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June 27, 2014 - Comments Off on Ace in the Hole?

Ace in the Hole?

Ace in The Hole R3

How do we recognize boundless creativity in our midst. In our friends or in ourselves.

"Live Fast, Die Young, Leave a Good Looking Corpse".  I'm not sure who said it first, was it Fonzie referring to James Dean? Humphrey Bogart in the film "Knock On Any Door"? Or proto-liberated Mrs. Irene Luce in her famous 1920 divorce case, as she claimed to have "No use for a husband" she intended to "Live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse".

No matter. As I was reading a story about the life and death of Alexander Calderwood in the latest edition of Fast Company (July/August 2014 - Note, he actually died November 14th, 2013) -  I was struck by the fact that I had crossed paths with Alex and his work many times since the early 1990's, however, I had not consciously pieced together that he was the central character and developer of so many experiences I had enjoyed over the years - until now.  Shame on me.

While Alex is most often acknowledged as the visionary energy behind the Ace Hotel chain, he was actually a creative juggernaut respective of many really cool ventures and mediums across a variety of platforms.

Our two degrees of separation began during my early visits to Seattle in the mid-1990's when I discovered Rudy's Barbershop. One of the first "old-man" barber shop joints to resurface as a stylized reinvention of the past, well before what we now think of as commonplace. But it was of course much more. It was cultivated as "community" before THAT term was also overworked. It was a place where you could get a $10 cut...and if you were in the mood, a tattoo and strong coffee. Again before excellent coffee and interesting ink were ubiquitous. Or.. you could just sit there, read a magazine and listen to chatter all day- and never buy anything. It was in fact a living art project. A space to share an experience.

Later I solidified my mock-friendship with mister Calderwood when I stayed at the original Ace Hotel in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. This was in 2000, just a year after it had opened. Again, at the time I had no real idea about the impresario and his friends who had created this neat and inexpensive experience, I just liked it. It was Euro-style cool, simple and functional. The main entrance's doorway was obscure and the place itself was nested on the second floor of an old cannery I believe. And oh, in my bedroom...there was funky artwork by some guy named Shepard Fairey. Who knew.

(I have since moved to NYC and enjoy the oyster bar at the Ace Hotel here in the Flatiron District- regularly).

Alexander Calderwood had many more projects going on well before these, during, and after. All were event, environment or experience oriented. All were interconnected by approaching life and creation with a "what would I enjoy or find useful" mentality. The centrality of his work was human interaction and always logical....with a little WOW.

After time all of this time-traveling, revisiting Mister C's accomplishments, reading about his too soon demise, and finally putting a name to his role in my "feeling groovy" for 20-years,  I had to ask... At what point do we recognize the natural creativity infused in our fellow beings, friends, family, and experiences and REALLY acknowledge it?

Was Calderwood an intentional "cultural engineer", "cultural clairvoyant"? or was it just creative use of nervous energy. I personally love the friends I have who can't shut the F--- up when they riff on an idea. I encourage and cherish them. (Mike H. in Seattle, this goes out to you). Don't put your kids on Ritalin I say, ask them WHY they are restless and bored instead. Let them jabber on and spill out some creative experiential ideas.  Perhaps someone down the road will identify them as "a conceptual genius". Please resist the urge to dampen their energy for convince sake or because the Doctor recommend it. Question authority don't mindlessly Obey.  (Thanks Shepard).

Be curious. Don't just drink in your surroundings. Sure enjoy....but find out how it happened. Why it's there for you to enjoy. Who did this? Why? What is the subtext of this thing I'm involved in....and recognize the patterns in life that you are drawn to.  There's something in that. Patterns repeat themselves. Patterns are often beautiful.

I think about how late I recognized Shepard Fairey's work, not until he became an institution just before the Obama poster.  I laugh about the event that Banksy pulled off last year at Central Park. Having a street vendor try and sell his stencil art on a Saturday afternoon to very little success. Because passers by where not paying attention they missed the chance to purchase a very valuable Banksy artwork for something like $15 bucks a pop.

Developing creative experiences is something we talk about a lot here in The Mechanism's bungalow high above W. 37th. We try to understand the interconnectedness of all things we endeavor to design. We enjoy pulling the threads out of the larger tapestry to understand how beauty happens in our everyday. The world we are spinning on now has almost NO degrees of separation where human experience is involved. We share globally like never before in our short history. Making sense of, and developing experiences for the greater good - there's something in that.

I only want to suggest that we remember to learn from the people and things you admire. Famous or not, take a moment to recognize just why it is that you respect them. Deconstruct and meditate on those attributes.

Alexander Calderwood died while he still had a lot to do. He died from addiction. Maybe he could have been saved if he could get redirected here. His close friends stand by his genius and love of human interaction. The article in Fast Company said something like - "creativity has a dangerous side". If you're lucky. I think some of the most interesting people I've admired just can't express everything they wish, fast enough. And so it goes.  He lived fast, he died younger than me, I'm not sure how good looking he was as a corpse, but overall he was a handsome soul. Look up Alex's history and work, and imagine how much more YOU can do to express yourself for a better world.

December 31, 2012 - Comments Off on Mister Metamorphosis

Mister Metamorphosis

Happy New Year! It's time to get a new calendar dear readers and celebrate the coming year. Each seems to pass with ever greater speed, each with its own sweets and sours. My first full year in NYC now complete, I'm begining to feel my transformation from student to worker is near complete. It's time to reform my website and shed my untested youthful works. New Year's Eve is a time for all of us to ponder such metamorphoses. This holiday gives us an excuse to do something we should do every morning when we wake up: examine our lives and decide what to keep and discard, what learn learn and do. Such rebirths make that ball drop quite the inspiration don't you agree?

This year I have three main resolutions. I chose to embody them in comic form. Let's hope I can enact them better than my illustrated avatar.

This year I have three main resolutions. I chose to embody them in comic form. Let's hope I can enact them better than my illustrated avatar.

Rebirth occurs all around us. Modern culture, fostered by the internet, has created a free market of ideas that are constantly being remolded and reposted. One of the most well known critical artists of this modern world is the anonymous British graffiti artist Banksy. His work exposes the strange contradictions, funny or sad, that our society is built upon, dealing in art and politics especially (if you'd like to know more I highly recommend watching his documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop). French street artist, Dran, is by all outward appearances a French brother of Banksy. However saying so is selling him quite short. His work is much more detailed, largely favoring more traditional mediums versus Banksy's use of stencil and other more modern adaptations. Moreover his works tends towards some of the more understated issues of everyday life. Enjoy.

Zoo3D Book

While pop culture is now in a consistent state of death and rebirth, there are many aspects of our world that are long overdue for such an overhaul. Most notably print and news. While this industry has slowly been coming around to a more modern perspective on distribution and publishing, many digital offerings are still lacking in modern design. Even my favorite news outlets use sites that still favor conventional newspaper layouts in spite of the new possibilities afforded them by the internet's versatility. This is most likely due to the broad older demographic targeted by these content creators. So what will future generations demand? I think I may have found the answer in Quartz. A digitally-based financial publication, this site has an inventive design for news articles, all in a wonderfully minimalist layout that adapts to mobile devices with ease. A stunningly good piece of web work.




For all my talk of rebirth, I've failed to acknowledge one of the most important traits of this magnificent force: it's difficulty. As this week's comic illustrates we are creatures of habit. Truly redefining ourselves, even if only a little, can be extremely difficult. There are many little things we can do help ourselves in this regard like practice, rituals, or even therapy. But sometimes a catalyst must come from outside ourselves. This fascinatingly dark stop motion short is a good parable of this lesson. Stanley's life runs like clockwork and he likes it that way. It's only after he sees a beautiful stranger outside his house that he dares venture outside of his routine, causing him to question the life around him. Not only is this piece moving and immaculately well designed, but I particularly love how the plot gives you just enough to draw you in while not falling for the clichés one might expect of such a story.

The Sketching Mechanism is a series of weekly posts, published on Mondays, containing the artistic musings of Mobile Designer/Developer Ben Chirlin during our Monday morning meeting at the NY Creative Bunker as well as his inspiring artistic finds of the week.

Published by: benchirlin in The Sketching Mechanism
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