By Emily Eiermann
Michael Graves is a world-renowned architect, having designed and brought to life buildings all around the world, including the Dolphin and Swan hotels in Disney World and the restoration of the Washington Monument. However, the Graves name is now associated with more than exterior design. A number of paintings now hang in Rider’s art gallery’s exhibition titled “Michael Graves: Landscapes and Still Lifes.” He spoke about his works at the artist talk on Feb. 3.
But the artwork is not as it seems. While at first glance they seem to be mostly straightforward landscapes, Graves asserts that there’s more than meets the eye.
“I’ve found myself lately trying to de-emphasize the subject matter,” he said. “If there are trees and buildings in the landscape, it isn’t about them. It’s about the color and the space, the shapes of things, the composition itself, the way negative space is understood.”
This can be seen in any of his works. While many are originally based on real places, the paintings soon take on a life of their own, the subjects warping until they become completely abstract. This is especially true when he uses an African influence.
Graves said he was inspired by Giorgio de Chirico’s use of human figures to place the audience in the painting but did not feel ready to use them himself. So, he searched for a replacement. One day after visiting the Museum of Modern Art in New York, he came across a street vendor selling African masks. He struck up a conversation with the man, and after having several encounters with him, decided to use African masks in his art. However, the images in the paintings are never exactly how the masks looked in reality.
“I started to take liberties with them, and found out that as soon as you take liberties with one of those, you look at another book or go to another city and another museum and find their African collection. The African artist took a lot of liberties too.”
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot was another big influence on Graves’ art. He had won a two-year fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, and ever since has painted many Italian landscapes, using Corot’s art as guidelines. This can be seen in his book “Michael Graves: Images of a Grand Tour,” which is a collection of his sketches and paintings abroad. A large portion of the book is devoted to Italy, though the color was limited to pencil and sepia washes because of his limited palette. Color was added later as he recreated the scenes.
“I never did paint that beautiful color that bounces off the wall at 7:30 at night in Rome,” he said. “So I needed to do that. I repainted Corot.”
Graves later founded Michael Graves & Associates, an architecture and interior design group, as well as the Michael Graves Design Group, which focuses on product and graphic designs. He has received countless awards, including seven National Honor Awards from the American Institute of Architects, 31 from the New Jersey Society of Architects, the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize in Architecture from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and honorary doctorates from the University of Cincinnati, Boston University and Savannah College of Art and Design.
He ended his talk on an inspirational note, talking about his life since his paralysis from the waist down, the effect of a viral infection.
“I don’t wish my infliction on anyone, but you find that when you do have it, every day is so bloody precious,” he said. “You can’t do anything without thinking how incredibly lucky we all are to do what we do.”
The exhibit will remain in the gallery until the end of this month.