M A D I S O N _G R A Y | deep_SIGHT
"My ideas are mine. No one has a right to them except on my terms." ---Howard Roark|The Fountainhead,  Ayn Rand
"Do not try to teach design. Teach principles." ---Frank Lloyd Wright
It is only 92 years since Braque's first exhibition of what the critic Louis Vauxcelles would describe in terms of "cubes" in the November 14, 1908 issue of Gil Blas. And I'm getting ready for the centenary celebration...
Who among us, painter or architect, feels that they have exhausted the lessons of CUBISM? That they are in a position to go beyond Cubism? That Cubism is not relevant? Is it possible to go beyond what one does not understand? What one has not systematically studied? Is it possible for such a painter or architect to declare with any credibility that Cubism is not relevant? Cubism is an Everest that few have climbed. There are surely other peaks to climb, other altitudes to attain, but not because Everest has been mastered or is irrelevant. Everest will always be relevant, its significance unique and its instruction inexhaustible. Moreover, climbing Everest is an individual achievement, not a collective one. Nobody else can climb it for you. The same is true of Cubism.
Cubism is not a style. It is the foundation of abstraction---the basis, though not the boundary, of advanced correlations of significant space and significant form seen in light (The Substantiality of Architecture). Though I had been interested in Cubism for many years, and it had inspired various drawings (for example, Avant Garde), it wasn't until perhaps 1995 that I began an intensive study---well after completing my formal education at Princeton and obtaining my license to practice architecture, well after having designed and realized several published buildings. I discovered in Cubism the basis for a creative and intellectual thought-shift. It illuminated practical theoretical principles; some that could be applied literally, some that required abstraction. Cubism now functions as a crucial element in the deep structure of my creative and critical consciousness. It is a primary emphasis in my architecture theory seminar on the emergence of modernism. It functions as an underlying pedagogical reference in my architecture design studios. In my own work, its influence extends, for example, from the building-garden site projection (below, left) for (D)Ante |Telescope House, Silver Spring, Maryland, built in 1996 and published in 1997 ("Global Architect Houses 51")---among other things, Cubism inspired the idea and execution of drawing the landscape---to various theoretical paintings and drawings (1991-96) that also combine the lessons of Analytical and Synthetic Cubism.
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It is in this context that I make the following brief comments about T R A N S F I G U R I N G.
Among the radical propositions of Cubism, the idea of transfiguring---in the literal sense of "changing the figure"---must surely be considered one of the most architecturally significant and relevant. Analytical Cubism, specifically the work by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso between 1908 and 1911, transfigured Form. It exalted its intrinsic autonomous significance. It reFORMED, deFORMED and transFORMED the aesthetic landscape.
1 BRAQUE Harbor at Normandy 1909
2 PICASSO Portrait of Uhde 1910
3 BRAQUE Man with Guitar 1911
4 PICASSO The Poet 1911...............
Not unlike painting before it---and quite unlike painting after it, including Synthetic Cubism---Analytical Cubism employed Nature (i.e., observable reality, such as boats and people) as its starting point. Thus, Analytical Cubism constitutes a pictorial or plastic transfiguration of the world as it appears. It transfigured the familiar into the defamiliar. The ordinary into the strange. The simple into the difficult. The clear into the ambiguous. The conventional into the inventional. Specifically, it transfigured volumes into planes---faceted, fractured, intercomplexified planes that, by the very nature of their inherent two-dimensionality, function to reaffirm the truth/reality of the canvas's depthless field. Analytical Cubism thereby transfigured the underlying assumption of painting vis a vis the issue of spatial illusionism. In other words, it not only transfigured objects, it transfigured relationships between objects. It not only transfigured form, it transfigured space. It not only transfigured the solid, it transfigured the void. Out of the everydayness of conventional figures, such as the human body, Braque and Picasso arrived at entirely new visual constructs of enigmatic density. Ultimately, they advanced the process of abstraction whereby figures are transfigured into fields, and vice versa.
The revolutionary influence in this regard was, of course, Cezanne.
CEZANNE: Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibemus Quarry 1897
This painting, for example, reverberates with the origins of Analytical Cubism's formal vocabulary (compare the quarry with the Cubist paintings above) and researches into negative space and figure|field. The sky is just as figurally intentionalized -- its precise form or shape and contour is just as important---as is the mountain. In a highly conscious way, mountain and sky define and are defined by one another. In opposition to traditional techniques, solid and void are non-hierarchically related. Rather, they are equivocally related. In a painting that is ostensibly about the mountain and the quarry, as the title implies, I maintain that the sky is no less a major figure, It is certainly the largest, unsubdivided figure. Although it is what conventionally defines the field (empty space), here the sky no less assertively defines a figure (solid object). (For extended discussion of related themes, see especially Patrick Heron's remarkable essay, "Solid Space in Cezanne," Modern Painters, Spring 1996, 16-24; and my essays, 1907 Picasso Lessons and Significant Space.)
Analytical Cubism, building on the strategies of Cezanne, as discerned principally by Picasso and Braque, asserted an uncompromising counterposition to the geometric device of linear perspective, invented in the Renaissance. It developed a new system for organizing visual data. Linear perspective affirms the illusion of the z-axis. Analytical Cubism affirms the reality of the x-y plane. Linear perspective functions as a literal-minded geometric system that depicts recessional space as we comprehend it perceptually. Analytical Cubism functions as an abstract-minded geometric system that describes painterly space as we comprehend it intellectually. The spatial boundaries of linear perspective are defined by the presumption or illusion of infinite depth into the picture plane. Analytical Cubism's spatial boundaries are defined by the intransigence of the painting's surface. In linear perspective time and vantage point are fixed. In Analytical Cubism, they are elastic. (For example, in Braque's "Harbor at Normandy," above, how many boats are there? How many lighthouses? Are they different boats and lighthouses, or are they the same boat, the same lighthouse, transfigured -- seen from different vantagepoints simultaneously?) The results of either system are no less optical or visual -- or architectural. It is simply the underlying intellectual structure that is different.
Not only did Braque and Picasso invent a new aesthetic system, a new system of representation, they also invented vocabulary to describe it. Braque differentiated between the space of linear perspective (visual) and the space of Analytical Cubism (tactile): "Visual space separates objects from one another. Tactile space separates us from objects," declared Braque.
Thus Braque and Picasso transfigured visual space into tactile space. They transfigured a system that relied on the suggestion of space opening out into the distance into one that proposed a vertical superposition of elements. To this end, they transfigured three-dimensional volumes into two-dimensional planes---a procedure inherently architectural, as this is precisely the basis of the notational system of plan, section, and elevation. They transfigured unambiguous autonomous figures within a linear perspectival geometric field into equivocal, difficult, and contingent interrelationships between figures and fields---between sub-figures and sub-fields, positive and negative, solid and void.
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1 BRAQUE Still life with a violin 1912
2 DIEBENKORN Ocean Park #54 1972
3, 4, 5 by AUTHOR
In addition, then, to igniting an explosive emancipation of FORM, Analytical Cubism extended the Cezannian basis for transfiguring the "void|solid" relationship. This, I maintain, is its most fundamental, architectural achievement. It gave rise to the clear and practical architectonic exercises of Synthetic Cubism, initiated in 1912 by Braque in his pasted paper experiments, such as the one above, and emulated by Picasso in his collages. (For a unique perspective on the significance of Cubist "collage" and the difference between Braque and Picasso in this regard, see Collage Reading: Braque/Picasso; for an extended discussion of this perspective and the practical principles of collage, literal versus phenomenal, see also the essay Rooks Move: the phenomenon of collage | the crisis of abstraction).
From 1912-1914, Braque and Picasso produced exploratory works strategically different from their earlier experiments in Analytical Cubism. Together with Juan Gris, they continued the exploration for several years after W.W. I , achieving a high-point in Picasso's "Three Musicians," 1921. I will write about this painting and Synthetic Cubism in general in a future essay (EMPTY|FULL).
The collages and paintings of Synthetic Cubism and the Mondrian/Matisse-inspired field paintings of Richard Diebenkorn function as primary fountainheads of my own plastic researches. I read their artistic constructions, and I read my own paintings, as maps and windows. As site plans and builidng facades. As horizontal and vertical landscapes, which, if deciphered, communicate practical ideas for making architectures. They comprise didactic discourses on space-making, space-marking, and space-defining---on formal/spatial transfigurations involving interlock, displacement, contingency, periphery, centrifugality, fragmentation, inversion and so forth. Ultimately, Synthetic Cubism and Diebenkorn, continuing the rearches done by artists before them, affect a transfiguration of emphasis from figure to field, wherein the field is no less important than the figure, and wherein the identity of a visual construction, a painting or an architecture, may be defined by its conscious consideration of their significant interrelationship. I work on the transfiguration of
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Renderings & Model: Diebenkorn|Chess House _Scheme 2 1997


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_5.14.2000 "It is through painting that I have found the forms of my architecture" ---Le Corbusier
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