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AP1: Practical testing - Insetting materials into plaster


After looking at artist Victor Seaward I was very interested in the way he is able to cast other materials within concrete to create more layered, multimedia compositions within a single slab stone.


Victor Seaward, Flowers (after Matisse) I, cast concrete panel with inlaid acrylic, 2019



This piece is incredibly subtle, with a very sophisticated play with soft colour, offering only a slight change in shade between the panel and the internal image. Through using inlaid acrylic he is able to create a drawing within the sculpture, using a purposeful yellow shade of acrylic which almost creates a halo around the cast. The piece is also quite conceptual and grounded in art history through the title referencing Matisse and the colours used within the concrete being a similar yellow colour palette seen within Matisse's paintings. The actual image itself is also taken from a chalk drawing made by Matisse, allowing this piece to reference the history of painting. However, as a critique this piece may be largely inaccessible to an audience not familiar with Matisse's work and is then left to be only viewed by its aesthetic and composition. Is it important to reference historically significant artists?




As I have been learning processes of concrete casting I wanted to push my ability further and disrupt the surface of the casts through a similar approach to Seaward's and test inlaying different materials.




The first piece I tested was insetting fragments of aluminium. I found these pieces as offcuts and was immediately attracted to them due to the scratched and worn texture, the semi reflective cold surface as well as the geometric random shapes. As the inset materials would have to be in the base of the mould I choose to use an acrylic sheet as the mould as this was very rigid and flat and also has no texture which allowed the surface of the plaster to be flush with the material and also have a very smooth non-textured finish. I also added a petroleum jelly mould release as I was conscious about making the aluminium easy to remove. I also gave myself a task to play more with the acrylic pigments, trying to produce more subtle/natural shades which I drew reference from the urban environment around me.


When casting I made sure to use a heavy flick coat to reduce any bubbles on the surface, especially around the edges where the aluminium met. Once I removed it from the mould I found that some of the plaster has seeped underneath the aluminium. However, this was easy to resolve by using a wet sponge and careful running over the edges of the aluminium, revealing the edges of the material. I was surprised at how strong the piece was and how well the aluminium was inset inside.


Positives:


  • interesting clash of materials/textures

  • combining materials activates the sculpture in new ways

  • allows me to create compositions within a cast

  • interesting concepts/process of encapsulation


Negatives:


  • the material is easy to shift when in mould.

  • using the sponge to expose the aluminium lead to scratches on the plaster surface.






For the second test I wanted to find a way of casting separate colours within a single cast. For this I made use of the laser cutter, cutting a circle of red 3mm acrylic. I was then able to make an identical acrylic mould to my first test but instead started by placing the circle of acrylic into the mould and casting a 3mm layer of white plaster inside. It was very technical and challenging to mix such a small amount and having to take care in pouring the colour onto a small surface area. If I was to do this again I would have used a funnel in order to better control the amount of plaster being poured out.


I then had to wait for the white plaster to almost completely set so that when I added the next layer it would not mix. I then mixed a blue and wanted to test creating a marbled affect by added small droplets of black into the mix and swirling it with a metal tool. However, once it was cast, the marbled effect seemed to drop to the bottom of the mould. This was a very uncontrollable process, as the pouring creates a chance marble effect. I think to improve this I would need more black pigments and to pour from the top into a downwards motion to slowly spread the marble.






However, once the mould was released and the acrylic cleaned I was pleased with the end result. It proved that it was possibly to cast different colours of plaster within the one cast and presented multiple possibilities for the designs and compositions I could create into the surface. I felt very excited by this moment as it felt like a large step forwards into pushing my understanding and skillset of plaster sculpture and drove my ideas forward more into a way of creating symbols and imagery within a cast. Also it invited the possibility of what other materials I might be able to inset?




Wax casting



My work so far has been inspired through a process of collecting - building my own archive of stones and fragments of the city around me. At first I felt like the objects themselves could form an artwork in a similar format of a readymade. However, I felt that I needed a further intervention to the object - a way of being inspired by the forms to create my own work.



Found concrete



As I have been influenced by processes of casting and reproduction, I wanted to make a perfect replica of one of these found stone fragments. To create a replica of this I used a vinyl mould, cutting up small squares of the vinyl and putting them into a melting pot. I then created a melamine mould with the concrete face up in the centre, giving a decent amount of space around the edge of the stone for the mould. I also wrapped the mould with string to prevent the mould from breaking a part as this would be a hazard due to the temperature of the liquid vinyl.


Once the mould was released I tested casting different materials such starting with plaster and then with wax. For the wax I similarly had to melt down a solid section in the melting pots, carefully pouring in the liquid wax using heat protective gloves. It was a useful process to understand the melting point and quantities of the material as well as the care needed to pour it so as to not create any bubbles. Once the wax had set I wanted to test if I could inset this into a plaster cast, even though my previous tests had worked this piece was a lot larger. The main issue was the textured surface as this would not sit flat against the mould or prevent any of the plaster seeping underneath. To fix this I rolled out a thin section of clay which I embedded the wax in, carefully cutting and removing the excess around it. It proved quite challenging to make the clay thin enough as I wanted the wax to be as flush as possibly to the plaster. I also did not realise how weak the wax was, with it cracking under the pressure of embedding it in the clay.



However, once the mould was constructed around it and flick coating the plaster, the piece was fairly successful. After removing the mould I found that the wax was not very flush to the plaster as I had planned, however, the lip that was created was actually quite interesting, helping create more depth to the piece and drawing more attention to the contrasting materials. As an experiment, it was very useful to see the contrast between materials (the smooth cold flat surface of plaster with the translucent, oily, textured surface of wax. Moving forwards it will be exciting to play with a wider variety of materials and see how they react within the casting process.










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