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Remembering Aretha Franklin

Last week the world lost the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. Not only was she an unparalleled musician that inspired countless artists, she was a civil rights activist. Her music lifted up countless generations, providing strength and hope to many.

Aretha Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and performed at the inaugurations of three presidents, including Barack Obama’s. The state of Michigan deemed her voice so special they declared it a “natural resource” in 1985.

David Remnick aptly described part of what made Aretha Franklin such an incredible artist; “What distinguishes her is not merely the breadth of her catalogue or the cataract force of her vocal instrument; it’s her musical intelligence.”

She began her career as child, singing gospel music in church. As a twelve year old she began performing on “gospel caravan” tours with her father, a preacher. By the age of 19 she recorded “Rock-a Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” which reached the top 40 in the U.S., Canada, and Australia.

Her voice had a magical ability to reach down deep into her audience’s soul, to make the listener ascend with her as her voice seemed to reach for the heavens. Her extraordinary talent has been cherished by young and old alike, and is certain to make her revered for a long time to come.  

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Color Theory Elevated and the Magician of the Bauhaus

There’s primary colors, secondary colors, and tertiary colors. How they mix, the effects that these mixtures create and the study of “color theory” can be traced back to the 15th century. Color theory is considered one of the most basic and important building blocks of artistic practices.

In 1920, while teaching at the Bauhaus, Paul Klee elevated the conversation and study of color theory, arguably creating a whole new appreciation of color that blossomed into art that was ever more abstract. He was, in a word, obsessed with color.

Some of his paintings simply consist of varied color blocks. If you look closely though, you can see technical experimentation taking place, this is especially obvious in Ancient Harmony, pictured below.

Ancient Harmony painted by Paul Klee

While all his paintings display a masterful understanding of color, some of them also explore images and symbols that seem ancient and mythical. One of my favorite paintings is On the Edge. While abstract art does not usually capture my attention, this particular piece draws you in and holds your gaze.

On the Edge by Paul Klee

His other paintings like Mask of Fear, depicting small inscrutable faces, just make me laugh. They are so playful and full of childlike wonder it is hard not to smile.

Mask of Fear by Paul Klee


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Minimalist Art

A drawing by Sol LeWitt (Courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery)

This week’s post is on the kind of art that might make you scratch your head and murmur “huh?” It’s self referential. You may wonder whether any sort of artist was actually involved in the process. Well, that’s sort of the point when it comes to the minimalist art movement.

The minimalist art movement, pioneered by Frank Stella, Donald Judd, and Sol LeWitt was one of the many radical manifestations of a quickly transforming art world. Like so many art movements in the 20th century, the images served as a way to push ideas. It came at the tail end of the golden age of the artist’s manifestos.

Painting by Frank Stella (Courtesy of the Whitney Museum)

The work produced by these artists focused on color, shape, and line. Above all, it strove to suffice on its own, stripping even the artist of creative power. Judd’s most famous work consisted of rectangular blocks sticking out from the wall. LeWitt’s of either colorful or black and white lines and Stella’s was similar, although the lines were more chaotic.

The use of color and shape influenced many fields outside of fine art: from architecture (like the Bauhaus movement) to fashion. Even a few of our designs at Amano Studio have been inspired by minimalist art, like our square hoop earrings or our gold bar studs.

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Leonora Carrington

“She would not be a madwoman, nor anyone’s beautiful corpse.” That’s how Anwen Crawford of the New Yorker described the subject of today’s post, Leonora Carrington.

Carrington was a surrealist artist who spent most of her life in Mexico City. She is best known for being the girlfriend of Max Ernst, but she went on to lead a life that was extraordinary in its own right.

She was born into a wealthy aristocratic family in England. After being expelled from several schools she was finally shipped off to Florence, where she attended an art academy. She later ran away to France with the Ernst. Her cousin, Joanna Moorhead, described Carrington as “an impossible creature, a wild child, an unfathomable puzzle of a girl.”

In the midst of World War II Ernst was arrested and eventually escaped, leaving Carrington behind. She in turn ran away to Spain, where her family had her institutionalized. After experiencing “treatments” that were more like torture, Carrington wrote one of her first surrealist novel Down Below.

After befriending a Mexican Ambassador, she was finally able to move to Mexico, the country that eventually became her home and a lifelong source of inspiration for her fantastical paintings.

Both her paintings and writings tried to subvert the female form. Carrington was not content to be a muse. She challenged herself and others throughout her life: from moving to a new country and writing in a language that was not her own to leading the Women’s Liberation Movement in Mexico City.

Leonora Carrington truly deserved to be called a hero.

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Morningstar Commune

Here at Amano Studios we are often inspired by the history and landscape of Northern California. One of the necklaces in our Commune Collection was named after the Morningstar Commune, nestled in our very own Sonoma County hills. It’s taken on a kind of mythical status as one of the many communes that populated the state during the 1960’s.

The property belonged to Lou Gottlieb, a hippie and comic-musician-renegade intellectual. He declared it open land, free to all looking to live in harmony and escape from the world. The commune attracted flower children from all over the country making their way to the iconic Haight-Ashbury.

Ramon Sender, one of the first residents of Morningstar, said “Lou’s ranch seemed an ideal place to continue my sun yoga.” Amen to that!

From growing their own food to wearing natural fibers, the Morningstar crowd were the pioneers of DIY. Natural simplicity and taking joy in objects that could be created by hand spurred us at Amano Studio.  

Sonoma county is still a refuge for those in need of repose from city life (but there aren’t very many nudists to be found). We like to think that the jewelry in this collection could be worn by the freedom seekers of the sixties or by someone just looking for a weekend escape.

Sometimes, you just need to follow the advice of Joni Mitchell and get back the land to set your soul free.

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Earth Goddess: Joni Mitchell

(Photo by Jack Robinson/Getty Images)

Many have tried and failed to imitate the great Joni Mitchell. Determined not to follow the crowd and wary of the crowds that declared her a leader, Joni is one of our favorite heroes.  

She managed to be simultaneously dreamy in her song lyrics while keeping a sharp eye on reality. The darling of the 70s had considerable disdain for her peers; intentionally missing Woodstock and mocking Bob Dylan’s childishness.

Always escaping and eluding the men that loved her, she refused to let her heart or creativity be controlled by anyone. She’s the musician who influenced so many, yet insists that she is actually a painter whose life was derailed.

Like so many aspects of her life, Joni’s sense of style seemed to be both a product of her time and mysteriously above it. Vogue described her look as “earth goddess.” With long straight hair, high cheekbones, long flowing dresses and bare feet, Joni has unintentionally caught the eye of many in the fashion world. A velvet turtleneck, a peasant blouse, and a berret are just a few of our favorite looks.

At 74 she is still rocking a laid back look, but a little more on the chic side. Just two years ago she was the star of Saint Laurent’s clothing campaign.

Her stubbornness and grace is a constant source of inspiration, and as the cold winter months roll on, we plan on keeping warm with a little help from Joni’s songs.

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French New Wave

When you think art house film, French New Wave (or Nouvelle Vague) is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Like many other modern art movements of the 20th century, the French New Wave was based on ideas.

In the 1950’s filmmakers and critics began waging a war against high budget movies that served as little more than attractions for the masses.

French New Wave film grew out of the French film magazine Cahiers Du Cinéma. The magazine altered the way people thought and spoke about cinema. It was no longer simply a means of escape; film became a serious artistic endeavor.  

The Cahiers Du Cinema served as the living, continuously progressing, manifesto for the French New Wave movement. One of the cornerstones of their ‘manifesto’ was the concept of the auteur. It placed greater emphasis on the director as the ultimate creative voice of a film.

No two directors of the New Wave are better known than Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut. Breathless, directed by Godard, is one of our favorites— complete with gangsters, a love interest, and the beautiful Jean Seberg (a true fashion icon).

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Joan Didion

(AP Photo)

“The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.”

Today’s post is about one of our favorite writers: Joan Didion. Hauntingly beautiful and frail, Didion made a name for herself by writing about the sixties, California, and Hollywood with razor sharp observation. Slouching Towards Bethlehem, one of her most famous books, describes the lost flower children who flocked to San Francisco in a way that is anything but sympathetic.

Pictured gracefully holding a cigarette with a thin arm, Didion has become a strange sort of antidote to idealizations of the past.

Stern and distasteful of the famous circles she ran with, her writing mimics the kind of panic and neuroticism that abounded by the time the seventies rolled around the Manson murders had taken place.

Her writing can serve as an inspiration to all. Whether you are an introvert trying to hack it in the world of journalism, or an entrepreneur attempting to carve out your corner of the world.

As Didion writes, “Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs.”


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Ruth Asawa

ruth asawaThis week’s post is about another great female artist: Ruth Asawa.

Ruth was a Japanese-American artist and California native. She was born in 1926 and lived on a farm. She was a daydreamer and her artistic talent was recognized at a young age. In 1942, in the midst of World War II Ruth, her mother, and five siblings were sent to an internment camp. Unlike the other members of her family, she only spent 18 months in the makeshift prisons. While interned in Arkansas, she had the fortune of meeting animators for Walt Disney, who provided art lessons. Later in life, Ruth said, “I hold no hostilities for what happened; I blame no one. Sometimes good comes through adversity. I would not be who I am today had it not been for the Internment, and I like who I am.”

She studied art in Milwaukee, but was unable to complete her final training due to discrimination against Americans of Japanese descent.

Ruth traveled to Mexico, a trip that also changed the course of her life. There, she met fellow artists who encouraged her to attend Black Mountain College, an experimental and idealistic school that allowed students to choose their own courses. While in Mexico she also learned the art of looping wire to make baskets. This technique was later used in her famous wire sculptures.

Her time at Black Mountain College influenced the way she thought about art and art education. She met many artists who went on to become famous in their own right, including Elaine De Kooning and Josef Albers.

Ruth later settled in San Francisco and her presence is still felt there: from the SF Arts Education Project (founded originally as the Alvarado Arts Workshop) to the beautiful wire sculptures that can be seen for free at the De Young Museum.

We feel so lucky that the Bay Area was made more beautiful through Ruth’s many public works projects and her determination to provide kids with arts education.