Design LAJuly 2019
Artist and architect Spencer Fung’s mediation on the fragility of natureArticle By Michael Slenske
As an architect, Spencer Fung has always enjoyed working with natural materials like the Oolitic limestone and silver Cotswold ash trunks he carves into dazzling Op-art wall treatments in commercial and hospitality projects from the British countryside to Tokyo. So when the London-based polymath was thinking about the The Last Wilderness, his painting exhibition at RALPH PUCCI Los Angeles, he first thought to bring landscapes inspired by a trip to Rannoch Moor in the Scottish Highlands. On the heels of scouting the L.A. showroom last December, however, he took a day trip to see General Sherman, the world’s largest tree at the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.
“It was after all the wildfires and there was a blanket of pure snow and I was in awe of all the natural beauty, so I painted the trunks and branches,” says Fung, who mixed the freshly fallen snow with Chinese ink to paint studies- using moss and needle brushes- on paper at the Wuksachi Lodge. When Fung traveled back to his London studio – with samples of pinecones or scorched soil in hand – he couldn’t shake the image of the 275-foot-tall, 36-foot-wide Sequoia or the John Muir passages he’d read before his Sierra-Nevada odyssey.
He began creating a body of work about the charred forest landscape. Though he wasn’t able to export California minerals to London, Fung used Scottish lichen and 75-million-year-old Jurassic clay – in his spare time he goes fossil hunting with his wife and son – to render these natural icons in soft grays and sooty blacks that crackle like scorched earth and phosphorescent greens that seem to hover above the gessoed canvases like breathing Rorschachs. By literally using landscape to paint landscape-needles painting needles, moss rendering moss – the artist-architect forces us to examine not only the beauty but also the fragility of our environment. A pair of murals on the northern and southern walls of the Pucci showroom are delightful meditation on the splendor of destruction.
“John Muir wrote with such simplicity,” says Fung. “I remember so vividly him saying that the best music to him was climbing up to the Ponderosa pines and waiting for the gale to play each needle. We depend on nature, and that’s what the whole exhibition is about- sharing the beauty but also raising awareness that at the same time General Sherman and all this landscape may soon be lost.”