Monkey King, plaster cast from linocut

September 27, 2015

“Monkey King”, 6×6″, plaster cast from linocut, evoking Della Robbia majolica and Meissen’s monkey orchestra, as well as the iconization of animals in contemporary social media.

Photo 1. Linocut and cartoon. Inspiration came from sketching chimpanzees and gorillas from life at Taronga Park Zoo, research into ape behaviour and aspects which are replicated in human behaviour (e.g. hierarchy, violence, gender-based behaviour, etc.), Meissen porcelain figurines of monkeys dressed as court musicians from the 18th century and the tradition in European art of bridging humans and primates, e.g. putting monkeys in human clothes such as ruffs and of painting monkeys, such as the Barbary macaques of Gibraltar.

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Photo 2. Plaster cast from linocut. A section of round PVA 6″ tube was used to contain the liquid plaster (Blue Circle (R) Casting Plaster from Boral, http://www.boral.com.au), kept in place on a timber board with terracotta clay. The biggest surprise from the plaster cast was the shift from a square composition to a round one. The tondo form immediately recalled the tin glaze ‘majolica’ pottery tradition in Italy and later on in England. The replacement of a Madonna and Child, typical of Della Robbia, as an object of adoration, with an animal, adored these days in social media, seemed obvious. Because the lino was used to produce prints, a residue of oil-based relief ink and terracotta clay required some radical carving. It’s possible to leave the ink and clay and overpainting creating a less smooth surface. The raised surfaces in my linocut could have been more pronounced (something to keep in mind while carving the lino a lot deeper next time) and no amount of ‘cleaning up’ would remove the pitting caused by the residue of relief ink. Better to create a plaster cast from the plate with no prior printing (or at least printing using water-soluble ink)!

monkey king 2 plaster cast

Photo 3. Carving, gesso and acrylic painting. I carved into the plaster with both metal and wooden pottery tools – the metal for defining edges and the wooden for removing surplus plaster. The moisture in the gesso undercoat and the acrylic paint is sucked up by the plaster. I used a very pale Yellow Ochre and a Cerulean Blue close to Della Robbia blue. Despite being photographed with a single light source, the ‘stepped’ nature of the carving means the blue changes from left to right.

monkey king 2 acrylic first coat

Photo 4. Final acrylic painting. The two colours looked too “flat” so I added a third colour in the crown and coat, giving the outer contour added definition. I knocked back the Yellow Ochre to a lighter tone, getting a bit closer to the Della Robbia look. I carved my initials and date in the reverse and gave the back and sides two coats of white acrylic.

monkey king 2

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