What difference do materials make in the creation of an artwork? I ask myself this every time I pick up a torch, saw or handtool. Can interest in sustainable sourcing appear precious to outsiders, like the perceived effete opacity of abstract art?
One of the principal themes in William Gaddis’s epic novel The Recognitions is authenticity—and the exploitation thereof. Tormented painter Wyatt Gwyon, who in his espousal of art is mined for forgeries, attempts an egg tempera that would render similar results to a period centuries past. He laments that the eggs available in New York City cannot reproduce the texture of a fresh country egg, something many of us will never taste, let alone paint with. This is a key distinction to him, and less so his “collectors,” but does it have any intrinsic importance?
Earlier this week I tried to explain the coloring technique of my metalwork to some women asking after jewelry. I have tried dozens of explanation schemas, but “permanent,” “texture” and “dyed” always figure largely. Every time I have the impression that my description is not persuasive, perhaps because what I want to say is that it’s not paint, it’s a pigmented porous layer of crystallized oxides, and most importantly that it is the greenest, most low-impact way to color metal. These things are of little interest to most people, but when I talk about my work they are foremost in my mind, perhaps making the other words that I say instead ring hollow.
Earth Safe Finishes, in association with which I write this blog, produces a wide range of sustainable art materials that I’ve just begun to explore. They have a market for their conscious products, but I wonder if the ideological implications of ethical materials would be disagreeable to some. Would a climate change denier appreciate ESF’s goods? (Do climate change deniers paint?) Can our awareness of our materials’ environmental impact affect appreciation of the finished piece? Or do toxic inputs demand an even higher bar for judging the finished work, which must offset its harms?
Wondering at your palette’s provenance might be like asking the brand of wine at the Catholic transubstantiation (I once saw Gallo in the vestry) distracting from the lofty purpose at hand. Apparently one of the miracles of the blood of Christ is that even the worst plonk can become the same blood.