Architecture as Landscape

By Kira Milligan

At the beginning of this fall season, I had the long-anticipated satisfaction of signing up for my final painting class, Landscape Painting. This particular elective was one that I eagerly searched for in past years, hoping the timing would enable me to fit it in my schedule. Finally, as if in a dream, I signed up for Landscape Painting for the quarter that I would spend abroad at SCAD’s Lacoste campus, in the Provence region of France. Provence: inspiring vibrating brush strokes from Van Gogh, countless en-plein-air purple mountain-scapes from Cézanne, and gorgeous colour combinations from Gauguin. So, naturally, upon arriving, I set to work filling sketchbooks with unsaturated ink drawings of buildings. While this seems counter-intuitive to the purpose of the class, I have found that by  viewing the landscape in all contexts, having interest in the ordinary, and appreciating what is available, I have built up a repertoire of architectural drawings in ‘Landscape Painting’.

Attending SCAD alongside animators, I experience firsthand the speedy documentation of figures moving throughout the day: an animator sketches ten poses that the person across the table naturally assumes as they sip their coffee, rather than sketching a still figure during a life-drawing session. Likewise, in a landscape painting class, I have no interest in waiting to document the pretty village of Roussillon; a town that is a 30-minute drive away. Why wait, when an entire 30 minutes of landscape worth drawing flies by the window? This landscape- that is constantly interrupted by architecture, rising and falling as the heart beat on an EKG reading. Moving so rapidly- with the luxury of free time, hands available to draw, and knees as a perfect table for a sketchbook- has only been made available for 140 years, making it a remarkably contemporary method of communicating landscape through drawing. Additionally, I like to think of bumps and swerves as the landscape’s own contribution to the work, through the aid of a speedy driver, adding dashes and blots.

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To appreciate my enthusiasm for the landscape, it is important to note that throughout my art education, when given liberties, I rarely painted anything different. This inexplicable draw to topography makes me the kind of person who would rather take a 50-hour bus ride, than an 8-hour flight, in order to “watch the landscape change” (It is also much cheaper- I highly recommend it). However, I was never keen on painting entirely idyllically. I had always found my aesthetic to be more akin to that of Serban Savu or Rackstraw Downes’ fascination with the ordinary. I find the “ordinary” surprisingly difficult to identify, defined as “something with no special or distinctive features” (Oxford). It could be argued that even a rock does not fit that description, with all of its unique nicks and ridges. Alternatively, “ordinary” could be anything typically seen from when one opens their eyes in the morning until closing them at night. Opening one’s eyes and looking around in wonder- either the wonder of what is seen or simply the wonder of continuing to exist. Existing as one with the freedom to decide what they find wonderful and ordinary- what deserves documentation. This is where architecture enters my work: I am in admiration of grand and humble structures alike, marveling at my privilege to occupy a space, any space.

The practice of appreciating what is available in one’s immediate surroundings is similar to how an artist uses self-portrait studies, always available to be their own model in a mirror. For the landscape painter, buildings are always available. Unless one seeks out minute natural details or intentionally immerses oneself in “nature”, architecture will work its way into the drawings. (If we are being honest, even Transcendentalist Thoreau, famous for his “retreat into the wilderness at Walden Pond”, was just a short distance from town in his day, and was obviously dwelling in architecture.) All the students in the landscape painting class have rendered architecture in some form in the work produced this quarter, acknowledging that this particular scape is distinctive to our time and place, and for many of us, it is the first time it is being experienced. Yet still, 360 degrees in any setting offers a wealth of objects/scenery to crop in or crop out. To try and uncover why the artist documents what they do is a complex issue: maybe it has to do with organic vs. inorganic, quaint vs. tainted, or challenging vs. looks-easy-to-draw. Personally, I have preferred each of those at some point, but have no plans to spend my precious remaining three weeks picking apart why I am drawing and will just continue to draw. As Professor William Ruller has aptly stated, “Drawing more is never a bad thing.” And so, as I continue to draw my surroundings, seeing “the landscape” integrated into and out of the built environment, I suppose I will continue to draw architecture in my landscape painting class.

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