Location: Oxford, United Kingdom
Completion date: 2019
Artwork budget: $8,000
The daughter and son-in-law of an architect, Donald H. Ruggles AIA, commissioned this painting for his 70th birthday. The painting evolved from a drawing I had made in 1995 while visiting Santorini, a Cycladic island in Greece. After our daily hiking I had settled in at the round café table on the terrace of our skafa. I layed out my colored pencils and began drawing one group buildings on the cliffs that stood close across the small but steep curve of Oia’s Amoudi Bay. The buildings of this town are contiguous, a continuous web of cubes and barrel vaults.
Mr. Ruggles is the author of Beauty, Neuroscience and Architecture, which explores the persistence of specific patterns in architecture over the past six millennia, and goes on to explain the power of one of the central forms on the basis of contemporary work in neuroscience. As I thought about what this commission would visualize, I explored a variety of images from my archives. One day the Oia drawing popped up from memory. I found its notebook within minutes, and knew immediately that it would honor Mr. Ruggles’ quest for beauty in architecture. He was very pleased when the painting was unveiled at the birthday party in December of 2019.
The goal was to distill into a painting both the specific and the universal of the built environment: the comfort and beauty of domestic vernacular forms responding to a difficult site that succeeded in times long past, and the current era as well.
The project involved discussion of the recipient of the gift and his passions. I proposed my solution by means of a visual-verbal presentation of the proposed painting. We agreed. I painted.
Because the drawing was merely suggestive in places, the process of realizing the painting involved the synthesis of information from other sources. That included my own invention of form where needed. Oia has been cleaned up a lot in the past quarter century. The volcanic blocks that these buildings are made of need constant whitewashing, as well as repair of the plaster on the blocks. Back when I made my drawing the tension between architecture in perfect trim and buildings showing signs of neglect, both short- and long-term, was striking. I chose to keep that sense of time’s passage in the painting.