In developing compositions for my ‘Departure Series’, a sense of gravity and solidity began to emerge, which prompted me to reflect on how historic exposure to British Brutalist architecture in the early 90’s has resurfaced to recently infuse this body of work.
Brutalism emerged as an architectural movement in the 1950’s post war era, which was instantly recognisable for its solid concrete buildings with bold and unflinching facades, hulking forms and simple graphic lines. It became the accepted style for British public sector building in the 60s and 70s due to its popularity with urban planners as a futuristic signal of post-war progress. High rise buildings were seen to be cost effective and economical to build, and were encouraged to dominate the periphery of UK cities as planners rushed to increase housing density in greenfield sites.
My first encounter with Brutalism came about in early adulthood when, at the age of 20, I left the rural environs of North Yorkshire and the medieval city of York and went to live and study in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, an industrial city in the North of England. This dramatic change in physical environment brought with it experiences that were two-fold, visual and experiential.
I found myself living in a public housing tower block set in a concrete jungle where nature was suddenly reduced to an occasional undernourished tree and scattered patches of worn and struggling grass. The stark contrast to places I had lived previously, where greenery filled one’s field of vision, was powerful and on reflection, shocking to me. This visual shift felt quite literally brutal.
Yet looking back I see that there was an offensive beauty in the towering concrete structures that dominated the skyline. This dramatic new landscape, carried with it a sense of foreboding with immense and solid structures contrasting heavily with weak blue skies and wispy scudding clouds. The enormity of these massive structures intrinsically minimised human inhabitants both physically and emotionally.
In my ‘Departure Series’ I have found myself allowing the presence of solidity and gravity through the incorporation of large, clearly described forms. Encouraging contrast between a singular form and the background helps me to convey a feeling of density and dominance. Any sense of foreboding is tempered through the visual security of readable pattern and playful shapes, with depth in layers that enables a positive and engaging distraction from the shadows.
To post war planners, construction in concrete was vaunted as being long-lasting and indestructible, it seems that the physical manifestation of this vision is met equally with emotional impact and resonance for human inhabitants.