Monday, October 31, 2011

Styling Up!

Several weeks ago I started working together with Grant Turner (Photographer/Art Director) and Melinda Ashton-Turner (Stylist Supremo and Producer) pulling some new images together for Bison. When you spend so much time at the 'coal face' ( the Canberra Studio!) it's hard to have the time to keep the visual part of the business growing. I had a sensational two days with my friends, and their talented daughter Lola, working on some new concepts. It was truly rewarding to see the images come through and I promise a lot more will be forthcoming over the next month or so. Here's a taster for the moment as I'll shortly be putting some on our website.


Photographer: Grant Turner. Styled by: Melinda Ashton-Turner

Oh....and for those of you who have replied to me about yesterday's 'What am I?' post, I'll hold the answer over until tomorrow. You can also reply via comments on the blog as well as email us directly!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What am I ? (Challenge #2)

I am a process which uses the following techniques, tools and talents. I take varying amounts of time to create the desired form and in winter it takes a lot longer for me to be ready. Conversely, in summer you can have two of the same shape twice daily... must be the ambient temperature in the studio! People find this method attractive to make shapes that are not thrown in the round on the wheel, although protrusions to a  shape make it much trickier to finish and wax for glazing/firing. Sometimes I can be made up of a number of parts which must all be removed. 

This is not a torture device although requires lots of effort!

There are basically four main ingredients which are used in the material that forms the basis for any object. I have to be fired twice in the kilns at Bison to obtain the same finish as the wheel-thrown pieces. This process is a relatively recent development in the pottery world but has revolutionised the way  objects can be made. There is a large amount of skill involved in making and finishing the shapes we produce in the studio. Occasionally we add handles, sometimes a sprig-moulded Bison logo, or even cut out a spout and hand-shape it. 

We use rubber strips to hold us together and we are made of plaster.
On the odd occasion (namely last Saturday!) we use our nephew Josh to help make racks for said equipment. This is done unflinchingly as he is concentrating on how many racks will equal the cost of his new skis for the coming snow season. I will wait to see what technique you think this is. I'll close this off in  24 hours time. Your time starts now..........

Josh Tunks slaving away for his uncle Brian at Bison.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Derby Day

Owing to the fact I'm tearing my studio apart today (and I can't get my act together!!!) please excuse my lack of a decent post. What I will leave you with is a tip for those of you braving the four seasons in one day at Flemington tomorrow. Just remember to avoid anything to do with reality starlets (you know who you are Kim Karcrashian!) spelling... and possibly draw some inspiration from the indomitable Ms Evangelista. This outfit comes courtesy of John Paul Gaultier for Hermes (Autumn/Winter 2004 I think). Certainly gets the equestrian theme across and possibly a little dominatrix as well. Love the riding crop!

Is this the way to the Birdcage?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Single Man

Colin Firth as George
In tribute to 25 years of The Movie Show with David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz I thought I'd play reviewer for the evening. Sometimes a movie has every element so perfectly combined as to make it almost hypnotic. That's exactly the sensation I had with The Weinstein Company's 'A Single Man' (2009) directed by Tom Ford. The fact that Ford, a designer famous for his role at Gucci, cut his directing chops on such  melancholy material is enlightening in itself. With a cast that would make any director swoon the movie slinks moodily through 1960's LA. It's based on a novel with the same name by Christopher Isherwood. In fact the film focuses on the mood of George reflecting on his lonely existence after the death of his lover in an automobile accident. The fact that his lover was male, and this is frowned on by society at this time, does little to assuage his grief and leads him to plan his suicide.

Without spoiling this for those of you who haven't seen the movie... in the immortal words of Molly Meldrum... 'Do yourself a favour!' The cinematography conveys a pensive beauty and Ford's meticulous eye for detail ensures the sets are elegantly framed in all their 60's glory. He has the uncanny ability to make you feel the sun on your skin or the scent of Charlotte's perfume. Small wonder he led the Gucci group to new heights of financial and design success. There's a part of me that found this a very dark movie but the flip-side was that it was also a story of compassion and warmth. (And I'm a serious sucker for a good ending!)  If you saw this film what did you think?

Colin Firth going against the grain?
Matthew Goode as George's Partner
Julianne Moore as Charlotte

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Perfect Setting

Dinnerware at Bison. Photo David Plummer
Several years ago we shot some general stock images in the Bison studio. We were busy trying to take photos on a day where the sun would vanish every ten minutes and the light through the skylights would go slightly green...not the best look! Just after we captured this shot I realised with dismay that the latte bowls were slightly out of alignment. This revelation came upon me after I had packed the entire shot away. Nevertheless I still loved this image. The play of reflections on the vessels and the beautiful symmetry between the curves of the plates and the bowls made this a favourite shot at the time. Funny how a few years makes you 'hone your craft' (or become more fixated on perfection) and that things like bowls and cups just off square irritate me. 

What is perhaps more relevant is the effort that goes in to making each of those plates. Every time we make a dinner set for eight we actually glaze twelve to fourteen settings to ensure enough are perfect firsts. When it comes to unique pieces such as Atlantis Bowls people look for individuality in the form. Contrastingly, when we are asked about dinnerware it's essential that they stack well and that the form is non-varying. The premise behind this is that when you look at a stack of bowls or plates in a cupboard your eye is drawn to any irregularity in size of shape when they are stored on top of each other. Much like this earlier photograph...maybe we just need to be less fixated on photoshop-ready settings and just enjoy the simple beauty of a loose composition. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

More Dash than Cash

Ok... this is the last of my video posts for a while. I had to include this one however as it ingeniously raises several of the issues I struggle with as a maker/designer. Firstly... when Karl Lagerfeld can segue from Haute Couture with Chanel, Fendi et al, to a mass market brand such as H & M does this diminish his currency as a creator? Additionally, do we purchase these cheaper products based on the reflected status of the designer or the perception that they actually offer 'quality' at an accessible pricepoint? I personally believe that spin can overcome much of the resistance that the wider public has against brand diffusion such as the example shown by Hennes & Mauritz.

Lagerfeld, despite his unfortunate habit of verbally lacerating people in print, is a machine. A machine that has prolific output and remarkable longevity. The Youtube video was actually in competition at the Golden Lion Awards at Cannes. For some it's a clear capitulation to disposable fashion. I suppose we just need to be reminded that 'There are many mackerel in de lake!'

Sunday, October 23, 2011

She sells sea shells......

I've always had a particular fascination for shells. Possibly this stems from an upbringing in a town located four hours away from the coast. In the days where you collected these objects, along with smoothed glass fragments, you could fill a bucket to bring home. Your parents would wonder for weeks what the stench was in your room but in your excitement you failed to realise that some of them were far from abandoned! Even the scent of them would remind you of summer holidays with friends and endless seafood dinners.

As a designer I find the structure of shells to be very architectural. Contemporary Museums and residential buildings (You know who you are..Bilbao, NYC, Barcelona, etc!) are increasingly drawing on their organic lines. It seems strangely ironic that the more modernist our structures become that architects are replicating forms preserved in our fossil record. Prehistory is our future? This development clearly shows us it's hard to improve on nature.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

We've been Framed!

I know that often I talk about respecting other designers and individuals who express their creativity in an ethical and forthright manner. Those people who improve our lives through their ability to harness the zeitgeist of what's 'current' and make it almost appear vintage. This ability to foster good design to transcend the need for something shiny and new every five minutes is a rare commodity indeed.  Jonathan (Jono) Hennessy Sceats is such a man. 

I have known Jono for a number of years (and his superstar wife Louise!) and they have been instrumental in helping me move Bison forward. With three generations behind him, Jono brings an authority and longevity to their Australian based Company (Jono Hennessy) and now his new brand, Carter Bond. I had my first pair of Jonathan Sceats glasses... neon blue frames with clear glass... in the mid 1980's. They were designed at the peak of the New Romantic Movement and Australia was an exciting placed for emerging fashion. Oxford Street was the centre of the universe and Katie Pye, Jennie Kee, Stuart Membery and Cash Palace were seriously hot. 

Jono and Louise have just launched a blog/website which features designers who inspire them called Stars of Independents. Bison is featured as one of these. They have even asked me some pointed questions about who and what inspires our collection and the basis behind our business. Please have a look if you are interested...because if Moby wears them I must be on the right track!  

Jono Hennessy frames. Photo: Hilary Wardhaugh

Friday, October 21, 2011

Judge a book by its cover.

Sometimes I get seriously freaked by people with massive amounts of tattoos on their person. I guess it comes from the childhood mantra of your parents that only sailors and somewhat 'dubious' characters used body art. I guess that this says more about my own preconceptions than about understanding the human body and transformation by your own hand. Do we admire 'beauty' for the unblemished canvas that the human body offers? Or possibly we are shocked by the fact that someone would deliberately obliterate their skin under a mass of permanent ink.

I have seen truly beautiful tattoos which tell a story about the wearer while not detracting from their appearance. All too many people however seem to gravitate to the ubiquitous Celtic banding or lightening bolt style of image. I wonder how they will wear over the next twenty years and if the cool light of distance gives one pause for regret. Maybe tattoos are simply an extension of someone's identity, a code for the various 'tribes' we morph between. This video is not an anthropological study but it could well fit the subject matter for one! Enjoy...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Zocolo. Ruins of Templo Mayor with Catholic Cathedral in background built out of materials from the Aztec city.
Mexico city was like a ghost town when we spent some time there. I think the media focus on drug cartels and violence has scared the vast majority of tourists off. It's this moody strange mix of modern culture fused with a hybrid blend of partially exposed Aztec ruins subjugated by the Catholic invaders from Spain. I loved it! The public art is bold and exuberant and the city is absolutely vast. To think that this city was built on a drained lake goes part way to explaining why all the baroque architecture is leaning at crazy angles. (That and the fact that a fault line gave the city an 8.2 quake in 1985) The day we toured the Zocolo you had this quiet Cathedral and haunting ruins accompanied by blaring megaphones and a soccer expo for the World Cup! Evocative... not so much.

Lost tourist (myself) standing on top of The Pyramid of the Sun. Teotihuacan
If you get tired of watching penitents crawling on their knees across the Plaza at our Lady of Guadalupe (Even the Subway is Faster!) you should head to both the Museum of Anthropology and Teotihuacan (Aztec City outside the metro area). The site is awe-inspiring and the masonry exceptional. With such a focus on European art and culture it is almost criminal that Mexican and South American history is dealt with so lightly. Their ceramics were fascinating for me. Not only had they mastered work of extremely high quality but their decorative talents were first rate. I can only hope that their government can remedy their security situation as the people are friendly and the country rich with art and ruins... my kind of place!

Ceramic Vessel.  National Museum of Anthropology

Who needs boot camp when you have an Aztec Pyramid and Trinket Vendors in hot pursuit.
All Photos David Plummer

Monday, October 17, 2011


Styled: Melinda Ashton-Turner. Photo: Grant Turner

Now for all of you eagle-eyed readers out there here's a newsflash for you! We'll have a new large F├ągel Pitcher coming really really soon. We have done the tests on the new size and it should be in-store within the next 3-4 weeks. It holds approximately 1.3 litres and looks equally good as a still-life piece in a grouping or filled with flowers. I'm really excited as this will mark the next stage of our design direction at Bison.... a long and winding road indeed!

We'll send out a quick notification on Facebook or via the blog once the pieces leave for our stores so you can check them out for yourselves. Thanks for your patience as we test and work on each new form. It's easy to make a 'product' but much more time-consuming to make something that will stand the test of time. It can take up to three months from inception to prototyping (and then finally incorporating the new piece in to the collection) to actually producing the final version. Actually, the one we photographed in the above shot is filled with sweet peas and sitting in my kitchen. I have a simple rule... if a piece we create doesn't 'work' in my home then it won't make it into the range.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Colour Blocking

It's late on Friday night and the Queen is about to leave the UK for the sunny climes of Canberra! What better time than to draw inspiration from her own outfits to explore our theme of colour blocking. I remember Grace Coddington in 'The September Issue' being forced to re-shoot her colour story because Anna Wintour didn't consider it strong enough. So here's the rub... when you colour block do patterns on objects count? Secondly, how bright or dense does a colour need to be? I guess there's some form of definitive answer lurking somewhere in dusty design archives, but I'm not really interested in rules as applied to colour. Strength and subtlety are like the yin and yang of the pantone world. They give depth to perception and have the ability to expand or reduce the sense of space occupied by a colour.

As I've just been listening to Bjork's 'Big Time Sensuality'... (where she dances around on a flat-top truck near Times Square with this incredible childlike expression on her face!) I though we should go all out and pick three very different images which would block well together. Here we go... let me know if you like my choices.

Love this Spillray Pendant Lamp in Orange

Missoni Print in Hotel Lift

Iko Iko Chair by Jardan Australia

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


After an exhausting night spent watching 'The Renovators' Finale I swore I'd avoid anything to do with DIY adventures and reality television. Instead let's focus our attention on something more tangible, albeit fragile, in the form of the butterfly. Amazingly diverse with their markings and extremely short-lived, these insects have had a marked influence in the worlds of both fashion and interior design. They seem to tap in to the nostalgia of childhood for many people and regularly feature as motifs on bedlinen and even patty cakes. Who can forget the overachiever cook /career woman/ mother who would show up all the other parents at school fundraising events with exquisitely iced butterfly confections! 

I have posted three examples of how nature merges with human design. The first image illustrates the Papilio Ulysses in their natural habitat. Many of you would be familiar with this butterfly (surprisingly it's the males which are the brighter blue!) as they are the 'mascot' for Dunk, and to a lesser extent, Bedarra Island.

Papilio Ulysses Butterflies in Far North Queensland
The next shot is a Vogue USA cover in 1995 by Meisel of Kristen Mcmenamy. Her butterfly-patterned dress comes to us courtesy of the late Gianni Versace. At least it showcases a collection on the fabric in which none were harmed! The final image is the 'Butterfly Stool' by Japanese Designer Sori Yanagi. This elegant piece captures the harmony and aesthetic economy offered by nature. Created in the 1950's, and now the target of unscrupulous 'inspired' furniture designers (term applied loosely!) it has attained iconic recognition. Just goes to show that when a beautiful form in nature meets the talent of a great craftsperson the results can be enduring.

Kristen McMenamy in Versace by Meisel  for Vogue USA 1995
Butterfly Stool by Sori Yanagi c1956

Monday, October 10, 2011

Minnie Pwerle

Minnie Pwerle
At various points during your life various artists or events have a transformative effect on you. It may be a subtle thing where you dress in colours or patterns that evoke a particular mood, or it could be a 'connection' of sorts you get from someone's work. I know some collectors follow an artist's progress indefinitely and I only wish I'd had the chance with the wonderful Minnie Pwerle. Minnie (1910 - 2006) was an artist who was well-known for her body painting skills among the community in Antwengerrp, Utopia, in Central Australia. 

She came to painting around 2000 aged approximately 80 years old. (The dates of her life are a matter for some conjecture) The beauty of her work is beyond question, however, there were rumours that she had been kidnapped and forced to paint to cash in on her rising fame. Her subject matter was derived from her body painting technique and also the bush tucker of the region she lived in. Her lineage is dotted with amazing talent... her sister-in-law (Emily Kame Kngwarreye) and her daughter (Barbara Weir) have their works in many private and State collections.  My dream is to buy some myself as her work is so evocative and intensely personal. Imagine her creative output had she started when she was much younger!

 Minnie Pwerle

Minnie Pwerle

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Through the looking glass

Art is a gift that literally keeps on giving. Consider the impact of artists from both the ancient and modern world and how many times you have seen their work transposed by another person. How the intricacies of the initial vision are reinterpreted by others provides us with two points to consider. Firstly, is this simply some shameless homage or a blatant copy of earlier inspiration? Secondly... does the image or work speak to you in a way that's different from the artist's original motivation? As I myself have often said to people, after thousands of years of successive potters you can't hope to create something in the round that hasn't been referenced before. 

We all absorb so much from the everyday world around us that to deny the influence of other earlier artists and designers is just disingenuous. That being said I'm eternally grateful that creativity is a global stream that never seems to dry out. And who are we to judge someone's work when it harks back to another era or has clear echoes of an earlier concept? Digital photography and mobile phones allow contemporary images to reach a much wider audience at lightening speed. Let's then have a look at a few pictures which explore the points I've raised earlier. I personally think that it's a fascinating opportunity to look at how someone truly 'sees' the subject matter and their summation of this. 

Coco Rocha by Steven Meisel. (Old Master/Modern Photographer)

Egg and Dart Motif on an architectural piece from the Roman Forum.  Earlier references in ancient Greek buildings. (Wedgwood anyone?)
Michaelangelo's Pieta. Recall the outcry when Benetton tried to shoot a dying AIDS patient in similar pose. 
Chinese Girl series poster by V. Tretchikoff reinterpreted as domestic wall mural. Photo: Courtesy of I love Norwegian Wood.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Come fly with me...

Pucci and Cardin among others made flying like a trip to fashion week!
Many moons ago in an airport far far away people actually looked forward to flying. You would dress sensibly for the kangaroo hop to London and anticipate shopping in a real 'Duty Free' store prior to boarding. Now you are attacked as you stagger off your early morning flight by someone with a bottle of Johnny Walker and a spritzer of the latest stench by a no-name celebrity.  Customs was a short line which moved steadily and seamlessly towards the departure gates. No scanners (which detail your religion) would ever beep incessantly as you took every piece of clothing off. Nor would an officer ferret through your bathroom bag as if you had a biohazard in every vial... oh those were the days!

I thought I'd take you back to an era where travelling by air was an experience rather than an endurance event. I know the rosy glasses of nostalgia can opacify the clearest memories but seriously (even should you be fortunate enough to ride at the pointy end of the plane) it has become a whole lot less fun!

Where travel posters alluded to pith helmets and a casual day on safari
Going bowling or an extra from 'Mars Attacks'... you be the judge!
Vintage Douglas DC-2

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Colour Purple

I thought it might be a refreshing distraction to discuss the history of a particular colour.  Apart from the visual impact of colour, many have social or religious significance which have developed throughout the millennia. Take for instance the expression 'imperial purple'. This came from the period of the Roman Empire when robes were dyed with crushed shells (murex brandaris) from the Tyrrhenian Sea. They released a colour which became synonymous with power and over time became the hallmark of the Catholic Church. It came to represent penance in the Roman Catholic Church and was worn particularly for Lent and Advent. Both Bishops and Cardinals wear this colour... although the cardinals tend more towards scarlet. (Better in photography)  It faded from use after about the eighth century but had been popular with the Etruscans prior to the rise of Rome.

Fast forward to contemporary Australia... and although the purple robes of the Church are still worn it has also attracted other social meanings. Purple was a colour associated with the suffragette movement in the USA. It also was supposedly a colour which supposedly symbolised passion. It even has significance for the gay and lesbian movement. I'm assuming it would be hard to reconcile a colour for passion with the clergy of the Church in the same context! The outing of Tinky Winky for carrying a handbag (he was the purple one) has not damaged the Teletubbies in the slightest. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Let there be light!

Working in design gives me constant exposure to some extremely talented people. They may be photographers and stylists, art directors and producers, or even the makers of beautiful objects. I consider myself fortunate that I get to view the results of magazine and studio shoots up close and personal. It actually gives you a very different perspective on the 'smoke and mirrors' nature of images in contemporary media. One of my closest friends has recently returned from living in London. Apart from being a gifted and well-respected stylist she and I share a love of vintage Australian-designed furniture and Tim Tams! I was elated to see her story on lighting surface in November's House & Garden. 

This story was beautifully shot by Dieu Tan (images: It's a welcome change to see some 'soul' creeping into editorial stories. Sure they are filled with objects from suppliers but it's a rare moment when you get the convergence of product integrity, brilliant styling and sensitive photography. More please!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Hip to be Square

Piet Mondrian (1872 - 1944) is one of my favourite artists. His work appears quite contemporary but has greater technical depth than the mere application of lines and random blocks of colour. His influence can be seen in current fashion and homewares where numerous designers draw 'inspiration' from his work. He was actually a seminal artist during the early 20th Century. This seems at odds with his collection as it would equally fit into the 1950's or even later. His bold use of colour and the placement of his lines evolved as he developed a technique referred to as 'Neo Plasticism'. He applied a format of randomly placed lines as on a grid and then applied colour within that framework.

One aspect to his personality I find quite intriguing is his change from Mondriaan (after 1912) to the simpler Mondrian. This has shades of Muriel to Mariel for me...although he came from Amsterdam as opposed to Porpoise Spit! His work prior to his latter style was marked by the cubists and a penchant for dancing in Paris where he lived in Montparnasse. Some art historians divide his work into 2 periods... the trees, and then his 'Neo Plasticism'. I prefer his graphic works. They have so much movement and energy in what could be reduced to a simplistic series of line drawings with primary colours. Like the work of Man Ray (photographer) and others of this period (Mondrian included) the true mark of genius is their incorporation as a reference point within the wider design community... and their continuing relevance to us even today. 

Mondrian Tree Series. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Seismic Shift

In the rush to collect all things nostalgic there are some images which sit on the border between uncomfortable and just plain wrong. When taken in the context of social history they say much more about societal values and geographic significance. By this I'm referring to vintage advertising posters and product labels. Anthropologists and social historians would have enough material to fill numerous Phd's but I can't help reflecting on how much advertising is the barometer on how we view our place in the world.

The advertisement for the syrup comes from the USA 1920's. I found much stronger images to use but felt that the exaggerated 'Uncle Tom' caricatures were just too much. In contemporary labelling if we tried to do something which implied servitude or less than equal status there would be howls of revulsion. In the Yakima Chief apples label we see yet another racial cliche...a wizened Jeronimo with obligatory headdress. This version comes from the 1940's to 1950's and I can clearly recall similar advertisements here in Australia. 

The final image promotes the sale of pet food. The tradition of cartoons as a medium to promote foodstuffs (particularly by the French and Italian producers) was a strong influence which is still in evidence today. What ads like this show, apart from the implied humour, is that people have valued their pets for numerous generations prior to our own. Cartoons also help sanitise the fact that something has to die to become 'the product'. While chic girls on vespas and satyrs carrying bottles of wine (Cappiello) may be highly collectible...we cannot ignore the lessons that vintage images convey. Maybe our rose-coloured glasses need a colour filter!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Scaling up!

While trapped in the Qantas lounge at the mercy of high winds and a potential strike, I saw a tedious documentary on fishing. While the film wasn't all that riveting they did show several images of fish with beautifully coloured scales. I then thought I'd explore this and think of several other interpretations for this medium. Fashion is always a good place to start. If it breathes, grows, or flies, it's bound to end up somewhere in the clothing industry. Mock-Croc may be a good thing in the broader market but I'm sure real salties would be fearful if Hermes were after their hides! I'm yet to see a fish skin wearable piece but I do love to see how others translate this material. Below, for example, is a new paillette bag from Prada's 2012 Collection. They have also extended this theme to some of their dresses as well. Looks a little bit 'flapper' and a whole lot of 'The Little Mermaid'.

Frank Gehry has been known for an eternity for his architectural prowess. This 'Fish Lamp', designed by  the creator of Bilbao, was apparently on display at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. What I think is amazing is how he has not varied the form at all... rather he has embraced the structure and detail of a fish and incorporated it wholesale into his piece. Could you imagine how good a school of these would look on a wall or on a huge glass table? I guess it adds a whole new dimension to having the fish of the day!