Thursday, July 28, 2011

John Taylor Arms, Revisited

Out of My Window, 1916, John Taylor Arms

I'm feeding my curiosity about John Taylor Arms, piqued after visiting the show at the National Gallery. A friend gave me a book on his work and career for my birthday: John Taylor Arms: Plates of Perfect Beauty, Jennifer Saville.
Arms worked as an architect, even built his own firm with a partner, until about 1916 when drawing and etching outpaced his desire to design and build. 'Out of My Window', above, drawn from his New York architectural firm office, is a seed of that desire which expanded to a prolific and highly respectable career as an etcher and advocate of the graphic arts.
Sunlight and Shadow, 1915, John Taylor Arms, Lescure, Une Tour des Remparts, 1928

Dol - Old Houses in La Grand Rue, 1919, John Taylor Arms

An Old Courtyard, Italy, 1920, John Taylor Arms

Castles in the Air, Lithograph, 1921, John Taylor Arms, "La Giralda", Seville, 1924

Mont Saint-Michel, 1926, John Taylor Arms

Le Puy, 1928, John Taylor Arms

I love the perspective of this work which reminds me of seeing hill towns while flying over Italy and France and drawing villages nestled onto the steep rocky Adriatic coast from the hiking trail above them. It seems a precious thing to see a town in its entirety from such a vantage point, the town offered up to view by the obliging landscape, and a sketching seat just right for this encapsulated view.

Study in Stone, Cathedral of Orense, John Taylor Arms, 1933

A progression toward greater architectural detail and meticulous lines is evident in Arms' European works and seems to reach an apogee in Venice.
Shadows of Venice, 1930, John Taylor Arms

(drawing) The Enchanted Doorway, Venezia, 1930, John Taylor Arms (etching)

Venetian Filigree, 1931, John Taylor Arms

La Bella Venezia, 1930, John Taylor Arms

The waterscape reminds me of 'la bella' Venezia. Il Canal Grande La Piazza S. Marco.1928

The Grolier Club Library (Sketch), 1941, John Taylor Arms

As an ardent advocate of etching as an art, Arms took his art to the people in a series of over 150 Demonstrations where he etched and printed before a live audience on a portable press in libraries, museums, before TV cameras, the New York World's Fair, a Manhattan store window. Most demonstration prints, like 'The Grolier Club' above were created in about 2 hours, though he often spent over 1,000 hours on a single print in his main body of work.

I'd like to ask him how the transition from practicing architect to artist evolved, his thoughts on the practice of architecture, I'd like to watch him draw on-site amid all of the distractions and discomforts then translate that drawing onto a plate with painstaking precision. If you could have a conversation with a dead, great someone...

Some of his thoughts give a glimpse into those wonderings, as quoted in John Taylor Arms: Plates of Perfect Beauty, Jennifer Saville:

On the power of Gothic Architecture, They were born of an age when man's need for the expression of his spiritual ideals drove him to heights of architectural conception to which he has never since attained. The devotion and aspiration that went into their construction is echoed in every line and detail and mass. From the architects who planned them down to the humblest stonecutter who carved the most inconcpicuous of their mouldings, we feel a spiritual and imaginative fervor which has no parallel in the history of building...All were animated by the same motive -- the sense of spiritual dedication which counted time as naught so long as the end was attained.

On and the quest for spiritual and technical, I like to think of a work of art as having two principal aspects, namely the spiritual and the technical...Between the two there is no comparison in importance. It is the thought which a man has to give the world that makes for him his place in the minds of posterity, not the language....Better the true artist who is a clumsy technician than the most accomplished virtuoso who has nothing to say.
It is true that I have always been deeply, absorbingly interested in technical expression....I wanted, and still desperately want, to be a great etcher, though I know now I never shall be. Spiritual conception and power of imagination cannot be acquired, technique can.
I have always believed myself to be, fundamentally, a mystic, in spite of the hard, bright literalness of my work. It got hard and bright not because I felt the Gothic spirit could best be expressed by literal representation, in hard, bright, imitative terms, but because, steeped in mystical wonder at, and devotion to, Gothic art and the spirit that produced it, my interpretation of that spirit came out in those particular terms. A contradiction, you will say, for mysticism cannot be expressed in literalness. But there you have it, that is what has happened in my case.

Dorothy Arms, on her husband John Taylor Arms, drawing the Cathedral in Rouen, There simply was no sequestered nook, no half sheltered corner into which he might withdraw himself in partial seclusion; only a small pavement too narrow to hold the jostling crowds who used it, parallel tracks on which the trams passed each other at frequent intervals, an 'island of safety' perilously inadequate,and the open square into which came carriages and taxis, carts and great camions from four different directions....Four days of intensive work under the worst possible conditions succeeded. The passing traffic sent grit and choking dust on to the drawing and into the eyes already half blinded by the glare, and heads cast black replicas of themselves which jerked confusingly across the white paper as their owners peered at it from different angles. People getting on and off the trains tripped over the knapsack and bumped against the stool in passing.

On the importance of Art, For each and every one of us there exist, somewhere in the vast field of prints, certain pieces of paper on which certain artists have lavished loving labor through the medium of copper, wood, or stone, in black and white or in color, to which we immediately respond, whose message stimulates us; which, in short, give us help and encouragement and inspiration, and satisfy those inner cravings, common to all men, which are of the spirit....Either in calm or storm [one can turn to prints] for spiritual refreshment and rejuvenation, for intellectual stimulus and emotional enjoyment, [they are] a veritable ever-present help in time of need.

On tradition and modernism, To love beauty and, loving it, to seek to express it -- therein appears to me the function and the duty of the artist. Of course my 'modern'' brethren laugh at me for this and point out that such a belief is entirely demoded, that it belongs to another day, and it quite out of step with the fast moving and sophisticated life of our time.
A great tradition builds itself up through the ages, made up of all the individual contributions of all true artists, great and small. Each one takes that which has been handed to him; from it he extracts what he best can use; to it he adds his little contribution; and upon it he marks the stamps of his own individuality...What does it matter whether he is called 'radical' or 'old hat;' the great tradition goes on, enriched in each age by the labor and devotion of countless men.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On-Site Sketching: European Flashback

My recent sketching outing brought out my big sketchbook and a retrospective look at my own process of learning to draw as we leafed through its pages, warped by rain or pressed plants, a little dog-eared. Travel in Europe, at home in Virginia and Savannah, and a cross-country road trip across the US presented opportunities to figure out a landscape or a path or a building, rather, to illustrate/document my perception of it. Here are a few ON-SITE:
I went to Europe with the architecture students and professors in 1998. I really struggled to LEARN how to DRAW my perception. To make a drawing that was more than my photograph, that communicated how I perceived the place. After many frustrating attempts, tis was the first close encounter, drawing the path I walked in St. Malo (France) and the changing facades and views and I moved, with three still vignettes on the side.

This is where it really CLICKED. About halfway into my three-month tour, exploring the small towns around the southern end of Lago di Lugano in southern Switzerland, I walked up the steps from the main road/highway, drawing the stepped path and adjacent side elevation of the building. Turning left onto the quiet lane behind the street-fronting shopfront buildings, drawn in plan, with a perspective of the stepped path up framed by the opening through neighboring buildings. Back on the streetfront where I began, a small cobblestone road climbing south and retaining wall - and the loggia of the shopfront building - in perspective. From the loggia, a section through the building. Down the back lane, in plan, to the edge of a three-story building, section. Standing at this corner, the view up splintering stair paths further into the village, and down, a tight squeeze through building walls under an arched opening.Descending from the hiking path through steeply terraced rocky coastline from where I'd drawn the rooftops view of Monterosso, I drew the walls and doors and other paths as they unfolded from the stepped path I walked into town, as well as the perspective view up and out toward those mountains which enfold the village.
Ascending a stepped path from the harbor heart of Vernazza, second in the Cinque Terre chain of villages along the Adriatic coast.
I found a quiet church yard in Positano, Italy, 1998, sketching in-the-round from the center of the square. A small cat sought my attention and eventually climbed up my leg to perch where my bag, slung over shoulder, rested on my hip. It rode with me as I walked slowly around the yard, drawing the facades that enclosed it.

Lucca, Italy, 1998. Old Roman colosseum, fully enclosed by a ringed block of shops and flats. I tried to trace the movement of the shadow in the courtyard.

I made this drawing on-site at a dynamic intersection of streets in Paris, in 2000, during an futbol game which I overheard from the bar.

Monday, July 25, 2011

On-Site Sketching: Charlottesville

We tried our sketching hands on the Charlottesville Downtown Mall today, taking advantage of the absence of vehicular obstructions in this pedestrian-only zone, the shade of the tree canopy, the empty cafe tables perfectly set for a drawing vantage - not to mention the great architecture. Our task was to draw a manageable portion of the facade, focussing on correct proportion.

The occasion brought out my big sketchbook and a retrospective look at my own process of learning to draw as we leafed through its pages, warped by rain or pressed plants, a little dog-eared. Travel in Europe, at home in Virginia and Savannah, and a cross-country road trip across the US presented opportunities to figure out a landscape or a path or a building, rather, to illustrate/document my perception of it.

I rarely draw on-site as the drawings have become more complex. A Composition, a ______-scape rather than a Sketch. The experience of drawing on-site is so authentic. If I am seeking understanding, a spatial perception of a place, then being there is essential. Field drawing in Jamaica reminded me of this authentic experience, and I aim to do more on-site sketching.
Let's go.

Unpacking Treasures & RELICS

Since most of my things have been in storage for the past year, unpacking has been an interesting discovery of things saved, remembered, curiosities that were too curious to discard in Savannah, some things that probably should have been left at home in Savannah, pieces of Virginia back home in Virginia. And some things that could be called relics for their relative obsolescence...which makes me feel like time and me are passing each other at different speeds as we both move forward. A look backward...A very nice watch my mother gave me, not worn since the advent of cell phones that resides in a favorite candy tin - peanut butter ginger chews,
a good luck horseshoe from Reba,
a small steel origami model from first year studio that nested in another larger version,
a rusted quarter,
a handstitched ipod coozy from Afton,
a cupcake ballerina from Back in the Day,
an old clay pipe from Pamplin Virginia,
one of the sweet bridesmaids earrings designed by Julie,
pine-scented oil.

particularly good shells and rocks

a small collection of dead butterflies in a cassette

Walden, c. , from John LeBey's house

Colonial Williamsburg, c. 1936, from John LeBey's house

2010 planner with a spread created during a boring airport layover of saved text messages on a now-discarded phone

foreign money
TLR camera necklace pendant, vintage matchboxes

my grandfather's pens and measuring stick, acquired after his funeral
a "game" I designed in my college Building Sustainability class depicting climate-responsive vernacular building methods around the world
What are these? Slides!

What are THESE?? black and white file negatives! Several binders full of them... What to do with them?

prints and sketches of places in Virginia

my childhood stamp collection
a box of almost all of the letters and notes I've saved

In photographing these things, I can at least consider discarding some in my desire to have less possessions. But it is kind of nice to go through them and remember...

BOOKS and What to Do With Them ?

I'm finally unpacking the precious but not absolutely essential things that survived my comprehensive editing of possessions when leaving Savannah and have been holed up in storage for the past year. It is exciting to uncover and remember the things that hold particular meaning in my life's chronology, like books: perfect gifts from friends, must-have guides to beloved places, memoirs and biographies of heroes, creative works which inspire my work. However, finding a proper place to keep them and use them is a challenge. I've been forced to edit once again, selling about 30 books. The weight of 50+ books on my wooden file cabinet is probably not sustainable. There is a built-in shelf in the hallway, useable now that we've repainted the apartment but fit only for the smaller books. Buy a bookcase? Perhaps someday...

Coincidentally, while worrying over books, I enjoyed this post by Paris Market. You will, too!

Nesting in Lewis Mountain

Step off the busy thoroughfares near the intersection of Emmet Street (US Route 29) and Ivy Road (State Route 250) and you'll discover narrow roads winding up, down, and around the small hills of Lewis Mountain, a neighborhood of 1930s, 40s, 50s cottages under a lush green canopy. The trees are tall, ivy creeps upon the walls and fences, steps and paths cut the ground in stone. This quiet community feels like a hideaway retreat and belies its proximity to major roads and the Grounds of the University of Virginia. Thomas Jefferson's Rotonda is a ten minute walk away. This is my new neighborhood.