The Invention of an Architectural World
Keith Wilson's early paintings are icons; they are dedicated to an architecture that is no longer conceived or constructed. They also represent his continuous study of architectural form and the history of the place of buildings in paintings. He uses building structures and details in juxtaposition, allowing classical elements and vernacular constructions to reveal themselves, proliferating variations. His color is similarly the product of memory, imagination, and intuitive application inspired by the painted buildings observed in Italy and Greece.
Gold leaf was often employed as an integral element of the work and not a decorative flourish; it is an homage and direct connection with ikons and medieval religious painting which he has studied and revered.
Black India ink on the watercolors represents an absolute (duende) force in contraposition to the spiritual and ephemeral characteristic of the gold leaf. This yin/yang relationship or dynamic occurs in addition to the narrative of the brilliant colors and the architectural/spatial forms: infusing the paintings with the powers of the heavens and the earth.
The result of this artistic exploration is a body of over a thousand paintings and drawings in which memory of historic form, fantasies of buildings that might be, and studies for commissioned works are all intermixed. The first exhibition of this work in this genre was in 1979 at The Philippe Bonnafont Gallery in North Beach.
This fusion of personal vision, fantasy and architectural devotion, with the serious study and knowledge of architecture is more than an artist’s personal vocabulary. It is also the expression of a designer’s effort to resurrect a spirit of mischievousness and invention long out of favor in the architectural profession. The body of work represents a parallel architectural practice which was interdependent and supplemental to the work he designed for firms and clients.
The early grid paintings gradually evolved into building blocks and recognizable architectural forms then they were quite popular among an architectural audience around the UC Berkeley school of architecture and a SF North Beach art gallery which specialized in exhibiting architectural drawings and paintings, the Phillippe Bonnafont Gallery. There was a economic depression around 1980 when he graduated and architects world wide turned to drawing and painting since there was no chance of building anything or even getting a job. Traditional drawing skills were rediscovered and were developed, historic architecture was uncovered and plundered for shape and style. The sad result was an unfortunate Post Modernism style that followed Modernism and the International Style.
Wilson exhibited the invented architectural watercolors to architectural audiences over the years but did not actively pursue gallery representation of the large body of work after the Bonnafont gallery closed in the late 1980’s. There was a spirit of the age encapsulated in that period that will not return. This architecturally focused work was primarily produced between 1978 and 1995. The tall buildings were part of a series of "the Skyscraper Artistically Re-Considered" paintings and reflect on his time in the Building Design Department of SOM Architects, SF in the mid- 1980's. A renewed interest in painting of invented architecture developed between 2002 and 2006 after purchasing a large William Wurster house in Berkeley and restoring it with his Architect wife. This focus was discontinued when an in-depth interest in Chinese painting, Daoism and the natural world developed.
The artist’s purpose in limiting his painted works to such an intimate scale was to invite close scrutiny, limit distractions, intensifying involvement of the viewer’s imagination with the with the work. Once associated primarily with Persian Miniatures, hand printed photos and etchings this intimate focal distance is once again commonplace with the current reliance on tablet devices and phone displays.
Keith Wilson was born in 1954 in Redding, California and has lived in the Bay Area since 1972. He received his BA in Architecture and M.Arch from UC Berkeley and has traveled extensively in Britain, Europe, Japan , China, Chile and Tunisia with his sketchbook & camera.
As an Architect he worked at Skidmore Owings and Merrill, SMWM, Hannum Associates and was a partner with his wife Jessica Seaton, at Seaton/Wilson Architects, Inc. He currently resides in Marin and practicing oil painting.
Archival Prints of the some of the early Architectural watercolors may be viewed at: www.KeithWilsonPrints.com
"These imaginary buildings and garden spaces would not exist if I did not document them in my watercolors and drawings. They are constructed first as detailed line drawings and then painted with watercolor to bring life to the forms and create depth. The laws of perspective do not permit looking around corners and seeing the roof and the floor simultaneously, so I ignore the laws and paint the way I experience my collective memory of the great architecture, anonymous structures and civic spaces that I have visited. The scale and fine detail of the paintings encourage close-up viewing in order to encounter the infinite yet intimate space represented."
KEITH WILSON- 1983