It’s rare that an artist, or an architect, manages to group their affinities into a body of work so that each piece or design contains their combined fascinations. Recently, David Hutchinson, an artist and architect, managed to combine his obsession with embedding coding in art together with a De Stijl-inspired aesthetic and his love of French author Jean Genet’s writings for Purging Genet, an exhibition of his work at The Lionheart Gallery in Pound Ridge, New York, a portion of which is still on display through December.
The show features vertical line paintings and sculptures that represent the graphic imaging of texts by Genet, along with transcriptions of writings by or about Genet by Jacques Derrida and others. As an architect with Perkins Eastman in Stamford, Connecticut, for the past 16 years, Hutchinson has specialized in designing higher education and healthcare facilities, while incorporating his knowledge of color theory into his interiors, creating therapeutic effects through the perception of color. Hutchinson spoke to RECORD about how his art and architecture practices support each other.

Architectural Record: Of your architectural focuses, does one allow for more creativity and consideration of color theory than others?

David Hutchinson: Higher education allows for more creative flexibility because health care is more code-oriented and government-regulated. At the same time, health care is changing dramatically and the projects that are closest to my heart are health care projects, where I know my work affects people’s lives. For example, I did a child study center for NYU Langone Medical Center. I knew that our schemes and our observations were affecting the outcomes of the therapy. The way we approach the therapy rooms, the way we approach the organization – that did affect them dramatically and favorably.

Another health care project was the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center [in Yonkers, New York], which is a skilled nursing facility for 137 kids. This is where I was able to apply color theory. The children are severely hampered by multiple diagnoses. Many of the kids are non-communicative and are moved around in various kinds of custom wheelchairs. So, we focused there on their perception. How do you reach people that you have difficulty communicating with? The color theory came in when we looked at the psychological development of perception, and we looked at how colors are perceived according to age groups.

How did your focus on the relationship between form and content lead you to create a chromatic language for translating written words?

In the Purging Genet exhibition, I use simple geometric moves to form a framework of coded content. To make it seductively accessible, the organizational framework of each piece is simple, but the colored bars are actually stand-ins for letters of the alphabet. A=aquamarine, B=blue, C=crimson, etc. The color choices are based on the common English names of colors. The canvases are comprised of two panels, the lower panel "spells out" the original French phrase, and the upper panel "spells out" the printed translation of the same phrase. The visual juxtaposition of the upper and lower panel is meant to illustrate the complexities of communication across societies and communication in general.

Genet and Derrida inspired the work in Purging Genet. How does your study of philosophy inform your architectural designs?

Philosophy school is very much like architecture school. Both are incredibly good life training experiences. They both teach you to go deep into a problem and come out of the process with fresh ideas that resonate. With my art I can be much more immediate to philosophical exploration than with my architectural practice. Art is much more personal and the intended audience and focus is different. And while there is definitely a poetic and philosophical approach in architecture, the amount of responsibilities, money, and people involved direct it more to practicalities. Having lived through the period of deconstructivist architecture, I think that this has been absorbed and resurfaces when I pick apart program and look to create new spatial arrangements. However, I find that the pessimism inherent in a lot of deconstructivist and post-structuralist work to be tiresome and tedious. I choose to be more positive and constructive nowadays.

How do your interests in art and architecture support each other?

The practices of art and architecture have obvious crossover, but I have found them to be quite distinct, like two spheres that have familial overlap. My overall interests in the topics of formalism, systems, color theory, perception, and psychology are integral to my working in both art and architecture alike. Through my involvement in both, I have grown to understand that the thoughts, directions, processes, and goals for each have a different emphasis and endgame.

And where do the lines blur?

I worked with someone who said that architects make bad artists and artists make bad architects. Having had success in both fields, I definitely disagree with him, but I understand what he was trying to say. It’s that, if you try to make your art your architecture or your architecture your art, you’re going to fail; you’re going to water down one to favor the other. You see Theo van Doesburg, for example, who was mostly a painter, who had a great influence on the Bauhaus, and in 1923 when he visited there, he wasn’t invited to join the faculty because they thought he was too much of a hot head and too much of a pushy propagandist. But he had something to say. He only did a couple pieces of architecture; one is the Café Aubette in Strasbourg, and that is a phenomenal interior, but it deals heavily with applied artwork and less with straightforward architecture. So, I got the guy’s meaning, but I try to keep some distance between the two, only because I personally bridged that in my life.