Friday, December 05, 2008
Cracks In The Surface
When I first exhibited my large enamel paintings, critics and collectors were immediately taken with the hard-edged, glossy colour surfaces, so luminous they look manufactured rather than hand-painted. And yet, precisely because the surfaces were uniform and flawless, like the enamel of a sports car's hood, non-artists took them for granted. They presumed they were as easy to achieve as rolling emulsion on a living room wall – they didn't appreciate the difficulty or the technique.Some did. In 2002, in an article by art investment writer, Michael Reid, I was listed in a select group of artists that, in his estimation, never produced work of less than exceptional standard. "Peter Booth, Hazel Dooney... Jeffrey Smart are all members of a select breed of artist who, for the benefit of all concerned, cast a somewhat critical and even destructive eye over their artwork. These artists do not turn out bad art." I've had the worst experiences of my career ensuring this stanadard with the large paintings (2.0m x 1.6m) in the Dangerous Career Babes series. I painted the first half a dozen or so in oils on canvas. However, as the paint dried, they had none of the slick, creamy lustre I love about enamel. The colours were muted, the line-work less distinct. I decided to repaint them all – and the rest of the series – in enamel on custom-built, beautifully gessoed boards. Unfortunately, as I worked on four works at a time, assisted by a couple of very experienced painters who understood the medium, I didn't pay enough attention to the materials or, rather, the way they were being prepared. Paints of the same colour from different manufacturers were mixed (a big no-no in my studio – or any studio) and paints in different colours from the same manufacturer were mixed in very different viscosities. These found their way onto our brushes but I was too busy to realise until the surfaces dried. Long streaks and jigsaw-like patches of uneven densities emerged. Large areas of each work were sanded and repainted more than once before I got to the bottom of what was causing the problem.Once I did, there was nothing to do but start again. I fired the assistant responsible and replaced one of the painters. I spent a weekend in bed, hiding under the covers and snivelling with a mixture of self-pity and fear. Then I got back to work. Of the eight paintings due, one has been delivered, four are finished and drying, and one is being sanded for repainting next week. The rest will be finished at the beginning of February. It's been a harsh lesson but I'm a quick learner. I'll never let this happen again.