Author Archives: Renee Alfonso

Coffee Art

Image from Coffee Hunter

If you have a coffee habit like myself, chances are you take your morning (or mid-afternoon) brew very seriously, and are possibly regulars at the local cafe by your office or home. You’ve also probably been to some cafes that might have an added bonus to your preferred cup — in the form of coffee art.

Photo by Cairns Dining via Flickr

Coffee art can be a delightful surprise, and can add to the experience of enjoying your favorite beverage. While it presumably started in Italy (the land of espresso!), it developed and gained momentum in the 1980’s and 1990’s in the United States.

Image from DesignCrave

The artwork is created on the top most layer composed of an emulsion of foam and crema. Since these two components are unstable chemically, the art lasts only for a few moments before sinking back into the rest of the drink.

There are two widely known ways to produce latte art: free pouring and etching. Techniques and styles in producing latte art vary from region to region and on how the drink is prepared.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Free pouring is more common in American cafes, and usually does not require more preparation time compared to etching. While more complex patterns are possible through free pouring, the rosette and heart shape are the most popular designs.

Even with the simple base patterns however, baristas take liberty in developing a personal flair for their latte art, sometimes customising the basic pattern into something more unique.

This and preceding images by tonx via Flickr

Etching on the other hand requires a little more attention to detail. In order to create the detailed drawings and patterns, a small tool such as a coffee stirrer or a similar item is needed, sometimes adding some foam on to the crema as well. Since the foam dissolves more quickly, etched art typically has a shorter lifespan.

Depending on the skill and experience of the barista, the designs on coffee art can be more complex and detailed.

Images by Keiko Kojima (original)

I also found funny and unique designs.

Image from Trend Hunter

Image by Okelsiy Pikalo Invents

Coffee art certainly makes your drinking experience deliciously beautiful and interesting!

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Angels, Demons, Savages: A Tale of Art and Culture

Last week I attended a gallery talk at the Phillips Collection here in Washington. The Philips is a private art gallery with a focus on modern art, one of the first private museums to open to the public in the US.

Their current special exhibition hits very close to home — quite literally. The exhibit explores the relationship between three mid-twentieth-century modern artists, Jackson Pollock, Jean Dubuffet, and Alfonso Ossorio. Ossorio, the lesser known of the three, was Filipino-American.

Original image by Renee Alfonso

The relationship between Pollock and Dubuffet is somewhat known throughout art history, but somehow Ossorio doesn’t get as much mention. Some of the interpretation in the exhibit cites his focus on being more of a collector as a probable cause of this oversight. The narrative brought to life a cross-cultural story that spanned continents, cultures, and the cultural phenomenon that was the abstract expressionist movement.

Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist), 1950. Jackson Pollock 1950.
Image courtesy National Gallery of Art

The exhibit format itself was a traditional art gallery fine art show, with the large and dynamic abstract expressionist pieces hung on white walls. In some instances smaller works were grouped together, but the larger works seemed to be the clear focus, and in some ways represented the overarching idea of the exhibit most clearly.

During a special night event at the museum, I attended a gallery talk given by one of the curators at the Phillips. While the talk was insightful however, I felt that it had too much of a formalist approach – focusing too much on the technicalities of fine art practice and art in itself, with little else interpretation.

Red Family Alfonso Ossorio 1951. Image courtesy Phillips Collection.

Paysage métapsychique (Metaphysical landscape) Jean Dubuffet 1952.
Image courtesy Phillips Collection.

That was perhaps the greatest unease I felt about the exhibit. While it certainly did bring to light a story that enriches the existing history of modern art, so much more could be extracted from the complex relationship of the three artists. From a more traditional standpoint, how the personal story and journey of Alfonso Ossorio also affected his work could have been fleshed out more to provide deeper, more riveting interpretation.

Culturally and socially rich stories told through art create the most interesting types of fine art exhibits in my view, and this exhibit is certainly not lacking depth. The overall experience however was entirely lackluster, and I wonder if those who visited and were unfamiliar with Ossorio will even remember his role in this story after they leave.

I would still recommend seeing this exhibit to those interested in this unique cross-cultural narrative that allows us to rethink our ideas about modern art and abstract expressionism. At its core, it accomplishes what it sets out to do, opening a dialogue for questions about the intersections of art, cultural exchange, and our interpretation of history.

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Hina Matsuri

Image from

Each year on March 3rd, Japan celebrates its Girls’ Day with the Hina Matsuri or Doll Festival. The festival celebrates young girls in Japan, wishing them healthy growth. The contemporary festival celebration originated from Hina-nagashi, wherein the past dolls in straw boats were set afloat onto a river in order to guard from evil spirits. This custom is still done today in the festival in Kyoto.

Image from The Spill

Leading up to the festival, families in Japan who have female children display a set of traditional dolls. Traditionally, families that have girls in the family acquire a set of these dolls after the first girl is born, usually inheriting them or through purchase. The dolls are representations of happiness, health, beauty for girls.

The custom of displaying the dolls is said to have begun during the Heian period of Japanese history, from the late 8th century to the early 12th century. The dolls in fact represent the hierarchy of the imperial court at the time, and are arranged on the display platforms.

Image from

The dolls are intricately crafted pieces in themselves. The doll bodies are primarily composed of fabric, usually reinforced with wood or straw on the inside. The face and hands are usually hand-carved, hand-painted wood. The dolls’ hair was traditionally made with real human hair, but silk has also been used in more recent years.

Image from Chuzai Living

Woven fabrics with traditional patterns are used for the dolls, similar to the woven fabric used to make kimonos. The fabrics are layered intricately and decorated with different ornaments depending on the type of doll.

Image from Chuzai Living

Each doll has beautiful, intricate details. From the 17th Century to the late 19th Century, doll making as a craft surged when prominent families commissioned elaborate sets to show off their wealth.

From A Japanese Life

While most families usually put out traditionally crafted doll sets, today there are many contemporary variations of the hina dolls, for example those portrayed by Disney characters beloved in Japan.

Image from Vignette Bricks

The dolls are usually promptly taken down the day right after the festival (March 4), with the superstition that if they are left out too long, the girls in the family will have late marriages.

Image from Unified4Change

Apart from the doll displays and festivities usually done at a local shrine, the festival is also characterized by the uniquely colorful food made for the occasion.

Image via Guava Rose

The traditional festival foods include colored candy, rice cakes (mochi), and sweet rice wine. The special ball-shaped, colored rice crackers made for the festival are known as Hina-arare. The brightly colored, delicate foods are made of course to appeal to girls.

Hina Matsuri is a great start to the spring season in Japan–filled with color, happiness, and well wishes, which although are intended mainly for girls, surely bring joy to everyone who participates.

With spring almost here, the cherry blossoms are getting ready to bloom!

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A Living Man Proclaimed Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII Taryn Simon at the Corcoran

Original image

Taryn Simon’s Complex exhibit entitled A Living Man Proclaimed Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII made its way to the Corcoran Gallery of Art here in DC, after spending some time at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. I had the opportunity to see it a couple of weeks ago.

Original image

The exhibit is technically categorized as as photography, but it is definitely much more than just a simple photography exhibition. In a way each piece is a mini-exhibit in itself, comprised of portraiture, narrative, and objects that are carefully curated. Woven together, they explore stories that are all at once historical, contemporary, significant, and controversial.

Original image

Simon’s artist statement identifies the exhibit as being an exploration of “bloodlines and their related stories,” but each piece has much more depth than the explanation suggests. Needless to say, to explain in intricate detail how and what each “chapter” tells its particular story would certainly be a lengthy task.

Each piece comprises of three parts.

Image from, © 2012 Taryn Simon

First, one or more large frames on the left of each grouping shows a series of portraits of each bloodline the artist photographed over a period of four years, in almost every continent. Below is a family from China.

Image from, © 2012 Taryn Simon

The second component in her pieces is a text panel that identifies each subject photographed. From time to time there are blank frames or obscured subjects – all of which add intrigue to the story.

Image from, © 2012 Taryn Simon

Below the names is a narrative of the bloodline, and then below that, descriptions of the objects depicted in the succeeding large frame.The artist certainly did not limit herself to the traditional notion of the bloodline – and included groupings of animals as well as children in orphanages.

Image from, © 2012 Taryn Simon

The one grouping that was interesting to me culturally and socially as well, was one showing the bloodline of a Filipino man from the Igorot communitiy, who was brought over to the US for the St. Louis World’s Fair. The “chapter” was dense with issues that deal with history, cultural identity, xenocentrism, and could possibly also relate to more contemporary topics like immigration.

Image via Melissa Hooper's Tumblr

Artists like Simon certainly steer contemporary art in new directions, with her work becoming not just aesthetic compositions but also vehicles of discourse for relevant contemporary social issues. Her medium and methods might not be as spectacular as some other artists working today, but the stories and messages so deeply embedded in her work give them their own unique sense of brevity. You will definitely leave this exhibit curious, questioning, and wanting to know more.

The exhibition is on view at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC until February 24th.

See more about the exhibition:

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Pride and Prejudice at 200

Via Paul Fraser Collectibles

I’m personally not a fan of “chick lit,” but then again it wasn’t defined as such when Pride and Prejudice was first published in 1813. Jane Austen’s sharp and quick-witted protagonist, Elizabeth Bennett, was not afraid to speak her mind during a time when reservation and demurity were laudable traits for ladies of her class.

Lizzie, as she was fondly referred to, is a character who has a clear grasp of her own mind, but also manifests human vulnerabilities through her tumultuous romance with the equally keen but undoubtedly smitten Mr. Darcy. For many, their love story has been the end to all love stories – for the last 200 years. Pride and Prejudice is definitely one piece of chick lit that will remain on my book shelf for years to come.

Ms. Austen’s masterpiece celebrates its 200th anniversary this year, and literary world is abuzz with delight. Over the years, the book has undergone countless adaptations into film, TV, and has perpetually been in print circulation since its first release. Here are a few of my favorite adaptations and representations of this literary classic.

Bride and Prejudice

Bride and Prejudice takes Austen’s classic story to the other side of the world. The movie is an unexpectedly hilarious and endearing Bollywood adaptation, complete with large choreographed song and dance numbers. Although primarily in english, the film also has lines of Punjabi and Hindi dialogue in it, adding to an even more authentic feel. It’s definitely by far the most entertaining adaptation I’ve seen.

Images from IMDb

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the BBC Miniseries

Image via Fanpop

Austen meant for Mr. Darcy indeed to be Elizabeth’s match in every way, but she let him fall into that role at the same pace she finally realizes she’s in love with him. Of all the adaptations I’ve seen, no one has played Mr. Darcy quite like British actor Colin Firth in the BBC Miniseries. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that when I watched this, I thought that Mr. Darcy was, well, a total dreamboat.

Book Covers

Over the years the book’s contents have been adorned with many covers, each with its own sensibility that represented the time. Two of my favorite renditions are one that was published in the same century as it was released, and one that was released in the last year.

Via Rooke Books

The “Peacock Edition,” with illustrations by Hugh Thomson, was published in 1895. Its richly gilded cover is evocative of the Victorian period.

Via Brain Pickings

The Penguin Drop Cap edition is a series of classics with covers designed by Graphic Designer Jessica Hische, based on her now-famous Daily Drop Cap blog. “A” is for Austen, and the peacock feather flourishes on the letter give a nod to its predecessor, the Thomson edition.

Book Scarf

Image from Etsy shop Storiarts

Now if you love Pride and Prejudice just about as much the couples in the book love each other, then this scarf could be the perfect manifestation of your love for the book. The circle scarf features passages from the book printed on a circular scarf, and the rows of text make an interesting pattern. This could be a perfect gift for that literature major or librarian friend.

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