Saturday, July 27, 2019

Gun Powder Sky

Gun Powder Sky
Acrylic House paint, Powder pigment, Iron Powder, Rock Salt, Marsh Grass, Charcoal, Sulfur on Paper Shopping Bag. 2019

This work references the painting “Battle of Long Island” by Alonzo Chappel (1828-1887). That painting depicts the retreat of the “Maryland 400” across Brouwer's Mill Pond. This painting was part of the Tides of Time exhibit at Gowanus Dredgers boat house (August 2019).

"Battle of Long Island” by Alonzo Chappel (1828-1887)

The title alludes to the great blinding noxious clouds of white smoke that were created by the burning gunpowder. Battles of this time in history were often hard to directly observe because of the tremendous volumes of thick smoke that were generated. Consequently, because the battle was totally obscured, generals of the time had a difficult time controlling the movements of their troops.

Here I layered the ingredients of gun powder and local marsh grass. White paint covers and obscures that under-structure. The paint is applied in such a way so as to let the chemical reaction of iron and salt stain and penetrate the white painted surface. Rust and decay are modern components that allude to both the past and present environment of the Gowanus canal.

Elements of Gun Powder

A graphic representation of the ratio of the three elements that compose gunpowder (known today as black powder). Various armies used slightly different ratios of these essential elements to create explosive powder. This is the ratio of the British army: 75 % saltpeter or potassium nitrate, 15% charcoal, 10% sulfur.
In the painting, the different elements are displayed as horizontal bands. The thickness of the bands represents the ratio of that element as present in the British formulation. This is overlaid on marsh grass that has been sourced in Brooklyn. Marsh grass was plentiful in the Gowanus area during the time of the Battle of Long Island.This painting was part of the Tides of Time exhibit at Gowanus Dredgers boat house (August 2019).
Elements of Gun Powder 75%, 15%, 10%
Rock Salt, Charcoal, Paper Mache, Sulfur, Acrylic Paint, Marsh Grass. 2019

Maryland Willow of the Gowanus

The willow tree in Brooklyn whose leaves I used for the leaves with the soldiers names
In 2016 I re-worked my painting "Maryland Willow of the Gowanus" for a group show at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn. I worked with a Holga photograph of the old stone house that I had taken. The Holga is a simple plastic camera that shoots 120mm film. For this new version of the painting I wanted to make a direct connection between events, places and time.  I also incorporated an updated list of solders from the Maryland rosters. There is a lot of research going on at the Maryland State Archives that is adding to our knowledge about the Maryland troops that served in the Continental army. It is all posted online.
Leaves and sky
I was inspired to created this work from a photograph that I saw in a book about the Old Stone House, entitled The Stone House of Gowanus by Georgia Fraser, 1909. The house was the center of the fighting during the Battle of Long Island in 1776. Near the end of her book there is a photograph of a lone willow tree in the vacant lot where the house once stood (pp.129). The author claimed that it is the same willow that is depicted in old paintings of the house. I am not so sure that facts back up that claim. However, I became fascinated by the idea of a old Willow tree that links us back to the times of 1776; a"witness tree", so to speak. As a commemoration, my creative idea was to inscribe the names of the Maryland soldiers onto willow leaves. I then arranged the leaves in long hanging branches that represent the different fighting units. For example, all the soldiers from the Second Company are represented by leaves on one branch that hangs down in the image.

This time I wanted to documented the creative process from start to finish for use in this blog. I think viewers might find it interesting the various process and thoughts that happen as I create a work. I myself spend a lot of time thinking about how my work is shaped and constructed by my process. For me the elements of the proccess are what create the work. The photos below are the documentation of who this work came together.

Collecting a small bag of leaves
laying out leaves on a sheet of glass- ready for transferring their image onto colored paper.
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Painting the paper roll used in the leave transfer process

the paper after rubbing and leaf transfer
I used different colors for the paper
Adding the soldiers names to the leaf shapes
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Detail of the names and unit information. Ready to be individually cut out.

Once the leaves were cut out they were kept together according to the different companies. Ready to be glued to the painting in long branch patterns.

As usual I am working with paper shopping bags as my base material. At this point in construction, I realized that the painting would have to be both wider and taller than planned. Research showed that there are many more documented soldiers. More soldiers meant that the willow patterns would be both wider and longer.  So to include all the companies and their corresponding soldiers, I had to make the painting base taller and wider. This is a simple prospect when creating on shopping bags, just add more paper.

Blending the printed house image with background "sky" paint elements.

Early in the layering paint process.
Laying out the company across the top and starting to fill in the leaves creating branches.

Almost done.

Installing at the Old Stone House
The finished install

Maryland Willow of the Gowanus at Sediment Exhibit at PS 122.

I was invited to participate in a large group show called "Sediment". The exhibition showcased many prominent Gowanus area artists. I exhibited "Maryland Willow of the Gowanus".

Brooklyn Navy Yard Artist Residence 2015

I was an artist in residence at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2015. This is the painting that I created as part of the residency. It started with a laser transfer to canvas of a panorama photo I took from the roof of one of the Navy Yard buildings. The image was low resolution, but I used it because it depicts the Navy Yard as it exists today. I next laid out marsh grass that I collected from around the area to reference the past. The Navy Yard is build on a large swamp area of tidal sand bars on the Brooklyn side of the East River. These two elements of past and present were then connected with painted iron rust and Brooklyn earth. These elements created their own organic forms as they mingled with each other. The iron/rust pigments bloomed, changed, and evolved over time even after the paint dried out.   

Experimenting with the layout of the marsh grass and the photo-transfer. The canvas at this stage is  unframed. The photo transfer is done by printing the photograph using a Laser printer. Acyric matte medium is applied to the canvas and the print placed image side down into the medium. After the print has dried the paper is soaked in water and scrubbed off. All the paper is removed leaving only the black toner of the print.

Adding the iron and rust elements. Now the canvas has been stretched.

Rust creeping and building.

Building up lower elements with natural elements of soil and clay.

My proccess of creating a painting is first establishing the various elements of pigment, soil, and playing them off reactive elements of iron, salt, and plant material. I define the perameters, add the elements, and allow the process to occur.

Starting to form and build the horizontal areas that describe the evolution of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At the bottom, the marsh grass will sprout. It will be both the starting point and the obscuring end point.

Building and planting the marsh grass in grey clay. This is the one element I would change if  I were to recreate this work. The clay ended up heavy and brittle when it dried. I would use styrofoam and a thin light coating over it. That would significantly cut down on the finished weight. It would also help solidify the overall structure.
The almost finished work. I went back in and added color to the grey clay area to blend it in with the bottom paint elements.