First in a series of three (so far), The Ballad of Randall Carter tells the strange tale of young Charles D. Ward (pictured here), and his boyfriend Randall Carter, who mysteriously vanishes from his Jeep on a country road a cold rainy night in November. These works continue my exploration of fine detail as a means of layering multiple narratives within an image.
Some details follow:
This work was generously supported by a grant from the Ontario Arts Council, to whom I am eternally grateful! Thank you!
(update: these works will be on display throughout august at Nathaniel Hughson Gallery, which is at John and King William in downtown Hamilton. The “opening” will occur during the Art Crawl on August 9th, 7pm-10pm)
In a perfect WordPress world, these would be alongside each other as a two-panel presentation, but I can’t seem to figure that out.
Anyway my friend and colleague Stephanie Vegh asked me to join her in a group exhibition at Nathaniel Hughson Gallery, I believe showing in August of this year, which was fairly last-minute but a fun opportunity nonetheless. I always have a few side-project and prototype ideas running around, and as serendipity may have, a newly “spare” room, so I decided to execute these two works which, originally, were simply stepping stones for other works, but have come into their own independently.
Lacking, at present, a formal statement for these works, I’ll say very little, but narratives of divination, unanticipated trajectories through history and the “monster” that is the forgotten past certainly pervade a lot of my thoughts regarding the work. They are both composites of around 50 images each, so the detail in the final works is quite pristine. They are currently being printed and mounted, hopefully I’ll see the fruits of my efforts sometime next week. I’ll be sure to update when I get specifics on the exhibition itself.
Base layer of stain down, metal-leaf done, all that was left was a few more layers of stain and some other adornments. As seems to be typical, once the leather is wet, the “look” goes quite dark, so I had to let things dry over a day to really tell how strong the effect was.
Shortly after staining, first layer after the metal leaf:
And sometime the next day after it dried:
And the second layer of the day, still wet:
For these layers I also added a few embellishments, some very faint traces of alizarin crimson acrylic paint, and just a touch of india ink in some places. The wet surface nicely suffused these tints into the grain of the leather and the end-product (eventually) had some subtle suggestions of burn-damage or blood stains.
Final pics in a day or two, and hopefully some test-shots “in-studio”.
The book is all but finished, figured I’d break up the “in progress” photos into a few posts.
After imprinting the covers, I decided to allow the book a few days to rest and dry, just to make sure the imprint stayed – it did nicely, and meanwhile I experimented with some of the water-based (I think acrylic) stain I had on hand for the leather, and the metal leaf I was planning to use. I “concluded” the best approach was to apply a base stain, then do the metal leaf on the lettering, and then work up the effect from there.
To (hopefully) get a more even effect with the stain, I wet the leather with water first, and then applied a diluted solution of the stain with a sponge brush. Initially it looked quite dark, but as it dried the effect was more subtle:
And then it was time for the metal leaf!
I chose an imitation gold leaf for a number of reasons, but most pointedly cost (way cheaper than the real thing) and the fact that it would patina naturally over time. I wasn’t going for perfect, a rough look was sort of the goal, so the effect looks pretty shoddy at first. The “kit” I bought included an adhesive and sealer and “antique glaze” as well as a “base coat”, I experimented with all of them but eventually decided to just use the adhesive primarily, and then layer a bit of the glaze and sealer on later:
The basic steps:
1. With a ridiculously tiny brush, line the inside of the letters with some adhesive.
2. Let that get tacky for a few mins.
3. Place down some metal leaf on top and use a soft brush to adhere it.
4. Use a coarse brush to brush away the excess and texture what leaf has ‘adhered’.
The results looked pretty good, nice and rough, though a little brilliant. The plan was for the subsequent layers of stain to reduce that intensity (the antique glaze helped a little). I applied some of the ‘sealer’ to the letters as well and I’m honestly unsure as to what effect that had.
Two views of the result:
And next up, the next round or two of staining, blood and ash!
Little behind but things are coming along well. I acquired some simple leather-stamps to imprint text on the cover, and while I know I don’t have quite the right type of leather for this operation it still worked out fairly well.
The plans for the back and front covers were made well ahead of time, and some happy errors on the back cover taught me a few lessons and ended up acquiring the look I wanted.
I first placed some greaseproof paper between the cover and the text block, before brushing the leather with water:
A few tests and some of the tools I used:
And the cover, slightly saturated with water but mostly dry to the touch – took about 3 minutes to reach this stage. I didn’t want to over-saturate the cover and end up softening the glue, but I gather the leather needs to be damp to properly hold an imprint and not simply get “cut” by the stamp:
Back cover, stamped, first still wet and then after it dried:
Front cover, before and after drying:
A week later the imprint has held beautifully, even if it fades a bit once I begin staining/”decorating” the cover the text should just become more intense. That’s sorta this week’s project.
Something I forgot however, was headbands – these should have been added before casing in, but I improvised and it worked out ok. Lacking time and motivation to order headbands online, I used this wonderful tutorial from MRX Designs to make my own, which I’ll link here for the sake of brevity:
I used that basic technique and then attached them with some neutral-PH glue; I’m still confused as to what purpose they serve, historically it was to keep the “leather from being crushed when pulled off the shelf” … still reading to see how that works. For now, they look kinda pretty:
More to come as I stain the cover and possibly attach some metal leaf to it … we shall see.
The book is finished being “bound” and all ready to be “decorated”. I attached the end-papers today and “cased in”, ie; mounted the block in the case. It looks pretty good. Here’s some shots along the way.
After much debate I chose this cream, black and blue art-deco-ish endpaper, here’s the paper before trimming along with my template:
Endpapers trimmed folded:
I used the method from the aforementioned videos http://youtube.com/#/watch?v=glbe_fDpCiU for gluing the papers, essentially by overlapping them a little less than a centimeter, and placing a sheet of paper as a mask to glue off of. A roller would be preferable, but I don’t have one, so I’m using little foam painting “brushes”, the cheap disposable kind.
The book block, ready to take the end paper, and the endpaper attached:
Once positioned I used a bonefolder to smooth out the attachment edge. This is a messy book block so it was a bit scruffy, I had to re-trim the endpapers after the fact.
The book block, positioned and ready for gluing – I placed a sheet of parchment paper undernead the end-paper to both avoid getting glue on the book block while gluing:
I glued beneath the mull and binding tape first, and then over top of both, before securing the end-paper in place on the case.
A clean sheet of parchment/grease proof paper was placed between the case and the loose leaf of end-paper, to avoid any transfer of moisture from the glue as it dried. Then, while not necessary, I decided to place the book for a time – again, protected with parchment – under some heavy books, since my book block is pretty wonky:
And an hour later, all finished and ready for me to make a mess of the cover:
I’ve found the cover is easily marked, likely because of the type of leather I used (which isn’t the ‘right’ leather), but as the book is meant to be worn and look aged and possibly bloodstained or possibly dirty or it’s really hard to tell what happened to it … I think it’ll work well. The next step is stamping in the title and “decorating” it for its final role as a prop … well, and the writing that goes inside.
Starting to enjoy this a little too much!
Woefully un-updated, a few pics and notes on the book I’m binding for a prop for some future work.
Previous to this – undocumented, because I’m forgetful – I sewed the signatures together (the bundles of folded paper that make up the body of a book), and ‘aged’ them by soaking the whole sewn unit in a vat of tea. It was a bit of a gamble – a few pages tore in the drying process, which took the bulk of a week – but it eventually dried and came together nicely when I glued the spine. Here’s a few pics of the signature block:
The effect was fairly good, enough of an aged appearance without looking overly stained. It’s a bit rippled but nothing that can’t be worked with – I guess the real test will be once some handwriting goes inside. We shall see!
I was unable to photograph the process of making the case, the glue was drying way too fast, but hopefully the pics will show some evidence of the process. That being said – I wouldn’t be redundant in over-explaining anyway, as it’s easier to link the fantastic video I use as a guide to this process:
I used a soft hide leather for the case fabric, really the wrong material, too thick, but improvisation is definitely a factor here and it had the texture I was interested in. Proper davey boards for the cover boards, and some simple paper to help line the spine. Neutral ph glue, although I’ve heard wallpaper paste works well.
The corners are a tad messy but it’s meant to have the appearance of being hand made, and a little sloppy at that.
The case dries with the signature block inside as a bit of a guide, and that’s where it’s at now. A few pics to show the almost-finished product:
After it dries, I’ll put on the end-papers and mount the block in the case. And then it’s down to ‘decorating’
This is the first post I’ve made from my ipad. I’m curious to see how much of a disaster it is.
Edit: horrible. Just horrible. Didn’t include most of the images, all of them uploaded tiny, bits of code mixed in with the text. Manually fixing it on my computer was equally bad. When did WP go downhill this way? ugh.
The exhibition proposals are finally going out for this body of work. I seem to function at a snail’s pace these days in developing work, but it actually feels like all the pre-production conceptual crap is up to snuff and I know what I’m going to do. The first work is all but finished, and can be seen in a previous post: https://mattsparling.com/2011/10/31/new-work-the-dismemberment-of-a-shoggoth-the-once-and-future-king/
This is the current state of the “artist statment” for this initial group of works, to which I’m referring as the “Prologue”:
The Once and Future King (Prologue)
Referencing T.H. White’s portrayal of Merlin as a being who experiences time backwards to normal reality, “The Once And Future King” serves as makeshift-title for a large body of work documenting a series of strange, seemingly unconnected events whose causal mechanisms exist outside of normal time and space. While privileged to the ‘effects’ described by these images – the disappearance of a student from an abandoned Jeep, the gruesome aftermath of a monstrous invasion of a residential garage, a paradox of a time-travelling book – the ‘causes’ of these events seem entirely unknowable to us.
Playing with the compression of time on a narrative scale, the characters stand in the moment, posing, perhaps with pride, as if in foreknowledge of the future-historical significance of their present context, a hypothetical “spark event” for a cataclysm yet to come. The prophetic mode here references, inversely, the truism “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”; within these narratives, history has already predetermined a far-flung future disaster, and while the immediate causal mechanisms of these bizarre, random events is unknowable, the certainty of their eventual impact becomes quite monstrous.
Staged in lost and unknown locations scattered across rural and suburban Southern Ontario, these stories occupy vague landscapes situated in a nether-space disconnected from recognizable geography, constantly familiar, yet existing anywhere, at any time, and nowhere simultaneously.
I’m starting some of the preliminary technical work (ie; camera angles, feasibility tests, set construction) for a work called “The Impact (Reunion: Prologue)”, although the repetition of “prologue” there bothers me and there’s a third title to a group of works called “The Ballad of Randall Carter” … and then another grouping simply called “Reunion” …. all grouped under The Once and Future King … I am disorganized.
Anyhow, here’s the narrative fragment that’ll accompany the work and serve as a ‘public’ description, and it explains why soon (well, weather permitting), this blog will be inundated with me taking photos of my Jeep from odd angles filled with books:
The Impact (Reunion: Prologue)
On a dark rural road in Ontario, the wine-red Jeep of one Randall Carter is found abandoned, door open, several large stacks of books balanced on the seats. Carefully folded on top of the books was found a military uniform, embroidered with Carter’s name and a series of unidentified insignia. The Jeep was discovered by Carter’s boyfriend, Charles D. Ward, after Carter’s protracted absence prompted Ward to retrace the route to Carter’s residence. Ward claims he found the Jeep by following the sound of music on the radio. The combined weight of the books was found to be 167 lbs, which coincidentally was approximately Carter’s own weight prior to his disappearance.
Abject apologies for the lack of updates here. Also, if my former students of this past semester would like to lend me permission to post some of their work here, drop me an email, you guys were great.
I felt a bit like I was rushing this post, but it being Halloween, it seemed appropriate.
The Dismemberment of a Shoggoth is the first work I’ve executed in a larger series, at present titled The Once and Future King. I would have liked to have had the full artist-statement on the series completed when I posted this image, but it’s still in the works, but meanwhile, here’s a snippet:
Referencing T.H. White’s portrayal of Merlin as a being who experiences time backwards to normal reality, “The Once And Future King” serves as working-title for a large body of work documenting a series of strange, seemingly unconnected events whose causal mechanisms exist outside of normal time and space. While we are privileged to the ‘effects’ described by these events – the disappearance of a student from an abandoned Jeep, a garage where some monstrous Lovecraftian terror emerged and was summarily dispatched, a paradox of a time-travelling book – the ‘cause’ of these events seems entirely unknowable. The events themselves play across a fictional timeline, punctuated by a system of signifiers drawn from actual reality and historical reference.
Playing with the compression of time on a narrative scale, characters stand in the moment, posing, proud, as if in foreknowledge of the future-historical significance of their present context, a hypothetical “spark event” for a cataclysm yet to come. The prophetic mode here references, inversely, the truism “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”; within these narratives, history has already predetermined a far-flung future disaster, and while the immediate causal mechanisms of these seemingly random events is unknowable, the certainty of their eventual impact becomes quite monstrous.
Ideally, when complete, the work will be printed around 60″x90″, and funds permitting, on big beautiful lightboxes. I have included some detail shots below to show the level of “readability” present when viewing the work in person, but I’m hesitant to post a full-resolution zoom.it version at present for a variety of reasons.
More props to the Propnomicon for being an essential resource in the creation of various bloods, goo and otherwise disgusting elements for the scene. Also thanks to my buddy Jer who made me a nice tub of gelatinous congealed grossness he whimsically referred to as “thickened water”. And, as always, my brother for posing for me, and my family for tolerating this level of insanity in their own garage.
Happy Halloween everyone!
I’ve had a side-interest in bookbinding for some time now – I’m even planning a large work in which something I bind is featured – but for now, I’m getting practice making little notebooks, and most recently, a journal for my sister, modeled after that of River Song, from Doctor Who, whose own journal resembles the doors of the TARDIS:
River and the Doctor, both time travellers, encounter each other out of sequence – most typically, the Doctor’s future is River’s past. Eventually both keep a journal, and upon meeting, compare notes to figure out “where they are” in each other’s timeline.
This was the first journal I’ve made that I hard-bound, and it turned out fairly well I think, given the need to emulate the distressed quality of the original:
I’ve been using clearance sketchbooks as a source of cheap, good quality paper for these little journals. It seems a little odd buying a sketchbook, removing the spiral binding (thank god for my stack cutter), and then using the paper to sew and rebind new signatures, but I like the hand-binding process a great deal and I can’t seem to find reams of paper of the same quality for that kind of price. I might be insane.
The rest was matte board and quilting fabric and various odd papers and such, with some acrylic paint to finish.
A few of the resources from which I self-taught on the subject:
Hamish MacDonald’s “DIY Book” blog and podcast – covers the complete self-publishing process from novel-writing to bookbinding to distribution. I originally stumbled upon Hamish via his No Media Kings tutorial on a do-it-yourself-book-press.
Ceropegia’s videos on bookbinding – they’re a little out of order (ok, a lot out of order), and the titles require a bit of knowledge of bookbinding language to decipher, but I learned a whole ton watching these vids.
The previously-mentioned-and-constructed work involving the killing room is almost complete, I’ll post something with a bit of an artist statement as soon as it’s finished-finished. The past nine weeks a litter of seven puppies has been destroying any and all time available for serious “work”.