Two very different artists inspired by urban cityscapes are the protagonists of the upcoming show launched by the Cynthia Corbett Gallery. Ar•chi•tec•ton•ic, opening this week at Site/109 in New York City, features paintings and crafted photographs by Andy Burgess & Tom Leighton. The show explores, through two different body of work, the architecture as subject matter of pictorial research, as a starting point from which to develop two different languages and ideas. Behind the images of familiar urban icons Burgess and Leighton uncover interesting connections, hidden meanings and possible stories.
Burgess, who works with paintings, collages and drawings, will showcase gouache studies depicting New York City’s icons such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Guggenheim Museum of Frank Lloyd Wright and the William Lescaze House in Midtown Manhattan, one of the first modernist houses of the Big Apple. Beside the works inspired by Manhattan buildings, we find a series which represents modernist houses of mid-century in the west coast such as the Stahl House in Los Angeles and other modern homes in Palms Springs and surroundings.
The British artist has transfigured the image of the modernist buildings by relying on a painting style he defines as “pop geometry”; clearly resembling early modern painting techniques by using color and square shapes to synthesise the images on the canvas, he turns the perspective views of these houses into abstract images. Whilst still recognising the celebrated built icons, the viewer is invited to enjoy an abstracted and often colourful version of them, in contrast with the whiteness usually associated with modern architecture. Operating through the language of contemporary architectural photography combined with modern painting techniques, the artist recalls vintage illustrations and a retro taste and nostalgia for those that survive as the ruins of a deserted cityscape.
Fully in contrast with this representation of the built environment is the visionary approach of Tom Leighton. His crafted large photographs, highly populated, present what we can define as the contemporary version of the fictitious views of Rome in Piranesi’s etchings. In a world where fantasy and history are on an equal level, Leighton’s depictions of cities fluctuate between theme park sets, historic and memorial monuments, video games animation and national triumph. The aerial views of these fantastic urban landscapes generate in the viewer a sense of both familiarity and estrangement. Architecture is mainly celebrated here as a monument or city branding logo and the city turns into an assemblage of modern corporate buildings, historical and memorial monuments, art museums and ancient ruins. Leighton aims at flattening down the differences between places and cultural identities of the cityscape to critically present the similarities of different urban contexts of the globalised world. Whether New York, Las Vegas, Venice, Paris, London or Rome, we are always experiencing the same place. The megalopolis, the capital city with financial districts, downtowns and touristic sites is celebrated ironically in these beautifully crafted images where each detail is fully curated for an optical effect that suggests the eye of a surveillance camera. Rather than the detached house symbol of American liberal society, Leighton celebrates on the one hand the mass, the noisy crowd and on the other the city as totality, as the fabricated construction which appears in the media and the internet, shapeless and in transition.
What nevertheless brings together the two artists is more than the choice of architecture as subject matter – both elaborate an extremely curated view of the beloved objects of representation. Certainly Burgess is aesthetically attracted by the visual power of the buildings he depicts; he usually prefers two-point perspective like in modern architecture drawings, quoting a canon of representation. Leighton on the other hand, using mainly the one-point perspective, emphasises the monumental character of the images borrowing a visual language often utilised by regimes to celebrate political power. In both cases the artists use familiar means of representation and the language of western visual culture to elicit in the viewer questions that go beyond the obvious, the seen, the already said.
How does the two artists’ work challenge the eyes and mind of the viewers?