Sunday, April 19, 2009

Behind the Velvet Rope: Sad Clowns and Stoner Art

In Portland, Oregon there is a magical place, a museum devoted to the wonderment which is velvet painting: Velveteria. If you have ever had a transcendent experience in front of a sequin covered dress, then you are emotionally prepared for the visit.

Painting on velvet has a long and glorious history. Velvet, traditionally made from silk, gives paintings and pigment a colored, textured ground that allows for heavy applications of paints/pastels with maintaining an uncanny vibrancy to the colors. This brilliance is most pronounced in the black velvet paintings, which combines the color dynamics of Caravaggio and traditional Chinese ink painting on silk. Personally, I like working on velvet; I have only done it a few times because it can get pretty pricey, but it really does accentuate nice paints with good pigments and refined mediums. The black background gives you instant dark and middle tones when you add just a little bit of saturated pigment. Thus, the surface lends itself to fast, decorative painting techniques.

In the 1930's-1950's a man named Edgar Leetag reinvented the genre, and this is where velvet painting intersects with modern American culture. In a Gauguin-like fashion, he moved to the tropics and painted the island women. Fortunately, this corresponded to the island/tiki craze in the US, and he was destined for greatness. I do not, however, think that he ever painted sad clowns. I don't know how that trend started, but if anyone has any information, I would LOVE to hear about it.

Velveteria, where this clown pic is from:

For more on our friend Eddie:

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