Saturday, October 29, 2011

still-sound 13. Samhain

I have a few stones that I picked up in random places over the course of several years.  There's one from a field in Wiltshire, one from the Norfolk coast, some from Long Beach.  I don't know which one's which anymore.  I arranged them in a circle on my bookshelf.  Maybe this is a nod to Richard Long, one of my favorite artists.  Perhaps also a nod to the stone circles in Wiltshire. 

When we visited Avebury two years ago a man named Peter taught us how to dowse in order to find the energy lines under our feet.  He explained how the various stones resembled animals and people.  They seem to be ordered in a masculine / feminine rotation.  We touched the stones and they were warm although the air was cold.  We walked around Avebury, following a chalk path as the sun set and the moon intensified.

A few days later we were in Cornwall.  My best friend Kirsten told me about a village called Zennor and suggested we visit it - so we parked the car in Zennor and walked around.  Rob and I wandered aimlessly through fields.  We passed a building which must have been a village center of some sorts.  We heard drumming and chanting through the windows and doors.  Piquing my interest I approached the door hoping to find out more about the sounds, thinking I'd find a roomful of people dressed in shaman's feathers and pelts.  I found nothing because the door was closed and I was too scared to open it.  It happened to have been 31 October - Halloween to some, Samhain to others.  I believe it was Samhain to the drummers inside the Zennor village hall.

Zennor, Cornwall on Samhain

Friday, October 21, 2011

still-sound 12. Rose

I've developed an affinity for roses.  I never really gave them much mind in the past - although one of my first memories involved my sister and me plucking numerous petals and stuffing them into tupperware in an attempt to make perfume.  Our second attempt to make perfume prompted us to pick handfuls of juniper berries from the bush next to our house.  We crushed them into a pulp and left the bowl out overnight to 'freshen the air'.  When we woke up the next morning the air above the juniper-room-freshener was black with swarming flies. I'm still amazed that our mom let us do all of this.  I think she's always had a secret fascination with scent as well.

In the last few years I found myself gravitating towards the scent of roses.  The lemony smell of tea roses.  The heavy perfume of blood-red, velvet damask roses.  When we lived in Long Beach I bought a rose hybrid called Lincoln.  The smell was very antique - almost identical to a hand lotion that came in a pink bottle that my mom used to soften her hands when she finished styling customers' hair in the salon where she worked in the 70s.

I discovered a white hybrid at the garden center in Long Beach called Pope John Paul.  It was, perhaps, the perfect rose scent - but I knew that we'd be moving back to LA so I resisted buying and planting the papal rootstock.

I know a cool woman from Chicago named Francine who collects pure perfume oils.  I see her from time to time - when she has something new and wonderful for me to smell.  Last week she gave me a little vial of pure essential oil extracted from a taif rose named after the Sultan of Brunei.  The decant came from a bottle she acquired nine years ago. She insisted I keep it despite my protestations - apparently another bottle was somewhere in the post for her, and soon she'd have more of this oil than she'd ever have use for.  I kept it, because she insisted and because it smelled so irresistibly indulgent.  A silver, herbal geranium-tinged taif rose.  I dab it on the full bloom rose tattooed on my forearm.  Like a scratch and sniff sticker except not a sticker and no scratch.

Monday, October 17, 2011

still-sound 11. Papier d'Armenie

Lisa, (the same Lisa who brought me to the Sun and Doves pub as mentioned two blogposts ago) introduced me to several interesting things.  We shared a studio in Whitechapel a few years after finishing art school.  One day she came by after returning from a trip to France and gave me a packet of Papier d'Armenie.  She explained that you rip one of the fragrant strips off the pack, fold it into an accordian, light an end and blow it out.  You place the smoldering strip on an ashtray (back then people still smoked so ashtrays abounded).  I would describe the scent emanating from the smoke as that of burnt paper but with a distinctive powdery vanilla twist.

Armenian Papers were developed in France some time in the 1800s.  Apparently the tradition of scenting and sanitizing a room by burning bensoin resin had long been established in Armenia, hence the name.  The papers themselves are coated with this resin.  The papers are found in all the pharmacies of France.  They are usually not on display - you need to just know about them.  I presume most French people do just know about them.  That they are found in les pharmacies makes me think that they belong to the old-school world of science and sanitation rather than to the fashion and beauty world of scented candles and parfums d'ambience.  They have a practical, even healthful function.

When Rob and I moved into the house in Long Beach we painted one of the bedrooms.  Strangely the paint itself or the dampening of the walls created a faint pee smell. Rob assigned me the task of tackling the odor.  I thought of the papier d'armenie but had none and didn't think I'd be able to find any on short notice.  I managed to find an Italian equivalent at the Santa Maria Novella perfumery.  They were significantly more expensive than the French drugstore variety but I bought them because I thought they would effectively resolve the bedroom-odor situation.  The Carta d'Armenia come as separate strips housed in a red box.  The papers are quite thick - their weight and size make them look more like old fashion tickets, perhaps to a regional Italian train line.  They are more difficult to fold, accordian-style because of their thickness.  Perhaps they should be used as tickets to regional Italian train lines.  Sadly the carta d'armenia did not neutralize the smell in the bedroom.  Nothing did...except time.  Maybe six weeks later the odor seemed to disappear completely.

Francis Kurkdjian, a celebrated French-Armenian perfumer based in Paris recently came out with updated versions of the papier d'Armenie.  They do not smell of bensoin.  They are scented with Kurkdjian's own perfume blends.  Strips are thin and perforated to aid in the accordian-fold procedure.  They burn beautifully and quickly fill a room with an intense, pure perfume.

Monday, October 10, 2011

still-sound 10. Bird Vessels

I took photos of the birds I spotted in trees last winter.  When the trees are bare, the birds are easier to spot.

I've been drawing birds based on photos since 2005, the year I had a very significant, surreal visit from a lark.

I painted the lids of these porcelain vessels with several layers of gesso then drew a bird on a branch as it appears in one of the photos.  One vessel contains incense sticks and the other one is currently empty.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

still-sound 9. Jinko Yomei

I keep a box of Jinko Yomei (aloeswood blend) by Gyokushodo on my bedside table.  I came across it when I decided to focus my incense search on aloeswood.  I tend to classify incense by type.  There are
those that focus specifically on the attributes of a main-note, like sandalwood or aloeswood; in which case the blend of ingredients brings out the inherent features of the main material.  There are other incenses that take more liberties combining perfumed oils to produce unusual scent profiles not particularly bound to a lead-character wood.

I've come across some incense that I would classify as floral.  Jinko Yomei most certainly bears the 'Spicy' label  - in fact its brilliance is in the unusual spice blend rather than in the purity of the jinko.  I barely notice the wood at all. Apparently the jinko carries the spices and extends the life of the scent - a structural back-up if you like.

The smell of the unlit bundle itself is incredible and unexpected.  Ginger and lemongrass against a kick of crushed pepper, cinnamon and other spices.  When lit, a trace of cumin
attempts to smudge the scent into a somewhat dirty place though the sweet floral notes prevent the balance from ever being compromised. Perhaps because of the spice and herbal content I feel that I smell this incense in my mouth as much as in my nose.  Jinko Yomei is both light and dark, opaque and transparent and I've never smelled anything like it.

The surface of the box reveals a silver laid-texture paper with a perfect black label providing ground to the gold kanji writing.  The bundle itself is wrapped in a gradient paper from a bright gold to a darker bronze-gold.  The same paper cradles the interior of the box.  The presentation is as satisfying as the scent.

The description of Jinko Yomei on refers to the tradition of scenting hair and clothes with incense.  This was 'big in old Japan'.  I like the idea of scenting one's self with a spicy smoke.  Per-fume as in 'through smoke'.

It's sometimes fun to imagine the Orient as one imaginary place with exotic music and traditions.  Jinko Yomei would be the scent of this Orient.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

still-sound 8. Sun and Doves


This summer I made a bunch of closed-in vases.

Last summer I made a bunch of sculptures that I gilded with imitation gold leaf.  The entire studio, shop-vac and dog were covered in specks of gold for several months.  The more surfaces I covered, the handier I became, learning clever tricks like rubbing the gilder's brush against the back of my head, creating static which then picked up the leaves like magic.  That golden summer clearly left me with an itch for gilding.  As I looked at the transparently-glazed porcelain vases I couldn't help but think they would benefit from a little gold.

This time round, I used genuine gold leaf which surprisingly has not increased in price from last year.  The real stuff does not require sealing - it does not tarnish - and unlike my approach to making sculptures, I try to only use natural materials when making pottery, thus no petroleum-based sealant.  The closer to the Earth, the better.


I call this pair of vases Sun and Dove.  The dove-like shape of the latter and its pale grayness led me to its name.  I packed it up in a box two weeks ago and sent it to my mom for her birthday along with a perfume that smells of tuberose and some cream that erases wrinkles.  She thanked me for the presents and remarked that the vase was beautiful.  'If you make the bottom of it a little smoother, it'll look really Korean' (i.e. good).  She's Korean.  When I told her that the rim was gilded in genuine gold she reacted with a 'wooooowww', pronounced slowly and breathily as though I had just told her that my dog learned how to play the piano.

I am currently making more closed-in objects to be ornamented with golden discs which will eventually assemble with the sun vase.  I pair the sun and the dove because there was a pub in Camberwell my friend Lisa took me to the first year I lived in London called The Sun and Doves.  I always liked its name, thought it had a nice atmosphere and made a mental note to go there regularly. I only managed to go once.  Maybe twice