Carlos Villanueva Brandt

Carlos Villanueva Brandt is an architect who paints as part of the design process. His paintings possess enough fullness and force to command pictorial contemplation. Yet they also have a definite design function, no matter how much they seem to be displaced or detoured by painterly reverie. Their ambivalence raises interesting questions about the function of painting as something other than an end it itself, without threatening the works’ essential integrity.

Villanueva Brandt is best known as a member of the NATO (Narrative Architecture Today) group. NATO’S “Gamma City” show in 1985 and “British Edge” show in 1987 depicted the chaotic, media-saturated environment of present-day London, where everything signifies; even the rubbish is described in one catalogue as mutating into an “intermediate architecture, a city furniture poised to refurbish rather than rebuild.” “Gamma City” and “British Edge” were complex installations that presented assemblages and collages of found and used materials, recycled and remade objects, as a representation of a guerrilla architectural strategy in the “total war” (to quote Paul Virilio) of the global post-Modern economy. Within these installations, Villanueva Brandt’s paintings took their place as both traditional architectural studies—sections, axonometrics, plans—and as expressive sketches of the charged atmosphere surrounding and engendering them.

The artist’s architectural projects provide an iconography and a program, which the painting process transforms in scale and shape and transposes in space and hierarchy. Here, paintings from the “Heathrow Terminal” series, 1987, were accompanied by one assemblage: Trolley, 1987, an airplane aisle service-trolley, equipped with corrugated and melted perspex wings and underslung with model Boeings in orange plastic. It is a dream-object that mixed up several images from air travel in a concentrated architectural language based on scrambled scales and projected imagery. Villanueva Brandt’s program for this project is not stipulative, but connotative, with plenty of room for rapid change.

Speed and mutability seem to be the main source of painting’s attraction for this artist. One can do things with a brush that don’t come easily from a drafting pen. It is sensitive to pressure, endowing both line and area with modulations of transparency and spatiality. The hand moves lightly across swaths and glazes, which in turn engender liquid metamorphoses. If architecture is the mediation of body and transitive ambience, the fictive spaces of painting might seem a good place in which to rehearse this mediation. The painterly in architecture is an idea that has been around for awhile, but few architects have made a functional practice out of using painting in their design process. Villanueva Brandt uses painting as a kind of shorthand, enabling both semiotic and formal maneuvers to quicken and fertilize each other. He is more than just an expressionist; he engages cultural codes and specific architectural protocols, even if the aim is a general, polymorphous artifactual fantasy. These paintings assume imperatives that point in a quite autonomous direction; regardless of their design effectiveness, they stake sufficient claims upon that path to elicit expectations of their definitive development.

Brian Hatton