Thursday, May 24, 2018

Panel painting and the interior life .......part 1

Interior space, physical and psychological, are clearly connected and the last few months have found me making wood paneled window shutters, fitted bookcases with Patrick's help, and completing the interior spaces of rooms in the house as well as experimenting with wood, rabbit skin size, gesso, clay bole, gold leaf, egg tempera and oil paint in an attempt to recreate the materials and processes involved in making and painting a Medieval or early Renaissance wood panel. The purpose behind copying these paintings is to learn the technique with the intention of adapting it to my own original creative development of collage /painting ideas that I began working on when I first started this blog. At that time I was making work like the oil painting below which attempts to play with the space, real and illusory both inside and outside the real and painted frames, and evokes the torn paper and other surfaces, real and representational, on which images are made by photographic or other painted and printed means, revealing in a fixed form their fragile and transitory states.

The Fugitive Image: No 4.  Oil on Panel.  30x40cm

 Clearly the use of devotional images was an important aspect of developing an 'interior life' of the spirit through the imaginative use of icons and iconography and as an aid to framing states of mind conducive to and as a focus for contemplation and meditation in the Christian tradition. The material nature of these images was an important part of their power to make 'incarnate' ideas and despite their inanimate state they were often attributed with agency. Their age and survival, often in a damaged state, is part of their appeal and continuing power. The larger panel I have chosen to reconstruct is the one below by the Master of the Codex of St George in the Metropolitan Museum. 

Apart from these practical experiments research has included examining at first hand examples of gilded panel painting in tempera and oil paint including this wonderful panel by Simone Martine at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool which I have always loved since I first saw it as a young boy. I especially identified with this picture because Simone Martini with great psychological perception perfectly communicates the human relationship and the situation - parents reasoning with a difficult adolescent. It is interesting that like the painting I am copying for the larger of the two panel's this was also painted in Avignon in the 14th century. 

Apart from careful reading of Cennino Cennini famous "Il Libro dell'arte", which gives detailed instructions to the panel painter about how to prepare the gesso and add the gold leaf and paint in egg tempera,  I have an old copy of A.P Laurie's, 'The painters methods and materials' from school days,  and have also followed D.V Thompson's 'Materials and techniques of medieval painting' and 'The practice of tempera painting material and methods'. Using authentic traditional pigments and materials from Kramer the German paint manufactures who still manufacture true ultramarine blue from Lapis Lazuli, I am able to follow closely the processes involved. I have also been carefully studying the examples of students reconstructions of early panel painting on the   Hamilton Kerr Institute  website. 

The small panel based on an early 15th century Flemish Madonna and Child in oil paint below has been a trial run for various techniques which I am refining on the larger panel including water gilding. The practical method of experimenting with both the materials and techniques by actually reconstructing the whole process is from an artist's point of view essential to understanding the works on their own terms and not just as theoretical ideas that are read about in books. Cennino Cennini writes as one craftsman to another not as a sociologist or academic. 
Laying the gold using a gilders tip and water size and alcohol liquor on top of the sanded clay bole
gilders 'leather' cushion and knife

Stages in making the panel below

Animal glue melted down to glue the wooden panel and moldings together 
Bain Marie to melt the rabbit skin glue to size the panel and glue the linen to the surface. 

gluing the wooden molding to the panel 

sizing the wooden panel with rabbit skin glue

gluing the linen to the panel with size 

The first layer of very fine gesso made from rabbit skin size and calcium carbonate.
Carefully filing and modeling the corners
Sanding back the many layers of gesso that build up. 

Scraping back the surface to make it very smooth like ivory

Tracing the image and transferring to the surface 
The faint lines of the transferred design
Working up the under-painted tonal image using Indian ink and brush 

Painting four layers of clay bole to prepare the surface for water gilding

water gilding and burnishing with a agate burnisher 

Completing the under-painting to work out tonal balance prior to painting the colours with egg tempera 

Clearly this is still a work in progress.......meanwhile elsewhere ............

I have been preparing other panels in wood and paint to model the light and colour of the living room as it filters in through the windows at the front. As the cost of having traditional shutters was expensive I decided to measure up the panels I needed and make them myself. I used some thin plywood sheets cut to size with wooden moldings glued and nailed together, gaps and holes filled with some wood filler and sanded down before being painted with several layers of satin white and attached together with several small brass hinges. Having white paneled shutters, like adding gold to a painted panel, helps to reflect and increase light in the space, especially since the old glass in the front windows is slightly rose tinted. I had to make eight paneled hinged window shutters in all. The windows like the wooden painted panels frame the transition from interior to exterior space and vis-versa and are an important part of the atmosphere of the room. Opening and closing them in the morning and evening is a daily ritual, a necessity event that mediates the ever changing cycles of natural and artificial light and sensitizes one to these profoundly ordinary phenomena.

Shutters snugly mounted into the window frame and aligned to the newly fitted bookshelves.  
Adding gold leaf by water-gilding and burnishing with a mounter agate stone

1 comment:

  1. Alan, you are a constant spiritual inspiration . Thank you for sharing your works in progress. Looking forward to seeing them in person. Ciao, Rose