A Night at the Opera


A Night at the Opera Drawing in 24ct 4K gold metal, Pure Silver and Platinum metal colourised in watercolour and highlighted in 24K gold leaf and white gold leaf on rag art paper 72cm x 52cm

 Gordon’s Inspiration: “One of the major issues that can arise in an opera production that showcases a wide and varied number of arias will be the availability of singers whose vocal styles suit the arias listed in that production. There will be times when a singer whose voice is perfect for a particular song or aria will be unavailable due to illness, or a myriad of other reasons. Often these occur at short notice. When this happens, it is sometimes possible to substitute a singer of similar style to replace a cast member, but at other times it is not. In that case the aria list must be changed.  Because these drawings in gold may take many weeks to complete, it makes sense to use a generic substitute to cover that eventuality. “A Night at the Opera” is one such piece.

I decided to re-visit the still-life drawings in metalpoint that have been showcased in art magazines around the world. The drawings from that period were all black and white images, but I recently I have been experimenting with the use of colour in metalpoints, so I was interested in what effect colourising and the addition of gold leaf would have on the visual impact of these still-life images. The artwork began as always with a number of preparatory drawings. These are used to work out the composition of the piece which is vital for the creation of a successful image. If the foundation of an artwork is deficient in this respect, then anything done from that point will be wasted time. The image must flow in a lyrical, poetic manner, with the correct colour accents in the right place. My approach to composition is not one that is taught in painting classes. I use composition to lead the eye to areas I wish the viewer to go. It creates a much more complex visual journey.

One the compositional elements are in place, the drawing outline is transferred to the Metalpoint surface, where to actual drawing occurs. The artwork begins life as a monochrome image drawn in 24k gold, silver and platinum. To achieve this, I use a piece of gold or silver wire which is applied to a paper prepared with a special undercoat. The ground I use is unique and is the main reason for the wide tonal range. It works with any metal, including copper, brass, and even coins or jewelry.  It could be left at this point and sold as a completed traditional goldpoint drawing. If, however, the goal is to produce a colour image, then watercolour needs to be added to the artwork. This is a little more complicated than it may at first seem. The coated paper absorbs paint and pigment to an alarming extent, the result being a faded image of correct hue, but very light tone. The solution is to apply successive layers of paint to the surface to re-establish the desired depth of colour and tone. The entire drawing was then worked over with 24k gold, except for the highlights, which are the raw unpainted ground.  At the end of this process the image was highlighted in 24k gold leaf (as distinct from the drawing metal) and white gold leaf – that appears as silver. Silver leaf could be used, but eventually it tarnishes, and I wanted the drawing to be the same in a few centuries as it appeared when it first came out of the studio. The leaf is finally worked over with a glaze to give depth, shadow and three-dimensionality to the completed image.

During the course of the Operarte Project, these goldpoint drawings have become more eclectic and sophisticated, featuring techniques never before seen in art. These artworks have evolved far from their Renaissance silverpoint origins, creating new possibilities for artists willing to devote their time to exploring the possibilities of this beautiful, but almost forgotten medium. The addition of colour and gilding adds another layer of complexity to a drawing that has already taken an average of 150 – 200 hours of drawing time, consisting of well over 1 million stylus strokes. There is nothing in the art world like these drawings that shimmer with golden light”.

Original metalpoint drawing by ARC Living Master Gordon Hanley.

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