If you are what you eat, then is it such a stretch to say that you are what you buy?
You can be sure I am not the first to make this connection. As you read this article, the marketing gurus are busily working, analyzing your purchases, movements, clicks and downloads. Armed with highly advanced computer algorithms they are trying to compute what you will buy next. The next time you look at your credit card statement, you should consider the question before others do: what do your purchases say about you?
Please let me share with you a defining moment in our purchasing history.
In the wonderfully original Soho district of Buenos Aires, we stumbled on a small independently owned store that makes and sells porcelain dishes. We fell in love with a set of espresso cups and plates that we have never seen anywhere else. Simple, functional and artistic, yet also handcrafted and reasonable in price. The owner herself helped us in our decision. To this day, we have a sense of pride drinking from our beautiful handcrafted cups.
We now think twice about every purchase we make. It must be original and if possible, handcrafted. We strive to think global but buy local. Choosing local craftsmen and artisans. However, be forewarned, the marketing experts are getting more clever (or more devious) and will not give up their empire so easily.
We consumers (yes, an awful term which shows how big merchants view us, big mouths wide open, ready to gobble up their mass produced knock-offs) are bombarded with original-looking, not so cheap, imitation, products. But, when you look at where it is made – or better yet, how it is made – it is just more expensive junk.
Don’t we all have enough cheap (actually we don’t anymore, can you say: minimalist), artificial, and only skin deep good-looking stuff? Just say no. No one will say it for you. Enough is enough. Buy original. Choose craftsmanship, quality and style. True its costs a little more, takes a little more effort and time (time is only money for the people who are taking your money), but in the end, it tells something about who we are. Every purchase shapes and defines us. It contributes or takes away from the quality of our life. Remain a mystery to the marketing gurus. confuse their complex computer algorithms and throw a wrench (preferably one made in China) in their multi-billion dollar alliances. Stay original… be you.
Terroir (no, not terror, try to stop thinking about terrorism for at least a day) is a term used in wine that explains how wine speaks of the earth is comes from. What a wonderful and romantic way travel to the earth. The next time you visit your favorite wine market, pick up a bottle of an Argentine Malbec and travel to the Mendoza region of Argentina. The picture below is a traditional Argentine wine decanter that is still used in many homes and Parrillas (Grills). (More on our favorite Parrillas in Buenos Aires in a future blog.)
Somehow, the wine tasted better served from the friendly and humble Penguin. A perfect companion to the grilled Provelleta. (Cheese aged for a minimum of 30 days, grilled to perfection and topped with olive oil, oregano and chimichurri) Each Parrillero (Grill Master) has his own style based on a custom mix of tradition, skill and intuition. Was the house wine as good as last week? Or is the Provelleta better today? There too many variables to even contemplate. It is all part of the experience that can never be duplicated or replicated the same way twice.
Terroir helps us to remember that while consistency is good to a reasonable degree, if abused, it can choke out and kill originality. Good wine, like good food should never be consistent. It is not natural. Huge restaurant chains (think McDonalds) are successful for their consistency not necessarily because the food is of high quality. They can never replace the romance of the cozy local Parrilla or some other little gem that you have discovered where you live.
There in the Parrilla, accompanied by the penguin, one remembers that good wine like other good things in life (do we even need to even mention original art?) has little to do with the label on the bottle, marketing dollars, or snobbery. It has to do with terroir. It is nature way of putting balance back to life. No matter how large or how sophisticated a winery is; it is the earth that has the final say. It is natures way of making sure that we all stay original.
So the next time you pop the cork out of a bottle of wine, or seek out a place to dine (hey that rhymes), remember Terroir, the humble Penguin and the Parrilla. (Wow, now that would be a great Batman movie.) Stay original… it is beautifully inconsistent.
For a long time we have had the suspicion that there is a link between India Pale Ale and artistic creativity. Before you think we are a little loopy, let’s first look at a brief history of this fine beverage.
The British troops who were sent to India more then a century ago, brought with them of course a good supply of their finest ale. However, due to the long voyage and relenting heat, sadly the ale had spoiled before it reached shore. So what did they do? Since hops are a natural preservative, they added double the amount of hops, and made a stronger ale (higher gravity, more alcohol) to survive the journey. Many months of aging in oak wooden casks made for an exceptional new style of robust ale.
A century later, in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, namely Seattle and Portland, this fine ale was re-invented, trading the classic British hops with the more assertive and bold American hops such as the citrus Cascade, and the grapefruity Chinook to create a hop lover’s dream. When we first traveled to Seattle in the early nineties we fell in love with IPAs. Each small brewery and brew pub set out to undue the other in who would create the most hoppiest and complex IPAs. One of the best at the time was the cask-conditioned Pike Place Brewery (now The Pike Brewery) India Pale Ale.
Interestingly we began to notice that good conversation accompanied a good IPA. The more hoppy the IPA the more creative and artistically inspired we felt. (Yes, even more so then espresso.) It seemed that an IPA always seemed to be surrounded by creative and passionate people. Could this be just a coincidence, or was something less obvious at work here? Is it simply due to the fact that the IPA is usually the brew masters most creative and passionate beer that he produces, and so this in turn attracts an equally passionate creative patron. Or is it the fact that no other beer causes such an extreme reaction in its tasters, ranging from hate to euphoria. Or could it possibly be the lupilin effect?
Lupilin is one of the principal ingredients of hops, and the vine itself is a distant relative of the cannabis plant. It is of no surprise then that lupilin has a mild sedative-like effect on the central nervous system, and is often used us a natural remedy for sleep disorders. Reportedly one interesting side effect is that it increases vivid dream activity. Could lupilin be responsible for the hordes of passionate hopheads that seek ever-higher levels of hops in their IPAs? Is that perhaps why the conversations around a pint of IPA more often then not burst with creativity? That is for you to decide.
Stay original… be creative.
Mature waiters in white tuxedos, gleaming brass machines and professional baristas pouring double espressos in handmade white porcelain cups. It is a time to reflect, take stock of the day and enjoy the moment. This is the daily ritual for the people of Buenos Aires.
No line-ups at the counter, no 16-year-old servers and no fully automatic espresso machines that produce the same mediocre espresso time after time. In this bustling city of 17 million you will find no giant 20oz cups to go filled with way too much milk for a grown person, to cover up the poorly chosen, poorly brewed bitter espresso.
When did what we refer to as a coffee break, cease to become a break? When did going for a coffee cease to become an experience? When did a waiter cease to become a dignified profession where one could support a family?
One of our favorite espresso experiences in Buenos Aires is at the Cafe Martinez. They roast their own coffee, and offer several varieties and degrees of roast. You choose the variety and the roast that you want your espresso to be pulled from. They have experienced well-trained baristas who take pride in their work. You receive a small glass of mineral water and a hand crafted chocolate with every espresso. Playing in the background is either classic tango or neo tango fusion such as the Gotan Project or the Bajo Fondo Tango Club.
Another great coffee experiences can be found in Quebec City, Canada. In a dark and romantic cafe in the heart of the old city, you have the option to choose the variety, then one of four methods of preparation: espresso, filtered drip, French press, or an Italian stove stop that brews right at your table over a small flame, the perfect choice for a romantic rendezvous. Over time you become intimately acquainted with all the subtleties of one variety through the different brewing processes.
It is no longer just coffee, it is an experience, and each experience is unique and original. We invite you to think about your memorable coffee experiences, and more importantly WHEN will be your next.
Stay original… enjoy the moment.
One of the first things you notice in the charming old neighborhoods of Buenos Aires (such as the antique and tango district of San Telmo) is that even the doors are unique, each one having a personality of its own. Many of these doors have inspired paintings here at the Underground Art Project such as the one here. They are truly beautiful works of art.
To this day, the art of fileteadores (artists who practice the art of folk art) is alive and strong in B.A. It gives you a sense of comfort and general well being to see doors still viewed as something inviting, welcoming and full of artistic expression. When did doors lose their soul? When did they become something negative? When did they become solely a means to shut out and lock out, instead of to welcome in?
We propose that the door is a social commentary as accurate as any other. We trusting Canadians rarely lock our doors. Perhaps this embodies the spirit of the painted doors of old San Telmo, but sadly this is changing with the passing of time and is being reflected in our societies, communities and yes, in the families that live behind the doors. Sadly in our modern world of apartments, condos, controlling developers, and city by-laws, most people have little choice over what their door says about them or what they want them to say to others. Have we not lost a little part of our artistic expression, which contributes to the quality of life? But if we did have the choice, if YOU had the choice, what would your door say about you?
Stay original… express yourself.
The other day someone asked Eva (the greater half of the Underground Art Project) where she gets the inspiration to keep painting. My thoughts immediately turned to the often repeated remark attributed to Brian Eno, that while the Velvet Underground’s first album in 1967 sold only a few thousand copies, every person who bought it formed a band and made more music.
That is the great thing about art. It fuels itself. That is why art in all its forms continue to evolve. Take tango music for example. It all began in Buenos Aires with Carlos Gardel in the 30′s. Now more than 70 years later we see new artists still redefining tango. There is neo tango like the electronic beats of the Gotan Project and the Bajo Fondo Tango Club. Then there is the tango fusion of Tango Crash who fuse neo tango with experimental jazz and Otros Aires who mix tango with the milonga of Barcelona.
The question of course is, who inspired the likes of Carlos Gardel or the VU? I do not know, but of this we can be certain, it was art in some form. Art fuels art. Whether you listen to great music, read a captivating book, fall in love with a beautiful oil painting, savor a perfect shot of espresso (yes, it is art, why you even have latte art, but that is for a future blog), or get lost in the complex aromas and flavors of a hand-crafted, hand-pulled cask-conditioned India pale ale, you are fueling your artistic creativity. All forms of art converge into inspiration, motivating us, fueling us to produce more art.
The music we play in our studio affects the way we paint that particular day, what we write about or how much kerning I want to apply to my favorite font. Art inspires us all to be artists in some way. Artists will continue to redefine and reinvent their art and other people’s art. That is why art has, is, and will always stay original. Stay original… fuel up.
Mark Eitzel from the venerable American Music Club (whose CD jackets by the way contain brilliant art and who many believe is one of the best songwriters of all time) once said he writes “pretentious little songs of quiet self-loathing.” If only all artists could be as honest about their work.
You may have noticed that the underground art project does not have an artist statement. It is not because we could not think of some lofty, pretentious things to say about nothing, or babble about some metaphysical junk, but rather because we feel the whole idea of an artist statement is, well, to be honest, is just down right SILLY. Do you really care what some artist has to say about what his work is about or what it SHOULD be about? Can you not tell these things from simply viewing his work? Why is art so pretentious? Why are artists so pretentious?
Art is completely subjective (unless of course you are an art dealer, then in that case ‘subjective’ is a bad word) and is one of the purest forms of expression that eliminates the need for explanations or commentaries. If you like a painting then that’s great, if you don’t then that’s great to. If you can’t decide, then that’s not great, and you should be forced to read endless artists statements until you have an opinion.
If for any other reason you really want to read some poor misguided artist’s pretentious words, the art galleries and the web are full of them (knock yourself out), we however would much rather you listen to Mark Eitzel’s pretentious little songs of quiet self-loathing. After which, you might even be inspired to pick up the brush and start painting.
Stay original… not pretentious.