As the tower of babel slowly rose higher into the cloudy Manchester sky, and ugly buildings were sprouting around the city, the trees were vanishing. Every day was a new puzzle, why would someone choose to live in a wooded area and then cut the trees down? Picadilly gardens had been destroyed, replaced with a few spindly ill looking specimens. Castlefield lost its rows of London Plane, and even worsley woods was starting to shrink. The trees disappear like their shadows with a passing cloud.
At the start of the In Memory of Missing Trees project I wanted to find a way to make the paintings disappear and re-appear like the shadows of the trees. The original idea was to use a retroreflective material which would mean the painting would only be visible with the light behind the viewer or through a flash photograph. This turned out to be incredibly expensive. I continued experimenting with glazes and other ideas, but the idea struck me as I was driving to Torun, that if I can get a sheet of steel, paint it with wax like an etching plate, and then instead of scraping and dipping in acid, I could wash away the wax and leave the exposed areas to rust in the rain. I didn’t get round to finding the steel until I took friends Asia and Piotr to Asai’s parents to get some furniture, after an hilarious birthday party and a memorable visit I was given some sheets of steel. I experimented with these with unsatisfactory results. Skip forward 6 months and I was working in a warehouse/anitque shop in London, we took down some metal shelves, they were beautiful big rusty sheets, perfect, except I was in the hell hole of London. Skip a few more months and back in Manchester. It was a hot day and I was looking after the 20 plus three project, I spent the day sanding down a couple of the sheets, then polishing with wire wool to take all the rust off. It was very sunny and the sunshine reflecting off the steel triggered my iritis and I went blind for a couple of weeks. I tried the wax resist approach again, one with beeswax another with damar, I then encouraged people to urinate on them. The result was still not good enough. The other sheets I sanded down and polished only where I wanted the light to come through, this was much better and simpler, and kept the years of decay on the steel, which is a beautiful thing. I used previous paintings for these, and exhibited them first in the Sandbar, then in the AMC cinema, then the Kendal Calling festival. They were most succesful in the Sandbar, on a dark wall opposite some glass doors, they didn’t work well in the bright light. The goal had kind of been achieved- that the paintings are viewed best with the light behind the viewer, and they disappear, or become less visible in different lights. These works were stolen from our garden, which was really irritating, I had left them to see which protective coating works best – probably the beeswax, but I’ll give copal a go next time.
Now its more than a year later and more sheets of rusty steel have appeared, so I tried again. This time the metal is more pock marked and doesn’t come down to a smooth finish easily, which is great because it provides a larger variety of textures and the scratchy lines don’t appear which was a problem with using sandpaper on smooth metal, in that instance it was difficult to get the surface smooth, this time the difficulty is that I’ve been using wax crayon instead of normal chalk, which is tricky to get rid of. I’m quite pleased with the outcome, but I need to work out an effective way of presentation, I would like to incorporate this and the ones to come into a mural somehow, but we shall see about that.
In Memory of Missing Trees XXIX
Sheet of rusty steel