Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Back Log 2 - The Many Men So Beautiful

The second piece that I put into the AFAS OOL show was The Many Men So Beautiful.  The concept for this was quite complex and I was worried that the literary references would be too obscure but most people who saw the piece and studied it closely said they were very moved by it. 

I used 'The Many Men' quote from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner because in fact all the discernible faces in the piece are of soldiers of both sides of WW1 (and WW2) who are now dead. I wanted to imply that they were all in their way 'so beautiful' but were sacrificed, hence the connection between that idea and the ERIT AUTEM AGNUS ABSQUE MACULA MASCULUS inscription, which is a quote from the Latin Vulgate bible, loosely translated - 'It must be a perfect male lamb'.

I used acrylic transfers to get the bigger faces onto the panels.  The rest is made up.  Trench systems were very convenient for joining sections of transferred image and I wanted to get the effect of an old-fashioned tinted photograph so applied paint all over the piece, including the faces.

The quotes in English, French and German are from the Hail Mary prayer or from In Parenthesis by David Jones or from Ivor Gurney's poems.  I have corrupted the Hail Marys.  For example, the German version refers to 'kanonenfutter' - cannon fodder - and the French lines are a prayer to Notre Dame des Tranch√©es - Our Lady of The Trenches.

As many of my family, Maddy's family and her sister-in-law Anna's family were in the Forces in both wars I have been able to use a good number of family photos for the faces.  The rest are from out-of-copyright material.

The carcass took 12 hours to make and gild, including time spent on ageing it. This is it at an early stage:
Bare Wood - After 8 hours Carpentry

Before gilding the carcass I gave it a coat of acrylic primer:

A Complete Covering of Primer

Then an imitation red 'bole' to go under the gold leaf:

Bole Applied - Ready For Gilding

Then it was time for the gold leaf - very tedious!

Shiny Gold

This was a bit shiny and new so I distressed it and added Rottenstone and othe 'gunge' to the crevices, wire woolled the gold, scratched through and drilled worm holes in places, put dents and bumps in, etc:

Gilding Distressed and Carcass Aged
I planned the images very roughly and because the transfers are in reverse I had to do quite a bit of composing in reverse too.  This mock-up does not look much like the finished piece but it gave me confidence that it would work in terms of design and scale:
Putting The Mock-Up in Place

At this stage I still had 8 of the 25 hours it took me to make the piece left.  I applied the transfers and started painting.  I changed many things and applied many more transfers before i was satisfied.  This is an early point in the process:

Making Progress At Last

This final picture is the finished 'altered altar panel' in the show, alongside an exquisite watercolour by Francesca Bex that won the Cohort prize for the best small painting:

The Many Men So Beautiful - Mall Galleries

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