If, as has recently been shown to be true, that the evolution of our human species is intimately connected with our relationship with, and domestication of, the dog, then our development from hunter gatherers to sedentary building dwellers is founded upon our mastery of the humble brick more than any other material.
We first started making and building with simple mud bricks over 7000 years ago and ever since, both in mud form and the far more durable fired clay variety they have comprised the fundamental building blocks of most urban societies across the globe.
Cheaper, and easier to shape than stone and marble, and more durable and weather-proof than timber, clay-based bricks have been mass-manufactured for over four millennia. From China in the east to Rome in the west, bricks were the chosen material to house the citizenry of the world’s mightiest empires.
While in many cultures, the brick was regarded as purely functional and considered ugly; best concealed beneath layers of plaster and cement; by the late Middle Ages, in northern Europe in particular, a skilfully laid brick rose to aesthetic acceptance.
Among the Western European cultures especially, the brick came to be the defining municipal texture of the “Anglo Saxon” / “Germanic” north, in the same way stuccoed walls evoke the “Latin / Mediterranean” south.
As a native Londoner with his main home in Spain I like my bricks both ways – proudly exposed, or peaking out from behind a peeling stucco skin. The pictures presented here are my homage to both. Please enjoy the gallery below…
In a long-lost period of art (except perhaps, for those attending Royal Academy Schools – in the UK at least), both the formal study of the human form (alive and dead) and the formal study of inanimate objects, known under the coverall of still life, formed the foundation of an art education. In exactly the same way as the great literary figures and music composers of yesteryear relied upon solid groundings in grammar and notation respectively, a mastery of observation was regarded a prerequisite for an aspirant artist.
My own time at art school, beginning in 1976, coincided with the end of that ages-old period, so that even during my foundation course it was the finished image that mattered and not so much how it was created.
How much this matters is a debate that has continued unabated since “Modernism” in art began, about the time of my birth in 1960, and not a subject I wish to go into now. However, my own opinion of the matter is well known to regular readers and followers of these pages and evidenced pretty obviously by the pictures displayed here.
Lacking any formal/traditional grounding/tuition in the skills of my trade, early on in my time at art school I began to resort to self-education. As the pictures here attest, at first, I was pretty rudderless, but gradually, over about three years began to evolve a reasonably articulate language built upon a fairly solid visual and observational grammar – albeit, and with apologies to RA Scholars everywhere – personal to me.
Fr. Justin Belitz OFM is the founder of the Franciscan Hermitage and author of "Success: Full Living," "Success: Full Thinking," & "Success: Full Relating." His teachings incorporate spirituality, science, and art for personal growth and development.