In light of the upcoming Getty-sponsored series, Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., I thought it would be a good time to talk about some of the ways art and architecture intersect. It’s not uncommon for artists to have interest in architecture and design, and our gallery artists are no exception. For example, Craig Kauffman had deep roots in architecture, maintaining a lifelong interest in the field. Coming of age in post-war Southern California, Kauffman had some early exposure to the kind of modern architecture that would go on to characterize the region. His first significant personal contact came in 1949, while he was still in high school. Anna Victoria Dahlstrom, a friend of his sister Wilhelmina, lived in a newly designed house by John Lautner in Pasadena. The Dahlstrom residence featured curving walls, exposed beams and an extensive use of glass, all of which made a great impression on the young Kauffman.
Enrolling in the USC School of Architecture in the fall of 1950, Craig Kauffman even wrote a paper on the architecture of Lautner, with whom he felt an affinity. Although he left USC after his first year to study art at UCLA, Kauffman carried his architectural interests with him throughout the rest of his career.
In the early 1970s, Kauffman made the significant decision to leave the medium of painting on plastic, for which he was well-known, and begin a new body of work. The constructed paintings of 1973 – 1976, currently on display at the gallery, illustrate this new direction and have an undeniably architectural presence. Framed out in jelutong wood, Kauffman has made the physical supports the subject of these paintings. In an interview in 1977 with Michael Auping, referring to these works, Kauffman stated that “the structure is the image, the beginnings of the image.”
Kauffman’s decision to reveal the internal architecture of a painting, and focus on it, is akin to an architect’s use of exposed beams in a residence. Rather than conceal the means by which these works were constructed, Kauffman highlighted their physical structures. He also allowed for some neutral areas between the strips of jelutong, which function as windows through the works to the wall where they are hung. Many of the forms he used in this series are drawn from his architectural vocabulary, and some explicitly relate to his earlier architectural studies, like this Concert Hall Workshop from 1954 (seen above). They also refer to the type of vernacular architecture that attracted Kauffman, including the shacks on the beach he saw during his visits to Baja.