Sunday, July 17, 2022

Affinities

 




 Filling the gaps around newly installed windows with lime mortar is a very satisfying process. The material, with the right precautions against inhaling dust or getting it in your eyes, is easy to handle with a small trowel, is sticky and has enough body, with sand and additional fibres, to paste and model into the gaps around the edges of the brick and wood. 

Making good the dry split edges and cracked spines of some of my old books is an equally satisfying process. Whilst the materials, comprising Japanese Kozo papers, rice starch paste and PVC bookbinders glue, are more delicate than brick, wood, sand and lime, the process itself is similar. Reinforcing corners and spines, filling gaps and blending these minor interventions into the yellowed paper and battered leather, and massaging with bookbinders wax will help to extend the life of these already well worn books. 





Dry skins and old spines and creaky joints sound like human medical conditions. Books like bodies suffer similar problems along with the aging process. The animate and the inanimate, the articulate and the inarticulate show the effects of time with remarkable affinities. Indeed I have just started to take tumeric again in tablet form to counter the effects to rheumatoid arthritis, although I doubt I will last as long as the books I have been reparing. 




In the work below I am attempting to explore such affinities. Wood and gesso, paper and oil, collage and painting, frame and image, are all elements of recollection, reassemblage and reconstruction. Patterns of personal memory, fragments of collective history, imagination, association and recognition, can help to generate both aesthetic order and provide clues to potential meanings alongside the debris of loss, decay and destruction. The work below, comprising both the collage and the unfinished oil painting, is entitled 'Affinities'. It is one of a series of works painted in oil on oak panels, alluding to both 15th and 17th century panel painting techniques and shallow relief trompe l'oeil.  There is still some way to go before its starts to be as much about the paint and its visceral qualities, of light, texture and colour and before the abstract relationships between the forms and shapes are fully resolved.  












Thursday, July 7, 2022

Living on the edge ........

 



Emblemata Horatiana: Otto Van Veen 1683

Chacun suit son genie en l'Art, ou la Science
L'un n'a pour un metier que de l'indifference 
Pendant que pour un autre il sent un doux attrait,
L'un s'estudie aux Vers, et l'autre a la Peinture,
Un autre veut passer pour Medecin parfait,
Nous suivons en cela l'instinct de la Nature  

recently had several antiquarian books repaired by a restorer in Brussels https://www.bookandpaper.be/ who used Japanese paper to repair the split hinges rather than replacement leather.  Healing the joints in this way with carefully attached Kozo papers made from natural fibers, rice starch paste and PVA bookbinders glue, resembles a surgical procedure and seems to mimic the natural healing process of a skin graft. The pictures below from West Dean College conservation department reveal a before and after repair to the corner of a book spine that is deeply satisfying to see.  This 1981 video about a Dublin book binder  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJgRD6CRADQ  shows a similar process with the critical edges of the pages or cover of the book located at the joints of the spine and the corners, like the frame of a picture, occupying the focus of attention.



 https://www.westdean.org.uk/study/school-of-conservation/blog/books-and-library-materials/conservation-of-a-navigational-book

Having recently had my windows replaced with new approved ‘old’ wooden replicas (with double glazing) I was struck by the way the masonry, plaster and wooden frame itself crucially defines the way we experience light and space which they contextualize.  Using a ready mixed lime plaster, Tubag NHL-P historiche kalkpleister from Tintelijn in Gent, to ‘heal’ the wall where the earlier lime plaster was broken off to mount the windows recalled the more delicate procedures undertaken by the book conservationist.







Matching up the edges of the broken fragments and reassembling them, filling the gaps and then attempting to make them invisible, is also something I have also had to do in a recent porcelain restoration I attempted when I accidently dropped an 18th century 'Chinese' blue and white Caughley bowl which I have had for over 30 years since I bought it in Ironbridge in Shropshire near to the long  defunct factory in Coalbrookdale, the origin of William Blake's, 'Dark Satanic Mills'.  These places are now archeological sites which mark the beginning of the industrial revolution with Abraham Darby's coke blast furnace, and the famous iron bridge itself, locations seminal to the changes and transformations brought about through science, technology, industry and commerce and its subsequent abandonment and decay until recent years, when many of these sites themselves were curated, conserved, restored, and opened as museums.     






These processes, which speak so eloquently about the passage of time, of ageing and decay, and the possibility of restoration, of healing and making whole again through caring for what is precious and repairing and conserving objects or places which are valued, help to preserve a living memory of people and a tangible link to the material past.






In my own work with collage and oil paint, (for instance in the example above, entitled 'Exiles', which is a work in progress, and the example below) I try to evoke the same sense of both the ravages of time and the attempt to freeze or capture its fragile and fugitive nature, contrasting the ephemeral delicacy of the paper and it's relatively more permanent or monumental trompe l’oeil illusion using wood, linen, gesso, oil paint and other traditional materials of the painter’s craft. I am concerned not only with the realism of the illusion based on careful observation of light and shadow form and shape, space and colour, but also on the formal abstract qualities of the work, and the gestural, visceral quality of the oil paint medium itself. It seems to me that the edges of the picture, the liminal space between where the picture begins and ends, both inside and outside border of the frame, is the most ambiguous, challenging and highly charged area; the one which is often overlooked when the focus of attention is the subject of the picture, or the view through the frame.  In the work below, which is an oil painting on wood, the recessed mount with its fragment of paper is also part of the painted illusion. 




Friday, January 7, 2022

100 Years of 'Mertz': 1922 -2022. The poetry of fragmentation and decay.






Mertz. 458 Wriedt  Kurt Schwitters  1922


Collage: Alan Mitchell 2022
(Work in progress, preparation for a trompe l'oeil gilded and gesso wood panel with partial engaged frame) 


 G.M.Hopkins. Spelt from Sybil's Leaves. 1886 

Earnest, earthless, equal, attuneable, ' vaulty, voluminous, . . . stupendous
Evening strains to be time’s vást, ' womb-of-all, home-of-all, hearse-of-all night.
Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west, ' her wild hollow hoarlight hung to the height
Waste; her earliest stars, earl-stars, ' stárs principal, overbend us,
Fíre-féaturing heaven. For earth ' her being as unbound, her dapple is at an end, as-
tray or aswarm, all throughther, in throngs; ' self ín self steepèd and páshed – quite
Disremembering, dísmémbering, ' áll now. Heart, you round me right
With: Óur évening is over us; óur night ' whélms, whélms, ánd will end us.
Only the beak-leaved boughs dragonish ' damask the tool-smooth bleak light; black,
Ever so black on it. Óur tale, O óur oracle! ' Lét life, wáned, ah lét life wind
Off hér once skéined stained véined varíety ' upon áll on twó spools; párt, pen, páck
Now her áll in twó flocks, twó folds – black, white; ' right, wrong; reckon but, reck but, mind
But thése two; wáre of a wórld where bút these ' twó tell, each off the óther; of a rack
Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe- and shelterless, ' thóughts agaínst thoughts ín groans grínd.


Word Rambling ..............

Haruspication from detritus,  significant insignificance,  broken books, creased paper, torn card, glued and stained linen, wood gouged and filled, plastered, painted, leaves of gold, arte povera......... 

..........a thought, a thing, part object, part process in time and space, a personal memory, or collective history, presence, absence, sense, senseless, meaning, meaningless, desire and loss, metaphor, puzzle, code, sign, mark, elegy, poetic evocation, layered, hidden, buried, enigmatic, mysterious......... 

cyclical, un-ended, repetitive, a pattern of recurrence.................................

..............closed narratives, locked or circumscribed images, icon and iconoclasm, taboo or fetish, through windows and doors, frames, boundaries, edges, liminal spaces, vertical and horizontal axis,  diagonal leanings, beginning towards ending, reality, illusion, abstract, representational, trompe l'oeil, plumbing surface to depth, peeling back veneers, skins, anatomizing space, time ..............

...................transient, forgotten, fragile, fugitive, fragmented, dislocated, ephemeral, discontinuity, destruction, disassembled, shattered, broken, lost, loose, faded, decayed, neglected, damaged, old, poor, dirty, fractured, torn, peeling, flaking, stained, sick, chaotic, wasted, wounded, ripped, defaced, defiled, profaned, interrupted, incomplete, in disarray, abandoned, rubbish, absent, unknown, nameless, nothing,  hidden, masked, emasculated, un-seamed............................. 

re-presented, revitalized, returned, re-established continuity, assembled, reconstructed, repaired, retrieved,  preserved, conserved, restored, renewed growth, re-created, enriched, cleaned, fixed, sewn together, strengthened, healed, glued, complete, ordered and organized, re-attached, valued, precious, treasured, sacred, known, named, something  revealed .......






 





Tuesday, October 26, 2021

 

NYC27

KEVIN ROY 

A Photo Journal

 27 Days in New York City

 


The Greene Gallery St John’s International School.

Opening/Vernissage Friday October 1st 2021 16h-18h  

ALL WELCOME

 

In film and photography, history and myth, both the fantasy and reality of New York City has fascinated generations of creative artists and their audiences throughout the 20th century and beyond. This unique city’s unmistakable landmarks have formed a backdrop for countless human dramas played out in a great melting pot of humanity, producing some of the most iconic images of the 20th century. The history of photography from its 19th century origins to the present day runs parallel to the meteoric rise of this modern city, as well as the ebb and flow of American economic prosperity and politics. Kevin Roy’s well-crafted digital images are both a celebration and a nostalgic elegy to that city and to some of the most celebrated and inspirational black and white photography of the last century. With warmth, humour and professional precision he offers us a timeless photo journal of 27 days walking a city he knows well and loves. This is an intimate and personal view of both the urban fabric and its residents, the city and its character. Paradoxically, carefully framed yet spontaneous moments are captured and frozen in the eye of the camera.  These images raise as many questions as they answer in their thoughtful and gently ironic juxtapositions, and they challenge us with their ambivalence towards and ambiguity about the relations between time and place, appearance and reality, and the nature of the black and white photographic icon itself, both analogue and digital, in the age of instant electronic gratification.  

Along with the exhibition and opening we plan to host an interview, discussion and presentations, with invited groups of students, teachers and parents, with a critical analysis of some of the iconic images from a selection of 20th century photographers whose work has inspired Kevin Roy’s photographs. In addition we will supplement and enrich this focus by taking the IBDP visual art students on an art trip on November 10th to Museum of Photography at Charleroi. https://www.museephoto.be/  

Alan Mitchell

Artist’s Statement

The inspiration came from a childhood with far less media than we have today, where I spent hours actually turning pages to look at still images in publications like Life Magazine and National Geographic. Rebuilding Egyptian Temples, Vietnam, the Civil Rights struggle in America, I can still see those photojournalistic images in my mind. The obsession began with a $10 Brownie, the Kodak kind, and road trips in the family station wagon. Over five decades later, after a series of ebbs and flows in creative output due to the exigencies of life, my photo kit now weighs more than my cloths when I travel. I continue to be inspired by both well and little-known photographers, but mostly by my urge and need to wander through and observe the world, and to capture details in places, things, and people that speak to and express the emotion of the place they inhabit, both present and past. My passion persists through the fact that there will always be more to see, and the question, “What can I learn next?”  

Kevin Roy

Doors and Windows through Time and Space

 

Re-imagining, designing, constructing and painting a 15th century triptych in the manner of the Master of the Saint Ursula Legend.


"....It is another world entirely, and it is enclosed within this one, with a peculiar geography I can only describe as infundibular. " He paused for effect. 'I mean by this that the other world is composed of a series of concentric rings, which as one penetrates deeper into the other world, grows larger. The further you go, the bigger it gets. Each perimeter of this series of concentricities encloses a larger world within, until, at the center point, it is infinite. Or at least very very large".................

John Crowley 'Little,Big' Edgewood page 48

Finding, researching and assembling the elements of the ‘collage’.

The word ‘collage’ or ‘assemblage’ of existing fragmentary ‘found’ elements into a new configuration or whole is an accurate description of an aspect of the creative process involved in copying, following or working in the style of the Master of the St Ursula legend. Working in the workshop or circle of the artist implies a contemporary context in or near the atelier of the master, whilst following, copying or working after the style of the painter at a later date has a long history in the production and re-production of works of art, with many great masters themselves, like Rubens, producing copies or versions of works by earlier masters like Titian.

Rubens’ attitude towards reproducing an image was very different to the way we have come to view copies of Old Master paintings today. It was the Romans who first replicated artworks, copying Greek sculptures, and repetition was considered the best way of learning throughout the medieval period. During the Renaissance, the cult of the artist’s identity grew so that copying a work was as much an education as a means of honouring the master.

https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/a-brief-history-of-old-master-copies

Even the idea of faking or forging the work of venerated earlier artistic style has been a practice since the Renaissance with artists as venerated as Michelangelo, early in their careers, establishing their technical and artistic credentials through creating works convincingly in the style of antique Roman sculpture passed off as genuine to admiring collectors. His celebrated statues of the sleeping Eros and Bacchus are cases in point. 

 “He also copied drawings of the Old Masters so perfectly that his copies could not be distinguished from the originals, since he smoked and tinted the paper to give it an appearance of age. He was often able to keep the originals and return his copies in their place.” 

Giorgio Vasari, ‘The Lives of the Artists’

The references below explore the issues of forgery and the ethics of restoration:  

Laurence Shafe: ‘The Genius of Art Forgery’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1hgOsVxaM0

Fake - not fake: restorations-reconstructions-forgeries: the conservation of the Flemish Primitives in Belgium, ca. 1930-1950Exhibition: 26 November 2004 - 28 February 2005.

‘With this project, the Groeninge Museum takes the important initiative of prompting a public debate about the grey area between restoration and forgery – the first debate of its kind and one that is likely to prove controversial. In view of the composition of the Bruges collections and the history of how they were assembled, this exhibition concentrates on the Flemish Primitives. The central subject is the work of the Flemish painter, art dealer and restorer Jef van der Veken (1872-1964), who is regarded as one of the founders of the restoration of old paintings in Belgium.’

Jef van der Veken (1872-1964)

 Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur

 

https://www.codart.nl/guide/agenda/fake-not-fake-restauraties-reconstructies-falsificaties-het-conserveren-van-de-vlaamse-primitieven-in-belgi-ca-1930-1950/

Whilst I had no intention to fake or forge a 15th century Flemish panel painting, I was interested in this tradition of learning from old masters by making an ‘authentic copy’ so to speak, by using similar historical technical methods of construction and following as closely as possible the practical processes of painting from the ground up to get closer to the mind and spirit of the artist and the work, and experience a tangible sense of connection to the historical past.  This reconstruction was also partly inspired by the examples from the Hamilton Keer institute, but unlike the students at this prestigious institution, I approached my project in a freer more intuitive and creative way rather than with a strictly academic and scientific method.  

https://www.hki.fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk/projects/paintingtechniques/crucifixrestoration

I was lucky in that I could study closely at first hand the actual paintings by the Master of the St Ursula legend in the Groeninge Museum in Bruges alongside making use of often excellent museum the digital resources online. 

I chose to create a triptych with a central panel of the virgin and child flanked by angels with inner side ls representing the annunciation ‘en grisaille’ by freely adapting several works by the Master of the St. Ursula legend which came from different contexts into a configuration which he is not known to have made but which he could conceivable have done.

The outer panels with their calligraphic text were based on a work by Hugo Van de Goes which was probably assembled in its current form in the 19th century from different works. 

The Virgin and Child with Angels.                                                                                                                              Portrait of Ludovico Portinari

The panel on the left, which I used for the central panel of my triptych, is of ‘The Virgin and Child with Angels’ currently in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was the companion to the now separated right hand panel, the portrait of Ludovico Portinari with a view of Bruges in the background, from a votive diptych. This right-hand panel is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Lodovico Portinari’s powerful family represented the interests of the Medici in Flanders. Hinged to Portinari’s portrait, the painting would have offered intimate, perpetual access to the Virgin and Child, who are made present in an image of visionary splendor.

https://harvardartmuseums.org/collections/object/230596

https://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/102092.html

Both paintings are by the Master of the Legend of Saint Ursula, active in Bruges c. 1470 - c. 1500. Little is known about the Master of the Saint Ursula Legend, so called by the art historian Max Friedländer as an emergency name after a series of panels in the Groeninge museum in Bruges, and certain stylistic similarities between works attributed to him. It is likely that this anonymous painter lived for a while in Brussels and later moved to Bruges, as his style includes references to Rogier van der Weyden, Hugo van der Goes and Hans Memling. A 15th century Bruges painter who might be the same artist has been identified as a certain Pieter Casenbroot who was registered in the Bruges guild of saddle makers and sculptors in 1460.  

https://rkd.nl/en/explore/artists/112129

For the side panels I needed to find an appropriate flanking subject by the same artist that would fit the proportion of the central panels of the Virgin and Child.  An annunciation theme seemed the most likely to fit the theme and format, and there were several possibilities I considered using as references.  The first that I looked at came from the two opposite panels at the top of the large side panels of an altar piece (in their closed state) by the same master of the Saint Ursula legend in the Groeninge museum in Bruges. These were painted ‘en grissaille as trompe l’oeil sculptures in niches. On the opposite side the panels in their open state reveal the polychrome narrative sequence of events from the life of Saint Ursula. The large central panel of the altar piece here is of course missing. 


Outer side panels in closed state ( with the annuciation figures at the top)

Inner side panels in the open state with scenes from the legend of saint Ursula 

For the outer panels in a closed state I needed something that would match the scale and proportion, be appropriate to the theme of inner subjects of the Virgin and Child and Annunciation but also create a contrast with the juxtaposition of word and image, and a play on the idea of the incarnation. (‘Et verbum caro factum est’- ‘And the word was made flesh’). The painting below, with it’s calligraphic text on the inner part of the side panels, attributed by the National Gallery to a follower of Hugo Van de Goes, was probably assembled in its current form in the 19th century from different works.  The complexity of working out how to get this transferred onto a gold or copper leaf ground by working in the negative space between the letters was an interesting challenge.

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/follower-of-hugo-van-der-goes-virgin-and-child

Left hand panel text 

Ave 
Sanctissima Maria m[ate]r Dei Regina Celi porta Paradisi Domina Mu[n]>di pura  Singularis
tu es Virgo Tu sine pec[cat]o Concepta concepisti Ih[esu]m sine o[m]ni 

Hail, Most Holy Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Gate of Paradise, Mistress of the world, thou are a uniquely pure virgin; yourself conceived without sin, you conceived Jesus without any stain.

Right hand panel text 

Tu Peperisti Creatorem et saluatore[m] Mundi In quo non Dubito libera me Ab omni malo Et Ora pro Peccato Meo Amen.

You have borne the Creator and Saviour of the World in whom I do not doubt. Deliver me From every
evil and pray for my sin. Amen.


The practical stages of the process.

I was able to use the seasoned wood remaining from of the salvaged solid oak paneled doors which we used in the house to construct the panel, along with some recycled carved mouldings to create the engaged frame.  


Once these were measured, cut, glued together and any gaps filled and sanded down to a smooth surface it was necessary to glue the linen down, prepare it with the rabbit skin size and then give it several coats of gesso made with the same rabbit skin size and plaster.     

Once the central panel was prepared I created a box cradle to support it and take the hinges for the side panels which I also then measured and matched, with appropriate mouldings, repeating the linen, sizing and gesso process to prepare the painting surface. 



I was then ready to begin the gilding and painting of the central panel - first with a 'verdigris' layer, or a painting ' en grisaille ' in a water based medium to work out both the design and the tonal balance. For the gilding I used a water gilding process on top of the red clay bole. Before painting I traced out the basic outlines of the design as a basic guide. 







The process of building up layers of transparent oil paint on this original monochrome tonally painted surface surface took a very long time. The colour had to be built up slowly to build the right intensity of hue and tonality to match the original. I was using modern oil paint rather than oil paint made from the traditional materials like cinnabar, malachite, lapis lazuli, or lead white, (which are still produced by the German company Kramer, and which I am using on another similar project below mixed with egg tempera).

Traditional egg tempera panel with gold leaf and traditional materials, cinnabar, malachite, lapis lazuli, from Kramer paints. 

 I was still able to practically envisage something of the original painting process necessary to produce such a panel. 

 For the details like the face, hair, and in particular the jewels on the collar of the Virgin I was able to closely study the works in the Groeninge Museum at first hand to try to understand better the paint application. The painting below of Saint Veronica was especially helpful for the jewels. 

Saint Veronica with the Sudarium by the Master of the Saint Ursula Legend.
Oil on oak panel 1480-1500  


Detail of the face of Saint Veronica with the Sudarium by the Master of the Saint Ursula Legend.  



Detail of angels on right hand side of the central panel 

Details of the faces of the Virgin and child 

                                                        As the central panel progressed I had to work out how to get the highly elaborate, stylized text for the outer side panels into place using gold and copper leaf, and to begin painting the figures 'en grisaille' for the inner part of these panels. After scaling up and producing a detailed tracing of the text for each panel, I gilded the central sections in copper leaf and transferred the text to water gilded surface, under which I had placed a yellow bole, carefully painting the negative spaces between the letters a Indian ink 'lacquer', working in reverse to the normal way of painting calligraphy. This was a very slow and laborious process but with some persistence it was effective, in keeping the letters with their shiny metallic finish set off against a black ground. 



Working out the scaled-up tracing of the letters ready to transfer onto the outer panel

The yellow bole in place on the right-hand panel ready to receive the copper leaf  to provide the 'gold' surface for the lettering. The left-hand panel with the Angel Gabriel fully painted 'en grisaille' 

The almost completed infilling of the negative spaces between the letters, working in reverse to produce a gilded calligraphy.  


The trompe l'oeil engaged frame 'carved' mouldings painted in oil paint on the flat raised moulding on the outer right-hand panel. 


The final assembled panels in place awaiting the hinges and below, hinged and hanging on the same recycled solid oak door panels  it is actually made from which have also been re-purposed as wood paneling in the hall to match the doors.   




Copy, egg tempera on panel (on the chest) and Original tromp l'oeil oil on panel on the wall, both Genuine Illusions