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Posts Tagged ‘outsider’

Photo: James O Davies/The Historic England Archive, Historic England.
Sphinx House, Moulsford, Oxfordshire, is an example of Egyptian influences on the work of newly rehabilitated British architect John Outram.

Sometimes a person whose work hits a wall of resistance from contemporaries is merely ahead of the times. That may be the case with UK architect John Outram.

Guardian reporter Oliver Wainwright talks to the architect about his philosophy and rehabilitation. ” ‘Our beginning was a worm,’ says John Outram. ‘It had light-sensitive cells at one end that later turned into eyes.’ He is standing in the bathroom at the top of his house in London’s Connaught Square, explaining the symbolism of the patterns that line the walls of his shower.

“Three white worms wiggle their way across a background of blue mosaic tiles at the base of the cubicle, while a black I-shape floats against a band of red tiles above, denoting ‘the emergence of the ego.’ A third yellow band at the top marks the realm of light, where the figure of ‘thought’ appears between two triangles, signifying the parted halves of the ‘heap of history.’

“It’s a lot to digest before breakfast – and we haven’t even got on to the symbolic ceiling (the ‘raft of reason’) or the hexagonal serpent-skin floor tiles.

“ ‘I stand here every morning to do my exercises,’ says Outram, breaking into an infectious giggle. ‘A good dose of metaphysics sets one up for the day.’

“The eccentric architect has reason to be cheerful. At the age of 87, he is enjoying an unexpected wave of popularity. Having been stamped with the label of postmodernism – out of favor since the 1990s, when his work was described as ‘architectural terrorism’ – he has been rediscovered by a new generation, thirsty for color, pattern, ornament and fun.

“The last few years have seen several of his buildings listed, from the Isle of Dogs pumping station, that cartoonish temple to summer storms, to an opulent country house in Sussex built for the Tetra Pak billionaires Hans and Märit Rausing. Illustrations of Outram’s buildings can now be found emblazoned on T-shirts and mugs, while he has a growing following on Instagram, which he joined during lockdown, where he expounds his esoteric theories to a rapt audience. And now, for the first time, the full breadth of his maverick output has been brought together in a monograph. So how does it feel to be recognized so late in life, after years in the wilderness?

” ‘I call it being dug up,’ he says with a chortle. ‘Disinterred, as it were. It’s quite entertaining.’

“As Geraint Franklin, the book’s author, observes, the English have never quite known what to do with Outram. His buildings are hi-tech, neoclassical and postmodern all at once, yet they fit neatly into none of these categories. His chubby columns house sophisticated mechanical systems for ventilation, wiring and drainage, while simultaneously alluding to ancient mythologies in their richly layered ornament.

“A huge jet engine fan in the pediment of the pumping station helps to cool the machinery inside, while also standing as the symbolic source of the ‘river of somatic time.’ A pyramidal glass fireplace in the Egyptian-themed Sphinx Hill house in Oxfordshire summons momentous Pharaonic allusions, while cleverly sucking smoke beneath the floor to a hidden flue.

“In Outram’s world, embracing technology and modernity did not preclude the presence of poetry and history. … Outram piled it all on, mining inspiration from Sumerian, Egyptian, Chinese and Mayan cultures with magpie glee. …

“Born in Malaysia, where his army officer father was stationed, Outram’s outsider status owes something to his upbringing. His childhood saw spells in Burma and India, before he arrived at prep school in England at the age of 11, feeling like ‘a refugee from the British empire.’ His early exposure to the vivid sights and sounds of South Asian cities informed his impression of the classical world, as being ‘much more like India than like the British Museum. Very noisy, very smelly, very colorful.’ …

“Unlike his hi-tech peers, his projects rarely exceeded the capabilities of the average builder. ‘The problem with hi-tech is that it’s very expensive, and the tech isn’t very high,’ he says. ‘I’d been a pilot, so I knew what real hi-tech was – and it wasn’t suitable for architecture.’ …

“As Franklin writes, base materials are subject to an almost alchemical transformation in Outram’s hands. Humdrum concrete – which he once described as a ‘funereal porridge of muddy ashes’ – could be transformed into ‘blitzcrete with fragments of colored brick, ground and polished to an edible nougat finish. It debuted at his New House for the Rausings in Wadhurst, Sussex, in 1986, where five types of crushed brick swirl across the facade like confetti in the wind.”

More at the Guardian, here. Great Pictures. No firewall.

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An artist discovered at 64 has a gallery show in New York.

Jim Dwyer writes at the NY Times, “For more than three decades, [Rafael Leonardo] Black, 64, has made a portal to the world in dense, miniature renderings of ancient myth and modern figures: Frank Wills, the security guard who discovered the Watergate break-in; Shirley Temple as a sphinx; the head of the surrealist André Breton as the head of John the Baptist; Marianne Faithfull in multiple incarnations.

“Until recently, few people ever saw his work because he had almost no visitors. He held paying jobs as a typist in a law firm, a salesman at Gimbels and then Macy’s, and as a secretary in a school. Most recently, he has worked mornings as a part-time receptionist in a hospital. …

“ ‘I just never made the effort to sell it,’ Mr. Black said. ‘I never expected to be able to make a living at it, but I’ve always done it since — well, I guess, since I’ve known my self.’

“Then [in May], a Manhattan gallery owner, Francis M. Naumann, mounted ‘Insider Art,’ an exhibition of 16 works by Mr. Black. Ten of them sold within days, at prices ranging from $16,000 to $28,000.

“ ‘People liked them, people who know art,’ Mr. Black said. ‘It makes me very happy.’ …

“Late last year, [his friend John] Taylor passed along Mr. Black’s number to [another] friend, Tej Hazarika, who publishes in the art world. Mr. Hazarika urged Tom Shannon, an artist and inventor, to look at the work. In turn, he brought it to Mr. Naumann’s attention. …

“ ‘If you are going to make a picture, you have to make something that’s in concert with the way the world operates,’ Black said. ‘There’s a line from the Lovin’ Spoonful: “You came upon a quiet day, and simply seemed to take your place.” ‘ ” More.

Photo: Victor J. Blue for the NY Times
“There’s a saying: ‘Everybody writes poems at 15; real poets write them at 50,’ ” said Rafael Leonardo Black, who draws miniature figures.

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