All posts by David Tomczak

Millbrook or Bust. A Last Summer Staycation in a Beautiful Barn, Why Not?

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  • Photography by Andrea Priorelli
  • A home tour of a farmhouse in Millbrook, New York

Crowded streets, rotting garbage, lack of moving air underground; these moments of metropolitan madness are the reason that the mythical “upstate weekend” is a necessitiy for a New Yorker’s survival.

Against the better judgement of my accountant (*cough* mint.com *cough”), and the fictionalized fear of where such a trip could lead (we’ve all seen that episode of Girls) I decided to unplug and retreat from the all the noise of the streets and the tweets.

Millbrook, NY (population 300) provided a secluded yet, inhabitated enough location to serve as the perfect backdrop. The town was exceptionally quaint, but don’t worry, it had 3 antique shops.

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Our lodging, a barn converted into a home a heaven, was simply stunning.

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The impact an open floor plan can have on opening a jaded soul, should never be understated.

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Vibrant colors against pristine whites.

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with beauty in the details,

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sun through the windows,

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and stars in the sky.

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12 queers, 4 days, 3 nights, 1 location, 0 regrets.

Millbrook NY, we owe you. #BarnOfSecrets2014

George Venson On Making His Own Life and His Own Wallpaper

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George Venson, founder of Voutsa (pronounced |voot|– sä), a design company specializing in wallpaper, is currently making waves with his daring colorful designs, featuring an array of patterns ranging from beautiful inspirations such as flowers, to unexpected animals such as chickens, to body parts such as lips – and yes, even nipples.

Venson’s personality offers a mix of deadpan irony, and cavalier charm, both resting beneath hair as defiant as David Lynch or a young Michael Musto. He confidently described the process of his work as being split between the design portion, “which is easier if you have to spend all day in a studio for four days and get a pattern done, you can” and the second, lengthier process, of “turning that pattern into a consumer good.”

Voutsa’s watercolored themes are all hand painted before being placed in contrast with adventurous colors. He explained, “The real target for me are people that want to explore new bold options – like, if you want to paint your wall pink maybe you should wallpaper it pink– but with fish on it.”

In today’s market, Venson has found that “wallpaper is doing really well.” Voutsa’s recent prominent collaboration in Storefront’s Letter to the Mayor, (where its designs were featured on Steven Holl and Vito Acconci‘s transformable walls), in Sight Unseen Offsite (where Architectural Digest listed his design as one of the Top 6 Can’t-Miss Items) , as well as its inclusion in various showrooms nationwide, demonstrate this niche’s relevancy and this overall brand’s growing impact. Yet, it is the audacity of his designs that elevate wallpaper’s possibilities, “when people say it’s so back, I don’t think it necessarily really applies to my work, because my wallpaper is more an art installation method of decorating.”

The conversation shifted from his past work unexpectedly when he exclaimed, “We need to talk about my clothes!” Voutsa’s trademarked tagline “The Walls are Alive” has taken a surprisingly literal turn. “I have always envisioned my designs on the body,” he said. This Summer, he is debuting his latest endeavor: men’s dress shirts, body wraps and pocket squares in collaboration with Paul Marlow.

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Originating from San Antonio, Texas, Venson’s upbringing was “totally suburban everything.” In high school he immersed himself competitively in tennis and by the end “I was among some of the top kids in the country.” He would “go to these tournaments, and there were all these really serious tennis players – who lived in tennis academies. But, I was just there, my dad was taking off work, taking pictures, or we’d be celebrating by eating at the CheeseCake factory.” However, while attending Rice University, his sports career faded, “I kinda closed that chapter. The passion changed. People don’t understand that. Passions change.”

His economic major led him to a soul crushing summer internship. He made an abrupt turn and completely remapped his college career, diving ferociously into an arts degree, “because I literally could not go one minute further,” in economics. As an art student, he discovered there was joy in “being recognized as a thinker and a whole person.” He found his thinking diverging from his former mainstream education, “There was this whole grasping and hunger for an alternative way of thinking.…It was as vital to me to help try to shift people’s thinking.”

“I am really indebted to the Residency Program, at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston. It brings in all these great artists who are also required to teach at Rice. So I was encountering all these great people who live in New York and LA.” The combination of Rice’s Art Department, “stunning architecture” and the fact that it was “non-competitive” empowered Venson to experiment boldly, in a variety of mediums from painting to writing a fully produced student film.

Upon graduating, the university awarded him a scholarship which enabled Venson to travel the world and leave his home state. “My only complaint” about Texas is that “- It’s not connected to this big world. It wasn’t necessarily just a gay thing, it was across the board, with all issues, and I could not handle that.” He found New York City to be, “Incredible.

At the beginning of Voutsa, “I was encouraged to make beautiful lush wall papers..they were abstract. I started to sell some to bigger companies” which evolved into, “why don’t I just make my own patterns, have commercial success, and then fund my life?” However, “that transition took from age 22 to 29, so it’s been at least six years.”

For those six years Venson “worked for a lot of different types of people,” which he said “was vital.” This time “working a lot of  jobs” was “not a waste whatsoever because… I still draw on a lot of qualities I picked up along the way. Even if I worked something and I hated it, maybe it taught me to run a studio, or make calls, or organize my art collection.”

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Voutsa’s splash, “happened really quickly.” The location moved from South Williamsburg, to a huge loft in Union Square, as noted in New York Mag, and is now finally headquartered in Chinatown. That first year operating out of Union Square was when “everything came together.” He nostalgically recalled how, “I made all my wallpaper. I built my website. I had my first shows. I had my first press. I had my first visits with decorators.” He sites that “the location [Union Square] and the size [of the studio] had a lot to do with it.” Even though, “I literally had no furniture,” except, “a mattress on the floor.” Speaking almost with disbelief, “I had all this space, at the right time – the universe came together for the first time ever. Since then, I let it move itself in its own way.”

Voutsa is now fully situated into its new home and is better poised to continue its ascent. With a new summer line of patterns, its clothing series, growing representation in showrooms nationwide – or simple joys such as Lena Dunham ‘liking’ a design on Instagram – the future of Voutsa is limitless and like George Venson, full of the unexpected.

Before we both parted, he paused and spoke with the same fiery tenacity that took him from Economics to Art, from Texas to New York City, from artist assistant to Company Owner: “After six years, I am finally making my own life – that’s what you should put in your article. I am finally making my own life.”

John Yates Imagines A Genealogy of Things

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The evolution of a President as created by John Yates for his web project A Genealogy of Things.

Full Disclosure: I live a cluttered life. Perhaps that is why I respond so emphatically to minimalism, because it is beyond my capabilities to maintain in any capacity: in writing, in speaking, in scheduling, in dating, in listing…

From beneath my cluttered soul I have learned that the beauty of the simple is most powerful when it’s visual.

The fresh and sleek project, A Genealogy of Things, from graphic designer John Perry Yates, uses simplicity to its greatest effect. Once a week he focuses on a single chosen item and condenses its form and tracking its evolution from years 1864, 1914, 1964, & 2014.

For instance this one entitled “Pen”:

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I am also a big fan of this one titled “Fan”:

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Yes, it’s geeky, yes it’s a tumblr, yes I qualify it as tumblr porn for any person who practices clean lines, focused simplicity, or for those who can only fetishize them. Check out the full collection here!

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Since Yates’ own personal genealogy includes an education at Yale and a job with Condé Nast’s Architecutral Digest, this series seems to place him (pictured) completely in his element. Currently employed at the web design firm Blenderbox as Project Manager, he has found a home he enjoys and a job he is passionate about, both cozily and conveniently cloistered within Greenpoint.

The Queer Interior: Where did the concept originate for A Genealogy of Things? 

John Yates: I always found myself wanting to get more practice at illustration and hone in on a “personal style”, but I’d spend so much time figuring out what I wanted to draw that I’d always end up losing interest or running out of free time. Around New Years, I decided a weekly themed project would be well-defined enough to keep me motivated, but open enough to not get bored with. Many of my idols in the design/illustration do something similar, like Jessica Hische’s “Daily Drop Cap” or José Guizar’s “Windows of New York”. I’m a giant history nerd and antiques hoarder, so I settled on Genealogy of Things pretty naturally.

Q.I:What is your process selecting objects to illustrate? In your experience, has finding inspiration before your weekly deadline been a challenge thus far? 

J.Y: I’ve got a running list of ideas I keep in a Google Drive doc that I add to as inspiration strikes – I usually know what I’m going to be drawing for the next two weeks or so. I’d say it’s very easy to find something that’s perfect for three of the four years, but hitting all four can be challenging. Of course, not only does something have to exist in all four eras, but it has to be strikingly different in each era. I can’t do a post for “A Hammer” or “A Towel” since they haven’t really changed form in 200 years. I’ve found that objects that changed dramatically between the 1960’s and today often didn’t exist in the 1860’s; sometimes I’m able to get cute about this like with the ledger book for “Cash Register.”

I think I’m behind deadline for this week – I’ve been busy illustrating wedding invites for some friends!

Q.I: Do you have a personal favorite that you have done?

J.Y: Hmmm hard to say! “President” was fun, I’m pretty happy with the extent to which I could capture their personalities within my simple angular grid system. At that low level of detail, moving an element 1/8″ to the left or right can change a face from being instantly recognizable to looking tragically deformed. Although I think the most successful so far, in terms of the tone I hope to set, was the “Pen” (pictured above).

Q.I: Although simple, you have added design “rules” to your work, what are these specifically and what was the impulse to add these limits?

J.Y: There are three main rules:

1) Only straight lines and circle segments (no other curve shapes)

2) A strict 1/16th” grid, plus 1/64th” strokes.

3) A palette of no more than 5 colors plus black, using a flat fill without texture or gradient

Practically, the rules ensure consistency from week to week so the feel of the series remains cohesive. More personally, I have a hard time being creative if I’m just given a brush and told “go for it.” I need a few constraints to start thinking – I think this is my Lego-filled childhood shining through! To me, illustration always feels more like building than painting.  Even in my rare attempts at actual painting, I end up breaking it all down into interlocking flat shapes and looking like knockoff Charles Sheeler.

Q.I: Are there any other bloggings – past present or future – we should keep our peepers spying for?

J.Y: I feel like it’s a symptom of our modern life to have a half-dozen half-dead blogs floating around without an update in months. The only other thing I’m really updating frequently is my Instagram: MRY8S  – I collect hand-painted lettering and other interesting type I find around NYC (or on vacation). Last weekend I was over in Calvary Cemetery and snapped some gorgeous 19th Century carvings on the mausolea.  When I was in Italy visiting my boyfriend a few weeks ago we explored this tiny town with perfect gilded Art Nouveau lettering in every shop window. I spent most of the day photographing stores from all angles – luckily for me, he’s the sort of guy who enjoys that!

 

Take It or Leave It with Misha Kahn.

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A bird nest rocking chair, piñata chandeliers, inflatable mirrors. These are not wonders from Willy Wonka, or descriptions of Surrealist paintings, but are the whimsical creations from the spry mind of Misha Kahn.

When browsing Kahn’s breadth of work it is hard to comprehend that his pieces exist outside the animation or within the laws of physics. It was this furniture’s audacity which inspired me to personally meet their creator.

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On a sunny Sunday morning, Misha, whose energetic aesthetic has refused to grow up, met me in a Greenpoint bakery appropriately named, Peter Pan. His thin frame was draped in loose fabrics. He covered his awkwardness in a smirk. His strong profile peered from a tangled wisp of brunette waves. At first glance he is practically a caricature of bohemian Brooklyn. However, his style is not calculatedly trendy. Its origins derive from how he discovered his interest in furniture, “it was so accidental” – a confession given as we each grabbed barstools and ordered breakfast.

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Growing up in Duluth, Minnesota, Misha attended Minneapolis College of Art and Design. “I made some tables – looking back they were awful” – he said with a laugh, “but they sold, and I think they would sell again.” Quickly he transferred to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) after his Freshman year “where I thought I would end up in Apparel – which just seems so wrong now.”

Rambunctiousness has remained an important aspect in all of Misha’s work. He used class critiques as opportunities to make “a big ordeal… dress up to match my project, or serve food.” He gleamed impishly, “-one time I made everyone go into the basement, that had all these old safes, and I passed out hot dogs in crystal napkins.” He admitted that this showmanship “was probably irritating to other kids in my class” but that it “takes a while to keep the volume turned up.”

In contrast to his rapid success, Misha’s experience was not one of overwhelming favor at RISD. “The response that you get in that environment…is more like – ‘ok, Misha’s doing something weird again.’ It’s nice coming out of school where you can find environments to fit in a little bit more.”

Upon graduation Misha earned the prestigious honor of a Fulbright Scholarship.“I think I just needed a year to re-boot, or just reset some things.” He chose Israel to spend his Fulbright experience and observed Israeli designers being “more comfortable incorporating personal narrative.” To him, “American Art School methodology is rooted in bullshit – the pseudo-conceptual and the theoretical. Israeli perspective is self indulgent in a different way and was nice for me to encounter.”

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Misha has been churning out audacious designs for two years via his Navy Yards studio. He transitioned seamlessly, earned representation from, Johnson Trading Gallery, has had notable showings while beguiling  impress both critics and press. He does not doubt New York’s artistic relevance, or his ability to survive its pressures, and “anytime I do – things keep happening and moving forward in a really nice way.”

Refilling his cup, he subtly spiked his coffee with what appeared to be a flask, catching my surprise he shrugged, “Soy milk.” He reflected on how infusing personality in his pieces offers more intimacy, while indulging on a Red Velvet Donut, “it just doesn’t make sense not to portray it. I don’t have serious issues to talk about in my work,” and even when things “…appear happy, they are kinda fucked up and a little deflated. – I allow room for a little bit of sadness. I try not to make things that are completely early Katy Perry. There’s always a little bit of complexity.”

There are physical attributes with Misha that infer hidden complexities as well: his relaxed energy, the patient cadence of his speech, and his reserved timbre of voice, offset assumptions one could make from work that revels in its garishness.

Misha confessed that an element of vulnerability is central to his design philosophy: “my work is never too cool, and always needs to be a little bit relatable. Nothing is too sleek, it is always human. I try to make things in a way as if one person struggled with it, and that is something we both feel in a dialogue. In furniture we see a bunch of mass produced objects or, if not mass produced, then people getting off on craftsmanship totally inaccessible to a person. Where with my things you can see how they were made – and are really weird and relatable.”

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Michael Popp Studio and The Queer Interior team were able to spend an afternoon in Misha Kahn’s studio post-interview and we got the amazing portraits featured in this article.

It is impossible to categorize where Kahn falls on the artist/designer spectrum . He feels “very uncomfortable saying both. If you design objects and then call yourself an artist you look like you are pathetic and clamoring, but if you call yourself a designer people only see the objects. – Yet, none of my objects are replicable so then that feels a bit off from what people think of as a designer. Ultimately I hope everyone takes away a conversation more interesting than that.”

The brunch bustle began to overwhelm the atmosphere. Misha’s poignance cut through the chaos, “I do feel that as a designer I am doing something that is a little bit pushing some boundaries, but as an artist I am not doing that at all. I’m making really stubborn, pretty objects that just kinda sit there.”

Misha continues to blur labels and push boundaries even with his own goals. This month he’s showing a series of lamps he made in a collaboration currently on display at the Whitney Biennial, his studio time is spent working on a large scale new piece he’ll be showing at the Museum of Art and Design.  More epic still is his dream to bring his Navy Yard studio creations, even closer to the water: “I want to make a floating exhibition, make a floating hotel, and also create The Royal Exoticist – a very huge, very fucked up Import store.” When pressed for details regarding his scope, he winks “everyone is going to be involved a little. I want all of this to be on a boat. I want to buy a 100 foot barge. I keep talking about it hoping enough people will think it is going to happen – so it will.”

Vacating the crowds we walked to Misha’s bright yellow Jeep – a hoarder’s paradise. A theme emerged: the cloud of chaos inherent in his living style is inseparable from the accidental style of his creations. Smiling to myself, I recalled his quote before we were aggressively asked to make room for new customers: “This is the look: take it or leave it.”