Drawing is a way of thinking. It depends upon that crucial connection of the eye, the mind, and the hand. It is a skill that must be exercised; otherwise it is lost.
For the past twelve years, together with Stephen Harby, Alexander Purves has led an intensive four-week drawing seminar in Rome for graduate students of the Yale School of Architecture. This course is guided by the conviction that an essential part of an architect’s formation is direct experience of a range of buildings and places from all periods and styles and that this experience is best served by on-site hand drawing. According to Purves, “If you really want to see a building, you should draw it. Drawing forces you to look—and to look with precision and with a sense of inquiry.” In a profession increasingly dependent on the computer as a tool for architectural design, drawing by hand remains for Purves and his students a critical mode of investigation and expression—its direct link to the imagination forming a necessary balance to the application of technology.
Sketchbooks are private journals and not intended for public viewing. They are filled with personal notations—thoughts and observations that one records for oneself. Thus, the Whitney Humanities Center is indeed privileged to offer these glimpses into Professor Purves’s own drawing practice: “The sketches in this show have been taken from my own Roman sketchbooks, as from time to time I have grabbed a few minutes for myself. Consequently the drawings are very rapid. In my sketchbooks over many years, I have consistently used a ballpoint pen. It is very practical. The line doesn’t smudge, nor does the ink take time to dry. I also recognize that my preoccupation with line was cultivated during a Yale undergraduate freehand drawing course taught by Josef Albers, who forbade the use of anything but the point of the pencil.”
Professor Purves joined the Yale faculty in 1976. Having coordinated and taught design studios at all levels in the School of Architecture, Purves, now professor emeritus, continues to teach his undergraduate “Introduction to Architecture,” a course open to any student in the University. For the last twelve years, he has also been leading an intensive drawing seminar in Rome for Yale graduate architecture students. He has received awards for both teaching and design, including the School’s first annual King-Lui Wu Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Purves has lectured widely and been a visiting critic at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, Rhode Island School of Design, and Ohio State University. He has also led many Yale educational travel programs, study tours that have included Italy, France, and the British Isles as well as Eastern Europe, the Turkish coast, Egypt, and Japan.
Solo exhibitions of Purves’s watercolors have been held at the Blue Mountain Gallery in New York City in 2006 and 2010, and his work has been included in many group shows. In 2002 his travel drawings were exhibited at the Hunter College Leubsdorf Gallery in an exhibition titled “On Site.”
As a practicing architect in New Haven, Purves has designed a number of projects for the Yale School of Medicine, including the Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library.