Grey is where I live

When I was about ten years of age I wanted to be an architect. It looked like so much fun. Gluing little 1/3” styrofoam panels together into scale model houses with little plastic green trees, the kind found situated near the railroad tracks in my basement.  Just imagine getting paid to talk, draw and build models.

In the mid-1960s my mother met repeatedly at our house in Natick with John Wolff, an architect who was a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Over many discussions she expressed her vision for a modern flat-roofed rectangular house with lots of decks and glass.  They went back and forth, back and forth discussing certain features she wanted in the brickwork in the kitchen and the den, the hidden closets in the master bedroom and the deck off the living room which featured a cathedral ceiling.

Soon after delivering the styrofoam model, it was then that I announced to all that I was going to be an architect. Soon after that my father informed me that I would have to know mathematics, physics, and engineering disciplines too.  Soon after that I came to the realization that being an architect was not going to be my future. I didn’t like mathematics. You were either right or wrong.  And I was mostly wrong when it came to mathematics.

I didn’t know anything about engineering or physics, but I looked them up in the World Book Encyclopedia that I had in my bedroom and neither made no sense to me.  There were formulae and graphs and tables.  Lots of squiggly lines and numbers.  There was no grey when it came to subjects like engineering and architecture and grey was where I lived.  I didn’t like multiple choice, or choices “A” or “B”.  I liked short answers and essays. I liked beliefs and values and opinions.  I liked disciplines that allowed me to express myself.  I liked competing with myself on my own terms, not yours or another. I liked interpretations, points of view.  I liked a liberal human studies approach not hard sciences for my course of study, for my interest.

I liked art and drawing, I liked logos and fonts and lettering.  I liked clean simple lines of design.

That was then (55 years ago) and this is now. After a career in marketing, communications, programs, start-ups, technology and innovation, I ventured into drawing.  Finally.  I was taking a studio art class with an Indian guy and a number of women my age.

I was taken aback several weeks ago when each of them encouraged me to drop drawing in graphite and start painting in colors, as if drawing was a second class citizen to acrylics.  I understand that black and white photography is a subset of color photography, but it isn’t “less than” or inferior to color photography. Cinematography too has its black and white productions and its full color versions, and there’s a time and place for both; one’s not superior to another. It was just last year that the foreign film “Roma” was named “best picture” by the Academy and it was all black and white (and grey).  It was not rated the best picture in the black and white category.

It seems to me that color painting should only be contemplated after exhausting black and white drawing, or when no longer enjoying it.  I’ve started portrait painting and enjoy drawing old buildings in graphite and to a lesser degree in charcoal.  I plan on continuing in these genres in black and white.  I find the simplicity of line alive, stark and moving.





Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

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