Thursday, June 30, 2011

Margaret Kilgallen: images that are flat and graphic

Margaret Kilgallen (1967-2001), San Francisco
Main Drag, 2001
Kilgallen’s “Main Drag” is an interesting combination of contemporary art and text— typography, folk art, and street art.
(installation views) photographs by versluis

This piece is one of the works in the exhibition “Art in the Streets” that ran at the Geffen Contemporary of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles in 2011. This highly energetic and powerful exhibition highlights the unique visual language of graffiti and street art from the 1970s to becoming a global phenomenon.

The late Margaret Kilgallen was trained in printmaking and had a strong interest in letterpress, nineteenth century wood type, and hand-painted commercial signs. “Main Drag” is an exceptional example from her oeuvre as she translates, painting by hand, antique (old-west) display wood type styles into large-scale mural installations. She felt there was beauty in the imperfect hand drawn line and shape, and in the appearance of lettering to effect meaning and thought. Her obelisk/tower (totem/kiosk) of stacked boxes seems to suggest over-grown letterpress type chase furniture. Old hand-painted commercial signs drawn from display type and folk-art traditions, in particular, inspired her typography. And her illustrations of human figures seem strong and independent within the urban (skid row) landscape. Often her compositions significantly feature characters of men and women in actions such as walking, biking, surfing, and fighting.

MOCA’s online website for the show states:

“Art in the Streets” will showcase installations by 50 of the most dynamic artists from the graffiti and street art community, including Fab 5 Freddy (New York), Lee Quiñones (New York), Futura (New York), Margaret Kilgallen (San Francisco), Swoon (New York), Shepard Fairey (Los Angeles), Os Gemeos (São Paulo), and JR (Paris). MOCA’s exhibition will emphasize Los Angeles’s role in the evolution of graffiti and street art, with special sections dedicated to cholo graffiti and Dogtown skateboard culture. The exhibition will feature projects by influential local artists such as Craig R. Stecyk III, Chaz Bojórquez, Mister Cartoon, RETNA, SABER, REVOK, and RISK. [1]
  1. The Curve., 9 Mar. 2011. Web. 20 June 2011.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Architect Howard B. Burr of Waterloo, Iowa: The 1916 Edmonds House, Marcus, Iowa

Edmonds House, 1916
Marcus, (Northwest) Iowa
North elevation
photograph by versluis, ©2011, all rights reserved.

According to the website, “Prairie School Traveler” this solidly constructed brick “Four-square” with Prairie School (Style) details was designed by Waterloo, Iowa architect Howard B. Burr. It was built in 1916 for the Edmonds family. [1]

Born in 1878 in Clinton, Iowa, Ira C. Edmonds was an entrepreneur and president of the Edmonds-Londergan Company, Marcus, Iowa in the early 1900s. In addition to being a coal and lumber supplier in Northwest Iowa, he owned a few banks, had substantial real estate holdings, and farming interests. [2]

Regarding the Prairie School architectural design idiom Robert Guy Wilson writes this about Prairie School architect Vernon S. Watson’s house design, which could also apply to the Edmonds House:

The so-called “four-square” became the ideogram of the Prairie School. The origins of this essentially boxy and rectilinear form lay in middle-class houses illustrated almost continuously in house pattern books from the mid-1800s onward. Frequently cubical or square in both plan and mass, the “four-square” was the standard housing stock used—and repeated ad infinitum—across the United States. The best known of the Prairie School variations was Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Fireproof House for $5,000,” published in the Ladies Home Journal in April 1907. Most of the Prairie School architects—Griffin, Purcell and Elmslie, John S. Van Bergen, William E. Drummond, and others—created variations on this type. [3]
In the Edmonds house the architect communicates “Prairie School” with a sheltering form of the low-hipped roof and deep eves while the symmetrically balanced placement of large windows is classical design. The entrance is on center, and the rectilinear quality is emphasized through light-colored trim and broad flat brick surfaces. Uniquely interesting is the “Japanese style” pagoda gable and facade of the front stoop. In addition, the horizontal emphasis is achieved through the car canopy on the left and to the right by the covered veranda, and low privacy walls of the terraced patio.
  1. Gebhard, David, and Mansheim, Gerald. Buildings of Iowa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, (1993): 484 Print.
  2. Hull, Arthur M., and Sydney A. Hale, eds. Coal Men of America: A Biographical and Historical Review of the World's Greatest Industry. Chicago: The Retail Coalmen, 1918, 119. Print.
  3. Wilson, Richard Guy. “Prairie school works in the Department of Architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago.” The Prairie School: Design Vision for the Midwest 21.2 (1995): 100-02. Print.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Design Habit 2 @USD

Design Habit 2: Graphic Design Workshop 2011, 5 June – 11 June
University of South Dakota, Art Department|Graphic Design, Vermillion, South Dakota.

Photo caption: USD graphic design student, Amanda Connelly, is positioning a pedestal for her display of handcrafted artist's books while Aaron Packard a professional photographer for Lumo Studio looks on. photograph by versluis.

“Habit is a second nature that destroys the first… .” —Blaise Pascal, Pensees

Recently, by invitation, I participated as one of the professional portfolio reviewers on the final day of Design Habit 2. The event poster says, “The Graphic Design Summer Workshop is open to college students, K12 teachers, and prospective college students with demonstrated talents in the visual arts and a strong interest in graphic design.” The Workshop culminated on Saturday afternoon, June 11, with an exhibition in the John A. Day Gallery in the Warren M. Lee Center for the Fine Arts on the campus of the University of South Dakota. In all, I was able to discuss/review seven individual portfolios.

Under the direction of professor Young Ae Kim, students assembled and installed their work completed during the week long Workshop. Many also displayed a major project, which was completed during the Spring Semester. A formal exhibition reception allowed students to present their projects to design professionals, instructors, colleagues, family, and friends. Student projects were hypothetical projects about promoting products that are made with sustainable materials. Projects including visual identity and public awareness campaigns on a particular social issue. There was a workshop on handcrafted artist books too.

Design Habit workshops consisted of the following sessions:

Session 1: Web and Kinetic Typography in Graphic Design. This course offers software skills and strategic design problem solving.
Session 2: Print & Business practice in Graphic Design. This course stimulates thinking about the design process and the value of design.
Instructors were Young Ae Kim, Assistant Professor, University of South Dakota and Julius Woodard, Freelance Graphic Designer in Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia. Both are graduates of the Savannah College of Art and Design. Plans are underway for Design Habit 3 in 2012.

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Herbert Bayer’s “Chromatic Gate” in Santa Barbara is in need of maintenance

Photographs: (clockwise starting upper left) Chromatic Gate (a smaller version showing original color quality), Payton Wright Gallery, Santa Fe; Chromatic Gate, on the oceanfront — City of Santa Barbara, 1991, height: 21 feet (photo taken 6.20.11). The inscription on the circular concrete base commemorates Herbert Bayer, the 20th century modernist graphic designer, architect and artist. All photographs by versluis.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum Inventory of American Sculpture lists Bayer’s Santa Barbara sculpture. In 1975 Bayer moved from Aspen to live in the Santa Barbara area. Bayer died there in 1985.

An interesting article about the sculpture’s future was written by Jessica Hilo, and published by the “Daily Sound” last February. In the piece, Hilo provides some insightful quotes by Rita Ferri, Visual Arts Coordinator and Curator of Collections for the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission:

Ferri had the honor of meeting Bayer in the early 1980s. ‘I always remember this story: he and his wife Joella lived in Montecito, but they also lived in Morocco in the 1950s. He was always impressed by the bright colors and strong contrasts of the sun and the shadows [there]. And that started him using those progressive pigments he uses.

But he also loved the fact that when he would travel in Morocco, sometimes he would come to a place where there would be gates out in the desert … there would be no people living there. There would be an archway and nothing else.

He saw that as a beautiful symbol. A lonely symbol. That man leaves everything behind. A life once lived there. But an archway was a dimension. A romantic gesture.’

‘If I had my druthers, the Gate would be in the sand,’ Ferri continued, ‘where it’s supposed to be.’

Bayer always felt that a modern city needed a symbol of human thought.

And indeed, in the great cities of the nation, from St. Louis to New York, you do find iconic arches.

‘It has become a little bit more of our culture,’ Ferri said wistfully on the Chromatic Gate. ‘I think it would be rather sad to lose something like that simply because nobody cared. He left a piece of art in Santa Barbara and hoped that we would take care of it.’

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Des Moines Art Center: I.M. Pei

The Des Moines Art Center Sculpture Wing. Photograph by versluis © 2010.

The Des Moines Art Center’s addition for sculpture was designed by I.M. Pei and completed in 1968. Viewing the south elevation one can recognize the horizontal and vertical geometric concrete forms, which create a fairly rigid but playful pattern of rectangular voids. In a sense the building is monolithic and an architectonic sculpture that stands in contrast to showcase the sculpture collection found inside.

Here’s an excerpt from the Des Moines Art Center’s website:

Pei’s proposal for an addition to the Art Center was seemingly simple: a wing built across the open end of [Eliel] Saarinen’s U-shaped building on its south side. By choosing this gently sloping site, Pei was able to design a dramatic two-story gallery with a spectacular south-facing facade without overwhelming Saarinen’s low-lying building. [partially shown on right side]

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Marion Mahony’s Amberg House: a pattern of piers and voids

Marion Mahony Griffin, architect. David M. Amberg House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1909; partial front view; east elevation. Photographs by versluis ©2011.

The horizontal band of art glass and clear glass windows directly under the deep eves help the unify the structural composition and generates a strong sense of Prairie Style architecture. One enters the house via the lower level indicated by the lower left corner in the top photograph. Obviously and unfortunately the clear Plexiglas over the art glass hides the design details (however, the window areas have been “burned-in” as much as possible to give some idea of the window patterns).

Janice Pregliasco describes Marion’s architectural design as a pattern of piers and voids and states in her essay, The Life and Work of Marion Mahony Griffin: “The Amberg house is a perfect example of Marion’s attention to color. Red-brown brick, yellow plaster, brown roof tiles, and verdigris copper surround multicolored tiles inset under the eves that mirror the colored glass of the windows.”[1]

  1. Pregliasco, Janice. “The Prairie School, Design Vision for the Midwest: The Life and Work of Marion Mahony Griffin.” The Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 21.2 (1995): 172-73. Print.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Gunnar Birkerts: Church of the Servant

Exterior view (south elevation) of the Church of the Servant, Kentwood, Michigan—composite photograph by versluis, 2011. A newer entry foyer and narthex has been added to the front of the original building, which was designed by architect, Gunnar Birkerts in the late 1980s and constructed in the early 1990s.

Below is one of the whimsical concept sketches indicating recommended paint colors. Image is courtesy of Bentley Image Bank: Birkerts, Gunnar. Church of the Servant, Kentwood, Michigan, 1988-1994; BL000711. 2011. Bentley Historical Library, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Web. 3 June 2011.

Indeed the exterior design highlights the use and meaning of the interior space. The church’s website describes Birkerts’s architectural concept and the significance of the steeple apex as follows:

When Gunnar Birkerts designed the church, he conceived it using the metaphor of a village encircling a town square. Viewing Church of the Servant from the outside, the patchwork of colors gives the impression of a bustling city. Upon entering the building, the “village” gives way to a “town square”—that is, the sanctuary. At the center of this town square/worship space is steel “tree” reaching 60 feet into the sky that holds up a 32-foot diameter translucent skylight, allowing the light of God’s good creation to stream down on worshipers as they join in a circle around the Lord’s table. [1]
  1. Scheer, Greg. Liturgy Lesson: Beneath the Tree of Life. Church of the Servant, n.d. Web. 4 June 2011.

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