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ART REVIEW : EXHIBITION SHOWS ARTIST IN ARCHITECT

The exhibition “Irving Gill: Birth of a San Diego Style” at the San Diego Art Center shows the design work that is, that was, and that could have been San Diego’s greatest contribution to American architecture.

Although Gill is widely respected as an early 20th-Century pioneer of American architecture, he is not always loved because his vision of architecture was so puritanical. However, the renderings, presentation drawings, photos and other artifacts presented in the exhibition show Gill in a particularly appealing light.

Gill saw himself as a turn-of-the-century “artist-architect,” and the many watercolor, pen and ink, and pencil sketches in the exhibition succeed as art, sometimes better than his buildings succeeded as architecture.

The drawings also show the range of influences--Islamic, Italian, Mayan and Art Deco, among others--that he included in his work. And they fully illustrate how Gill expected his austere cubistic forms to be softened by their surroundings, and particularly by nature.

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Especially appealing are the drawings from the last decade of his life, which show a liveliness and variety absent from his earlier work. Unfortunately, few of the works from his later years were ever built. The drawings survive as a glimpse of the richness Gill might have brought to San Diego.

The exhibit, organized by San Diego Home/Garden magazine, opened this week in conjunction with the San Diego Chapter of the American Institute of Architects celebration of local architecture, “San Diego: by Design” week. It is on display through Sept. 20.


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