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4600 years of practical knowledge in a 21st century piece of art

As any artist will tell you, works of art are concepts long before they become reality. On that long and winding road to reality, implementation often presents problems, sometimes demanding careful engineering. This is the challenge I faced when moving from standalone sculpture to wall sculpture. I wanted to “substitute paint with the natural colours of wood” and found myself wondering what my old mentor would advise.

The definition of “built to last” was embedded in my education from the start, always with practical examples. My early days were fortuitous, influenced by a gifted group of artisans who shared their combined knowledge with me for five years, beginning in 1964.

I recall my mentor Ernie Robertson walking me into a 900-year-old cathedral, showing me the interior of an outside wall that rose 11 storeys high, with no visible interior support to keep the wall from bowing and ultimately collapsing. He then walked me outside, pointing to the same wall—it had a flying buttress connected to the upper part of the wall, curving down to the ground where a foundation ensured the wall’s stability. Ernie explained the importance of foundations to the cathedral. This amazing 900-year-old work of art boasted flat plumb walls with flying buttresses, all sitting on a secure base.

Whether it’s an old cathedral or a small piece of modern art, the principal requirements are the same for both: start with that solid foundation. From stone to paper, artistic painters over many millennia have used a multitude of materials to suit their purpose. Some did not survive the punishment of time, sadly; artists started using canvas in the Renaissance, and today’s painters often choose a canvas foundation.

To replace paint with wood, I needed a 21st century foundation with qualities that the Renaissance painter’s canvas did not possess. What foundation would be capable of supporting the process I envisioned? Although this foundation first appeared 4600 years ago, it has evolved into the modern development we call plywood.

21st century plywood has some unique qualities, thanks to nature’s 500-million-year experiment called wood. Nature produced 60,000 species of wood, some with the perfect grain qualities for plywood. The many hardwood layers that build the thickness of plywood are placed with the grain direction turned 90 degrees to the layer below; between each layer is an appropriate glue. The benefit of this construction is its amazing strength, a most important quality for my needs. In addition, it does not shrink, expand or crack, like solid wood does, and as the artists of antiquity discovered. Plywood would enhance my art’s longevity.

My final design of the ply-canvas is made from the finest Canadian Maple plywood—three quarter inch solid hardwood, good two sides. The back of the ply-canvas has a large two-and-a-half-inch-deep open box shape, with corners jointed, a plywood bottom glued and screwed to the back of the main ply-canvas. This box is the buttress holding the center in place. It’s made of the same plywood, giving it the strength to hold more than the 52-pound artwork. A two-inch outer edging keeps the edges straight; it’s grooved and glued with the corners locked. The edges become the foundation holding the artwork straight, working in tandem with the buttress structure at the back, keeping the artwork flat and true like the 900-year-old cathedral wall that still stands in the city of my birth.

The face of the finished art is sealed with a clear, high quality German product that can protect a hardwood floor. The back of the completed artwork is sealed tight with a snug felt finish stretched over one-inch-thick Styrofoam, adding overall rigidity and a smooth consideration for the display wall of its future home.

Moving from canvas to plywood, I named my artwork foundation “ply-canvas”, and my art style “AsKewbism”. My art is my personal cathedral. It is created for people to unleash their imaginations when they look at it.

So, I ask you, what do you see?

Please feel free to comment in a respectful way via my contact page or direct to askewbism at gmail.


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