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UNDERGROUND CATHEDRAL

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INTRODUCTION

The tragic fire of Notre Dame brought home to me the fact that this project of The Underground Cathedral might never have happened, or certainly not in the form it has taken, had I not been so inspired by that magnificent feat of architecture and its mesmerizingly beautiful stained glass Rose Windows.

For the prior five years I had been exploring new contemporary concepts applied to the medieval craft of stained glass and I was the editor of a magazine about contemporary glass art. When I saw the Rose Windows for the first time, I told myself that upon returning home to LA I must conceive something big, bold and dramatic! It was one thing to create a beautiful stained glass window, another to attempt emulating the sense of being engulfed by the magnificent rays of light emanating from a mosaic of colored glass on a monumental scale.

Having no idea in what form this might take or where and how achieving this would become possible, the first time I rode the Paris Metro I picked up a hand sized map of the underground transportation system at the ticket counter and instantly knew that that was to become the subject of the project.

Hence, the name, The Underground Cathedral.

In fact, the subject of metros had already entered the realm of my work a few years earlier, when I designed and executed a stained glass artwork for a residential architectural installation in Santa Monica, California. Although the composition had nothing at all to do with subways, I gave it the subtitle, “A Proposal Diagram for the Los Angeles Subway System.” In fact, the composition was a zoological diagram of an oceanic life form. The first legs of a new system in LA opened about fourteen years later.

Click here for: The Secret Origins of the LA Metro

I did not have a work space at the time, so when I returned home to a one-bedroom apartment I covered one wall with drawing paper and blew up the little map in precise proportion from floor to ceiling.

A friend lent me a room in an old Victorian mansion, where I was able to construct the artwork in twelve modular squares, which when pieced together – as a paned window – consisted of four squares horizontally and three vertically.

Upon completion, my cousin, who was a building contractor and cabinet maker, invented an ingenious modular frame that was assembled in the style of Japanese tongue-and-groove wood construction. This became necessary to both store and transport the huge delicate artwork.

Its unveiling was inside of my former loft space at 2nd and Broadway on the top floor of an old 4-story warehouse building that was situated directly across the street from the the Los Angeles Times newspaper headquarters. On December 12, 1981, I hosted a Christmas party that was attended by about 250 people.

One young guy came up to me and said that he was preparing to write a book about subway systems of the world and he asked me if I would like to collaborate on the project. He said that he had collected extensive material about subway systems from cities around the world. One day he dropped by with two boxes filled to the brim containing pamphlets, booklets, documents, maps and tickets pertaining subway systems, that had been sent to him from around the globe. Then he moved to Canada and left me with the two boxes.

To think of all of the effort he had expended to gather so much information and visuals on the subject and to have inadvertently served my artistic inclinations, as if he were a messenger from God. On top of that, to think that today collecting such material worldwide would be as simple as doing a Google search.

I knew I had to do something with all of this assorted material on such an esoteric subject, but what? The first thing I did was to fill up a folder with maps and tickets that would eventually be utilized in my artwork, in as yet unknown ways.

I envisioned a gallery or museum space filled with such grand glass artworks, but the practical possibility of doing so was daunting. Given that the enormous stained glass artwork I had just shown for the first time took about an entire year to complete, and that another one and one half years were spent applying a complex network of words to the glass surface with sticky vinyl letters, to attempt the same with several more of such maps would have required training an army of craftsmen. The only other alternative would have been to devote the next ten to twenty years on my own preparing for a single exhibition.

Hence, the first thing I did with the maps in my possession was to reproduce a number of them as photocopy transparencies, which I laminated between thin sheets of glass and inserted them into a second large stained glass map, this one mainly depicting Los Angeles’ main boulevards and freeways:

Click here for: The Routes of the Grand Illusion

This being four years before the first lines of the new LA Metro were about to open, it was my intention to make a statement about the unsustainable dependency of Californian residents  on gas-guzzling means of transportation. Simultaneously, the maps also were intended to reflect the broad multicultural influences of the city of Los Angeles.

It was at this point that The Underground Cathedral took off and evolved in various different tangents, while this one creation, that became the centerpiece of the project, now has a story of its own almost four decades later, that is almost stranger than fiction. Like Notre Dame’s Rose windows, this huge stained glass artwork has survived the most treacherously threatening of circumstances. The story is told here:

The Saga of The Large Brain

In the first solo exhibition of The Underground Cathedral, back in 1986, I also included, among other artworks, two stained glass portraits, one of former California governor, Jerry Brown Jr, as a young man posing as Buddha. Another was the replica of a portrait of a pitcher on a baseball card from the year of 1959.

Not long afterward, I discovered a new usage of the maps in my collection, upon seeing the first CAD architectural computer system in existence, inside of my father’s restaurant kitchen facilities design office.

Click here for: CAD drawings of The Routes of Civilization

The artworks in various forms that emanated from the origins of The Underground Cathedral are seen on this section of the website. Also, some of the pages are directly linked to an older website created in 1998 that is called, www.undergroundcathedral.com.

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