Many years before Banksy, Nick LaBella was scouring thrift stores for frames and paintings to recycle. Most of the time he would throw away the painting and just keep the frame. However, on at least a few occasions, he kept the original and painted right on top of it by adding new highlights or colors and some extra details like an added tree or figure, then he would sign his own name directly on top of the artist's signature. I love that he acted on this inclination, which was fueled by the belief that with just a little tweaking he could always make a painting better, even someone else's. (See previous post about my own work getting the Nick LaBella treatment here.)
For my birthday one year my dad gave me an antique British oil painting of a ship in a storm, a fantastic schooner of the early 19th century tilting against the ocean waves. No doubt he found it at The Attic Door, the local Oyster Bay thrift store that provided decades of amusement, furniture and second-hand clothes for the entire townie population, especially us teenagers with nothing to do on a rainy day.
I stored the painting away, and a few years later, low on funds, I went to an antique dealer to try to sell it. The appraiser, who had appraised me as I walked through the door, peered at the work, sniffed and said, it was of little value because it had been severely damaged. I was surprised and a bit defensive, "Just what are you talking about?" I said.
He pointed his overly long fingernail and replied, "Someone has painted directly on top of the sails and added this blue to the sky, and green to the waves and unfortunately it appears to be Egg Tempera". I had a sinking feeling because even though I never used Egg Tempera I knew someone who did, and I also it knew it was a paint medium with strong adhesive properties, visions of scraping egg off a plate left in the sink too long came to mind. The appraiser then moved his creepy finger to the lower right corner of the painting to a very familiar signature which was now obscuring the original artist’s barely scratched out name. I mumbled a sheepish thank-you-for-your-time, crept out of there, and soon after, in a spate of impulsive embarrassment and immediate regret, I sold it for a nominal sum at a stoop sale.
This newest archive project is my interpretation of appropriating and reclaiming images, and a nod, with fondness, towards an ironic tradition. I am using some old faded Audubon postcards circa 1936, that I found in dad's studio which were off-set printed images of original paintings by the nature artist, Allan Cyril Brooks (1869-1946).
These cards were once used at the T.R. Bird Sanctuary in Oyster Bay Cove to help identify local birds and though gorgeous in their own right, also appeal to my inner birder.
Using archival materials as well as my dad's original set up of Egg Tempera paints, brushes, his old palette enamel and even his brush rag, I am touching up each postcard to mimic the original's previous rich color and detail. I then sign each one with my initial directly over the original artist name, just like dear ole dad.
Here is the egg yolk base; using room-temperature eggs, separate the whites and rinse the unbroken yolk with water and gently shake off any whites or water before whisking. I use a nice sable brush for smooth application. The yolk dries quickly therefore to avoid too much texture do not brush over each stroke. I give it two coats and let it dry over night. These cards are hot pressed and therefore nearly water resistant, but since the core is cardboard I prep each card with the archival products below to neutralize acid and fix tears.
The following examples is a series of images to show the before and after. Click to see them larger.
Finally, the works in little distressed frames.