(almost) ALMOST FAMOUS: Architects Working Under the Radar / Eric Colbert



It seems that architects who toil within the boundaries of the District receive little praise for their efforts.  The casual observer or visitor can almost rightfully dismiss many of our downtown buildings as being bland, unless he or she is aware of the months of wrangling necessary to acquire a building permit.  Here, in Washington DC, neighborhood advisory boards/historic preservation societies/the State Department/Homeland Security/FBI, perhaps also CIA/other federal and stage agencies/developers/architects/builders/anchor tenant(s)/any elected official with an interest/the general public/the press/any architect of renown, as well as any architecture student/intern, and the boyfriend/girlfriend/mistress/long-time call-boy of anyone remotely involved with the project, can weigh in with their prejudices/whims/demands/
suggestions/fears/concerns and every remembered (or imagined) grievance; thus they impede the journey from the initial meeting, to preliminary sketches and blueprints, to ground-breaking, and completion of any project ranging from a two story row-house to a multi-billion dollar, multiple city block(s) construction.  Only a desperate, deranged, delusional or egotistical professional would daily subject themselves to this thankless game -- meaning, the endeavor of being a practising architect in the District of Columbia.   Or perhaps someone like Eric Colbert.

I had plans to highlight the prolific, though publicity-shy Eric Colbert in this week's series devoted to little-known talent.  Bernice (our sometimes brittle editor) had the satisfaction of pointing out that I was too late; Eric Colbert had recently been covered in the Washington City Paper by Lydia DePillis, in the Oct 28 issue.  " So it's all done!  And nothing left to say, and now what?' she said smugly.  Well, she had a good point there, as the newspaper's coverage of Eric was pretty thorough, and summed up his history in the city, as well as pointed out the numerous buildings that he and his talented staff of over 21 junior architects had completed in the last ten years.  And his unusual success in obtaining building permits, and a reputation for staying within budget.  While Ms DePillis was able to provide some insight into Mr Colbert's personal life and his love for kayaking (and work), only readers of this blog will be privy to the fact that he and I both share a deep interest in natural gardens, and contemporary art, particularly renowned painter and print-maker Tom Nakashima.  

Tonight, as I studied some of Nakashima's earlier paintings, I began to understand a little more why they may appeal to Mr. Colbert.  In addition to being quite monumental in scale (some range from 15-30 feet wide) quite a number of them feature architectural structures--sanctuaries--silhouetted against a curved horizon line, carefully demarcated by the use of oils/glazes/gesso/newsprint and handmade-paper, and gold-leaf paper.  A frequent motif is the salmon, singularly floating through time and space.  And yet, realistically, salmon rarely float, instead they swim, purposely that is.  Curator Lynn Schmidt wrote that Nakashima employs the image of a salmon, which stands as a male warrior, a wanderer, a seeker.  In some Asian cultures, particularly China, ' . . . there is a special significance to a single fish.  One fish suggests a solitary or lonely person, perhaps a widow, an orphan, or a bachelor . . . Because it lives in water, that place of no boundaries, a fish can travel widely and easily in a way that suggests all possibilities.' 

The fascination that Tom Nakashima's paintings hold for Mr Colbert (who is an devoted collector) may remain a private affair, yet I clearly see parallels between Eric's calm, unhurried movements (and subsequent professional success), and that of the salmon which seasonally swims upstream, determined to reach a destination, irrespective of danger and peril.  It seems that both are driven--inherently so-- to a personal destiny, of which only they are aware.

Life imitating Art, or, Art illustrating Life.  

Please visit the Washington City Paper archives for a wonderfully written article on one of our most devoted peeps.  Also, visit Tom Nakashima's website (www.tomnakashima.com). to learn more about this accomplished artist, and to view some of his amazing paintings, prints, and sculptures.  Hope you are all enjoying this week's peep-show.



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