In honor of that anniversary last Friday, we celebrated total happiness by heading to Brooklyn Fish Camp, where we made short work of a few oysters, shrimp, an awfully tasty grilled lobster and lobster roll, and one amazing sundae. Our tendency is not toward moderation.
Saturday morning, we got up bright and early headed to Providence to visit my baby sister, Willa, and her Matt. We managed to fill the weekend with some great food (including incredible tomato and egg French galettes Willa made on Saturday that I cannot wait to get pictures of!), and incredible scenery. On Sunday afternoon we went out to a small beach in Barrington. Besides looking out on spectacular views of the water and sailboats, we kept ourselves busy with shell searching and discovering horseshoe crab shells roughly every 3 feet.
We’ll have more pictures from our Rhode Island adventures from Willa soon, but in the meantime I had to write about the incredible exhibit we saw at the RISD Museum on Sunday.
I think a lot of us grew up with David Macaulay books & videos (ours were thanks in no small part to my grandmother’s affinity for the Metropolitan Museum of Art gift shop, if I had to guess), and I remember being fascinated by his books.
The exhibit of Macaulay’s exhibit that is up at RISD is nothing short of captivating. He is an alum of RISD and was also a professor of illustration there for somewhere close to 25 years, and this exhibit is comprehensive. Much like the Walton Ford exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum nearly 2 years ago, I wanted to spend hours on each piece, and was overwhelmed in the best way possible. Ford’s mixed media drawing/paintings combined text, carefully rendered images, and explored complex ideas. Though David Macaulay’s drawings are certainly illustrations in the traditional sense, the same combination of process, ideas, narrative, and drawing was present in his work, as well. The style and sensibility is something that speaks directly to my own way of thinking and hooked me as soon as we walked into the gallery.
I was most familiar with The Way Things Work and Castle before this, and while both were prominently featured, there were also a number of drawings from Cathedral, Rome Antics, The Way We Work, Ship, and Mosque. More than anything, in these books – geared for readers of all ages – Macaulay explores complex ideas through visual images and narrative in ways that open up architecture, nature, archaeology, physics, biology, and the world to curious minds. There are no boundaries too high, it seems, and there are questions at every corner.
The exhibit not only features finished illustrations for Macaulay’s various books, but also includes a few small 3D working models, and many working illustrations, rife with notes and full of lines that indicate the process behind the finished work. There is a real sense of study and learning in the handling of lines, story, and ideas, and it is fascinating to see both the research and drawing process play into the end product. Macaulay matches an idea that grabs him with his own finely honed draughtsmanship, and pairs that with meticulous research, carefully aware of time and of the human element in everything he does.
We left the exhibit and RISD with copies of The New Way Things Work and also Building the Book Cathedral. The latter not only includes the text of the finished book, but also Macaulay’s notes and his thoughts on the creative process of pulling together various perspectives, stages in the structure’s conception and creation, scale, and time. The historical moment is specific, though the cathedral is fictional.
As the cathedral grows and towers over the town around it, I was unquestionably intrigued, motivated, and fascinated by all of the precise drawings and fragments wrapped up in the story of this massive building. Finally, as the cathedral’s completion ends this particular story, the townspeople are brought into the frame, with Macaulay’s narrator reflecting that these men and women standing under the buttresses are the grandchildren of the original masons and carpenters whose own work had begun the structure in which they now stood; the throughline is undeniably realistic and sentimental and human.
I suppose that’s what hooked me; as someone who never quite felt like traditional math and science classes were addressed to students like me, I’ve often felt out of the loop and inadequate when it comes to subjects as precise as architecture and physics. Breaking free of the mold of convention, David Macaulay’s illustrations and narratives bring satisfaction to a curious mind that wants to explore each question’s path, not looking for answers, but finding a fellow voice to ask the inevitable questions at each step along the way.
If you’d like to learn a little more about David Macaulay, there is a very interesting lecture of his on YouTube that is worth taking 30 minutes or so to check out.
I’m motivated, and am inspired to bring some of these ideas into my own work, in whatever ways possible. As Matt put it, making a beeline over to me in the gallery at RISD while we were maybe halfway through the exhibit on Sunday, “This makes me want to go home right now and get to work!”
A few words, in honor of all the good parts.