Saturday Snapshot February 8: Cabin Fever continues…

The snow and cold persist. I’ve to revisit Southern France to assuage cabin fever. Here are more photos from my Provence travels in the summer of 2010.

Avignon, the historic centre of Western Christendom in the Middle Ages. Its Palais des Papes, or, Palace of the Popes, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Medieval Gothic architecture was designed as a fortress and palace, residence for the Popes. Six papal conclaves were held there in the 14th century.

Palais des PapesSigns pointing to others historic monuments:


The Bridge of Avignon, Pont St. Bénezet, or Pont d’Avignon, was built between 1177 – 1185, rebuilt in 1234 after it was damaged in a siege by Louise VIII, King of France. It was an important crossing over the Rhone River. Only four arches now remain:

Pont d'AvignonNot all serious history though… Right outside the Palais Des Papes, I saw an elephant doing Yoga:

Elephant outside Palace of the PopesA closer look:

Elephant doing YogaAnd in the town centre, this beautiful merry-go-round:

Entertainment in town centreAnd puppeteers getting ready for a skeleton show:

Street performersSnap back to reality… no elephant in the room or dancing skeleton. And it’s -16C outside. Just let me hop back on that merry-go-round…


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda of Metro Mommy Reads.
CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.



Is This A Library?

(Title inspired by Stefanie of So Many Books)

I gasped and asked myself this question. For Saturday Snapshot Sept. 21, here are some views:

Indoor pond at entranceIMG_1170IMG_1174IMG_1175IMG_1173The answer to the question of course is Yes. It’s the Toronto Reference Library. I was most excited to have made a serendipitous find in there too.

There was a gallery in the library. Its current exhibit was entitled

Human has long been mesmerized by the idea of flight.

From Daedalus:


to Da Vinci:

Leonardo Da Vinci and FlightFrom Jules Verne:

Jules Verneto Audubon:


Yes, it’s a library all right.


Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda of West Metro Mommy Reads. Click Here to see what others have posted.


Saturday Snapshot May 18: The Bow

The Bow is the newest addition to our downtown cityscape. Design architects are the acclaimed, London-based Foster and Partners. This new kid on the block has put Cowtown Calgary on the map as it is recently named one of The World’s Most Spectacular Corporate Buildings by the German building database Emporis.

You can see how spectacular it is on Foster and Partners’ website with their professional presentation. But for Arti, the Cowtown inhabitant roaming in the midst of the buzz and the dust, weaving through busy downtown traffic, these snapshots are personal and authentic, no posing, and believe it or not, shot with just her iPhone:

The Bow 1

The Bow is named after the river that winds through our City. So it’s apt to design the building in a crescent shape, fluid as the river, and shaped like a bow:

The Bow 2

A bit closer now, you can see the art installation in front of the building. It’s a 12 m. tall wire sculpture entitled ‘Wonderland’, created by the renowned Barcelona-based designer Jaume Plensa whose works can be found all over the world:

The Bow 3

It’s the head of a girl, intriguing when you think of the title ‘Wonderland’. Why, of course, it must be a wonder to enter someone’s head. Here, you can do that through a door. See the green balloon inside her nose?



Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books. Click Here to see what other bloggers have posted.

Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA

Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.  — Jonas Salk

American medical researcher and virologist Jonas Edward Salk (1914-1995) discovered the polio vaccine in 1955. In 1960, he founded the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, to create a collaborative environment for exploring the basic principles of life.

Some of the renowned consulting scientists at the conception of the Institute included Warren Weaver, who first coined the term “molecular biology’, and Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the DNA molecule. The Salk Institute remains one of the top research facilities in the world, generating five Nobel Laureates since its inception.

The building of the Salk Institute began in 1962 on 27 acres of pristine land donated by The City of San Diego. The site is endowed with a vantage point 350 feet above the Pacific Ocean on the coastal bluffs of La Jolla.

Jonas Salk commissioned the renowned architect Louis I. Kahn (1901-1974) to design the structures: “Create a facility worthy of a visit by Pablo Picasso.” Kahn proficiently rose to the challenge.  The Salk Institute was completed in 1965. In 1992, it received the American Institute of Architects Twenty-Five Year Award.

So much for the objective facts. Here’s my experience.

I joined an architectural tour of the site. As I came to the courtyard, the entrance to the main area, I was confronted with this view. This could well be the most existential space I’d ever set foot on:

What first captivated me was the void in between the two mirrored structures. The buildings on both sides act as a frame to augment the negative space in the middle. That lookout is towards the Pacific Ocean. As I saw it then, it looked like a misty unknown, an entrance towards eternity.  The last part of Terrence Malick’s film The Tree of Life came to mind.

“Architecture is the reaching out for the truth.” — Louis I. Kahn

Through the massive centre court made of travertine marble flows a stream towards the direction of the ocean, a visual metaphor for life. The water collects into a pool at the end that leads to a small waterfall, then recirculates:

Angled walls offer view from every step:

“The sun never knew how great it was until it struck the side of a building.” — Louis I. Kahn

Like parallel mirrors, concrete walls can form infinite, interesting vantage points:

Every room of the senior scientists looks out into the ocean… for creativity, inspiration, and the view of the greater scheme of things.


At the reception building where we met to begin the tour, I discovered the work of another artist: Dale Chihuly’s glass work The Sun, suspended from the ceiling:

Chihuly’s glasswork is a showcase of colors and vibrancy, depicting visually the exploratory spirit of the Institute. And I think, a wonderful contrast to the minimalist concrete walls around.


As soon as I came back home, I took out a DVD which I’d bought some years now but still haven’t yet watched. How wonderful to have that waiting for me: 2004 Oscar Nominee for Best Documentary, a film by Nathaniel Kahn My Architect: A Son’s Journey.

Son of Louis Kahn and Harriet Pattison, Nathaniel Kahn embarked on a journey to discover the father who died when he was only eleven, a father whom he wishes to have known more before a heart attack ended his life inside a washroom at a New York Subway station.

The film is not only a personal journey, but a reconciliation, a late and poignant search for a father and a son’s identity. Further, it’s a tribute to a great architect from his peers, as his son seeks out those who had known the architect professionally: Philip Johnson, I. M. Pei, Frank O. Gehry, Moshe Safdie, Robert A. M. Stern.

It is also about three women and their families who had experienced the joy and pain of being Kahn’s own, a complicated predicament in his life and after his death.

It is also a virtual gallery of the magnificent works situated all over the world. The most impressive to me, other than Salk Institute, is the one on the cover of the DVD, The National Parliament Building in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

“Design is not making beauty, beauty emerges from selection, affinity, integration, love.” — Louis I. Kahn


All photos of Salk Institute taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, Feb. 2, 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Photo of DVD cover from


Click here to read more about Louis I. Kahn

Click here to see glass artist Dale Chihuly’s works.

Click here to read more about the architecture of Salk Institute

Click here to read more about Salk Institute

Click here to read my review of the film The Tree of Life


Urban Sanctuary

June has been a month of travelling for me. From the natural beauty of Vancouver to über busy and congested Metro Toronto, I’ve shifted gear and gone from park to overdrive in two short weeks. Quiet garden paths have been replaced by the 12-lane Highway 401, rain forest has turned into concrete jungle. And so I was pleasantly surprised by this serendipitous find right in the heart of downtown Toronto. Amidst the hustle and bustle, I found this sanctuary… literal and spiritual, the Trinity College Chapel on the campus of the University of Toronto:

Every step into the magnificent architecture instills awe and wonder, every artefact a symbol:

Looking back to the choir loft is another stunning view (this photo from Wikipedia):

The painting on the wall in the narthex, a crucifix, is entitled “Mediterranean Christ” by the artist Juan Sala Santonja:


Another joy of discovery is Grace Church On the Hill, Anglican. My expectation of my short sojourn in Toronto had never been stained glass or religious art. But here I was, beholding Biblical themes in beautiful stained glass:

This contemporary wall sculpture created by Catherine Widgery of Montreal juxtaposes well among the stained glass, for its message points to a similar theme:

Entitled “By Her Own Radiant Light”, John Milton’s verse is engraved on a brass plaque beside the installation:

By her own radiant light, though sun and moon

were in the flat sea sunk.

And Wisdom’s self

oft seeks to sweet retired solitude,

Where, with her best nurse


She plumes her feathers,

and lets grow her wings.

The pamphlet beside the art installation conveys the meaning: As the Moon’s illumination is the reflection of the Sun, Christian disciples are reflectors of the Greater Light. The phases of the moon suggest an eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth. Loss returns to fullness; darkness becomes light. The fragments of reflected light on water form a triangle below the full moon. Each fragment of light is a single piece of metal, cut and assembled so as to suggest the light’s effect on the surface of the water. At the heart of the circle, the light reflected on the surface is brilliant and intense, and diminishes as it spreads farther from the source.

As someone who’s always drawn to ripples, I spotted this installation right away as I entered the  sanctuary. Reading Milton’s verse and the explanation of the art work helped me gain a deeper appreciation of the visual symbolism.

No rain forests and greenery, but I was drawn to explore another landscape, one where art and imagination formed a bridge towards the unseen and spiritual, no less powerful in bringing out the wonders of creation and the Creator, the Source of Light and Wisdom.


CLICK HERE to watch a video clip with visual artist Catherine Widgery

PHOTOS: All photos were taken by Arti of Ripple Effects except the one noted from Wikipedia. Arti’s photos taken in June, 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Bath’s Persuasion

Solution to Arti’s Cryptic Challenge #2:  Bath

From London’s Paddington Station we took the 90 minute train ride to Bath Spa, saving us half the time than with the bus.  The City of Bath is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Its magnificent Roman Baths and stylish Georgian streets and architecture make this a wonderful gem for tourists.  The first time I visited there was in December, 2007. For a more general overview of the beauty of Bath you can find my two previous posts here and here.

In this revisit, I was a more intentional traveller.  I let Austen’s Persuasion be my guide.  With a detailed street map of Bath in my hand, I went exploring the places mentioned in the novel, coincidentally, many of them I missed in my last visit.

“I was not so much changed…” was Anne Elliot’s words to Captain Wentworth upon seeing him eight years after turning him down.  The termination of their relationship was not her own intention, but duty had driven her to yield to Lady Russell’s persuasion.  It would have been a “throw-away” for Anne at 19 to engage with “a young man who had nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining affluence, … uncertain profession, and no connections.” (p. 20)

But the star-crossed lovers are granted the bliss of a second chance, and rightly grab it this time.  Austen’s setting of Bath in the book is no coincidence.  The Georgian City was the centre of fashion and the epitome of genteel society, a hotbed of social phenom for the critic and satirist in Austen.  Jane had lived in Bath herself for four years, 1801 – 1805, with her sister Cassandra and their parents.  Ironically, she was unpersuaded by its attractions according to her biographer Claire Tomalin.

Austen aptly uses Bath’s addresses for the purpose of her characterization.  Geographical location is everything in a class-conscious society, as Keiko Parker’s excellent article Jane Austen’s Use of Bath in Persuasion points out.

First off,  there’s the Pump Room, where in Jane Austen’s days people socialized and met one another, gathered to drink the therapeutic water, catch the latest fashion, simply to see and be seen.  The magnificent structure and decor makes The Pump Room a fine restaurant now:

Despite its grand decor, the areas around the baths are residences for the common folks in Austen’s time.  Mrs. Smith, the poor, infirmed widow with whom Anne maintains a loyal friendship, lives in the Westgate Buildings close to the Baths.  Anne becomes a laughing stock for the snobbish Sir Walter when he hears of her least favourite daughter is determined to visit Mrs. Smith instead of accepting an invitation to Lady Dalrymple’s, someone belonging to the upper echelon of society:

“Miss Anne Elliot, you have the most extraordinary taste! Everything that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations, are inviting to you.” (p. 113)

Today, the open area outside the Pump Room by the Roman Baths is perhaps the most popular tourist gathering place. Tour buses stop at the Bath Abbey for pick up and drop off, buskers perform in the open space outside the Roman Baths and Pump Room:


Nearby is Sally Lunn’s Bun, originated in 1680 by a young French refugee, in the oldest house of Bath, ca. 1482.  Now a restaurant on top with the cellar a museum that houses the original kitchen and cookwares, Sally Lunn’s serves this traditional creation: a large, soft, round bun that can go with just about anything.  But probably best like this, simply with garlic butter:


The beautiful street corner outside Sally Lunn’s:


Further up the town, there’s Milsom Street, a vibrant commercial area of shops and businesses.  The first time Anne saw Captain Wentworth again in Bath was on Milsom Street.  Here’s a present day view of the same site:



As for Sir Walter himself, despite having to rent out his country mansion Kellynch Hall to avoid financial ruins, he has no intention that his retreat to Bath should compromise his status and comfort.  It’s only natural that others are curious: “What part of Bath do you think they’ll settle in?”  The answer is quite obvious:  the part that is befitting their social standing.  According to Keiko Parker’s insightful article, physical elevation in Bath directly corresponds to social standing.  The highest point at that time would have to be Camden Place, which is today’s Camden Crescent.  While I was looking for it,  the ‘Ye Old Farmhouse Pub’ was mentioned to me as the marker.  I was glad to find it while walking up Landsdown Road, for it was indeed quite an uphill walk.



“Sir Walter had taken a very good house in Camden Place, a lofty, dignified situation, such as becomes a man of consequence; and both he and Elizabeth were settled there, much to their satisfaction.

Anne entered it with a sinking heart, anticipating an imprisonment of many months…” (p. 98)

Just typical Austen, the overt contrast of characters using something indirect, here, the sense of place.

The houses on Camden Crescent has unobstructive view of lower Bath.  They are not grand mansions, but then again, location is everything.  The following are some of the houses found on this road across from the escarpment:


And where do Sir Walter’s tenants Admiral and Mrs. Croft lodge during their short stay in Bath?  On Gay Street, not too high, not too low: “… perfectly to Sir Walter’s satisfaction.  He was not at all ashamed of the acquaintance, and did, in fact, think and talk a great deal more about the Admiral than the Admiral ever thought or talked about him.” (p. 121)

Elizabeth is not even half as kind as her vain and snobbish father.  Regarding the Crofts’ arrival in Bath, she suggests to Sir Walter that “We had better leave the Crofts to find their own level.” (p. 120)

In contrast, Anne has a good impression of the Admiral and his dear wife, the kind and down-to-earth couple, Mrs. Croft being the sister of Captain Wentworth having minimal bearing on Anne’s fondness of them. During their sojourn in Bath to mend a gouty Admiral Croft, Anne enjoys watching them strolling together, “it was a most attractive picture of happiness to her.” (p. 121)

So I’m just not a bit surprised to see their temporary lodging in Bath being on Gay Street.  Who else had lived there?  Jane Austen herself: #25 to be exact:


As for a suitable place for socializing, Sir Walter and his favourite daughter Elizabeth choose the Upper Assembly Rooms, a much newer development closer to their upper, more fashionable side of town, although he would prefer entertaining in private which is even more prestigious.

The Assembly Rooms are a magnificent architectural legacy in their own rights.  Designed by John Wood the Younger, who raised the £20,000 needed for the venture, the ground-breaking project began in 1769 and opened for public use in 1771.  It was the biggest investment in a single building in 18th Century Bath. Four public rooms made up the suite:  The Octagon, Ball Room, Card Room, and Tea Room.

“Sir Walter, his two daughters, and Mrs, Clay, were the earliest of all their party at the rooms in the evening; and as Lady Dalrymple must be waited for, they took their station by one of the fires in the Octagon Room (p. 131).

Here’s the exquisite Octagon Room:

Regarding the chandelier, there’s this interesting account in The Authorised Guide (p.7):

“On 15 August 1771 Jonathan Collett quoted £400 for supplying five cut-glass chandeliers for the Ball Room.  They were up in time for the opening of the Rooms in September, but the following month disaster struck when ‘one of the arms of the chandilers in the Ballroom fell down during the time the company was dancing, narrowly missing  Gainsborough.  What could be salvaged from the set was made up into a single chandelier, which now hangs in the Octagon.”

I was just simply amazed at how long these chandeliers had lasted, well over 300 years, and in excellent shape.  Their brilliance had not faded, evolving first from candlelight, then to gas, and now electric:


Anne and her party attend a music program in the Concert Hall.  That’s a function in the Tea Room.  Despite the name which seems to convey a small and cozy setting, the Tea Room is a gorgeous room of 60 ft. by 43 ft. dimension.  On one end is a magnificent colonnade of the Ionic order.  Subscription concerts are regular events held in the Tea Room. Mozart and Haydn had written compositions to be performed there, with Haydn himself having graced the magnificent venue.



But what does Anne Elliot think about all the grandeur?  After earlier in the Octagon Room talking with Captain Wentworth, who has openly expressed his long-held passion for her, Anne, overwhelmed by a great flood of euphoria, now walks into the Concert Room (Tea Room):

“Anne saw nothing, thought nothing of the brilliancy of the room.  Her happiness was from within.  Her eyes were bright, and her cheeks glowed; but she knew nothing about it.  She was thinking only of the last half hour…” (p. 134)

As a visitor to the historic venue, I was captivated by the well-maintained interior and its elegance, and presently amused and surprised to find this display in between two columns: The Chair, which is mentioned several times in Persuasion. The Bath Chair was invented right here in the Georgian City to transport the rich and the sick.  It could be steered by the passenger:



Jane might have noticed the frivolity and seen through the façade of high society of her time, and sharply depicted her observations in her brilliant novels, but as a modern day tourist and Janeite, I’m just amazed at how well history has been preserved, and that all these locations and life had been experienced by Jane herself. She might have the burden of society on her, which ironically had inspired and unleashed her talents, but for me, a present day tourist and reader of her works, I am totally persuaded that Bath is a place I will definitely revisit some more in the future.


All photos taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, August 2010.  All Rights Reserved.


1. Jane Austen: A Life by Claire Tomalin, Penguin Books, 2000.

2.  Persuasion by Jane Austen, The Modern Library Classics, Introduction by Amy Bloom, Modern Library Paperback Edition, 2001.

3. The Authorised Guide: The Assembly Rooms, Bath. Published by the Heritage Services division of Bath and North East Somerset Council in association with the National Trust.  Written by Oliver Garnett and Patricia Dunlop.

4. “What Part of Bath Do You Think They Will Settle In?”: Jane Austen’s Use of Bath in Persuasion by Keiko Parker.  Retrieved Online

Art Gallery of Ontario

There are several interesting facts about the AGO.  That it is situated in Toronto’s Chinatown is an example of the vibrant cultural mix an urban centre can sustain.  And in multicultural Canada, that sits well indeed.  These are the buildings right across from the front entrance of the AGO on Dundas Street:

On the upper floor of the building to the left, the four characters indicate it’s the “United Chinese Drama Society”.  The main floor is a French Café.  The building to the right is home to a Chinese clan association.  And the barber shop below… oh, what does it matter.

And across the street, spanning one full block from Beverley to McCaul, adjacent the Ontario College of Art and Design is the Art Gallery of Ontario:


The AGO originally began as The Art Museum of Toronto in 1900.  Its first home was The Grange, a Georgian Mansion built in 1817.  The last hundred years saw several stages of expansion. In 2008, the Gallery received a major facelift.  The prominent architect Frank Gehry brought the AGO into a new phase, and to finally contribute to the Canadian architectural landscape with his first design in Canada.  And what an approparite choice.  According to the AGO guide who led our tour, Gehry was born right here on this street some blocks away.  He holds fond childhood memories of the area, particularly the AGO.

At the back, one can see the very postmodern juxtaposition of the old Georgian Mansion The Grange with the new Gehry-designed AGO:


But the outside does not prepare one for what is installed within.  I was amazed many times over as I explored the gallery spaces. Photography was not allowed in the exhibits areas.  So I’ve only captured the general interiors, and they are breathtaking, elegant and exquisite:


I love the contemporary light wood contours placed against the classical styling.  The overall color scheme is soothing and relaxing, without the austerity of some art galleries and museums.   Natural light is plentiful as it is let in through the glass ceiling.  Light and shadows play out in an interesting way:

The central spiral stairwell is the main attraction.  It is made of B.C. douglas fir, light, fluid, swirls gracefully down from the top.  As I made my way down, every step I took offered me a new perspective.  An inspiration in itself:





. . 




And finally we were shown this magnificent design, right against the glass inside the front of the building:



Unlike Gehry’s other more showy works of bending metals, the AGO is decidedly unpretentious, curving wood against arches, blending nature with art, art with architecture, and architecture with an urban neighborhood.


TEXT AND PHOTOS by Arti of Ripple Effects, July 2010.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.




Art Gallery of Alberta

Drove up to Edmonton to take in the new Art Gallery of Alberta.  My first impression when I looked at the promotional materials was its similarity to a Frank Gehry like the Disney Concert Hall in L.A. and the Peter B. Lewis Building on the Case Western Reserve University campus.

A look at it in real life confirmed my thought, it sure was a Gehry style architecture.  A little googling later led me to the information that its architect Randall Stout used to work at Frank Gehry’s studio.  CLICK HERE for an extensive interview of Randall Stout and some spectacular images of his portfolio.

I don’t have any sophisticated photo software to take out the traffic lights and the sewage repair work underway, so the following picture shows the real life street scene of the remarkable structure at its most authentic.  But for some sparkling clear views and a detailed description of the architecture, CLICK HERE.

And here are some pictures of the inside, like the above, were taken by my little Panasonic Lumix pocket camera, no touch-up or editing:




The AGA is situated adjacent the Sir Winston Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton, a public open space linking the City Hall with the arts:

The Winspear Centre, home of the Edmonton Symphony is just across from the Square:

To finish off my day visit, I saw this colourful reflection of the slowly setting sun on the downtown buildings:


Of course, I didn’t drive three hours from Calgary just see the the architecture, but the exhibits.  And that has to be another post.

Photos taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, March 2010.
All Rights Reserved

Beauty and Truth

Unlike my previous trips out here, this time in Vancouver is a learning experience. I’m spending two weeks at Regent College on the UBC campus to learn the language of faith and film. The art and architecture of Regent set the inspiring milieu for exploring beauty and truth. Here are a few vignettes:

The True North Wind Tower and Lux Nova Art Glass:

Installed in 2007, the tower stands as a symbol of integration. Its highest point is designed to be in line with the North Star, the beacon of direction through the ages. The structure brings together the seemingly polarized ends of science and art, and accentuates faith in all aspects of life. CLICK HERE to read more about this 40 foot tall distinguished landmark.

Architect Clive Grout designed the self-sustaining, energy efficient True North Wind Tower as a natural ventilation system for the library built underneath it. Artist Sarah Hall incorporated solar cells into a cascade of glass work. They store energy during the day to illuminate a colored, celestial waterfall at night. This is the first installation of solar energy and art glass fusion in North America.

Embellishing this graceful design are twelve dichroic glass crosses, weaving through an inscription of the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, the spoken language in Jesus’ time. What a magnificent alchemy of art, architecture, faith and science. Just two weeks ago, on April 29th, this beautiful architecture won the prestigious Design Merit Award for Sacred Landscapes from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in San Francisco. CLICK HERE to read more about this Award.

Regent Wind Tower

A closer look at the art glass:

Lux Nova Art Glass Close Up 2

For the magnificent night view, CLICK HERE to go to Regent’s site.

As for the theology library built underneath the tower, it’s another beauty:

Regent Library


A stone-throw away from the Wind Tower is this serene setting:

Garden Bench

Even the wisteria speak to the intertwining togetherness of Beauty and Truth:

Intertwining Westeria Stems 4

Intertwining Westeria Stems 2


Original Photos and Text by Arti of Ripple Effects. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, May, 2009. If you see them on a site that is not Ripple Effects, then they are copied without permission. CLICK HERE to go to the original post

Sketches of Frank Gehry (2005) DVD

“You can look anywhere and find inspiration.”

—- Frank Gehry

The past couple of months I’ve been tied down with previewing films for an upcoming International Film Festival that I haven’t time to watch films of my own choosing.  The past weekend I decided to cease the dry spell and watched the DVD I’ve purchased for a long while but haven’t the chance to view.  My only regret: Why did I wait so long?

This is a documentary about and made by two of my favorite artists:  Architect Frank Gehry and film director Sydney Pollack (Best Director 1985, Out of Africa), whom I sadly miss upon his untimely passing on May 26.  (To read my tribute to Sydney Pollack, click here.) Pollack worked on this film, his first documentary, over weekends
for about five years.  An official selection at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, Sketches of Frank Gehry is his last directorial work.

Pollack has taken a simple and casual approach to present his long time friend Frank Gehry to the viewer, and that’s what impresses me.  The low-key yet artistic design of the film is a modest portrait of the architect whose body of work is often associated with rule-defying, bold and striking structures around the world.

Born 1929 in Toronto, Canada, Gehry moved to the United States with his family in 1947. His career spans four decades, establishing himself with renowned projects such as the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (1997), the Vitra Design Museum, Germany (1989), and more recently the Walt Disney Concert Hall, L.A. (2004). The personal and unpretentious portrayal of the architect brings out the mild and human side behind these massive physical structures.

Through informal dialogues, the filmmaker effectively captured the essence of artistic pursuit: the self-doubt during the creative process, the incubation and collaboration of ideas, the uncertainty of the soundness and appeal, and the ultimate exhilaration of the successful completion and reception of the work. Interestingly, the film works like a double-edged sword.  It explores the creative process of both the subject and the filmmaker.  And it is such revelation that makes the documentary so appealing.

In the beginning was the void:

Sydney:  Is starting hard?

Frank:  You know it is… I’m always scared that I’m not gonna know what to do.  It’s a terrifying moment.  And then when I start, I’m always amazed, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad.”

The veteran director had his uncertainties as well:

Sydney:  Several people approached him with the idea of making a documentary about him.  And when he asked me if I’d do it, I thought he was crazy.  Not just that I didn’t know anything about making documentaries, I don’t know anything about architecture.

“That’s why you’re perfect,” he said.

Maybe all our training and experience that we hang on to so dearly are impediments to a fresh, new perspective.

The film gives us the insider view of the Gehry creative process.  It is a collaborative effort involving inputs from design partners mulling over paper models and computer expertise transferring concepts to 3D digital mode. Despite the elaborate and sometimes long incubation period, every piece of work begins with the architect’s own signature squiggles on a blank piece of paper.

We see Pollack using a hand-held digital camera to capture more agile and personal shots. As the title suggests, the filmmaker interviewed and chatted with various artists, architects, critic, and even Gehry’s therapist to gain different perspectives into the heart and mind of the architect.  He was able to elicit some insightful comments.

Writer and curator Mildred Friedman has this to say about Gehry:

He’s an architect who’s also an artist.  He takes so many risks.  And that’s what artists do.  Artists take risks to do something new that no one has seen before.

Gehry’s therapist Milton Wexler:

A great many people come to me hoping they can change themselves, settle their anxieties, their problems, their marriage or whatever…  When an artist comes to me, he wants to know how to change the world.

And from Pollack, when talking about the epic and mythical Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain:

He sees that the whole reason for being an artist is that moment in somebody’s eyes when you reach him.

The nay-sayer is represented by Hal Foster, Professor of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University, who criticizes Gehry of making a spectacle of his work.  We also see montage of printed words from the media, such as “ugly”, and even “perverse”.

Responding to criticisms about Gehry’s galleries and museums competing with the very exhibits they showcase, Julian Schnabel, artist and filmmaker (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 2007), defends Gehry’s design with this audacious sum up:

I feel very comfortable in his spaces.  He understands scale.  And if it does compete with the art, maybe that art isn’t good enough.

Such thought-provoking comments are just some ideas one can mull over long after the film.

I must also mention the original score composed by Sorman and Nystrom.  Like a soothing balm, it is pure delight looking at Gehry’s fluid designs with the equally flowing and meditative musical rendering.

The special features on the DVD include a bonus 35 minutes interview and audience Q & A with Sydney Pollack at the L. A. Premiere of the film.  The icing on the cake, this feature offers Pollack’s reminiscence of the production and more thoughts on the creative process.  A valuable DVD to keep for anyone interested in the artistic expression of the human mind.

~ ~ ~ ½ Ripples

A note on the photos:  Arti has the pleasure of visiting two of Frank Gehry’s work.  The above photos are taken by Arti in October 2007 and February, 2008. The first two are the Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A.  The last two are different views of The Peter B. Lewis Building at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.  All Rights Reserved.

The source for the squiggles image:  Maclean’s Magazine.