For centuries architects have looked to artists for the interpretation of place. Artists such as Eugene Delacroix, David Brown, Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent have taught architects not only to better see the world around them, but also to better know it, understand it, and even translate it into built form.
Delacroix ‘s sketchbooks of North Africa were richly intertwined with landscape culture and architecture, ultimately conveying rich meaning in his final monumental paintings.
David Brown’s paintings of Egypt and the Holy Land illustrated an architecture married to landscape and the generations that occupied the lands in which it was built. His paintings of buildings were of the ancient land and were standing monuments to the history of its people.
John Singer Sargent’s paintings of Florence explored the luminosity of materials, and for Winslow Homer the answer wasn’t the finished painting, but in fact, the constant and obsessive search for an understanding of nature and the material world.
“Two points seem particularly relevant: the entwining of illusion and the reality as an element not of an art but of sustained viewing of the sea itself; and the persistence of the sea’s pulsing, beating, vibrational marking of temporal flow. This awareness of time- of its different proportions or scales- affects most of us, I believe, when we are by the ocean.”- Homer
Modern impressionism sought to see our world not as a collection of objects, but as a world made up of light and color. Edward Hopper sought what he called “synesthesia”, or cross sensory imagery, what Walter Wells describes as artists having “the power to make us taste what we see, or hear what we feel, to give odorful color, melodious flavor, or a chill wind perceived as a wailing siren or a quivering blue light”. Not only could Hopper capture the feeling of a landscape, but the very emptiness and loneliness of a place.
In a world of computers, architects have forgotten the tool of drawing and painting, once seminal in their learning and interpretation of a place. If through painting, architects could see, understand, and trulyknow the landscape, then perhaps through painting architects could create more meaningful and lasting places today.
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