Tag Archives: drawing

Mentor HuebnerMentor Huebner, Exterior Overpass, drawing for “Blade Runner,” c. 1982
Sepia sketch on tissue
Anonymous gift

Ridley Scott’s iconic film Blade Runner pictures a dystopic vision of our global urban future, replete with environmental decay, apocalyptic population density, and the looming threat of posthumanism. One of the film’s most notable characteristics is its complex architectural environment.

In Mentor Huebner’s Exterior overpass (c. 1982), seen above, this architectural environment is hand-drawn, a sketch for an artwork ultimately authored by Scott’s art direction team. Huebner’s drawing for Blade Runner, however, is not simply disposable, a “mere [byproduct] of the artistic process.”[1] It is itself an object, both a relic of a speculative filmic future and a testament to the handmade. Huebner’s sepia ink drawing feels deeply physical, a pen the extension of the human hand, immediately challenging the bionic future Scott’s replicants allude to; the drawing is certainly distinct, too, from processes of set-dressing, architectural modeling, and photomontaging that make up the environment of the film. Though this particular drawing is unrealized in the film, it shares an insight into the visioning process, capturing elements seen briefly on the silver screen.

As Dietrich Neumann, curator of Film Architecture: Set Designs from Metropolis to Blade Runner at the Bell Gallery, notes:

Expansive sets, whose construction might have taken months and cost millions, often show up on screen for mere minutes or even seconds, and the spectator might indeed be distracted by the plot at this very moment. Closer examination of sets requires a certain disrespect for the technical conditions of the medium, which characteristically determine and limit the time and space for its contemplation. We have to stop the film, so to speak, in order to study frame enlargements or stills or rewind the film to see a specific scene several times. In this particular situation, sketches, drawings, blueprints, and models gain even more importance than they might possess for actual built architecture.[2]

Accordingly, a close reading of Huebner’s drawing allows film architecture to be understood as a distinct category—architecture created only for its visuality, seen through the lens of narrative fiction.

Huebner’s vision invokes a complex layering of urban species: the Louis Sullivan-era Chicago department store; the Chinoiserie of American Chinatowns; crosshatching highways reminiscent of the GM-sponsored Futurama exhibit at the 1939 New York World’s Fair; a Monorail, not unlike the one opened by Disney in 1971; monolithic towers with a Gothic emphasis on verticality. Here, Batman’s Gotham meets a Los Angeles taken to its wildest conclusion, a dystopic, acid rain-strewn city of unthinkable density with hints of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. 2019, the year in which Blade Runner is to take place, is fast approaching, and LA looks nothing like this, nor does it look like the hyper-technological Hades depicted in the film. Both these urban visions, however, highlight deeply felt anxieties about class, placelessness, and the speed of change.

Huebner’s drawing illustrates mobility in this revisionist LA, with a distinct separation of classes—those walking the streets; the endless stream of drivers on distinct and interweaving highways; the Monorail riders; and, elsewhere, the spinners, spaceship-like vehicles that fly above the dense mess of the street (Blade Runner’s protagonist, Deckard, rides around in this mythical vessel). Cars trudge off the frame, cautioned to travel slowly, the monorail zooms forward, and pedestrians traverse the slick streets, one seemingly running toward the Chinatown gate. There is anxiety about mixing here, with the segregated highways invoking Le Corbusier’s idealized cordon sanitaire in Algeria, separating the colonized casbah from the Central Business District-to-suburb greenbelt.[3]

Huebner, about whom little is written, was but one of the designers who contributed to the eventual realization of Blade Runner’s visual environment, under the direction of “visual futurist” Syd Mead, and, ultimately, director Ridley Scott.[4] However, his sepia ink sketches clearly shaped the architectural environment of the film, enriching the complex landscape that has puzzled and enchanted sci-fi enthusiasts and architectural theorists alike for more than thirty years.


— Reya Sehgal, Curatorial Assistant



[1] Dietrich Neumann, Film Architecture: Set Designs from Metropolis to Blade Runner (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1996), 7.

[2] Ibid, 9.

[3] Zeynep Çelik, Urban Forms and Colonial Confrontations: Algiers Under French Rule (Berkeley: UC Press, 1997), 40.

[4] Michael Webb, “’Like Today, Only More So’: The Credible Dystopia of Blade Runner,” in Film Architecture, 45.

Farley Aguilar The HuddleFarley Aguilar
The Huddle, 2011
Ink on Mylar

“I think that deep down I don’t trust people and I certainly don’t trust groups,” says Farley Aguilar.[1] This sense of distrust is vividly depicted in Aguilar’s ink composition The Huddle, which illustrates the horrors of being confronted by a group, in which individual identities—and moral centers—are compromised by mob mentality.

The Huddle depicts a placeless group of people crowded around a fire. Aguilar’s Expressionistic brushstrokes create a particularly perplexing picture at the center of the painting. Fix your eyes on the brown-suited individual in the middle of The Huddle—a man, let’s say. His suit seems to be melting, melding with the flames below him. Hands on both of his shoulders—two of the three recognizable appendages in the painting—hold the central figure, but it is unclear whether these hands are pushing him into the fire or holding him back. Even more perplexing is a third anonymous hand reaching into the scene from the left. The figure closest to this hand has the clearest eyes in the crowd, though his opaque gaze does not let us in on The Huddle’s secret. We are forced to ask: to whom does this hand belong? Does it come from within the mob, encroaching toward the central figure to push him down, fully engulf him in flames? Is it the hand of a crowd-aspiring outsider, desperately wishing to join the scene at hand? Or might it be a Salvationist hand—perhaps that of Aguilar himself—intervening in the scene to rescue the man from his fiery demise? Looking at The Huddle, we are left with a sense of dread, wondering: are we complicit in the imminent violence within the image?

The Huddle comes from Aguilar’s “Dogville” series, based, in spirit, on Lars von Trier’s 2003 film of the same name. Aguilar was fascinated by von Trier’s portrayal of an isolated community (in a fictitious, sparse town—Dogville, Colorado) and its deeply troubling treatment of an outsider (played by Nicole Kidman). In von Trier’s rendering, Dogville has no real indications of place—the movie’s set is explicitly transparent with no natural scenery, using only chalk outlines and rare skeletal structures to conjure the town’s environment; Dogville is, at once, everywhere and nowhere, though the film’s characters seem to inhabit a stylized version of Dust Bowl-era America. This universalizing fantasy allows von Trier—and, subsequently, Aguilar—to make a broad indictment of American moral bankruptcy through group mentality, using the violence in Dogville as an allegory for the hypocrisy of American society. Dogville need not be a place; it may be, instead, a way of being in the world.


Still from Dogville, directed by Lars von Trier, 2003

Aguilar, for whom movies are an important source of artistic inspiration, takes up von Trier’s Dogville as subject, showing the “anesthetized state of mind” of Dogville’s placeless denizens in nightmarish scenes of masked groups.[2] The mask—the clownishly menacing, opaque faces placed on The Huddle’s mob of seemingly regular bodies—creates a conscious separation between the subject and the viewer, disrupting the legibility of the painted figures. Are they alive? Possessed? Aguilar might argue, “yes.” The individual, to Aguilar, is always at risk of being subsumed by the group, which, in order to defend itself from outside infiltration, socializes its members into distrusting those outside of it; such tension, in a group setting, can easily erupt in violence. Accordingly, the threat of violence is eerily present in Aguilar’s paintings.

Born in Nicaragua, raised in Miami, Aguilar is a self-taught artist; his only “formal training” took place in a high school art class. But he has always been engaged in play and interested in narrative, perhaps to quell the feelings of “trepidation and uncertainty” that came with being the youngest child in a working-class immigrant family.[3] Thinking back to his childhood, Aguilar remembers, “[One] night I was alone when a thunderstorm knocked out the lights, and I was so scared that I frantically began playing tic-tac-toe to fight the dread. . . . It was a formative experience, and I often use X’s and O’s on subjects’ faces in my paintings to convey anxiety.”[4] These same X’s and O’s can be seen on the faces of The Huddle’s subjects, turning their eyes into symbols of negation and nothingness. Aguilar’s evocative scenes of ghoulish figures and anxious wondering make his work both vital and relevant in an America constantly working to shield itself from terror.

More images of Aguilar’s work can be found at Spinello Projects, his Miami-based gallery.

— Reya Sehgal, Curatorial Assistant


[1] Heike Dempster, “Emerging: Farley Aguilar,” Wonderland, October 20, 2012,

[2] Spinello Projects, “Farley Aguilar: Artist Statement,” 2011.

[3] Megan Abrahams, “Artist Interview: Farley Aguilar at ALAC, Spinello Projects,” Cartwheel Art, January 21, 2013,

[4] Carlos Suarez De Jesus, “Farley Aguilar’s Haunting Images Make Him Miami’s Newest International Art Star,” Broward/Palm Beach New Times, July 3, 2014,




Dunham D2014.5

Carroll Dunham, Untitled (6/16/97), 1997

Developing a lexicon of pictograms since the early 1980s, Carroll Dunham has become known for his cartoon-like images of protruding phalluses, orifices, and other abstracted bodily abjections. At a time that was dominated by the rigors of process art, Dunham turned to comics, graffiti, and the psychosexual proclivities of surrealism to create sprawling canvases of silly yet seductive debauchery.

Over the years his work has grown increasingly figurative, while maintaining its commitment to the comically grotesque. In the mid 1990s he developed a series of distinct characters with penis-like noses and toothy, vagina dentate smiles. Two of these creatures can be seen floating on a raft in Untitled. One grabs his nose like a telescope, while the other seemingly steers a tiller. Untitled is an early study for Ship, 1997-1999, a large painting in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, that depicts a raucous maritime scene of fighting genitalia.

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