Nicholas May

Liminal 174

1994

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Medium
Silicone rubber and metallic powder on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 2490 x 3708 x 50 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1995
Reference
T06990

Display caption

'Liminal 174', is one of a series of recent paintings. It has the uncanny appearance of both substance and immateriality. Liminal means relating to a threshold of perception. Here it is unclear at first whether the surface is pitted and textured, or whether it is flat and these effects are created illusionistically. This optical experience and the surface of the painting have become its subject. The work was made by scattering loose metallic pigment onto thickly applied, pliant silicone and silicone pigment. The artist then agitated it with a palette knife and used a stream of hot air from a spray gun to move the paint into a series of craters and gullies.

Gallery label, September 2004

Technique and condition

The painting was executed on a single piece of medium-weight cotton canvas, which was stretched around a nine-membered fixed softwood strainer and attached with wire staples at the rear. Prior to stretching, a sheet of one inch thick polystyrene was inserted between the canvas and stretcher, which provides an effective light weight solid support for the painting. The canvas does not appear to have been prepared in any way.

The main component of the 'painting' is a black silicone rubber material, which is a two-component, tin-catalysed RTV silicone rubber (information provided by the artist). The silicone rubber is totally opaque and of even gloss. The first coat appears to have been a thin and even coating over the stretched face of the canvas. Once this had dried, the upper (and visible) layer of silicone rubber was applied with a knife or trowel in a single application, probably with the canvas horizontal (occasional drips of rubber are seen around all edges). The silicone rubber was then heavily textured with all parts of the application implement to produce a variety of thickness, including areas where it was reduced right back to the canvas texture and areas where the rubber was 'slashed' with the sharp edge of the knife or trowel. A stick may also have been used for this and a heated implement was probably used to create the pitted areas. Two colours of metallic powder (gold and bronze) were then sprinkled onto the rubber, much of it with the painting in a vertical position (the powder is mainly seen on the upper sides of any impasto). The application of powder seems to have occurred both before and after the slashing of the rubber. The green effect seen in many areas is thought to be the result of a thin layer of powder, possibly applied as a thin dispersion in water, which has mixed slightly into the black silicone rubber.

The painting is currently in excellent condition with the silicone rubber exhibiting excellent flexibility and adhesion to the canvas. The main conservation concern is with the adhesion of the metallic powder to the rubber, which is extremely vulnerable to abrasion, handling, brushing etc. However, providing the appropriate level of care is taken during transit, storage and display, it is thought that the amount of such powder loss can be kept to a absolute minimum. For this reason it is essential that the work is displayed behind a barrier and kept away from draughts.

Tom Learner
July 2000