Amy Dennis | Studio Insights03 Jun 2020
The subject of my work is landscape and objects, buildings and structures. For this series, I am working with the motifs of utility buildings; farm buildings, dock yards, warehouses and lighthouses. Descriptive observed detail is worked on alongside abstract areas, the materials and techniques bringing together the two approaches. I have until recently been painting with the ancient medium of egg tempera on Italian gesso panels, using a 15th century recipe. Egg tempera painting is very particular, the medium imposing its own technique. It has to be mixed in tiny quantities and applied in very thin layers, typically glazes and cross hatched fine brush strokes. The effect is of glowing transparency, with the white of the gesso lighting the layers.
I wanted to experiment with modern equivalents to this medium and ground, which could replicate some of the effects but be a little more complex and robust and allow for more playful gestures.
I have experimented extensively with Jesmonite, a durable gypsum plaster-based composite in acrylic resin, used in architectural restoration. I have been using it as a render on wood, building up several sculpted layers in different colours. The ground dries as hard as stone, can be carved and sculpted, and while retaining the absorbency of gesso, can be polished to resemble the luminosity of marble. Some of the layers are sculpted in low relief, embossed on the surface and then carved into with knives and abraded with plasterers’ rasps and sandpaper. This reveals layers and accidental marks to create the equivalent of an underpainting. I then impose a drawn image, etching into the surface using engraving and etching tools, then flood the surface with pigment and sand back and polish, forcing the pigment into the inscribed lines.
I then begin painting, using transparent glazes, stains, opaque scumbling and fine cross hatched brush strokes (much like the techniques used in egg tempera painting). The mark making is a dual process of accrual and erosion, as new marks are both made and removed (the surface is sanded or scratched back) and lines and marks reinstated into the plaster by incision. I try to maintain transparency, working in several thin layers to create a distinctive and animated surface.
While working I am conscious of bringing together the precision of the landscape representation with the more playful and less predictable marks and textures generated by the plaster. There is pure enjoyment in this process - the pleasure of balancing and juggling the parts of the picture, a running dialogue between the composition and the materials.Amy Dennis, June 2020