Zaha Hadid: Early Paintings and Drawings, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London, until 12th February, 2017
The Peak site plan, Hong-Kong, 1982-1983, 11038 x 4961 cm, Zaha Hadid
I was keen to see this exhibition of Hadid’s early paintings and drawings as they combine features which are both architectural and abstract which coincides elegantly with my arts practice project this year: Exploring Abstraction from Architecture.
Figure 2 below exemplifies Curator, Hans Ulrich Obrist’s description of Hadid as a:
… glowing admirer of Russian Constructivism, she made paintings influenced by Malevich, Tatlin, and Rodchenko. Among the many lesser known facets of her work are the free calligraphy drawings in which she often explored the ideas that would later be transformed into architecture. Hans Ulrich Obrist, 2016, Curator Serpentine https://www.artforum.com/passages/id=59951
Horizontal Tektonic, Malevich’s Tektonic, London, 1977, acrylic on cartridge, 128 x 89 cm, Zaha Hadid
Hadid explained that one result of her interest in Malevich was her decision to employ painting as a “design tool”:
I found the traditional system of architectural drawing to be limiting and was searching for a new means of representation. Studying Malevich allowed me to develop abstraction as an investigative principle. Zaha Hadid, 2014.
I enjoyed the irony of discovering the statement above as I was starting from the opposite positon i.e. exploring architectural principles as a means of investigating abstraction. During my visit, I was particularly struck by Hadid’s mastery of perspective and proportion in her vast sweeping cityscapes.
Fig. 3 The Peak Blue Slabs, 1982 – 1983, dimensions unknown, Zaha Hadid
During a close examination of this canvas I tracked the shadows of supposed buildings sloping diagonally into the bay, darkening the road meandering from the sea to the mountains and making vertical streaks on parallel buildings.
The paradox created by the sharply precise geometry of the city reaching northward towards the wider angles and broader sweep of the mountains, produces a pleasing sense of contrast between the urban sprawl upwards and the mountain range which looms still higher upwards towards locations which would provide superb panoramic views over the landscape, city, bay and still further across the water.
Intriguingly, there is a magnificent building design – extreme top right – the foundations of which would be ancient rock. Like a series of cantilevered Zs, the downward pointing structure is as bold and balanced as the vertical slivers of high-rise buildings at the water’s edge.
Fig. 4 Zaha Hadid design, Serpentine Pavillion, 2000
In 2000 Zaha Hadid designed the inaugural pavilion in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion Series; and until her death in 2016, she was a Trustee of the Serpentine Gallery for 20 years.
Hadid’s intimacy with the Serpentine Sackler Gallery now exhibiting her early paintings and drawings extends to both the exhibition space and the display table which she designed to protect and display her sketch books.
Fig.6 Zaha Hadid Architects, 2013
The Serpentine Sackler Gallery is housed in an 1805, Grade II listed building (The Magazine); a former gunpowder store in The Royal Park of Kensington Gardens. In 2013 Zaha Hadid Architects created the undulating, white canopied extension at the side of the building to create additional space for a restaurant, gallery and social space.
In his review of the evolution of Zaha Hadid’s work from the 1970s to 2008, Lebbeus Woods (Drawn into Space: Zaha Hadid, 2008, Architectural Design, Vol 78, Issue 4, July/August, 2008, pages 28-35) tracks the shifts in Hadid’s work from Suprematist-informed fragmentations in the 1980s to a more contemporary fluidity and complex curvilinearity as demonstrated in the Figures 7 and 8 below:
The World (89 Degrees), ,1989, dimensions unknown, Zaha Hadid Photograph: a section of the original image together with reflections of photographer and visitors, Gillian Lock-Bowen, 2017
Metropolis, 1988, dimensions unknown, Zaha Hadid,
Woods states that the key to understanding these paintings is fragmentation:
Animated bits and pieces of buildings and landscapes fly through the air. The world is changing. It breaks up, scatters and reassembles in unexpectedly new, yet uncannily familiar forms…Fragmentation can be philosophical, too. It can be systematic and not merely chaotic or accidental…Only when established forms are broken up are they susceptible to change. Woods, 2008, pp 31-32.
While examining the content of the exhibition of Hadid’s early painting and drawings at The Serpentine, I realised that her vision was not simply about beautiful buildings, but also visions of new cities and radically changing city and landscapes.
Coincidently, I visited Rome a year ago; a city renowned for its ancient social, political, cultural and architectural history. Without knowing the architect was Hadid, I walked around the outside of the Maxxi Museum late one evening.
Fig. 9 Maxxi Museum, Rome, 2009, Zara Hadid Architects
Fig. 10 Maxxi Museum, Rome, Design, 2009, Zaha Hadid
My Italian friends told me that the building is controversial; it certainly introduces a radically new form of architecture to the City.
I imagined that my visit to Rome would open-up many new perspectives and was keen to get a sense of at the scale and splendour of the ancient Roman sites – vast ruins exposing the foundations of the social and political history of modern Rome.
The Maxxi Museum revealed that there are contemporary architectural visionaries in Rome and that it is a city with the capacity (if not the capital) to build a powerful contemporary city of stunning, beauty and efficiency.
Woods (2008) also notes that the fragmentation evident in Hadid’s early paintings and drawings is inherently democratic involving choice. I felt dazed by amount of decision making evident in Hadid’s complex, large-scale drawings which consist of millions of tiny convoluted or stand alone choices; the outcomes of which contribute to her overarching – magnificently ambitious – vision of new worlds as seen in Figure 11.
Fig. 11 Changsha Meixihu International Culture Art Centre
, acrylic on canvas, 1134 x 949 cm, 2017, Zaha-Hadid
As Hadid’s work evolves it appears to move away from a sense of fragmentary angles and channels shattering and slicing through space – a radical breaking away from – towards a sense of curvaceous fluidity. The sense of explosion moves from forms to events moving energetically and cohere at the level of vision.
Like the universe, Hadid’s drawings contain the promise of infinite expansion.
Upon reflection, what I have learnt from this exhibition which I will take forward into my current project is:
Drawing is a means of filtering and locating – e.g. filtering out habits, locating pockets of energy vying for expression.
Action: I intend to draw, analyse and make decisions before I paint my next series of abstracted images.