The First Asian Artist to Show at the Paris Biennale
“All butterflies were once caterpillars. I became known as ‘The Butterfly Man’ after my first shows in 2007 in Basil and Moscow. The butterfly has always meant a lot to me. As a child when I saw my first butterfly I asked, ‘What are these flying colours?’ In my eyes butterflies are always flying colours. A dream is never entirely fictional; there are always elements of reality. My pieces incorporate real butterfly wings. I bring them back to life. The average lifespan of a butterfly is only two to four weeks. A lifespan of 83 days was recorded for a Chestnut Tiger butterfly. It flew from Japan to Hong Kong. It travelled for most of its life to the unknown.”
“Titanium reflects the technology of our times. It is not easy to tame; it’s a very stubborn metal. It took me eight years to master it. Titanium is magical; you must not force things to happen to it. You must let it guide you through the process. An unsung hero, titanium is multifaceted. My pieces are full of emotions to provide the possibilities of transcendence. The pursuit of beauty is endless. Think about classical music: it is abstract, formless, yet it surrounds us and connects to our emotions. My art is about beauty, love, courage, colour, transformation. It is beautiful being human – and vulnerable too. Live in the garden of joy. Embrace every fleeting moment. Take a different path home; you will find an unsung beauty. I have dreams of dancing in love and light.”
Seasons come and seasons go. The Black Douglas has gone; The Black Pig’s still here. It’s the place of quirky decorations (horizontal Christmas trees) and quirkier houses (a late 17th century chapel masquerading as a 19th century gothic cottage orné on High Street) and even quirkier house names (Comarques, home of composer John Ireland from 1936 to 1939, and Winkle Cottage) and super quirky architectural details (shell decorated fanlights and doorstep windows). But there’s only one place to be on a wintry Friday night in East Kent’s most fashionable resort: the private view of The Green and Found, England’s only gift shop abutting a Grade I brick garden wall built by Henry VIII.
It’s a vibrant microcosm of an historic walled city. Killer Queen Anne townhouses among thriller Tudor jetties and gables with all the cosiness of a cathedral precinct. It’s more like the Town of London than Tower of London. We’re here for an exclusive afterhours private view of the Crown Jewels or as our beefeater guide calls them “the most valuable objects on the planet”. Our favourite pieces are Queen Victoria’s Diamond Crown and the Grand Punch Bowl.
The crown was designed to be worn by Queen Victoria on top of her widow’s cap. So tiny, it’s more of a crownlet. It incorporates 1,187 brilliant-cut and rose-cut diamonds in an openwork silver frame. Queen Victoria first wore this crown for the opening of Parliament in 1871. The punchbowl is full throttle George IV bling. A silver gilt wine cistern, it can hold the equivalent of 144 bottles of wine. One way to get the party going! In between rods and coronets, there are more orbs than an episode of Most Haunted.
The social merry-go-round never stops. The after party is at The Reveller on the edge of the Thames (where guests more than live up to its name). The after after party is at Dirty Martini in the City. And the after after after party is at Annabel P’s, the new Annabel’s. Like Barack Obama, we’re always trying to push a little more optimism.
It’s 5pm on a Wednesday evening and the Veuve Cliquot is flowing along with canapés that set a whole new standard for finger food. And that’s even before the rum punch and margarita cocktails reception gets going. We’re in Townhouse Eight event space which has a wraparound terrace illuminated by the full moon of St Pancras’ clock and the fireworks display of King’s Cross’ cranes.
Our host is Elli Jafari, Managing Director of The Standard, London. That’s her métier (profession) and that’s her métier (talent). The glamorous Iranian-American tells us, “Our London hotel has many layers, some naughty, some sweet!” The phallic sculpture rescued from an Italian vintage fair welcoming guests to the top floor private dining room certainly falls into the former category. There’s lashings of the latter too.
“We’re pleased to announce two new hotels: The Standard, Ibiza and The Standard, Hua Hin. Our Ibiza hotel will have a sexy bar with amazing music. The 67 bedroom hotel is in the famous and historic Old Town and you’ll be able to hire one or more of our many private villas too. It’s very rare to be able to rent a private villa in the Old Town. Our resort is next to the marina so all the super yachts will be there for your arrival!”
“The Standard, Hua Hin resort with its accompanying private beach villas is Thailand’s answer to the Maldives. The resort will include a 171 bedroom hotel along with 28 villas creating a poolside vibe reminiscent of The Standard, Miami. We have more signed deals in Europe: Brussels, Dublin, Lisbon and Milan. Each destination is eclectic and individual – each of our hotels is completely unique. Our Dublin hotel, due to open in 2025, like all our hotels will have various restaurants. Something for everyone! We want to embrace Dublin culture and all the energy the vibrant city offers.” It’s not so much about creating a new standard of living as a new standard of staying. And eating. And partying. And being.
Our guide relates, “The ground floor reading room is a homage to the Council library which used to be here. It’s stocked with vintage sourced books from the Fifties to the Eighties. It’s all a bit tongue-in-cheek!” ‘Chaos’ and ‘Order’ bookcases are cheek-by-jowl; so are ‘Politics’ and ‘Tragedy’. “We have drag races in the bar on Sundays. There’s always a unique shop in Standard Hotels where you can purchase weird and wonderful goods sourced from all over the world.” Snatch Game Brooches by Lou Taylor and Trip Wild Mint and Camomile Oil are two quirky gifts on display in the London shop.
We’re on the 10th floor now. “Decimo is our Michelin starred Hispanic Mexican restaurant. Alexander McQueen held their afterparty here. The theatre of the kitchen is on full display. There’s definitely a bit of an LA party feel to this hotel.” That’s true for sure: there’s nothing standard about our evening. “You must finish the night in Double Standard, our New York style bar for highflyers. It’s famous for Aperol spritz slushes!”
The Francophile Charles Dickens would still recognise the Golden Triangle of Paris. Dickens on France edited by John Edmondson in 2007, “Dickens first saw Paris in July 1844, when he and his family were travelling through France on their way to Italy. He was instantly enthralled: ‘I cannot tell you what an immense impression Paris made upon me. It is the most extraordinary place in the world. I was not prepare for, and really could not have believed in, its perfectly distinct and separate character.’ This first, fleeting visit marked the beginning of a friendship with the city that would last for the rest of his life.”
A love of interior design is clear from the custard colour and navy trimmed reception hall to the 27 meter high seascape mural painted on gold leaf seen from the elevator behind a glass panel to the Marmara marbled bathroom filled with The Ritual of Ayurveda products. “There’s a focus on really good materials,” says Camay. There’s also a focus on individuality: domed objets d’art; Grecian urns; sculpted shirt collars; Indian feathers. In the duck egg blue reception rear reception area opening onto an intimate courtyard are bookshelves with hours of distraction. Titles include ‘American Fashion’, ‘La Lumière de Londres, ‘Putman Style’, ‘Le Style Hitchcock’. Joseph Roth springs to mind again: “… it’s so well appointed that it almost corresponds to my notion of a seventh heaven.”
In Francis Scott Fitzgerald’s short story The Camel’s Back character Perry exclaims, “Take me upstairs. If that cork sees my heart it’ll fall out from pure mortification.” Channelling your inner Perry, close your eyes and dream of the ideal Parisian hotel bedroom. And open your eyes in the fourth floor bedroom of Hôtel George Washington. As you gaze through the pair of French doors clasping Juliet balconies and a trombonist serenades you from the street below (no, not artistic licence, this is Paris), it’s clear some dreams come true. There’s an elephant in the room. Or at least one over the bed. And a herd in the Ralph Lauren wallpaper. “It’s so unique, that’s one of my favourite bedrooms,” Camay confides. “Our bedrooms are very large for Paris. They all have double beds with a bath and rain shower in the en suite bathrooms.”
“We are in the business area of the Golden Triangle of Paris,” she confirms, that iconic 8th Arrondisement. “Do you know how the Arrondisements are numbered? They are ordered like an escargot, the numbers swirling around in decreasing concentric circles. We kept the façade of Hôtel George Washington and refurbished everything else behind. At Hôtel Chateaubriand we were able to keep the original form inside. Hôtel George Washington is a Haussmann townhouse with a ‘noble’ second floor which has a balcony. Our service is very personal – our team have been with us a long time. Our clients are a very good mix of leisure and business travellers.”
The Rios also own Le Petit George a few doors up on Rue Washington. Quirky neon lettering on the awning reads “Sincère et Malicieux”. Has Tracey Emin been en ville? We have an aperitif: “Champagne is an integral part of French culture!” Camay relates, “Monsieur Rio’s inspiration for this restaurant was the same expression of luxury as the hotels, from opulent linen tablecloths to silver cutlery, bringing back attention to detail. We wanted to change part of French dining culture and bridge the gap between bistro and gastronomy: ‘bistronomy’. It’s a unique dining experience.” The all-female run establishment is a hit with lawyers and bankers midweek and well informed travellers at the weekend. “We attract a really good lunch crowd and are busy Monday to Friday. Lisa l’des Forges is Chef and Melisande Malle is Sommelier and Manager.
The décor is an essay in understated elegance in a language only the French can compose. A marble and brass bar stretches along one party wall and the kitchen to the rear is only visible through a small serving hatch. There are no pictures on the walls: we are the living art in this space. “There’s a Chef’s Table in the basement for 10 people,” leads Camay. Joseph Roth once more, “Paradise is downstairs, in a basement. But it’s so well appointed that it almost corresponds to my notion of a seventh heaven.”
She’s more to say, “With more than 70 new sculptures in mirrored beads and glass bricks, The Narcissus Theorem focuses on Le Petit Palais and its architecture. Taking up the myth of Narcissus – a man who, in love with his own image, was transformed into a flower – Othoniel engages with visitors, inviting them to self contemplation but also offering a reflection of the world around them through his work.”
Juliette’s even more to say, “This journey through myths and fairy tales begins with a rite of passage: the crossing of a river. Visitors then proceed to the garden of forbidden fruits before descending into the Grotto of Narcissus. Exploring the theory of reflections of the Mexican mathematician Aubin Arroyo, Othoniel transports us to a world between dreams and reality, opening up doors to endless fields of space and imagination.”
Le Petit Palais isn’t petite but it is palatial. Architect Charles Girault won a competition to build the museum for the 1900 Exposition Universelle. He liked to make an entrance: the gilded to the nines front doors are framed by one pair of pilasters and three pairs of ionic columns supporting ever increasingly larger arches. Charlie gives a masterclass in très Beaux Arts.
Such commanding architecture demands arresting art and Jean-Michel Othoniel doesn’t disappoint: he wins hearts and delivers in spades. He too can make an entrance: his piece Blue River was created in situ with bricks of Indian glass flowing over the stone steps. The artist is asking us to pass from one world to another, a playful, magical and poetic universe. In the courtyard fountains, Narcissus is four gilded lotus flowers reflecting the water that reflects them. It is the yellow of the flower in the legend. Hanging from trees or rising from the ground, Necklaces evoke the temptations of hidden forbidden fruit.
As another mathematician, Hannah Fry, told us at the recent Westminster Property Association dinner at The Londoner Hotel, “Equations and symbols aren’t just a thing, they’re a voice that speaks out about the incredible richness of nature and the startling simplicity in the patterns that twist and turn and warp and evolve around us.” One of the most fun aspects of the show is just spottting the pieces. Are the gilt swags in the colonnade art or architecture? We are not wallflowers; we are made in God’s image.
Writer Gertrude Stein quipped in the 1920s, “And so life in Paris began and as all roads lead to Paris, all of us are now there.” We’re at the opening of the Thierry Mugler show Couturissime at Musée des Arts Décoratifs (known by all by its acronym MAD). Everyone is here. Dynamic and dramatically lit displays are arranged in acts like an opera, ensembles ranging from sci-fi robotic garbs and aquatic fantasy fauna to even wilder flights of the designer’s imagination. Thierry Mugler’s work, whether overture or finale, is always original, often avant garde, sometimes subversive, never dull. Gertrude Stein also mentioned, “In Paris you have to have a formula.” In the 2020s we have: we’ve got chemistry.
Turn of last century Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke lived for years on the Left Bank of Paris. Maurice Betz writes in Rilke in Paris, 2012: “Always on his doorstep whatever his address, the Luxembourg Gardens were Rilke’s preferred oasis of calm and a crucial location for reflection and reading across all his Parisian residences. The Luxembourg Gardens are the lung, the central open space in Rilke’s Paris, where the crowded tumultuous streets give way to uncluttered perspectives, quiet avenues, noble statuary and above all, light. The gardens were constructed on the order of Marie de Medicis, widow of Henry IV, in 1611 and were designed to echo her palace gardens in Florence.”
On a very sunny autumn day, it’s the gardens that are crowded and tumultuous. Parisians really know how to enjoy their parks, no doubt in part a result of all that apartment living. Jardin du Luxembourg is packed with strollers, sunbathers and children, all between the oversized statuary and under the blue sky glimpsed between canopies of yellow, orange and red leaves. Rainer Maria Rilke remarked, “For Paris, that I admire so much and to which I know I must submit as one submits to a training, is always in some sense new, and when you feel its grandeur, its near infinity, it annihilates you so violently and so completely that you must demurely recapture from the very beginning the impassioned attempt to live.”
His comment “Paris is as sure of itself as ever” still rings true as does when he continues “It is just the same, as gigantic and brimming with necessity in the details as much as in its larger forms.” We’re updating Gertrude Stein’s view in her 1940 book Paris France from the city being “the natural background of the art and literature of the 20th century” to being “the natural background of the art and literature of the 21st century”.
Next stop The Tabernacle Notting Hill. This red brick and terracotta church, designed in 1883 by Habershon + Fawkner (a practice specialising in ecclesiastical buildings and responsible for many chapels in Newport), became a community arts centre in the 1970s. A plaque in the hallway commemorates the life of Claudia Jones (1915 to 1964) publisher, political activist and mother of the Notting Hill Carnival. She organised the first Caribbean Carnival in Britain in 1958. A ‘Carnival Line’ sign over a pair of London Underground Tube seats contains the following station stops: Sound Systems, Community, Friends, Dance, Inclusivity, Happiness, Joy, Unity, Steel Pan, Calypso, Live Stages.
Rianna elaborates, “Mary and I started up business in fashion together many decades ago as teens and I transitioned into television – I’m still a dedicated lover of style. Mary followed her passion undaunted and is now reaping the rewards of her labour. I’m so proud of her! The ballet performance, a collaboration between Mary and the Mark Elie Dance Foundation, is simply breathtaking. I am transfixed.” Distinguished broadcaster Jasmine Dotiwala agrees: “It really is a spellbinding performance.”
From The Tabernacle Notting Hill to Freemasons’ Hall Covent Garden. Now there’s a leap of imagination and thought. Upstairs, it’s all the usual mayhem and madness backstage at Africa Fashion Week London 2021. Makeup! Hair! Change! Makeup! Hair! Change! Downstairs, a lively bazaar of African and African diaspora fashion includes Biblical inspired tops by Ileri. Owner Abiola Egbeye believes, “My fashion is my ministry. It’s important to love God.”
Mary is headlining this year’s Africa Fashion Week London. The Return Collection takes the catwalk by storm. Model Yasmin Jamaal shimmers in her final ensemble. The Gold Coast Dress. This couture art is a metaphor for our times: all that glitters isn’t gold; it’s woven plastic brocade. Ghana was once known as the Gold Coast. “I love Ghana,” says Mary, “and I’ve had many shows there. This winter I am going to Ghana to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award.” Yasmin notes, “The dress looks even better in real life than pictures. I love the drama. That’s so Mary! It’s the perfect dress. It is pure creativity. Onlooking model Hassan Reese exclaims, “That dress is special, very special!”
“The Gold Coast Dress girl is going to drama town,” Mary reckons, “to meet her husband, her Prince Regent! She’s the new Queen Charlotte.” There’s rapturous applause and a standing ovation as Mary takes her famous runway bow closing the show. Mary ends, “I have to thank God for making my hands! Thank God for such a blessing. Nobody’s getting my crown! Bye!”
On this visit, we change direction from Madame de Pic’s, physically and gastronomically, turning left like on an aeroplane, to enter “May Ooo May” as it’s pronounced. This really is London’s most discreet restaurant. Well, turns out the Chinese Japanese fusion cuisine Mei Ume is worth the jaunt east. They serve the best chive sticked caviar topped prawns in Tower Bridge. “We’ve got to go to the Cointreau bar at Froufrou!” Maud later tempts us back to Paris.
Esteemed architect Fergus Flynn Rogers more or less single handledly turned around Carlingford back in the day. Everywhere you look in the village there’s one of his motifs: a plate glassed Diocletian window here; a sky high metal framed corridor there. He possesses a crucial and unnerving handling of materiality, at once immediate and sympathetic. Between Carlingford and Newry lies the village of Omeath.
Former resident artist Anne Davey Orr explains, “Omeath was the last Irish speaking area on the east coast. It was where people from Falls Road Belfast came for their summer holidays – hence the caravan parks.” Meanwhile, lucky roadside donkeys chomp on apples from a Ballyfin goody bag.
Another week, another all suites hotel. Hosts Giles Jauffret and Amaury de Villoutreys’ residence in a walled garden hidden down a laneway behind tall wooden gates in the honeycomb coloured city of Avignon always proves the perfect getaway. “Being a relatively small residence, we can focus on our guests,” says Giles. “The real luxury is being able to receive them as friends, and to have time for each one on an individual basis. We present our house more as a family home than a hotel. We wanted to share our French history, passion for art and l’art de vivre with others.” There are 42 watercolours of the city of canals in the Venetian Suite. The Naples Suite is hung with Neapolitan gouaches. And then there are the animals. Whether statues or the real thing, from a stuffed horse to a hatted stone dog, Persian cats to Weimaraner dogs, they all match the décor.