Quote for Today: Suzy Kassem

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Everything
Turns,
Rotates,
Spins,
Circles,
Loops,
Pulsates,
Resonates,
And
Repeats.

Circles
Of life,
Born from
Pulses
Of light,
Vibrate
To
Breathe,
While
Spiraling
Outwards
For
Infinity
Through
The lens
Of time,
And into
A sea
Of stars
And
Lucid
Dreams.

Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

Image 1: Public Domain Image via PxHere
Image 2: Public Domain Image via Pixabay
Image 3 Credit: Image: European Space Agency & NASA Acknowledgements: Project Investigators for the original Hubble data: K.D. Kuntz (GSFC), F. Bresolin (University of Hawaii), J. Trauger (JPL), J. Mould (NOAO), and Y.-H. Chu (University of Illinois, Urbana) Image processing: Davide De Martin (ESA/Hubble) CFHT image: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope/J.-C. Cuillandre/Coelum NOAO image: George Jacoby, Bruce Bohannan, Mark Hanna/NOAO/AURA/NSFhttp://www.spacetelescope.org/news/html/heic0602.html ([cdn.spacetelescope.org/archives/images/screen/heic0602a.jpg direct link]) See also: http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/newsdesk/archive/releases/2006/10/image/a

 

My Feathered Friends: Party Shoes and Nesting Shoes

Turning old shoes into pieces of art sounded like fun; I had no idea it would also be therapeutic. Last weekend’s Walk in My Shoes Soirée saw the debut of my Party Shoes and Nesting Shoes, two pairs of my old shoes converted into art objects. The process made me reflect on my life… from the costume jewelry of my childhood to the nests that symbolize new dreams that I have for my life and art. It was a wonderful project and I felt lighter, happier for doing it. I would love to repurpose old shoes as keepsakes for others.

Party Shoes

I turned a pair of high heels that had become excruciatingly uncomfortable over time into Party Shoes. I like to think of them as the drag queens of the repurposed shoe world, beautiful and flashy with glitter, flowers, feathers and ribbon. They were plain black pumps to start off, with a little velvety section over the top of the foot and a simple black bow. I finger painted them with acrylic glitter paint, one in green and silver, the other in green and blue, and stuffed them with glittery fabric flowers. I brushed some silver paint on to add a little more definition in some places. Originally I planned to fill the shoes with beaded necklaces, but the result did not please my eye, so, after a trip to Michael’s craft store, I went down a different path.

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At this point the designs diverged much more. Blue and green was stuffed with a bit of non-descript fabric to keep the toe area plump. This fabric was covered over with a lustrous blue ribbon which loops its way over and around the shoe before forming a celebratory bow above it, as well as a matching blue feather boa that envelops most of the back portion of the shoe and cascades down from the heel. I intended to put a piece of metal in the shape of two joined leaves which had come off of one of my favorite hair clips many years ago across the toes, but the leaves came apart by accident. One leaf remains on the front toe while the other is fixed on one side of the heel, helping to hold the boa onto the shoe. I placed a clear glass bead, the kind you might use in bulk to fill a vase, like a droplet on the toe-leaf, where it looks like a bit of dew. Absolutely fabulous!

As for green and silver, she was stuffed with a piece of purple shantung. A scintillating stripe of gold glitter ribbon anchors itself from the heel and holds the design together. I placed a section of a rhinestone necklace, the kind of costume jewelry my grandmother would bring out for me to play with when I was small,  around the gentle curve above the toe bed, placing a clear pink glass bead on either side for a neater, more finished look. A spray of feathers juts up from the back of the heel, sticking straight up with pride, and a gold ribbon reminiscent of a gilt spider web drapes itself over the shoe. Unable to make it stick with glue, I used a pair of sparkly earrings to pin it on either side and threw in three other pairs  to add a little more bling. This shoe is a celebration of all of those gaudy baubles we loved in childhood–the ones society tells us to put away if we want to be taken seriously. Society be damned! We need the whimsical and the kitschy in our lives.

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Nesting Shoes

The Nesting Shoes have quite a different mood. These winged boots are about the collaboration between earth (reality)  and sky (imagination) to provide for the nurturing of a baby dream. That dream could be anything: a project, an artwork, a vocation, a career, or even an actual baby. These shoes have an artistic, self expressive side as well as a practical one. They are mama shoes.

I took a pair of grey boots that had never fit properly…the arch is in the wrong place for my foot. I bought them years ago, along with a matching pair in brown. In denial, I hung on to them, occasionally wearing them, as if they would magically fit someday. I found a much better use for them.

 

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First, I cut away most of the upper portion of the shoe that surrounded the ankle. I left a thin strip on either side, like an ear, to support the wings that would be introduced later. I stuffed the shoes with raffia, one in a dark color and one in a straw color. Into the darker one I placed a large straw colored bead, careful to hide its hollowness. I glued somber colored mosses around the nest and tied a necklace with a spectacular plastic pendant around the opening, knotting it into a bow in the back so that the pendant would hang down above the toe. Black and reddish brown acrylic paint was added in whorls and stripes to accentuate the shape of the shoe and make it feel more natural, less mass-produced. Finally, sprays of peacock and other feathers were added over and under the “ears” to create the illusion of wings. She stands firm on earth, but the glory of her feathers declares that she is ready to fly away if need be.

 

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The other boot was the most difficult of all the shoes to make. It took hours for the tacky glue to dry on one section so that I could move her to glue down the next section. I can’t count the times things had to be reattached. I was worried she wouldn’t be done in time, but she was, and she was everybody’s favorite.

 

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I tied together three small speckled beads on a piece of raffia and placed them in the nest. I knew from an earlier project that these beads make the best eggs. A piece of rough ribbon, something like pieces of thin twine laid next to each other to make a thick strip and painted across with white stripes, was glued around the nest opening. I  cut a matching pair of wings from a cardboard mailer and glued them to the shoe’s “ears”. Brushing on yellow and black acrylic paint, I made them into butterfly wings. This would have been easier to do before I had attached them, but I hadn’t had the idea yet. I then began to attach bright green and neutral moss, as well as some delightful bark lichen and seed pods from sweet gum trees which I had picked up on walks. The seashells and glass beads which peer out from below the moss proved the hardest to secure. I love the encrustation of different objects, especially the whorl of a shell attached to one side of the heel. This shell took so many attempts before the glue finally stuck, and it is also one of the elements that keeps the left wing from falling off (if you try, you can also find a bit of twine that helps do the job). Working with so many items of varying weight was a huge challenge, but the “faerie” Nesting shoe came together beautifully. She is heavy on the earth, but graceful and delicate as well, with her fragile butterfly wings and brilliant bright colors. If the first nesting boot were autumn, this one is certainly spring.

Hmmm… that leaves winter and summer for the brown boots, doesn’t it?

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Quote for Today: Michael Pollan

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In the same way that the picturesque designers were always careful to include some reminder of our mortality in their gardens — a ruin, sometimes even a dead tree — the act of leaving parts of the garden untended, and calling attention to its margins, seems to undermine any pretense to perfect power or wisdom on the part of the gardener. The margins of our gardens can be tropes too, but figures of irony rather than transcendence — antidotes, in fact, to our hubris. It may be in the margins of our gardens that we can discover fresh ways to bring our aesthetics and our ethics about the land into some meaningful alignment.

Michael PollanSecond Nature: A Gardener’s Education
Image: Giardino di Ninfa © Efghilmno with CCLicense

Quote for Today: Neil Gaiman

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It occurs to me that the peculiarity of most things we think of as fragile is how tough they truly are. There were tricks we did with eggs, as children, to show how they were, in reality, tiny load-bearing marble halls; while the beat of the wings of a butterfly in the right place, we are told, can create a hurricane across an ocean. Hearts may break, but hearts are the toughest of muscles, able to pump for a lifetime, seventy times a minute, and scarcely falter along the way. Even dreams, the most delicate and intangible of things, can prove remarkably difficult to kill.
Neil GaimanFragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders
Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Quote for Today: Brian Selznick

“Did you ever notice that all machines are made for some reason?” he asked Isabelle. “They are built to make you laugh, like the mouse here, or to tell the time, like clocks, or to fill you with wonder like the automaton. Maybe that’s why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn’t able to do what it was made to do.” Isabelle picked up the mouse, wound it again, and set it down. “Maybe it’s the same with people,” Hugo continued. “If you lose your purpose…it’s like you’re broken.”

Brian SelznickThe Invention of Hugo Cabret
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Public Domain Image via Pixabay

Imitating Water: Liquid Light by Tanya Clarke

When flipping a switch brings light and turning the tap brings water, nature becomes remote. How can art change this?

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Tanya Clarke’s Liquid Light Series is an ongoing collection of unusual lighting fixtures fashioned from repurposed plumbing parts, glass hand-sculpted into the shape of water droplets, and low voltage LED lighting. Some are embellished with other repurposed touches, such as a piece of driftwood, a gauge, or extra hardware converted into small planters. You can see the full array of her creations on her website.

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The daughter of prominent environmental activist Tony Clarke, Tanya grew up with a privileged awareness of the value and fragility of nature. She seeks to communicate this awareness not through public speaking, but by moving others through art that is both beautiful and functional. The style is quirky–industrial meets artistic with a deep streak of steampunk. Her pieces, which include wall, ceiling, floor and table lamps, have been hung in museums and private homes. Rest assured this kind of custom work costs a pretty penny, but a portion of each sale goes to water research and conservation.

TanyaClarke_Stalagmite2 Light-Blue-SIngle

Liquid Light combines design and sculpting with craft and construction skills. Our attention is drawn not only to the ingenious use of recycled hardware, but to nature which is so elegantly imitated. When ever the tap is turned and the light comes on, one remembers the precious gift of water, so scarce today in the state of California where Tanya makes her home.

Tanya Clarke liquid lights crop liquid-light-4

Mindfulness is never wasted, especially when it involves something so delightful to the eye.


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Images © Tanya Clarke used in accordance with Fair Use Policy for educational and analytical purposes.

Mindfulness Meets Playfulness: A Gallery of Faerie Houses

As we age, the pressure to settle down and turn serious builds. Doesn’t play keep us healthy and encourage awareness?

A faerie house is a miniature structure crafted and/or placed outdoors to shelter real or imaginary creatures. An old stump or a hole in a tree can provide an ideal place for a tiny person to take up residence. This is a traditional craft along the Atlantic seacoast of Maine, where these houses are often made from sustainable, natural materials, including shells, seeds, leaves, rocks, bark and feathers. In the spirit of mindfulness, care is often taken to use things that are already dead and fallen or that won’t be harmed by being part of the faerie house.The structure should be friendly to spiritual and animal occupants, not merely eye candy for human beings. Some designs do incorporate broken pottery, recycled bottles and various man made materials. If you are interested, you can buy a kit or a pre-fab model online, but the experience is so much richer if you collect your own materials and design your own architecture. This is also a great way to learn about your environment and pick up some design, landscaping and construction skills.

Pixie Hollow Fairy House © Jeff Christiansen

Pixie Hollow Fairy House
© Jeff Christiansen

Here are some enchanting creations made by garden designers and artists. If you would like to see more of their work, please click on the links to investigate further.

Garden Walk, Garden Talk
fariryhouse4

“Nestled among the calamintha nepeta, fairies will always be minty fresh… maple leaf interior floors and an elegant maple bark exterior entry. Another impeccably designed two-story with a very high presence. The pear-leaf flag waves at the roof top peak to signal the call to fairy frivolity within.” 
© DonnaGWGT

An experienced Master Gardener and architect in Niagara Falls, Donna has a wonderful blog at Garden Walk, Garden Talk that shares the beauty of the gardens and scenery near her home. These fairy houses that she built for a client truly show off her love of the environment and her architecture background. Please take time to see the full post here— it’s delightful, written as an ad for the discerning fairy– and read more on her amazing blog. Lovely humor adds to the whimsy and charm of these elegant little houses.

fairyhouse1

“For rent: Dreamy cottage in a very picturesque spot amongst the wandering pink phlox. This beauty sports a high ceiling front parlor with a Swiss Chalet feel. It sits nestled among a flower garden on a huge oak leaf, and as any cosmopolitan fairy knows, oaks are safe havens for a wide variety of fairies.”
© DonnaGWGT

 Applied Imagination

Founded by Paul Busse in 1991, Applied Imagination, Ltd, makes railroad displays for outdoor gardens using natural materials. Their award-winning work has been seen all over the country, notably at New York Botanical Garden, United States Botanic Garden in Washington D.C., Chicago Botanic Garden, Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, Atlanta Botanic Garden, New Orleans Botanical Garden, Bellagio Conservatory in Las Vegas, and The State Fair of Texas. Paul, who lives in Kentucky, struggles with Parkinson’s Disease and is now retired, but remains involved in the creative process. This piece from the New York Times will tell you much more about him. His love for trains and gardens and his background in landscape design have shaped a vibrant and innovative company. The craftsmanship is spectacular.

Fairy Picnic Gazebo

Fairy Picnic Gazebo
© Applied Imagination, Ltd

Applied Imagination’s fantastic creations include ostentatious palaces and simple designs. Fairy houses are only a small part of their output, which includes architectural models of famous structures, such as the Hagia Sophia and the Great Wall of China, as well as fairy tale locales like Rapunzel’s Tower and the Straw House from the Three Little Pigs. Long live imagination!!

 Sally J. Smith
Autumn Fairy House © Sally J. Smith

Autumn Fairy House
© Sally J. Smith

When it comes to creating magic, Sally J. Smith is a monumental talent. Sally began as a watercolor painter, which perhaps contributes to the light touch and ethereal qualities of her creations. In 2007 she began a new chapter in her artistic journey, the creation of environmental art. Since then, her Faerie Houses and Eartherials–sculptures that combine earthy qualities with otherworldly ones– have inspired quite an audience. She makes her home in the Adirondacks of upstate New York, near Lake Champlain.

Forest Mossy Palace © Sally J. Smith

Forest Mossy Palace
© Sally J. Smith

Bellflower House  © Sally J. Smith

Bellflower House
© Sally J. Smith

Sally creates beautiful and thoughtful work that is completely at home in its environment. If you can’t see it in person, she has a delightful set of calendars and cards available on her website, Greenspirit Arts. It is terrific showcase of her work.

Emerald Moss House © Sally J. Smith

Emerald Moss House
© Sally J. Smith

Brookwater Tea House © Sally J. Smith

Brookwater Tea House
© Sally J. Smith

You don’t have to believe in faeries to enjoy the process or to enjoy looking at these delightful and frequently whimsical designs. Like many other arts, building faerie houses gives us the chance to contemplate things that we might never think about. Anything that enlarges our awareness and understanding of our planet and the creatures who share it with us is valuable.

Western society tells us that faeries are kid stuff and should be put away by grown-ups, like cartoons and stuffed animals. Thankfully, some of those rules are loosening, but you are still going to get funny looks in many circles if you cart your teddy bear to work or sport a My Little Pony lunchbox. We seem to think that people who retain or pursue such childhood connections lack the maturity to make practical decisions. I wonder if the reason we make poor decisions, such as basing our economies on technologies that poison the planet, comes from putting people in charge who lack imagination and the ability to play well with others. What harm can be done by cultivating enchantment?

I’m planning on creating some faerie houses in my yard this spring. How about you?

Images are used in accordance with Fair Use Policies for educational purposes.

Quote for Today: Suzy Kassem

Depiction of the James Caird nearing South Georgia from Ernest Shackleton's book South, 1919. Public Domain Image.

Depiction of the James Caird nearing South Georgia from Ernest Shackleton’s book South, 1919. Public Domain Image.

If man could write his own fate, he would have designed his journey to be without obstacles. Yet all obstacles come with valuable lessons designed just for you and only you.
Suzy KassemRise up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

Dressing the Story: A Gallery of Operatic Set Design

Scenery is more than mere background or decoration. It has power to determine our rejection or acceptance of a story.

Public Domain Image via Open Clip Art

Public Domain Image via openclipart

Storytelling began with the human voice. No props, no set, just a trusting relationship between the speaker or singer and the audience, who used their imagination to envision what was being described. Over time, it became more exciting to have the characters acted out. As those characters became more vivid and found their own voices, the narrator was often relegated to a secondary role and even dispensed with entirely. The loss of the storyteller meant that descriptive information had to be communicated in new ways. Scenery, which has been evolving as a theatrical device for centuries, has become a primary vehicle for this information, giving important clues as to the time and place of the action as well as shaping the mood of the piece. It accomplishes this quickly and silently, saving words to communicate the physical and emotional journey of the protagonists rather than employing them in lengthy narrative descriptions. Here are a few production stills from four leading scenic designers of the world of opera, along with quotes from these artists. If you would like to know more about the folks who work closely with directors to design productions, please click on the set designer’s name or any other links included. Josef Svoboda (1920-2002)

When I sit alone in a theatre and gaze into the dark space of its empty stage, I’m frequently seized by fear that this time I won’t manage to penetrate it, and I always hope that this fear will never desert me. Without an unending search for the key to the secret of creativity, there is no creation. It’s necessary always to begin again. And that is beautiful.
–-Josef Svoboda 
Rusalka, Teatro La Fenice, Venice, 1958

Rusalka, National Theatre, Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1955.

Rusalka, Teatro la Fenice, Venice, 1958

Rusalka, National Theater, Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1955

Famous for his multimedia installations, Svoboda was a major technical innovator. He was among the first to combine live actors with film projections and a pioneer in the use of plastics, hydraulics and lasers. He invented lights that were both bright and soft at the same time (click here to see a version currently marketed by Chromlech) and this light became one of his signature effects, capable of remarkable elegance and dreaminess.

Rusalka, National Theatre, Prague, 1991

Rusalka, Dvořák, National Theatre, Prague, 1991

Rusalka,  National Theater, Prague, 1991

Rusalka, Dvořák, National Theater, Prague, 1991

Queen of Spades, Tchaikovsy, Houston Grand Opera, 1982

Queen of Spades, Tchaikovsy, Houston Grand Opera, USA, 1982

A successful set will usually travel between opera houses, either rented or jointly owned, tied to the production for which it was designed and associated with the director of that production. It may be in use for several decades, constantly modified to fit into different theaters. This beautiful set for Verdi’s La Traviata is no exception. The impressionistic, painterly like effect created by the tremendous sloping mirror behind and above the stage is mesmerizing and very much in line with Svoboda’s earlier work. He was always in love with light.
La Traviata, Sferisterio Opera Festival, Macerata, Italy. Mirrors mounted at an angle behind and above the set create a beautiful, impressionistic effect.

La Traviata, Verdi, Sferisterio Opera Festival, Macerata, Italy, 2012

La Traviata, Sferisterio Opera Fetsival (outdoors), 2012

La Traviata, Sferisterio Opera Fetsival (outdoors), 2012

La Traviata, Teatro Comunale, Stagione Lirica, Sassari, Italy, 2013

La Traviata, Teatro Comunale, Stagione Lirica, Sassari, Italy, 2013. Note the mirror above has been sized down to fit the indoor theater.

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The Flying Dutchman, Wagner, Teatro Comunale, Bologna, Italy, 2008

For me, scenography is like Moby Dick.
–Yannis Kokkos
The Flying Dutchman, Wagner, Teatro Comunale, Bologna, Italy, 2008

The Flying Dutchman, Wagner, Teatro Comunale, Bologna, Italy, 2008

Like Svoboda, Kokkos is no stranger to elaborate mirrors or projections. His images are sharp edged and akin to those of modern film. Sections of the stage are frequently unlit, creating gaping darkness. Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, designed for the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, is a perfect example. Note the relationship of the helmsman’s wheel to Senta’s spinning wheel and the implications of the closed window reflected over the community.
The Flying Dutchman, Wagner, Teatro Comunale, Bologna, Italy, 2008

The Flying Dutchman, Wagner, Teatro Comunale, Bologna, Italy, 2008

King Roger, Szymanowski, Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Italy, 2005

King Roger, Szymanowski, Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Italy, 2005

King Roger, Szymanowski, Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Italy, 2005

King Roger, Szymanowski, Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Italy, 2005

Many designers use dreamlike images in an attempt to speak directly to the subconscious mind of the viewer. Darkness, light, fog and all sorts of special effects are employed to convey the director’s vision. Even the shape of the deck, or floor, be it flat, sloped (raked), even or uneven, makes an impact. Details draw the eye and simplicity is powerful. Kokkos possesses a fine talent for surrealism partnered with a lovely sense of restraint, making good use of that paradox.

Don Quichotte, Mariinsky Theater, Saint Petersburg, Russia, 2011

Don Quichotte, Massenet, Mariinsky Theater, Saint Petersburg, Russia, 2011

Les Voyages de M. Broucek, Janacek,  Grand Théâtre, Geneva, Switzerland, 2008

Les Voyages de M. Broucek, Janacek, Grand Théâtre, Geneva, Switzerland, 2008

Les Troyens, Berlioz, Grand Théâtre, Geneva, Switzerland, 2015

Les Troyens, Berlioz, Grand Théâtre, Geneva, Switzerland, 2015

Les Troyens, Berlioz, Metropolitan Opera, New York, USA, 2012

Les Troyens, Berlioz, Metropolitan Opera, New York, USA, 2012

It mustn’t just sit there like an empty box.
–Maria Bjornson
Les Troyens, Berlioz, Metropolitan Opera, New York, USA, 2012

Les Troyens, Berlioz, Metropolitan Opera, New York, USA, 2012

Bjornson is most famous for her flamboyant and iconic designs for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit musical The Phantom of the Opera, but there is much more to this sensitive and powerful artist than can be seen in a single show. She sought to present complete realizations of dream images and the collective unconscious onstage, not as background or detail, but as drama. Her images were not static ones, but implied motion, illustrated in the stills from Les Troyens at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The cast is dwarfed by huge dynamic scenery just as the characters are dwarfed by their own fate.

Macbeth, Verdi, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Italy, 2008

Macbeth, Verdi, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Italy, 2008

Cunning Little Vixen, Scottish Opera, 2011

Cunning Little Vixen, Scottish Opera Glasgow, Scotland, 2011

Don Giovanni, Mozart, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, England, 2012

Don Giovanni, Mozart, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, England, 2012

Bjornson’s death at the age of 53, suffering an epileptic seizure in the bath after working a fifteen hour day while infected with Chicken Pox, was tragic for opera, ballet and theater alike. A month before she died, she delivered the designs for The Little Prince, a magical jewel of an opera by Rachel Portman,  based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The work premiered at Houston Grand Opera in 2003 to rave reviews and would later be filmed by the BBC. Houston Grand Opera will present this delightful production, full of childlike wonder, again next season (December 2015).

The Little Prince, Portman, Houston Grand Opera, 2003

The Little Prince, Portman, Houston Grand Opera, 2003

The Little Prince, Portman, New York City Opera, 2005

The Little Prince, Portman, New York City Opera, 2005

Johan Engels (1952-2014)

Parsifal, Wagner, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2013 Parsifal, Wagner, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2013

Parsifal, Wagner, Lyric Opera of Chicago, USA, 2013

You may be the most brilliant designer in the world, but if you cannot communicate your ideas, you’re lost.  –Johan Engels

Parsifal, Wagner, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2013 Parsifal, Wagner, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2013

Parsifal, Wagner, Lyric Opera of Chicago, USA, 2013

Parsifal, Wagner, Lyric Opera of Chicago, 2013

Parsifal, Wagner, Lyric Opera of Chicago, USA, 2013

Johan Engels grew up addicted to drawing and to movies, especially the Biblical epics which were so prominent in the 1950s. This influence is clearly present in his work, which is not afraid to take on religious imagery, although it does so with a degree of ambiguity and thoughtfulness that might alarm someone with a fundamentalist bent. Ecstasy, devotion and corruption are placed before the eyes and writ large. I am particularly moved by the images below, from a production of Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler. The relationship of the tortured body of Christ to the characters is mind-blowing. We are given a new interpretation of what it means to be at the feet of Jesus and see Christ’s action mirrored by the cast. Finally, Christ’s agony is depicted as embracing and encompassing everyone onstage. Powerful, to say the least.

Mathis der Maler, Hindemith, Theater an der Wien, Vienna, 2012, image by Werner Kmetitsch

Mathis der Maler, Hindemith, Theater an der Wien, Vienna, Austria, 2012, image by Werner Kmetitsch

Mathis der Maler, Hindemith, Theater an der Wien, Vienna, Austria, 2012, image by Werner Kmetitsch

Mathis der Maler, Hindemith, Theater an der Wien, Vienna, Austria, 2012, image by Werner Kmetitsch

Mathis der Maler, Hindemith, Theater an der Wien, Vienna, Austria, 2012, image by Werner Kmetitsch

Mathis der Maler, Hindemith, Theater an der Wien, Vienna, Austria, 2012, image by Werner Kmetitsch

There is humor and laughter in Engels’ work as well, as you can see in this version of Die Zauberflöte from the Bregenz Festival. It is influenced by his childhood in Africa and makes excellent use of the lake, which Engels acknowledged as a difficult obstacle to overcome.

Die Zauberflöte, Mozart, Bregenz Festival, Austria, 2014

Die Zauberflöte, Mozart, Bregenz Festival, Austria, 2014

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Die Zauberflöte, Mozart, Bregenz Festival, Austria, 2014

Die Zauberflöte, Mozart, Bregenz Festival, Austria, 2014

Die Zauberflöte, Mozart, Bregenz Festival, Austria, 2014

I’ve had the pleasure of working on Engels’ sets myself as a chorister at Houston Grand Opera in productions of Chorus! (2009), Don Carlos (2011), The Passenger (2014) and Otello (2014). If you would like to hear me rave about The Passenger set and talk about that impressive opera, click here. Without his stunning set design I doubt the piece would have worked.

The Passenger, Bregenz Festival, Bregenz, Austria, 2010, image by Karl Forster

The Passenger, Bregenz Festival, Bregenz, Austria, 2010, image by Karl Forster

It was always striking to me that a man with his talent for telling grand epics could have such a craftsmanly way about him. I was very saddened to hear of his death last November from a heart attack just as we opened his Otello. His sets are places for adventure, containing elements and imagery you never quite expect or can prepare for, even when performing with them every night. Performing feels riskier and the pay off is extremely exciting and rewarding. The great set designer is also a great storyteller, whose designs continue speaking to rapt audiences all over the globe after their creator has passed on. I hope it will be so for a very long time.

All photos are used in accordance with Fair Use Policy for the purpose of enlightening the public.