If you have not seen Penn & Teller’s 2013 documentary “Tim’s Vermeer,” do so. It follows Tim Jenison’s obsession with discovering and proving how Vermeer could have produced his masterpieces.
Why am I telling you to watch it?
Besides being an interesting foray into how Vermeer might have created his masterpieces, the film leaves the viewer questioning where the line between art and technology lies or even if there is any such line.
Some reviewers criticize Tim for trying to debunk Vermeer’s genius. I hold the opposing viewpoint. That Vermeer was able to sort out and apply some very interesting technology in order to produce his amazing paintings does not diminish his artistic ability but rather enhances it.
Here is a review from the Wall Street Journal.
You can watch Tim’s Vermeer on line for free in various places and also on iTunes or Amazon for $3.99.
This past week, I again hauled a large suitcase of iconography supplies over to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jackson, Wyoming. This time I spoke to third, fourth, and fifth graders–a much calmer group. The music festival chamber group was rehearsing in the chancel so we skipped the field trip up there to look at the icons already in place.
After a brief introduction of what icons are and how they are used, we dived straight into the craft of iconography.
We ground a bit of pigment with the glass and muller. We separated eggs and made the tempera solution. Each participant picked out three pigments and a brush. They put bits of the egg into dishes and I doled out the pigments.
I had brought an icon pattern for them to color, but I could see that our limited time would not allow them to finish that. Instead each student received a blank piece of water color paper and painted what they wished with paint they had made themselves.
Of course, they were fascinated by the experience, and the parents who came to pick them up just had to wait until they were done.
Clearly, one of our artists sees himself in the picture.
The Transfiguration of the Lord, by the hand of Gay Pogue, Egg tempera and gold leaf on gessoed panel, 14x11x1 inches. $1200
Last week I wrote about the grinding of the azurite rock into pigment. Here is that same azurite in the background of The Transfiguration of the Lord icon. For those of you who have been following me for a while, you recognize that I have been working on this icon for a long time. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and many house guests here in Jackson Hole have put serious egg tempera iconography on hold. Finally, it is finished.
A note on the subject: With only the figure of Christ in this icon of the Transfiguration, I believe the viewer can concentrate more fully on the “uncreated light” of God and its implications for this time and place.
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The traditional medium for iconography is egg tempera. You mix dry pigment with some egg yolk and paint. After about a year all the layers of the paint molecules crosslink and you have a very durable surface. It is a pleasant experience.
Although an iconographer does not really need very many different colors to create a handsome icon, collecting lovely dry pigments can be addictive. Some of the best pigments are ground from semi-precious minerals, and are rather pricey.
So, I decided to jump into the craft of grinding my own pigments. I invested in a mortar and pestle, glass sheet and muller. I already had a hammer and drying plate.
I scoured the Internet and found some azurite and cinnabar. And on a nice day, I stepped out onto the deck and began to hammer away.
Then I went after the small pieces with the mortar and pestle, seeing just how fine I could make the powder.
Finally, I poured some of the powder and some water onto the piece of frosted glass and began grinding in a circular motion and shoving the mixture back into the middle. This went on for a long while. The worse part of the process is the sound of grinding of rocks between the two glass surfaces. I cringe just thinking about it.
You can tell when the particles are fine enough by the sound and feel. The muller fairly floats on the surface.
Finally, I rinsed the slurry into a flat plate and let it dry. Voila, dry pigment ready for the egg and brush.
Bottom line–I turned a $25 dollar piece of azurite into $250 worth of pigment, more than covering the initial investment for the supplies to do so.
Next week, I will show you how the icon where I used this pigment turned out.