…caricatures and umami…

Years ago, I was caught up with playing around on the computer with a photoshop program where I began finger painting.  One of the things I found myself defaulting to was drawing caricatures of people like Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, family members…

I have, in recalling some of these things, discovered that most of what I do always seems to border on some sort of exaggeration, a caricature of what the reality is.  Of course this makes me think, this is exactly what an artist should do – embellish and exaggerate the things they see and imagine.   If for no other reason than to identify what makes any one thing so compelling as to capture ones attention and be worthy of interpretation.  Creating anything isn’t for the observer – it’s for the one creating it – seeing if you can actually find and express that intangible thing you find lurking beneath.  As if conducting a great ensemble of musicians and realizing you need a little more cow bell…

I got set thinking of this is as the result of a client meeting I had a few weeks ago.  It’s a large house, with a carriage house .  She was happy with the progress of plans on paper, but I could also sense she was unimpressed at how mundane and ugly her house seemed to be getting.  Actually, she said as much.  It’s always a gratifying feeling to come away from a meeting after a long flight, a long weekend, knowing that all the time and energy you’ve spent translates into something ugly and worrysome.  I tried to explain that technical drawings are exactly meant to do that.  That they are no longer romantic notions of the the house or materials, nor shadow nor depth, but dimensions and flattened images.  

I complain, for good and valid reasons, about building departments stealing the fun from practicing architecture. I realize more and more that’s only a small portion of it;  what really is painful, is taking a romantic idea and spending hours and hours dissecting it, drawing it in smaller and smaller pieces…  Translating it from something whole into technical parts, like a cadaver undergoing an autopsy.  I’ve realized it’s a futile experience to try and convince someone – a client – that they need to trust and believe that someone else, unknown for now, will be able to assemble all this ugly stuff into something resembling the original idea.  They don’t trust.  They never do.  I’ve been practicing architecture long enough that people don’t ever believe in the process…  I don’t know that I do either – it certainly isn’t gratifying.

I suppose, over the years, it’s another reason why I find myself whiling away hours finger painting on a computer, playing in the kitchen and finding new things.  It always seems to restore me.  If you ever want a mirror of who you are, what you are really attracted to – shine a lite on the trail of breadcrumbs and look at the thread of where you’ve always gone in idle moments…

I am fortunate to leave many breadcrumbs along my trail, in the form of notes, scars, drawings….  It’s no wonder I come across things like this; the concept of Umami, the fifth taste, and find how many things seem to have it, add it along the way…  Sadly, Umami has been lumped in with MSG – monosodium glutamate, bad chinese food and headaches – but it isn’t simply that; it is glutamate.  It’s defined as ‘savory’, but really it is difficult to leave at only that.

 It doesn’t really have a flavor at all, but acts as a means of enhancing, exaggerating, other flavors.  It is the caricature artist of flavors already on your plate – making them stand out, seem more rounded and satisfying…

Somehow little things like this always work their way into what I cook; tomato, mushroom, cured meats, aged cheeses; they are magic, and always make things a bit more spectacular – an unknown quality at the back of everything.

It’s exactly the sort of thing that makes the chasm a little wider between taking things apart and making them increasingly uglier along the way, versus putting things together, and making something lovelier than you imagined…


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