Art+Archit.

Where art and architecture meet

The suburbs, usually spoken of in disdain or blame, are home to about 70% of the US population.

Place attachment, nostalgia, and memory are important aspects of finding our way through life. Can the suburbs offer these things to the many people who are growing up or have grown up in them?

What does the icon of the suburban house represent for people, particularly, realist artists who have selected the suburban home as their subject matter?

The Unexamined Parts of Our Lives: The suburban landscape paintings of Michael Ward
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The Unexamined Parts of Our Lives: The suburban landscape paintings of Michael Ward

Michael Ward explained that he likes “depicting the things that we see every day and usually don’t pay much attention to – houses, storefronts, and urban scenes. It’s that unexamined part of our life.” Ward says that since he was a young boy, he has taken pictures of houses and aspects of the everyday landscape that interest him. That collection, from which he paints, continues to grow. Over the decades, his paintings reveal a layering of time.

The Suburbs as Our Collective Human Experience: The landscape paintings of Ericka Sobrack
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The Suburbs as Our Collective Human Experience: The landscape paintings of Ericka Sobrack

The suburban environment is a perfect place to start a story because “everybody can read it”, says hyperrealist painter Ericka Sobrack. “I think it’s the closest we can get to recognizing some sort of collective human experience.” Sobrack believes that the acceptability and common understanding of the suburbs allows viewers to take in the depth of her paintings more easily. Her visual narratives explore the isolation and loneliness of suburban life, the safety and threat within these spaces, and the instances that disrupt the American dream.

The Experience of a Better Suburbia: The Suburban Landscape Paintings of Terry Leness
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The Experience of a Better Suburbia: The Suburban Landscape Paintings of Terry Leness

Terry Leness says she is “not necessarily looking for a better suburbia.” She is looking for the “life experience” that it reflects. Leness’ paintings skillfully capture an earlier era of suburbia, reminiscent of her childhood – reveling in the composition, simplicity, lines, and shadows. She loves the time invested in painting so realistically, but also imbues her titles with humor and irony. It is an important aspect and she thinks it triggers a connection with viewers. Leness hopes that painting everyday landscapes is a way to make them endure.

Canvas of Calm: The Suburban Landscape Paintings of Leah Giberson
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Canvas of Calm: The Suburban Landscape Paintings of Leah Giberson

Our suburban landscape can represent
safety. It is often a scene of order that we display externally, even if life inside never actually feels that tranquil. It is this tension between fact and fiction that permeates the architectural paintings of Leah Giberson. The perceived order and normalcy of the suburbs are etched into Giberson’s memory of childhood, in contrast to her rural upbringing. She positions the houses in an intense isolation with suffocating blue skies. Giberson says she unclutters the scene or tries to tame the chaos.

Decaying Utopia and the Symbolism of Puerto Rico’s Tropical Modernism: the paintings of Rogelio Báez Vega
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Decaying Utopia and the Symbolism of Puerto Rico’s Tropical Modernism: the paintings of Rogelio Báez Vega

The Tropical Modernist buildings in Puerto Rico were designed through a master plan to symbolize progress after WWII. The iconic hotels best signaled this transition. Tourism was seen as the best form of economic development. Hotels were privately operated, but built with public funds. Coupled with other large-scale developments, the island was left debt-burdened and with a precarious economy that is evident today. The paintings of Rogelio Báez Vega confront this history and its current impact on Puerto Rico’s population. Depicting a dystopian built environment, taken over by the natural world, Báez comments on neglect and mismanagement.

John Baeder: Immortalizing the American Roadside Diner
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John Baeder: Immortalizing the American Roadside Diner

John Baeder is renowned for his realist paintings of Americana, particularly diners. But unlike many other landscape painters of the early 1970s, Baeder was deeply connected to his chosen subject matter. His work is part of the Photorealist movement of the late 1960 and 1970s. Baeder wouldn’t describe himself as a photorealist, though. He describes himself as a representational landscape painter, focusing mainly on diners, streetscapes, cars, and Americana.

Photorealism: Why paint a photograph when you have a photograph?
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Photorealism: Why paint a photograph when you have a photograph?

The photorealist movement of the 1960s was a moment of intersection for painting and photography. It uses photos of the built environment as the starting point for perfectly detailed and realistic painting. Photorealist subject matter usually reflects the American cultural landscape, or the everyday landscape, including cityscapes and urban street scenes, as well as commercial strips. The modern aspects of the style were the informality of the scene, the everyday nature of the subject matter.

Edward Hopper: The Everyday Cityscape, His Way
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Edward Hopper: The Everyday Cityscape, His Way

Hopper relied on the use of light and angles to contribute mood to the story. He had an ability to capture the spirit of a building through simplification and elimination. The architecture that Hopper made the focus of his work represented low-rise vernacular structures. In fact, his indifference to skyscrapers has been called remarkable for a painter of New York architecture.