Artist Tells Story of Taliesin West Through Abstract Paintings
Dennis and Rose Kleidon | May 18, 2018
Dennis Kleidon explains how Frank Lloyd Wright’s Arizona home inspired him to create his latest works of art.
I wish I could take you with me to Taliesin West on a lovely cool winter morning, bright with Arizona sunshine, the kind of morning that makes tourists flock to Phoenix, and that moved Frank Lloyd Wright to build his home and school here.
It was inspiring. It began in the most typical way with a docent talking about Taliesin’s desert concrete and pointing out the massive boulders clearly visible on both exterior and interior walls. These, the docent said, were selected by Wright’s apprentices, chosen from his land and transported to the site to be integrated into the wall construction. I reflected on the aesthetic decisions made by his students in choosing those boulders as well as the work and energy needed to move the boulders to the construction site. The boulders, surrounded by concrete, struck me with their beauty and their texture. It was clear how these natural materials reflected Wright’s respect for nature, truth and beauty. The boulders make Taliesin West part of its site in the most literal way possible, organic architecture to its core.
As a fine art painter and graphic designer for decades, I have experimented endlessly, and now I wanted to bring the beauty of these Taliesin textures and their earthy sienna, umber and gray hues into my paintings. I began painting in this palette and soon investigated the touches of reds, crimsons and oranges within the earthier colors. A close examination of the boulders reveals additional, unexpected colors – blues, turquoise and grays. As the sun reflects on them, it enhances these highlights, and soon the colors of the sky became part of my Textures of Taliesin work as well. The textures create a “wall” for mid-field geometric shapes painted next, like a building in shadow or the geometry of an architectural plan.
Most often it takes fifteen to twenty layers of stippled paint to build up boulder-like textural backgrounds in my Taliesin Series paintings. I work back and forth with overlays of colors until I am satisfied with the hue and complexity of the texture. This textural background is echoed in a geometric mid-ground and culminates in a bold series of brushstrokes. With a few final strokes of the brush, the spirit of the painting is revealed. Resting on the textured, stone-like surfaces, the action-painted symbols may take on simple, petroglyph-like forms, show the influence of Asian calligraphy or transcend into the movement of music, dance or poetry, meaning within meaning.
From the monumental Guggenheim Museum and Unity Temple to his wonderful homes in Oak Park, Illinois, and schools at Taliesin West and East, Wright has been an influence on me throughout my career as a designer and artist. People say “the devil is in the details,” but nothing could be further from the truth. The expression comes from an earlier one, “God is in the details,” and to me that means beauty is in the details. The details express the fabric of a design and both the details and the design must co-exist in unity. In painting this series of Taliesin paintings, three elements rise to the surface, critical to the impact of the paintings – the composition and movement of the background texture, inspired by the surface of the boulders of the Taliesin walls, the geometry in the middle ground like architectural forms within the natural environment, and the final expressive stokes of the brush capturing the creative spirit. Frank Lloyd Wright has left us with an enduring legacy – most directly in architecture, but also in his love of nature and respect for creativity in all of its forms. Wright said, “Integrity is the first law of the spirit,” and my paintings seek to express a similar structure of values, of enlightened ways to see and respond to the universe.
Wright said, “I believe a house is more a home by being a work of art.” In this and so many ways, our lives are enhanced by beauty; our living and working environments must reinforce our daily experience in both function and aesthetics. Many philosophers have said, in many ways, that when our actions and our beliefs are in alignment, we find happiness. I would add that when our beliefs and actions are reinforced by beauty, our lives are enriched immeasurably.
My paintings are abstract. Consequently, they express a mood, a feeling and expression, not a realistic image, but a reference to the natural beauty of our environment and the wonders that often go unseen. The greatest challenge in capturing the spirit of Taliesin West was not only in creating a convincing textured color palette, but in balancing the design to reflect the purity of Wright’s design sensitivity. I will probably continue trying to achieve that sense of balance my entire life.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Dennis Kleidon is a professor emeritus, the developer of Designer Grids, and the co-founder of Kleidon & Associates, a marketing communications firm repeatedly recognized for excellence in design. He has visited Wright’s buildings throughout the country and studied Wright’s drawings and designs for decades. As a student of building construction, architecture, graphic design and art, and as a professor teaching courses in technical drawing and graphic design at the University of Illinois and the University of Akron, Kleidon has been an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright for decades and has tried to emulate, both in teaching and in practice, Wright’s sense of excellence in design. Both Dennis and Rose Kleidon are members of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Dennis has trained students in graphic design and in the design of trademarks, symbols and logotypes and worked with corporations to create the carefully wrought designs at the heart of branding.
Kleidon says, “Frank Lloyd Wright is America’s greatest architect because of his dedication to truth as an architect and to the integrity of design. Taliesin West is a testament to that spirit of truth. When I enter the drafting room at Taliesin West, I see an environment of hope and imagination, where the seeds of creativity are nurtured and eventually blossom into reality. It’s where dreams are realized. Frank Lloyd Wright has left us an enduring legacy, expressed in his belief that ‘Truth is Life.’ In my paintings, I attempt to live within this spirit.”
Several of Kleidon’s Textures of Taliesin paintings will appear in New York City at the Walter Wickiser Gallery at 210 Eleventh Avenue. The opening reception is June 21 from 6-8 PM, and the public is invited.