Archive for the ‘painting’ Category
It can sometimes be hard to look at work that you’ve done in the past and see how your sensibilities have changed and your interests in certain issues wax or wane. If it wasn’t for one drawing class that I took late in my college years, with a demanding and challenging professor, I would probably be a doctor today. Though I had been drawing most of my life as a hobby, the large public high school I went to in Portland, Oregon had no strong support for the arts. Art was a class that contained mostly the kids who needed easy credits to graduate (or so it seemed), and I steered clear.
It wasn’t until this one drawing professor in my junior year of college challenged me in a way that I had yet to be challenged–she confronted me with tough questions, made sure that I pushed the limits of what I was capable of, and didn’t let me do the bare minimum to get by (my modus operandi up until then). No science or math teacher had done that up until then, even though my coursework throughout college was dominated by math and science (I ended up with a double major in studio art and engineering). I could mostly get by in math and science courses without having to engage anybody or anything, completing problem sets quickly and in the scheduled manner. I was mediocre, but competent, heading down the easy and obvious path towards medical school.
Well, after that one drawing class, where the questions weren’t answered after 2 hours per problem set, I decided to try and apply myself as fully as I could to art. I hadn’t really been exposed to it very much in my youth, unless you count the comic books that a childhood friend and I would try to write and draw ourselves as art–certainly not the Euro-centric “fine art” that was the academic definition of the word at the East Coast college that I went to. In a way, I’m still trying to catch up on all the learning and exposure to art that other people have gotten throughout their lives. And how I got to architecture is another story. But I still think of that first drawing professor I had, and how she challenged me to use my eyes to explore and question the meaning of the world and environment we are in–to not let easy answers be a shortcut to a meaningful inquiry into what it means to be a human being in this world.
To that end, I’ve finally posted some of the paintings I worked on from my first painting class my senior year of college until the day I went to graduate architecture school over on quangtruong.com. They’re divided into two different sets–”blue” and “abstract,” and it’s another story why I changed from one to the other.
There is a show right now at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City that is sort of related to my current Film Architecture theme, The Future is Asian. It is called “The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia,” and the exhibitions’ webpage is here.
The quality of the Guggenheim’s gallery spaces notwithstanding, it’s appropriate that the exhibition is being mounted in a Frank Lloyd Wright building, for FLW himself was heavily influenced by Asian artists. He was an avid collector of Japanese painting and prints (at one point supporting his architectural practice by dealing in Japanese prints), and some of his works show a very distinct Asian influence. Below is his Imperial Hotel near Nagoya, Japan.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, however, wasn’t explicity featured in the “Third Mind” exhibition (you could argue that the museum itself was a sort of third presence in the exhibition). In fact, I think the one impression I was left with during and after the show was the impossibilty of the curatorial mission. Imagine you are to select 100 pieces of artwork that are supposed to demonstrate the influence of Asia (already a dubious concept) on America (another dubious concept). Who do you select? Who do you leave out? What constitues an “Asian influence?” A specfic sort of minimalism? Or a brand of expressionism? Or a strain of geometric patterning? It just leaves me wondering, What is Asian? What is American? And boy, the Guggenheim NY sucks for displaying art.
However, this isn’t to say the exhibition wasn’t worthwhile. Museums are always fun (at least to me, minus the fact that you have to trek all the way up to the Upper East Side). Though there certainly were some headscratching works, there were a handful of transcendent works from Agnes Martin and Hiroshi Sugimoto, as always, but whose works don’t duplicate well (you have to stand in front of them). Nothing Asian or American about it. Simply transcendent.
I choose impermanent subjects, such as water, and try to draw energy from the effort to harness the uncontrollable; then I funnel that energy into my architectural work, where I still seek to wield control but real-world compromises are inevitable. So, both fields are ways in which I try to control the uncontrollable. But painting is a contained, personal world in which I can actually succeed in this effort. Architecture, on the other hand, lives in the sprawling, messy world “out there” where such control isn’t possible.
1998, 100 minutes
directed by Alex Proyas
Well, this is the last film of the semester’s film series. And what a dark one it is. It even has “dark” in the title. It’s kind of sad, not to mention sort of incongruous, to end the series with a dystopia like this on a sunny, beautiful day like today. This feels more like a Will Ferrell movie sort of day. Actually, this feels like a go out and sit on the grass with a lady-friend sort of day. But nevertheless, the show must go on.
Many of you have commented to me before that these film notes bear, at best, a tangential relation to the films being screened. At worst, some of you have said they bear no relation to the films at all. Some of you have even recoiled in horror when you found out that I hadn’t even watched the movie before I wrote the film notes. As in, how could you write about a movie when you hadn’t even seen it?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say why: architecture is about built expression. To that extent, it is fixed in a non-abstract materiality. However, the effects, inspiration, and performance of architecture often exceeds the banality of the mere structured materiality. It may be argued, that in architecture, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This film series, which is about the intersection, interference, and/or engagement between film and architecture, thus must be explicit about the what, exactly, is the nature of the connection between the film being screened and our engagement with the built environment.
Here’s my bias: I’m less interested in what the film looks like than in what assumptions and ideas the filmmaker brought to bear in the film. Film has been able to express ideas through a conflation of moving images and aural experience. The relationship, ergo, is one of an irreducible combination of sight, sound, and time. The design of the set within a film offers no more insight into this relationship than the sketches or photos of the set design. Plot, also, is a mere triviality. You can read a breakdown of the plot of a film in any review you care to look up online, and it won’t necessarily have anything to do with architecture. In fact, I can’t think of a single movie in which the unfolding plot of a film bears any interesting insight into the nature of our creative profession.
In Dark City, which I have seen before, thankyouverymuch, the most striking idea is the way it treats urbanism and memory. In the city in which the movie takes place, certain characters have the ability to alter memories. From this ability to alter memories directly follows the ability to change cities. Buildings are erected and taken down instantaneously in this film. Without memory there is no time, and without time there can be no cities.
When I was an undergrad, majoring in painting, one of my friends at another university told me of her interest in landscape architecture. A professor had told her recently that landscape architecture was the most potent of all the arts because it involved all four dimensions: three dimensional space plus time (the seasons and plant growth). I scoffed at her and told her it was the reverse: the reason why landscape architects are often confused with landscapers, the people who blow leaves and trim hedges, is because of that dimensional promiscuity. Painting was the most pure because it only involved two dimensions, sculpture was compromised because it dealt with three, architecture was beholden to three dimensions plus the vagaries of sociology (I was apparently kind of Clement Greenberg-ian), and landscape architects were for “Anglo-Saxon sissies,” as Adrian Geuze put it last night. The same reasoning has been used to explain why TV, which is multimedia in the sense that it uses sight, sound, and text, has always been marginalized as an art form, unlike the relatively vaunted art form of cinema.
Of course, now landscape architecture is, like, the most cool thing in all of the whole planet, and the relation of time to the city is of utmost importance. How do you design for time? Did Aldo Rossi accomplish it? Did Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Field Operations accomplish it? Does Bob Stern do it? Does DiChirico paint it? What does design sensitive to time look like? Enjoy the last film of the semester.
(originally written April 24, 2007)
The Man with the Movie Camera (1929) 67 minutes
Nearly as soon as cinema was invented were there theoreticians who wrote about the expansive possibilities of film to change the way we document and understand architecture. In fact, Modern architecture can be seen as an attempt to reconcile the possibilities of technology with the way we build. Walter “the J is like a Y” Benjamin, Le “Little Devil” Corbusier, Aldo “Crayola” Rossi, Bernard “Ah-” Tschumi, and Rem “Cool-Hizzy” Koolhaas, just to name a few, have all famously used film to advance ideas about architecture and urbanism.
Cinema is the dominant medium of today (though that may be changing), and this is no small potatoes. There have only been a few changes in dominant media since the dawn of history; first was language and oration, the Renaissance gave birth to perspective and thus monocularcentric text and image, and then the twentieth century gave us relativity and motion. Eisenman would call these moments of change shifts: from theocentric to anthropocentric to technocentric; Marshall McLuhan would say they were sensual-spatial: from aural to visual to electro-acoustic.
Dziga Vertov was one of the first to experiment with the extreme technical possibilities of film. Vertov uses slow-motion, fast-motion, jump-cuts, extreme close-ups, double-exposure, freeze-frames, Dutch-angles and tracking shots to document the day in the life of a Russian city. This film is unabashedly ambitious in its attempt to document space and urbanity free from the tethers of literature.
Rem Koolhaas as the l’homme d’architecture par example du jour (that’s French for “dude be the man right now”) presents an interesting case for a study of the intersection between film and architecture. Though his contemporary Bernard Tschumi more explicitly draws on film as a possible source of architectural inspiration (see The Manhattan Transcripts, Architecture & Disjunction), Remment Koolhaas actually was a screenwriter before he became an architect (he wrote, among other things, soft-core porn scripts for Russ Meyer–which explains some of the pages in his book, Content). Though it’s hard to say anything specific about Rem, which has a lot to do with the way OMA runs, it nevertheless may be interesting to use him to understand the contemporary condition. For if we are to assume the canon of critical architecture, then we could use Rem to theorize a paradigmatic shift from criticality to post. The moment that this occurred, if I were to try and pin it down Charles Jencks-style, would have to be around 1997 with the appearance of Frank Gehry’s Bilbao. But Gehry himself, who was born Ephraim Owen Goldstein in Toronto, Canada, never was a player in architecture beforehand—he was building parking garages in California before Bilbao. Rem, then, could be the architect that represents the shift from a critical paradigm to a projective or post-critical paradigm (see Jussieu vs. Porto). And if we grant him that, then he is in rare company indeed. For before Rem, James Stirling was the man sitting on top of the fulcrum that swung from Modern to Post-Modern (see Leicester vs. Stuttgart), and before him Le Corbusier was the man that spanned pre-Modern to Modern.
But of course, this is all predicated on the idea that we accept criticality as a continually valid project for architecture, and not a distinctly Modern-with-a-capital M and Western invention. For criticality may be fatally linked to Hegel and the distinctly twentieth century notion of a canon, to say nothing of the contemporary challenge that Asia presents to criticality (more on that later). It also may be interesting to note that those three Fulcrum Men: Corb, Stirling, and Rem, came to architecture after initial careers in other fields. Le Corbusier was a painter and never had a formal architectural education, James Stirling went to art school and served in the military before attending Liverpool University (as someone who was trained as a painter myself, I love pointing out other architects who were also painters), and Rem wrote porno screenplays before going to the AA in London. However, this makes sense if we understand that any creative act is as equally destructive as it is creative (one could use the laws of thermodynamics as an analogy). It seems to point to the idea that there is nothing so dangerous to the status-quo as an artist bent on destruction. Which is why I’m a lifetime member of the NRA.
Just kidding. Or am I?
(originally written 2/13/2007)
Basquiat (1996) 108 minutes
Full disclosure: this is my favorite movie of all time, forever and ever. It is on an elevated plane of cinematic glory that it shares with only two other films: Moulin Rouge by Baz Luhrmann and Groundhog Day by Harold Ramis. To me, Moulin Rouge is about love and postmodernism, Groundhog Day is about laughter and existentialism, and Basquiat is about fame and ambition.
Basquiat is a biopic on the life of the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, a painter from New York in the 1980s, as told through the direction of his friend and fellow painter Julian Schnabel. Julian Schnabel himself leveraged a relatively large degree of art-world success during the 80’s; he was most famous for his broken plates and bondo paintings and then later for simply being savvy about maintaining his fame. This movie is a testament to Schnabel’s media charisma—it may be the most star-studded directorial debut ever. Moreover, it is an incredibly sensitive and poetic filmic rendering of an intensely difficult topic (art about art; try renting other films about painters to see how miserably they fall short, or for that matter, other films by painters). Julian Schnabel’s next film, Before Night Falls, about the Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, proved that his touch with the medium of film was no fluke [his most recent film is the similarly heralded The Diving Bell & the Butterfly].
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a painter of inestimable significance, in one flash of a life bookending the Warholian end of art history as theorized by Arthur C. Danto on one side and presaging the New York productionism that would come to define the 90’s on the other (see Damien Hirst, et al). Embodied within any discussion of his work come the first postmodern intimations of meta-art; Basquiat stands as the figurehead for the first generation of artists who were ironically aware of the machinations of the art world. In short, he was a middle-class raised Brooklyn boy who became famous in an instant for his “graffiti art,” playing upon issues of race, class, commerce and urbanity to wrestle his way into the art history books.
There are many memorable scenes in this movie, and I could talk about it for longer than anyone would have patience. One of them has to do with Benicio Del Toro and the prescription for fame (i.e., four years for fame, six for wealth). Another has to do with Christopher Walken’s eerie and penetrating interview with Basquiat. Or any scene with David Bowie’s preternaturally uncanny portrayal of Andy Warhol. Or when Courtney Love saunters into her cameo appearance to the Rolling Stone’s best song, “Beast of Burden.”
This movie has one of those rare soundtracks that captures the spirit and time of the story exactly (the zeitgeist, if you will), an eclectic mix that offers insights into both the subject (Basquiat was a huge fan of the jazz of Miles Davis and Charlie Parker) and New York in the gritty and urbane 80s. Songs by the Pogues, the Modern Lovers, the Rolling Stones, Joy Division, Grandmaster Flash, Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie, Tom Waits, PJ Harvey, John Cale, Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen all weave their way in and out of the staccato vignette narrative of the movie about a painter whose work was so often described as musical.
But what makes this movie invaluable is that it is the only film I know of that deals with the issues of ambition and fame in a post-Warholian media milieu. In the movie, the visual leitmotif of a surfer riding the waves intermittently cuts in, a lone surfer riding a gigantic wave collaged over the weary brownstones of downtown Manhattan. The analogy of the arc of our lives being compared to a surfer riding a wave may seem a little tired, but it feels fresh and unexpectedly apt when it is collaged over the decidedly unnatural environment of lower New York and the drug-laden art world. If our time here at Yale is something similar, a large rush of information, experience, and opportunities, I guess I should end this paper with something like: so let us enjoy the ride.
(originally written 10/9/2006)