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Meet the Artist
Daniel Wrightson - Celebrating Architectural Landscape
- Written by Vanessa Champion Vanessa Champion
Daniel Wrighton won the Strathmore Artist Papers First Prize which we sponsored recently for the UA (United Society of Artists) exhibition at Bankside. We catch up with him and ask him about his artistic practice and his passion for architectural landscape.
Congratulations on winning, Dan. Can you tell us a bit about the winning piece?
The winning piece is called “Tuscan Landscape” and was painted from the side of the road, as I was driving back to the airport after visiting my mother. I had very little time but the colours and light were fantastic. The area is in western Tuscany, near Volterra, and it’s where I grew up, so it’s particularly important to me.
You have such a skill at capturing buildings and urban landscapes, what got you into architectural drawing in the first place?
Thanks. I’ve always loved drawing buildings – my stepfather got me started, putting me in front of a vaulted arch he had just built, and asking me to draw the joinery and shuttering. It was very complicated and took me days, but started me on the path of close observation. To draw a building is to really get to know it.
What do you love about painting buildings in particular? And why?
Every building has a history and a line of people within that history who have loved and worked and raised money to bring the building into existence. With ancient buildings – my favourites – it seems to me that the buildings then carry within themselves the memories and marks and scars of the passing of time, and of the people that have lived and worked within it. My favourite buildings of all tend to be early Christian monasteries and churches, and I think that, quite apart from the beauty of the architecture itself, the aspirations and vision behind these buildings echo through them and around them today.
What is your greatest challenge as an artist?
Painting! I’m definitely a draughtsman first and the painterly side of things is still hard fought. I love the work of artists who have a perfect grasp of light and shade, and who can capture perfect tone. From a colour point of view, I stumble around in the dark!
Where have you been that you’ve loved painting the most? Why was that exactly? Can you tell us?
Rome. I spent a while there as a scholar and the buildings are fantastic. The city itself is layered, with periods of history sometimes literally physically layered; the Basilica di San Clemente, for example, is an 11th century buildings, overlaid on a 4th century basilica, and that is in turn built on top of a Mithraic temple. You can still visit all these levels now and the effect is breath-taking. You get a real feeling of a city regenerating over itself, layering over the past but leaving it available for discovery later. The way old Roman buildings were incorporated into newer medieval structures, like behind the Portico d’Ottavia, is beautiful – in much the same way as renaissance palazzos being built into and on top of existing roman structure, like in the beautiful Theatre of Marcellus, near the Campidoglio.
I see you studied at the British School at Rome. What was your experience there? How did it help your practice?
As you can see from my answer above, I loved it. I was studying the churches visited by Sigeric, the Archbishop of Canterbury, during his visit in 994. He sped around 30 or 40 churches in the 2 days he spent in the city, and handily left the list of them, now in the British Museum. I had already cycled down from Canterbury, following the list of cities he stayed in on his way down to Rome – during my time at Rome I retraced Sigeric’s steps. Together with early maps, I was able to get a very different picture of the Rome that Sigeric would have visited, a Rome of overgrown ruins with startling architectural structures half buried throughout the city. It would have been a Rome seen with pre-renaissance eyes, where the origins of many of the buildings were lost in history, dotted with churches, which were the only really functioning civic structure of the time. It was wonderful to have the time to indulge my curiosity and to sit around drawing building after building.
Before I read your biography on you website I thought your work was reminiscent of the Grand Tour paintings, the romance, energy and detailed atmosphere that the documentary watercolours conjure. Yours do the same. I feel I want to walk into them. Where did you come across the Grand Tour paintings? Was it when you were studying architecture?
I came across the Grand Tour as a notion, and the paintings and genre while I was at University – they are a very British cultural tradition. I love them as they tell us how important architecture, landscape and culture were seen to be for a rounded education. I also love them as they are very similar to how I like to paint – en plain air, in one swift sitting, and nearly as a personal diary rather than a work of art.
Can you tell us a bit about your architectural studies, which period do you love the most and why?
I studied architecture at Cambridge and loved it. Studying architecture is different from practicing it however, and I veered away from practice early on. Drawing, painting and thinking about architecture remain a passion. Rykwert once compared decoration in architecture to rhetoric in discourse: it may seem unnecessary but is an essential tool in convincing the viewer (or listener). I like buildings that speak to me as a viewer, and am not a fan of brutalism, or pared down modernism. Give me medieval curlicues or even 19th century caryatids any day!
How do you find the United Society of Artists helps you as an artist?
They have shows in excellent locations, which is great for visibility, and they are very supportive. It is very good to have a society that celebrates diversity and difference, as so many seem to reductively narrow their focus.
A fun question, if you were a Strathmore paper, which one would it be and why?
I’d be the one I’m using now – wonderful paper for sketching, heavy enough to take watercolours but light enough for everyday quick sketching. I’ve just looked in the back of the softback book I have here – it’s Series 500, mixed media paper. Love it.
Final one, what are your website, Facebook and Twitter links so people can get in touch with you?