I've wanted to paint an icon for some time and two days ago decided such an endeavor would be a good use of my evening. This painting is 9x12 inches on an Ampersand panel. I painted it using Acrylic. It was a good chance to see which of my twelve year old tubes I need to throw out. I've always like acrylic paint for its fast dry time, which allows me to paint in quick glazes. I use a hair-dryer to accelerate drying time. Finally acrylic is way easier to clean up than oil.
The genre of Iconography is an interesting one. Google Icons, and you'll get to choose between Byzantine, Orthodox, Russian, pre-Renaissance etc. The appeal and significance of Icons spans many cultures. Typically reserved for venerating saints and religiously significant individuals, I took this occasion to paint an Icon as self portrait. The only veneration I wanted to do was by way of the book I'm holding in the painting, which is a copy of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. It happens to be my favorite novel, and he my favorite author of fiction and nonfiction. I omitted the lettering from the cover to avoid being overly anachronistic. I wanted this work to be stylistically similar to icons of old.
In terms of style, what you'll notice about Icons is a flatness typical of pre-Renaissance paintings, which stand out historically for their increased use of chiaroscuro, or the use of light and dark to model the roundness of the human form. Icons certainly use contrasts of light and dark, but not to the same degree of increased three-dimensionality.
One significant point of departure from ancient or historic iconography was my use of acrylic paint. Acrylic paints were developed less than one hundred years ago, whereas icons would have first been painted with egg tempera, which was a combination of ground pigments and egg yolk (perhaps a few other ingredients). This medium pre-dated and was supplanted by oil paint as the dominant medium around the Renaissance, but has been used by artists to the present day, especially by modern Iconographers who work in the traditional way.
Another difference in terms of materials is the absence of gold leaf in my painting. I just used gold acrylic as opposed to gently applying layers of gold. I think the effect is still pretty true to form. Gold can be risky to use in paintings because it can look gimmicky or gaudy. In icons however, gold serves to focus our view and lend an other-worldly air to figures and lend a precious valuable quality.
I plan to do more Icons soon, possibly one of David Foster Wallace himself. Given the rich historical associations that accompany iconography, I think it appropriate to explore the genre as a means to celebrate "saints" of our own generation, such as writers, artists and those who are special to us. Painting an icon becomes a meditation on the individual and in the case of self-portraiture, introspection.
A Slideshow of my process
J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.