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Elizabeth Ockwell and the Paris Opera House
September 5 - March 3, 2007

The icon of 19th Century French architecture interpreted by a specialist in figure drawing and anatomy.


Elizabeth Ockwell, a teacher of watercolor and anatomy at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, spends every May and June drawing in the streets of Paris. Last summer, she chose to devote all of her time to the "Palais Garnier," the original Paris Opera House.

Perhaps only an artist of figure drawing can translate the stupendous detail of this legendary building into graphic form. Its interior is populated with bronze figures that form chandeliers, towering candelabra and sconces. Its magnificent staircases resemble the sweeping trains of marble ball gowns. Indeed, the Palais Garnier seems alive even without a single human inside and, certainly, only an artist like Elizabeth Ockwell can separate this essence from its near monstrous presence.

Ockwell says that even after so many years, she is still astonished by the excess of ornament and the bizarre shapes and veined pulsating colors in the marble columns and polychromatic statues that she has called "brutally luxurious." She has said, "Just as the visitor to the Paris Opera House becomes an actor and participant in the drama of the building, which often rivals the drama enacted on the stage, I aspire to make each drawing a stage for the viewer to reflect the heightened sensations of being and seeing in this astonishing place."

The Paris Opera House has inspired countless artists, architects and composers with its jaw-dropping interiors that have made this grand theater the icon of Nineteenth Century Paris.

Elizabeth Ockwell and The Paris Opera House opens Friday, January 5th, and continues through Saturday, March 3rd, 2007.

Link to Elizabeth Ockwell's Bio Page

Click Here to Read Alan Artner's review
in the January 26, 2007 Chicago Tribune

Notes on the Exhibition:
Elizabeth Ockwell and the Paris Opera House
January 5 - March 31, 2007

Elizabeth's drawings, though not designs but "impressions," stretch the definition of architectural art for some. I feel that the artist who is compelled to see the built environment alone as worthy subject matter for their skills can be compared to the 18th Century's Piranesi, who's most famous for his nightmarish, fantasy "Prisons."

When I offered her a winter slot in my calendar for a solo show, we discussed the theme. We could show works she'd done of several European cities, maybe even a variety of buildings from one city only, or an exhibition of drawings of one building. There was only one building, of course, I was referring to. Her most frequent muse is the great Palais Garnier, the 19th Century Paris Opera House. Her eyes lit up.

She had been planning her usual May-June stay at a rented apartment there anyway but soon focussed her attentions on the one building she'd been drawing since 1987.

Knowing this would be her first time exhibiting them all together, her creativity reached a new level, I think. Some of the drawings would be new, more fleshed out versions of her previous sketchy works, drawn from the same exact perspective. Others would be fresh angles on exteriors or rooms she'd never entered before. Some spaces, like the grand stair, were so complex that she could never exhaust their possibilities for fresh views.

We hung two separate versions of the same perspective of "Grand Foyer" and "Grand Stair" adjacently. But otherwise hung the drawings like a grand tour of the building, all seen through the eyes of a specialist in figure drawing.

"Tour de Force" was the description of the Tribune's art critic. He concludes his glowing review: "Ockwell has captured the spirit of the place to perfection, through images so exuberantly self-sufficient that one scarcely notices they all are unpeopled."

Click on image
to enlarge

harris
East Door of the Palais Garnier
Pencil, Pen and Ink and watercolor on laid paper, 2006
19 inches x 26 inchess

harris
Paris Opera Facade
Pencil, Pen and Ink and watercolor on laid paper, 2004
19 inches x 26 inches

harris
Grand Foyer
Pencil, Pen and Ink and watercolor on laid paper, June and July 2004
28 inches x 41 inches

harris
Grand Stair
Pencil, Pen and Ink and watercolor on laid paper, 2006
29 inches x 41 inches

harris
Grand Stair, Sketch
Pencil, Pen and Ink and watercolor on laid paper, 2005
29 inches x 41 inches

harris
L'Avant Foyer
Pencil, Pen and Ink and watercolor on laid paper, 2006
19 inches x 25 inches


David Jameson
ArchiTech Gallery
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