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A Paradigm Shift in Architectural Art?

March 29, 2010

I’m going to draw a parallel here between a paradigm shift which occurred in fine art  beginning in the 19th century and another which I believe is happening in architectural art today.  Both events were/are driven by the introduction of a new technology, and the technological event in the mid-1800s which revolutionized fine art was the development of the photograph.

Suddenly (okay it took a few decades but suddenly on a geological scale for sure) it no longer was worthwhile to spend your career figuring out how to paint photo-realistic images of the English landscape… because somebody like Ansel Adams was going to come along and blow you out of the water with a view camera and a darkroom.   Worse, capturing that perfect photograph became like going on safari…  photographers became obsessed with the work and willing to go to any lengths to acquire the perfect image.  Admittedly it is difficult to achieve photographs that equal the character and beauty of a Hudson River school piece by Thomas Cole, but it set the bar for achieving that level of art extraordinarily high.

Instead, the ability to “easily” photograph traditional scenes gave fine artists the freedom to move in new, different directions, in search of imagery that could not be photographed.  Almost immediately we seen the birth of impressionism, and over the next century we move through cubism to full abstract art.  Art constantly seeking new territory of expression where techniques could not be shortcut by camera and lens.

Architectural art is only now coming to face this same technological shift because architectural visualization was always about creating images of places that did not yet exist.  Instead of impressionism we see the art of Le Duc, Ferriss and Wright. A combination of realism and emotion.  In the past decade, however, we are seeing computer graphic representations of architecture reaching that same photographic level that sent fine art off in new directions.  The imagery is less and less “cartoon-like” and more representative.  And yet, it does not and will never contain all of the emotional content and subtlety possible through other media.  Its not that computer imagery should be discarded because it does not have the character and subtlety of a Frank Ll0yd Wright color pencil drawing, but at the same time we should not quickly discard the the ability of those art forms to present imagery which conveys a different emotional character of space.  Not all of our buildings need to look like they are going up on beaches in Dubai.

The question is how to combine the information best represented within the computational environment with techniques traditionally reserved to the fine art world?  Fortunately, technology is helping us out in this area as well.   Leggitt’s Drawing Shortcuts is an outstanding exploration of combinations of these worlds.   I have just begun to explore another cross-technology process using photo-engravure and SolarPlates to combine computer model imagery with hand-drawing into an intaglio printmaking process for presentation images.  My initial experiments are to take Sketchup models of building facades and export the shadows and lines separately as layers, just as I would do to create a Photoshop rendered image of the result.  But my media target is no longer the computer screen and a run to Kinko’s…  instead I can refine these layers a bit, recombine them, add hand drawn elements as desired, and expose that image onto the SolarPlate’s photosensitive resist.  The exposed plates are washed and printed using hand printing techniques and an etching press, hopefully achieving the character and richness of an aquatint or mezotint print with a reasonable level of effort – not a simple as simple as printing at Kinko’s but with a a totally different character and quality of result.  Initially my goal is to generate a series of black & white images to hold down the number of variables.  It is possible to add color into the process as well, that may occur in round two…!

I bought plates yesterday, am figuring out how to expose them and where to print.  Please return as I continue to blog the process as it develops.

– Brian –

from Dragonfly Cafe, Thurman Street, Portland Oregon

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