Friday, July 25, 2014

More on Golf, Camouflage & Alister Mackenzie

Inspired by Mackenzie's bunkers, or did art inspire him?
In the blog post prior to this one, we talked about Dr. Alister Mackenzie and his dual contributions to World War I camouflage and the design of major golf courses throughout the world. As a British army camoufleur, he designed trenches—or bunkers. And of course as a golf architect, he designed another kind of bunker, an odd-shaped hazard filled with sand.

I mention this because there is an article by another golf course designer, (Gordon) Desmond Muirhead (1923-2002), in which he too talks about the connections between golf course design and the visual arts. He speculates that the style of the bunkers that Mackenzie designed was probably influenced by the art of early Modernists, among them Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Joan Miro. Here is what he says in "Symbols in Golf Course Architecture" in Executive Golfer (July 1995)—

Mackenzie, a kilt-wearing Scotsman, had the fame and sometimes the temperament of a movie star after he had designed the Augusta National and Cypress Point CA golf courses, arguably two of the half dozen greatest golf courses of all time. His influence was enormous. As a doctor of medicine, a well-educated man, and a competent painter, Mackenzie would be familiar with Picasso and Matisse, because of the world-wide furor that arose over Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Picasso (1908) [sic, actually 1907] and the Fauves paintings by Matisse (1905-1907). It is true that Matisse derived some elaborate amoeboid shapes from early Japanese symbols. But half a century before Matisse, organic undulating shapes from the Arts and Crafts Movement had arisen from the tapestries of William Morris and the many artists of the Art Nouveau movement. In his old age, Matisse, who could no longer paint, used these undulating shapes as cutouts. Mackenzie was also a camouflage artist in WW1, and presumably used similar shapes for this relatively new profession. Anyway, his bunker shapes could have been designed by Matisse, Arp or several similar artists of that period.

Actually, the most compelling resemblance exists between Mackenzie's amoeboid sand traps and various abstract artworks by Hans Arp (aka Jean Arp), as shown on the covers of two well-known books by Harvard art theorist Rudolf Arnheim, Art and Entropy (1971), and Art and Visual Perception (1954, 1974) (as shown below). 

Book covers using artworks by Hans Arp

Design historian Bevis Hillier talked about the popularity of these shapes in The Style of the Century (London: Herbert Press, 1990), p. 119—

These amoeba-like forms invaded design in the immediate post-war period [WW2]…Like the picture frame, the "wiggly" became a hackneyed motif in graphic design…"Wigglies" were further popularized by the big exhibition of Hans Arp's works at the Valentin Gallery, New York, in 1949.

But prior to that, they had also been commonly used in camouflage, where they were jokingly sometimes called "greeny-browny blobs." In his autobiography titled Indigo Days, British artist Julian Trevelyan (who designed civilian building camouflage during WW2) believed that the "wiggly" came from WW2 army camouflage patterns, while others have claimed that it's similar to a kidney-shaped artist's palette, or a cross-section of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto's famous Savoy glassware vase (1947).