What Would They Say?

By Taylor Spill

The murder of Nancy Spurgeon, the dramatic ending of Sid Vicious’ infamous relationship. Orson Welles coping with post-break-up blues by throwing some furniture out of a window. The inspiration for Barry Manilow’s song Copacabana. These seemingly unrelated events share one thing in common: occurring in a hotel. Hotels play a larger role in pop culture than we credit for. Find out more in What Would They Say?

Hotels have long played a role in the history of the greats in the artistic world. When we think of places that played a large, yet eerie role in legendary stories, the Chelsea Hotel in New York City might come to mind. Built and opened in 1884 by Philip Hubert, the hotel aimed to be a co-op for artists. However, through economic struggles and turmoil, the Chelsea eventually gained its notoriety as a hotel for the unhinged rock and roll artists

The Chelsea Hotel attracted many greats such as Jackson Pollock and Virgil Thomson. Musicians were inspired by their stay as Bob Dylan wrote his song, Sara, during his stay. Leonard Cohen allegedly wrote Chelsea Hotel #2 about a fellatio experience with Janis Joplin. Another fellow member of the infamous 27 club, Jimi Hendrix also frequented the hotel.

However, the hotel’s own history took a darker turn when Dylan Thomas’ stay ultimately led to his death from either pneumonia or heavy drinking in 1953. A little over twenty years later Billy Maynard, a rock-n-roll photographer, was found beaten to death in his room at the Chelsea. His final work included stationery from the hotel. And most infamously, 21-year-old Sid Vicious, Sex Pistols bassist, stabbed his girlfriend Nancy Spurgeon, 20 to death in a drugged frenzy.

A less dark example of the use of hotels in the arts would be the Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Copacabana, an art-deco-themed luxury hotel built by Joseph Gire opened in 1923. It was featured in the film Flying Down to Rio starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, who were large names in the 30s.

A notable incident in the hotel was Orson Welles throwing furniture out of his room after his girlfriend broke up with him during his eight-month stay. Some of the furniture was rumoured to have landed in the pool. The same pool that King Edward VIII allegedly jumped in with a stolen goldfish from a tank. Apparently, nudity was quite a common practice in Brazil, so there were some nude or near-nude sightings of names such as Jayne Mansfield and Errol Flynn.

On top of these more light-hearted anecdotes, a well-known work of art influenced by the Copacabana Palace Hotel was the song, Copacabana (At the Copa) by Barry Manilow. Although the song is about a nightclub with the same name, the whole concept was inspired by a conversation had at the hotel.

Overall, this hotel is regarded as a more gleeful space, but nonetheless, it was also a place where great artists once came and went, and continue to do so.

The city of Arles, France where the iconic Nord Pinus Hotel is a location full of rich history. It was first a part of the Celtics’ rule, then the Greeks, and eventually was a part of the Roman Empire. There are still physical remains of Roman rule, one of the most popular being an amphitheatre that still functions today.

In the art world, the city of Arles was where Van Gogh was hospitalized for a year but he also created some of his best work and hundreds of paintings. Night Café and Hospital Garden were two pieces of work inspired by this city. Picasso also rejoiced in his time in this city as he donated his works to the Réattu Museum. In the photography world, photography festivals are held here as well as it is home to the National Photography School of France. 

The Nord Pinus Hotel Arles is an enigmatic and almost untold part of photography and art history. Important artists such as Jean Cocteau, Earnest Hemmingway, and Picasso alike were all guests of this hotel. Built-in 1850, the Nord Pinus was once owned by an unnamed Cabaret dancer and a tightrope-walking clown. 

The hotel’s décor is inspired by Moroccan design and Spanish influences. Each room is individually decorated to be a cross between Art-Deco and modern design. The hotel was once the temporary home to local bullfighters and eventually dedicated rooms to some of them. 

Maryam Eisler’s new photographic exhibition If Only These Walls Could Talk portrays the unconventional creativity that stems from The Nord Pinus, where many great artists once roamed and lived. She explores the macabre, yet nostalgic elements that stem from the hotel and uses the space to approach this notorious idiom.

What makes this hotel so special? Why was Eisler inclined to use the hotel as one of the main subjects of her work for the exhibit? If These Walls Could Talk is a perfect modern visual representation of this fascinating history.

Maryam Eisler, an Iranian-born and English photographer was one of many people drawn to the city of Arles as well as the Nord Pinus Hotel. She was inspired by the work of Helmut Newton for 1973 Vogue, which was shot in Suite 10 of the hotel. This photograph portrays Charlotte Ramping nude on a table in the well-decorated suite. Newton’s work, much like this photograph was considered risqué, and even controversial.

Suite 10 particularly stuck out to Eisler because of this controversial shoot. One can interpret Ramping in the photograph as more of an object, or an addition to the table she was posing on, like a statue. However, Eisler’s vision was to ensure that the women she photographed were just as important as the Nord Pinus. 

When Eisler visited the Nord Pinus Hotel in 2021, she too felt the creativity emulated by the iconic hotel. It was enigmatic, but also eerie, the presence of the artists that once roamed the hotel was felt. All the energy from these presences, however, was compelling.

We can understand the history of a space, but what “they” say is in fact up to us. Creative space is just like a work of art and can have different meanings depending on who you are. To Eisler, it means the presence of the “feminine” in a traditionally masculine-influenced space.

There is something eerie, yet enchanting about spaces involved in history. Especially the hotel, which many greats shared as their temporary living space. Whatever it may be, the hotel is a great subject to explore all aspects of life: sexuality, moments of truth, and creative inspiration.

We are lucky to be able to enjoy the appeal of these places through the work of artists, who express themselves in different forms and meanings. And the exhibit, If Only These Walls Could Talk is one of the many wondrous takes on the interpretation of creative space, and what “they” would say.

To find out more about If Only These Walls Could Talk by Maryam Eisler click HERE

If you enjoyed What Would They Say, check out Industrial; A New Path.

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