artwork by RETNA, one of the most prominent local street artists, while superchef David Chang hangs the work of David Choe in Majordomo, his popular downtown restaurant. The city’s Mayfair Hotel features the work of a different street artist on every floor — resulting in diverse visual experiences for guests — and is a tribute to the depth of talent in the region.
The historic Mayfair, site of the first post-Academy Awards party in 1929, has been transformed into a trendy setting showcasing street art, curated by artist-in-residence Kelly “RISK” Graval. The Louisiana-born artist became one of L.A.’s most influential graffiti stylists and was among the pioneering artists to transition from the street to the gallery, as well as entering the worlds of fashion design and music video.
RISK’s own work is represented by a Buddha-inspired installation on the second floor and one of his murals will eventually soar above the 15th-floor pool deck. “I selected my “Metallic Tissue” series, which consists of a body of work that I paint on panels built out of repurposed spray cans,” reports RISK, who states, “They’re my imprint on society as an artist, my DNA.” He also installed some of his unique neon work in the lobby, which suits the vintage of the building. Overall, nearly 100 pieces throughout the hotel represent the diversity of L.A.-based graffiti artists and muralists like DEFER, Billy Morrison and Shepard Fairey, whose breakout work was the Barack Obama “Hope” imagery from the 2008 presidential campaign.
“There was a time when graffiti artists were a small underground subculture,” explains RISK, but adds, “The powerfully dynamic art sparked a younger generation and it exploded.” He acknowledges that street art festivals and museum exhibits helped elevate the genre within the polite corridors of the art world, but that true recognition has been stubborn.
Neon work from RISK, the artist-in-residence at The Mayfair Hotel in L.A. Photo courtesy the Mayfair Hotel.
This untitled painting of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for $110.5 million at auction. Photo courtesy Museum of Graffiti.
“It was time for a new generation to take over. The old guard and practices of art began to change,” insists RISK, who suggests progressive hoteliers are helping idiosyncratic artists to find an audience. “Hotel art was becoming stale, kind of like Muzak in elevators in the ’80s, and needed a new approach,” says the veteran artist. “Boutique hotels like The Mayfair are ahead of the curve and breathe fresh air into an exciting future for art, artists, and art enthusiasts,” says RISK.
Roger Gastman, an urban anthropologist and historian, is a leading authority on street art who counts The History of American Graffiti and Street World: Urban Art and Culture from Five Continents among his 50 books. Gastman remembers his own discovery of self-expression — through a spray paint can in the early 1990s — as a defining moment in his young life.
Gastman, whose first book, Free Agents: A History of Washington, D.C. Graffiti, documented the local culture he experienced in his youth, reports there is a distinction between graffiti and street art. “Graffiti is very name-based, very ego-driven, while street art is more image-based and involves additional tools and techniques,” says Gastman, but notes that both have their roots in vandalism. “Street art is a safer name and is more digestible to the public, but graffiti and street art are kissing cousins on the same playing field,” he muses.
“So much of this work is fantastic and deserves to be seen in a different light, collected and respected,” says Gastman, who laments, “A majority of galleries and museums still don’t accept this kind of art, look at it seriously or believe it should be shown.” Demographics, however, are driving attitudes, suggests Gastman. “People in their 30s and 40s grew up with graffiti, tattooing and skateboarding — it’s everywhere, in fashion, music and advertising — and it resonates with them.”
Last year, Gastman spearheaded the New York edition of Beyond the Streets, a massive 100,000-square-foot exhibition of prominent graffiti artists in Brooklyn, following a similar event in L.A. in 2018. “We basically built our own museum and 200,000 people walked through the doors,” he explains, adding, “It showcased graffiti and street artists, giving them respect and presenting their history in the proper light.”
Miami, whose Wynwood Arts District is defined by vibrant, multicultural murals, is a city with a strong tradition of street art, and its Museum of Graffiti pays homage to the approachable medium. Museum co-founder Allison Freidin explains, “Our goal is to celebrate a group of artists previously marginalized because of the stigma associated with graffiti,” and reports the Miami institution is the only one in the world exclusively dedicated to graffiti art. “Previously, there was no place to learn about these artists,” she adds.
Above: The “Wet Paint” exhibit at the Museum of Graffiti in Miami, from artist Persue. Photo courtesy Museum of Graffiti.
At Right: “Party Felix” by Seen, one of many artists showcased at L.A.’s Mayfair Hotel. Photo courtesy the Mayfair Hotel.
Explaining its location in a former shoe warehouse in Wynwood, Freidin reports, “The district’s relevance in the past 10 years is a product of the graffiti art that transformed a sleepy industrial neighborhood into the world-class arts destination it has become,” noting the windowless warehouses made ideal canvases for street artists. The Museum of Graffiti’s own building is entirely wrapped in 14 different murals by acclaimed local and international artists like Shoe, EZO and Abstrk.
The museum’s interior galleries feature rotating exhibits such as a recent compelling vignette from artist Persue, who famously removed the “Wet Paint” signs that New York City transit workers used to tape to subway cars after painting over graffiti art. Persue sent more than 70 of those very placards to artists around the world to use as canvases, all of which were incorporated into an exhibit whose physical design resembled a New York subway station platform.
Freidin explains that Miami’s graffiti art movement began in the early 1980s when some youth who got into trouble in New York were sent to South Florida to live with grandmothers or aunts. Insisting there is no way to repress the energies of an artist, Freidin reports, “The art erupted like a vengeance.”
The museum co-founder applauds the success of local graffiti artists like José Parlá, whose work moved from the streets of Miami to a mural inside Manhattan’s One World Trade Center, as well as multiple museum exhibitions and commissions in Tokyo, London and Havana. “He was immensely talented and continued to put in the work despite the stigma associated with graffiti art as vandalism,” says Freidin, who adds, “He’s probably one of the biggest names in contemporary art in the world.”
It was not easy for some museum curators to persuade their boards of directors that people previously labeled as vandals should be showcased in world-class fine arts facilities, but Freidin maintains society has evolved. She offers the former criminalization of marijuana as an analogy, citing its progression from disdain to broad acceptance. “It takes forward-thinking arts enthusiasts to take a risk,” and reports major corporations are hiring these artists as creative directors. “They recognize the power of this art,” says Freidin.
Robert Michael Provenzano, professionally known as CES, is a leading graffiti stylist whose signature aesthetic is now influencing the generation of artists currently emerging from the streets. His art, which began almost 40 years ago in his native Bronx, repeatedly got him into trouble as a young man, but after being flown to Munich to demonstrate his craft at a museum he realized there was a market for his skills. “My friends and I used to have to steal supplies, but now I’m a sponsored artist by a paint company in Barcelona,” says CES of how attitudes toward graffiti art have changed.
CES has since earned commissions from Nike and Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, in addition to collaborating on a mural adjacent to Miami’s Museum of Graffiti, where he was recently headlined. He finds it ironic that the artistic expression that was so strongly discouraged when he was a teenager is now a source of pride for his family. “I had no idea that if I stuck with it all those years, the whole world was gonna dig it,” reports CES.
The High Museum’s Michael Rooks notes, “The migration of some graf artists into the mainstream via museum collections and exhibitions underscores a familiarity with the language of the street that is widely recognized among urban audiences, as well as the influential role it has on global visual culture today.” He adds, “A fulcrum point in the migration from the street to the museum has to do with an artist’s knowledge and understanding of this legacy and ability to speak with urgency and artistry to contemporaneity.”
The ultimate measure of acceptance of art is the monetary value it commands in the marketplace. In 2017, an untitled work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, who began his career spray-painting walls in Lower Manhattan, sold for $110.5 million to a Japanese billionaire at auction, eclipsing his own personal record of $57.3 million.
Photos courtesy Katrien Van Der Schueren.
Katrien Van Der Schueren is the founder and creative visionary behind Voila! Creative Studio, a visual laboratory where she envisions, creates and fabricates a full range of bespoke fine art, objects, furnishings, lighting, event and stage sets, and accessories.
In the grand scheme of her career, designer/artist Katrien Van Der Schueren says that her move to America in 2002, specifically Los Angeles, was the first main challenge she met that led her to where she is now. With her experience working in a variety of fields, from the European Commission to marketing, she says that she felt obliged to reinvent herself and that this new world gave her “the opportunity and the audacity to follow a new path.”
Through perseverance, courage and a “huge learning curve,” she remains the leader of Voila!, known as a visual laboratory with endless possibilities. “We are storytellers and translate it into material form. We are creative problem solvers that make the project happen,” says Van Der Schueren.
What about art and design draws you into doing it every day?
It’s an intuitive thing, I think.… I didn’t really think it through. It just felt natural to me and I followed my path of learning and exploring and fine tuning the direction as I went along.
I love working and exploring materials and their possibilities. I love discovering new textures, new techniques, new colors, new color combinations, new designs, new styles … and in my job the learning and discovery is endless. I love the storytelling [aspect] when we work on projects. Imagining the environment pieces will go to, who will use it, look at it and how to tell that story and make that story happen with shapes and form and materials.
What influence, if any, do you get from living in California?
So many things. California is such a melting pot of cultures providing so many creative impulses on a daily basis. There are so many different influences to draw from here that it’s hard not to get inspired every day. I still strongly feel like an immigrant on Discovery Road.
Since we arrived in LA, the city has evolved so much. It breathes artistic energy in so many domains, from food to music to artisanal crafts to high-end design. Nature is another big part of California’s inspiration. The ocean, for example, I mean who can resist its magic? And what about the vastness of land in between places when you drive out of the city and what about the evenness of the light and its brightn
To keep inspiration alive, Van Der Schueren says she needs to connect with the outdoors, whether it’s taking a drive, traveling abroad or spending time with her family outside the studio, “so when I step back in I feel re-energized and spin my wheels on the right things.”
What do you usually draw inspiration from?
Literally everything or anything that kind of stops me in my tracks. That can be the shape of a leaf in the garden, a lyric or beat in a song, a shade of a ceramic cup, my kids’ world, an art installation, a set of a movie I am watching. Anything that stops me and draws my attention.
Tell me about Voila!’s conception and how it operates today. What was the original mission/goal of the studio?
I started as a picker. As that’s where it intuitively felt right for me to start. Learning styles, periods, et cetera. Then my intuition just led me to start making, first by combining finds and turning them into either art or furniture. Basically, I do have a lot of something I found and it inspired me to make something with it. Then I wanted to learn more techniques and what I could do with materials, started hiring people and learning about that process and its ups and downs with growing pains. Clients would ask me to custom make furniture and art for them and I gradually learned what I liked and disliked, and it all evolved like that with some very risky steps in between, just out of some gut feeling that that was the next step to take. A lot of mistakes on the way, of course, getting back up and moving forward towards a clearer direction.
When it comes to designing art for a project, what is the most important element you have to remember? Does this differ depending on the type of space you are working in?
Each project is its own. When we start an art project, I look at the story first. The visual story (the interior design choices and the environment and architecture) as well as the audience it’s for. Those parameters will define the art choices. Of course, the location and the environmental conditions are often key as well when it comes down to choosing the materials to work in, and the type of use will also define possibilities.
Is there a piece of art in your
own home that you would never consider selling?
Almost all of them. The pieces I have at home are part of the fabric of my life. I am emotionally connected to them and they make a lot of sense in my home visually.
What would be your dream project or a piece you’ve always wanted to start (or finish)?
Oh boy. A dream project would be that I get unconditional creative freedom and unlimited budget to design and fabricate all the art, and custom-make all the furniture for a unique experiential boutique hotel that also has a music venue on the premises as well as some original and unique culinary opportunities (restaurants/bars, et cetera).
What advice would you give to someone pursuing a career in art or design?
Follow your gut feeling. Only by working your way through you can achieve results and fine-tune direction. Be you
Zany patterns. Punchy palettes. Combinations of materials from the concrete to metallic.
As Claire Elsworth of Claire Elsworth Design notes, the eccentric spirit of Maximalism is both magical and rebellious. It encourages traditional rules of design to be broken and conventional boundaries to be overstepped. From patterned wallpapers and dark paint to a velvet sofa with an eclectic mix of textures pillows, the goal is to be courageous in your design, and to love the “more” aesthetic.
“‘More’ is a love and appreciation of pattern, color, collection and curation,” Elsworth notes, “with a sheer joy of fusing, contrasting, styling and layering all that gloriousness together.”
Photos courtesy Sasha Bikoff.
Maximalism has been embracing “the more” of design since the 1980s with the creation of Memphis Milano in the 1980s, a legendary postmodern design group that championed the style and made it a staple in the industry. Author and design journalist Claire Bingham notes in her book, More is More: Memphis, Maximalism and New Wave Design, that after experiencing the “riot of color and pattern” indigenous to styles like Memphis, the 90s saw a rise of Minimalism, a stark contrast with designers such as John Pawson and Calvin Klein focusing on purity and simplicity.
“There has always been minimal versus maximal throughout time, but the rise of the Memphis/80s style was a kickback from the elegance of mid-century design and a desire to rethink how objects could look,” Bingham writes. Although minimalism has been an ever-developing presence in today’s world, the Memphis style and Maximalism as a whole has found its way back into the hearts of young impressionable designers looking to become expressive in a more vivacious, free-spirited way.
In More is More, Bingham spoke with a host of contemporary designers, as well as Peter Shire and George Snowden, some of the original founders of the Memphis group, who truly embrace and understand the spirit of Maximalism. “It’s not so much to do with a style,” she says. “Maximalism could look like anything — romantic and frilly, graphic patterns, disco … It’s like playing dress up for the home.” To quote the vivacious Iris Apfel, “more is more and less is a bore.”
Famed New York designer Sasha Bikoff was dubbed the “interior designer for the young and wealthy” by The New York Times. Bikoff affirms that she was at the forefront of Maximalism’s revival when she started her firm seven years ago, a revival she credits to the growing millennial culture. She says that like anything in history there’s an action and a direct reaction. Instead of creating simplistic looks that can be easily replicated for the masses, younger designers and people want to create spaces and live within spaces that are unique, that share a likeness of themselves, a desire that has stemmed such creative outlets as Instagram, Pinterest and other social media channels.
Photo courtesy © Claire Elsworth 2017
To heighten the effectiveness of Maximalism, Bikoff says that one of the most important aspects of this style type is the use of color, noting that in her own designs color helps bring out an emotional response. She notes that it’s important to surround yourself with colors and objects, patterns, and textures that make us happy and bring life into your home. “The same way I dress with fashion — as my fashion choices are bold and confident — is how I want my rooms to feel,” she says.
Just like personal fashion, each Maximalist designer and design is different and based on both creative taste and what each designer finds inspiring. For example, Bikoff’s aesthetic can be derived from 18th-century French Rococo, 1960s Space Age Modern, 1970s French Modernism and 1980s Italian Memphis Milano. An affinity for new experiences, her love of travel helps add to her ever-developing color palette, which you can see in her projects. “Marrakesh is a place I travel to all the time, and the colors of the spices you find there are so amazing you can see them all in a color palette, from bright turmerics to smoky paprikas,” Bikoff says.
Photo courtesy Claire Bingham.
Elsworth’s firm focuses on luxury wallpaper and home décor, and is known for intricate yet bold Maximalist features in every design. She hand sketches her designs, which are inspired by her short concept stories about an imaginary Duchess called Violacea Macrobothrys and her beautiful old aristocratic house — “a Maximalist treasure trove paradise!” she says. These stories weave through six collections of wallpapers and cushions, displaying both Elsworth’s love for drawing as well as her favorite aspects of Maximalism.
“I’ve always been drawn to anything ornately detailed, whether it be textiles, interiors, art, or historical architectural details,” Elsworth says. “So, I was naturally drawn to the Maximalist style long before I even knew there was a name for it.”
To embrace Maximalism in an everyday space there is a variety of ways one can incorporate aspects of the style. Bikoff says that some of the best Maximalist interiors are just showing off pieces from trips you’ve taken all in one space, even if they do not particularly go together. “The whole idea of Maximalism is that it’s the kind of space for a true collector, a space that tells a story.”
Photo courtesy Sasha Bikoff.
Photo courtesy Claire Bingham.
Photos by John A. Peralta
John A. Peralta began taking things apart long before he was compelled to truly pursue art. “I was always breaking things open to see what was inside. I’ve had such wonder for the tiny components that make something work,” he says.
Now a self-taught artist based in Austin, Texas, Peralta has a unique taste for both science and how things work as well as art. While working as a business consultant, he began painting as a way to tap into and satiate his creative side. The exploded diagram, which has been an essential engineering tool, melds Peralta’s contrasting interests and inspired his work.
An exploded diagram of a bike on the back of a magazine was Peralta’s original inspiration, but since then, his work has begun to evolve over the years. “It’s more about a concept that imagines that these machines we use — that we often take for granted and use every day — they hold our memories,” according to the artist. “And sometimes in literal ways. The typewriter has an imprint of every letter, every document permanently imprinted on it. It could never be deciphered today, but nevertheless it’s in there.”
Peralta’s art reveals the inner workings of a time in history or a memory. The contrast between machinery and emotion creates enchanting displays and elicits a feeling when you see them. The idea of machinery holding memories extends to all of our objects, according to Peralta. “It’s why we become nostalgic years after for antiques or whatever it might be. We attach emotion to these things and they hold our memories and it’s sort of two-way relationships with the objects in our life.”
Peralta describes a large pile of items in his studio that he might one day choose to take apart, but there is a method to deciding which items he will display. “I usually choose something that would be considered iconic. Something highly recognizable, and familiar, but most of the time, it’s also something that is no longer in use,” he says. Often, he chooses items that people may have seen in their grandparents house or in an antique store. “Those items have a lot of emotion and nostalgia connected to them. I’m also looking for things that the designers and architects put a lot of time and careful thought into.”
“For some reason, it has a strong appeal. I’m not entirely sure why,” Peralta says about the exploded diagram concept, explaining that most people see them in their everyday lives without realizing, but their eyes still light up when they see it displayed like this. “Because it’s not like you can’t see the string. At first, I tried to hide it. I tried all different things to try and hide the suspension. But I began to realize that I actually shouldn’t hide it. The string really contributes to the piece.”
In the Future
Working mainly on commissioned pieces these days, Peralta is still working on a few ideas that continue to push the boundaries of the exploded diagram concept. When asked what his dream projects are, he says, “There’s actually two. I’ve been wanting to do — and I haven’t really gotten anyone to pull the trigger yet — and that’s a grand piano. I think it would be very impressive. I imagine it in a large hotel with a high ceiling or something like that. And the other one is a fighter jet, which would obviously be a very big piece. It would need a superstructure to support it. But I have some really cool ideas of how it would look.”
For years, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has been at the pinnacle of style, class and design. What people may not be aware of is the company’s dedication and connection to art. The iconic luxury car company continued its expansion into the art world for a good cause in September, teaming up with famous British artist Marc Quinn.
The production line of Rolls-Royce in the founding location of Goodwood, West Sussex, England provided the stage for the company’s “Evelina Art for Allergy x Dine on the Line” philanthropy event where a generous £1.7 million was raised through an auction to support allergy research by Evelina London Children’s Hospital.
“Rolls-Royce was introduced to the charity Evelina London via connections in the art world,” says Jessica Persson Conway, manager of Art Programme & Philanthropy. As the largest allergy service of its kind in Europe, Evelina London provides specialized care to children across the country who suffer with an allergic condition.
De Pury led the successful night featuring Quinn’s mesmerizing work. ©2019 David M. Benett.
“Marc is a world-renowned contemporary artist,” Conway continues. “Rolls-Royce has great respect for his work and particularly admire his Iris paintings, which is the subject chosen for this collaboration.”
Everyone locked eyes on the big prize of the night, a Phantom designed with one of Quinn’s pieces from his collection entitled “We Share our Chemistry with the Stars.” The ongoing collection features large, colorful paintings of irises from eyes.
Art auctioneer Simon de Pury, who led the vivacious auction compared the artwork to that of the psychedelic Phantom V owned by John Lennon, calling it “the 21st century equivalent.”
Phantom is the apex model of Rolls-Royce and the company, encompassing the luxurious experience of driving and owning a Rolls-Royce.
“The car has been the canvas of some of the most extraordinary expressions of bespoke craftsmanship,” Conway says. “The Rolls-Royce Bespoke Collective work hand-in-hand with patrons around the world to bring unique and highly personalized creative visions to fruition.”
The prized Phantom featuring Quinn’s artwork. Photo courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
The winning bidder of Quinn’s creation won the opportunity for the artist himself to create his own bespoke artwork featuring the iris of the bidder’s daughter, using the Phantom as the canvas. The drivable work of art raised an outstanding £888,000.
Rolls-Royce’s affiliation with art stems from its beginnings as a company, with the different models of cars becoming an “expression of creative will.” Conway noted that for over 100 years the bonnet, or front-hood, of each car is “graced with the Spirit of Ecstasy, a figurine created by sculptor Charles Sykes.”
The “Spirit of Ecstacy” by sculptor Charles Sykes. Photo courtesy of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
In 2014, the company founded the Rolls-Royce Arte Programme, an initiative made up of commissions with leading artists and institutions. Recently, the company announced a new vision for the program called Muse.
“Muse will further Rolls-Royce’s relationship with art through two new biennial initiatives, the Dream Commission and the Spirit of Ecstasy Challenge,” Conway says.
The company also prides itself with its devotion to philanthropy, emphasizing how events, such as “Dine on the Line,” bring important attention to charity organizations.
“Patrons of Rolls-Royce are often highly successful, noteworthy individuals, many of whom are major philanthropic donors,” Conway says. “It gives us great pleasure to introduce the Rolls-Royce network to such a worthy cause.”
Maroon Bells ASPEN / COLORADO
Photo: Vkoulampet / wikimedia commons
Originally named for the abundance of aspen trees in the area, Aspen’s abundance has grown exponentially in terms of luxury, from fine restaurants and world-renowned ski resorts to some of the most artistic and culturally stimulating experiences. These aspects and more are appealing to buyers and continue to shape Aspen’s diverse, high-end lifestyle.
Though the market is plentiful with a large inventory of luxury property options, the Aspen market is finite due to local and state development rules that restrict building in certain areas of the town, according to Craig Morris of Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. “Supply and demand are always in favor of our sellers,” he says, but adds that what people want is nearly always achievable. These demands result in an interesting balance of both classic, historic homes with original architecture, and newer construction primarily built on “teardown” properties.
This interweaving of old and new structures is special to Aspen, says Carrie Wells of Coldwell Banker Mason Morse Real Estate, as it further adds to the character of the town and continues to bring in affluent buyers seeking luxury amenities. She notes that particularly in downtown Aspen, the “core,” new residential developments are not permitted and current properties have become more valuable. Wells, and other agents like Robert Ritchie of Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty, say buyers have grown to cultivate lifestyles in Aspen to fit their own needs. Bespoke estates are either renovated internally, increasing their worth, or new homes are being built more beautiful and upscale than the last. Though Aspen seems to be constantly changing, Ritchie says changes help “shine it up” and ultimately makes the town look good.
And truly, “looking good” is an understatement when considering the luxury and culture that exist in every corner of the city. From an exclusive G650 club and top-rated restaurants to a variety of world-class ski resorts and outdoor amenities, Aspen’s elite can find their true home in a place like this. Whether you hit the slopes or visit the Aspen Music Festival every year, Aspen is a place that can fit any lifestyle, which to buyers is often a priority. “We live in our own little fantasy world and people often suggest that living here is not ‘the real world,’” Morris says. “It’s the ‘real world’ to those that decide to put living and lifestyle at the top of their list, and when they do, they never look back.”
Coldwell Banker Mason Morse Real Estate
Page 54 & H&E 161
Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty
Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE GLOBAL 2019 ISSUE OF UNIQUE HOMES. TO SEE THE DIGITAL VERSION OF THIS STORY, CLICK HERE.