12 February 2012


City Concoct
1333 mm x 2012 mm
Acrylic on canvas
Private Collection
Signed lower right:  ARANDA-M

 Painterly city patterns in figure-ground pictorial technique.
The above piece was inspired by a number of life experiences and art observations I made in recent times across the five continents. I specially wanted to depict a type of mosaic containing a diversity of cities, a type of fingerprint, barcode or chromosome encoding inherit characteristics on human activity. Life patterns reflecting urban societies, humans subsisting closely together [citizens or urbanites] in this great invention we call 'the city'.  Patterns which are the reflection of daily life over the years, centuries or millennia, patterns crafted and synthesised in acrylic strokes over canvas (1333mm by 2012mm) bird-eye view of a City Concoct.

Content: The resulting piece is a morphing metropolis combining city centers and neighborhoods such as those from Brasilia, London, New Delhi, Taipei, Belin, Bath, Bari, Amsterdam, Washington, Zurich, Viena, New York, Barcelona, Cape Town, Florence, Copenhagen and Melbourne. No preconceived idea as to the order and sequence of chosen city fragments nor on the scope or number of places but the aim was to unearth "painterly patterns" in a well balanced 'figure-ground' (dark-light) composition. The geometrical juxtaposition between aligned orthogonal grids and others not so orderly cityscapes such a those wonderful Roman patterns is to accentuate the diversity and randomness in the urban mosaic. Perhaps the most accurate description of human existence. With no doubt the environment - our urban environment - is a consequence of natural, political and economical conditions where decisions and behaviors reflect the outcome of our cityscapes.  On the other hand such cityscapes influence and condition societies - just as governments, corporations and religion does.  Planning, designing and building our cities aims at shaping our future, a bright future. We like to think that we can condition societal outcomes by shaping the places we inhabit. Perhaps we can.

Technique: Traditionally Australian aboriginal painting is a pragmatic endeavor, a type of vernacular cartography for survival. It aims at "mapping the land" with small lines and "dots" - a technique known as "puntillismo" in Spanish. When observing such aboriginal paintings those patterns of dots, lines and a plethora of geometrical shapes (in a sort of resemblance of Faraday's bipolar diagrams). One could easily misinterpret such paintings (maps) as emotional abstract expressions rather than rational spatial human intelligence. Indeed, such aboriginal paintings depict territorial maps - or at lease that is how the technique emerged. In many cases indicating camps, villages, water-wholes. Others are even more accurate surveys including location of food sources. I often think of this tradition and how I felt at ease in approaching to my work from a bird's-eye view approach.

Content and Technique: Other sources of inspiration include the PhD work of my ex-colleague and friend Cesar Torres Bustamante, Landscape Architect Lecturer at California Polytechnic University who developed a CAD mapping techniques to simplify our vision and understanding of complex geo-spatial data. Also the work of Allan Jacobs from Massachusetts Institute of Technology specially his book 'Great Streets' where he dissects a number of streets sketched in cross section and figure-ground plan view. The work of my RMIT colleague Leon Van Schaik, especially his book on 'Spatial Intelligence' and finally, a lecture by Andrew Dawes (ZODA architects) given at London Southbank University "The Architecture of the Threshold: Managing the Meeting Between City and Home" (9 Oct. 2011)

One unique characteristic of maps is that they do concurrently play past, present, future at a single point in time. For instance, we can explain where have we been, where is our current location but also where next!

Above: Taipei, Barcelona, Bath, Lower Manhattan, Amsterdam, New Delhi... 

At work: rough strokes for Washington City Centre and Midtown Manhattan

Emerging patterns for New Delhi and Brasilia

"Integral to the spirit of the good city is its public and social life, its zest and gaiety and the capacity for intermingling... it should be a place of exuberance and exaltation of the human spirit, a place for celebration and public 'happenings', for rich and easy encounter, for relaxation and enjoyment. It mush not be simply functional and utilitarian."

Figure-Ground representations: Geometrical patterns and spaces always intrigued me as they are a form of explicit and tacit communication. Everyday we read more information in pattern language than in literal or spoken language, perhaps more than we would like to admit - studies in semiotics and cognition have well documented such process. Readings take places consciously but more often unconsciously, again, perhaps more than we would like to think. Events before our eyes are often noticed, read and understood or simply ignored - consciously or unconsciously as we train our bodies to apply reading lenses and blocking filters. For instance a driver will target road signs while his passenger most likely not and perhaps she is more susceptible to banners and advertisement but decides to apply filters and ignore them - a common devise to deal with the overload of information.

Generally buildings use language of basic geometry including cubes, cylinders, pyramids and a range of prisms. Such multidimensional patters of mass and void often define what we call architecture. Buildings articulate spaces provoking a range of sensory, emotive, utilitarian experiences. We navigate and perceive our buildings often oriented by a 'cognitive' pattern referred as wayfinding. This is not visual but a mental queuing system telling us how to better negotiate travelling through the environment.  Paul Arthur and Romedi Passini wrote a number of papers and a book on wayfinding. Most well known is "Wayfinding: people, signs and architecture" (1992).

The following images illustrate pictorial and spacial patterns. The photos were taken in Settlenbosch and the Garden Route, West Cape South Africa (Feb. 2012). The reo-steel structure photo was taken at the Haidi Art Museum, Melbourne 'Forever Young' exhibition (Jan. 2012).

Pictorial and spatial patterns: juxtaposition of an Australian aborigine child face vs. western female face on different planes first plane vs. second plane (background wall) - both are large scale mural type. The inside vs. the outside, the public vs. the private. One graffiti, the other photography. As a difference here, traditional Australian aboriginal painting aims at mapping the land and not portraits. Photo taken on Johnston Street, Melbourne (January 2012). 

Guillermo Aranda-Mena © 2012


  1. Anonymous18.2.12


    Good to hear from you. I've put the paper on dropbox and here is the link: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/2858824/Paper_IBEA_110.docx

    It includes a few images, so you can get the names of the artists and of the map of Rome. If you want to know more about the artists have a look at the book in the bibliography by Simon Schama. Also, any works by Aldo van Eyck or Herman Hertzberger will make reference to the Delft school of painters.

    Hertzberger gave a lecture last week at the RIBA as he picked up the gold medal. I used to work with him, and met him at the lecture and also wrote an article on him for the Architects Journal.

    Apart from that, life is quiet with little private work outside of 2 days teaching per week. I'm starting a project in Amsterdam for an old client who I did work for when I lived there.

    Hope all's well.
    Andrew Dawes, RIBA
    ZODA Architects | 07515-641864 | dawes@zoda.nl

  2. Splendid! From the bird's eye to the city grids of the world you so enjoy strolling, sketching, riding and photographing.
    Your painting is an ancestral take off and a contemporary landing, an everlasting notion that the space we inhabit has been there before us and will hopefuly remain after; and we may write our name in the streets of time...

    'take off and land..only to take off again!'