The Origins of Marbling: Glass?

Most of us think of marbling as paint or ink applied to a sized bath, usually manipulated somehow, then transferred onto a sheet of paper. This is essentially the definition put forward by Richard J. Wolfe, in his magnum opus, Marbled Paper: Its History, Techniques, and Patterns. His book is an invaluable resource, tracing the history of European marbling. The extensive plates dating particular patterns alone justify the price.

But what if we think of marbling not primarily as the transfer of colors, but the technique of using a stylus — or a number of them in a row, i.e. a rake — to manipulate strips or blobs of color into patterns? Visually, this is where most of the beauty and magic happens. And Egyptians were doing this as early as the 6th century BCE in glass.

Egyptian Alabastron and Flasks, 6th – 3rd century BCE. Corning Museum of Glass.

Recently I visited the Corning Museum of Glass,  which has some very early glass containers that look marbled. The museum catalog describes the center container as having the, “entire surface decorated with alternating registers of fine trails [thin threads of colored glass] wound ten to twelve times before changing color; all threads have been marvered in and dragged alternately up and down sixteen times to form an elaborate and delicate festooned or feathered pattern….” ( 55.1.61)

Instead of colors applied to a viscous bath, glass trails are wound around a container. Then they are manipulated with a point or stylus. The alternating up and down stylus movement at regular intervals is quite similar to how many styles of marbling are done even today.

Does specialization in the decorative arts cause us to overlook a fundamental cross-disciplinary technique like this one? Or, is this a common decorative technique that it is continually independently rediscovered. If so, are there other examples?


Almost Vantablack: The Second Blackest Paint on Earth

A recent thread on the Book-Arts Listserv introduced me to Vantablack  the blackest paint ever made, absorbing 99.96% of light. Unfortunately, the artist Anish Kapoor has licenced exclusive rights to use it for artwork. Fortunately, Stuart Semple at Culture Hustle is making a similar product, though it is not quite as black. So everyone else in the world will have to settle for the second blackest paint on earth.

It is easy to get paint from Semple: my order arrived from England in about 10 days, and the price and shipping are at cost according to Semple, around 25 bucks.

To test, I compared it with some of my usual Golden Acrylic Carbon Blacks. I squeezed a large dollop, then using a new dry brush for each one dragged it down in one stroke on Arches Watercolor paper.

L – R:  Stuart Semple’s Black, Golden Fluid Acrylic Carbon Black, Regular Golden Carbon Black, and Golden Airbrush Carbon Black.

In this image, with little reflected light, they don’t look all that different. But in real life Stuart Semple’s Black is significantly more matt, almost indistinguishable from a pure finely ground pigment.  The surface is non-friable but oils from fingers can remain the surface, making it look less black. Even where the paint was thick, it cracked and remains matt, unlike the thick areas of the Golden Fluid that show a reflection from their glossy surface. The paint comes in a bottle and has a viscosity similar to the Golden Fluid Acrylic, though more heavily pigmented.

L – R: Stuart Semple’s Black, Golden Fluid Acrylic Carbon Black, Regular Golden Carbon Black, and Golden Airbrush Carbon Black. Specular light.

When viewed with specular light, the difference is amazing, even in the image. Areas where the Golden paint is thin, there is still a slight sheen from the acrylic medium, making it look less black. Semple’s Black is quite similar to the AIC PhD Target black on the far right.

The only bad news is that Semple doesn’t reveal what the binder is, what the pigment is, what the color coordinates are, or how much light it absorbs.

However, this is a cool project which uses the sale of art materials as a artistic statement. It could be interpreted as disgust against the gluttony of the 1% by targeting a single pig, Anish Kapoor. By selling it at cost it is also a comment on the history of precious materials in art interpreted as value.  It is similar to a Banksy prank, an artist who is interested in interactional art outside the white cube; art which intersects with the real world in unexpected and exciting ways. Semple investigates the weird intersections of materials/ capital/ art, then reinserts this back into the making of art, ouroboros like.

But will the fact this is a functional and useful product preclude it from being considered as “Art”? This question interests me quite a bit, as I am thinking about some toolart projects which straddle these deeply delineated and difficult to cross boundaries.