In many ways the first chapters in my As-Built: Architectural Portraits series are the story of my coming to NY and how my early experiences have shaped me as an artist. I kept pace with the city as it grew and changed, from the SOHO neighborhood where I had my first apartment on my own, in the late 70s ---at 16--- to Park Slope, Brooklyn, where I launched myself as a self-employed artist, all of 20. It took money to build in NY and that has never been easy on those, on me, starting from nothing. But it is the lure of NY that great, enduring things can be built.
A constant for all New Yorkers is the sturdy presence of the Empire State Building, a familiar figure, a beacon visible from all over the city, often in surprising ways. It remains the King of NY skyscrapers. It was the first place my father took me when I arrived. My sense of the grandeur of place had been formed by the rolling hills of the Central Coast of California. Here was a very different landscape, the city carpet one thousand feet below. Here was the center of Manhattan and to many, the world. The message is that here there is always higher ground, wherever you are you can catch a glimpse of progress, of rising up, of the triumph of empire. This building points the way with its beautiful, staged taper, each new set of massing a refined focus.
This drawing is the last of the Manhattan Bridge series, and was a 'found view' when I was on-site sketching for other pictures. The end of the bridge became a place to see what will be my next subject. Even as NY is ever-changing, there is always a view to the collective bedrock of the city, from the faces of diverse communities to the hard-won built achievements of bridges, parks and the Empire State Building.
One advantage to doing preliminary site sketches for formal works like this is discovering views you wouldn't have thought of drawing. There is a process of discovery by which you come to know the architecture as a fully-formed entity. It can be a brief discussion or become a life-long friendship, but by being on-site you are open to discover things about your subject. And like meeting someone at a cafe, they present to you uniquely in the moment. That is why it is so wonderful to see how other artists have portrayed the same subject.
A portrait is a blending of the subject's projections and the artist's interpretations and intended messaging. My narrative for this picture is arrival, of emerging from the passage from the airplane gates and stepping aside from the flow of travelers rushing to their 'final destinations' to take in the architectural elements that are the layered reveal of a well-designed building.
I was looking for a vantage point that compounded the various curves of the TWA Terminal, as each shape is uniquely navigating space, much like the travelers who passed through this jet-age marvel. But also, I wanted to show the relative smallness of the building, as most images find its most expansive, formal aspects. Airport terminals have become vast utilitarian hubs, leaving behind the more human-scaled elements that let TWA work from the personal up, rather than from the structural down. The curves of TWA swirl around personal sized space and movement. I found my view off the main axis, on the way to the restroom. The supporting arch for the walkway above swirls completely around and doubles back, a chorus of curving. To get the framing I wanted I had to be below standing-height, so I drew sitting on my luggage near the bank of restored pay-phones.
What lessons from painting and other forms of illusionary imaging can we translate to new tools for our newest mode of visual communication—3D rendering?
Here is an article I wrote for CGarchitect.com
This building served as my gateway to NY as a child of 12. It was like nothing I had ever seen, architecture that transcends expected constraints of structural form. In this space, weight was not carried, it flew. There were no posts or walls, just surfaces endlessly curving. The building was a set of soaring, open wings. The place inspired those who passed through to fly themselves. It remains a pinnacle of midcentury, jet-age design whose magic endures past the usefulness of a small terminal at a global hub airport. And so, shut down after a life of inspired utility, the Flight Center sought to reinvent around the joy of art and design. In recent years it was restored and re-imagined, like me and my own art.
Forty four years later I returned to reflect on the ramifications on my life of being brought to NY. While unexpected, uninvited and in the early years punishing, the move nonetheless gave me the opportunity to find my way as an artist by accepting what this vibrant and ultimately forgiving city offered. NY is welcoming, once you get past the bluster. Again just off a flight from my native West, I had breakfast while the rising sun painted the vaulted volumes, bringing life and awakening memories of the last time I was there. But it was not the same as 1975, and neither was I. Each in our own way was restored and with new purpose. I found my views and spent the day sketching for this drawing series.
The series is rooted in decades of memory and interest in the massive masonry of the Manhattan Anchorage. The FDR Drive runs north and south at its feet, allowing a fleeting glance as you dodge taxis. The façade presented is all business. Piers of plain stone over brick do their stoic work with only simple archways to guide the flow of weight to earth from the steel deck high above. It is a worker’s face to the dark East River waterfront. I would drive past between my new home in Brooklyn and my former one, family still living further up the river. As I passed, I would get a glimpse of the decorative, formal features on the side faces, each topped with a small colonnade. The Drive side was earthy and primal. The roadway above, and the tower standing out in the river were an afterthought. They are made of different stuff and for different purposes, a bargain between purpose and prospect. I was drawn to the one of stone. I would dream of the anchorage set apart from the bridge it holds up, a monumental sculptural block set free.
To produce the pictures I visited the bridge with a sketchbook and open mind, finding areas and view framing that interested me. They caught my attention because of the juxtaposition of the delicate and deliberate architectural ornament, created to add a layer of beauty, to the strength of the engineering. But also I was intrigued by contradictions, like the seemingly paper-thin support walls that take the weight after the cables have run to ground in the anchorages, and before the force of the roadways dives into the city surface fabric. The bridge is a by-way. It is built to transit, but provides areas worthy of stopping to appreciate views beyond or included along its length. The span channels extraordinary forces, guided and focused, stretched taut between the boroughs. I sketched the restraint of moment, the pause from the kinetic grandness of a structure dedicated to the journey.