On the wall at 533: Hutker Architects designer Michael Black debuts his original mixed media works, exploring the intersections between architecture, fine art, and everyday life. We sat down with Michael to learn more about his design philosophy, process, and the meaning behind these works.
Q: Tell us a bit, in your own word, about what we are looking at?
A: I’ve titled this series, “Speculative Encounters,” and though each sketch stands on its own, they’re united as a series by three common elements featured in each of them: people, architectonics, and nature; three codependent and critical elements in the creation of architecture. A speculative encounter is when these three elements meet in a unique or novel way.
These scenes are unusual; they’re unreasonable even though many of them are inspired by the reasonable work we do at Hutker or by the routine moments of everyday life. They come from either taking common acts and finding how architecture might amplify them or by taking remarkable acts and finding how architecture might motivate them. Each of these speculative encounters is a study; they’re conceptual, they explore the possibilities of architecture and diagram its potential.
“No. 8 Entrench,” black ink, graphite, ink jet print, and pastel on vellum, 2020.
Q: There are references to mainstream art – what role do they play?
A: A notable feature of these sketches is the use of personages from figurative paintings as a key element. Despite their unusual nature, it’s the goal of these drawings to be relatable to the common viewer, and these personages are a major contributor to their relatability. Often architectural drawings pander to designers and estrange the common viewer. This isolation is detrimental to architecture, a field that is relevant to all people, so I borrow from the work of traditional artists and lean on their expertise in appealing to a wide audience. Many of the figures come from genre paintings, a sub-genre of art popular among the bourgeoisie and dedicated to depicting the everyday lives of ordinary people. I float these figures in architectural dreamscapes and try to find a balance between the limitations of life and the freedom of a blank drafting table. It’s important, despite our visions of architectural grandeur, to remember who it is we work for.
Q: How long have you been drawing?
A: Forever. I mean, as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved drawing. With these particular drawings, I started them a little over a year ago when I was still at school.
Q: When did you start and what made you start this series?
A: I started these pieces when I was bored and in between semesters at school and I just wanted to do something creative. I actually started with figure drawing because that was what I was really into but didn’t want to just leave it at that. I knew I wanted to incorporate architecture somehow because that’s what I was studying and a big part of my life. I began by making this composition of a person with elements of architecture and that kind of sparked the whole rest of the Speculative Encounters series.
Q: Did your interest in architecture influence your interest in drawing or vice versa?
A: They came about at the same time, so I’d say they were hand in hand and the same in my mind. Obviously, you can’t have architecture without drawing so that’s definitely a factor and I think I was drawing more once I started studying architecture.
Q: What does your process look like?
A: Usually it starts with looking at paintings and work that inspires me. I come up with an idea and I just start and jump right into it. I find a figure that that I want to use in my drawing then I take that and open it in Photoshop and play around with the composition. I’ll usually print out some portion of it and trace over it on paper.
“No. 6 Confession,” black/white ink, graphite, and pastel on vellum, 2019.
Q: How did you come up with your ideas for this series?
A: It was an attempt to come up with a new design process that I was going to use in school but never got the chance to. I wanted to focus simply on the moments and details in architecture rather than these massing studies we would do in school that were abstract. I wanted the emphasis to be on the people and their experience with the architecture.
Q: Where do you draw inspiration from?
A: A lot of it comes from the art I look whether it’s classical, figurative, or genre paintings. But it also comes from the work we do here and whatever architecture I’m looking at at the time.
Q: Who are some of your favorite artists?
A: I like Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. I pull a lot of images from his work to use in my own work. Another artist that inspires me is Mary Corse who is a minimalist artist and uses fantastic textures that I try to achieve in my work as well.
Q: I notice that this series does not use color. Is there a reason for that?
A: This series is gray scale as are most of my drawings. I’m kind of afraid of color. A professor I had in school told us not to use it because we didn’t know anything about it and I guess since then I just listened to him.
Q: Do you have a favorite piece you’ve done and how long do they usually take?
A: I think #5, Aeromatics, in this series is my favorite. That one took me the most time out of all of them. Typically, the average piece takes between 8-12 hours.
“No. 5 Aromatics,” black ink, pastel, and graphite on vellum, 2019.
Q: What’s the hardest thing for you to draw?
A: I can’t draw faces. I try to just avoid them altogether. They’re really hard to draw for me and require so much detail so I just don’t.
Q: Are there certain things you tend to draw more of? Why?
A: I find myself often drawing figures, specifically women’s figures and I always ask myself if I should incorporate more men. I also always have architecture in some form in my drawings because its always in my head and life.
Q: How do you think someone else would describe your work?
A: What my goal always was and then someone actually did describe it this way – it was my mom – was for them to look at it and say “wow, that’s really cool that architecture can do that. Can it actually do that?” These drawings are bizarre, and I want people to question if what they are seeing is possible and after seeing the drawings that yes, it is possible.
Q: Do you think your art has improved since you first started?
A: I wouldn’t say that my most recent drawing is always my favorite, but I don’t see how I couldn’t be. I mean, I hope I am. If you do something and practice it enough, you’re bound to get better, right? I’m learning more about how I like to create things which in turn makes me better, I think.
Q: Is there a message you are trying to send with your art? What is that message?
A: Its just about the possiblities of architecture, whatever those are.