Cityscape Widget: Homage to New Beginnings, Part II

Patricia Sullivan, "Cityscape Widget Vessel." Chased and repoussé copper, patina, digital photo on archival paper, Plexiglas, 3 in. L x 2 in. W x 7/16 in. D, 2016.

Patricia Sullivan, “Cityscape Widget Vessel.” Chased and repoussé copper, patina, digital photo on archival paper, Plexiglas, 3 in. L x 2 in. W x 7/16 in. D, 2016. Photo: P. Sullivan

This past winter, I began work on a new series of petite sculptural mixed-media pieces that continue my probe on the changing face of U.S. cities and its architecture. After reading so much commentary from my Art Deco Widget post in January, many shared their feelings of this same shock – and not just from my native east coast U.S.: Chicago, IL to Melbourne, Australia; Louisville, KY to Scottsdale, AZ; Vancouver, B.C. to Atlanta, GA.

Urbanscape in original, unaltered view, captured while walking through the streets of Philadelphia earlier this year. Photo: P. Sullivan

Urbanscape in original, unaltered view, captured while walking through the streets of Philadelphia earlier this year. Photo: P. Sullivan

On a recent trek across the Ben Franklin Bridge from my home base of New Jersey into a residential neighborhood of nearby Philadelphia, I witnessed side-by-side buildings of insane disparity. In my photo on left, one can see how the original, historic landmark home of colonial Philadelphia is neighbors with a taller-than-normally-allowed brand new condo building. This microcosm of new residential architecture resting next to what is historically-considerate revamping of homes will not last, as moving onward to further city streets showcased the “new” style of housing (on left) completely overtaking the historically-considerate style on right.

Cityscape Widget Vessel remarks on this dichotomy of the two varying styles of living in essentially any city – anywhere – undergoing these changes. The tree branch of leafy foliage that is the only unifying factor in my chosen interior Widget image hangs in upper-center of my copper piece. The chased/repoussé copper lid of this vessel echoes the sinewy lines of branches, while the puffiness of the triangular abstract repoussé forms are almost shield-like and regal. While it may sound like I’m condemning this fast-tracked, building-up of city dwellings (rental, condo or single-family homes), in truth, I hope to point out merely how developers want to “fast-track” their super-modern housing styles with zero regard for the history of these urban settings.

A work-in-progress (w.i.p.) Instagram photo c. April 2016 of the “Cityscape Widget” copper repoussé vessel, with planning drawings done in graphite. Photo: P. Sullivan

A work-in-progress (w.i.p.) Instagram photo c. April 2016 of the “Cityscape Widget” copper repoussé vessel, with planning drawings done in graphite. Photo: P. Sullivan

My connection to making artwork and continuing critique of how technology influences and often consumes our personal lives drives onward in my latest metalwork pieces. Images of the ever-evolving cityscapes throughout the U.S.A., Canada, Europe, Australia, NZ, Latin America and Asia pervade so many social media and Instagram user feeds that I’m struggling to follow as many as do interest me. However, I’m seeing a romanticized, landslide interest with people capturing pre-colonial through modern-day city architecture by utilizing their iPhone cameras then targeting specific Instagram user feeds with well-known hashtags that make their images searchable worldwide. It can be obsessive for some and certainly has lured me into it at times. My exploration of these issues within my artwork will be continual.

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20 thoughts on “Cityscape Widget: Homage to New Beginnings, Part II

  1. After reading your commentary I want to know more I totally agree that there is a disturbing disparity when it comes to technology and the “historical” not just in architecture. I love where your going with your artistic process and look forward to seeing more of your work as it develops. I live in the high desert and when I go visit family whether San Juan Capistrano or San Rafael California I always make a point to stroll the historical neighborhoods and districts full of personality each home individual and unique in its own right. It’s like visiting an art museum each painting and sculpture moves
    me just as those homes do. Telling stories that mermerize me.

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    • Distance, I am very moved by your comments, particularly after reading your featured article on how the beaches in Puntarenas, Costa Rica are becoming over-worked – plus suffering effects of the tourism explosion. My recollection of Southern California when I last visited was full of historical neighborhoods that I also strolled on foot (how “un-Californian” of me!), but I do recall it being just as you said above: an art museum that moves. So happy to hear from you and welcome your future visits anytime to my blog!

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  2. Patricia, your vessel definitely holds a lot! I love the design of the lid especially in this context. It has a definite 30s feel. We see similar juxtapositions here along the beachfront. It amazes me that ‘semi-industrial’ is chosen for this environment, even if picture windows are added! All but gone are the gabled and rambling houses with wide verandahs and sandy gardens. The Esplanade is filling with double density blocks, white or grey facades, flat roofs and very little in the way of garden space..We are being tidied up! Neat-looking but it is difficult to imagine sandy-footed children taking a step inside, let alone flinging themselves on a hammock or a daybed in beachy exhaustion! Or even sandy-footed matrons like me. Give me pens and puzzles on the table, by the window. And a fair bit of stuff around.

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    • Philippa, your comments are so dead-on here. I think I may have to steal your term, “semi-industrial” for my own ends!! I can’t possibly imagine how beaches in South Australia could be getting that same treatment as my local New Jersey shore resorts are. Yes – gone are the wide verandas and it’s “knock-’em-down” and replace with no consideration for the style of entire prior neighborhoods. Mind you, this is beach property – not the city. Yet, the same issues seem everywhere. What a fabulously memorable term you’ve given me in “neat-looking” as in tidy. Same concept, but in my Cityscape Widget, all too familiar in its penchant for residential gray and steel. Thank you deeply for your inspiring commentary tonight!

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  3. Great piece Patricia, and certainly gets your point across…. we have similar things happening here too, though there are quite strict rules in some councils about the type of buildings that can be built. But even with ‘rules’ the $$ do sometimes triumph!

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    • Dawn, How true all you say is!! Here too I’m reading a slew of news articles of how the $$ are outwinning the protests to prevent the “bulldozing en masse” that’s happening in housing neighborhoods of the non-commercial variety. As I mentioned to you earlier today, what’s replacing these historic dwellings aren’t even remotely close in appearance to the Deco, Victorian or Colonial homes that are losing this battle. The costs to rebuild are just too great – so ensues the bulldozing /replacing with what looks exactly like a corporate mini-tower of glass and steel. I could do hours on this subject!!! I really appreciate how much your comments today have gotten me to even think more on this timely subject.

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      • It’s genuinely surprising to me that a situation like this exists in a location that is over 16,000 kms. away from me here in the U.S., such as where you are, Dawn!! I guess I should remind myself that when architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed the suburban Chicago-area “Prairie School” houses – he likely was implementing a residential design that was quite a shock to his peers and then-critics. (But I’d gladly see that in place of grey steel/glass combo of “the new”, here.)

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  4. Very interesting article. I had no idea, before reading your story, that people worldwide are documenting city architecture on Instagram. The Internet, and digital and wireless capabilities/realms, are ceaselessly incredible.

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    • Neil, it’s pretty unreal and quite addicting to log onto Instagram and look at all the “travel bloggers” that are posting such magnificently perfect images. The most popular seem to be windows and doorways of historic dwellings, and my personal favorite, the wrought iron gates. And it will far surpass any “likes” or show of love in a person’s cache of photos. The #IG_Philly hashtag is the local favorite, but more do exist worldwide. You’re quite correct in that digital realms are incredible. Thank you for your visit and comments today – it’s so appreciated!

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  5. Creeping, sneaking, the “developers” will stop at nothing to knock down and quickly knock up some atrocity. We have a governing body here one can protest to but I have never seen any party other than the developers win. There was one win though. Developers tried to build units at Peter’s Reserve (Our local park) and we locals protested loudly AND won! Also my little piece of heaven is protected by “heritage overlay” which means the houses in Westgarth (where I live) are on the Heritage register which means we are safe…….for now! The houses around here are old miners cottages from when there was a quarry. Also a couple of eccentric old mansions. Interesting to look at. I love your widget, what it shows, how it is shown, and what it causes people to think about. One of the things Art should do is make us stop, slow down and actually think. I believe. 😀

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    • Sharon, just when I thought you couldn’t possibly outdo any of your spectacular prior commentaries on here, you proved me mistaken!! I’m floored by your first sentence and needed a couple hours of resting on it to derive its full implications. Yes, builders and their investors will stop at nothing to “knock down and quickly knock up some atrocity.” What a statement!! I know I’m poor at masking my over-exuberance, but when one works as many hours on one’s artwork as I’ve put into developing these new pieces, I find it nearly impossible to remain stately over these issues. The fact that you’ve directly experienced this w/ your own housing/local area speaks more to me than anything, because you KNOW. Thanks for your continued support of my work and writing – and please know that I never take that for granted.

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  6. Hey Patricia! I love your piece. I can actually FEEL the cover of your piece, the shield, even though it’s copper, it looks soft and inviting. The inside, the photo of the traditional colonial house and its modern times counterpart, feels so cruel by comparison. I do like your tree at the top of the photo. As if the trees and the birds will not change over time, but structures and the way each generation sees things, will. Very nice piece. I am glad you put the dimensions here. I like to think the piece has some heft. And by creating it at that scale is perfect. It fits in your hand. As if the destruction of old ways, buildings and landmarks are within our capability to preserve.

    Lets exchange Instagram addresses. Mine is @hhildebrandmills. Mysterious, huh? Will be looking for you there, as well.

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    • Such profound commentary, Hollis – I’m not letting it ‘get to my head’ – but do hope to explore more into this topic. Thank you for noticing the scale of the piece. It is meant to be reliquary-like and a container to be held. Speaking of Instagram, I posted a short video of the flange lid as it was being designed/made to snugly fit the back piece of the object (where the 2-D photo is now sitting behind the Plexi.) It was one of the most watched videos I’ve had and hopefully shows how much I invest into each object. (Just as you do I know w/ your paintings and installations.) I will add you on InstaG and hope for a return “follow” back! Seeing how others make and approach their work is fascinating for me to watch. Thank you again for your visit today!!

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  7. Lovely piece of work that I read as a keyhole showing me a sneak peek of life far from where I sit. I think you have come across something that not only resonates with you, but with many others as well. I sometimes wonder after watching a nature documentary on television if we may in fact be more interested in preserving nature on film than engaging the real thing because its of course much more difficult? Could a similar phenomenon be happening within the urban landscape with the folks who love to share images and details of buildings that seem constantly under threat from one developer or another? Just what you need…more food for thought!

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    • Al, I love your first sentence: I never would’ve thought of the narrowed viewpoint I deliberately used in the widget “box” as a keyhole! What a fabulous metaphor for what I’m trying to depict in this piece. And I agree w/ your assertion that it’s much easier (intellectually and emotionally) for most people to engage the vast changes of urban development as Instagram photos that can be enjoyed as pretty pictures (just like nature t.v. documentaries) on a purely aesthetic level – without having to “think” about all its ramifications. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to comment; your perspectives are always completely refreshing and honest!!

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  8. Patricia, you have translated so effectively, visually, the dichotomy as you put it, of these two buildings: the soft rounded shapes of the copper lid vs. the hard, angular lines of the architecture; handmade vs. digital. Thank you for including the work-in-progress photo. Your design for the lid is elegant and timeless. I really enjoyed seeing another installment of your Widgets series, and this one quite resonates with me, here in Vancouver where our cityscape is changing ever faster.

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    • Dominique, I feel w/ your lovely comments above, my post and this Widget piece have come full circle. Knowing that this conundrum reaches from my local Philadelphia/Jersey areas across to the Pacific NW (Vancouver) does not sit easy with me, as I had higher hopes this was NOT happening in a gorgeous locale, such as Vancouver BC. Also, as I’ve pointed out – you share your perspective w/ me as a college professor/educator (who evolves with her students continuously) that I do not receive daily just “sitting at the jeweler’s bench.” Then we add the additional element of your talents as a fellow metalsmith, and it’s a perspective that I really do not take for granted. I hope you have a relaxing (and productive!) summer break starting now! Thanks, Dominique!

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