Monday, June 21, 2010

Powder Painting Steps In Creation

The link below is to a PDF file which shows the steps during the creation of one of my powder paintings. For this commission the goal was to create a fertile mountain valley scene. Some of the technical challenges were:
  • The panel had to start at 1/4 inch thick to withstand shipping, and an approximate size of 32 by 19 inches
  • Because of the thickness and overall dimensions long firing schedules were required which made it a several week process to work through all the phases of the painting.
  • I wanted a lot of actual texture in the powder to give a feeling of a mountainous landscape. This resulted in increasing the thickness of the panel in some sections and making annealing the glass more of a challenge. Special care must be taken when a glass panel has varying cross sectional thicknesses.
  • Multiple firings were required to build the texture, while also guarding against the powder turning to glass. Once glass powders turn to glass there are chemical reactions which can 'discolor' the work.
  • Hue shifts had to be planned and balanced with each new layer and firing, because each firing made the underlying layers darker and glassier
In the image above the final stage of the painting is in the kiln and a closeup was taken of the main peak. After 5 firings the peak was standing about 3/8 inch high on top of the 1/4 inch glass. The valley is shown towards the top of the image. I've never work this thick with powder, but was increasingly intrigued by building up layers of powder, then carving into them. My sculptural tenancies were getting the best of me.

The PDF is around 2 meg in size and may automatically jump to full screen mode when you open it. If it does, then to leave full screen mode just hit the Escape key. When viewing the sideshow click on any image to advance to the next slide. The color, as always, will vary from monitor to monitor.

Hope you enjoy the sideshow!

Here is the PDF.

Glass Powder Painting : Part Two

This is the scene of the battle ground. At least that is what it seems sometimes. Over forty jars of glass powders, various sorts of sifters, brushes, other make shift application tools, and the ever faithful kneeling pad. For this exercise I pulled in my vacuum - a little hand held unit in the upper left which was sold at Radio Shack for vacuuming keyboards and computer parts. You can see the texturing at the bottom of this painting done with the vac and brushers. Kind of like impasto painting, but in my case I've learned that it means that I'm just taking things too far.That is, it just really isn't my style. The thickness of the powder is just lay after layer of indecisiveness. It is nice to know that an impasto-like approach is possible, but that is not what I'm after.

This adventure was a battle to get closer to finding my style. You can clearly see the carving effect in the image to the left. The more I worked on this piece, making it increasingly representational, the less I liked it. The image was getting in the way. I found myself studying how to create the illusion of waves trees etc and totally lost focus on color.

This image got dumped in a jar. About 2 and 1/2 pounds of powder which I'm sure I'll use for some experimental purpose some day.

It is too easy to lose contact with why you are doing this in the first place, and for me that is simply the celebration of color. Part of a growing nuisance is that Bullseye is making more and more striker colors. That is, until the glass is fired it just looks whitish which makes seeing the color in your painting impossible. It's like painting blind. I use my fired color swatches (in the top left of the top image) to guide me, but you just can't interact with colors on your 'canvas' if they go on white.

To the left is the 'canvas' after I dumped the image. The painting surface has been texturized by kilnforming it on lava cloth which is a commercial cloth-like product used in the furnace and kiln building industry as a flexible refractory material. When you fuse onto it you pick up the texture of the material, making your glass look like a canvas surface. My reason for doing it was to create a rough surface so I could  try out glass chalk sticks. I believe ceramists have had these glazing sticks for some time which apply on a rough surface like chalk would. However, during my testing the lava cloth surface wasn't fine toothed enough. You need something like a sandblasted surface. But hey! Why not use a white powder fired to the regular powder painting texture. That would be a great surface. I'll have to try that.

The canvas has a integral copper/gold frame. The frame was kiln carved at the same time as the lava cloth was used to create the working surface. So, you have an integrated frame and working surface done in one firing. How cool is that!

So now back to work. Color... pure color.

I love the sensation have having a field of color then dropping in spots of its complement/opposite. Somehow the sensation is exciting. I can't explain it. You have this perfect field of cool blues, violets, and lavenders, then PLOP... you drop fiery orange right into it. My eye goes POP. Then you drop in more. Then add a few drops of yellow, and yellow-green in a way Pollock would be proud.

But that is sooo odd to me. I can recall how I laughed contemptuously during my freshman year at the abstract expressionist. I thought it was pure nonsense.... and that is what it is. It isn't logical right brain realism. I use to worship highly refined drawings, but now run as quickly as possible from any trace of a subject. I just want the kinetic and visual experience unhampered by thought. Just me in motion and responding, and most definitely not illusionary representationalism.

So then... what to do about scale? Yes, I can make little 2x3 foot powder paintings, and what a collection of unimpressive nonsense they would be. Can I really make 8x24 foot glass powder paintings? Yes, of course, but at what cost. Where would I store them. Would any gallery want to display a 500 pound painting - glass is heavy after all? Should I just do regular paintings.... not sure, but I don't think so.

This will require some thought.

Is this really just an exercise in absurdity. As defined at Wikipedia "Aburdism - a philosophy born of existentialism, regarding the philosophical concept of "the Absurd," the clash between the human tendency to seek some inherent meaning in the universe and the human impossibility of finding any".

In my case... to strip everything down, to find the most essential source of motivation, to then engage it as purely as one can, then only to realize that the motivation leads nowhere.

Perhaps when I laughed at Pollock all those years ago it was really not contempt, but rather I unknowingly recognized the absurdity of a painter (and of painting) having gone too far. Pure expression over composition and thought, stimulus-response over calculated technique, sensation over reason.

Am I searching for a middle ground, or, am I beginning to lose faith and will resort to our clinging need of a representational subject?

I am probably taking all this way too seriously.

In the end I trust laughter and play. Does my work make me smile or frown, lighten my spirit or lay it low with incessant investigations and self examination?

I trust that I don't want a subject, but I don't yet know the form I am seeking.

Is color enough?