Enchanted Forest II
By Marc Alexander from his ‘Dreams of an Enchanted World’ series, Enchanted Forest II, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 100cm by 100cm, (2016).
In 2012, I produced a series of paintings for a solo exhibition entitled “Dreams of an Enchanted World”. This exhibition was mainly inspired by bedtime stories, folklore and nursery rhymes, which I often told with much glee to my four young children. Working mostly in richly coloured oils in the style of the traditional realist and incorporating the lustre of gold-leaf gilding, texture and some two-dimensional elements into my composition, I aimed at creating a surreal world of talking animals, heroic characters and magical trees. The artwork which I’m using for this demonstration (Enchanted Forest #II) is a continuation of this series, which I also hope to use as an illustration in a children’s book later on.
I’ve always found the rich cultural diversity of the different South African ethnic groups inspiring and worthy of preservation. So growing up in a fast changing world of lost cultural identities has been a challenge to me. It’s because of this reason that I have often included traditionally dressed subjects into my paintings, continually trying to capture the narrative elements of almost forgotten cultures and folklore.
It was during my training as museum technologist at the Pretoria Art Museum, that I developed a keen interest in the restoration of 14th to 17th century Dutch and Flemish art, especially the extraordinary luminosity that they achieved with their glazed layers. I also learnt how to restore Baroque frames and other gilded surfaces. In fact, I love gilding so much that gold or silver leaf almost always replaces background water, earth, snow or sky in my artworks and often adds a two dimensional element similar to that of a Coptic icon.
For many years now, I have been combining these traditional techniques, and some modern ones with contemporary materials. My compositions are usually clean and triangular with an off centre focal point. During the preliminary drawing stage I take time to get the proportions and perspectives as true to nature as possible. After that each new element of the painting is systematically applied and there is never a shortage of painstaking detail.
This hyper-realism that I’m aiming for usually has a very smooth finish, so I will add an element of texture. Trees, dead branches or rock are sculpted using my homemade texture paste and a palette knife or other tools. In general I find that people are so saturated with perfect digital imagery these days that they often crave a bit of texture in a painting. Because the texture paste has a water base, I cannot apply it over my oils or gilded sections, so careful planning is essential in the beginning stages or what I like to call the ‘water’ stage of the painting.