Art Treatise: Art and Architecture

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art and architecture Owen Wexler looks at the world in segments By Kathryn Manis RCHITECTURE has played an impor-tant role in the development of painting since the Italian Renaissance, when religious scenes were set in complex architectural structures to emphasize perspective and depth. In the 16th century, architectural painting became a genre in its own right, reaching its peak in 19th-century Holland during The Golden Age of Dutch painting. Amanda Lillie, art his-torian and co-curator of a 2014 show at the National Gallery called “Building the Picture,” describes the role of architecture in Renaissance painting. “The architecture is serv-ing as much more than an ordering device,” she says. “The buildings are creative amalgams, rich in suggestion, and highly evocative. We usually think of the figures carrying the feeling of the painting, but we hope to show that the architecture is just as important in conveying these emotions.” Architectural elements continued to play a big part in Western painting, helping to establish mood in Impressionist scenes, playing an integral role in American realist paintings of the 20th century, and appearing in the works of artists up to the present. Arguably, archi-tecture and visual art have always gone hand-in-hand, both reflecting attitudes, social realities and aesthetic preferences of their times. Wilmington artist Owen Wexler continues this tradition. His recent work experiments with the role of setting and architectural structures 46 WBM february 2017 in creating atmosphere and mood. Wexler, who has enjoyed a long career primarily in watercolor painting, has shifted to working in acrylics and oils in recent years. In this new body of work, he explores both figurative and architectural subject matter. His use of structure-as-sub-ject is supportive of Lillie’s claims about the potential of architecture as a vehicle for emotional content. One of these paintings depicts a church steeple in downtown Southport. This piece is a close-up view of the spire atop a white, his-toric church. The structure is framed by spring foliage, suggesting the impressive live oaks for which the area is well known. Wexler prefers to focus on smaller sections of a scene — the steeple rather than the entire church — when dealing with architectural elements. “Almost all of my works do not show the complete building,” he says. “I like looking at the world in segments — I’m not into the Paris street scene kind of artists. That’s just not my way of looking at the world.” Due to Wexler’s application of oil paint and use of a loose brush-stroke technique, the lines in the steeple painting are imprecise and textural, and the colors are slightly blurred. The effect of this style is that the image seems to suggest a memory or subtle trace of a feeling, possibly inspired by but not necessarily limited to the actual place. While we can identify the building featured, Wexler seems to be show-ing his audience the shadowy recollection of a moment: vibrant and cheerful, but not completely defined or recreatable. art treatise A Owen Wexler paints in his home studio in Wilmington. PHOTO BY ALLISON POTTER


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