For Neil Spiller, drawing is thinking. He does not ‘express’ thoughts already formulated, in which case his drawings would be mere illustrations. Rather, he formulates thoughts through drawing, indeed by drawing. Each line, each tone is a word. Their groupings are sentences. Their total ensemble is an essay, presenting a fully formed thought. However inadequate this analogy may be to suggest the fullness of Spiller’s works, it does underscore their strong conceptual nature and what I believe are his intentions for them. Nor does the analogy detract from their lyrical, evocative mood; again, it underscores it in that the thoughts realized in the drawings are complex and subtle ones that defy simple explanation or illustration. In a sense, they are thoughts that can only be formulated by the means he has chosen, that is, by drawing and indeed by exactly the drawings he has made.

These statements may seem to form a tautology, a loop of logic closed in on itself. As such, they would present Spiller’s drawings as self-referential, self-contained and solipsistic, constructing a private world lacking any accessible meaning. Happily, this is not the case. Their relevant content resides in two aspects: first, the precise character of the marks he makes and their interplay; and, second, the character of the forms, objects, fields, and other things they bring into being.

The variety of marks he makes is truly astonishing. Lines thick and thin, from delicate to bold, from dense, hard black to soft, ethereal gray, precise straight lines and nervously jittery lines, lines that group into recognizable and abstract shapes, lines standing, or moving, alone. Their effect in any of the drawings is encyclopedic: of a richly depicted, subtly inflected linear world, in which tone and color most often play subordinate roles. We feel, upon entering the drawings, as though we have found an entire world, whose exploration will take us away from our familiar one, but eventually bring us back to it, our perceptions enriched, our imaginations stimulated and expanded, the better to appreciate the familiar in new ways.

Spiller’s world includes much of the familiar—boundaries, edges, limits, creating forms we half or fully recognize. Then there are the mysterious forms, the ones we don’t recognize at all. Bringing them all together to form a continuous landscape suggests above all else a transformation—the familiar past will become the unfamiliar future. What we know will change, sometimes slowly, often quickly, into what we do not know. Spiller’s drawings are unsettling, even frightening. He presents us with a world we must work at to navigate. Rationality and emotion are needed in equal measure and will meet in our imaginations. The sheer beauty—or ugliness—of the drawings seduces us to try, to match his creative efforts with our own. This brings the drawings firmly into the domain of architecture and far from that of art. The architect has designed spaces for us to inhabit, rather than objects for us to appreciate from outside.

Spiller has long been a champion, through his published books and articles, of what he and others call ‘visionary architecture’—a term I don’t like because it cuts off the most radical design concepts from the main body of architecture, where I believe they belong. Still, his advocacy has encouraged many, mostly younger, architects, to take the risk of re-imagining what architecture is or might become. In this latest group of drawings he practices what he preaches, and more, opens up new prospects for drawing in relation to architecture.


Cenetic gazebo:

Baronesses filaments:

Two queens:

Aughtman’s Square 1:

Homage a courbet:


Growing vista stage 11:

Vista section:

Untitled 5:

Com ves site plan:

Analysis of Beauty (Part One):

Analysis of Beauty (Part Two):


NEIL SPILLER is the Head of the School of Architecture and Construction, the University of Greenwich, UK.

About this entry