Art for Architects’ Sake

Hillside Campus, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory by Bill Grover
Hillside Campus, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory by Bill Grover

It is hardly a revelation that architects like to draft and sketch, draw, doodle, daub, render, even sculpt. So Centerbrook Partner Mark Simon invited his colleagues to contribute their watercolors to an office show, which is currently on display here in the Drill Bit Gallery (our 1893 building was once a factory). It is open to the public, free of charge, weekdays from 10 to 5.

Fifty works by 14 staff members are featured. A sampling of their efforts and comments are included here. They painted from life (i.e. eyes or iPhones) or from their imaginations. Their creations were for school assignments, for relaxation, therapy, or the sheer joy of it. “Watercolor is basic, inherently intermediate and emotional,” said Hyeon Ju Son. “That is why I like it.”

Anna Shakun said, “Watercolor painting, similar to a sketch or life itself, is done alla prima – at once, with no way to repeat, overwrite, or correct a mistake. It is as good as your attention at the moment, your ability to see and recognize important elements: the play of light and shadow, nuances of color. It is as good as your technique, your knowledge, your intimacy with tools. You can’t correct a watercolor – but you paint again, and again, until one day you like it.”

The exhibiting artists are Dan Batt, Jim Coan, Bill Grover, Elizabeth Hedde, Justin Hedde, Hyeon Ju Son, Patrick McCauley, Matt Montana, Charles Mueller, Andrew Santaniello, Anna Shakun, Jennifer Shea, Mark Simon, and Laura Taglianetti. To learn more about them, you can view their bios here.

Enjoy.

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Dan Batt: iPhone ever-present, I’m in the habit of snapping pictures of interest from my daily life, and on my phone they remain unless given an artistic excuse or opportunity to escape, such as the watercolor show. This show was well timed, as watercolor was an ideal medium for handling the subtlety and complexity of the color in my winter scene. I was drawn to the elegant curves of the Centerbrook geese surveying the frozen mill pond: their dark bodies in stark contrast with the snowy ice of winter stubbornly refusing to yield to their arrival and to spring.

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Jim Coan: I was looking to capture the light and color of Key West.

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Elizabeth Hedde: Water coloring is an imperfect art for an imperfect hand. As a discipline, it is a productive foil for the rigor of computer-aided drafting.

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Justin Hedde: Watercolors have the ability to convey qualities of space and phenomena beyond just the visual. To quote Chiura Obata: “Just to imitate or depict an object of some part of nature is not enough [to] bring forth any beauty or truth of humanity . . . In expressing our minds, there must not be for a moment the slightest thought of dependence or imitation.”

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Hyeon Ju Son: Watercolor is basic, inherently intermediate and emotional. That is why I like it.”

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Patrick McCauley: “These kinds of efforts by the folks at Centerbrook make for a truly unique and special place. Down in the Model Shop, I live in a land of precision, perfection and absolutes. Though not a watercolorist by any stretch, I challenged myself to escape my world and throw some paint around with a quick, loose and carefree attitude. Hoping for one or two successes, I soaked and mounted ten papers, worked on eight of them and wound up with four that I was pleased enough to share. I dug up a ten-year-old picture and poked it a few times with a brush to update it and it, too, made my cut. I’m happy I made the effort.”

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Matt Montana: My paintings are from my hometown of South Windsor, where the tobacco barns were plentiful, a few beach scenes from Cape Cod, and a foggy morning along the Farmington River. The barn watercolor depicts one of the old tobacco barns along Buckland Road, which is now the site of The Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk. I tried to capture the barn in early spring with open hay fields in the foreground. Painted about 14 years ago, it was part of a local art show at the South Windsor Public Library. The two beach scenes are from family vacations to Cape Cod when I was a kid. Both are just washes showing various beaches and salt marshes, along with the Race Point Lighthouse on the outer Cape. The setting for the larger painting is the Farmington River at dawn. While fly fishing with my father, I took a photograph of our favorite fishing pool. In order to capture the very foggy, almost mystical scene, I added lots of washes to convey and create this sense of fog, and reduction of detail.

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Charles Mueller: I painted my watercolor P A N T H E V U M for an assignment in architecture school. It employs the traditional technique of applying many layers of lightly-pigmented washes to achieve an impression of depth and transparency in a way that cannot be done with just a few heavily-pigmented washes. It takes time. Lots of time. When I interviewed for a job at Centerbrook, P A N T H E V U M was included in my portfolio. Chad Floyd seemed particularly interested in it and asked me how long it took to create. When I proudly, but naïvely, responded “Oh, the better part of a month,” Chad’s fascination waned. Despite that little hiccup, I got hired. And a short time later, Chad asked me to create a similar watercolor for one of Centerbrook’s real-life projects, The Stamford Center for the Arts. And guess what: it only took me about a week to complete!

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Andrew Santaniello: The watercolors came out of a sketchbook that I kept while in Architecture School at Norwich University. They were drawings of local houses that were within walking distance of campus; I decided to experiment with watercolor with them as my subjects. The charge for our class was to measure and understand the components and proportions of the Greek revival inspired homes in the area.

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Anna Shakun: Watercolor painting, similar to a sketch or life itself, is done alla prima – at once, with no way to repeat, overwrite, or correct a mistake. It is as good as your attention at the moment, your ability to see and recognize important elements: the play of light and shadow, nuances of color. It is as good as your technique, your knowledge, your intimacy with tools. You can’t correct a watercolor – but you paint again, and again, until one day you like it. For me watercolor painting is like therapy – it makes me happy to be able to hold a brush, mix pigments in water, and see how they combine. When you guess it right, they produce a new wonderful pallet – or it all comes out muddy. When Mark Simon announced that we were going to have a show, I was so excited to be challenged to paint again; it is hard to carve time for it otherwise. I painted every night for a week, and on my way to work I drove in a dream state seeing watercolor images of the sky trees and rocks along the road. It was a beautiful experience. So even though I can’t say that the outcome isn’t important for me, the process of watercolor painting is what makes it magical.

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Jennifer Shea: My works were the culmination of an undergraduate college course, completed in 2004, and depict my first watercolor efforts using real subjects. Each respectively illustrates specific course lessons: shadows (blue shoes), foliage (bonsai tree), reflections (pool house) and sky (city skyline).

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Mark Simon: I haven’t water-colored for very long. I grew up drawing and doing sculpture like my father but watercolor always frightened me; I had no understanding or control of the medium. Then I learned a few techniques from a master, Bill Grover, and off I went! Now it is fun for me and very relaxing. I get to play with color!

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Laura Taglianetti: My painting “Falling Leaves” was completed as a watercolor study in art class my senior year of high school and was selected to be part of a show at the Lyme Art Association. I painted Kultorvet (“The Coal Market”), a public square in the Old Town of Copenhagen, Denmark, for an introductory to watercolor course at the Danish Institute for Study Abroad. It was sketched and painted in a few hours on site. I did the same for Christians Kirke, a magnificent Rococo church in Copenhagen. The Ionic Column was done for an Architectural Theory Course at Norwich University. The assignment was to hand draft one of the three columns. The watercolor finish was optional.

David Holahan
David Holahan is Manager of Public Relations at Centerbrook. His freelance writing credits include The New York Times, The Washington Post and Newsweek.
David Holahan

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About David Holahan

David Holahan is Manager of Public Relations at Centerbrook. His freelance writing credits include The New York Times, The Washington Post and Newsweek.