And now for something completely different... (scroll down for Materials List)
THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES
Using - and arguing with - the methodology of the ancient wunderkammern, the cabinets of curiosities of the Renaissance - we will paint a collection of wonders in oils divided into Naturalia, Artificialia and Mirabilia. Classifying the world is not new; the Ancients had their divisions and lists, the Medievals their florilegia and encyclopedias and the Chinese have their own quirky way to ‘measure’ the world with their system of classifiers which I am also studying. To classify is also to divide, so we will ponder what separates one thing from another but also what they have in common, with a more associative mindset inclined to natural magic that doesn’t necessarily support the artifice of separating science from religion. One thing may be related to another sideways or obliquely; the most tenuous of connections can create a relationship or a story. A raven is like a writing desk, a coral like a tree or broccoli and a rhino horn is like a unicorn horn which is like a narwhal horn which is a long thin thing a bit like a pen or a paintbrush. Looking deeply at the ‘thingness’ of a thing engenders a real understanding and appreciation for it, possibly a love for the world around us.
We’ll skip around the classes of Naturalia, Artificialia and Mirabilia and move between the worlds, coming up with our own categories and groups of miracles.
There is something magical and mysterious about copper. Although we will be using that most western of mediums, oil paint (which incidentally was first used in Afghanistan and Chinese caves but never taken up as fully and completely as in the west), copper retains a link to the east and lamps and copper trays and binding jinn. We will bind oil paint to its smooth surface to create delicate and glowing small paintings. We’ll start with the beautiful, pristine warm copper surface and then later explore other surfaces such as wood, cotton and linen canvas, primed paper… you can paint oils on anything (you may just need to protect the surface). Oils on copper are the most lasting and vibrant of the old master works; the vibrant colours are preserved better on its metal surface and the warm glow of the copper ground strikes through - the ground always strikes through.
Oils are buttery, creamy, slippery and delicious. Once you start you won’t be able to stop. It takes a bit of time to master; there are few rules - ‘fat over lean’ - and what you see is what you get. Sometimes crisp, sometimes crystalline, sometimes soft with layers of pulsating and shimmering colour that is only possible in this vastly versatile medium. Colours are infinite. Possibilities are endless. You can paint the whole world. It’s the universe in a box, in the company of small paintings that you can display as a collection on a mantelpiece or on your wall.
To paraphrase the Mahabharata, what is here in the Cabinet of Curiosities, you will find elsewhere. But what is not here, you will find nowhere.
We’ll start this series with the dice. Take a chance on oils on copper and who knows where it will lead… The game of dice has made and ruined fortunes and lost whole kingdoms in the great Indian epic Mahabharata; it is also an innocuous children’s toy used in board games or as an ancient game of chance and luck in itself.
You can start off organising your cabinet by looking at the world chronologically and historically starting with the creation of the universe or you can build up your world picture hierarchically as they did in Medieval times starting with God, angels and humans. Or you can look at it slightly askew and from the oblique point of view of magic, chance and fate, knowing that the world is being created anew at every minute, and multiple forked paths are available at any one time. This is the game of choices and chances, fate and free will. It is the game of life itself. Games of chance and dice were also originally a form of divination and meditation aid as well as play toys. This magical way of looking at the world allows for multiple associations and readings across categories; games allow for endless variations and indeed information, even secret codes, can be embedded ‘in between the lines’.
I have chosen every singular object or picture carefully as each will help transmit a certain aspect of the principles of oil painting and picture making. These images are starting points only; we will entirely create our own pictures.
The Ivory Tower
Coming up are bubbles, origami, mushrooms, bonsai, animals, little houses, peas in a pod, cave paintings, teapots, deserts, stars, stairs, galaxies and nebulas, hot springs, the moon, the sun, islands, mome raths, extinct Pre-Cambrian and Mesozoic landscapes, birds, doors, forest floors, enchanted seas, a materials library subsection including wood, glass, rocks, bubbles, bread…