DC Free Date Ideas

Following up on the list I created for London Free Date Ideas, I crafted a list of some unique things to fo in the District. Let’s face it, DC is expensive, we enjoy paying 10% sales tax and $4 for a single taco. Lots of people get stumped on free things to do beyond going to Smithsonian Museums and cherry blossoms at the monuments so hopefully, this list can help you out.

*A side note on this is that it is not unreasonable to expect both parties on a date to foot the bill. However, I really do see the value in the desire to treat someone to a good time. I don’t think it is at all unequal or sexist to feel this way. Also, it goes without saying that these suggestions are not limited to dates–they can include platonic dates, family visits, solo adventures, whatever your heart tells you!*

1. Museums, there are more museums out there than the Smithsonian’s it’s true I promise! However, starting with the gems so generously run by the government my favorites that are a little lesser known and might woo a potential interest are the Hirshhorn, Sackler Gallery, Renwick, and the National Building Museum.  Currently, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibition is about to open at the Hirshhorn and it is going to be an incredible interactive exhibit. Beyond the Smithsonians are the donation based private collections and gardens that can be tricky to find but worth the research. I recently just learned about the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens which can dazzle with their manicured, beautiful landscaping and quirky art collection. The Phillips Collection also likes to sprinkle surprise free days throughout the year so keep alert for those.

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2. Art Galleries, on top of all the museums and art collections, commercial art galleries can be a great place to score some free food, wine, and see not priceless but very pricey works of art. You and your date can pretend to peruse for your humble DC shack which can add to all the fun. Some great galleries that consistently hold receptions are Longview Gallery, Morton Fine Art, Foundry Gallery and Transformer.

3. Franciscan Monastery, way out in Brookland, not Brooklyn (see entire post here), is the Franciscan Monastery. You can meander through the beautiful buildings and wooded gardens for hours. The roses are absolutely beautiful when in bloom and the monastery is so serene and peaceful. It is the perfect location for a calm stroll.

4.  Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, while out in Brookland make it a catholic themed date and head to the basilica which boasts a less humble gorgeous church with a very interesting crypt free for exploring underneath.

5. Washington National Cathedral, I know these three locales are feeling very religious for dates I think most people are comfortable absorbing beautiful architecture and buildings rich in history. Even though I am not Christian, I find churches very spiritual and impressive in their holy stature. Nearer to downtown resides the National Cathedral, a gothic inspired cathedral that really rounds out the entire church tour of the District. It is best to catch the cathedral at sunrise or sunset because the arches cast the most beautiful shadows on the small passageways.You can splurlge on a cup of coffee at the Open City at the National Cathedral and wonder around the petite Bishop’s Garden.

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6. National Arboretum, this not-so-obscure spot is classic first date material. There is just enough nature, history, and bonsai serenity. The arboretum can get crowded on the weekends so try to pick a weekday to visit or arrive nice and early. The fields and paths are perfect for ambling and the columns from the original capitol building are especially photogenic when the wildflowers are in bloom in front of them. For an arboretum, there is not an overly impressive amount of tree species but the bonsai collection is quite divine.

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7. Capitol Tour, as I mentioned in my previous date guide there is nothing wrong with geeking out a little bit when going out, in fact, it’s highly encouraged. You can make arrangments with your state’s representative to go on a guided tour of the capitol with a political savvy intern and see the impressive Capitol in all it’s splendor A capitol tour is a nice alternative to the tired old stroll around the mall–looking at monuments you and your friend have probably visited on numerous occasions.

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8. Meridian Hill Park, one of my favorite parks in DC is a great place to have a picnic or rendezvous. The fountains (when on) are spectacular. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore and intimate places to find around the park. Meridian Hill is also a hotspot for dog watching and who doesn’t love a cute pup to cuddle with?

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9. Roosevelt IsIland, a naturally romantic spot and a romatic nature spot. Roosevelt Island is a hidden gem that is great for trail runs and walks. You can access it via a jaunt along the waterfront and over the Key Bridge or by weaving past the Kennedy Center. The Georgetown Waterfront way is more picturesque but there is something a little thrilling about the narrow walkway on the Memorial Bridge. There are so many cool views of DC and Rosslyn that you can’t get from anywhere else and the dense thicket of trees makes you feel for a moment that you have escaped the slabs of marble and concrete that envelope DC. Bring a snack and sit on the wooden boardwalk in warm weather for an added bonus.

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10. Thrifting at Georgia Avenue Thrift Shop, not entirely, but always free to look is some antiquing and thrifting. Georgia Avenue has racks and racks of clothes that are perfect for a little game of dress up and laughs about bad fashion over the decades. You might also venture to the back to see what odds and ends are for sale including random bits of furniture, parts of china sets, lamp shades and other wonderful artifacts. Try hunting for the strangest items you can find or relics of childhood–these are great conversation starters.

11. Union Market Sampling, it’s like going to a farmer’s market that you can enjoy year round. Union market has dozens of vendors (68 to be exact)  hawking their food and wares each day and offering up tasty samples of everything from olive oil to chocolate and soap to cheese. There are so many interesting things to try and it’s a great spot for intriguing people watching. It is quite possible if you hit the sampling right to not spend any money and get a decent meal in, or at least get some creative ideas for your own cooking. Union Market makes for a colorful culinary adventure and they market also has pop-up events such as live music or painting classes.

12. Dolcezza Factory Tour, like gelato? Enjoy seeing the mechanics behind how food is made? Crave fresh made soft serve? Well all your dreams can come true with a tour of the Dolcezza Gelato Factory. Located right behind Union Market, the factory holds tours on the weekend so you can make the most of your NoMa adventure and do Union Market sampling in the morning and gelato in the afternoon. It’s always a treat to have those cool how it’s made moments and witness them with someone else who has a sweet tooth or is an avid fan of production processes.

13. Brewery Tours, since I am from Boulder, the land of microbreweries I can’t say that DC is a beer town but the District is no slouch when it comes to having enough breweries for a create your own brewery tour. My favorites are 3 Stars, Right Proper and DC Brau. 3 Stars has beautiful large format beers in a cute small space with bright exposed lightbulbs and a no-frills atmosphere. Tours are Saturday at 2pm, 3pm, & 4pmTours and are free and open to the public c with valid 21+ ID. Right Proper has a very great date spot in their Brew Pub and Kitchen in Shaw but you can go see where the magic happens for free at their Brookland Production House and Tasting Room. Tours of the brewery are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm, 4pm, and 6pm and are completely free with tastes. They describe their tasting space so aptly that I am going to leave the quote to them, “our tasting room offers a view of the brewery in a cozy space filled with reclaimed cherry wood and a slightly disturbing chalk art mural.” Who can say no to disturbing chalk art? It is sure to make anyone at least more interested in you. Tour of DC Brau (not my favorite beer but local and fun) are free and on Saturday at 1, 2. 3 and 4pm. Their brewery space is awesome and filled with great merch, decals and has rotating guest food trucks in the back.

14. Congressional Cemetery, it may sound morbid to go to a cemetery on a date but I actually find graveyards so peaceful and relaxing. You can have your own Harold and Maude moment while learning about some interesting history. The grounds are very well-maintained and sometimes they host movie nights with spooky classics. For a first date or excursion best to visit in the day time but if you want to go at dawn or dusk that adds to the mystery and quiet solemness.

15. Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, see full post here. The Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are a rare nature retreat within the city limits. When the lilypads are in bloom, the swampy wetlands are incredible. The gardens show an adventurous, sensitive side all wrapped into one.

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Making Waves: Japanese Fashion’s Petite Retrospective at the Denver Art Museum

In Shock Wave, the Denver Art Museum carefully curates Japanese fashion design from the 1980’s-90’s in a magnificent yet humble display.  This was a pivotal time for Japanese fashion designer that features the likes of Issey Miyake, Kenzo Takada, Kansai Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, and Junya Watanabe. The designers reinvented classics from European designers such as Coco Chanel and Christian Dior whilst also inspiring contemporary fashion designers including Martin Margiela, Helmut Lang, John Galliano, and Dries Van Noten. The exhibit did a fantastic job displaying the Japanese designers next to their counterparts–intermixing in a sensible way by style and form rather than randomly throwing in European designers against the Japanese greats or trying to press a forced chronology.

Shock Wave is also a mixed media exhibition that smartly adds video to fill the small, almost awkward museum. space it absorbs.  The four video installations highlighted different runway shows, bringing the clothes on display to life with simplicity and displaying the theatrical quality and movement of the clothes as was intended be the designers. The most captivating is Miyake’s show that featured models walking a square “runway” reminiscent of a sumo wrestling ring. Another video shows the backstage dressing of models so the viewer can examine the subtle complexities of the flowy, boxy Japanese garments and you would probably want to purchase a copy of the informational video with your couture.

The final highlight of the exhibit are the “invisible” dress forms created by Allison McCloskey, associate textile conservator, especially for Shock Wave. Almost every garment is hung on a hand-shaped dress form that is made from soft materials (either foam core or a  soft polyester felt that is molded than hardened with heat). These completely customized mannequins serve many purposes, including, providing the actual softness of a live model. In many fashion exhibits, clothes are stretched over mannequins and appear lifeless but with this new technique it actually looks like someone is wearing the clothes because the pleats, boning, and other structural elements can fall in the correct place. It was critical that these dress forms were created because there is an entire section of the exhibit devoted to oversized garments that are near impossible to display on a standard mannequin. The museum created a fascinating behind-the-scenes video where you can watch the shaping and dressing of the forms. It is always true that small shifts, have an incredible impact.

Shock Wave is Florence Muller’s first exhibition at the Denver Art Museum after she curated the traveling Yves Saing Laurent Retrospective with mediocre success. Shock Waves closes May 28th so if you are in Denver in the upcoming months and have a passion for fashion and an appreciation for its history make sure to visit this exhibition.

A River Runs Through It: 48 Hours in Amsterdam

The title should be several canals run through it but this was more catchy. Living close to mainland Europe has it perks, mainly quick, cheap flights to little European treasures. Amsterdam provides a great setting for a quick getaway as it is small and very easy to get around. Here’s an insider guide to my perfect trip to this Netherlands staple.

To Stay: There are some great hostels in Amsterdam that have been personally recommended to me although I stayed with friends. For excellent location check out the Hotel Van Gogh , right in the heart of the museum quarter. This budget hotel has a youth section that serves the function as a hostel and is simple and clean. For a more communal, party vibe check out the The Flying Pig. This funky hostel has a few locations and serves up some unique decor and a youth-centered vibe.

To Eat: In Amsterdam there are “coffee shops” and there are cafes. Don’t confuse the two or you’l end up eating an edible for breakfast and your day will take an odd turn. A great cafe to start the day is Coffee and Coconuts. CT is in the very trendy neighborhood of Die Pijp, right by the Heineken Factory. The cafe is in a converted cinema and has three spacious floors with low beige seating. The feeling is sophisticated beach resort and they hit the nail on the head with the nautical decor and wood touches. The food is spot on and very health conscious. Coconut are incorporated in many of the sweet dishes, I had an amazing coconut sponge cake with lime mascarpone icing. My friend had a packed acai bowl with palm berry puree,  raw buckini, blueberry, banana, & dried coconut. On the savory side, we enjoyed two Le Croissants, a grilled croissant with bacon, cheese and tomato, CT’s mustard and garden cress. The mustard was grainy and went well with the tangy tomatoes. The bacon was real American “stripey” bacon which is hard to find in Europe. The croissant was a touch over-grilled and turned out to be a bit smushed so maybe ask for light on the panini press. Our cappuccinos were perfection, make sure you indicate you want a double shot so they are not too weak. Another thing you must try in Amsterdam is Rijstaffel, which translates to “rice table”. Rijstaffel is a collection of small Indonesian dishes served tapas style. I’ve been told that this you’ll get more of a variety of Indonesian food in Amsterdam because when visiting Indonesia the cuisine is highly region-specific but Rijstaffel lets you try it all. We were recommended a great place by CT that we didn’t get a chance to try called Albina, a tiny restaurant that’s hard not to confuse with the kitchen supply store next door. Our host had a great quote about Dutch cuisine that went like this “The Dutch don’t do food very well but they do get desserts right.” What she means is that you MUST visit street vendors for authentic Dutch desserts usually consisting of fried dough, waffles and caramel. Another dish that the Dutch do get right are Dutch pancakes duh. Our favorite place was a tiny upstairs joint called Pannenkoekenhuis Upstairs. Make sure you check google maps for their very strange hours.

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Museums, Museums, and more Museums: Amsterdam is oversaturated with museums and the thing about their museums is that they are NOT cheap. So you have to get strategic. All art tastes are different but I’m going to go ahead a lay out the path that worked best for me and I think ticked a lot of art and cultural boxes. First, the Anne Frank House cannot be missed. It is beautifully preserved a very moving tribute to the Jews persecuted during WWII. Without giving too much away I will say that flowing through the eerily preserved house is powerful and after the capture of Anne Frank and her family the museum architecture shifts to emulate a concentration camp in a very unique way. Ajacent to the Anne Frank House are two (shockingly) free museums that will make you smile after your sombre experience. The Cheese and Tulip Museum are definitely cheesy (har) but worth a trip to a. nosh on some cheese samples and b. learn about the Tulip trade in The Netherlands which is actually quite interesting. Next, the Rijksmuseum provided the biggest bang for your buck. The museum houses everything from Dutch masters such as Rembrandt’s Night Watch to various works by Van Gogh, as well as, contemporary works and baroque artifacts. The design of the museum also gives is an edge as it is very grand and ornate. The public garden in front tops it off and you can take a quick jaunt over to the “I Amsterdam” sign. I always need a reprieve from serious classic paintings and a perfect place to get your modern fix is Foam, a photography museum that is smartly curated and designed.

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To Drink: Once you are wiped out from walking in parks, touring museums, and canal biking (paddle boating on canals is a must) then you will need a drink (or two, or three). So beer is the name of the game in Amsterdam and theire are two great places to get it. One, Brouwerji ‘t IJ a craft brewery in a windmill, need I say more? Make sure to get there before 5 PM for flight tastings of their amazing selection of hoppy brews. Second, TAPROOM, they have over 25 beers on tap that are all craft brews from all over the world. They have some killer stouts and porters. The atmosphere gets funky in the late evening when the Justin Bieber comes on.

Sigh, one trip done. In Britain “Lateness is Rudeness” so I’ll try to be more one it for future postings. Look forward to Berlin, Norway and Turkey coming up.

A Little Something Something

My poor forgotten blog, I am revisiting you at last. First, let me say that the past month has been absolutely craziness but I am proud to say You are HERE has officially moved international! It’s safe to say I am settled in London by now so ya’ll can look forward to cheeky posts from England’s hustling and bustling capital.

My overall impressions of the city are as follows: traffic, drinking on the sidewalk (yes, it’s cooler to be outside the bar than in), queuing, so much queuing. and green space. The royal parks alone are out of this world. (Look for individual park breakdowns in the future). I’m going to get to coffee shops, ramen, museums, and fashion in a minute but first I have to acknowledge the amazing jewel in my own ‘hood-The Somerset House. 

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The Somerset House is a sprawling complex on The Strand that houses galleries, cafes, a massive courtyard, and so much more. I can’t really do the history of this grand manor justice so I’ll leave it to the comprehensive history page on Somerset’s site.

When you step into any part of the Somerset House it is as if you have stepped out of contemporary London and into Vienna in the early 1900s. The air is rich with bourgeoisie knowledge from the King’s College students criss crossing with arts enthusiasts. The “house” is enormous and the exhibitions are constantly changing so it is impossible to grow bored. There are five eateries and countless galleries to traverse along with terraces and special events.

So far I have found Fernandez and Wells to be an amazing spot to curl up and do work with a coffee and a delicious sandwich or bowl of soup. Full on review to come soon.

I have made my way through Out of Chaos Ben Uri: 100 Years in London an awesome exhibit celebrating London’s rich immigrant communities. The exhibit was nicely curated with works that were thoughtfully put together in each small room. This made for a very intimate look inside the lives of London’s multicultural landscape. The range of works spanning many different time periods is very dynamic and is supported by crisp graphics portraying the climbing number of immigrants in London.

I also walked through Courtauld Gallery which houses a permanent collection of medieval and impressionist works, as well as, revolving exhibits. On display currently is Bridget Riley: Learning from Seurat.  In this show, Riley copied Seurat’s famous Bridge at Courbevoie and than created her own works. Riley’s new perspective on pointillism is quite vibrant and striking. It was refreshing to see an artist celebrate a classic painter rather than hide behind murky plaques that say “he/she was inspired by…” and hen produce a grim modern copy.

The permanent collection includes paintings, drawings, and sculptures residing in stately rooms that are artful in their own right. The collection has a surprising amount of classics but doesn’t overwhelm the visitor with volume. Each painting has room to breath on well-lit walls. Some of my favorites included Nevermore by Gauguin and Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder,

I have just scratched the surface of all there is to explore at the magnificent Somerset House but it is right down the road so I am sure to return a couple dozen times this year. However, this quick review of a cafe and two galleries should be enough to entice anyone to take a look. There’s something in Somer for everyone,

 

 

 

This is Bowie to Bowie

For those who don’t know the obscure reference to the band The Flight of the Concords and their even more unknown song Bowie a few lines of the poignant pun filled song do a great job of capturing David Bowie’s essence:

“This is Bowie to Bowie
Do you hear me out there, man?
This is Bowie back to Bowie
I read you loud and clear, man, ooh yeah man”

“Do you have one really funky sequined space suit, Bowie
Or do you have several ch-changes?”

Recently, I went to the exhibit David Bowie Is at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. This comprehensive exhibit also did a fantastic job of profiling David Bowie’s eccentric and incredible career. David Bowie Is is the vision of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago as the only US venue.

The retrospective spanned six rooms at the MCA and included a diverse range of artifacts including letters, handwritten lyrics, videos, stage costumes, posters, and even original paintings by Bowie. The content of the exhibit painted a rich picture of David Bowie and included not only, the inspirational figures in his life, but also, how he inspired others, leaving his own mark on pop culture.

One of the most phenomenal parts of the exhibit was the audio companion that was motion activated. Your headset would start playing as you approached certain objects or entered rooms then fade out as you drifted from one place to the next. The effect may sound chaotic and a little disorienting but it proved otherwise. The audio system made the exhibit almost envelope you and created a visceral experience.

The pieces included in the retrospective seemed thoughtfully chosen and I didn’t feel inundated with stuff as I sometimes find in larger exhibits. The path and chronology of David Bowie Is was clear and pretty focused. Overall, I think the first retrospective of David Bowie’s life was hugely successful. I strongly encourage a visit to the MCA or wherever the show might be rolling to next. Going through the entire exhibit does take time and I would recommend at least a two hour tour to absorb all the content.

While photography was not allowed in the museum we snapped a few pictures outside the grand entrance banner and side poster. In the photos I am rocking my new-found love of street style with my full flowy skirt paired with a crop top and new  Supra kicks. On another (rare) men’s fashion note, my father is sporting some Cole Haan’s with colorful soles that we are all in love with and he exclusively buys.

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Brooklyn Baby Part 1

I’m going to borrow Lana Del Rey’s crown for just a moment after my three day quest around Brooklyn last weekend. After spending many winters, falls, and  Labor Day weekends in Manhattan my latest trip called for a change. Brooklyn turned out to be the most beautiful change possible with a more relaxed feel and less scene-y environment. I toured around a majority of this borough, beaming with excitement. Here is my Brooklyn Breakdown.

Brooklyn Heights

My base for the weekend lied in Brooklyn Heights, on Clark Street, steps away from the new waterfront promenade. My most excellent hostess, Maddy, has become quite the local after living in the city for only two months. Her coffee shop and subway knowledge was most impressive and she made the perfect guide. The promenade which I explored on my own is a very exciting addition to the neighborhood and was packed with people enjoying the riverside. The renovation of old piers into athletic fields, basketball courts, water parks adds a cool texture to the landscape and your normal recreational activities becomes literally elevated above the water. Brooklyn Heights is a bit blissful and is is so quiet and calm, it’s shocking. My tour de Brooklyn was marked with countless cups of coffee, too many to do a review for each but I’ll mention my caffeine stops in each area. For Brooklyn Heights, Vineapple is an elongated, elegant coffee shop that is dark and cool during the summer heat. Most coffee joints here seem to be serving Stumptown Roasters, so this can be assumed unless noted otherwise. Unfortunately, Stumptown a Portland-based company is not my favorite coffee and I think there are probably local roasters that are more suitable.

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Dumbo

Dumbo is teensy tiny and it is hard to to tell when Brooklyn Heights ends and Dumbo begins. The easiest indication is that D-U-M-B-O is an acronym for “down under the Manhattan Bridge,” which directly points to its size. Nicely nestled under the bridge Dumbo’s  narrow, cobbled streets and arching underpasses evoke an almost European feel. I was immensely disappointed with the popularized Brooklyn Roasting Company, whose enormous flagship location offered up a weak cold brew coffee and an even more mediocre peanut butter cookie. The antique and thrifted atmosphere felt very forced in the enormous Starbucks-like space. One evening, we chose to do prepared food roof dining, as the Clark Street Studio offered up a nice view of “the other”  (Manhattan). Stepping into Foragers, a quaint speciality store we walked out with a nice vegetable medley and Lentil soup.

Bushwick

Getting to Bushwick from Booklyn Heights does require a tedious trip into Manhattan, subway transfer, then move back into Brooklyn. In Bushwick I met up with a friend, Julian, an artist I have previously written about (here). I certainly could not have navigated this area without some pro supervision so I was very happy to meet up with Julian. We first stopped for a pair of good cappuccinos at Kave. This super interesting spot is tucked away behind a wooden gate, making it appear to be quite secretive. The courtyard behind the gate was smartly curated and felt very calm and cozy. Strolling on from Kave and the recycling plant there are rows of old factories, now transformed into studios, sound stages, and other creative spaces. However, the outside of these cracked buildings displays little indication of what lies inside. For brunch we headed to Cafe Ghia, a petite spot packed with diners. The highlight was the Ranchero Benedict, a twist on the clasic composed of poached eggs on corn griddle cakes with avocado and Huancaina sauce (yellow pepper and Feta). Bushwick is well-known as a sort of ‘artist’s colony’ with it’s most prominent group being The Bushwick Collective which is advertised an an outdoor street gallery. Julian explained it succinctly as a bunch of graffiti artists that decided to unionize. The work is now, ironically the opposite of street art with building faces as approved canvases, semi-regular turnaround, and often less gritty depictions. Some of muralists are extremely talented and others are less successful but still, the covered walls bring a lot of vibrancy to the streets.

Still to come… Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Park Slope

 

Denver Emerging Artist: Serena Louise

Recently I sat down with my friend and extremely talented artist Serena Louise Williams. I have had the pleasure of working, learning, and hanging with Serena for the past couple years and her personal style as well as artist aesthetic is vibrant and inspiring. What started as a coffee catch up at St, Mark’s Coffeehouse (see review) in Denver became a stimulating conversation about Serena’s art.

While she received a BA in Visual Arts K-12 Teaching at the University of Northern Colorado and has contributed  improved art curriculums in schools Serena’s heart lies in fine art. With her drive and creativity she definitely has the potential to realize her aspirations and follow her dream of living abroad in order to spread her artistic spirit.

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You are HERE (YAH): I want to talk about the inspiration behind the three series you are featuring in your portfolio on Art By Serena Louise.. When I look at “The ‘Unorthadox’ Series” you chose to examine the fascinating form of octopi. Growing up in Colorado I want to know where this very fluid seaside influence came from because it seems unexpected from an artist living in a land locked state?

Serena Louise (SL): The Unorthodox series began as a color study for my final semester of college. I wanted to go big and bold with little concept. The symbol of the octopus is a fascinating one. For those who don’t know, they have the ability to remove their limbs. This could be a tool for escape in time of danger, they grow them back with no harm to themselves. My father grew up in St. Petersberg, Florida. He spent a lot of his youth visiting the islands of the Caribbean. He told me a story once, where he was diving around old shipwrecks and found an octopus stuck inside of a toilet. He watched amazed as this octopus literally ripping itself apart to escape the porcelain prison. The octopus showed that it easily lets go. They are said to be independent and choose their own paths. In a personification of the octopus, they are “unorthodox” doing things in an alternative manner and achieving similar or better results. I feel that I am, in a way, that alternative in my life. Therefore, I am the “unorthodox” creature.

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YAH: Moving onto “Face” I see the subtle reference to the artist St. Vincent in “St. Vincent Polka Dot.” Are all of these almost caricatures based off figures in popular culture or is St. Vincent in inspiration to you?

SL: “Faces” started out as sketching exercises and I soon developed a style with pen. Some of the faces were from my own imagination. Most of the faces in the series are from references, however, I always take my own liberties when creating them. I change their facial structure, or expression, and give them a new name. Most, honestly, are models in the fashion industry. “St. Polka Dot” is indeed St. Vincent. She has not become an inspiration for me, but I adore the aesthetics of her face.

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YAH: Who or what does influence your work?

SL: My childhood has influenced my work in a very deep way. Being an only child, I was left to my own imagination for my adventures in entertainment. My dad had created such a unique home with all his handy skills. The entire house was his work and the yards were filled with magic. Thus, the style of whimsy within my work. Secondly, the concept of “Wabi Sabi”, a term coined by the Japanese. It means to find beauty in the imperfect. After creating pieces for more than half my life, I have found that my art is so far from perfect. There is something always quirky or slightly off about it. Wabi Sabi has become a purposeful act in my life. I am also inspired by the German Expressionists of the early 1900s.

YAH: I see “The Bird Hause” as very bright and playful work, tell me about this?

SL: “The Bird Hause” was the start of my obsession with watercolors. I was learning to gain control over the pigment and the water ratios. I am proud to say that watercolor is the one major skill in the mediums of art that I am completely self taught. It is one of the most difficult forms of painting there is, at least in my opinion. “The Bird Hause” was my door to the wonders of that medium. Birds are the most naturally whimsical animals on the planet (besides fish). They possess colors and patterns out of this world. They have the ability to walk, fly, and swim. How could I not go there? The series began with “Fran” the swan. I began to imagine all the species of birds, how each one was so different and presented a different level of control. Giving them all names made them more relatable and almost personified them. “The Bird Hause” is like a family portrait.

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YAH: I know a lot of people like to ask where you see yourself as an artist in the future but I want to know what direction do you see for your art in the future coinciding with your development as an artist?

SL: I see my art growing outward, bringing with it the continued themes of life paths, animal symbolism, and never forgetting the playfulness. I never want to take myself too seriously, and always have fun creating. I see my art taking on new forms, becoming larger, grander, and maybe even changing dimensions.

YAH: Do you think there are specific challenges or advantages that come with being an artist in Denver versus say an over saturated urban art center like New York or San Francisco?

SL: Yes! Oh my word, challenges are endless, I think being in any city. Denver may not be as large as those saturated cities, but it already holds its established groups of artists. When being an emerging artist, finding your niche in a community that shares the same values as you is a huge obstacle. I have a photographer friend that lives in San Francisco and his advice is to carve your own niche. I think being entrepreneurial today is the best way to go about being an artist in a city. The advantage of living in Denver is the exposure you have to all the art and life styles, but there is still room for your own look.

YAH: Speaking of San Francisco, the last time we talked you were doing a sort of combined piece with a friend living there. This is really interesting, how does this “shared piece” work?

SL: My friend Marcos and I agreed to do a collaborative project in hopes of sparking our own individual works. He is a photographer and I am kind of a jack of all trades. We have been mailing a 12″ by 12″ canvas back and forth, for about a year now, adding images each time. For each canvas we choose a theme and a medium. This one we are about to complete was themed “Action” and we used photography and painting to collage. After each “turn” we write a small response on the images we chose and why. Developing literature with art is vital. We usually have a loose deadline of completing our “turn” in 3 days and then mailing it back. But life happens, and things get pushed aside. I am hoping that we can develop a large portion of collaged canvases and start a blog. Someday we hope to even do a show in the Bay Area and in Denver.

Find out about Serena Louise’s latest project “Finders Keepers” and check out all of her work online. I can’t wait to see more from this artist in the future, definitely a creator who will never stop growing and pushing her limits.

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The Long Exposure Lens of “Artificial Paradise”

My dear friend and Venezuelan artist, Juan Esteban Usubillaga also known as Onecho, debuted his new series of paintings last night at madelife in Boulder, Colorado. The crowd was intimate and composed of all of our friends celebrating Juan’s work.

The show, “Artificial Paradise” featured around 20 works spread over two rooms. The focal room was completely black and the works had spotlights focusing in on them. This dark setting made the colorful and glowing pieces pop and created exceptional contrast. The show was all about exploring the duality of urban and seaside life in Venezuela and also the complex process of transferring felt energies to canvas. The paintings were a rich layering of acrylic and spray paint that seemed to both, chaotically and fluidly, glide across the canvas.

What impressed me the most about Juan’s work was the haze and glow they had. The lines of paint that streaked across looked like moving light captured by a long exposure photograph at night. It was amazing to see this very specific look captured by the artist. Eager to ask Juan questions I re-toured his work and discovered even more intricacies and his words made the show even more complex. Chemical compounds etched into the canvas turned out to be different neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serration. This information gave more depth and creativity to the painting, which were now alive with physical energy straight from Onecho’s head.

The atmosphere of the show was great and madelife was a wonderful host for the event. The eclectic shop which was new to me is filled with a range of works from local artists, modern and mid-century furniture and awash of unique fabrics, paintings, and other pieces. The event was also sponsored by Suerte Tequila and Sanitas Brewing. One of the founder of Suerte, Lance Sokol, is an acquaintance, and this is one badass Tequila company. I, myself, have never been a huge tequila fan but Suerte is incredibly smooth and has slight sweet notes that make it  delicious in cocktails. I sampled a little bit of a Sanitas Black iPA and it was also very good. The beer had a nice richness along with a distinct citrus flavor.

Check out madelife and “Artificial Paradise” on display in the gallery from June 14th-July. 14th.

Long Weekend Escapade #1 Taos, New Mexico

To kick off summer and rev up the convertible I went on a girls’ long weekend trip to Taos, New Mexico.. We went from Thursday-Sunday but Sunday was an all driving day so anyone from anywhere could pack in this lovely 3-day weekend tour of the Southwest.This it the first of a segment I hope to continue with other mini adventures perfect for a work or school escape.

Stay: We stayed at the absolutely immaculate Palacio De Marquesa. This Bed and Breakfast was bought last year by Heritage Hotels and Resorts  and received a serious makeover. A B&B that probable once resembled the vast assortment of kitschy, tired inns and hotels in Taos is now a stunning white, modern palace. The rooms are refined while still keeping the best Southwestern touches such as adobe style fireplaces and carved columns. We stayed in The Romantic room which had two gorgeous studded leather white chairs and an amazing, firm king bed. With heated floors, state of the art giant shower, and operable skylights , the room was even better than what we imagined from the pictures.

IMG_2132The innkeeper Chad, was an absolute delight and was full of excellent dinner and activity suggestions. He showed off his new puppy and told us all about the details of the renovation. Breakfast in the morning was simple and delicious. There were a variety of choices and  fresh orange juice and coffee were excellent additions. I really can’t see myself returning to Taos and staying at any other place. I am anticipating when I can return and try out a different exceptional room and see the completed garden and fire pit.

Relax and Activate:I was surprised to find that there was a lot do in Taos and the surrounding area. Everyone will tell you to check out the main plaza and see all the dinky mercantile shops. Poking in and out of various stores yields some interesting finds and unique artifacts. Make sure to stroll through the square on Saturday when the Farmer’s Market is occurring and sample some yak cheese, choke cherries, and other local favorites. Relax at Ojo Caliente, which lies north of Taos. We stopped on our drive into town and checked out the mud and mineral pools before getting excellent and extremely rejuvenating hot stone massages. Skiing in the Winter and hiking in  Spring-Fall provide your dose of active adventures in Taos. We met up with some friends staying in santa Fe and hiked in Bandelier National Monument.  To avoid taking the nauseating shuttle to the park national visitor, enter after 3 PM in your own car. Driving your own car is much more convenient then waiting for said shuttle that departs every half hour from the White Tail Visitor Center to the Bandelier Visitor Center. The Main Loop Trail and Alcove House extension is a leisurely 2 miles and involves climbing cliffside ladders and a very nicely marked self-guided tour.

Galleries,: Off the main plaza we found two stand out galleries featuring contemporary artistes from Taos. First, David Anthony Fine Art or DAFA features some hidden portraits of The Beatles, that are iconic and intimate gems. The gallery also hosts rotating contemporary artists, which are a refreshing break from the repetitive landscape galleries, composing most of the tourist art culture. My second recommended gallery stop is more of a hybrid home/studio/gallery. The Howell Creative features, founder and artist in residence, Robert James Payne. The ex-football player has some very unique pieces of acrylic on different mediums. We were enthralled by a new black and white portrait using interesting shadows painted on a large piece of aluminum. Seeing Payne’s art grace the walls of his loft was a very clever way to display how works will hang in ones own home, a sense of character and place that a white, bright gallery wall cannot capture.

Museums: There are many tiny museums dotting Taos and it is hard to determine which small building deserves the exorbitant entrance fee. The Harwpod Museum of Art turned out to be an excellent and displayed a wide range or traditional and contemporary New Mexican artists from a large time span. Upon entering, we were also informed that if we filled out a survey at the end of our visit, admission was free!  I particularity loved the modern artist Larry Bell, who has a diverse body of work that includes modern pieces using refracting light, mirrors, and various other illuminating mediums. The museum features many galleries that are constantly being rotated and refreshed with new pieces and exhibitions.

Other Attractions: A pleasant walk from  Palacio De Marquesa.is The Mabel Dodge Luhan House. Now an inn the house of the famed art patron and salon hostess can be toured through and stayed in. The house features creative design and has a rich history.The grounds provide a pleasant stroll and innkeeper was very informative.

IMG_2150 IMG_2151 IMG_2152 IMG_2153 Another great site, unique to the area, are the Earthship Biotecture  communities. These intriguing homes are made from all recycled materials and are completely self-sustaining. These  “homes” are are a modern marvel and seeing is believing so trust a trip to the visitor center is definitely worth it. The Taos community also offers nightly rentals which I am curious to try on my next visit if I can tear myself away from easy B&B living.

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 Eats: (Detailed reviews of the following fine dinging restaurants to come). When staying in Taos The Love Apple is an essential fine dining stop. Joseph’s in Santa Fe might also be worth the drive down to Taos’ sister city.. For authentic Northern New Mexican fare check out the quaint and local favorite, Orlando’s.

Flock to the Photographs

Recently I have been on a tear through photography exhibits occurring around DC. Back to back weekends hosting out of town guests brought me to “American Cool” at the National Portrait Gallery and a Gary Winogrand retrospective at The National Gallery of Art. Both exhibits boasted an impressive amount of photographs but the size became a bit overwhelming. I often find that larger institutions have a less rigorous editing process which could be due to the fact that they have more walls to fill as compared to a small gallery.

Focusing on “American Cool,” I was almost more impressed by the introduction stenciled across the front wall then the photographs themselves.  Defining the word “cool” might be one of the hardest things to attempt and curators Joel Dinerstein and Frank H. Goodyear III concocted a simple definition that completely captured the elusive word. The iconic pictures complimented the definition but seemed very expected. I think it would have been interesting to see images of unknown individuals who were demonstrating inexplicable concepts of “cool” via their clothes and fashion. The exhibit was laid out very well and spanned through the grand history of trendsetters in the States. Each room captured an era very well in terms of images that conjured up the popular culture of the time. The chosen photographs also had a heavy emphasis on individuals in the entertainment industry, seemingly ignoring other concepts of “cool” that could be displayed in figures such as John F. Kennedy or Andrew Carnegie.

Zooming in on Gary Winogrand, a very different side of portraiture is exposed.  The landscape of humanity was what Winogrand captured in his photographs and he did this exceptionally well. His photographs were first very raw and wrought with emotion and then moved to images that captured movement and interaction with physical location. The exhibit did a great job of showing this transformation in the photographer’s style and provided simple captions to accompany the photos. 

Accompanying the Gary Winogrand retrospective was a rolling screening of Cheryl Dunn’s Everybody Street. The film was an epic photographic adventure through New York City that caught the street life of Manhattan masterly through an incredible high resolution, slow moving hybrid of photography and video recording. The vivid images were mesmerizing and incredibly beautiful. I certainly recommend a trip to The National Portrait Gallery to catch this pair of extraordinary visual excitement.