Art And Architecture
An instinctive eye for colour and composition combine with a meticulous attention to detail in the work of Bermudian artist Christina Hutchings.
A distinct discipline informs her fine art practice, gained from many years spent working as an architect in New York for cutting edge designers Peter Marino and Henry Smith-Miller.
Christina, who now focuses solely on her artwork, takes a studied approach to conceptualising and developing an idea through drawing whilst allowing herself to be led by an intuitive sense of discovery and experimentation.
It is a dichotomy apparent in her work, which ranges from collage, painting and sculpture to installation, all many layered and marked by sleek materials and striking colour combinations.
We spoke to Christina about her 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork, the intersection of fine art and architecture and how, for her, one has always informed the other.
BNG: You studied both fine art and architecture and went on to work as an architect in New York for many years, all the while maintaining a fine art practice. Why was it important for you to dedicate yourself to both disciplines concurrently?
CH: It was important to me to dedicate myself to both architecture and art because of my interest in the ways these two creative disciplines influence each other. When I was younger and making career choices, I was not confident that my artwork would provide a way to support myself. This was a disappointing realization. As a practical person with the goal of supporting myself, and because I had a natural interest in architecture due to having a relative in the field, I chose to study architecture at graduate school. In my mind, this would build upon and enrich my undergraduate fine arts education and equip me with a way to earn a living.
In addition to the practical aspect of this decision, there was a more important factor. I knew architecture and art are intertwined creative disciplines, and it was important to me that I work at excellent, highly creative architecture and design firms to gain comprehensive and creative work experience in the architectural realm. Throughout, it was the artistic side of myself that I brought to the projects I worked on, and which allowed me to expand my skills and understanding while gaining the discipline that informs my work habits to this day.
BNG: Did your architectural projects inform your artistic practice and vice versa? In what ways?
CH: Yes. My artistic practice and architectural projects most certainly did influence each other, and have continued to do so in many ways. My working experience at firms of architects whose work I admired greatly, such as Henry Smith-Miller and Peter Marino Architects, gave me the formative experience of being part of a talented team. Our job was to take a concept and through drawing and building models, we would allow the concept to become a built space. We would draw and draw, making gorgeous sets of drawings: plans, elevations, sections, grids, details, selections of colours and materials to the extent that the idea of the project could become a built space. This process of drawing to develop and discover the idea is key to my art practice.
Further, while in Peter Marino’s office, when their art department was busy, I was delighted to be asked, on occasion, to paint gouache renderings of projects showing the finish materials, furniture with designated fabric, and renditions of the artwork the clients had purchased for the space.
However, as much as I enjoyed the creative, artistic side of working in architectural design, the advent of computer aided design and drawing in AutoCAD, and a declining reliance on hand drawing, began to make the architectural work less enjoyable. There was no longer a connection for me with the hand, intuition, and the sense of discovery through drawing. It was during this time of increasing change that I began to consider that I could take a chance to be an artist.
I want to share two examples that I think convey how I connected art and architecture from my earliest days in architecture.
The first, a landscape design drawing assignment completed in 1980, is an example of art influencing architecture. A Braque paper collage is the compositional inspiration for this landscape design project drawing.
The second example is a 2012 collage, titled Henry’s Office, which is inspired by memories of my work experience in Henry Smith-Miller’s office. The shapes making up the collage are references to a pivoting red wall in his office, a pale yellow colour often used in his projects, a nod to the modernist aesthetic which Henry’s office practiced and a piece of yellow trace similar to what we always used for sketching in in the office.
BNG: You returned to Bermuda in 2008 to concentrate on your fine art practice. Does your background in architecture continue to be a big influence for you?
CH: My decision to commit fully to my fine arts practice took a long time to arrive at. The decision evolved and ultimately won out over the practicalities of making a living as an architectural designer. My decision to return to Bermuda to live coincided, happily, with that decision. My background in architecture has been, and will always be, a major influence in my work.
I have come to believe that one of the most significant influences of my architectural background is the realization that the concept and its development through drawing are the two most important commonalities between art and architecture. The concept determines the form, and drawings are the visual diagrams of the concept. For my art practice, the concept could be something like the title of the work, and drawing is how I develop the concept.
Another important way that my background in architecture has influenced my artwork is that I have recently started making large installations and collages. These installations require plans, elevations, detail and sectional drawings in order to figure out how they will be assembled. The starting point always begins with drawing grid lines, thinking about centre lines and systems of proportion. In all of my art projects, considerations of space, colour, materials, composition, and references to art and architectural history are part of my process.
Collages, and sometimes paintings, feature details made with hardware materials which are considered for their aesthetic value as much as their functional value.
BNG: Your work ranges from collage, painting and sculpture to installation. A single piece will often incorporate several of these elements. How do you decide which materials to work with and why when working on a specific project?
CH: I use different materials – either for structural reasons, if a project is large, or for metaphorical purposes – to help tell the story, or idea, behind the piece. For example:
In the Biennial 2016, with the theme being It’s About Now: Memories of The Present, I made a large piece called Double Take.
In this piece, I use the 12-ft fluorescent light, which is centred and situated vertically between the two almost identical anchors, to represent the instant that an object we look at (one anchor) becomes a memory of that anchor, (the second anchor).
BNG: Your pieces are very thoughtful and meticulously planned. How to you approach and then develop a concept? Taking your 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork as an example.
CH: The theme for the 2020 Biennial is Let Me Tell You Something. After considering the theme, I titled my piece FAST TALK. The concept for this is the speed of our words when we tell each other something using our digital devices. Our words travel at lightning fast speeds in the vast networks of digital submarine communication cables below, and by satellites above, as they carry our telephone and internet traffic to and from Bermuda, and between continents, as we communicate with the rest of the world.
In formal terms, FAST TALK is a drawing and collage combination made with ink lines, layers of Plexiglas, metal rods, an aluminium angle and wood. I use ink and metal lines and a selection of transparent overlapping materials to help tell the story. These rods and ink lines represent the undersea cables and the data traffic within. The disc and white rod connected to it represent the satellites above transmitting our conversations.
BNG: You have exhibited extensively at the Bermuda National Gallery. How has your relationship with the BNG informed your artistic practice?
CH: The BNG in all aspects of its role as an art institution has been an important influence in my life, for which I am very grateful. The programming, the exhibitions and the art collection have had a life changing effect on me. I am honoured to have been a part of the gallery’s public programming and exhibitions, both as an audience member and as a participant.
Tour Christina Hutchings’s studio here