Tag Archives: SAN FRANCISCO

WHO WOULD YOU KILL TO SATISFY YOUR CREATIVE EGO?

May 21, 2021

Book cover design by Anthony Poon (photo by Anthony Poon)

Here’s the pitch for my upcoming novel. “San Francisco cloaked in fog and secrets: Architects are being murdered as they compete for a new museum of art at the notorious Alcatraz Island. This mystery of death and intrigue examines ego, arrogance, and redemption within the creative process. Who will win and at what cost?”

Lands End, San Francisco (drawing by Anthony Poon)

Due to the quarantine, there was a slow down at my office. So, I decided to author another book, entitled Death by Design at Alcatraz. For this blog, as well as other outlets, I have written about design, architecture, art, music, and life. I have published two non-fiction books  (Live Learn Eat  and  Sticks and Stones | Steel and Glass), but I have never taken a serious stab at writing fiction.

My idea was this: an ‘architectural thriller.’ This 350-page novel is a mystery of obsession exploring the heights and depths within the world of architecture. An editor once told me that if I were to try my hand at fiction, it would be best to write what I know. Here are the things I know:

 

 

1.  San Francisco
2.  Architects and clients (good apples and bad apples)
3.  Design competitions
4.  Ambition and ego

The book summary: On a fog enshrouded morning, a world-famous architect plunges to his death off a cliff. Yet, Magnar Jones, billionaire developer, does not allow death to interfere with his twisted agenda. He still has five architects competing for his prized commission: the redesign of Alcatraz Island, the notorious federal prison, into the World Museum of Abstract Art. Magnar’s devious plan? To turn his design competition into a spectator sport, where architects soon find themselves prisoners. Who will succeed—and at what cost?

Book cover (design by Anthony Poon)

The architects in my story are as follows.

–  The Neurotic Entrepreneur: university professor and Post Modernist
–  The Husband-Wife Team: Ivy League-educated
–  The Corporate Jerk: armed with the formulaic resources of a global company
–  The British Dame: pseudo-intellectual arrogance and trust funded
–  The Mid-Century Modern Fanatic: Los Angeles’ flamboyant designer
–  The European Starchitect: dressed in black on black, pretentious master architect

There is also the billionaire Oklahoman Narcissistic Developer Client—vain, egotistical, and talks too much. And of course, his Enigmatic Girlfriend—young “Blondasian” influencer.

Construction scene (drawing by Anthony Poon)

Excerpt, “The setting of Alcatraz is both solemn and beguiling. Surrounding the group sits remnants of old buildings, storied concrete carcasses. Cracks on the island’s tough surface show the arcs of beginnings and ends, both life and death. One fissure hiding under broken glass welcomes a tiny struggling patch of grass, a flourishing survivor in a vast surface of ruined asphalt and compacted dirt. Standing guard, the remnants of the taller buildings peer down upon the visitors and demand that the island is respected. Twisted corroded iron bars protrude from beaten stone walls, as if a child’s cow lick that won’t lay flat regardless of the amount of saliva. The counter balance to this, these disparate elements, is the surrounding icy-cold waters that extend until unseen within a silky veil of fog, which on a luminous enough day, provides a cryptic silhouette of the city docks.”

To be published by Goff Books later this year, Death by Design at Alcatraz includes my hand illustrations introducing each chapter.

Jerri Levi, publisher of FORM: Pioneering Design Magazine endorses, “If you want to learn about the intrigues of San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island and the obsessed architects seeking to imprint it with their own ambitious and deadly stamp, then look no further. A fast-paced and exciting read.

Maybe my next project will be a screenplay about Frank Lloyd Wright. True story: An unfortunate 1914, while Wright was working, his servant set fire to Wright’s Wisconsin residence. The servant bolted all the windows and doors shut. Except for one. As the inhabitants exited through the only escape from the blaze, the servant waited at this open window with an axe. Seven people were brutally murdered, including Wright’s mistress.

(image from The Ogden Standard)

FLOWER PAINTINGS: INTERVENTION AND SYNERGY

May 10, 2019

Yard Sale, 16” x 20”, July 2018

Most of my life, I have been painting. At age five in my parent’s San Francisco house, I painted an extensive landscape mural from the entry hall up the stairs—without permission or notice. My mother and father were excited, but not pleased—a parenting dilemma of pride and scolding. At age ten, I was invited by my elementary school to paint a larger-than-life Captain America on the courtyard wall. So many years ago, I preceded today’s fanaticism with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

For the past year, I have been exploring painting as an activity of searching, finding and intervening.

Flea Market Red, 27 ¼” x 31 ¼”, October 2018

My recent creative endeavors start with non-scientific searches at neighborhood garage sales, flea markets and second-hand stores. I seek traditional paintings, the classical still life of flowers in a vase. Also, I hope to find such paintings in their original period wood frame—the gilded, ornate, tacky frame. I have been fortunate finding many of these discarded paintings, and only for a few bucks.

Another Yard Sale, 19” x 23 ½”, July 2018
Detail of Fairfax Market Green, 26 ¼” x 30 ¼”, November 7, 2018

My first step of intervention is to tear out pages from my book, Sticks and Stones, Steel and Glass , and decoupage the pages onto various corners of the old flower painting. I do not stop at the limits of the canvas. In my art, I have always been fascinated in including the frame as part of the canvas. The pages and scraps from my book find themselves creeping up and over the aged wood frames.

I then create textures and hues with light acrylic washes. Following this is a signature gesture of mine, to give the subject of the painting an aura. Around the flowers and vase, I paint a halo or glow, as if to give new life. On top of this composition, I splatter gesso and drippings of tinted resin.

Detail of Flower Girl, 20 ½” x 24 ½”, September 2018

The result is an eccentric but visually dynamic work of juxtaposition. Colors, shapes and patterns from two different time periods collide—the original artist’s past and my present. Various mediums and techniques blur. Representation and abstraction coincide.

Garage Sale, 21” x 25”, February 2018

The visual noise invites the visitor to move back and forth, in and out, as she attempts to focus and grasp the mixed-media work. The visitor will appreciate the original flowers for a few minutes, before a splash of color draws his attention beyond the canvas. Then the viewer’s eye will be pulled into reading the words from my book. But some portions are illegible as a glob of gesso obscures the words. And so on. And so forth.

Detail of Habitat Flowers, 14 ½” x 17”, July 2018

This approach has created a few dozen works, with many variations on my premise. As I create, I am not sure if I am thinking about my approach to painting, or my approach to each day of my busy existence. But I like the unexpected collisions that result in new ideas. I like serendipity  and the unscheduled joys that typically would be undiscovered. I like that sometimes, risks must be taken, and it is okay to crash and burn. And I like knowing that timing and chance is everything, and perhaps I happened to finally get it right for this one moment of the day, or for this one painting.

A recent chapter of exploring abstraction, Gold Rush, 18” x 24”, November 2018

GROWING UP IN ARCHITECTURE

August 10, 2018

Mills High School, Millbrae, California (photo from carducciassociates.com)

A 1960s cover of Time magazine featured my high school as a building that could be assembled and disassembled with a screwdriver. Though not literally so, the architects of Mills High School made a bold assertion relating an entire school campus as a simple kit-of-parts. Before the recent marketing ploys of prefab homes, this school that I attended comprised prefabricated parts that could be put together like a child’s toy.

Though the high school was comprised of nothing more than several dull institutional buildings, I wonder if the innovative thinking in the school’s design influenced how I experienced architecture.

Eichler home, Burlingame, California (photo from freshome.com)

During these teen years, my family resided in Burlingame, a quiet suburban community a few miles south of San Francisco. Though initially appearing to be not much more than some average tract homes, Burlingame had an architectural legacy unknown to general home buyers. Our little neighborhood contained one of the largest collections of Mid-Century Modern homes by illustrious developer-builder, Joseph Eichler. Over 100 homes.

Eichler homes, Burlingame, California (photos by Anthony Poon)

The streets where I rode my bike, where I learned to drive, and where I played ball, were lined with the iconic architecture of the period. The design vocabulary of clean lines is commonplace now, but back then, it was ground breaking. Eichler explored indoor-outdoor spaces, abundance of natural light, large walls of glass, thin roof lines, open floor plans, carports, and an overall composition of efficiency and elegance.

How did growing up in two such impactful architectural environments influence my future?

East West Bank, Chinatown, San Francisco, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

Prior to living in Burlingame, the urban fabric of San Francisco was home, from the steep streets and Victorian homes of Russian Hill to the patina and history of Chinatown, from a job at a music studio in the Tenderloin of the then decaying Mission District to the deeply fogged-in hillside of South City, and from the hustle bustle glamor of Union Square to the comic book stores of North Beach. This was all an architectural sonata of intensity, risk and exploration.

Hills of San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge in background, view from Coit Tower, California (photo by Anthony Poon)

I suspect that if I attended a generic suburban high school and not a gutsy innovative architectural work, that if my teen experiences were contained in the Taco-Bell-style tract homes of California and not a community of production homes from one of history’s eminent Mid-Century Modern architects, and that if my childhood was in a city that lacked texture, adventures and delight, I would not be the architect I am today. I believe that somehow the creative and random tapestry of various conditions threaded into my head, and decades later, seeped out of my architectural hands.

© Poon Design Inc.