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10th Sep 2022

Architect Africa Online

Africa's Leading Architecture Aggregator

Clear Light: The Architecture of Lauretta Vinciarelli

Oscar Riera Ojeda (Editor)
Oscar Riera Ojeda Publishers, September 2015

Hardcover in clamshell box | 8-1/2 x 11 inches | 296 pages | 266 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-9881619594 | $65.00


“Although much of my work is architectural in character, I do not represent real spaces. Rather, my work has its origins in the spaces I have abandoned – the mood of Rome and the landscape of Texas – and the paintings are of spaces I know that look nothing like what I paint …They are essentially meditations on essences of architecture like enclosure, surface and light.” Born in Italy in 1943, Lauretta Vinciarelli passed away in New York in 2011.

Trained as an architect in Rome but a watercolorist by vocation, her works reside in numerous private collections and among the holdings of prominent institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Gallery in Washington DC, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Noted for their luminous qualities of color and light, her depictions of imagined spaces open up a world of enclosed rooms, sweeping landscapes, watery materiality, and atmospheric ephemerality. Describing her work, a noted theorist and critic once said, “They are not architecture exactly, but evidence that it exists.”

This book brings together paintings from 1981 onwards in the most complete collection of Vinciarelli’s work to date. It also includes texts from knowledgeable commentators and for the first time presents sketch materials that provide insight into Vinciarelli’s working methodology. Vinciarelli’s technique often operated at the very limits of her medium; sometimes even to the point of failure. In these paintings, color is used as a device for shaping space, with watercolor the chosen medium for its rich portrayal of light and the conceptual simplicity of the act of mixing paste with water.


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In his August 2011 obituary of architect Lauretta Vinciarelli (1943–2011), Lebbeus Woods presented a trio of her watercolors from Not Architecture But Evidence That It Exists, ending his blog post with the statement, “We can only hope that more complete editions of her work will emerge in the future.” That book was published in 1998 on the occasion of an exhibition of Vinciarelli’s watercolors at Harvard GSD. For a while it was the most complete documentation of her distinctive paintings that immersed viewers in imagined architectural environments, but the book was hard to find — and it omitted, by nature of its timing, the work created in the last dozen years of her life. Less than one year after her death, on March 1, 2012, Clear Light: The Architecture of Lauretta Vinciarelli opened at the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at City College of New York. A few years later a catalog of the exhibition was published, providing such a “complete edition.”
I was made aware of Vinciarelli’s watercolors a few years before Not Architecture, when the 17th issue of Oz Journal at Kansas State University, in 1995, featured an essay by Vinciarelli, “Red Rooms, Water Enclosures and Other Unfolding Spaces” and put one of her paintings, Per Peter, on the cover. Although it’s a coincidence that my two alma maters — KSU and CCNY — were venues for Vinciarelli’s architecture, I can’t help but be drawn to the one-point perspectives that comprise her work. It’s not an appeal I’ve ever tried to articulate; it’s visceral, intuitive, far from intellectual. The light, the colors, and the compositions depict spaces of order and calm, but also of loneliness and melancholy. Woods captured part of their appeal: “In her paintings, we never step back to see an overall picture, but are always within, remaining free to hope that her world of beauty and harmonious order might, in different ways, extend beyond the limits of the frame to a wider constructed landscape.”

While the essay in Oz Journal was accompanied by paintings from the early 1990s, all with a predominance of blues and tans, and the GSD publication was also limited in scope, with watercolors made between 1987 and 1998, Clear Light spans Vinciarelli’s whole career. Across 200 of its pages, the book presents plates as early as 1980 and as late as 2007, all in series. They start with The Seven Courtyards, seven colored pencil drawings that depict courtyards from high exterior vantage points; the one-point perspectives are present from the beginning, but otherwise they are unlike her more familiar imagery. This changes immediately with various Water Enclosure series done in the second half of the 1980s. For the next decade, at least, there is a remarkable consistency to the drawn spaces, where columns, walls, and ceilings are reflected in pools of water. In the last decade of her life, though, the architectural elements disappear but the effects remain: illuminated, ethereal spaces of order and calm.

The plates that comprise the majority of Clear Light are presented on heavyweight linen pages that are ideal for their media and subject matter. Glossy pages are used for the essays — by Peter Rowe (her husband from 1993 on) and Camille Farey, Michael Sorkin, and Ida Panicelli — that follow the plates and for a thirty-page section of sketches. This last section is particularly valuable, revealing the construction of the spaces so carefully painted in watercolors, as well as early versions of a few of them. The sketches help make this book “the more complete edition” wished for by Woods: it is a catalog of her works but also a documentation of how she worked. The recently published Into the Light: The Art and Architecture of Lauretta Vinciarelli by Rebecca Siefert supposedly takes a more intellectual and interdisciplinary look at the Italian-American architect, but Clear Light provides a comprehensive visual picture of her remarkable career.

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