Technique and condition

The painting was executed on a single piece of coarse linen fabric, which is stretched extremely tightly around an eight-membered rigid strainer and attached with stainless steel staples along the rear edges. All joints in the softwood strainer are half- lapped and glued, and despite its apparent sturdy nature the cross members are significantly bowed out, due to the excessive tension in the canvas. For display the painting is placed on two lumps of elephant dung, which were sealed in a polyester resin by the artist in 1997, and is allowed to lean back against the wall. The linen fabric was supplied by Russell and Chapple and was purchased already primed with their Universal Primer (a styrene-acrylic copolymer emulsion product). The artist recalls that once attached to the strainer, the stretched face and tacking edges of the canvas were then covered with three coats of Lascaux Acrylic (pure acrylic) Gesso Primer as additional priming. Despite the many layers of ground, the overall thickness is still sufficiently thin for the canvas weave texture to remain apparent through it.

The first layer of paint was a very light yellow-green imprimatura, which was applied over the stretched face of the primed canvas. The image was then applied using a great variety of different materials. The actual paint used is thought to consist of oil and acrylic colour; the painted dots are probably oil and the black stars and light blue outlines are acrylic emulsion. Other materials used in the creation of this work were polyester resin, colour printed paper collage, glitter stars and spots, map pins and elephant's dung (sealed and dried). There are also numerous insects caught in polyester resin. The paint would have had a vehicular and paste-like consistency and most of it was probably applied straight from the tube. The order of application is quite clear. First the collaged elements were adhered to the surface, followed by the black stars, painted in acrylic. The map pins were inserted into the pieces of elephant's dung which were then stuck to the canvas with a Bosch hot glue gun. Then the surface of the painting was flooded with the polyester resin which bonded the pieces of dung in place. The glitter pieces were sprinkled into the resin before it dried. This stage must have been carried out with the painting horizontal, using a tipping technique to produce the runs of resin which reach all four edges. Once the resin had dried, the light blue outline was painted by brush and finally the coloured dots applied in oil. These could have been applied simply using the tube, or with a syringe, or dripping stick to position the dots carefully and control the amount of paint. Some of these dots, in particular the red ones, are exhibiting a small amount of wrinkling on their surfaces, a feature which is often seen in oil paint when it is applied so thickly.

The painting is currently in good condition. However, its behaviour in the long term is hard to predict with so many different materials being used. The weakest part of the structure is the dung pieces on the actual work, which will probably fall off at some point. It is also not known how well the pieces of dung are sealed in the polyester resin and for how long this will prolong their natural deterioration. The artist has left instructions should they ever need replacing. They do not need to be exact copies, but should be remade from dried elephant dung obtained from London Zoo.

Tom Learner
November 1997