Thursday, August 29, 2013


I've recently been tugged again into my past... receiving an email which began:
"I have a white panel that I think was made by you in 1970".........

He described only briefly such qualities as to make it certainly one of the FoamCore relief paintings that I was making at that time in the Downing Street Studio, in Denver.

Quickly I was in Denver, clambering down steep steps into an unlivable basement space at low rent in which I  made my creative mess without tidy inhibitions. Living just up the block, my decorator had a proper playground so he rarely entered those rooms which hosted a variety of spaces. To the right was a paper room with storage, used for drawing. Beyond was a tidier  space with the sofa-bed-collection of cushions de rigueur to free spirits then. To the left, an antique kitchen functioned mostly for clean-up... since the room back of that functioned as a wood shop & the spray booth so necessary to finish these paintings...  I was again wearing & breathing that process... Oh! The MESS!
Well... you see how immediately I slid into that other past...

My sleuth put clues & poor memory into slow realization that the painting he had was recently sold by a friend who has been collecting my work for years... she was the first to commission a piece from me... my first client, now a deep friend... she had mentioned in one of our phone conversations that she was considering letting it go during a downsizing last year. The writer lives in Oakland, as does she. I phoned her & was reminded that it was a quilted "sampler" of techniques I was exploring with the medium.

He further explained that he teaches sculpting & math... 'wants to show it to his students. He is curious how it was made. Nice compliment!  First, that he chose to acquire it. Further, that he wants to share it as a possible teaching tool... my past moves forward quickly, putting my archivist to work... scanning the only photographs I have of that early work.

This is his painting:

I added the scan to the response I was writing, which I have re-written to accompany the following gallery of of work now digitized. I'm pleased to have been nudged to further secure them in a second format. I can now happily share them without bringing your hands to the actual leather binder in which they have lived for the intervening years.

I made a series of these "paintings" which are really more bas-relief sculpture using a material called "FoamCor", which I discovered when I was just out of college & working in Larimer Square as a sometime display artist. One store had acquired full 4X8 foot panels of the material on which had been painted enlargements of the drawings of Aubrey Beardsley which had been made for some elaborate society ball.  Beardsly was a favorite of mine then... & still amazes me.

The material is costructed of two layers of paperboard sandwiching a layer of plastic foam. It is often used in displays for signs or support. It is used as well for mounting flat work in framing.

Somehow I discovered that this material could be manipulated by cutting the paper surface & working to gradually compress the foam layer into lower levels, making a relief of light & shadow. I generally accomplished that using boxwood clay modeling tools.

The completed surface had rough edges from cutting the top paper layer & manipulating the crushed foam layer, all supported by the back layer of paper. They could become rather fragile & flexible, so I glued them into frames I made of unfinished stock for further support. That integral assembly was then brushed with numerous coats of heavy latex exterior house paint, nearly "puttied" to fill into those flaws, smoothing the effect, stabilizing & strengthening the surfaces. Finally, several more coats of the heavy house paint were sprayed on to further develop the surface. Still, even though I was using an "airless" sprayer, there was lots of atomized paint splattering about!

I would buy 4X8 foot panels in the 3/8ths inch thickness at a lumberyard, haul them in my van, negotiate them down those steps to cut them into smaller sizes. Most of these were 24 inches square, but I worked others up to 48 inches square.

I discovered "FoamCor" in thicknesses up to 1" thick, but I discovered, unfortunately rather too late in one design's construction, that the foam was too resilient to crush into relief.  I'm aware of a variety which can when wet be molded into curved surfaces... but I never experimented with that. I've used it as-is for inked calligraphic work. I've used gesso to prepare it as a sturdy painting surface. I have constructed three dimensional boxes or objects... I still keep a supply for projects in my current studio.

One early, rather elaborate project was a sign-board built of numerous layers, cut to mimic fancy molding, with lettering... both "carved" & painted, even gold-leafed to mimic antique woodcarving.

I first celebrated the purity of the sculpted white surface, As I explored the material, experimenting with possibilities, I added various drawing techniques or color to others.

The first two have weathered much travel with me... hanging now in my studio:

Woven lattice patterns occur in my bells much later than this exploration,  portending the Celtic designs I would explore later. Call it simply LATTICE RAVEL.

Several use arrows suggesting direction inside complex patterns...


Color with ink... perhaps an X-RAY OF A WAVE...

In the current moment I title this ROOTS OF LEO TOYE to note the history of my calligraphic doppleganger about whom I've written here...

TWIST might be a useful title for this one... reminding me of my mother's braided rugs.

The egg symbol has long been important for me. In VOYAGE NATAL the egg of a birth seems to be involved with wind & waves.This is a large panel [close to 4 feet in my memory] has several layers of the material cut & stacked in a collage making deeper effects.

Ah... ego... I must now title this IT'S ALL ABOUT ME!

This GILDED LEO also observes that this must have been my gilded age...

This BUTTONED MEDIEVAL HOMAGE is acrylic on a flat panel of FoamCore.

Another flat panel... HONORING A RELATIONSHIP... is a veritable cabinet of symbolism painted specifically to gift my long-time [most of a decade from early college years] part-time employers. Martin's Jewelry was my introduction to the allure of jewelry design.

Such  paintings as these, technically already dancing on the edge of sculpture, would eventually be abandoned as I began working more fully three-dimensional metal & gemstones. Although my BFA is in painting, I've played most of my life as a sculptor.

Carmen & Francis Martin deserve their own posting. This collection of symbols would be a good springboard for such reminiscence. Ummm... I sense the approach of another trip into my past...

I'd not splashed in this particular puddle of my history for a too-long time. I celebrate the transfer of one of these paintings & his contacting me... reminding me to make this excursion, moving me to accomplish more of the archival preservation I want & need. Most of all, I'm pleased to feel complimented about this part of my life's work. Thanks, Matt!