Laissez faire motivation

Follow where your eyes take you!

FYI click or tap an image to view it full screen. Prague was the enticing destination on my recent trip. But Portugal & Vienna were bookends of our travels. The coastal cities of Lisbon & Porto are where most of our time was spent with one-night in Sintra & a day trip to the Douro Valley.

I didn’t have specific destinations or expectations for this part of our trip so I just had a photographic laissez faire approach to where we went. I let my eyes wander & tried to capture interesting details, characteristics of the culture & people. The churches, palaces & monasteries in these old world Europe cities are spectacular but kind of blend together. Something that grabbed my eyes in Lisbon was the beautiful tile work almost everywhere you looked. I also saw lots of street art aka graffiti. As always shadows attract my interest.

The topography of these 2 port cities made many of the hills of Pittsburgh look like gentle slopes. Within the crowded streets of Lisbon are 3 funiculars/inclines, which gave welcome relief to my knees. In addition, many of the streets & sidewalks are made from tiles & stones. While they provided unique artistic character to the cities, (Yes! The sidewalks are stunning works of craftsmanship!) at the end of the day the unevenness took a toll on my feet.

I had hoped to do a sailing trip out of Porto for an afternoon, but it ended up that we just motored along the coast & up the Douro River. A nice afternoon on the water but very disappointed the sails never went up. That means look for other boats that do have sheets to the wind!

Sintra offered an opportunity to visit a variety of castles. These structures have always fascinated me. I was anxious to see them. The Palace of Pena was interesting but seemed like a set from Universal Studios. The Castle of the Moors, built over 1100 years ago, is in surprisingly good shape providing spectacular views from atop the hill. The newest of the castles, Quinta da Regaleira, built in the last days of the Portugal monarchy, is the one that got my mind’s eye really motivated. This was indeed my highlight of Portugal, a place I could spend an entire day with my camera.

Another memorable experience was a drive into the Douro valley, home of Port wine. Although I don’t drink wine, getting there was a good day trip. The drive was one of the most scenic routes I’ve taken in a while. Driving a stick shift on the back-country roads was much more fun than the anxiety of reintroducing myself to a clutch on city hills.

I had VERY briefly visited Vienna on a 12 hour layover a few years ago so I had a taste of what this old yet cosmopolitan city was like. On this trip we took the time to visit the summer palace of the Habsburg dynasty. We were told, after we bought tickets, that no photography was allowed on the tour. With a silent shutter & stealth aiming of the camera I didn’t let rules stop me. This is the room where after the Bay of Pigs & before the Cuban Missile Crisis President Kennedy met with Soviet Premier Khrushchev. That meeting didn’t go well for JFK.

 I understand & usually respect restriction on photography. Some people, many with with cell phone cameras, cause problems with the flow of tourist traffic. And don’t get me started about selfie sticks! However, if this restriction is part of the policies, let people know before purchasing tickets. I almost always check in advance if non-flash no tripod photography is allowed when I anticipate taking pictures.

Enough of that rant, the gardens outside the palace have wonderful opportunities to take pictures, fewer crowds & was a more picturesque environment. Central Vienna was indeed worth exploring but the gardens of the palace & the district of Hietzing, where the palace is located, offered a  slower simpler taste of Austria. This was a welcome change of pace. Naturally they had the prerequisite historic churches.

In life I try to experience new things. However, I also understand what I like & what I don’t like. I enjoyed seeing the wonderful lobby/entrance to the Vienna Opera House. The only way to see it was waiting in line to buy SRO tickets for Madam Butterfly. Even though I love the symphony, theater, dance & especially musical theater I had never experienced opera. My instincts for avoiding it were correct. With no offense to talented performers, crew & fans of this historic art form, I doubt I will ever go to another opera. We respectfully left after the 1st act. OBTW the interior hall of both Heinz Hall & The Benedum are more impressive.

Urban Inspiration

Walk around any city & you’ll find public art. Some statues or murals may be commissioned or you may see the work of an illicit painter’s creativity. Even some marketing signs have an artistic flair. Whatever the intent, these visual distractions can make a mundane environment more interesting.

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The symmetrical sharp shapes of these windows with multiple panels are softened with the colorful arched design that surrounds them. The static pattern of bricks has almost disappeared into the background with the outlined form of columns. The artistic accents incorporated onto the basic form of the structure add to the character of the old building while giving a hint to what is inside.

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The sides of buildings where a parking lot has been squeezed into the empty space provide an opportunity for many types of murals. Usually work done in these spaces provide vivid color to an otherwise drab wall.

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Statues of Ancient Greece represented gods while some rulers hoping to immortalize themselves had their likeness carved in stone. In this country many of our civic monuments pay tribute to important individuals. No form of art is ever static. In the recent past objects, forms & surrealistic sculptures began to appear in public spaces often representing ideas. Empty Suit by Erwin Wurm in St. Louis fascinated me. Humanity has been removed from a typical form on a pedestal & the color demands your attention.

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Not to far from Empty Suit I found a sculpture commonly know as Hollow Head or just plain Head. I later learned its official name is Eros Bendato sculpted by Igor Mitoraj. Initially I enjoyed the absurdity of the work but discovered that Eros is the Greek God of love & desire. By making me smile when I first saw it & later thinking of what the artist may have been saying, this public art did it’s job.

05 copyWhile this wall in Mostar, riddled with the bullet holes, is definitely not the work of an artist. It does speaks to me in a more powerful way than any urban environment I’ve ever been in. During the war in Bosnia Herzegovina in the 1990’s, this city, which had been a beacon of coexistence between a cultural, religious & ethnic population, was laid siege. Centuries of cooperation & tolerance eroded into an atmosphere of distrust & anger. It is a constant reminder of the the lasting scars from the savagery of war.

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Translation…I am Fidel. My trip to Cuba was 2 months after Fidel died. One of Castro’s last wishes was for no monuments to be erected in his honor to avoid a cult of personality. The few murals I saw were of faded revolutionary icons. During my 2 weeks on the island I saw very little graffiti. I found it odd that with Cuba’s rich artistic culture I did not see more art in public places. 07

The attempt to brighten up an alley in downtown Denver with a dramatic work of art seemed like a good idea. However, the alley will always be a place for garbage dumpsters. The stark reality of the graffiti tagged container defines the superiority of function over form in this environment.

08This mural alongside a parking lot in the Strip District of Pittsburgh is also an advertisement for the business inside the building. Getting your attention is a shared goal of art & marketing. Both the design & the message are simple. In my mind’s eye that harmony helps to make it effective without being offensive. It also has balanced proportion with the cars in in front of it.

09Anyone with a bit of technical knowledge about video will immediately associate the color bars in the mural with TV. The iconic Apple logo requires no further explanation. Yet again it is on a wall beside a parking lot. In this case, the enormity of it with the stark design I find irritating. I’m not a graphic designer but somehow I think Apple could have used the space with a more creative brush. Just because it looks good on a monitor doesn’t always translate to the environment people will see it.

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On Beal St. in Memphis businesses uses unique signs to get tourists attention to lure them in & spend money. A clever name or a creative sign are the norm. One sign that grabbed my eye was the Pepsi Sign. The artist credited is Mark Davey. I can’t say for certain but this seems to be his unique expression of creative promotion not a Pepsi campaign.

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It’s no surprise that in the digital era urban art now includes video sculptures. At Millennial Park in Chicago, Crown Fountain displays dynamic images along with LED lighting presentations. The 50 foot tall screen can be overpowering when it shows the faces of about 1,000 faces of people from Chicago. The images of the faces are not static. Periodically a stream of water will shoot out of the subject’s mouth. From the appropriate distance it speaks to the diversity of humanity.   Hopefully it will never be used for advertising. In my opinion mediocre art is superior to most marketing eyesores.