Decorative ironwork has been part of the architectural lexicon for centuries and is an art form in its own right. It has been a subject for painters like Henri Matisse and Jim Dine. Architecture critic, Blair Kamin, in his book “Gates of Harvard Yard,” states that apart from their function of directing movement through space the gates of Harvard Yard “do so with great artistry, and that’s how they enrich and uplift everyday human experience.”
Most of the time we are inclined to pass by and through these barriers without thinking much about them, but once appreciated their graceful extravagance reveals flourish after flourish, detail after detail often, but not always, referencing the natural world. The scrolls and tendrils offer a substantial yet airy barrier to what lies beyond, a drawing in space having transparency and, at the same time, signaling strength and protection. These decorative barriers can protect us from danger beyond, as with a balustrade; help us wend our way up a staircase; or simply prevent or welcome entry. The ironworker creates fluidity out of rigid material. The design elements have the power to project strength and safety as well as graceful delicacy. Like a glass window, we can see through to the other side, but our entry beyond is denied. We can still experience the pleasure of seeing beyond, looking out from a ground floor window or peeking through from the street to a mysterious interior, but we are unequivocally prevented from engaging directly with what lies there.
In my new series entitled Gates and Grilles, I am using these transparent “drawings in space” as a device to delineate layers of space within the two-dimensional surface of a painting. Behind the surface barrier of the ironwork design, I am alluding to the mysteries withheld by the formidable yet transparent barrier of iron. Some of what we see beyond is recognizable but much is not. We can only speculate about what lies behind the window grille, fence, or gate. The viewer, the barrier, and what lies beyond become entwined, and our attention becomes focused on all simultaneously.