Sunday, 15 March 2015

Painting with eukaryotes

Right then, this time I'm making paint for muticellular organisms for a change, can you guess which?

Ha ha, that's right, humans, lovely, fantastic humans.  I've been teaching a wee course in 'Winter flowers in egg tempera' at the Botanics.

 It's a bit of a tall order as it's a very procedural business, you have to prime and gesso your own boards and then mix your pigments with your egg yolk and then get to grips with how to use the paint, which isn't quite like anything else.
If you want to know how to do it,  Koo Schadler is excessively good at it and generously shares her how-to expertise here.
We were doing this sort of thing:

I'm fond of doing this as it involves plenty of old-fashioned craftsmanship which is great for slowing down the thinking.  There's a lovely textility to the work, the paint is applied in lots of translucent layers of small brushstrokes so you get a very lively surface which is very appropriate for an animist-mechanist type like me, who likes to think of the joyful seething animation of everything as it cavorts about its business.
And there is something glorious about the organism-ishness of the thing you make, with its wooden support, and its rabbit-skin glue colloids, and its boney, chalky ground, and its fatty eggy skin.

Why flowers in particular? Simply because that's what we do at the Botanics, we look at flowers. 

What are we doing here?  These classes are marketed as opportunities to "develop your skills and abilities", the idea being that a person could choose to use them as a basis for all kinds of follow-up work later on, if they wished, or simply enjoy them as a sort of hardcore way of having quiet fun.  So they have to function as 'leisure' or 'hobby' activities and be transformative-educational at the same time.  I've been wondering, what is the difference between 'leisure' and 'culture'? *

Seems like a bit of a luxury, maybe. But I wish there were more of this sort of stuff in the world. A number of my students were very clear that they were doing it purely for the recreation, and yet each of their pieces emerged to have its own story, to be a small document of their being-in-the-world, their relationships with their plants and their materials, their thoughtfulness and their intelligence.

As for me, I don't have a scooby why the world might need an enlarged dissection of a cycalmen in egg tempera. But there you are, it's got one now, and it'll have to make of it the best it can.

One of the great things about this medium is that because you use food to make your paint, you are viscerally aware of the consuming nature of doing your doing. Especially as you only use the yolk.  I'd been  guiltily throwing out the whites for ages. (Sometimes after a long "gonna make you into meringues, honest," limbo at the back of the fridge, leading to the F.A.Q. in our house, "Um, is this some Art.... or Science....?") But look! The Universe provides me with a Marvellous Egg-white Dispenser, in the form of Blue, my wonderful studio neighbour's wonderful pal.

*The answer to that of course is; "If it's done by youngish men, then it's certainly Culture, and if it's done by older women, then it's certainly Leisure."

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