Thursday, March 12, 2015

Preparations for Painting

A couple of years back I was in a gallery and the owner of the place, as he was selecting a few of my canvas works began conferring with me: He asked “Morgan, please how can I be sure that these paintings would last for a long time, at least enough time for me to have fully enjoyed them?” I was very curious to know why he had asked because he had had amongst his numerous collections a few of my older works that are still in great condition, even while I assured him of the durability of the paintings, he just could not stop expressing his worries as he continued to point at some works he had dug up from a certain heap of collections from the adjoining room. I enquired to know why he was so concerned at this time.

'Kitchen fresh' oil on canvas by Morgan Nwanguma

My dear collector responded: “I am not actually referring to your paintings per se, but I am worried about every other new collection I take into my gallery”. He continued: “Just a week ago I searched out among some of my favourite collections, a canvas from one of the younger artists, but to my greatest disappointment, the painting that is not up to two years of age was already peeling off!” He wanted to know why so many paintings today hardly stand the test of time, adding that so many paintings that were executed centuries ago are still hanging in galleries abroad especially in Europe and America, and still looking very healthy.

To cut short the story of our conversation, I had to allay his fears and explained to him what I thought was the problem. 

You see, I find so many faults in the curriculum, or should I say – it could just be laxity on the part of the lecturers who perhaps are too lazy if not selfish, to impart the right knowledge to their students. Some people, including lecturers, frown at the idea of staging practical demonstrations before their class for fear of leading the class towards being one directional in their approach to practicing their art, say for instance - painting. The argument is that when they (lecturers) do this, the students will not be able to chart their own personal course or style.

To a great extent I do share this sentiment, but I feel it should never apply in the technical aspect of teaching/learning studio practice such as preparing a canvas for painting; same as the problem of introducing the student artist to, and equipping him with an understanding of the business of art as he prepares to go face the world. As I later explained to my collector,  the point is that so many of the products of the art schools especially in recent years have not been thought, and they are not actually being put through on how to prepare a canvas ready for painting for instance. And so what do we get? Students come out of art training and venture straight into commercial (money making) pursuits without having cut their teeth or honed their skills even in a simple but crucial act such as canvas preparation.

I was proud to boast to my friend how the late Gani Odutokun, my lecturer, was always on hand, demonstrating and putting my class through on how to prepare a good canvas for oil painting.  This was taken as another aspect of the painting class; it is a skill to be taught and learned before ever venturing onto the next stage.

Next I shall be writing detailed facts on the traditional ways of treating and preparing surfaces for painting such as canvas and watercolour paper.

By Morgan Nwanguma

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