As one of the world’s most celebrated buildings, Fallingwater helped define 20th-century modernism. Its iconic southwest elevation has been included in college Introduction to Art History classes for decades. A darling of photographers, Fallingwater is, nevertheless, a daunting subject for painters. Perhaps this is because our expectations for accuracy are so great or because the subtle qualities that define it are so difficult to capture. Regardless, most painters’ efforts to represent it have resulted in disappointment. This is not the case with Félix de la Concha’s interpretations of Wright’s masterpiece.
Through insight gained from more than a year on site, de la Concha’s carefully crafted paintings affirm more than just the architectural ideas behind the surface. De la Concha’s gift of perception works toward a deeper meaning, a meditation on the spirit of the place.
“I question the impossibility of painting what one sees,” says
De la Concha’s paintings welcome us into the Kaufmann’s home, and Fallingwater’s grace and artistry remain as fresh as the nature into which it fits. In a house full of focal points, de la Concha frames views of the incidental as well as the significant. Fallingwater is revealed as house, collections, and site together, equal and wedded with nature. Several of the paintings highlight the Kaufmann family’s art and tastes, such as the Picasso in the Master Bedroom or the Magaña sculpture on Edgar Kaufmann, Sr.’s Terrace. Others focus on ephemeral outdoor moments, such as the play of light on glass at night or shadows on snow in the late fall, and again in winter. In a series of 7 large, vertical canvases, de la Concha turns his attention to the Bear Run waterfall over which Fallingwater is perched. His Brunelleschi-like understanding of perspectival construction allows him to manipulate space and through his paintings, de la Concha brings the southwest elevation, the most photographed view of the house, into a clear and sharp focus that gives us new clarity. We gain a new understanding of the house’s siting and setting as we shift through the summer and fall.
Fallingwater is fully proclaimed as a spatial experience, a careful, multi-dimensional choreography, in de la Concha’s panorama of Fallingwater’s Living Room. This series of 8 panels allows us to step into the room—to be drawn to the west terrace doors, to look outside to nature, to pause in front of the fireplace.
Painted over weeks, we begin to realize that although the 360-degree panorama is continuous, it gradually shifts through morning, noon and night, and back again through a cycle of days and seasons. The technique is remarkable, as de la Concha’s ability to harness the color of an exact time of day drives the success of the piece. The concept itself also resonates, as the static media of painting and architecture become reconstructed here as essays in motion and the passage of time. Intended to hang in dynamic, “cantilever” flotation, they mirror, in spirit, the driving energy of the house.
© Félix de la Concha