Rand Elliott’s Word Paintings

For Rand Elliott, FAIA, the creative process transcends conventional divisions between artistic disciplines. For Elliott, language and architecture — the output of his professional practice — are intimately connected. 

Marfa

Marfa Contemporary Gallery by Elliott + Associates Architects – photo by Scott McDonald, Hedrich Blessing

"The words arrive before the architecture," writes Rand Elliott, FAIA, in his 2014 book, "Word Paintings."

"Words, sentence fragments, dissimilar pairings of adjectives, and the imagining of a place yet to be created… The words liquefy and reform as an architectural spirit in time."

Elliott’s process for transforming a 1940s-era Gulf service station into the Marfa Contemporary Gallery illustrates that process. He began with a question intended to frame his thinking; the creativity flowed from there.

What is the magnetism of Marfa? 

  • It is the effort of the journey.
  • It is the endless landscape.
  • It is the honesty of the place.
  • It is the unexpected visual discoveries.
  • It is the light.
  • The light that exposes form.
  • The light in a black sky.
  • The light of surprise.
  • The light of wonder.

Those words captured the inspirations for the light-filled gallery space that simultaneously honors and draws attention to the modern art housed inside, the sparse landscape surrounding the structure, and the building’s past history.

In discussing his word paintings, Elliott draws a clear boundary between his work and conventional poetry. "Word paintings are not poems," he says. "They are words combined to describe my own personal search and understanding of the creative process." In fact, Elliott’s "paintings" are, as befits the architect’s core discipline, as much about form as they are about words. Font, white space, punctuation, and alignment are all critical to the integrity of the final work.

The piece below, "Between Green and Violet," is a meditation on the color blue and illustrates that approach at its most complete. Although not tied to Elliott’s work at the gallery, the subject of the word painting resonates strongly with the brilliantly blue-lit gallery space, and offers some insight into Elliott’s deep appreciation for color as an animating force.

Word Painting

Word painting by Rand Elliott, FAIA

This post is online content for the May/June 2015 issue of Texas Architect.