The Temple

The Temple Acrylic on birch panel 8" × 10"

The Temple
Acrylic on birch panel
8" × 10"

The old Scottish Rite temple loomed outside our kitchen window, a big green rectangle. A massive poured-concrete Art Deco-meets-classical structure that stood silent every day I’ve lived in Tacoma. I saw signs for this and that church supposedly holding a service at this or that time. I never saw an open door until last August. Last August 24th they held an estate sale. The building had been condemned. The church that had been using the site had moved on to another location and they were selling off anything of value.

I took the opportunity to slip past the rope and sneak around upstairs and peer into musty rooms.

The building had slowly fallen into disrepair over the years and an electrical fire sealed its fate. When I was able to go inside I found the interior had been white-washed from floor to ceiling. I was walking around old bones.

This building was so beautiful. It had a modernist commitment to its material. It was unapologetically concrete. It’s massive walls created a huge square shape in the sky. I loved the way it contrasted the hokey, theatrical, neogothic snore of a church next door with its faux German windows, its faux Italian roofs, and its Vegas-like inauthenticity. The old temple was modern. It was American.

An enterprising developer could have carved this place up into wonderful apartments. If the stewards of the building were anyone other than a church, they may have recognized its uniqueness. Now it’s gone. A crater with rubble. The hole is soon to be filled with some soulless cardboard condominium with inadequate parking.

One weekend, thankfully after I had taken all my reference photos, the bulk of the building came down. I walked to get coffee in the morning. Over the roof of the ugly neogothic church I saw a giant pincer arm clipping into the concrete like cutting into cardboard. The pincer would sometimes grab onto rebar that wouldn’t budge. So it gave the building a shake. The entire wall would bow and bend. Once the pincers had clipped out a big enough chunk, it was knocked down into the interior of the building.

Like ants...

Like ants...

With the walls coming down the cavernous spaces inside were illuminated with sunlight. Bleached bone walls with bits of fleshy wood remaining.

Seeing through to the windows on the back wall gives a sense of scale.

Seeing through to the windows on the back wall gives a sense of scale.

Process

Digital squash and stretch

Digital squash and stretch

This painting is a constructed vantage point. You can’t really see this view unless you can fly down Division Ave in a helicopter. I created the composition from a number of reference photos. I squished and stretched them into a front-facing view. I created a line drawing from this photo and transferred that to a birch panel for painting.

Ironic coffee mug in action.

Ironic coffee mug in action.

From there I built up the painting in a more or less traditional way, background to foreground. I had one error in my drawing. The transfer (or my original drawing) became distorted, so I had to come back and correct the horizontals.

I’m happy with the result except for the bike lane indicator on the street. I’m tempted to come back and remove it. We’ll see if I have the willpower to leave it be.

Michael Barrett

Tacoma, WA 98402