Industrial Cathedral

Industrial Cathedral
"Industrial Cathedral" charcoal drawing on paper 131 x 131 cm Jane Bennett. This drawing was a finalist in the 1998 Dobell Prize for Drawing (Art Gallery of N.S.W.) ; Finalist in 1998 Blake Prize for Religious Art ; Winner of 1998 Hunter's Hill Open Art Prize

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The fire within

"What is accomplished by fire is alchemy, whether in the furnace or kitchen stove."

Fire is still a source of mystery and magic. It is a transforming element as well as a symbol of destruction. The discovery that fire could smelt metal was an immense technical advance in the evolution of humanity.
The smiths had at their command a material that could be cast, moulded, or hammered into a tool, an ornament, a vessel for cooking or storing food or drink, or a weapon.

Unfinished painting of "Chris, the blacksmith of Wrought Artworks, forging chisels" 2011-12 oil painting on canvas 183 x 122cm

I started this large (183 x 122cm) canvas of the blacksmith Chris Sulis quenching a chisel late last year. This is how the canvas looked when I displayed it at the recent ATP Open Day on Saturday 25th February 2012.
I was interrupted in the progress of this large canvas by having to prepare for 3 major solo exhibitions in less than 4 months. Most artists hold only 1 solo show every 2 years so this totally disrupted the progress of my painting. 

I hate displaying unfinished paintings, but I did so at the ATP Open Day as I thought that it would give the audience a useful insight into the painting process. They would see me starting a variety of small canvases, compare these cryptic squiggles to the half finished ones, and then be able to see  finished works in the exhibition in Bay 12. One man thought that I was using one of the small canvases as a palette, until an image of Guido hammering  started to appear from the cloud of brushstrokes!
A close up detail of the unfinished painting of Chris. He is quenching one of a seemingly endless pile of chisels, which have to be reforged and sharpened weekly.
On Monday I decided it was about time to complete the large canvas. It was certainly worth finishing, but it was a large, complex and ambitious work, full of perspective and lighting problems. I hadn't been able to spend much time painting large scale works this year due to my punishing exhibition schedule, so I felt a bit rusty. And the blacksmiths can't stop to model, however much they might like to - they are very busy!
Unfinished painting of "Chris, the blacksmith of Wrought Artworks, forging chisels" 2011-12 oil painting on canvas 183 x 122cm
 This shows my large painting as it was on Tuesday mid-morning.
Chris is working the Massey steam hammer in the background. He will stay in this tense crouch for about 30 seconds - and this will be the longest that he will stay still all day!

Every Tuesday, a pile of 100 - 150 chisels arrive to be reforged, sharpened and picked up the next Tuesday. Some of them have been bent into "J" shaped giant fishhooks and need a combination of heating, hammering on both the traditional anvil and the heritage Massey air hammer and even angle grinding. They are described as "chisels","points" or "tapping bars" - I don't know which of these terms is correct (if any!). Apparently these points are attached to jackhammers. One of the blacksmiths estimated that during his apprenticeship he would have reforged about 1,000 of these in a week.
They have mixed feelings about this task - it seems repetitive and neverending but they love using the old -fashioned machinery.
I have similar feelings - it is so exciting to paint this, but it is incredibly noisy and afterwards I feel drained and exhausted.
The pounding of the Massey hammer can be heard even through earmuffs, and there is a small yet fierce furnace heating the points that makes this an uncomfortable place to work on such a humid day.

Unfinished painting of "Chris, the blacksmith of Wrought Artworks, forging chisels" 2011-12 oil painting on canvas 183 x 122cm

This is how my painting looked after the Tuesday forging session. My next post will show further progress.
I'm grateful to Julie from "Sydney Eye" who has now posted several articles featuring my series of paintings of Wrought Artworks. The most recent are :
En plein air with street cred
The Village smithy 

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