Washington Chronicle is on the show. Click "Portfolio" and "Fine Art Current" on the home page to see 20 images of this series. The following is its description.
By John Z. Wang
No.1 Tidal Basin
No.2 Jefferson Memorial
No.3 Dupont Circle
No.4 New Hampshire Avenue
No.5 National Shrine
No.6 Smithsonian at the National Mall
No.7 Penn Quarter
No.8 Judicial Square
No.9 The White House
No.10 Lincoln Memorial
No.11 National WWII Memorial
No.12 National Gallery of Art
No.14 Old Post Office
No.15 Federal Triangle
No.16 Pennsylvania Avenue
No.17 Indiana Plaza
No.18 Union Station
No.19 Georgetown Waterfront
No.20 Adams Morgan
This twenty-piece acrylic series painted from 2013 to 2015 is my humble tribute to the architectural culture of the nation’s capital city.
My aim has been faithfully unfolding a range of cityscape views with historic and contemporary landmarks embraced. Altogether this group comprises recognizable images of about one hundred individual building items in varied styles. Among them the Capitol experienced the longest and tortuous development history since William Thornton submitted the original design in 1793. At least four represented prominent buildings of the late19th century—the Old Post Office, the Old Patent Office, the former Pension Bureau and the State, War, and Navy Building—were encountered attempts to demolish. Fortunately after renovations for new functions today we can still enjoy the stylistic richness they’ve contributed to the downtown. Seven buildings belonging to the Federal Triangle as the 20th century’s super project can be seen in different views. Three neoclassical edifices within the scope were designed by renowned architect John Russell Pope during the first half of the last century. Ten monuments or memorials are included. Originally designed by Robert Mills, the Washington Monument (Opened 1888) appears in five pictures respectively, one of its obelisk images is accompanied by Pope’s Jefferson Memorial (Dedicated 1943) and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial (opened 2011) by commissioned sculptor Lei Yixin. Certainly this is not an exclusive elite portfolio. The popular carousel relocated to the National Mall from Baltimore in 1981, which has witnessed the civil right movement, is one of my objects. Some moderate yet interesting buildings are involved, such as Victorian row houses at Adams Morgan, Le Droit Building (1875) and Adams Building (1876) at Penn Quarter where the International Spy Museum is situated. With limited pictures I have no ambition to exhaust the city’s attractions, but do hope jointly they convey a solid impression on what the core of the District of Columbia look like in the second decade of the 21st century.
To me this is not an easy task. Born in Sichuan, I led the first half of my life in China. After my family immigrated to the United States and settled down in the metropolitan Washington area in 1987, it took many years for me to become familiar with the local culture and architectural traditions and trends, getting able to observe, appreciate, and interpret the beauty, character and significance created by planners, architects, engineers, visual artists, artisans before starting this journey to pay my homage to those master hands with necessary confidence.
I have been aware that, instead of the conventional perspective doctrine, an innovative approach for greater visual inclusiveness is critical. In his immortal masterpiece The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci used parallel horizontal lines to compose the table, ceiling, etc. shaping an one-point perspective. In reality, when I sit at the table in my dinning room, to the front I see the ceiling edge above appearing a convex, while the table edge below a concave—none of them look straight. When I stand on a sidewalk alongside a straight street and look at the opposite buildings, their mostly parallel outlines seem to gradually bend, congregating towards the horizon both on the left and right. I was inspired by this phenomenon in establishing my own perspective concept—I call it “olive pit framework”—characterized by containing multiple, gradually shifting vanishing points both transversly and longitudinally. This concept has enabled me to compose most of the views in unrestricted manners thanks to its comprehensive potentiality. For example, from the interior of Henry Bacon’s Lincoln Memorial, Abraham Lincoln statue is shown against the chamber’s back wall, which is virtually the west end of the National Mall on the left; in the meddle, the carved inscription of the President’s second inaugural address and the mural paintings appear within the side chamber behind the north row of Ionic columns; while on the right side, through the openings of the front colonnade, the vista reveals the WWII Memorial, Washington Monument, extending to the east end where the Capitol is situated. That demonstrates the view not only covers the monument’s interior in detail, but almost reaches the whole Mall as well. With raised eye level, in National Gallery of Art, Pope’s original neoclassical West Building, I. M. Pei’s East Building formed with sharp geometric masses, as well as the fountain and skylights above the underground passage linking the two buildings, are represented together. Without unconventional manipulations, it would be difficult to comfortably compose The White House with the Executive Residence, the West Wing, the East Wing, and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building within a single picture.
As a former student of the Architectural Department in Tsinghua University, I always remember a saying by our generation’s enlightener and mentor Liang Sichen (1901—1972) “Architecture is solidified music”. It has become my pursuit to visually release the musical nature of seemingly static objects. Architectural items are sensible only through surrounding or enclosed spaces. My strategy has been to endow these pieces with certain time factors analogous to musical fluidness, namely stimulating the viewer’s eye moving within spaces around different portions of an object step by step to experience the building’s sequences and rhythms, taking advantage of my framework’s pro-flowing curvilinear nature. In Union Station, Juxtaposition of the non-isolated interior, partially enclosed corridor, and the main entrance exterior attracts the viewer’s eye shifting between them owing to their interactive contrast and continuity. Furthermore, different items in context are visually tied smoothly through certain lineal linkages in a scene. Georgetown Waterfront represents spatial connections between Edward Stone’s new-formalist Kennedy Center, Luigi Moretti’s modern Watergate complex, and Arthur Cotton Moore’s postmodern Washington Harbour, alongside the bend of Potomac River. Looking back to their rhythmic passage through the flying gulls’ eyes may recall a portion of the capital’s last century history. Visual movements are not always unidirectional—those motional elements provide vigorous patterns weaving with architectural performances into dynamic variations. To me it is not a must to emphasize a single focus point in a view. Rather, some pictures are characterized by multi-incident in a climax-less composition. I even wish the viewer’s eye go beyond the border of a picture.
Rather than painting objects’ inherent colors, what have been depicted are their interpretations by the light. As an everlasting and ever-changing visual factor, it is the lighting that endows various surfaces with distinct appearances of value, hue and chroma, while unbiasedly fuses everything into a coherent whole. The tonality of each picture is based on my timely on-site survey—whether for a sunburst view or a snowy night scene. In National Shrine an optimum distribution of the sunlit and shadowed surfaces is vital for articulating the massive basilica form with extensive figural reliefs on masonry walls and the mosaic-patterned dome. Repetitive architectural features such as columniations in Jefferson Memorial and fenestrations in Indiana Plaza have been enliven by catching their lighting’s delicate crescendos vs. decrescendos within a specific space, from a preferred angle, and at a selected moment. In Dupont Circle, the skylight around the sun on the far right is very bright and warm, while the buildings and trees in the front facing the central fountain are shaded dark against the sunshine. Reversely, on the far left the sky turns to darker and cooler, while the building facades and trees are lit brightly. The vistas of the six radiate streets in between presents graduate tonal transition. In this series, Natural elements play no secondary roles. Noticeably they have revealed varied seasonal beauties of the city. Their interplay with artificial items provides complementary color and texture melodies, which are further enhanced with stylized cadenzas somewhere, in orchestrating the ensemble. Each piece applies an exclusive palette for spectrum variety, so no two visualized “concertos” are alike.
Compared to fashionable presentations, this series is on a more monumental side. The absence of living figures in the pictures is out of an intention to heighten artistic creations. So that, for example, the statue of Joseph Henry in front of the Smithsonian Castle, though tiny in size, can be found. Some pieces—like Henry Moore’s Knife Edge Mirror Two Piece, Roy Lichtenstein’s Modern Head—have become integral components of their particular sites. Historical significances of some items are beyond pure aesthetic. I was amazed to know that the colossal Statue of Freedom atop the dome visible in the night scene Capitol was cast by Philip Reid—as a slave—in the early 1860s. Overall, metaphor and symbolism are not entirely excluded but muted. If asked whether the striking lightning in Penn Quarter implies the scene of President Lincoln’s assassination, whether the dark clouds above the WWII Memorial recall dispersed smoke of gunpowder, or whether the red, white, black, yellow horses inside the carousel in Smithsonian symbolize racial harmony, my answer would be “yes and no”. Anyway I do hope to create a distinctive aura for each views I feel appropriate. I regard this series as an expressive realistic work for its combination of genuineness and personalization.
The items in the twenty pictures may have experienced their glorious or dilapidated days, witnessed joyful or sorrowful events. Other than that, individuals may keep diverse memories about same sites. As for myself, the view of Federal Triangle bears an unforgettable impression. The basically empty open plaza between the colonnade of the Reagan Building and the opposite Clinton Building, visible through six rendered openings of the colonnade, has become a special place evoking my memory. When I visited this site in October 2014 for gathering reference photos, an open-air exhibition “National Memory: US-China Collaboration during WWII” was on the show. I was pleasantly surprised to see a photo taken in 1945 showing my late father Wang Zuoliang’s salute visit to Lady Nie, mother of the legendary Chinese composer Nie Er who died young. I’m proud of that my father (then T. L. Wang) was regarded as a memorable figure of that wartime. I assume many viewers—whether or not Washingtonians—can tell different personal stories behind these scenes to arouse nostalgia or enrich anecdotes. I wish collectively these pictures will accentuate stronger sense of place about this extraordinary city’s uniqueness in the world.