It has been almost four weeks since I posted here. Among other things, I have been working on my entry to a group show, the theme for which is the Leonard Cohen lyric for Anthem:
"Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in."
When the group met a few days ago, it was clear that everyone had their own take on the meaning of the song. I have chosen to make a mixed media painting that references the international refugee crisis, an issue that is re-shaping the political dynamic all over the world.
The refugees have been forced from their homes and undertaken arduous journeys in the hope of finding safe harbour in an alien land. Will our door be opened to them? Will we build walls to keep them out? Do we want to live in a society that welcomes newcomers? What is our responsibility to them?
Here are some photos to show the process I used to create this piece. I began with a 20" x 20" birch panel, and covered it with black gesso, front and sides.
I dug into my collection of antique papers. Over the years I have gathered lots of collage material: paper napkins, printed tissue, pages from old books and magazines, etc.
Soon I had covered the front and sides of the panel with text and images, glued on with matte gel medium. I had to be careful to eliminate bubbles and wrinkles, and to get a smooth finish at the edges and corners. Once the papers were dry, I used an x-acto knife to slice off the extra bits.
Next, I clipped some relevant headlines from the daily newspaper, and arranged them randomly, fixing them with more acrylic medium. Then I applied a dilute coat of matte medium to the entire surface. This served to protect the newsprint collage, because I knew I was going to be applying paint and also lifting paint off, calibrating the lights and darks. That extra coat of medium gave me more flexibility to adjust the paint coverage without damaging the underlayer of collage.
I used a small brayer to add patchy glazes of Yellow Ochre, Payne's Gray and Raw Umber, lightened with Titanium White. The paint was mixed with Glazing Medium to create some transparency. This formed the background, partially obscuring the text. I intended that the drawing of the eye would be the focal point, and kept it lighter than the other areas. I used stencils and stamps to add texture and interest in a cruciform shape, radiating out from the eye.
Darker paint was added to enhance the cruciform shape, further obscuring the printed background. Lighter textures reinforced the lighter "spokes" of the cruciform.
At this point the headlines were barely visible. I went back in with some alcohol and lifted some of the paint off them.
The lightened strips of headlines were now too prominent, and they were fighting with the "eye" for attention. So it was time to knock them back, by adding more transparent layers of dark paint. At the same time, more textural detail in Naples Yellow and Gold emphasized the cruciform structure.
Finally, a balance was achieved between the legibility and obscurity of the headlines. The eye is dominant and the lights and darks support the structure of the composition. And, up close, some of the headlines are legible.
I may make further adjustments to the piece before putting on a final coat of matte medium, which will serve to protect the surface.
The group will be getting together in April to give progress reports and to talk about possible venues for our show. I look forward to listening as each artist talks about their process. It will be exciting to see the range of technique and the various responses to the theme.