Friday, June 27, 2014

The "I Love Lucy" Bedroom Paintings

Here's a little assignment for all my fellow "Lucy" lovers. For the last few weeks, I've been on the prowl for some of the original I Love Lucy paintings that decorate the set. Eventually, I decided that I was going to only focus on the pair of dancers that hang above Lucy and Ricky's twin beds in their New York apartment. Finally, I've made a breakthrough, but it's only half a breakthrough. I'm hoping that any readers with extra information will help me (and the world of movie art lovers) out a little bit and add to the illustrious, but understated history of television art.
I don't need to explain why I love Lucy. Does anyone need an excuse to love timeless comedy and incredible talent? (The answer, by the way, is no.) I really wanted to be able to document the two paintings that hang above Lucy and Ricky's twin bed in their NYC bedroom set. It's hard getting a long clear shot of them, but they appeared to be paintings of male and female ballet dancers. They are very simple (even the casual watcher would notice that), so I almost assumed that they were just a couple of paintings from Sears or a pair of Woolworth prints and I really focused my search in that area, but I was wrong.
It turns out that the paintings were original works of art made by the set designers of I Love Lucy in 1952. They are, indeed, simple, but that is just because I'm sure the set artist had a lot of work to do besides quickly paint these dancers. Once, Lucy and Ricky "left" NYC, the paintings did not follow them and it appears that the paintings were lost to posterity, priceless and fun props.

At least they were lost. In 2006, the male dancer went up for sale on Worthpoint, an online auction sale. The seller claims that his mother not only purchased the painting in an auction in 1961, but also painted the dancers. According to his account, they are painted on thick paper with pastel. Apparently, the frame was used for some of his childhood art which protected the pastel from the elements for years, so it is still in pretty good shape. I've included his description in the sources below.
In 2006, the trail goes cold and my lack of an online auction account forces me to give up the scent. I assume the painting was sold, most likely for a good price. But I don't know where it went or for how much.

Here are my requests for you, the reader. If you, by rare chance, know the artist, the current owner, or the location of either painting, please let me know immediately, so I can share this information with the world. I'd love to complete this post, but it seems that the internet has decided not to allow me to finish my quest. Hopefully, you can.

WorthPoint description:

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Modern Art in "Suits:" The Work of Heather Millar

Suits, one of my favorite cable TV dramas just came back on air for the summer. I can barely contain my excitement, but I'll try. I love Suits for a lot of reasons. It has sharp plots, smart characters, and incredible style. I aspire to be the wealthy, sophisticated lawyers of Pearson Hardman. It is a credit to both the actors and production designers for creating such a thoroughly sleek look throughout the show. I've said it before, but movies and television are both primarily visual materials: great dialogue and story can only go so far without a great look (or else, its either crappy audiovisual media or radio).
When I talk to my fellow Suits fanatics about the sophisticated look of the show, usually we are referring to the characters' incredible senses of style. I mean, have you ever seen Donna (Sarah Rafferty) or Jessica (Gina Torres) looking anything less than incredible? But, that same cosmopolitan, modern style that is so apparent in the costume design is mirrored in the set design. Granted, I know that the show is filmed on sound stages, but if my apartment looked anything like those sets, I'd make do with the three walls!
Because I am who I am, I became fascinated by the interior design of the show, especially in the office of Pearson Spector where most of the action takes place. In particular, I noticed two individual pieces that I felt must have some back story (or at least some documentation). The first appears in Rachel's (Meghan Markle) office and the second appears in Harvey's (Gabriel Macht) office. After a little research and a little help from some other blogs, I was able to find the answers (see sources).
Both paintings were painted by Heather Millar, a young Canadian artist whose style seems to be a mix of realism and surrealism (or an interesting combination of both styles). She graduated from the Alberta College of Art and Design in 1998 (according to her own bio). She later moved to Toronto where she continues to work. This makes a lot of sense because Suits is shot in Toronto. When the set designers were looking for some original pieces, they would not have to go far in a big city such as Toronto. And indeed they did not. If I've found two Millar pieces in Suits, they are probably many more hanging in the various sets.
Listen Up (oil on canvas)
Heather Millar (2009)
The painting in Harvey's office originally reminded me of some of the art I've been seeing from some contemporary Chinese painters. I would call it contemporary surrealism. It appears to be a China doll sitting on some brightly colored... thing. As I already said, the painting is not Chinese, it is Canadian. Millar titled the 2009 piece Listen Closely, which I understand in terms of a lawyer's office but not exactly from the content. But no matter.

I've looked through a gallery of some of Millar's work (again, check out the sources), and it appears that she went through a period where she painted a lot of close ups of dolls. I'll be honest, most of them creep me out, but they are pretty interesting. I was reading an EW piece about the production design, and Macht claims that the paintings in Harvey's office refer to his sense of humor. I guess a painting of a toy does suggest something a little whimsical. But at the same time, its modernity keeps even the whimsical sleek and clean like Millar's paintings.
The second piece that attracted me is completely different, which is why I was surprised when I discovered that Millar also painted it. It's a painting of what appears to be a 1950s or 60s office girl carrying a package. It had a somewhat vintage, realist look to it, which made me assume it was adapted from a period piece. That may be the case and Millar may have been inspired by another piece of graphic design, but I have no evidence either way. In any case, the 2011 piece is titled The Gift.
The Gift (oil on canvas)
Heather Millar (2011)

I feel like this painting corresponds perfectly to the character of Rachel, who is classically lovely. At the same time, the men whispering in the background suggests Rachel's own insecurities in the prestigious law office. Perhaps more importantly, it is an essentially feminine piece that fits Rachel's personality and, most importantly, the classy look and color scheme of the room.

I'm really impressed by the range of Millar's work. Both pieces do represent a realist style, but they are so thematically different that they really speak to the variety of her work. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on her portfolio from now on- just as I'll be watching each new episode of Suits with anticipation. I'll keep marveling over that incredible production design and keep my eye out for some new interesting paintings.
If you would like to see any of my source material, please check the following sources below. I especially advise you to check out Millar's blog to really appreciate her work, past and present.

Heather Millar's Blog

Entertainment Weekly piece about Harvey Spector 
"Inside the man and office of Harvey Spector" by Mandi Bierly (2011)

To da loos (the blog that put me on the right track)

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Dido Elizabeth Painting in "Belle"

As you know from many of my earlier posts, it is not exactly rare to have a painting serve as the center of a film. Some of my favorite pieces of film art have such a warm place in my heart because of their singular importance in their film. Similarly, many of these paintings are portraits because (if you remember the "Art of Film" Theory), portraits mean people, and people make the world go round. Therefore, I'm sure that you are not surprised that I was very excited when I learned that a new film was inspired by a historic 18th century British portrait. In full disclosure, I haven't seen Belle (starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Tom Wilkinson) yet, but its very premise excites me.
The film is based on the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the mixed race daughter of English nobility and an enslaved African woman. Dido was raised by her uncle, William, the Earl of Mansfield, in a very delicate situation. While she was raised as a noblewoman, she was barred from many social situations due to her race. But her excellent breeding and education unsurprisingly caused her to question the hypocrisy of her situation and the story for a perfect film about race and identity was born. In fact, some believe that Dido is an essential, if not background, figure in the abolition of slavery in Great Britain. It looks to be a fabulous period film with an excellent cast and a moral message with a little romance nestled in between. In short, it looks like my kind of movie.
According to the filmmakers, early inspiration for the production of the film came from a portrait of Dido and her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray. The painting by Johann Zoffany, a German portrait painter, features two beautiful young women. The first, a lovely white aristocrat, sits demurely in the foreground, while the second, equally lovely (but certainly more mischievous looking), poses in the behind her. The portrait is fun, an adjective that doesn't usually describe 18th century aristocratic portraits. And besides being fun, the mixed race factor makes it an intriguing piece. Why is there a black and white woman in the same painting? Why does the black woman look equally noble, despite the position of blacks in Britain at the time? Why do they look so close? Between all those "whys," a film is born.
The painting still hangs in the Mansfield family's ancestral home, Scone Palace. It was there, that it raised enough attention to inspire the production of the film. Film or no film, the painting is just simply amazing and I'm so excited to learn more about its background. Unlike some other period films of this year (Grace of Monaco most notably), this film is opening to gentle positive reviews. Make sure you check it out in a theater near you.
Scone Palace

"Movie Inspired by a Painting" (my note: real creative title USA Today) by Maria Puente

"The slave's daughter who inspired a movement that set millions free: film tells amazing secret in painting." by Emma Pietras (Mirror)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Life is a Banquet Series: My Auntie Mame Posts

As you know, I went on a little blog journey that explored art and artistic themes in various film adaptations of the Auntie Mame character, who was first created by the brilliantly funny American author Patrick Dennis. While I got great pleasure from researching and writing these posts, they got me distracted from my "Art of Film" blogging mission. I promise, with God as my witness... never to be hungry again... and to rededicate myself to my original blogging purpose.

But... in the meantime, here are all the Mame related posts. I'm (un-creatively) calling this series: "Life is a Banquet" because its my personal credo and because I didn't put too much thought into it. Enjoy!

Mame Dennis is really one of my favorite characters and she has had a wonderful history of adaptations on stage and screen. Some of my favorite actresses have taken Mame's message to heart and embodied her in various ways with various success. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my second-favorite Mame, Angela Lansbury, whose musical role won her

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