Chihuly lite

By GREG COOK  |  October 16, 2008

“Building Books” (through February 1) features art by RISD alum (BArch 1969) and former teacher David Macaulay of Vermont. He’s the Caldecott Medal-winning author and illustrator of picture books, including Black and White, The Way Things Work, and the just-published The Way We Work. This strong exhibit could be titled “The Way Macaulay Works,” because it is stuffed with sketches, photos, and models, as well as the final paintings and drawings they lead to.

Early sketches for what became 1973’s Cathedral reveal that Macaulay originally intended the book to be about a boy’s adventures with animated gargoyles. An editor suggested he focus on the church building instead and so helped him find the basis of his career. Macaulay is an uneven artist, without much feel for color or rendering people. He’s sharpest with pen and ink, though his copious hatching can feel more workmanlike than dramatic. But what has wowed young readers for 35 years is a knack for clear explanations, dramatic angles, and romantic history.

Macaulay’s books time-machine us into the past to seemingly witness first-hand (and often high up in the rafters) the construction of castles, pyramids, and sailing ships. Note how he bends the verticals of the cathedral to force perspective and suggest its great height and mass. Note how he uses the density of hatching, of light and dark, to evoke a vast New York skyline in Unbuilding. What could be boring summaries of architecture become sweeping adventures in space.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Painting, Visual Arts, Jackson Pollock,  More more >
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