Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ivan Argunov. Portrait of an Unknown Woman in Peasant Dress



Just something I stumbled upon today and decided to share: a portrait that I love from the first sight, when I was a child. This is a "Portrait of an Unknown Woman in Peasant Dress" by Ivan Argunov dating back to 1784. It belongs to the Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

I never thought her to be very beautiful, but always liked her mild Slavic features and open and friendly gaze. Her costume is very correct, fully in accordance with that time: a sarafan dress and a fine shirt, fit for a special occasion. Her headpiece is a beautiful kokoshnik with gold embroidery, and her necklace is made from large coral beads. I guess she was from a rich family.

There is not much else to say about the portrait, save for the fact that I find it lovely and the woman feels almost like an elder relative to me. I hope that you like the portrait as well. 


Friday, September 16, 2016

A Good Cat Grows Where Planted

You can take a cat our of a village, but you cannot take a village out of a cat.

Remember the kitten that we found in the end of the summer, far from the city? She probably misses the rustic life, because she consistently sleeps in the pot with the ficus Alii (Ficus maclellandii). This habit of hers is so sweet and funny, it does not even require commenting. I look at the photos and I feel like falling asleep together with the little Wing Chun... She is extremely good for my nerves, so soothing.






Monday, September 12, 2016

Uzbek Ceramics: Choose Wisely and Beware of Fakes

Uzbekistan has been traditionally famous for its ceramics. Pottery is an ancient art, and in this region it was very well developed thousands of years ago. Our museums hold fantastic pieces of art - a pleasure to behold - but I also feel very fortunate that we can use beautiful and authentic Uzbek pottery in real life.

This, for instance, is a large serving plate ("lyagan"), that I use every week. It is a very heavy, massive vintage plate that will last forever (you could kill an evil intruder with this piece of applied art!). Most likely, it was made at the Tashkent Ceramic Factory some years ago; as this is a very classic "dark pottery", it can be from 5 to 50 years old.



It is covered by a very thick glaze that looks like a layer of glass.


It will look a bit brighter in the sun. I like these very natural, earthy colours of soil, grass, leaves and wood.



When you look at the bottom, you see a very "healthy" dark red undyed ridge. You can see that it is well-baked, strong and smooth. It is neither underdone no overdone.


This is by no means a masterpiece, but definitely a solid and quality serving plate. I am not ashamed of serving some plov (pilav) to the guests in this plate.

Of course, I have other ceramic items at home, I just had photos of this one handy because I was showing them to ceramic experts several days ago. This plate just serves as a good example of Uzbek pottery.

What serves as a bad example is these plates from a Samarkand shop (you can see the whole article about the shop here).


These are cheap imitation of traditional Rishtan ceramics (Rishtan is a small town in Ferghana valley). They are strangely lightweight and feel "underbaked". In reality, an underbaked pottery is supposed to be somewhat heavier, but I do not have a better word to express my feelings about these. They are deficient. Somehow they do not feel right. My friend who is an expert in ceramics suspects that they add gypsum to the clay to reduce the costs. The ornament is a noisy mess. The colours are too bright so I suspect that they are not all ceramic colours but maybe some oil or acrylic under lacquer and then they are not safe for eating from them. They break easily. In two words - these are evil! I understand that as tourism is developing rapidly in our country, everyone wants to make some money on tourists, but I do not believe in fraud and fakes.

Below you can see two more examples of ceramics I have at home (I have just found some photos taken a while ago and decided to share them as well); the upper one is from Rishtan, the one below is made in Tashkent. You can see that they, too, have lots of blue, but the colours are natural, not "acidic", and the pattern is full  of harmony. They are also reasonably heavy, nice to the touch, and if you knock on them with your fingernails you will hear a clear sound.




When you buy ceramics for Uzbekistan, beware of those cheap fakes. They will not last. Good ceramics cannot be dirt cheap, even if it is made of clay; the materials, equipment, natural gas - all of them cost money; but, most importantly, creating a decent piece takes energy and time of the artist. They do invest themselves into every bowl, dish or teapot they make; it is not an automated soul-less process of stamping similar pieces for purely commercial purposes. Please, do look for beautiful and well-made pieces and do not expect to pay 2-3 dollars, it is not realistic. You cannot buy a good piece of art for that money. Find something nice to take home and pay a fair price - it will help Uzbek pottery artists and their families.

I am going to write more on Uzbek ceramics very soon as we are having a large exhibition in Tashkent and I expect to visit it and learn a lot. Please come back for updates!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Untold Legend of the Kenyan Princess Loingalani


This photo is entitled "Princess Loingalani" ( El Molo Bay, Lake Rudolf, Kenya, 1967, by Peter Beard). It has been popular in the Internet for quite a while, posted and reposted numerous times. Prints were sold for hefty amounts at the auctions, and people were debating at forums whether the actual Kenyan princess existed. "No, there has been no monarchy for quite a while, but the princess was there! Cannot you see that she is a real royalty?" - someone said.

I agree. The girl does look regal, with her cheetah-like slenderness, proud posture and, of course, her Goddess-worthy bust. She is standing half naked, and it looks very natural - no self-conscious stiffness that I can see; as natural as a beautiful wild animal. She looks reserved, somewhat distant from the outside world; I think I night even see some sadness in her eyes. What is she thinking about? I am inclined to think that she is reflecting on something related to her country and people - she is a princess, after all.

...A slightly more thorough Google search revealed to me that this was an aspiring young model named Fayell Tall, and the photo was taken in 1987 rather than in 1967, and she definitely was not a princess. Years later, she sued the photographer, claiming that she had never been compensated and never gave a model release allowing to use the photo. From what I know, there was a court case, she received some money and that was it. I do not want to go deeper in the details, you can find them yourself. But I really loved the untold legend of the Kenyan Princess Loingalani. I wish it were true, and the princess still lived somewhere in the remote area of Kenya or Tanzania, at a lakeside, in a green acacia forest, surrounded by tame cheetahs. She could ride a white Arab horse, hunt deer, and maybe weave rugs in the evenings (she is not a very rich princess, you see). And she would have no Internet access, so we would never learn about her human weaknesses, mistakes, wrinkles, any family scandals... no silly selfies... I think I can just as well keep imagining that she does live there.

Forgive me for my rambling, I am just procrastinating before photographing a huge bunch of Russian shawls for my Mulberry Whisper shop on Etsy. Talking to you and to myself is much more fun, but the shawls are not going to photograph themselves. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

We Have a New Pet! My Daughter's Rescue Kitten.

Just two days before going back to the city from the summer house in  a remote village, we found this creature. My daughter saw her at the beach and came to pet, and the kitten followed her. I thought it was our neighbours', but no - nobody claimed the poor thing. Nobody expressed the desire to take her, too.

Malnourished and dirty, but full of courage and incredibly cuddly - she starts purring before you start petting her - she won our hearts immediately. My daughter was very sad that someone could throw the baby cat away, she just could not believe someone could do it on purpose. "Most likely, she is just lost! Wandered away!". Of course, I don't believe a small kitten would have wandered away from her mother. Most likely, someone decided to get rid of her.



We just kept feeding her and cuddling with her to make her feel safe and protected. My daughter was hopeful that we could keep the kitten, but I had my doubts. We live in apartment in the city, no garden or yard, and we have a large dog. Can we keep the cat or her life would be deficient?



I do some volunteer work as a photographer for a rescue, and I know that it is not easy to find good families for kittens. There are just too many. Actually, I also know that I can adopt out almost any animal (without grave issues), but it takes time and promotion efforts. Sometimes it takes months. So, keeping or giving away?
 

We did keep her, after consulting between ourselves. She does not need much space or food; as for the boring life in the apartment, we will try to make up for that by frequent visits to the summer house and maybe some walks in the city parks later (the latter is dangerous, too much infection). Right now her life is not boring, she keeps exploring the flat and terrorising the dog. My Malinois with jaws of steel is extremely tolerant and clearly the kitten is safe with him.

We call her Wing Chun - Chinese martial art. She moves softly and strikes hard like Yip Man. In these photos, she is still very thin and her eyes are sad. She has gained weight now and looks much happier, I will share new photos soon.

I am quite happy about my daughter's behaviour. At 10, she already understands that pets need to be cared for, every day, consistently, and that a responsible and good person would never abandon a pet. She cleans the litter box and feeds her "baby"; they play and sleep together. So, probably keeping the kitten was not a bad idea. The dog's life is not boring, too.

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