CREATIVE FUSION: Site Very Specific Juan Araujo / Caracas, Venezuela
Of all the venues to be used by FRONT International’s Madison resident artists, the Oberlin Weltzheimer/Johnson House is a peculiar one–not only because it is an artwork unto itself, designed by Frank Lloyd-Wright, but also for its physical distance from Cleveland, and perhaps the distintion of character between the city and the small college town.
The Venezuelan painter Juan Araujo experienced this engaging contrast between Cleveland and its fluctuating proximity of opposites, and Oberlin with the openness of this architectural jewel nested in the sheltered setting of a quaint college town. With support from the Cleveland Foundation, Araujo will create original pieces for the iconic home: a collection made specifically to inhabit spaces defined by one of the most important and distinctive American architects.
Araujo’s painting employs creative appropriation of others’ visions, in the form of photographs or catalog reproductions, as a strategy to highlight the circumstances behind a work, as well as the way the passing of time and changing of ideals continuously redefine its significance.
While exploring the Frank Lloyd Wright house as a setting for his work, Juan’s inquiry focused on two considerations. The first is that Lloyd-Wright created its design by bringing into the interior a continuation of the low horizon line, expressed by having much of the furniture and built-in elements create flat surfaces at about 28 inches from the ground. The second is that the celebrated art historian and critic Ellen Johnson–who bought the house in 1968 and cared for it 25 years–hung on its walls several contemporary artworks she acquired. Johnson was an Oberlin College professor and an influential art critic, who early on believed in a group of young post-war artists that later became big names, such as Rauschenberg, Stella, Oldenburg, and Close.
With such references to work with, Araujo intends to first respond to that feeling of continuing horizon within the house by bringing that plane outside, where the garden was planned. His intent is to situate there as visual counterpoint three pairs of overlapping, mounted canvases shown flat above ground, painted monochrome in tones resonant with the interior brick and wood.
Inside the house he will place several pieces painted to refer back to the originals, some of them placed in the exact spot where they used to be.
Illustrating visual quotations like these is at the heart of Araujo’s intent, which is to invite reflection over the historical and semantic distance from the original. In a post-modern artistic situation that mirrors the disquiet of the times, critical consideration of the achievements of modernism helps to sustain the vitality of the ongoing creative discourse, and offers invaluable food for thought in the challenges we face.