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July 29 2014

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wolf in chic clothing

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Peter

You don’t have to be Scrooge to crave a break from the Grinches, Rockettes,
and dancing sugarplum fairies that seem to be inescapable once Thanksgiving
is over. Offering a reprieve from the usual seasonal fare is Works &
Process’ unsaccharine take on Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” at the
Guggenheim Museum. Along with the Juilliard Ensemble under the direction of
George Manahan of the New York City Opera and a set designed by sculptor
Andrew Scott Ross, the production features fashion’s favorite ham, Isaac
Mizrahi, as the narrator. The designer-cum-actor took some time out from
rehearsals to answer a few questions for Style.com. For more information on
“Peter and the Wolf,” see www.guggenheim.org.

You’ve been involved in theater in one way or another for years. How has
this project been different?


Usually I write the show and I’m responsible for what I say. In this case,
I’m interpreting a wonderful classic text. It just feels terribly
lighthearted and fun. One way I’ve learned to prepare for these kinds of
engagements is to not prepare. It’s very important to leave some aspects to
chance, let something actually happen onstage, rather than pretending
something is happening. That means not obsessing. Being fully prepared but
not rehearsing too much.

Between running a fashion label and taping two TV shows, we’re guessing
you don’t have a lot of spare time. What made you want to get involved with
this production?

I wanted to read “Peter and the Wolf” because I love it, and when I was
asked I couldn’t refuse. I make time for anything as wonderful as
this.

Do you remember the first time you heard “Peter and the Wolf”?

I wish I could say I have a memory of hearing John Gielgud do it as a tot,
but I don’t. The recording I’ve had forever is the one of Leonard Bernstein,
which I adore. Though I may be crazy, I seem to remember seeing the divine
Elaine Stritch read it and that gave it a whole new meaning. I’m using her
as my slide rule.

There aren’t any costumes in this production, but let’s pretend for a
minute there were…


I’ve always thought it would be amazing to create old-fashioned hats to
represent each character. Cocktail hats, cloches, hats with ears, hats with
beaks, feathered bonnets, etc. Actors wouldn’t be costumed (other than the
hats) or staged; they would be seated on distinguished chairs in
distinguishing hats.

Photo: Courtesy of the Guggenheim Museum

childish things

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Hoop

“Love songs bore me.” Jesca Hoop lays down summary judgment on pop music’s most cherished genre in a soft voice that’s almost a coo. Talking to her, you can understand why the L.A.-based singer-songwriter was an effective nanny prior to recording her debut album, “Kismet.” And listening to the LP,
it makes sense that the person whose kids Hoop was keeping an eye on were
none other than Tom Waits’. At once wide-eyed and Kurt Weill-inflected,
“Kismet” is a collection of surprisingly stern lullabies, the kind of songs
that sing you into a sleep of haunting dreams. As she prepped for her last
gig of the year, a hometown show at the Troubadour tonight, Hoop spared a
few minutes to talk to Style.com about playing for money, the relationship
between cleaning and writing, and growing up in Eden.

Anyone who reads your bio must immediately seize on the fact that you
were the nanny for Tom Waits’ kids. Does it ever get frustrating to be in
that shadow?


I don’t consider it a shadow. Tom’s more like a light; that’s always been
his intention in calling attention to my music, to shine a light on it, and
because he’s a legend, the light works. I guess people might read that I was
his kids’ nanny and wonder if there’s some nepotism thing going on, if I’m
not the “real deal,” whatever that means. But that’s none of my
business.

Is his work an influence on you?

There are a few artists I put in the category of “hero songwriters,” and Tom
is definitely up there at the top of that list, along with Kate Bush. But I
don’t think I’m really influenced by either of them in terms of my sound.
It’s more like I’m drawn to the part of their nature that they write
from—their songs, in such different ways, are both highly descriptive
and surreal. They find ways to unhook the imagination, if you know what I
mean.

I’m not sure I do. How do you “unhook your imagination,” as it
were?


Well, OK. So I’ve always been a person who writes in my head. Walking to
school, driving, cleaning the house—any rote activity that engages the
body but leaves the brain free, that’s the natural occupation for my mind,
making up songs. And there’s something about that—about not being at
the piano, trying to write—that lets me play with ideas without judging
them.

When you do sit down to write to formalize the cleaning/driving/walking
ideas, where do you typically start? At the piano?


Actually, I usually start with the vocals, and then once I’ve got something
I’ll go to the guitar. I’m least adept on the piano.

You’re based in L.A., and you’ve got the love of KCRW and the “Morning
Becomes Eclectic” show. Do you feel a part of the music community out
there?


I’m not sure there is a music community here. Ugh, that sounds harsh, but
what I mean is, there’s not a community in the way I’ve traditionally
understood that word. L.A. is a working town; people come here to work and
make money, and most of the time when people collaborate, it’s on a job. I
grew up playing music for the hell of it, and to me, that’s what a music
scene ought to be about.

Where did you grow up?

Sonoma County. On an apple orchard.

Was your childhood more or less idyllic than one would assume, hearing
“Sonoma County” and “apple orchard”?


Somewhat more idyllic, if you can believe it. The landscape there is
just…gorgeous beyond description. I experience a lot of nostalgia for
that place, which maybe explains why I return to childhood so often when I
write songs.

But your songs aren’t typically autobiographical.

No, not at all. It’s more a feeling of childhood, a feeling of nature. But I
write fiction.

rebel yell

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Rebel

From Hogarth’s beautifully executed satire to Sarah Lucas’ mocking yob machismo and her bawdy visual puns, humor has always been the sharpest tool the British use to attack hypocrisy, injustice, and social inequality. “The Rebel,” which launches in London’s Notting Hill this week with an event promising “wines, cheese, crystallized ginger, and harp music,” is a limited-edition satirical magazine produced by the Sartorial Contemporary Art gallery. It’s carrying on the Hogarth tradition with its first issue, which is dedicated to the subjects of class and art. Among its headlines are such tantalizing topics as “23 Artists Tell Us About Their Social Class,” and “The Art World’s 50 Least Important People.” Before the launch,
Style.com exchanged e-mails with Athens-born Gretta Sarfaty Marchant and English artists Jasper Joffe and Harry Pye, who offered their insights as “The Rebel’s” founding editors.

A first issue about class seems very English. Is the English art world really classist these days?

Harry Pye: The English are obsessed with class. I’ve noticed that in America if they remake a sitcom that features a cockney or south London wide boy, they’ll make the character black. I think that in America it’s less about class and more about color, and African-Americans or Mexicans are seen as the underdogs.

Gretta Sarfaty Marchant: Britain is the most civilized and polite place I’ve ever been. British people are creative, but best of all exciting. They have a rough side to them, like pirates. They can suddenly turn and be like a pirate. I find that really fascinating.

Who has an easier time—affluent, Oxford-educated genius Conrad Shawcross; Richard Billingham, whose art began by being about his chav childhood; or an artist with a rougher accent and rougher work?

Jasper Joffe: I don’t think it holds you back being from a poor background once you get on the big stage, but the terrible school you go to in England if you live in a crappy area definitely doesn’t help you get anywhere.

HP: Morrissey often quotes a story about Kirk Douglas saying he was always waiting for someone to tap him on the shoulder and tell him to go home. I believe that a lot of working-class people who’ve done well would relate to this idea that no matter how many awards, backslaps, and money they get, there will always be a part of them that believes they’re inferior and that one day they’ll have to hand it all back. Whereas someone from a privileged background is much more likely to be nominated for an award and think, “Yes, quite rightly, too.”

Who are your ideal readers?

HP: I like the Tony Hancock film, “The Rebel.” I like the way the Hancock character believed he should have more success and respect and wasn’t happy with his lot. He is our ideal reader.

JJ: I’d like Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin to read it. They were always publishing their own magazines and books, and even set the type themselves.

Do you think the art world generally takes itself too seriously?

HP: All the best artists had a decent sense of humor. However, there is a lot of fear in England that if an artist makes a joke in his or her work then somehow it’s proof that it’s all a big con. The truth is, there’s many a true word spoken in jest.

JJ: I think generally the art world/art often pretends to be ironic but actually isn’t. A bit like me.

thought bubble

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“Well, it’s a conversation in the air, isn’t it?” So comments Neville Wakefield, one of many members of the Art Basel tribe to do some heavy thinking this week on the subject of bursting bubbles. “‘When?’ That’s the question on everyone’s mind.” For some critical perspective on the ifs and whens of the art bubble, Basel-goers should check out tomorrow night’s WORTH, a panel cocurated by Wakefield and presented by the Accompanied Literary Society. Featuring Jeffrey Deitch, Dan Graham, David Ross, and Jerry Saltz, and moderated by Glenn O’Brien, the dinner and discussion is part of a celebration of the U.S. launch of “The Worth of Art (2)” by Judith Benhamou-Huet. “Coming from outside the art world, I found the first ‘Worth of Art’ an indispensable textbook when I read it in 2001,” explains Accompanied head Brooke Geahan, who helped coax the book’s sequel into limited-edition print. “Since then, obviously, art has become a much larger presence in the culture, for reasons that have almost everything to do with money. I wanted to find a way to talk about the elephant in the room.” Rolodex in hand, Geahan called on friends at Swarovski and Assouline to get “The Worth of Art (2)” translated and published in time for Art Basel Miami. She kept on dialing as she planned WORTH, snagging the MisShapes to DJ the post-dinner blowout at the Raleigh. In ‘other words, the art party’s not over quite yet.

it’s a family affair

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Potterybarn

Struggling artists complain that the art world is more about who you know than what you do. In “Brief Encounters: An Expanding Group Exhibition,” the Caren Golden Fine Art gallery playfully mocks—and exploits—the notion of networking by asking current gallery artists to invite their friends to show at the gallery. What started with four artists represented by Caren Golden and two invited ones expanded into a 31-participant show, and each artist was asked to consider their list of invitees as their personal “generations of successors.” The chain starting with Jean Blackburn, whose “Pottery Barn” pokes fun at cozy design aesthetics, evolved into an electrifyingly colorful Bauhaus-inspired oil-on-canvas distillation of the look she plays with. Just as family trees trace hereditary traits, “Brief Encounters” is as much a portrait of each Caren Golden artist as it is a show curated by the gallery’s roster, and it demonstrates how you’re never more than six degrees apart in New York’s intimate art community.

Jean Blackburn, “Pottery Barn,” 2007, courtesy of Caren Golden Fine Art