I have been asked a few times for an explanation of the elements I blurtched onto the screen I recently exhibited at the Flax Bourton Art Exhibition. So, here’s an overview of its creation and in the next post I’ll record a run-down of the main images.
Firstly, the wood itself was nine pine planks cut by the Victorian makers of the old organ in Flax Bourton Church with fretwork patterns and fixed as a screen covering the pipes. The organ itself was in poor condition, of no intrinsic value and as a late addition to the Saxon building did not have history on its side. When we removed it a few years ago to create a new room in the church we broke the organ up, sold most interesting parts – the decorated pipes – round the village and relegated remaining wood to several household garages, including mine at the Rectory. For the past five years, every time I have gone to fetch the lawn mower out of the garage I have been confronted by this piece of wood 1 metre high and 1.5 metres across and have kept putting off the inkling of an idea that it would make a great folding screen.
The screen was made of nine vertical planks held together by two horizontals, with only one screw fixing each horizontal to each vertical. This made it rather unstable, so once I had decided to attempt this project, the first job was to add two more screws to each panel per horizontal. Stability assured, I then cut the panel into three blocks of three verticals. This made it more manageable and meant that sanding down the surfaces to remove the varnish was a simple, although dusty and tedious, chore. Next came the painting. Primer, undercoat and five coats of top coat – eggshell white for the back and some fancy shades of acrylic emulsion for the front, alternating panels of a sort of cream and a pale blue.
All that preparation took me from February to May this year. My intention was to getting the painting done during the last week of May which was my first holiday of the year. However, I massively overestimated how long each element was going to take. Designing the panels was easy. It was immediately obvious to me that the only way I could create images on such a large space was to follow the original fretwork patterns and stick with my small scale illustrations. Symmetry is important to me, but I was aware this could easily be overdone, so while I created a mirror image pattern of the fretwork shapes I wanted the illustrations to be less rigid in their layout. By the end of a week only the central panel was complete. But then I had managed 40 hours painting. So I needed to squeeze in another 80 hours before the end of June. Because of evening meetings I wasn’t able to start painting until about 10.30pm each night. Sometimes I managed to keep going until 1.00am, often I gave up at midnight. What really helped was a couple of Sundays and Monday when I managed 10 hours a day. Because I was unsure that I would get it complete in time I painted matching verticals of the two outside panels so that if I had to exhibit it unfinished at least it would look symmetrical.
Once the painting was complete then it was time to put the pieces together. I couldn’t get my head around how to hinge it so that each panel could swing both inside and out. In the end I went to a charity shop, bought a ladies leather belt about 3cm wide and cut it into four strips which I shaped into hinges. Nailed across the back these were completely flexible but to allow the screen to close up would have created an unbearably wide gap between each panel. I closed the gap and the while each panel can fold back onto the centre one they can now only fold forwards by 90 degrees. By then it was the night before the preview of the exhibition, so I had to stop tinkering and deliver the piece and site it somewhere where it wouldn’t get knocked over as it was way too heavy to hang.
More about the painting and the images in part two.