Preliminary Sketch (Colour Study)
"Hurlin' Down the Pine"
Pencil Crayon on Paper
12" x 15"
I was stumbling through the AGO just before all the Frank Gehrey business, checking everything out real close. No one in my way. No one was around. All by myself. The place was empty that random Tuesday afternoon.
It was really great to be looking at everything, so quiet and alone. Fantastic to see it all like that.
But you can never really be alone in that place. Not really. There is always a guard, or whatever they call them close-by to be sure. There has to be, I understand. There are some crazy people out there, art fans or no, that could and would mess around in there and it would or could be very bad. Maybe add their own touches or something. I don't know but I hate to imagine. But I'm not one of those crazy people, I promise. Not quite yet anyhow. I've never even snuck a quick touch on something. Well maybe one once. But who hasen't. But I wasn't there endangering the gallery that day I swear.
I did have a few questions though, so I approached the guard to ask, I can't think what it was now, and it doesn't matter anyhow. Well we got to talking. Then walking around together. She must have been bored or something to take the time to do that with me. She was certainly kind to give me an impromptu tour. Most of those guards don't have much input, but this one was very happy to talk about the work in the gallery. I had questions and she had answers, she was an unflappable grizzled vet. We walked and talked through a few of the rooms. We got to Walker's Court, the AGO's large indoor court yard with its grand walls. We discussed the changes that were soon going to happen when Frank Gehrey moved in.
What we thought, this and that.
She began to tell me an interesting story.....
Apparently on those Walkers Court walls there had once been a series of frescoes, that at some point or another, covered the upper portion of each of the four walls. The Guard proclaimed, they were once bright, bold and filled with adventures and action, the word she used was "Canadianess". I don't really know what exactly she meant by that, but I loved that description. It sounded fantastic. She had wondered if they were still there, under the white paint of those refinished walls, buried inside. I had to wonder too. Where they gone, or covered up, or what. It was fun to imagine.
She had been so excited telling me this. It was exhilarating to think about. She wondered if they would some how be revealed when they were done with the renovations. I had wondered that too. Some kind of indoor archeological dig to find these lost frescoes, buried inside the walls of the AGO. My imagination ran wild with this.
Eventually, my guard friend and I went our separate ways. It really stuck with me, that interesting day at the gallery. A great visit. Maybe my best. I kept thinking about those murals and what they could be, the idea fascinated me.
Well the Gehrey changes came and went, and sadly no unearthed murals to be seen anywhere. I've got to tell you, I was disappointed really. I had got my hopes up. No colourful depictions of Canada, just a funky staircase and white walls instead. Modern and Cool. But not as cool as these grand frescoes, thought lost, but found again that I had in mind.
So what could I do, but dig out those frescoes, of some "Canadianess" on my own.
Early Preliminary Sketches for Series
In the early stages of development, a process of quick design sketches are repetitively made, including revisions and edits.
Notes are made on changes and then are re-drawn until the desired final piece can be designed from these beginning drawings. A few examples appear below.
"Hurlin' Down the Pine"
Graphite on Paper
11" x 14"
"Fallin' thru Thin Ice"
Graphite on Paper
11" x 14"
"Moose on the Loose"
Graphite on Paper
11" x 14"
"Fresco" Technique used in Final Piece
Fresco, also known as Buon Fresco or True Fresco, entails painting on freshly spread, moist plaster. First, layers of plaster are applied to the surface. While the final layer is still wet, the artist applies the colours, which are earth pigments mixed with water. The colours penetrate the wet plaster and combine chemically with it, producing a painted surface which does not peel when exposed to moisture. As the paint must be painted on wet plaster, the amount of plaster which may be put down at one time is limited to what can be painted at one sitting. Often lines can be seen in frescos around an area which was one day's work. The painting must be done rapidly and without mistakes. It produces a matte surface with fairly desaturated colours. This technique was perfected in Renaissance Italy. Examples include Roman wall paintings at Pompeii, Giotto's Arena Chapel at Padua, and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling. In the dry plaster or "fresco secco" technique, pigments are usually mixed with water, although other substances might also be used (including the use of water soluble oil paint, as I have experimented with in this series). The paint is then applied to a dry plaster wall which has been wetted down with water. Since the plaster is relatively dry, it is less absorbent, and the pigment adheres to the surface of the plaster. The colours have a harder and more brilliant appearance and tend to be lighter in value than those in true fresco.
Interestingly Leonardo da Vinci, a notoriously slow worker, painted 'The Last Supper' on a dry wall rather than on wet plaster, so it is not a 'true fresco' in a historical sense. Because a fresco could not be modified as the artist works, Leonardo instead chose to seal the stone wall with a layer of pitch, gesso and mastic, then paint onto the sealing layer with tempera. Because of the method used, the piece began to deteriorate only a few years after Leonardo finished it. His technique was a failure because he tried to dry the work with near by fires in the refectory where it was painted quickly, but this heat element caused the paint to become un-bonded from the plater surface. Which manifested itself with an appearance of the paint essentially liquefying and dripping off, and as its appears today, almost in its entirety, all but flaking off.
I have left out the issue of faster drying and heating fires and followed Leonardo in my process, and was consciously allowing for a drier environment that would support the drying of the paint over a substantially longer time period, and the works in the "Canadian Adventure" Series have the appearance of a glossier Buon fresco surface finish.
The extreme enduring quality of fresco painting has meant that the paintings done on the walls and floors from places such as Pompeii still today remain almost unchanged. Pompeii's frescoes survived the volcanic eruptions that devastated the city and can be seen now in the 21st century with virtually all the freshness that they must have exhibited when first painted. The methods used by other ancient civilizations are not known with absolute certainty but it is agreed that the Egyptians, for example, did not use buon fresco, a slightly differing method. Their artists quite often prepared a surface with a thin coat of whiting, almost like a gesso(Chalk) priming layer, onto which, when that layer was dry, artisans would paint with pigments held in some form of aqueous medium on top. Their method was a form of what is referred to as, secco painting and quite similar to the technique used in the "Canadian Adventure" series.
All images Copyright © Andrew R. Hutchison 2000 - 2013