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Marcus Wood


Why paint and draw in Tar?

It is not just roofs, roads and human bodies which tar has been painted over.  European painters had used it since at least Rembrandt's time.  The disastrous and sadistic night spaces of Magnasco and Salvator Rosa often used layers of bitumen to reach their proper dark.  Within the ateliers and academies bitumen, asphalt and natural tar pigments always had a place of their own.  The black crackling shells which now grow across and evolve across the works of Reynolds, Fuseli and Charles Pinkham Ryder not only drive restorers to despair but bear testimony to the sheer wight of tar being lovingly smeared over old master canvases for the last three hundred years.

Tar is art , the essence of creativity, the Spanish have a word for it, the DUENDE. Why paint in tar?  It smells delicious, feels good, produces a lot of different shades from crystalline jetty blacks to golden ochres, works treacle thick or water thin.  But beyond this there is tradition.  At the end of Franicisco Goya's life he began to paint in tar.  The great poet Garcia Lorca saw exactly what he was up to, painting the duende


‘All one knows is that it burns like powdered glass, that is exhausts, that it rejects all the sweet geometry one has learned, that it breaks with all styles, that it compels Goya, master of greys, silvers, and of those pinks in the best English paintings, to paint with his knees and with his fists horrible bitumen blacks.’


Goya's a mad old man, working on in syphilitic oblivion, in the Quinta del Sordo, the 'house of the deaf man', painting images which are black in form, black in fact, black in-sight.  Painting as a sublime street fight Goya, not even punching, kneeing, the canvas, a crazy Brer rabbit, enmeshing himself in the Tar Baby .

Click Here for the links to High Tar Baby Project.

Click Here for the links to High Tar Baby Project.

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