Friday, October 16, 2015

The Egg and I

Had a few minutes last evening to paint in the studio, where I'm working on two little icons - one is of the Mother of God of Kazan, the other is of Christ.  They are both on egg tempera, a painting medium of great antiquity by which earth or mineral pigments are bound together with egg yolk and applied to a wooden panel that has been surfaced with plaster.

Which got me to thinking about my first encounter with egg tempera back when I was in high school.  The DeYoung Museum in San Francisco in 1972 had an exhibition of the paintings of the 20th century American painter Andrew Wyeth.  His subject matter didn't particularly appeal to me, but his painting medium, which was egg tempera, certainly did.

At the exhibit, it was possible to get up very close to each of the paintings and to look carefully at how he handled the paint.  (So much is lost in a photographic  reproduction of a painting!)  The transparency of the colors, yet their saturation and vibrancy immediately appealed to me.  Unlike in an oil painting, in an egg tempera painting, gradations of color are not made by blending colors on the palette  but with hatching lines, applied in overlapping strokes of pure color onto the panel.  Wyeth's palette was largely earth colors - yellow and red ochers, green earths and various umbers and siennas, (which, unbeknownst to me at the time, is the foundational palette of iconpainting).

Fortunately for me, my dad taught theatre and stagecraft, and had bins of dry pigrment, which, mixed with hot glue, were at that time, used for stage painting.  And our refrigerator had a carton of eggs, so I set out to paint an egg tempera painting on a sheet of masonite primed with acrylic gesso (knowing nothing about supports and grounds!)   It turned out OK, but my life and my life as an artist took a different direction until a decade later I found myself learning how to paint icons -- in egg tempera!

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