Over the last 15 years, the British artist Andy Burgess has become known for paintings and collages inspired by contemporary cityscapes as well as 20th-century architecture and advertising. In his recent editions with Tandem Press, Burgess employed etching, relief and lithography to create captivating, intimate studies of modern buildings. The imagery will be familiar to anyone who knows his paintings, but the editions provide a nuanced take, using each print technique to investigate a different aspect of lesser-known architectural icons.
In the four etchings, Burgess focuses almost exclusively on the dramatic play of light and shadow in close-up views of structures from the 1920s and ’30s. In Miami Art Deco, strong Florida sunlight beams down, creating deep, dark shadows that streak across window awnings and a keystone. In Bank of America, Palm Springs and Hong Kong Abstraction, detail views abstract the buildings they depict, rendering them unrecognizable: the colorful and distinctively curvilinear Palm Springs Bank of America building is reduced to a single shadow cast in a corner where three exterior walls meet the flat roof. Eileen Gray’s E-1027 House depicts the Irish architect’s vacation home on the French Riviera, where Le Corbusier was a sometime guest. The oblique, distant view emphasizes the building’s complex part-by-part construction of flat planes, and its sharp juxtaposition of voids and solid forms. As in his other etchings, E-1027 is both a picture of a building and abstract rendering of geometric forms.
Meticulously rendered in cross-hatched lines and shades of gray aquatint, Burgess’s etchings reveal his interest in modernist architectural photography and the way it aestheticized the stark, industrial rigor of International Style buildings. Indeed, photographs from his extensive collection of books on architecture serve as Burgess’s primary source material. In his etchings, Burgess softens the sometimes alienating severity of such photography with his manually controlled, alluring, cross-hatched lines.
In a related series of small polymer plate reliefs and large lithographs, Burgess transforms “white cube” structures into vibrant, colorful abstractions. In print, Burgess takes the opportunity to remove the visible brushstrokes found in his paintings. The sumptuously flat color in Haus Heyrovsky and The Fiat Tagliero Building is reminiscent of mid-century American graphic design, giving them the affect of advertisements. The planar composition, large scale and bright
pastel palette of the lithograph Pool House further emphasize Burgess’s interest in the intersection of architecture, graphic design and geometric abstraction.
Burgess’s prints reveal in their hard modernist subjects a transitory beauty and vibrancy we might otherwise miss.