Sometimes I book a Friday Five and I feel like I need to end the column and go out like Seinfeld – on a high note. This is one of those Friday Fives… but don’t stick a fork in me just yet…
Michael Graves, FAIA, has been in the forefront of architecture and design since he founded his practice in 1964. His two firms — Michael Graves & Associates, the architecture and interior design practices, and Michael Graves Design Group, the product design and graphic design practices — have designed over 350 buildings worldwide and over 2,000 products including both building components such as lighting, hardware, bath and kitchen products, and a wide variety of consumer products for home, office and personal use (including his awesome collection for Target). Michael Graves and the firms have received over 200 awards for design excellence, and Graves has received 13 honorary doctorates. A native of Indianapolis, Graves received his architectural training at the University of Cincinnati and Harvard University. In 1960, he won the Rome Prize and studied at the American Academy in Rome, of which he is now a Trustee. In 1962, Graves began a nearly 40-year teaching career at Princeton University, where he is now the Robert Schirmer Professor of Architecture, Emeritus.
1. Tuscany and Umbria
The light, landscape and agrarian buildings of Tuscany and Umbria are a constant inspiration for me. I have fond memories of visiting the region with family and friends when I was a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome in the 1960s and later as a Trustee of the Academy. Today, you will see the influence of those places in my paintings, where I compose buildings or architectural fragments within real and imagined landscapes. I am inspired by the glorious luminous colors of the earth – ochres, terra cottas, dark greens and blues – and illuminates the geography of my imagination.
2. The Warehouse
I came across my house in Princeton one summer evening in the 1970s while out for an evening walk. At that time it was an astonishing site, a ruin of a Tuscan vernacular building in the middle of a block, which had been built by Italian masons moonlighting from their construction jobs at Princeton and later abandoned. Like buildings in Europe, it has a serene quality of ambient light, which shifts throughout the day, reflecting the the cycle of daily activities from room to room. Despite the fact that the building was once used as a warehouse, I have made its interiors domestic in scale and character through the carefully arranged furniture and artifacts that occupy it.
I am a passionate collector of objects that intrigue me because of their forms, uses, and histories. I love the stories that they tell, whether about the education of an architect taking the Grand Tour of Italy and Greece in the 19th century or about the origins of the shape of the leg of a chair. Among my most treasured objects is a brass compote designed by Wiener Werkstette architect and designer Josef Hoffman in the early 20th century. I greatly admire Hoffman’s work and so for that reason alone, this is a spectacular object. What makes it personally so special is that it was a surprise gift from a dear client, Wendell Cherry, upon the dedication of the Humana Building in Louisville. The layers of stories give this a special meaning.
Every Sunday morning, after I have my cappuccino and read The New York Times, I spend hours looking at books about art and architecture. While I look at books at other times of course, I set aside these hours to look carefully at paintings, buildings, landscapes and artifacts. I always told my students that their education only begins in school. It’s important to maintain your curiosity about not only the tangible world around you but also the ideas that emanate from it. I don’t always feel the need to read the books since I find the visual exercise of close examination to be so valuable. I might draw something in my sketchbooks to remember what I was thinking. It won’t be a complete pictorial representation necessarily, but perhaps a notation about the parti, an interesting form, the way two pieces are joined or whatever else strikes me.
5. Drawing and painting
I have always been engaged by drawing. Beginning in childhood, drawing has been the truest way for me to express myself. It is how I think. For decades, I have also been a painter. It has always been a serious pursuit for me, and it became a means to contribute to my architecture in the form of murals. However, since my paralysis, painting has become a passion and a true joy. I used to play a lot of golf, but now I dedicate that time to painting. My subjects range from architectural forms and structures, to still lifes and landscapes. I most like to explore proportion, space, and composition. As it should be, painting is very difficult, but it is just that difficulty that is so fulfilling.