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I open my Facebook homepage. I see a bundle of red wool pulled into a heart shape. Amid the thousands of photos that I come across each day via the internet, this stands out. It has a simple and naïve charm. It is posted by Alyaa Kamel, the queen of that corner of cyberspace where “art” and social media blur into one. The text of the post reads: #Iloveme #love #heart #loveisnow #lovingmyself #process #evolution #respect #act #say #talk #think #arttherapy #life #world #humanity #contemporaryart #design #myart #wool #paper #alyaakamel (Interesting!)

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I head into Geneva’s old town and visit this striking and versatile painter in her studio. I am immediately captivated by an inky dervish-like figure, beautifully proportioned, poised and slightly stooped as if resting between manic whirls. However, my objective today is neither to admire nor to buy. I am after a behind-the-scenes-and-screens glimpse of Alyaa’s virtual gallery. We chat. I ask her about her unrelenting Facebook activity that could stretch to ten posts per day. She’s a little elusive. She says it’s about promoting and selling her work. I am not totally convinced. It is the “why” of so much activity that fascinates and that I really want to explore. There must be other incentives and impulses at play. I struggle to pitch the right question.

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Of all the images that Alyaa posts, her people fascinate the most. Who they are is unclear. They are frequently hooded or veiled. They are oppressed people; people in ruins; displaced people; poor people; crowded people; and people in distress. They are, in brief, a kind of faceless generic for those people about whom every day world news is made. She just feels for people caught up in events over which they have no control and she pours it all out on Facebook.

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Alyaa travels far and wide often in the company of Martin La Roche. Their clothes, their parties, their dinners and hotel rooms are all posted on their profile pages. Amid all this, she also executes and posts exquisite little sketches. Leafing through her (paper) sketchbook is a pleasure and a privilege. Take a look at this hotel in Stockholm!

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The most intriguing theme that Alyaa Kamel posts by the day – and the most revealing – is Little Alyaa. This pre-adolescent feminine persona expresses any and every little girl thought or emotion that might flit through the mind of an adult in a moment of regression. A cloth version travels in Alyaa’s handbag and does cameo photo-calls wherever her creater takes her. Little Alyaa rattles my sense of macho. I feel manipulated and irritated by her. I wish I could say I had absolutely no interest in her o-so-cute-girlie-on-valentine-card-addressed-to-self sentiments. But I can’t resist the pull of her charm, the more so with following her on Facebook. I come to realise that Little Alyaa is a very articulate little miss. She is brilliantly characterised and presented. She has, inevitably, a huge, and not entirely female, following. Just as Alyaa Kamel’s people speak of world events, Little Alyaa speaks to Big Alyaa’s friends and admirers. And just to tighten the saccharine screws, Little Alyaa sometimes shares a Facebook post with a teddy bear. The text is more revealing still….. ‪#‎givemebackmylife‬ ‪#‎life‬ ‪#‎teddyismine‬ ‪#‎teddybear‬ ‪#‎IamwhoIam‬ ‪#‎identity‬ ‪#‎innocence‬ ‪#‎childhood‬ ‪#‎mylife‬ ‪#‎live‬ ‪#‎alive‬ ‪#‎art‬ ‪#‎alyaakamel‬ ‪#‎contemporaryart‬ ‪#‎design‬ ‪#‎decoration‬ ‪#‎illustration‬ ‪#‎drawing‬ ‪#‎fineart‬

I admire Alyaa’s eclectic work and enjoy her unrelenting use of Facebook. However, her hashtag word clouds represent much more than a strategy of promotion and sales. They serve to bare her soul and simultaneously act as gaping virtual look-at-me dragnets that communicate with and capture a wide variety of other emotional and creative fish. But the question of “why” remains. A generous answer is that this behaviour signals a talented painter of the twenty-first century using social media unashamedly to promote her work by expressing her fears, hopes, longings and aspirations to as wide an audience as possible. A less generous answer is that she has a compulsion to put herself “out there” on social media. Perhaps the real answer lies somewhere in between. My attempt at analysis of Alyaa Kamel’s Facebook activity stops here. I just love it. #hugrobin #robinneedsabeer

The Ecstasy and the Agony of Paulo Tercio

Paulo Tercio 1Paulo Tercio contacted Talking Beautiful Stuff to tell us of his admiration of Ana Maria Pacheco. Like her, he trained at London’s Slade (albeit a couple of decades later.) Like her, he creates beautiful stuff that hunts around themes of spirituality, suffering and torment. The first line of his website reads “Paulo Tercio was born into a devout catholic family. His foetus was gestated inside a jackfruit. When his soul entered his body he experienced his first ecstasy…..”


And here it is! Paulo’s painting that depicts what he describes as the single most important moment in his life.

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Paulo Tercio “The Ecstasy of Paulo Tercio” 2012 Oil on linen, 60cm x 45cm

The image is innocent, earthy, nourishing, fecund and more than a little intriguing. Why the seedy head? Why the eye in the foetal belly?

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Paulo Tercio “Virgin and Child of St Andrews Fulham” 2013 Oil on linen, 75cm x 60cm

In 2013, Paulo won a commission for a permanent alter piece at St. Andrew’s Church, Fulham. This fabulous work shows the virgin sporting an exquisite orchid and the child whose halo has yet to reach its full iridescence; he casts a sideways, quizzical glance at his mother as if he already knew what life held in store for him. The scene seems to be watched over by two larger and darker forces.

Fascinated by what I find on-line, Paulo and I strike up an email exchange. Why does he works on religious themes? He replies “I believe that, in all major faiths, religious art functions by creating emblems of hope. It has the responsibility to help society in these troubled times.” What inspires him? “My inspiration comes mostly from within. I believe artists should undergo training only to develop their technical skills.” I ask about influences unaware of where this would take me. He begins “Many people have influenced my life including philosophers, spiritual leaders, artists, designers and musicians. Concerning my artworks, I believe spirits of other artists play a huge role in shaping them.” More of his story unfurls. The lines between painting and persona blur.

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Paulo Tercio “Collapse of the Ego” 2013 Oil on linen 75cm x 60cm

Paulo says that some of his artworks are transformations of his own suffering. “Collapse of the Ego” is intensely dark, desparate, mysterious and screams in agony. Just read this! “I had a major breakdown a few years ago and I thought life was at an end for me. From working as a manager of a prestigious hotel in London, I ended up in the streets. I was completely broken. I fitted nowhere. Death was my destiny. I gave most of my material possessions, including my own bed, to the homeless. During this time I painted ‘Collapse of the Ego.’ Looking back, I experienced a simultaneous spiritual, physical and mental death. This realisation became apparent a few weeks ago when starting a new painting to be called ‘Metamorphosis & Resurrection.’ I am still living the metamorphic stage: a human being in transformation. My resurrection will be the next stage in my life when as a transformed being I will be able to live life as a newborn.”

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Paulo Tercio “Plethora of Emotions II” 2014 Oil on gessoed linen 75cm x 60cm

“Plethora of Emotions II” is a beautifully executed but harrowing painting in which mental suffering yells. It has been selected for the “Dreams” exhibition to take place at the Institute of Mental Health in Nottingham (curated by City Arts in partnership with University of Nottingham.) This exhibition will explore the interaction between creativity and mental health. Paulo believes the spirit is intrinsically connected with the mind and that one’s well-being depends on both. He sees his participation in this exhibition as contributing to society more widely. He tells me that with this painting he is attempting to purge the mix of anger, revenge, despair, corruption, guilt and fragmentation that he feels growing inside him. I dig a little deeper and ask him about the source of these feelings. Ready for his reply? “My upbringing ruined my emotional structure. I grew up in a family poisoned by domestic violence. Parenting was abusive and alcoholic. I experienced loneliness, homophobic bullying, persecution, sex abuse, homelessness, and poverty. I felt desolate. Self-loathing and isolation were my main sources of escape as any attempts at artistic expression were met with contempt. ‘Plethora of Emotions II’ portrays a human being overpowered by collective emotions. Despite all this my religious roots, if anything, made me a more compassionate and humble person.”

So, Paulo, thank you for letting us see into your creative universe. And thank you for telling us about your ecstasy and for sharing your agony. I am sure all the readers of Talking Beautiful Stuff wish you well.

Talking Beautiful Stuff thanks Paulo for his permission to publish extracts from his email exchange with Robin. Portrait photo of Paulo Tercio ©  BvB Universe

James Rizzi: the merchandise!

Last year we discovered the fabulous 3D work by James Rizzi at Galerie ID. The interest has been phenomenal. He obviously has fans all round the world. We have now been shown his printed “merchandise.” But we’re not talking about posters and tee-shirts. This is quality beautiful stuff from limited-edition Rosenthal ceramics to totally collectable zippo lighters (and a really funky umbrella.) Enjoy our little video!!!

Ian Poulter’s Trousers

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Photo: Daily Mail

“We shall not be asking Ian to change his trousers.” – Peter Dawson, Chief Executive, Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.

Talking Beautiful Stuff is about the people, ideas and means behind anything creative. The quaint story of Old Tom’s Old Course at St Andrews, Scotland is a narrative that proved popular with golfers and non-golfers alike. We might be stretching it just a bit in expecting our readers to be interested in a man’s trousers even when sported by of one of the world’s more talented and flamboyant golfers. But, believe it or not, Ian Poulter’s trousers are the stuff of a feel-good design story. Where does that story come together? You guessed… St Andrews, the home of golf.

This year The Open, one of the oldest competitions in sport, is on the Old Course at St Andrews. The golfing elite will compete for one of the oldest trophies in sport: the famous Claret Jug. “The Golf Champion Trophy” was designed and crafted by Mackay Cunningham and Co. in 1872 for the grand sum of £30. It now has a permanent home in the club house of the sport’s governing body, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. No stapleford points for guessing whose troos featured the Claret Jug when the Open was held in St Andrew’s in 2005!

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Photo: Daily Mail / AFP / Getty

On the first day of the Open at Royal Birkdale in 2004, Poulter strutted onto the first tee wearing his extraordinary Union Flag trousers. Jaws of the tweed-clad dropped to the sound of a hundred cameras clicking. The R&A saw no breech of either rules or professional dress code. At the time, Poulter claimed “I honestly didn’t do it to get noticed. I did it because I thought it would be really cool…. The attention was nuts, wasn’t it? You’re not expecting to hit every paper around the world because of a pair of trousers.” He went on to say – as a warning to any club golfer tempted to make a dressy statement for the monthly medal – “But I had to back it up, because if I’d played like a total idiot, I would have been absolutely slaughtered by everyone.” The episode sowed the seeds of an idea.

A competition to design his trousers for the 2005 Open drew 2000 entries. The winning pair, designed by Gavin Adams, featured the Claret Jug on the left leg and the names of past winners on the right leg. Poulter, tongue-in-cheek, said “I wanted to do something a bit more subtle than last year!” Along with a replica of the Claret Jug, these trousers now feature in the British Museum of Golf ….. at St Andrews.

Poulter’s public persona portrays a lion-hearted, all-round good bloke with drive, attention to detail and attitude by the truckload. In his own words he’s “got more front than Brighton beach.” His recently published and totally readable autobiography “No limits” gives a fascinating insight into the persona, the life of a determined professional golfer, the road from Ford Fiesta to fleet of Ferraris, his Ryder Cup heroics and his admirable support for Dreamflight. “No Limits” also tells of a young English boy with a Saturday job on a clothing stall in the local market place. He loved the display and the sell. He now admits to a fastidious, even obsessive, attention to what he wears for work. No surprise then that he has created his own distinctive brand of golfing attire that hunts where smart and tasteful meets out there.

And the trousers? Forward to St Andrews, 16-19 July 2015. Two media-photo-frenzies are predictable. Obviously, one focuses on the happy winner holding the Claret Jug aloft at the end of the last day. The other is when Ian Poulter’s trousers walk onto the first tee on the first day. The man wearing them will lap up the attention and calmly biff his first shot straight down that vast expanse of green over Granny Clark’s Wynd toward the Swilcan Burn. Go Poults!

Discovering David Stacey’s natural world

I spent Christmas with my daughter who lives in Kuranda, a tourist destination in Tropical North Queensland, Australia. This small, unique village sits atop a mountain range cloaked with ancient rainforest and is accessed from the coastal plain below by a colonial style railway, a winding, mountain road and a cable car. In the 1960s its famous Hippie Market established it for tourism; hence its art galleries, souvenir shops, small zoos and various eateries.

In his small, walkthrough gallery in Kuranda’s centre, David Stacey sat working on a pencil drawing in the corner as I walked through to get coffee in the square beyond. I never got beyond. I was stopped in my tracks by the unusual and amazingly colourful, original paintings and reproductions by Mr Stacey.

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My first impression was that his work lay somewhere between graphic design and picture painting and that the colourful renditions of his rainforest subject matter would appeal to the tourist market and that he would do good business selling his professionally presented greetings cards, prints etc. But there was an element about every work that appealed to something deep within me that kept me looking and kept me very interested. Mr Stacey was botanical artist, landscape painter, scientific illustrator and graphic designer all rolled into one.

Some of his paintings were conglomerations of maps, landscapes and the creatures and features contained within. I felt that each painting was conveying ideas, feelings, incidents and stories. I was convinced that he was telling of and expressing, in an holistic way, his affinity with, his understanding and appreciation of and respect and love for the surrounding country; particularly the rainforest. I was not therefore surprised that when I eventually spoke to him and asked him what his favourite work was he told me it was the Flaggy Creek Triptych above.

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I realised why Mr Stacey’s work was reaching me. Although he does not paint in a strictly realistic style I noted the accuracy of his drawing in his portrayals of different species of flora and fauna; from forest fruits to birds and frogs. I applaud accuracy and this level of it only comes from an intimate familiarity, born of respect and love, for these denizens of the forest. As a student and illustrator of Natural History and familiar with many of his subjects, including some of the landscapes, I believed myself qualified to make such judgements but nonetheless was eager to test my ideas by asking the artist himself.

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David, from Sydney, came to Kuranda already a lover of Nature in the 1980s. He confirmed to me that he spends much time in the bush and rainforest walking the tracks and studying the species. He uses a headtorch, like me, to find and encounter the nocturnal species such as the wonderful Waterfall Frog – Litoria nannotis in this painting which coincidentally I went on to photograph at Davies Creek that night after speaking with him! It is no wonder he loves this landscape. Davies Creek is the most gorgeous of places and the habitat of this endangered and beautiful Frog is so well portrayed in his painting.

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David agreed that his style was not unlike Aboriginal art in the way that it expresses his world in an holistic way rather than concentrating on a single subject. However he stated that his style had evolved from his personality rather than having been influenced by Aboriginal art. I thought convergent evolution manifests itself in more ways than we think! The Aboriginal and David Stacey both expressing their world by painting it in their own individual way but in a way that displays much similarity.

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When I asked David “why do you paint?” he thought for a while then said “what else can you do?” We discussed what he meant by this and agreed that, like me again, he is driven to recreate that which he finds aesthetic; only in his case it is a whole ecology that he has to recreate and thus his conglomerate paintings reflect this. He says that in this modern world he believes that “people are losing their sense of aesthetic and beauty.”

He is a thoughtful man; never answering a question without pause for consideration and whilst reflecting on our interview I later wondered if David Stacey was in his gallery in body but his mind was wandering the rainforest where he was most happy?

David is creating a book with a publisher already very interested. It is an illustrative narrative about the journey of water in a certain creek from source to sea. I was very privileged to be shown some of the plates for the book. It will be unique and quite stunning. It will be for young and old and filled with all the plants, animals, geology, stories and ideas provoked by a long love affair with the natural history of the rainforests of Tropical North Queensland. I shall certainly buy a copy.

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David Stacey sells well to the tourists. His limited prints are extremely well produced. This does not devalue his work but I believe that it was not created for this reason. His are works of passion; expressing his world of the rainforest. I think it sells well because it is simply very beautiful stuff about very beautiful stuff.