I have been using unorthodox texture in my paintings for a long time now. What began with rocks from my school’s parking lot tossed across my canvas transformed into a whole world of paintings littered with pine needles, bobby pins, and coffee grounds. I incorporated the objects around me to give context to the paintings. The paint dragged across familiar shapes, and glinting color between the cracks lent to the portraits I was painting on these surfaces. This was an exciting new step for me, but I began to feel confined by the techniques I was using.
Texture was built up on the paintings, but nothing could be reduced. They felt too central hanging on a wall, the four straight edges confining the movement of the stormy surface. Not only that, they were heavy. A four by five foot wooden surface covered in rocks and gesso is not practical. I set out to explore my alternatives and solve these problems. What I found was foam.
The Sidewalk paintings begin with a mold and spray foam. I have built several different molds out of wood in various sizes. All of the molds are rectangular, to give compositional reference, but the final product can be any shape.
Before spraying the foam, I coat the mold with petroleum jelly so the foam won’t stick. For some pieces I place chicken wire or metal lathe in the mold. I started doing this at first for visual interest and to reference construction and building materials, but it also provides structural support for pieces whose surfaces are more wavy.
I now spray the foam! The best part about this technique is that I am basically drawing my painting surface into existence. The wand at the end of the can allows me to draw spirals and waves that become three-dimensional. This is a more fluid and natural way of creating surface texture than applying rocks to a canvas. Each piece is cohesive now: a single object rather than a collage of found object. Once the general shape is constructed, I wait for the foam to dry.
Now begins the task of cutting down the surface of the foam. I refine by flattening some areas and leaving some bulbous, accentuating movement, and creating an overall flow. Paper and wood are also used to smooth some areas completely, and to add additional dimension.
In order to ensure archival quality of the work, I cut out and attach a wooden backing to each individual piece. This provides an anchor for hanging, and prevents warping. I then prime each piece with six layers of gesso, alternating color to ensure that every inch is covered.
Now I get to paint! Looking for a long time and sketching many possibilities, I invent compositions that compliment the shape of the foam. I don’t often start with a particular image in mind. Movement and texture are what matter from the start, and I want to preserve those in the final product. I let the image be guided by the surface in hopes of creating a harmony between the two.
The images below show one painting in several stages. The first image is the uncut foam. You can see how the areas wrapping around the lathe were carved down to make a wavy surface, while other areas were completely flattened. The orange door is made of wood.