Friday, April 29, 2016

Be Still

 Be Still
Detail of walls I painted in 1986

When it comes to the work of Clyfford Still there’s a lot left to be said. He “dropped out” of the art world early in his career having achieved a high level of recognition and died with an estate that comprises more than 90% of his total output as an artist. The Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, the beneficiary of his estate has yet to even examine all of the more than 2400 works he left behind. I’ve recently returned from Denver and am still savoring the experience of visiting the museum, the only one I went to on this trip.

Painted walls, 1986

Let’s go inside the museum but first a slight detour back to 1985, (or was it 1986?). I wasn't looking directly at Clyfford Still’s work but that was my inspiration for painted walls in the office of clients for whom I’d already painted most every wall in their house. I recall they were very surprised with the results. I tried to describe beforehand what I was going to do but there was no sample painting and so seeing what I had in mind executed full scale was dramatic. They approved and were delighted. The walls were covered with canvas per my request and I applied a malachite palette in liquid strokes. The results are akin to Still though his application of paint is by contrast quite dry. I’ve not done anything quite like it before or since. 

Meanwhile Clyfford Still spent a lifetime investigating variations on jagged vertical abstract forms. Now that the bulk of his work is under one roof and available to scholars and the rest of us his paintings and creations will not doubt be parsed, analyzed, and evaluated like never before. The museum also includes his working materials, correspondence, personal library, and other effects which all offer clues to the mind of an artist. Together the collection and building create something absolutely brilliant and astounding that gives us an insight into a virtuoso, painter, and inventor.

An early Still that hints at later developments.

One of a number of small scale studies preceding the large canvas works.

Clyfford Still's mature style.

The works are thoughtfully hung on raw concrete, stark white, and high keyed colored walls.

The interiors volumes are beautifully proportioned and connect in delightful and surprising ways.

The architect, Brad Cloepfil, with Allied Works has an excellent website that shows their mood board of images, material tests, sketches, false starts, and digital animations that lead to the final design for the Still Museum.  There are other museums devoted solely to one artist but I doubt none that so successfully present the development and maturity of a singular vision. They’ve even thought to include a glimpse behind the scenes including views of some of the many works in storage as well as a working scanning lab where a technician can be seen digitizing a Still canvas. Fascinating.

Above: a selection of Stills hand ground pigment.
Below: a technician photographs a Still canvas and the artist himself.

The main staircase and one of the open air porches off the second floor. Minimal modernist architecture at it's very best.

The entrance.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Photoshop photocollage

And now for something completely different...

See my flickr cloud for more.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Lake Land

Wizard of Oz set design by Cedric Gibbons, 1939

Pre-production concept sketch by Jack Martin Smith

Among the choices for in seat entertainment I instantly decide:  none of the tension filled ones, I’m tense enough flying, thank you, which left The Wizard of Oz, among other movies. It is unquestionably a great film due in no small part to the fabulous sets designed by Cedric Gibbons. The awesome parabolic hallway leading up to the Wizard’s chamber alone could have inspired the entire career of Santiago Calatrava. 

Santiago Calatrava interior at Florida Polytechnic University

Innovation, Science and Technology building by Calatrava as seen from 65 mph.

Little did I realize as I viewed the movie that the very next day I would casually glance out the window while speeding along the highway from Lakeland to Orlando and see Calatrava’s ISTC Building at Florida Polytechnic University. But I’m getting ahead of myself because the point of the trip to Lakeland is total immersion in Frank Lloyd Wright at Florida Southern University where they proudly tell you, here is the largest collection of FLW’s buildings on earth.

A shot taken in the gift shop and a magazine facsimile in the Usonian House.

The carport, a concept that originated with Wright.

Center left is the unassuming entrance.

Not to be overwhelmed we will begin the tour with Wright’s modestly sized Usonian House, a full scale model of what was intended to be housing, (twenty or so),  for faculty at the college to be built on the perimeter of the campus. The contemporary administration at FSU discovered plans for the Usonian House six years ago and had it constructed three years ago. 

The fountain divides the house from the reception/shop building

Usonian, front

The house in the distance shows the extreme contrast between what FLW was doing and his contemporaries.

Why were they not built in 1939 when Wright’s designs for other campus buildings were erected? The answer to that is lost in time though undoubtedly money was a key factor. In fact the Usonian House was meant to be affordable, the everyman house, but probably owing to the fact that FLW insisted on a high level of craftsmanship this concept never panned out and the stripped down ubiquitous American ranch house took its place.

Typical of FLW is this tight hallway entrance  that opens to a spacious great room.

To relieve the somewhat claustrophobic passageway there are stained glass inserts and this sculptural light at the end.

At the end of the hall you turn the corner and in this spacious airy room.

The view from the opposite corner. The entrance hall is behind the textile blocks.

Today there are a number of Usonian houses scattered around the country. I first learned of them when I lived in the Bay Area and visited the Marin Civic Center to see a Usonian built as part of the exhibition, Frank Lloyd Wright: In The Realm of Ideas February 16 - May 13, 1990. And there is one here in L.A. which has recently come on the real estate market. Actually it’s going up for auction 2/21/16 with estimates $2.5 - $3 (million, don’t you know).  It’s known as the George Sturgess House but was owned for years until his death in 2015 by Jack Larson, an actor best known for playing Jimmy Olsen in the Superman TV series. I was kind of shocked by his death, actually, because I used to see him at art openings and he looked the picture of health.

The light sculpture as seen from the great room.

The sitting area on the left is essentially the living room.

The dining area with the kitchen in a small alcove unseen to the left.

A fireplace was essential to Wright.

The tour of the Usonian House at FSU consisted of three, me and my parents. The tour guide was informative, friendly, brief, and at the end of the tour she left us alone to watch a video and spend as much time in the house after that as we wished. What other FLW building gives you that kind of freedom? My guess is none. Similarly the buildings on the campus are mostly open and one is free to walk around at leisure. It’s an amazing opportunity for an aficionado of Wright. Amazing. You’re welcome and thank you!

(Next post: more pix including some of the 1939 campus buildings)

Monday, November 23, 2015


An exterior shot taken March 2015.
My dining room mural with furnishings.

A view through to the dining and living rooms from the kitchen/family room.

Happy Thanksgiving from Essex, Connecticut, New England, U.S.A.! What a fitting place to be, quintessentially American, for perhaps the one national holiday that’s so good it’s worth exporting. Here at last are shots of my mural commission for this charming period home right in the center of town. I bring you a combination of installation shots that show during, after, and furnished. 

The electrician kindly installed the chandelier so I could some idea of the finished look.

There was great attention to detail on this job like the latest in old fashion light switches.

That wall left of center next to the window is actually completely covered by a hutch.

This a small house and yet it has an elevator. It's that door on the left.

This composition depicts a rocky outcropping that's typically New England.

Here's John Nalewaja during installation. His first installation for me was in 1999 (I think!).

Here's the view immediately upon entering. So my mural is likely the first thing you notice.

 This was a charmed job from the beginning and I like to think that comes through in the results. The designers Maximilian Sinsteden and Catherine Olasky could not have been more kind, respectful, and engaged throughout the initial discussion, design process, and installation. And their client made intelligent comments and suggestions which benefitted the final results. 

But what do you think of it?

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Essex, CT

Took this shot the night I arrived in Essex.

The Griswold Inn, where I ate and slept.

Burn it to the ground! Apparently that’s what the British had in mind in the War of 1812. Instead they spared the town of Essex and burned the town’s ship building trade. But I’m here to tell you it’s back albeit in pleasure craft form and the town preserved in a state of impossible quaintness. I thought when I was there; this is so much less "real" than L.A. because it would seem to be a set designer’s dream, so quintessentially New England.

Inside the Griswold Inn. Do you sense a recurring theme?


Until my mural is up, touched-up, and passed inspection I’m slightly anxious, have sleeping issues, but I doubt there’s a better place to be a little distressed. Essex did everything it could to relax and reassure me; all is well. Just look at these pictures, will you? And tell me: what’s your favorite hamlet?

Random photos taken in Essex. The village is surrounded by water on three sides.

Where my mural lives; front, back, and waterside of the house.

Next post I’ll take you inside where my mural’s installed.
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