Using a glass muller to make a paste of ultramarine blue and distilled water
Mixing several values of blue with the egg medium
This week I gave a demonstration of the traditional manufacture and use of egg tempera. I used what is perhaps the simplest formula– just pure yolk blended with distilled water for the medium, and various water-based pigment pastes. This results in a luminous and durable paint film best employed in quick washes or single strokes. Perhaps in the future I will experiment with egg-oil emulsions for more versatility in blending.
Now that the demos are over, I am working overtime to finish my current paintings for the upcoming show at Fontbonne University.
blew (feather), ink and tempera on paper, 12x 17.5, 2009
Last week I spent a morning in the Study Room at the Saint Louis Art Museum soaking up a few of the accomplishments of Zha Shibiao, Dai Xi, and Lu Yanshao. Lu’s album of landscapes was particularly significant to me, and provided a serendipitous escape from the frustrations that I have been facing in my own ink paintings. The paintings in the album alternate between monochromatic and colored works. And while there is an element of consistency, each piece manages to shift mood and focus in an unexpected way. By the time I had worked my way through the painting of Dai Xi and the calligraphy of Zha Shibiao I was convinced that the energy and precision of the painted line was the critical ingredient missing from my own work. As much as I love the flowing washes, they are air with no stone and flesh with no bone. So I decided to get back to that line, and to clarity.
The previous weekend I had spent some time in Forest Park with my daughter. While sketching by the water, I saw a feather that had gotten caught in a spider web among the reeds. It became a natural weather-vane, pointing out the wind’s direction but never following along. Although I made a short video of the event, I prefer the natural stillness of the painting. In describing the feather’s arrested motion over time, the video describes the presence of the otherwise invisible web. The still image locks the feather into the center of its gaze where scrutiny of the object precedes explanation of the scene. I transported the feather (by way of imagination) to the South Carolina marsh that I love so much, where the pulse of the tide takes the place of the shifting wind– known best by its presence or absence, not by the activity of transition.
It has been a busy couple of weeks since my last post, with school starting for the whole family. In the midst of it all I have managed to start and complete several new projects. The first is the restoration of a painting that was punctured and scraped. So far I have patched the hole and re-set the original material salvaged from the edges of the damaged area. The next step will be to fill the voids left by the puncture, and then on to the fun part– matching and applying the new colors. This is accomplished by the use of powdered pigments with Damar resin as a vehicle. Because the puncture occurred in a relatively clear area of the painting, it will be a challenge to make the repair disappear.
a selection from the new set of ink landscapes
I opened a new container of ink only to find that the “velvet black” was actually a deep indigo with a red undertone. It was a pleasant surprise, and fell right into line with the night landscapes that I am simultaneously painting with oils (but are not yet presentable enough to post). The painting above is shown in its first state. I continue to experiment with the tongue-and-groove backing which leaves a “wooden floor” image and embossing on the paper. Originally this was accomplished with the studio floor, but later I made a section of “flooring” specifically for this use.
core structure of the bench before cladding
The other new project is this bench, which will be clad with 5/16″ tongue-and-groove oak flooring as its final surface. I designed the piece t0 be built out of surplus/scrap wood and finished with reclaimed lumber. Hardwood floors have edged into every aspect of my work. I appreciate the floor’s relation to my landscape paintings where looking down becomes a means of understanding what is above us. Staring at the floor is an overt gesture of withdrawal, but what I am cultivating is introspective rather than anti-social behavior. If a viewer can make that distinction then the reclusive act is transformed into a particular form of sharing. In the mean time the pursuit of the spirit by way of the flesh, the intangible by way of the tangible, and the transcendent by way of the practical remain central to my interests.
For the past six years or so I have been trying to reconcile the tangible and intangible aspects of media and images. With these ink wash paintings on rice paper, I use a plastic backing instead of blotters in order to super-saturate the paper and preserve wrinkles when the paper dries. I work the images from both sides until I settle on the “front”. Although in the past I have used white tempera to reclaim lights, lately I have begun to use torn paper. I’ve also torn pre-painted sheets of rice paper in order to match or contrast existing tones. The physicality of the wrinkles and the torn paper provide a counterpoint to the otherwise intangible tendencies of the ink wash. The paintings above are still in progress. They are interpretations of the landscapes that I appreciated while in Italy, filtered through memory and adjusted as compositional experiments.