An Ode to Michael Graves

Rewind five months from today.

It is November and I am standing in a hallowed garden in a museum building in an art exhibit honoring the life's work of a brilliant man who will leave this earth the following April. 

Michael Graves. Photo Credit: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Michael Graves. Photo Credit: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

The place is Grounds for Sculpture and his name is Michael Graves. You probably don't know him but he is an architect and who has designed marvels like the Team Disney Building in California and the NCAA Hall of Champions. 

He was a brilliant mind, his design philosophy playing hopscotch along the beautiful seams of art-deco and the shoes of postmodern fit. His creations were bold and curvy and complex and all sorts of sexy if sexy and lines had equitable real estate. In fashion-speak, he was a stylist of space. A haidresser of geometry. The make-up artist of land. 

Crooks House | Fort Wayne, Indiana

Crooks House | Fort Wayne, Indiana

And he is still alive when I am there, singing through the lines of his art. 

Fast forward two minutes later, and I am walking through a gallery of his most notable works, the Sparknotes blurb of his prolific career. The columns are lined with elegant portraits and spotted lights, photos of his blueprints and end works. The blueprints are faded photographs and his blueprints are illegible to my non-mathematical brain and I do not think these do him justice but as a fellow artist I know these are the only ways to celebrate a person who has toiled hours in dim lighting on sharpened pencils, spilling out the guts of imagination on a piece of paper that will find its way into two-hundred other hands and their cranes and steel monster, into places that would look like bustling ant colonies if you could zoom out a few 100 meters. 

Michael Graves, Disney Swan Hotel

Michael Graves, Disney Swan Hotel

And yet, the heart is still there and the arteries somewhere in translation, between time and space and cracks only God can see through. 

On the wall, they hang. Blueprints and drawings. Drawings and buildings. Drawings and then buildings. The juxtaposition is jostling. Time does not exist in this exhibit because it is impossible to celebrate the thens and soon-to-be-thens while standing in the now celebrating the life of a man who kind of looked like Bill Gates in his youth and Mr. Burns of Simpsons fame in his twilight.

Fast-forward a second from now.

And for a second, his works look like colonies and I find myself at the "Make Your Own Architecture!" section of the exhibit sponsored by the one and only LEGO company. I am ungrounded, lost in childhood splendor that is a pile of Legos and pillars of protruding circles, as if the museums screams to me "Now here's your chance to be Michael Graves!" or someone close to him (just not as talented or as imaginative as he is).

Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

And craft I do. As a child of the 90s, I love Legos because their existence represents what I love most about people is the will to create in a world engrossed by rampant consumption. It is easy enough to sit on your ass and play critic to everyone's work but to openly contribute something to the world is what I believe to be the highest form of art

But I dismiss those thoughts. The clanking of plastic makes me smile, makes me reminisce about days before Minecraft existed when a lack of technology forced you to whine at your parents and make them buy LEGOs because you couldn't make stuff digitally and you were a broke five year old who hadn't yet discovered brand name clothing and social media. And when they did buy you a LEGO package, the finite number of pieces and 2x2 blocks forced you to shape little worlds (quite literally) with childish ingenuity and bravery. Those were sentimental days, when digital likes didn't matter because it was pleasure enough to make things for the sake of creation itself, not to impress or influence or wage numbers but for the sheer pride of saying "I made this with my own two hands. I made this damn crooked thing with a smile. I made it with pride." Because ownership—that is the crux of legacy, the footprint that other people will remember about you when all of your body has perished.

Your museum.

Michael Graves | Denver Central Library

And my mind wanders in this Michael Graces exhibit. Makes me realize that I suck as a Catholic because I'm not at all humble and I'm damn well not conservative but I believe everyone was meant to be this powerful, was meant to shape worlds within worlds. Because we were not meant to be servants but creatures of our own destiny. Magistrates of Creation. Of Construction. 

Architects of our own lives. 

I'm not a god but I sometimes feel art is the closest to one I will ever be. This. Playing Legos in a room next to pictures of buildings that both time and love built.


Don’t make something you are not going to be proud of in your lifetime, let alone 100 years from now. Don’t build for the moment…make a classic.
— Michael Graves