In the beginning of October I went with my friend Claudia Brown to see Nick Cave's work in two galleries in Chelsea...Jack Shainman and Mary Boone. These first photos are from the show titled "Ever-After" at the Shainman Gallery. Unlike his previous vibrantly colored work, here the tones are subtle...mostly white, off white, and silver. The exaggerated silhouettes and forms really stand out because of the quieter palette. This show is about the after life. In "Ever After" the items he uses are simplified to buttons, or hair, not a mixture of hundreds of different materials as you'll see in the Mary Boone show. Claudia is a Costume Designer so it was particularly interesting to see this show through her eyes. She and I worked together on this post.

Above: This grouping is reminiscent of a New Orleans Jazz band, perhaps a funeral procession.

Above: King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, 1921

Above: A New Orleans Jazz Funeral. After playing soulful sad dirges on the way to the cemetery the tone changes entirely when the hearse is sent off. Then come the energetic songs such as "When the Saints Come Marching In". Mourners dance "with wild abandon...bedecked with umbrella, which they twirl with joy. It's considered good form to dance a stranger into the afterlife. The Dahomean and Yoruba of West Africa thought that death, in this world, meant that a spirit could now run free into a new one. Though their death would be mourned, there was comfort knowing the spirit would be dancing on the other side."

Above and below: The imperfect color here adds an interesting quality...stained like spilled coffee.

Above and below: Pearly Kings and Queens in London. The first Pearly King was Henry Croft, born 1862, an orphan street sweeper who collected money for charity. He decorated his clothing with pearl buttons to draw attention to his cause. In 1911 an organized Pearly Society was founded, which still exists, raising money for London based charities.

Below: A Nick Cave film showing at the Shainman Gallery

Above: We were both transfixed by a wonderful film of some of Cave's "Sound Suits" in action. It's really a phenomenal sight to see the motion of the fibers when the suit's inhabitant jumps and dances...a visual pleasure. Nick Cave is also a dancer, which is incorporated into his work. See more HERE.

Above: A Wookie from Star Wars might have been influential.
Below, you can see images of the work shown at Mary Boone. This show was called "For Now". Unlike the Shainman show, this one's about life in this world. It's a show of wildly colored and embellished "Sound Suits".  His suits, both armor for braving the world, and having a sense of joyful celebration, refer to all sorts of ritual costumes and imaginary creatures.

Above: These bring to mind performance artist Kim Jones. In the 1960s he was seen around L.A. in the guise of "Mudman" wearing mud and  sticks, as you can see below.

Cave's first Soundsuit was created in response to the Rodney King trials of 1992. As a black male, Cave wanted to create art reflecting the scary and seductive language used by the media in reference to King. With a background in dance and a degree in art, Cave was interested in merging the two disciplines of textiles and movement. Sitting on a park bench in Chicago, the powerful language of the trial weighed on his mind, and Cave began to gather twigs. He wanted to fashion the twigs into a sculptural object, but as he worked, he realized it could be worn. The twigs rubbed against each other, rustling when he moved, and the first Soundsuit was born. "I wanted to transform trash to treasure, to analyze and redefine the abundance of waste, to force the viewer to think about what we discard and elevate it to a level of beauty. That is the power of art," Cave says.

Cave is quoted in the New York Observer as saying:
I'm totally consumed by the special attire that has a powerful and meaningful purpose within a culture. I'm looking at rituals and ceremonies: Mardi Gras, Indian clothing, West African pieces, Carnival in Trinidad."

Above and below: Mardi Gras Indians

Above: 1980s Australian performance artist, (residing in London at that time), Leigh Bowery. 

Above: Perhaps Big Bird snuck in to Nick Cave's head as well...

Above and below:Nigerian Igbo tribe's "Masquarade" costumes....the kind of thing that inspires Cave.

Above: Haitian Rara band, in cloth strip costume, in the style of the Artibonite Valley.

The photos in the book "Maske" by Phyllis Galembo are astonishing. She has spent over 20 years documenting the tradition of Masking in Africa. Nick Cave has taken these traditions and brought them into a western world, using flea market sweaters, stuffed animals, sequins, pipe cleaners, and all sorts of found objects. He also uses synthetic fibers and real human hair. In 2010 Cave and Galembo had a show together titled "Call and Response" at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art in Charleston, South Carolina. Here are a few of the images from "Maske".

Above: "Panther, Dodo Masquerade", Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, 2009 photo by Phyllis Galembo

Above: "Bwa Plank Masks" Yenou Village, Burkina Faso, 2006 photo by Phyllis Galembo

Above: "Yaie Masquerade", Bansie Vilage, Burkina Faso 2006 photo by Phyllis Galembo

Above: "Plank Masquerade", Koro Village, Burkina Faso 2006 photo by Phyllis Galembo

Above: "Beautiful Hand and Friendly Society", Arie-Shola Masquerade, Freetown, Sierra Leone, 2008 photo by Phyllis Galembo

Above: "Ngar Ball Masquerade Dance", Eshinjok Village, Nigeria, 2004  photo by Phyllis Galembo

Below: Nick Cave at Mary Boone



For a long time I've wanted a chance to use design in a philanthropic way. This summer the opportunity came along in the form of a design show house for Good Shepherd Center for Homeless Women and Children. The project was organized by designer Vanessa De Vargas of Turquoise and publicist Vanessa Kogevinas. There were 30 rooms in all, and 30 designers, each designer supplying what was needed for their room, through donations, our own funds, time, and labor. It was a wonderful opportunity to work with a blank canvas, so in addition to the pleasure in helping future occupants, there was a great deal of joy in being able to be as creative as we could. This building at the Good Shepherd Center houses women for about a year, teaching them skills and habits that will help them to move on to their own homes.

Above: The view from the entry/dressing area towards the window-seat/bed. The dresser also serves as an entry console.

Above: This view shows the entry/dressing area on the left, as well as the seating area on the other side of the dividing curtain. We weren't allowed to attach to the ceiling, so the curtain is cantilevered off the wall. The dresser is vintage. The wall colors are used in an architectural way to define the functions of the room, and to enlarge the sense of possibility in one room. At the Open House, many people let me know that it felt like an apartment, which was great feedback for me, as the whole room (without sink and closet) is only 11' x 12'-9".

Above: A before photo of the long wall, that now has an entry/dressing area, dresser, divider/curtain, chair, side table and banquette.

Above: I painted this circle on the wall to use as a focal point, kind of the way a fireplace can focus a room.   It also reminds me of the moon and the sun. I wanted the art to be integral to the room, an actual part of the room, and to be large scale, so this was a way of achieving those things. The chair is a very lucky find...it was donated to me by my friend Maria. When I told Maria about the project she said she might have a chair for me...little did I know how absolutely perfect a chair it was! It's tiny in scale and really comfortable, as well as a very appealing design. The "Martini" table is from West Elm, as is the seagrass rug. The lamp is from IKEA, part of the Tral Series used throughout the room...ceiling fixture, wall lamp, and desk lamp.

Above: In this view you can see the vertical line of white circles I painted on the wall. I was channelling Vanessa Bell of the Bloomsbury group in thinking about this room, but I wanted to take the circle theme in a more modern direction, so I made them hard edged, less painterly than she would have made them. The table/desk is the "Docksta" from IKEA. The chair was from my garage, painted a glossy Farrow & Ball Hague Blue. The credenza is "Besta Burs" from IKEA. The color changes from soft peach to creamy yellow as the room moves from sleeping area to working area. I wanted to include the creamy yellow in my palette, as it was the color of the vinyl flooring, something we couldn't change.
Photo Credit: Laure Joliet

Above: The view of the same corner before the work was done.

Above: I had a platform built in two sections so that it would fit in my car and in the elevator. I covered it with a painted drop cloth, and put the existing mattress on it, as well as a sofa cushion to fill out the remaining length of the wall, thereby creating a window seat (my personal obsession) as well as allowing for a bed to sleep in and a sofa area, to enlarge the sense of what the room could be. The areas are defined by the bold pink in the seating area and the soft peach in the sleeping area. My upholsterer, Angie's Custom Upholstery, made and donated the extra cushion, and the bolsters, as well as the bedcover and pillows.

Above: The Matisse print was something I found online the day I first saw the room, serving both as inspiration as well as a perfect fit for the room.
Photo Credit: Laure Joliet

Above: The view is really interesting...a lot to look at. I wanted to celebrate the windows, not cover them up too much, just soften them. Having blackout covering was a requirement, so the valance I made covers an opaque roller blind my drapery workroom donated and installed.

Above: One thing we couldn't change were the dark brown powder coated door frames. In order for them to disappear, I painted the surrounding wall the same dark brown color. Another requirement was to have a bulletin board. Between the window and the corner is a bulletin board made from magnetic paint. At least 3 coats are needed to make it magnetic enough, and it comes in charcoal grey. The credenza doubles as a night table and desk storage. Because of the low sill I wanted to keep the writing surface away from the wall so as not to block the window.

Above: This is the same corner before I worked on it.

Above: A round mirror from IKEA over the sink reflects the whole room.

Above: The floor plan shows the way the layout enlarges the room, allowing it to be many things...a place to work, a place to relax, an area for dressing, and for sleeping.

Above: My friend Elle helped me with the room. Among other things she helped me to put the IKEA cabinet together, which wasn't an easy thing to do!

When I started thinking about this project I decided to rely on design, and a limited budget, rather than rely on expensive donations. I wanted to make a place that could be re-created by someone who might use this room, something that would be achievable with very little money. There is something about working on a space that connects you to it in a deeper way...I certainly enjoyed the time I spent there, and I enjoyed getting to know the woman who's living in this room, as well as all the other designers. The two Vanessas are planning to organize more of these projects in the future which I look forward to being a part of.