When architect Santiago Calatrava sketched how he thought I'd look

December 8, 2011

Did you see WBEZ's Justin Kaufman's funny post Tuesday about the West Coast artist who drew sketches of NPR hosts based on how their voices sounded like to him on the radio?

The artist, Gaelan Kelly, was pretty close with Ira Glass, actually. Terry Gross, too. Should Garrison Keillor be insulted for being depicted as a cow? I wonder. And I like how Kelly drew Michele Norris as a pair of--dare I say?--sensuous lips, because that's exactly how I imagined her also. In my vision, her lips are speaking into an old fashioned microphone with an NPR nameplate on it.

It was great to see Kelly play out such an old-school exercise. A Google search would have revealed what NPR folk looked like--Kelly also sketched Robert Siegel, Click & Clack and others--but where's the fun in that? A voice on the radio creates in our minds an image of the person speaking. And what the unseen speaker looks like is in the eye of the listener, if you will. Same with the unseen voice on a telephone, which leads me to the drawing above.

It's a sketch of me. Or, rather, of the image my voice created in the mind of architect Santiago Calatrava during a phone conversation we had in 2002. Lemme tell a story...

In October 2002, Calatrava made a trip to Chicago. I was a member of Mayor Daley's senior staff then and thought it would be great to introduce the architect and the mayor. So I reached out. On the phone, Calatrava told me how much he admired Daley and wanted to do work in Chicago, so he would be pleased to meet the mayor. This is years before the ill-fated Chicago Spire was designed, but not long Calatrava did a concept for a foot bridge over Lake Shore Drive at Buckingham Fountain. (I'll show them to you, one day.) Calatrava and I talked for quite a bit on the phone about the city and its architecture. As we talked, he made sketches based on my voice. Similar to what Kelly did with the NPR personalities. When Calatrava and I met, he gave me the signed sketches---and hid whatever surprise he might have had over his drawings and me not even remotely resembling.

He drew me with hair, which is great. And I'm rather classically Greek in his interpretation of me. And as I look at them now, the sketches resemble the late actor Michael Sarrazin a little:

Or maybe the also late actor--and fellow soul brother--Ben Carruthers from John Cassavetes' 1959 film, Shadows:

Of course, I don't look like either Sarrazin or Carruthers.

Here's another sketch from Calatrava. The eyes and nose are similar to the ones in the previous sketch. And he's still got me with a dimple in my chin. My father had cleft in his chin, but didn't pass it on me:

Calatrava and I have kept in contact over the years. I like the sketches, of course, and I got to return the favor a couple of years ago. I don't draw as well as he, but I can do OK with a camera when I have to: