Sunday, November 30, 2014


Meusse-Argonne Cemetery in France

A significant part of the drive behind the work we do is my thankfulness for having a shot at life. And a human life at that…most life on earth has been, and is, one of the other myriad of life forms.  And then to be an American architect on top of that - so many of us have not had that opportunity.

I think of Gary Hahn, a first year architecture student at USC of great talent and promise.  I wondered what he would be like in second year when we moved from basic to architectural design.  He didn’t show up – it turned out that he was killed in a rock climbing accident over the summer.

I think of Lionel Dover, my mother’s oldest brother, who fought in World War I at the age of eighteen, but married before he left.  He was wounded and in a fox hole when his buddy went back for help, but when they returned he was gone, never to be seen again.  His name is immortalized on a wall of the missing soldiers at the Meusse-Argonne Cemetery in France.  Josephine never remarried for as a Mormon she held the belief that marriage was for all time and eternity.

I think of all the grave markers in the children’s section of our cemeteries – those who hardly got a taste of life at all.

So I work hard and try to make sure I carry my share of the load.  Helena has always bought into this mind set and together we are thankfully living the life we began for ourselves over four decades ago.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Willem de Kooning

de Kooning, my portrait, and one of his drawings

I was slow to appreciate abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) which may be attributed largely to the almost excessive amount of accolades piled on him since the 1950s and the ridiculous artspeak with which much of it was written.  But eventually I had to admit his work was original, compelling, accomplished, and moving.  I probably like his “Woman” series as much as any of his work.  Perhaps I feel a touch of remorse for my belated acceptance, but now I think of his approach as being “all over the place” and I’m literally indecisive as to how to represent him.  A quick pencil sketch?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Theo Jansen

The beast, the drawing. and the man

Somebody sent me a link to “Strandbeast” and I was stunned.   OMG: the people out there and the incredible things they are doing(!).  Since 1990 Theo Jansen (1948- ) has been creating wind-walking works of artificial life (building large mechanisms out of plastic pipes and bottles that are able to move on their own).  We sometimes hear aesthetic purists exclaim a separation between fine art and illustration…Jansen says “ The walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds.”

Monday, September 1, 2014

Temporary Contemporary

Obie will be showing 42 drawings as part of a group show at the Temporary Contemporary Gallery in Sacramento from September 11 to September 28, 2014.  The Opening Night Reception and Talk will be held on September 11 from 6-9 and the Second Saturday Reception is September 13 from 4-9 pm.  The Gallery hours are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 4 – 8 pm and Sunday, noon to 3 pm.  
Here is the artist statement and several images from the show.
These drawings are primarily from three series: Biomorphic Images, With and Without Memory, and Ten Artists of Consequence. The former two are related to rhythms of nature, influences of our primeval DNA, and notions of co-existence with fellow life forms. 
The biomorphic drawings begin with at least the germ of a compositional idea and evolve from there – taking on their own growth pattern as the work proceeds. The memory and artist drawings are much more pre-composed and the final study is hung below each finished drawing.
The drawing technique is predominantly pen and ink, although graphite and ink or watercolor wash are sometimes used.  The specific approach becomes an important partner with the representational aspects of the work…  Some drawings are inclined more in one direction than others, but ultimately (as observed by Jerald Silva) the most comprehensive reality of a particular drawing may simply be: “It is itself.”

Biomorphic Images 35, 37, and 39

I Still Remember, Louis Sullivan Contemplating Coexistance, and Io Sto Rinchiuso (2)

Rico Lebrun Thinking, Jerald Silva, and Anders Zorn

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Richard Serra

Although I have always really liked the steel plates walls done by Richard Serra (1939- ) it wasn’t until I experienced his installations at the Dia Beacon in New York that I was completely convinced of his genius.  I think the groupings of interior installations intensified the spatial power.  It sure worked for me.  I like the blue collar aspect of this art – a long way from a Raoul Dufy painting or drawing.  I’m not too sure what I think of Serra’s drawings – I like that they’re powerful, but really? Are you Serious?  I wonder what kind of architect Serra would have made – probably a dam good one (!).

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Paolo Veronese

I have always been fascinated by the old master’s “worm’s eye views” of angels and the like cavorting about among the clouds Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) in particular comes to mind.  Although primarily known as a colorist and for his majestic architectural settings, it is the gyrations of his levitated subjects that so grab my attention.  I also relate well to his architectural backdrops often being positioned parallel to this picture plane – this diminishes the visual interest of the perspective and heightening the importance of the main subject.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Gene Mackey FAIA Interview

On August 23, 2013 I interviewed St. Louis Architect Gene Mackey FAIA here in my studio.  This is an edited version of that interview.

O.        Perhaps you can start off talking about one of your projects that you feel particularly good about.

G.     The public experience of the Washington University Medical Center - accomplished through landscape, signage, pedestrian lighting.  We did a photographic survey of the entire medical center and it was embarrassing.  All they had was you went out to a building and you went through a door.  I said the building had to communicate with the clientele – the patients – you had to open things up at the pedestrian level and connect with people. They invested thirty million dollars in this public realm project and today it’s the framework of the medical center.

O.        It sounds you were dealing much more with making a place than an object.

G.        Exactly…and I enjoy that – I enjoy thinking strategically about what the problem is instead of objectively itself – so that’s a highlight for me -   other projects include a ski lodge in Beaver Creek, Colorado on the side of a mountain which was very difficult – just like it is here with the grade.  We created just a beautiful log home for that client. The compound up in Northern Michigan of five buildings. If Bernard Maybeck saw it today he would claim it as his own – there is so much charm and dignity to it – those are qualities that I really seek to achieve in the work that we do…At Washington University in 1995 we got a project to do student housing and we were told by the client, “I want 600 beds and one elevator” – that was the inspiration – that’s no inspiration.   Through that project there were circumstances that all intersected and which caused the university to reconsider the entire residential life program.  We were able to take this 40 acre site with about 2800 beds on it – buildings built in the 1950s and 1960s – we ended up doing a plan that was not about beds, but one that was about creating an academic community of scholars, a place.  We got them to invest in the site and create an environment for the students and in the process we have torn down all the 1950s buildings and the 60s buildings…rebuilt the entire environment – I’m very proud of that project – and it still goes on today – we’re in Phase 9 as we speak in terms of building with over 3500 beds on that particular site.  It’s all about a sense of community for those students – and the students love it- the parents love it and as a result of that project all these other universities started coming and seeing what we call the residential life experience on campus.  Campuses all around the country started seeing the greater potential of their projects.

O.        What size is your firm these days?

G.        There are about 40 people.  The firm was Mackey Mitchell Architects – Dan Mitchell has been with me for 30 years. There are now 8 partners and I’m a partner emeritus.

O.        Are there larger firms in St. Louis?

G.        HOK is headquartered in St. Louis.  Cannon has an office there.  A lot of the firms are a lot smaller than they used to be – we’re about the same size because we’ve been able to sustain ourselves through this very brutal period and I feel very blessed.  Thinking about some other projects – we did a magnificent basketball arena for St. Louis University.  We’ve done a lot of historic preservation – we’re redoing the old St.  Louis Cathedral that was built in 1834.  Country  clubs, private houses, a project for the Alberici Company.

O.        What American buildings have you’ve visited by other architects have impressed you? 

G.        I think Jefferson’s University in Virginia is pretty remarkable – an architectural solution to a program that is totally unique and I think it’s just brilliant – Falling Water your jaw drops- I don’t know what it would be like to live in it, but as a visitor and as architect appreciating its brilliance – it’s really something.  This isn’t American, but I remember being in London and going to Kensington Palace and going up the staircase and saying “I don’t know who designed this, but this is really damn good” – I later learned it was Christopher Wren.  I think a lot of modern architecture today is too interested in fashion and I think it’s not really good architecture – Wright was a giant – Wright sits up there over everything in America and continues to be an inspiration for everyone if they are willing to listen. I think all the fellows down in LA wouldn’t even be where they are without Wright’s influence – he made that all possible.

O.        Sullivan’s building in St. Louis, The Wainwright, is that still standing?

G.       Of course…it was going to become a parking lot and the State of Missouri stepped in and bought it – and it’s a state office building now but it’s just a magnificent building.

O.        Are there other high rises around it?

G.     Well, there used to be buildings around it of its era - indeed a wonderful context to appreciate it because you saw how brilliant it was in relation to its cousins, but they’re all gone and the buildings that are now around it don’t even hold a candle to it.

O.        They’re undoubtedly high rises, of course.

G.       Yes, of course.  But there’s another object that he did – the Wainwright Tomb.  When I gave my talk on Richardson and Sullivan and Wright I went to Chicago for a day and I photographed Sullivan Buildings and I went to Graceland Cemetery and saw the Ryerson Tomb and the Getty Tomb – Sullivan did three tombs- Wainwright, Getty, Ryerson.  They are totally different – completely different in composition and execution and they’re really fine in their own way, but the Wainwright Tomb – that is the king of them all – it’s a marvelous, marvelous thing – it’s in St. Louis.

O.        I’ll be sure to visit it when I’m there.

G.        Either that or look it up – It’s beautiful.  Give me a piece of paper – you can talk while I’m drawing.

O.       Your dad had a great influence on you – you’ve talked about him before – what about in school- I assume that was a 5 year program and any particular professors, any particular students or other young architects you crossed paths with that opened your eyes to architecture?

G.      The Washington University in the mid 1950s – a man named David Parson had a part-time job at HOK and started teaching and quickly became the Dean. He was from Minnesota and graduated from Harvard and MIT and brought in a tremendous faculty – he came a member of the city planning commission and he was outspoken…I mean the energy of the school from the 1950s to the middle of the 1960s was remarkable.  We had a lot of older students ahead of us who were coming back from the Korean War so they were mature and they set a tone for the rest of us that was very helpful –Roger Montgomery was a professor,  George Anselevicius, Dinos Michalides – all of  these people later became deans at important schools of architecture so the energy of the school was very inspiring.  My class of 14 – we started out with 80 and I think 9 of us ended up having practices – I think the spirit of the school was that we all wanted to become architects – I’m not sure that same feeling exists today with students in architecture.

O.        That sounds familiar.

G.       And you’d better love it – you know I think that’s the thing about architecture – there’s a passion to the practice that’s essential – and going back to the young people today you wonder where is that?  I’m not saying everybody doesn’t have it but I don’t think there is the same passion …for many it’s just a job and I don’t think I felt I had a job ever – I just enjoyed this too much.  It was never a job, it was a pleasure.  You as a client had a need and I might have insights to help you and that binds you together in a certain way and we’re going to have a great journey together – and then you go out and do it.

O.        Have any of your fellow classmates done anything notable that comes to mind?

G.      There were 9 classmates at Washington that have practices and I went to Harvard and there were probably – we haven’t stayed that much in touch – probably 5 or 6 of them had their own practices – to tell you the truth – almost everybody I know from those years – they’re all either retired or they’re no longer with us and I’m one of the handful that’s still practicing.  You said notable – at Harvard one of my classmates was Bob Siegel who later became partners with Charles Gwathmey in the firm Gwathmey/Siegel in New York.  Ken Newman in Detroit on the South Greenfish Michigan was a really close friend at Harvard – he had a firm Newman/Smith  - he’s no longer with us – and then Milo Thompson from Minneapolis had a firm and he’s pretty much retired now – They all could draw by the way!

O.      Well, you had to in those days.  What do you think was most valuable in your school – was it the other students, the professors, the curriculum – what really had the most impact on you do you think?

G.        I think the professors for sure in terms of the kind of people they were – in terms of their commitment to our education and the way they challenged us – they really challenged us- sometimes aggressively – some of the guys couldn’t handle it – so professors for sure – some of my classmates – but for me it was solving a problem – the joy of solving a problem – being able to communicate it in drawings – what it was – the joy of that I think it’s within your soul – it’s within your heart – it’s being faced with a challenge and feeling it out – it’s like a game and that’s fun.

O.        I know drawing is going to be part of our discussion.

G.       Well, the one thing about architecture Obie, and you know this too, the sense of fellowship that you have between people of talent- I was on the jury for fellows – I got my fellowship in 1991 and I probably told you this story – I did a sketch – we had our ceremony at the Jefferson Memorial and the morning before I went out and did a little sketch looking across the lagoon. I sent a copy to a few of the people that were being awarded the fellowship and this one guy called me and he said, “Gene, this is absolutely so special. You’ve got to do this every year – if you do this you will endear yourself to everyone who receives it” and I’ve been doing it now for 23 years and I get the most wonderful notes from people – how much they appreciate it and what it means – some people have said this sketch means more to them than the certificate – and so that’s been fun to share my talent – to give back to the college.

O.        Well, that’s fantastic.  There really is a lot of value and personal satisfaction in being able to give like that. And it’s nice to get feedback like that.  I do have a question about the Arch.

G.       The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is one of the great monuments of the world.  It’s hard to believe it was designed in 1947.  When I say that to people they’re flabbergasted because it’s so modern, so contemporary – I think it will always be modern and contemporary.  It’s now undergoing transformation on the ground.  They had a competition and selected somebody, but it’s just moving deck chairs as far as I’m concerned.  As long as they don’t screw around with the arch everything will be fine; it’s a powerful symbol.  Eero Saarinen – the competition was for a programmatic system on the ground and he said, “No, that’s not the problem – the problem really is an inspirational moment” and created this amazing object.  The jury – when they deliberated and made their report saw that it came from Donald Hills and they sent a telegram to Eliel, who also had competed announcing that Eliel had won the completion.

O.        (laughter)

G.        Three days later they discovered their error and sent a second telegram – Eero Saarinen clearly won the competition in the first stage.  It was a two stage competition – the jury in its report admired the design, but contended that it probably could never be built and the jury included Richard Neutra, by the way, and George Howe.  It was just so magnificent and so simple and so elegant – they assumed there would be something sticking out…but Saarinen solved the problem.  Saarinen didn’t get to see it built – it was built in 1964 and he had already passed away –  it’s a timeless monument to the opening up of the west.  A remarkable act is my opinion.  A footnote here, I’ll tell the story quickly – my father had been a competitor and his solution was an arch in the form of a bridge over the river – after the competition a number of years went by – the competition was held in 1947-1948.  It wasn’t appropriated until the late 1960s –at that time Senator Stuart Symington came back to the civic leaders and asked if they really wanted this to be appropriated – and the downtown businesses were not really interested in adding this memorial because the land had been cleared and it was a free parking lot and all the downtown businessmen thought that was just great- My father, Gene Mackey Jr. was president of the St. Louis Chapter that year and he committed the energy and focus of the chapter to lobby for this appropriation.  He worked with Eero, going to committee meetings in Washington and convinced the mayor that this was an important project to be achieved and the St. Louis Chapter with my father’s leadership was a very important factor at that moment to realize the appropriation and move forward with the project.  It’s the symbol of our city, it’s a symbol of the opening of the west, and everyone that goes to see it is inspired by it – even to just go up and touch it is a powerful experience.
O.        Well, thank you very much.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Footprints in Tomorrow’s Mud

So here I am filling out CALGreen forms for one of our projects and thinking about the water conservation measures.  Water is something I have some familiarity with being both a life-long bass fisherman, a lover of riparian areas, and an amateur herpetologist.    For me water is a fantastic and precious resource and I am a staunch supporter of preserving any and all natural riparian areas, but I see no reason to ration water.  Waste of any resource is offensive to me, but why use less than we desire (unless saving it for a dryer day ahead)?  Greenspeak sounds good, but the reason behind the talk is the same as for most human endeavors – the bottom line is money.  The way to get more money is to have more people contributing to the stash.  More people need more water – a simple formula, but one with a catch.  You can see the catch if you peer into the future a few generations. It’s not people themselves, it’s the physical impact that each additional person has on the world around them – often called the human footprint.  According to National Geographic, in the average lifetime each American will:
·         use 1.8 million gallons of water
·         burn 31,350 gallons of gasoline
·         discard 64 tons of garbage to landfills
·         use 29,700 pounds of plastic
·         use 43,371 aluminum cans
·         etcetera, etcetera, etcetera
Why in the world would anyone want to save a few thousand gallons of water in trade for this?  Why not focus on the actual problem and save more than a million gallons of water and a plethora of other resources as well?  Conserving water is actually detrimental to the environment because the more we conserve (and the more we sacrifice) the more people we can accommodate. Conserving water may make some of us feel better about ourselves – but all we’re really doing is making way for more human footprints in tomorrow’s mud.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Melvin Edwards (1937 -)

My drawing,an Edwards sculpture, and Melvin Edwards

I first saw Melvin Edwards’ welded relief sculpture at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles a few years ago and his work just flat out resonated with me (!).  His combination of familiar objects (i.e. chains, tool parts, etc.) and abstract compositions fascinates me and really gets my creative juices flowing.  The social implications (i.e. slavery, civil rights, etc.) of the work is not a part of my interest.  With the exception of Goya social commentary in art is of no interest to me.  Edwards continues his work in upstate New York.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Jerald Silva

I became aware of Jerald Silva (1936- ) while frequenting Silvan Simone’s gallery in Los Angeles in the 1960s. I was taken by surprise when, decades later we received a job application from Peter Silva, one of Jerald’s three sons.  Peter has become a good friend and I have subsequently gotten to know Jerald as well.  His large watercolors, applied more like oil paints, are original and masterful.  The setting for most of his paintings is indoors or in his studio and much of the work has been portraits and nudes.  His wit and creativity always come through and may be  most obvious in his paintings like his steamy windows, cartoon still-lifes, and duppy series…they are all alive and timely and have enriched me throughout my life and career.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


I like Masaccio (1401-1428) for his use of chiaroscuro in the creation of lifelike figures, his innovative use of one point perspective, and  his influence on other artists despite his brief life.  His real name is a mouthful – Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone – I like both the simplicity and the sound of “Masacccio.” Like most painters of the time virtually all his works were religious paintings.  I particularly like “The Expulsion from The Garden of Eden” with Eve who easily could well have been painted contemporaneously.  Little is known about the circumstances of his untimely death. 

A self-portrait, my portrait, and a detail from "Rendering of the Tribute Money"

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Anders Zorn

I only became fully aware of Anders Zorn (1860-1920) a few years ago and liked him primarily for his etchings.  He is considered Sweden’s best known painter and his portraits and erotic nudes are certainly memorable, although perhaps a bit commonplace for my taste.  Many of his works are quite accomplished, and some of his etchings are superb.  One in particular “Renan” achieves the status of an undoubted masterpiece.  It is this singular accomplishment – to produce a work far beyond one’s normal capability that so impresses and intrigues me.  “Renan” is both an excellent technical work and a masterful expression of the subject’s character.

Ander's self- portrait, my portrait of him (with "Renan" in the background), and one of his exotic nudes