Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Cathedral", a story of Mexico

When I was a sophomore in college, I was awarded a scholarship to study for a summer session in Guanajuato, Mexico. (The big, white building in the lower photo is the university ) I
was majoring in art and Spanish and my Spanish professor had established a scholarship in honor of his identical twin brother, an artist, who had died at a young age.

The university ran an arts program during the summer, but normally during the rest of the time, it was an engineering school; mainly mining engineering. Most of the silver mines in Mexico are located in the mountains that surround the town of Guanajuato. **

**The Valenciana mine is famous for it's enormous lode of silver ore and was at one time one of the deepest mines in the world. In the 1700s this mine and others in the adjoining mountains produced 70% of all the silver in the world. There is still untold tons of silver remaining, but it accidentally became flooded and was closed for many years. It has since reopened and is mined today. But, when I visited the whole area was in ruins. A rock thrown from the top opening took a very long time to hit water. And in the process, the friction of air upon the velocity of the rock created an increasingly gathering "whoosh" that became a roar as speed and echo worked together.

Anyway, with two whole year's worth of Spanish language study, I was enrolled in art classes and was living with the family of the ex-mayor of Guanajuato, so I was also "living " in Spanish day-to-day.

I took a weaving class in a weaving factory. The loom I was given was a huge timber structure I had to climb into to work. They had to adjust the treadles for my feet to reach them. My project was a poncho of white, black and blue wool.

I took pottery in another factory that made utility pots and tourist pieces. They had kick wheels and fired using a wood-fired kiln. I made small pots of earthenware that were "mas delicado" (very delicate). I learned to make miniature dishes just for fun.

I studied voice in a class of Mexican folk songs and learned traditional Mexican dance. All my classes were conducted in Spanish except painting. That class was presided over by a bristly old German expat painter whose every other word turned the air blue. He stormed into the classroom like a man going to war. He swore at the students; he had temper tantrums; he criticized mercilessly. He left me alone--he told me I could paint. I was flattered out of my mind. I spent the whole session working on the painting above. It was the view we saw from the top floor of the university.

On my return to regular collage, I exhibited the Cathedral painting at the school gallery and at the local art museum. I've moved it with me to whatever place we have moved. Sometimes, it stayed in a closet because it didn't fit or there was no room on the wall. I have a particular place in the house in Tucson where I know it will look good. Yes, the painting has flaws. There are places I would have treated differently if I were to paint it today. But I still love it anyway.

This second painting is a variation in watercolor. (Which my sister promptly named "Pope with a Lollipop".)

It is an interpretation of the cathedral in San Miguel de Allende, shown with light illumination. It is a technique I experimented with and may try the same idea on a pot.

A lot of times with watercolor, a white or light area is blocked out and reserved by painting frisket over the area and then the darker washes or background painting is done first. The frisket is removed to bring the white into the picture or to go back and paint details into the white. It protects the white/light areas in pristine condition and is removed by rolling it off the surface.

With this treatment, I painted this laying in the white areas with rubber cement, then painted the entire building area with light yellow. Then, I blocked off the light yellow with rubber cement and painted an orange-yellow over the area. I worked out from light to dark by blocking off each color and painting in darker areas. At the end of the process, the whole picture appeared to be a total mess, but peeling off all those areas of rubber cement revealed the beautiful, bright picture underneath. I overpainted the grass, fence and trees after the rubber cement was all peeled off. The trick is, you have to have the whole picture in your mind before you start.

So, why wouldn't this work using wax on a pot and block out the light areas, then glaze, block and then glaze? Firing would take all the resist off. I would suppose care must be taken to avoid thick build-up of glaze, but the whole theory may be worth a try. A carefully planned design executed on a flat surface might have it's possibilities.........

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