"Individually we are one drop, together we are an ocean."
- Ryunosuke Satoro
Inspired by movers and shakers the world over we dig deep and talk all things design, art, fashion, and whatever else comes to mind in our regular catch-ups with aesthetic adventurers.
NATURE WAS MY FIRST TEACHER, FRIEND, AND MUSE
DIRT loves nature and plants and thus it was only natural for us to fall in love with the work of DANDY FARMER. We have been big fans since their launch several years ago and finally caught up with its founder Matthew Puntigam to learn more about his love of bonsai and quest to bring nature into the homes of even the most hardcore urbanite.
DIRT: I remember when you first told me about your idea to leave Landscape Architecture and start your own business starting Bonsai. Can you recall what you were feeling when you first had this idea and what was the tipping point that made you decide to turn your dream into a reality?
MP: Dandy farmer was born out of a gradual process, each step leading up to what we have today. In that way, landscape architecture was another point on a long path of discovery which revolved around creating meaning and beauty with living materials. Both in japan and NYC, I once sold small
(shōhin) bonsai at markets as a fun way to be outside and test them with total strangers. Inspired by the language of pocket gardens in Tokyo, I placed them on friends' fire escapes, kitchen window sills, and even in concrete blocks outside. I grew up surrounded by fields and forests, and i guess planting the city had always felt right from the beginning, both as a way to honor my relationship with my homestead and green whatever surroundings I found myself in. I had always the idea to turn bonsai into a business in the back of my mind, but the tipping point came when I left my last job and i knew the timing was right to begin a more rigorous test.
DIRT: What do you love most about working with Bonsai?
MP: The atmosphere that surrounds trees has always been transcendent to me. I feel my best when around them, as if nurtured and acknowledged in a mysterious way only trees can know. It's easy to disappear into the creative hours and feel happily exhausted, or even energized, at the end of the day. I love that my relationship with nature has gotten stronger, that working with living materials is endlessly inspiring, and how trees somehow touch a deep seated part in all of us. I see it expressed in the kid-like joy of others when walking them through a bonsai arrangement or talking about plant behavior and aesthetic decisions in shaping.
DIRT: How do you come up with all the names for your plants? And why do you feel it is important to name them?
MP: Would you ever not name your pet?! Personifying plants is not only a way to remember them better, but once they are named, it's much easier to begin looking for small characteristics that make them unique. Even two of the same plant behave slightly differently. One may bloom a little ahead of the others, another might be a slow but strong grower. It's easier for us to connect to living things that we have given names to, and then we look harder to find that they respond to our care and moments of affection. One fun example of this was a plant performance we did in collaboration with a plant musician, Pluies, who touched the plants and make them 'sing' through an amplifier. Before even knowing their names, the best singer appropriately turned out to be Carmen the Bougainvillea.
DIRT: Tell me about your connection and feelings about nature.
MP: I think nature was my first teacher, friend, and muse. I grew up on a strawberry farm at the foothills of the Appalachians. I used to make sawdust bombs, create dams, pile rocks and get pretty dirty. I still collect acorns and forest detritus to this day. The property was surrounded by white pines and ponds. I could spend hours absorbed in this world. At one point I guess I decided the feeling was never going to leave me. From there it became a lifelong mission to take this wherever I went, explore it, and offer it in new ways to others. I think I realized at a young age that this environment could heal, protect, and expand our potential.
DIRT: What is the fundamental philosophy of Bonsai, what are some common misconceptions that you would like to correct?
MP: We take bonsai as an opportunity to transport us to another time and place. An effective bonsai is one that makes us feel like we are walking up the side of a mountain and seeing a windswept pine, or in an open field surrounded by grasses and a single birch. There is a physiological benefit to being with trees in this way; they slow our breathing and calm our mind, no matter where we are living. A common misconception is that bonsai means one type of tree, that the tree itself makes it a bonsai. In fact, many different trees or plants can be used. It is the care and attention they are given, the shaping into traditional bonsai forms, that make them bonsai.
DIRT: What is the best piece of advice you have received as a small business owner?
MP: Remember, the lights always have to stay on. One of the hardest things coming from a creative background is how to balance the need to try new things with making a model that generates profit. It's not enough to have a great idea -- that's the first step, but it takes a lot to put plans into action and create the framework for a growing business. Steady, effective habits are key, and you have to arm yourself with the tools to make success happen.
DIRT: If you had a free ticket to go to any garden in the world tomorrow, where would you go and why?
MP: I've always wanted to return to the Gardens of Ninfa, Italy. These gardens are located South-East of Rome in the once prosperous city of Ninfa, now in ruins. They are highly planned and maintained but still left to nature for the final touches. It has the ability to capture the simple beauty of nature without being idealized or boxed into the rigid structures that you would find in a formal French garden or even most botanical gardens which get their language from classical styles. There was once a temple to water nymphs here, and the crystal clear mountain waters flow throughout. I went once on a very quick trip, and I think I'd go back, trying to sneak in at night to go night-swimming (with the nymphs). And if the plane could go through time, I'd want to see the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, of course!
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STYLE IS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION OF A PERSONALITY
DIRT sat down over a cup of tea with uber talented and charming photographer MATTHEW PLACEK at his LES studio to gab about art, style, and why he is spending his spring fussing over his plant “babies”.
DIRT: Why photography and not some other medium?
MP: Well, I can’t sing. I don’t think I can paint. I certainly can’t draw. I didn’t really try those other things and decide to do photo…but I was engaged with photography when I was really young, maybe about 14. I was intrigued by the mechanics of the camera, the noises it made, and it was really nice to narrow your focus on something. I spent a lot of time alone as
a kid, wandering around the woods. I lived in Ohio, it was huge and open and I was in the countryside, and I think being able to take the camera out with me and focus in on things, turn it on myself with self portraits, that’s what interested me. I also used the camera partly because I wasn’t allowed to use it, so of course that made me want to do it and I just really liked it and kept going.
DIRT: In a city as chaotic as NYC, do you have to schedule time for making art the way you do for commercial work, or do you just wait for inspiration to strike and drop whatever you are doing?
MP: I definitely allow for a lot of leeway in my artwork when I work on it. I really have a very busy head and I go back and forth all day long. Even though my commercial work and my art practice are different and have different content, I still approach them in the same way when I am conceptualizing them. I conceptualize a portrait the same way I conceptualize a series of artworks. But since my artwork is for myself, it is nice to know that I can’t let anybody down, it’s just for me, and no one is waiting for it. I’m just making it. It takes a little bit longer and has more room to breathe which I think is better for the work.
DIRT: What is your relationship with plants?
MP: Huge! Very broad, I have lots of children! Like I said, I grew up in the woods and I spent my entire youth trying to get out of them. I wanted to move to NY, to be in the city. When I was old enough to drive I got a car and I was downtown every day in Ohio, and in the past three, four years I just have to have plants around me at all times. Near my apartment there are two community gardens, there is a garden on my roof that I built and take care of, my house is filled with plants, my studio is filled with plants, and I never have enough! I’m constantly looking for more. Hours spent fussing with them. I think you need to recharge from whatever it is you do in the world, you need to come out of it to something else that you care about and for such a long time in my life it has always been about image making…that is what I spent all my time doing, and even my play time is about image making, so I think I kind of just without knowing it, grabbed onto plants. Plants are just so nice…it’s my segway away from work. It’s something for me to take care of, very carefully, that isn’t art. But I also do want to bring them into my art, I think about landscapes a lot…
DIRT: When was the last time you so moved by an artist experience you were speechless?
MP: There have been many, but it was Marina Abramovic. I had just taken a portrait of her for Visionaire and I wanted to make a video at the same time. We were doing really intense makeup, and afterwards I pulled one of the “recipes” she did in the early 90s for a series called Spirit Cooking and asked her if she would just close her eyes, open them, and say it to the camera. She thought it was a great idea, and I gave her a recipe, which she kept reciting over and over, and after we shot the portrait on 8x10 (which takes such a long time!) we literally had no time left to make the video. But I did it and got the cameras ready and she said, “Everybody sit down” and some people in the other room which she couldn’t see, but I could, weren’t sitting, so she said, “Not everyone is sitting” and so finally everyone sits down and it is totally silent. She closes her eyes, and it was just really amazing…absolutely quiet, no one doing anything but just sitting there, silence on a normally crazy busy shoot set. She opens her eyes and says it in a way that I would never have asked her to say it, and it was just amazing. It was so moving. It was so great.
DIRT: Right now I spend a lot of time _____.
MP: I spend a lot of time moving. I can’t stand still! Dancing, riding my bike, walking. I sit at my desk for 5 minutes in my studio and I get up and move something. I’ll dance in my apartment, or take a dance class, or go to yoga…I just can’t stand still.
DIRT: Do you shoot both analog and digital?
MP: I definitely do both. But I would say I do digital more. My artwork is not digital. I’m always shooting 35mm film on my little Leica, that is always with me, but commercially I usually have to shoot digital because it’s too expensive to shoot large format and too time consuming. I need time to get to know someone [I am shooting] and usually I don’t have that luxury on a set. But I think I have still carried across how I shoot in 4x5 into how I shoot digitally, I’m still planning the image long before I get there.
DIRT: How do you define style?
MP: Good style or bad style? Just style in general? I’ve never really put it into words. [Pauses to think] I think it is the biggest extension of someone’s personality, and I think it is something you can relate to without knowing someone. People with great style carry it in their aura, you can feel it. Style is the your first impression of a personality.
DIRT: You are going to have 30 seconds of fame on tv, you can wear a t-shirt with a slogan on it, what would it be?
MP: I wouldn’t. I don’t wear any words, ever. I would be naked. I just never put words on me, it is just too direct. I would never want anyone to think of me as any one thing. I think slogans are a very narrow focus. I’d say keep the 30 seconds…I’m not wearing any words.
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BALANCING THE TENSION BETWEEN REACTIVITY AND CREATIVITY
DIRT is thrilled to sit and chat with design and art star, SERENA DUGAN from Serena & Lily. This super talented woman is truly a gem and we picked her brain a bit about her experiences in travel, art, and what the difference is between the West and East Coasts.
DIRT: As someone who is based in the Bay Area but recently opened a flagship store in the Hamptons, do you see a difference in the design sensibilities of the two different coasts?
SD: Absolutely. Having grown up on the East Coast I feel entitled to generalize: the East Coast is more bound by convention than the West
Coast. It’s more traditional, certainly preppier, but also more sophisticated. East coasters are always on their A game and are presenting – themselves, their homes – at every moment. Pace is faster and demands are higher so the style is more elevated and on-point. And aaaahh the west coast is just the opposite. It’s relaxed, and I think people are more sensory, so it’s just as much about feeling good as looking good. Personal style then is less trend-driven and more self guided. But the great thing is that the East and West Coasts are constantly referencing and borrowing from one another. That’s where the native style gets really interesting. Innovative design has an element of anti-establishment, so there’s a constant tension and feedback loop between the two coasts. There’s so much beauty in the marriage of those two extremes!
DIRT: You love to travel, where would you go to tomorrow with a free plane ticket and why?
SD: Oh now I’m gonna be daydreaming! I’m feeling South America lately. I would head to Torres Del Paine in Patagonia Chile and trek the network of geodesic domes. (I mean seriously?) and get overwhelmed by beauty of the natural kind. I feel like success in being a designer lies in feeling small, which I always do when i’m immersed in the grand-natural world. It brings you sharply into the present, and removes the junk that gets in the way of your source…source of pleasure, inspiration, expression. It gets you out of your head and into the place where honest creativity comes from.
THEN, if i could please have another plane ticket I’d continue down to Argentina and visit some amazing weavers that i know of in the mountains, and try to find the artisans and collectives that are working magic with leather and horn and silver down there. And eat a lot of meat. And see what Buenos Aires is all about. And hopefully return home with a clear heart and head ready to say something original.
DIRT: If you could own any work of art, what would it be?
SD: It would probably be a Rothko. The concept of Color Field painting is what drew me to art and design, and made me know that deep down I was probably a painter. I design for a living, but in my heart I’m a colorist and a painter. Rothko’s paintings are like wormholes into an alternate dimension that color and the execution of color can create. Since gaining this academic understanding I think i’ve been trying to chase this idea through every medium possible: painting on canvas, glazing on walls, pattern on fabric, interior design…trying to create an effect on the viewer through their experience with color.
DIRT: Where do you look for inspiration when designing your collections?
SD: Not to sound trite but inspiration really is everywhere. I try to just be awake in the everyday to notice it and collect it mentally. It’s in an accidental clash of colors at the market, or the pattern on moths wings. Graffiti and street art. Vintage wallpapers. Haute couture. Copenhagen. Music you get lost in. Tribal garb. Anything original. Old boats on the Sausalito waterfront. Box canyons, a good smile, or any sport that points downhill. Inspiration is in exhilaration and anything at all that you find beautiful - the mix of which activates all that you’ve stored away – fueling your creative fire when you need it. That’s how it all works. And if all else fails, inspiration definitely lives at the original Hermes store in Paris (St. Honoré), where I’m reminded that impeccable products actually do have soul.
DIRT: Your company has grown tremendously in the last decade, what has been the biggest challenge?
SD: Understanding and balancing the tension between reactivity and creativity. Over the years we have learned so much about what our customer wants and doesn’t want from us, in terms of look and degree of boldness in design. This is dangerous for a business like ours. Too much data can make you steer design too safe, and you shave down your creative edges in order to sell more product – almost unconsciously. We’ve learned to be really aware of this, and agree on our position on art vs. commerce. We have to blend both in a way that keeps propelling the business financially while firmly presenting our point of view and continuing to feel aspirational. Tall order.
DIRT: If you could invite three people (living or deceased) to dinner, who would you invite and why?
SD: I’m really intrigued by my grandparents right now, who passed away before I was old enough to really take a full interest in how incredible their lives were. They were true bohemians, yet my upbringing was so suburban and conventional. I’d like to know my roots. Grandpa Marshall was a professional Jazz guitarist with the big bands. Benny Goodman Orchestra. He played the Rainbow Room…that story I do remember. Grandma Muriel was a gay activist…the real deal…until the day she died in her 80s. She was wildly eccentric yet shrewd, and sang when she talked. She was a weaver of amulets and dream catchers. I never quite knew what to make of her, but I think I do now. Grandma Helen was a professional sculptor into her 80s. A modernist. A free spirit expressing herself in a conventional life. She created a series of etchings in the 50s of women curled up in boxes. She found a way to be a mother first and artist second. She was gorgeously talented.
DIRT: Given an unlimited budget and total creative freedom, whose home would you want to redecorate?
SD: Is it cheating to say my own? You know what they say about the shoemakers children. My home is never done. Nor is it “done.” If I saw myself as a client I would attend to and finish it. It would be gangbusters, because I know exactly how to surround myself to make myself happy, it just always ends up being last on the priority list.
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FASHION IS THE PAINT. STYLE IS THE CANVAS. IT’S HOW YOU USE IT.
There are people who surprise you and Raif Adelberg is one of them. While on first impression Raif may look like simply a super stylish guy with tons of tattoos, there is much more beneath the surface. A multi-faceted artist who launched his own fashion label in 2011, his approach to life, a can-do must-do just-do attitude, is anchored in his belief that the only limitations are those we impose on ourselves.
DIRT: You were quoted recently in a Huffington Post article with the saying “You can’t kill something that is already dead” and there is also a photo of you in front of a large poster with that saying. In your opinion, what is “already dead?”
RA: People’s priorities. The philosophy behind that expression is not to waste time on something that is already gone. It’s over. It’s history. Look forward and don’t waste time on it.
DIRT: You live on an island in B.C. Is there something particular to island life that influences your creative energy?
RA: The lack of distractions. Deer don’t drive cars and can’t knock on your door. It enables me to focus on family, first and foremost, and then creativity. But at the same time, it’s really easy for me to get into town from there. Bowen Island is secluded but it’s only a 15 minute ferry ride from Vancouver.
DIRT: You are also quoted saying “wear fashion create style”, how do you draw the line between the two?
RA: Fashion is the paint Style is the canvas. It’s how you use it.
DIRT: What role does music play in inspiring your designs? Do you listen to music while you design or is it more about the ambiance and philosophy associated around punk music that you channel?
RA: I listen to music in the background while I’m working. And me and the other six dwarves do whistle while we work. However punk’s more of an attitude and a feeling than a genre of music. It isn’t encapsulated in a song. It’s a style, a philosophy, and an attitude.
DIRT: As someone who has to travel between the extremes of environments (city vs country life) what to you is the essence in creating a feeling of home?
RA: A warm fire and cup of cocoa. A nice cashmere blanket also works well. Family too. Fortunately, my kids are still small enough that they can fit in my suitcases and come on the road with me.
DIRT: Most of your mens collection is hand made, hand dyed cashmere…quite luxurious and definitely very tactile. Is there a conscious decision on your part to push against the disposable fast fashions that are part of the industry today by choosing to create things that are more crafted and artisanal, made to last?
RA: No, I just make what I like. I don’t set out to make an expensive product that’s artisanal. I try to make stuff with the best materials I can find. The goal of every artist should be to create something that will stand the the test of time.
DIRT: You say on your website that you “indulge in everything in order to inspire yourself those around you” and that you “find beauty in everything”. Can you divulge some of your indulgences and an example of an unlikely scenario where you found beauty?
RA: As far as indulgences go right now, a lot of caffeine. Breathing and trying to inhale as much air as I can too. As far as finding beauty in everything, you just have to have an open mind. To consider yourself an artist, a true artist, you can’t have tunnel vision. You can use the same ingredients as anyone else and it can still come out tasting like crap. It’s how you put it all together.
DIRT: You are trapped in an elevator for an hour, name the three people you want to keep you company (can be living or deceased).
RA: Vivienne Westwood. She’d had have some great stories to kill time. Jackson Pollock. We could probably make something excellent in an hour. John Lennon. He’s a fucking Beatle! Need I say more.
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CAN I BE FRIENDS WITH COCO IN THIS ALTERNATE UNIVERSE?!
Camilla Gale is a woman of discerning taste who always somehow manages to not only look chic, but also comfortable. Owner of the boutique Thistle&Clover in Park Slope, Brooklyn, she shares with us some of her thoughts on fashion, travel, and design; all things we love at DIRT.
DIRT: If you could travel back in time simply for the clothes of that era where and when would you choose?
CG: That’s a superpower I’d love to have. When I was a little girl, I fell in love with the Edwardian period depicted in My Fair Lady: High collars; form-fitting dresses; excessively large hats! But I’m not sure the comfort level is there for this girl. The 20s in Paris was a pretty powerhouse time–I could do quite nicely there. Can I be friends with Coco in this alternate universe?!
DIRT: What is your favorite room in your house and why?
CG: My son’s room is my pride and joy. It’s light and airy, with calming, gender-neutral colors and some incredible art (thanks to my in-laws).
DIRT: What is the most played song on your iPod?
CG: I’ve been leaning on my Pandora lately at home–I’m really into the Punch Brothers station. I love bluegrass.
DIRT: What is the most pleasingly designed space you have ever been in? How about best designed city?
CG: NYC’s grid system is hard to beat, but Paris’s large boulevards are a close 2nd. My parents’ Paris apartment is about as close to interior designed perfection as you can get.
DIRT: I know that traveling is something you love to do, is there somewhere you have been dying to go to but have yet to visit?
CG: I wish we could take 6 months and our toddler and travel around China and then more of Southeast Asia. I’m dying to do the Szechuan Province (for the food!). We’re pretty adventurous with Rhys, but the jet lag/multi day travel time is hard to commit to!
DIRT: Where do you draw the line between art and design?
CG: I think functionality helps toe the line, but I’m happy keeping that line blurred! Both are forms of creative expression – who am I to judge?
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YOU CAN LIVE WITHOUT THE THINGS YOU THOUGHT YOU COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT
Arden Scott is one of the most fascinating artists we have ever met. With an indomitable spirit for living life to the fullest, she is an artist, a sailor, an explorer, and a myriad of other titles. But above all she is a person who really understands the essence of things. We are extremely honored to have caught up with her between travels and time spent at her studio.
DIRT: I know without a doubt that you must have stories enough to fill volumes, can you tell us just a bit about where you are from and how you arrived to be an artist living in Greenport?
AS: I was gentrified out of the City – and I knew Greenport from sailing, had a friend who ran a shipyard – and lo, found myself with a studio here.
DIRT: What was it that attracted you to sailing and when?
AS: Probably from all the books I read as a kid.
DIRT: When did you first start making art and why?
AS: I won my first award for sculpture in 2nd grade and was hooked from then on.
DIRT: Your artwork can be described as often being very sparse, in the best way…do you think that having been a boatbuilder and sailor, where design and life is distilled to the bare essentials, played a role in developing this aesthetic in you?
AS: actually was the other way around – my earliest recollection of work that blew my socks off was Cycladic and archaic Greek sculpture – essence of meaning and form – cave paintings – made sense of boat and sailing.
DIRT: What is the longest amount of time you have spent at sea and what was both the most rewarding and punishing part of that experience?
AS: Not sure – probably about four months on a ship, but it wasn’t always at sea. Rewarding? Exhilaration of sailing the ship to its potential (and maybe slightly beyond). Punishing? Hours of frustrating calm and adverse currents.
DIRT: As an artist who has been working for so many years, what advice can you give to younger artists?
AS: Eegads, hmmm – well, I’d say dance on the edge, risk joy and stand clear from closing doors.
DIRT: What are 3 things that you simply cannot live without?
AS: I have learned that you can live without the things you thought you couldn’t live without.
DIRT: How does travel influence your art?
AS: It keeps me alert to the unexpected – I come back with new eyes.
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EFFORTLESSLY STYLISH AND ABOVE ALL FUNCTIONAL
Rarely do you find a feed on Instagram that features not a single selfie, but instead only the most amazing library of interior design images. Such is the case with Michael Bozina @mikeinnottinghill. We have been following him for quite a while now and in awe of his seemingly limitless resource for beautiful interiors so artfully curated. We finally caught up with him to dig a little deeper.
DIRT: How do you feel that social media like has influenced your own tastes in design?
MB: I don’t feel that social media has changed my taste per se. Instagram being so visual (and such a readily available medium) has perhaps changed the method in which I assess interior design. The quantity of interior images is more expansive and so, with so much available, it has helped me to refine and confirm my likes and dislikes.
DIRT: You have a very impressive feed on Instagram of amazing interiors, where do you find your images from?
MB: Thank you your very kind. Over the years I have amassed quite a collection of amazing interior images. I have seen emerge fantastic designers, my favourites of whom, I religiously follow online. From their feeds, websites and interviews I see not only their recent works but that of their contemporaries and newly emerging artists. From this constantly changing landscape I source my images to share.
DIRT: What to you are the essential elements in a well designed space?
MB: Masculine elegance, sensuous materials, generously proportioned, rhythm, effortlessly stylish and above all (not meaning to sound like a bore) functional.
DIRT: Is there a certain design object right now you are coveting? If so, what is it and why do you love it so much?
MB: Horsehair Pendant for its intense masculinity and simplicity by Apparatus Studio NYC.
DIRT: Being on the other side of the Atlantic, how do you feel American design differs from British design?
MB: Personally when I envision American design I see a more pastel palette with a blend of traditional and modern elements. It’s demure and understated. There’s a comfort and sincerity in its design. This in contrast to English design where I feel there is more of a bohemian artful aesthetic. There’s a luxurious ambience in design which is precious and nostalgic in my eyes. Plus a real richness in colour and texture.
DIRT: As someone who obviously combs through a lot of images of interiors, have you noticed any trends in the kinds of spaces you see being published today?
MB: I’ve never been one to follow trends if I’m honest. However a particular favourite designer for me is Parisian designer Joseph Dirrand. His work is incredibility distinctive and inspiring. His subtle use and graduation of colour is divine and his use of heavily veined marble is truly beyond.
DIRT: If you could travel back in time and meet any design icon, who would you want to spend an afternoon with?
MB: Without a doubt George Stacey and David Collins.
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