Can you imagine spending many weeks preparing to install a work of art, followed by three weeks of the actual installation in a museum, only to have it painted over once the exhibition closed? On purpose?
Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Artist Richard Wright did just that. The Glasgow-based artist won the Turner prize last December in the Tate Britain Museum for his untitled, baroque-style fresco that is created with gold leaf on the entire wall of a gallery. Wright began with the traditional pounce method used in fresco: a cartoon (drawing) was pierced with holes through which chalk was rubbed. Once the cartoon was removed, a “ghost” outline was left. He then sized (applied a special adhesive for the gold leaf) the outlined areas, followed by the application of the gold leaf at just the right time. If the size is too dry, the gold leaf will not adhere. If the size is too “wet”, the gold leaf becomes dull. Honestly, how he did it in just three weeks amazes me!
AP photo / Akira Suemori
The fresco, seen from afar, seemed like an abstract design but up close, the design was composed of landscape images such as clouds and sun. It was said to be mesmerizingly beautiful.
Once the Turner exhibition was finished, the fresco was painted over. Whew! Wright said: “To see a work knowing that it will not last emphasizes that moment of its existence”.
An elegant addition to any décor is to add the touch of gold or silver leaf to furniture or accessories. Whether accenting the special molding on a table or gilding a picture frame, the gold surface adds a special opulence and shimmer that cannot be replicated with metallic paint. When held up to the light, the sheet of gold leaf is so thin that it is semi-transparent. As a result, gilding should be done in a draft free environment. Any drafts of air will cause the leaf to literally blow away.
My own gilded table
Darnell Demilune Commode by Amy Howard in House Beautiful
Silver leaf table legs
There are two methods of gilding: oil gilding and water gilding. Oil gilding uses an oil size upon which, once it dries to a slight stickiness or “tack”, the gold leaf is gently laid on the surface and carefully pressed. Water gilding is a highly specialized craft used for applying gold on frames and furniture.
Create a screen like this with the fabulous stencils that are available now. An online search will bring up many stencil companies, such as Royal Design Studio or Cutting Edge Stencils.
Gilded screen Photographer: Erik Johnson
These arches were gilded with an oil size using Dutch (composite) leaf and sealed with Liberon wax.
Isola Bella gilded arches
Please join me again for Part two on gilding. I’ll explain the various types of gold leaf and offer reliable sources for supplies, books and instruction. If you’d like any other facets of gold leaf gilding to be covered, please let me know.