Rust on the Brain

A friend told me about photographer and painter Charlotta Janssen, image above left, and I was most intrigued by her working methods. She paints from old photographs in in a color palette limited to black, white, aqua and grey iron. Once the piece is finished, she rusts it and the colors change and bleed into each other. Her next show is August 8 at Boltox Gallery on Shelter Island, if you happen to be in those parts.

Then I came across close up shots (image detail top, above Janssen’s Jones’ Family Car) from Richard Serra’s 2007 retrospective at MoMA that really captured the patina of the steel slabs he works with. To encourage oxidation, or rust, sprinklers are sometimes directed at the large slabs of steel he uses in his sculpture. Natural weathering of his outdoor installations creates the same effect, but it is one I’ve failed to notice when wandering amid his gigantic creations concerned with the space and form.

Rust is such an odd thing to work with, rather than protect works from, and it creates a really rich palette. I’m so intrigued by the idea of paint that rusts–anybody know anything about that? Or how else rust is used?

6 thoughts on “Rust on the Brain

  1. Chris–that’s interesting. So lots of paint have rust in them…I thought she was using something special. Does that mean you could create the same effect of changing colors with any of those earth pigments by adding water? How would that work?

    Bill, I didn’t either. I wouldn’t have thought it was something he had focused on.

  2. She’s definitely doing something different. Most painters want their pigments to be as stable as possible. Although most pigments these days are metal oxides, they’re designed to be as unchanging as we can make them. So I don’t think you can make your paints oxidize any more than they already have. (Although oil paint’s “drying” is actually oxidation, too.)

    As far as Serra working on his patina, patinas are extremely important to sculptors. There used to be a whole class of craftsmen devoted to patinas. As late as the nineteenth century, as a sculptor, you’d bring your work to one set of craftsmen who’d make the molds, another to do the actual pouring and unmolding, and then another to work on the patina. Modernism, for all its goodness, killed off those trades, whose secrets had been passed to apprentices and never written down. The past couple of generations has been rediscovering them as classical techniques have come back into use.

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