Why paint oysters?
For me, pearl is one of the most beautiful, naturally occurring substances I can think of.
I have no sentimental value attached to it – my love of pearl concerns the way light interacts with the layers; something I find utterly captivating. But that’s not where the story ends for me because I also find the outside of oyster shells equally fadcinating too.
In fact, as you research the species within a certain genus, you begin to see how diverse they are and how the process of evolution has changed them over time.
Where the idea came from
The catalyst for the painting though was a documentary I saw on oyster farming in Scotland. In fact it was one of the first things I saw on my new HD TV and I was blown away by how amazing the picture quality was – that oyster documentary was the very first thing I saw in glorious 1080p so I knew I would have to paint it someday.
I began to look more into how they were commercially cultivated and how that compared to their life cycles and population in natural habitats. So this painting combines a range of colours and textures relating to oysters and other members of the Pinctada family.
Creating the painting
I played with the idea of using an iridescent medium in the paint but the way these are constructed meant that the pigment got coated in my enamel paint instead of being suspended in it! So I looked at other ways of interpreting the tonal ranges that oysters produce.
The painting and curing process has taken five months to complete, much longer than normal paintings of this size. Every last detail has been meticulously crafted – mainly using syringes and needles.
I’ve talked before about using this unusual method of forming accurately sized rivers of paint, I love using them because you can be absolute with your precision. Each river and flow is applied in this way, working on a very small part at a time.
The areas of black get interwoven with other colours using a similar method; black is poured on using disposable shot glasses then maneuvered around using an air brush jet.
Into this goes syringed paint to form more complex shapes and blends (and so on and so forth). It’s this technique that’s used across the entirety of the canvas, one very small section at a time. Gradually the layers get built up (in a similar way to naturally occurring pearl) and that’s how the painting was constructed.
This was the first painting I’d completed where I was able to keep the paint in a liquid state almost indefinitely – something of a coup considering enamels are normally touch dry in under 24 hours.
Time and patience pays off
I lost count of the sessions I’ve worked through to get the painting finished but I’m over the moon with the result.
I think all artists should have a few works that they class as signature pieces – things that help define them at a point in time and something they get goose bumps over each time they walk past. That’s exactly what this painting is to me. I fully appreciate that it may not appeal to large numbers of people and that’s just fine.
I hope that it will stand on its own merit as an interpretation on a theme that’s been painstakingly put together, beautifully painted and that has a place among my very best work.
Mother of Pearl is a very light hungry piece of art. It needs at least two directional spotlights (ideally four) and a close source of natural light. Sounds like a shopping list of Utopian ideals but if you’re going to spend this kind of money you really need to create and environment where you’ll get the best out of it.