As a boy I marveled at acetate overlays in encyclopedias and anatomy books, how one image printed onto transparent acetate could add complexity when overlaid with another. Printmakers use this process. Print an image then rework the plate or the screen and add it to the original, slowly an image is built up, deepened with layers. Like my mother’s layer cakes, she would split each pan’s cake with a knife then frost it and add it to a stack. Slowly the cake rose like an office building under construction. The layers were the key to complexity and key to attracting my attention and appetite.
When paintings or photographs are built in layers we perceive them as have a greater sensation of depth. Mystery is heightened by ambiguity and further heightened by complexity. It’s the difference between hearing 30 barely distinguishable whispers and one. We will reach for more possibilities in the crowd of whispers. We will guess and reach certainty earlier when only one barely distinguishable voice is present.
In the first example, an oil on aluminum 36×36 “Transparent Botany” ( example 1) I first created a tableau of pattern with translucent oils. I let that dry. I then added more opaque layers but deleted select areas to reveal the more translucent and reflective strata below. Within a thin film of paint an illusion of depth and complexity is stimulated by the effects of this contrast between the opaque and the translucent. Dissolving clouds of paint (edgeless opaquely glazed areas) obscure the divisions between opaque and translucent areas further enhancing uncertainty and the illusion of space. Example 2 is a detail from example 1.
The following examples are a step by step demonstration of my building the transparent layer cake. I use a set of brushes ranging from 8″ wide to 1 ” wide soft flats ( see example 3). I also use a 6″ squeegee. I begin with a painting (example 4) I had made earlier. I now planned try a larger version from 36×36 to 48×48. I also wanted to try spot lighting sections of the surface layer. Initially applied a blurry and variegated base across the painting. Then I removed small bits of paint ( smaller in back and larger in front) in an overall meander with a 6″ squeegee (example 5). Next I blended the squeegee marks. Then, I added opaque marks over the blurred substrate (example 6). I did not completely obscure the previous layer ( see detail example 7). In the next step I blurred areas of the opaque additions ( example8). Each action appears to add another layer of complexity.
Watery subjects lend themselves well to layering. We experience a pond in layers, first the surface and it’s reflections then the submarine layer. Cities too can be expressed through layering ambiguity whether the subject is vertical like the buildings or horizontal like the street. Here is an example of ambiguous layering of a city subject.( examples 7 ). In example 7 the substrate is brushed gold enamel which acts a reflective undercolor.