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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Transformative Paintings—and Gamblin Cold Wax Medium

Dream of Futures Past
14x18 Oil/Cold Wax Medium
Michael Chesley Johnson

I want to share with you a studio painting I finished this week.  You may ask, What does this have to do with plein air painting?  Well, it has to do with my yearning to take what I've learned from years of painting outdoors and to apply it in the studio to an idea with which I've been playing.  The idea concerns a world beyond the physical one we inhabit.  Call it a movement toward a more spiritual form of painting, if you will.  But don't get me wrong, since I do love painting outdoors.  But I felt something was lacking in my artistic life.  Now that I've moved to an area sandwiched between two places that overflow with the spiritual—the Zuni and Navajo reservations—I find myself exploring.  The studio painting I present here is, I hope, the start of a transformative process.

Unlike my landscape paintings, the meaning and beauty of which are accessible to all, this painting is intensely personal.  I don't expect anyone to understand it as I do.  I won't write an essay to hang next to it to explain things.  But I will give you some help.  In Zuni mythology, the raven represents transformation; the duck, the soul of someone who has died.  Other symbols are unique to me, perhaps.  What do you see in this painting?

Gamblin's Cold Wax Medium

Now a technical note.  I've had a can of Gamblin Cold Wax Medium on the shelf for some time now, but I haven't done anything with it.  Normally, I let the paint “stand on its own” and use no medium.  But this time, I thought, since I was trying something new, I should go all the way.  I opened up the can and dug out a lump with my knife, stuck it on the glass palette, and got to work.  A little bit mixed in with the paint gave it a paste-like feeling; a little more pushed the paint toward transparency.  (The medium is, indeed, a paste, made of beeswax, Gamsol and a touch of alkyd resin.)  I liked the texture, since the paint, once applied, gets slightly tacky during one painting session.  It's very helpful in getting the broken color that I prefer in my work.  What's more, it has a matte finish, eliminating any glare and making it easier for me to judge color relationships.  Overall, the paint surface has a translucent quality that enhances the “dreamy” feeling of the piece.

I thought you might like to see the different stages in this painting, so I've put together a short video.  (Don't see it below?  Here's the link.)  It was difficult to get the camera and lighting consistent with each shot, but you should get the idea.