Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Big Man Arrives: Peace Man Stops by for Seattle Opening

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?


Ian Russell said...

Would you always elect to use casein based paints when making a combined painted/gilded finish. Have you ever explored acrylic based paints and if so what are your thoughts. Best regards.

Charles Douglas said...

Technically, any paint medium can be used in conjunction with gilding. However, there is more than one method of gilding and various different materials are employed, therefore it's important to keep an eye on compatibility of all materials. Casein is a good material to work with in that it's reversible since it's water-based. It's non-toxic and can either be used as a paint or thinned as a wash which is good for antiquing and altering the tonality of the leaf. Casein or egg tempera are also the mediums of choice when doing sgrafitto.

I do use acrylics when painting interior panels on gilded picture frames. Acrylic gesso is often good to use in those cases. Acrylic paints are also good for painting the sides of picture frames when called for. It does dry rather quickly so if any paint comes into contact with the leaf it needs to be wiped off immediately.

I almost always use shellac over the leaf to subdue the brilliancy while adding a subtle, warm glow. This also helps to protect the leaf from normal handling and provides an isolating barrier from the use of paint on a project.

Ian Russell said...

Charles, thank you so much for your thoughtful and thorough reply which I have found extremely helpful. Your use of acrylic on interior frame panels is exactly the use I had been considering. You have also answered a question that I didn't think to ask in that shellac will provide the suitable sealer/protector for the leaf, is happy to sit on the underlying gesso layer and is also a compatible barrier for the paint edge. Once again many thanks. Ian.

Charles Douglas said...

You're welcome...Shellac is a wonderful material to work with in gilding and there are a number of different ways of working with it: brushing, padding, spraying with an airbrush. It is, though, affected by humidity and can bloom (a hair dryer is handy to have around. I don't like intervening with heat sources but if a white bloom begins to form on the leaf then something needs to be done!).

Natalia said...

Nice info! Thanks for these types of posts.

Dianna said...

Nice! Have a pleasant holiday shopping season.