The parcel water gilded, contemporary wood sculpture, otherwise known as Peace Man, made his debut at the Wright Exhibition Gallery in Seattle October 10, 2009. During the private opening party, Peace Man opened up his heart to be gilded in 22 kt gold leaf by a variety of exhibiting artists and guests secretly hoping to lay a little leaf. In exchange they became part of an interactive social experience where the art of gilding was simply the vehicle for human interaction. Extending the idea, I managed to gild the fingernails of a number of innocently surrendered hands, offering this somewhat formal gathering a slight twist, adding support to the idea that some things are ok if everyone else is doing it.
The concept of Peace Man began when I was approached by friend and colleague Paul Conrad to join him in a collaboration for this particular show presenting the work of a large number of Seattle-area artists who have been associated with Artech Fine Art Services throughout its long arts-related history. Paul's idea was to create a sculpture that could be gilded. Since anything can be gilded, options were pretty wide open.
Once Paul created the skeleton we knew he needed a name since we could see he was beginning to come to life. We named him Peace Man. A response of sorts to the state of the world at the moment. Our way of interjecting something positive. It seemed the name that he wanted so we let it be and the finish was ready to follow. Taking a somewhat improvisational approach, we applied over the entire surface a traditional gesso consisting of a 10% rabbit skin glue solution, calcium carbonate, and water. This served to seal the surface and to allow later burnishing of the gold leaf. To add character, Paul created texture in the gesso by using a stipple technique and Pastiglia, a method of applying thick deposits of gesso for a raised gilding look. As the texture was purposefully rough only minimal sanding would be needed.
A red clay bole, mixed with the same 10% rabbit skin solution, was applied over the gesso, concentrating on the areas we knew we would be gilding since the idea was to use a 'parcel gilded' method, where we would apply gold leaf only to certain sections along Peace Man's body. Once the clay was applied it was polished by hand to smooth the ground, followed by the laying of gold leaf. In keeping with the International feel of our project I chose leaf from a variety of countries: England, Italy, China, France, and Germany in both 22 and 23k.
The leaf was burnished with an agate stone and shellaced for protection. The entire sculpture was then painted with black casein which was removed from the tops of the water gilded areas, allowing the gold to give the impression of coming through the black. We then mixed our own paint comprised simply of blonde dewaxed shellac and French Ultramarine Blue and Mars Violet pigments which covered all the areas as a glaze over the black casein, surrounding the bright, burnished water gilding. The heart, painted in red acrylic gesso atop Japanese Unryu paper adhered to a wire mesh screen, was given a coat of acrylic emulsion at the opening party which allowed for quick gilding by participants, resulting in a heart of gold.
Adjusting to his new life, Peace Man has asked to venture forth into the world, inspiring conversation and the touching of hands. How can we say no?