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'Fresco Strappo - Paintings to Print'

I began printing 'into' fresh lime plaster in 1984 for an Australian touring exhibition entitled Print as Object 1985 . The work I made for this exhibition utilized shaped etching plates .Once inked, they were placed into their respective wooden frames, taped to avoid leakage and liquid plaster poured gently into the form. After the plaster had cooled, the plates were removed and the framed 'fresco plaster' prints as objects revealed. For One Hundred Variations on a Pour executed for an exhibition in 1984, I used waterbased pigments (not acrylic paint which includes hardeners) and painted various images on the three triangular perspex sheets which made up one pyramid form when taped together. I made some twenty forms in order to speed up the plaster pouring and curing process. After the plaster had cooled, each taped form was taken from its inverted position nestled in the top of a glass jar and the tape peeled away from the edges of the perpex. The perspex carefully lifted from the sides of the plaster pyramid was put aside and the pyramid placed on its base. Because perspex was used as the form, the surface of the fresco plaster reflected the surface of the perspex - smooth as finely honed marble.

A fascination with the original art of fresco painting and the subsequent techniques employed to rescue and restore many of these fine works, became the basis of my 1986 post graduate research as did a rediscovering of my Italian heritage. During the conservation rescue process the surface of a fresco is covered with glue and a hessian sheet applied. The intonacco base onto which the original fresco plaster was troweled is chiseled away and the fresco painting is eased from it's foundation backing. ('strappo' is the Italian terminology for this process). Freed from its deteriorating wall and now affixed to the hessian, it is rolled around a large diameter drum and taken away for restoration. A solvent is brushed onto the hessian and the cloth is peeled away from the surface leaving a cleaned fresco and a faint image on the saturated hessian. One important manifestation of the process is the faint image left on the hessian - a print.

'Fresco Strappo' is my terminology for lifting the surface from a fresco plaster painting onto an adhesive backed transparent or opaque material using hand burnishing. Because the original water soluble pigments are absorbed 'into' the fresh plaster, the removal process can be repeated many times, revealing deeper and deeper aspects of the fresco's underlying image structure. Depending on whether the adhesive contact material is translucent or opaque the fresco print is viewed differently. In the case of clear plastic contact, the image is viewed behind the clear plastic (as if behind glass) whereas the opaque material allows the fresco print surface to be viewed directly. This work formed an integral part of my Post Graduate Diploma research back in 1986. What one achieved was amazing because each time the image was stolen from the upper pigment layers of the fresco a new image or under drawing would emerge on the surface of the fresco plaster. In other words the fresco plaster gave up subsequent layers of history and imagery to the adhesive but retained its own integrity and in fact continued to develop as a new work in its own right.

Using water based pigments one can paint successive images into curing plaster and then even months later using a water atomiser, reconstitute the pigments and plaster for printing onto adhesive backed material.

I still share this 'fresco' experience with students in the Art School at Curtin University although my main area of interest and work over the past five years has been a 'constructavist approach' to 'digital imagery' with a specific interest in the computer code behind the manifested image.

Douglas Sheerer 1999

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