I made a mess of a painting the other day. That is not uncommon and, while frustrating, not a cause for undue alarm. Because canvasses are reasonably valuable, I need to try to re-use them if I can. Not surprisingly, the design on this particular canvas was bold so I needed to cover it up adequately before being able to begin something new.
My first step was to paint over it with black gesso. Gesso is a primer used to give a good painting surface to canvas. The black is effective at blotting out previous images and, although it takes several coats of white to reinstate a clean canvas, it is still my preferred option.
The black seemed to work as well as can be expected (no over-layer completely removes the textural remains of the first work. Visible shapes and raised lines hang around – ‘shadows’, if you like, of a work now lost). So, onto the white gesso – the first coat of three.
What I discovered, though, was colour bleeding through from underneath into the new layer. The more gesso I laid on and the more I brushed, the more colour was drawn to the surface. At first it was a hint, and then an undeniable hue. Eventually, I had a fully-blown abstract painting! Two things became obvious; firstly, one of the brands of ink I had been using was not sufficiently permanent and, secondly, gesso was not effective as a fixing medium.
So I began to wonder about us, human and ever-changing. How many layers do we need to apply, and will there ever be enough anyway, to hide our true colours? Will what we deeply are, what we are really feeling, escape the confines of over-painting and, eventually, rise to the outside – joyously or reluctantly, well-received or otherwise? Or, on the other hand, can we take a piece that is perhaps flawed and create something new without traces of what once was?
Food for thought.
And I won’t use those inks again.