Decrepit deluxe


Here’s the best oil-painting I ever did with my old (Otto) camera. I’ve always had a fondness for industrial spaces – the rusted tumbledown ruins of the once great Massey Ferguson plant were my favourite for all night walking as a teen.

Toronto was once a very handy and productive town, many of my crazy eighties art friends had live-in studios in the lovely old factories that have now been demolished to make room for acres of condos with such obviously terrible urban planning that one hopes it was corruption, because the idea of incompetence on that great a scale, set in stone for decades, is actually even more depressing.

But completely aside from the question of setting, I’ve actually learned a couple of funky things about painting since I took this shot, that make it even more fun.

(And these are all way above my own head, no authority whatsoever claimed).

What can you do with a finished painting, if it’s still not quite right?

I used to think the answer involved a match, kerosene and some moon-howling, but actually there are a lot of things that can shift the entire image in a helpful direction – one of these is glazing, to give a section a wet reflective look (and sure enough, I’ve seen demonstrations where it was like dull pebbles from the beach becoming wet and pretty again, just like when we picked them up!

Another useful approach is to try a ‘wash’ with a light pigment tint over the whole thing – you can soften contrasts, bring disparate tones toward harmony, and even obfuscate details that were detracting, by being too clear or assertive.

I guess in a way it’s like that first process we go through, of learning to break down a visual problem from back to front, so our least critical shapes and edges are disrupted by the most, rather than the other way around.

Only even when the painting is complete, there might yet be a layer or two to go!
And that’s not even getting into the insanely complex considerations regarding the true non-distorted plane and ‘objective’ (hah!) colour, for photographing it!

Layers and layers – decades too – and before you know it a couple of spare bags of concrete thrown haphazardly onto an old skid end up looking rather beautiful behind stained factory glass.

To me, anyhow (I’d be way happier if I’d painted, rather than just shot it)

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