June 15, 2007

Sigmar Polke's New Paintings Must be Fragrant

Recent attention to Sigmar Polke's use of lavender oil in his latest work reminded me of the significantly aromatic nature of oil painting. I have always found the smell of linseed oil, aka flax seed oil to be delicious, and since it all comes from the flax plant, also the source of linen, a traditional ground for oil painting, it all works together in a very material way. Conceptually beautiful, the use of lavender essential oil in a painting is also practically useful with an eye to the passage of time, because it is antibacterial and so obstructive of decay. The fragrance has a bracing effect , and the essence preserves against insects and the attack of molds.
The Greek Orthodox icon painters have been aware for centuries that the sweet smell of the pigments and varnishes they used, made from natural materials heightened the experience of the faithful as they kissed the surfaces of the icons in veneration.
Spike, made from spike lavender has been used since the 18th century as a solvent alternative to turpentine, and is used in varnishes and mediums too.
A tablespoon of lemon or other essential oil added to latex or other water based paints pleasantly mask the odor of the other ingredients as they dry and outgas and also work against mold. I know that sometimes essential oils such as cypress, lavender and others have been added to waxes to protect decoratively painted furniture, floors and other surfaces, and polishing brings out the scent.
Image above: (not one made with lavender oil, unfortunately nothing online so far...)
Tischruecken (Seance)
1981
Dispersion on printed fabric
70 7/8 x 86 5/8 in. (180 x 220 cm)
Collection Dr. Rainer Speck, Cologne

3 comments:

chayaruchama said...

What a sense of movement...
Such intense hues.

I've heard that Muslims used scented raw materials in the buildings of worship.

You and I have to try to smell Empress Josephine's musk, too-
That she skunked Nappy out with !

Anya said...

Wonderful post, as usual, Lucy, and I have been dreaming with scent lately, and am drawn back to my memories of when I painted with oils. The incorporation of the lavenders and lemons sounds wonderful, but heck, I like the outgassing of the solvents, etc!

Perhaps soon I will have a chance to experiment with this path you have opened up for me...

Lucy said...

Chaya and Anya -- yes, the intensity of colors and materials seem to be able to hit the same kind of places as scent does, the proverbial "spot".
Chaya, I got that exciting package today, I am amazed!
Anya - So good to hear from you here -- those oil paint smells are really something, aren't they. It's a great idea, I think, to incorporate the scents into other materials.