Virtual Santo Domingo (5)

August 3, 2012

Today’s 4×5″ thumbnail in pencil, pen and Prismacolour coloured pencils on photocopy paper is the Catedral Metropolitana, Santo Domingo’s main church. For me, it was an exercise in strict symmetry as an important subset of architectural drawing. I’m very often undisciplined and follow shadows and ravishing contour, diving off here and there all over a building, but here it was necessary to build up the detail working from the centre outwards, working up from ground-level, as a builder would. I like the use of dry media (a dry town of rocks – though I’m very impressed with the use of watercolour by USK symposium attendees to convey tropical luxuriating foliage) so I’m running with that for the moment.

I’m getting the strong impression that Santo Domingo is a stern place – not surprising given its DNA as a walled city fortress bordering a river and the sea. Having been burned downj by Sir Frances Drake is enough to make anyone nervous. It takes great pride in military show, then as now; Dino Buzzati’s sinister and quietly desperate novel about vigilance in a military outpost comes to mind. I wanted to convey the dessication and oppressive heat by showing the cathedral behind powerful gates (Mater Ecclesia is for the chosen few while the barbarians are kept outside at bay)  – perhaps knocking the church back in pencil with strong pen for the fence/gates,  but I got carried away with the colour – intense colour in a haze of rose pink and blue-grey.


Constantly asking “why?” when it comes to architecture (just as I seek out anatomy in answering the “why?” of life drawing), I’ve determined the church was consecrated by Julius II and built between 1514 and 1540. I know from my viola de gamba music studies how European Continental culture was paralleled out in the Caribbean. There are parallels with last night’s tv program Sicily Unpacked which dealt with the Spanish who occupied Italy and Sicily for many centuries. At one point the two commentators in that program visit a 19th century villa up for sale – straight out of Lampedusa’s fabulous novel, The Leopard. This Cathedral is the first in the Americas, hence its moniker as the catedral primada di America and so becomes the antecedent for other great cathedrals in the US, Canada and Mexico.

Today’s personal soundtrack is all of the Bach Cantata 179, as performed by Harnoncourt on Youtube: the boy treble makes a lot less of the “teifen in Schlamm” compared to Magdalena Konoenza (the Gardiner performance), but otherwise the tempi throughout are good (except for the last soprano aria which sounds rushed).

More reports are coming in from participants at the Santo Domingo USK 3rd International Symposium. A question which looms large is the superficiality inherent in floating into a foreign city with no knowledge of the language. There’s a risk of “cargo cult” anthropology which I find interesting. Is urban sketching all about being locked in The Present, a narrow perspective given the burden of The Past especially in such as place as the Dominican Republic (Trujillo, 1965, the US Marines?). Can urban sketches convey sensitivity to The Past – is the mix of people (The Present) and the built environment (The Past) sufficient? Is it a form of modern colonialism under the guise of cultural tourism? Is USK under a moral obligation to conduct community outreach or is that implied in the notion of the last day of the symposium being thrown over to a global SketchCrawl (TM)?  I hope USK left sketching in Santo Domingo better than they found it; in the meantime, I’m intrigued about the USK methodology and ideology.


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