Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Sleeping Beauty

 (Above:  Sleeping Beauty.  Framed: 57" x 37" x 2 1/2".  Seriously damaged vintage party dress, artificial flowers collected from cemetery dumpsters, epoxy.)

For the past two weeks I've been working on this piece.  It started as a hair-brained idea, one I didn't think would work but had to try.  After all, I had absolutely nothing in the dress.  It was given to me by one of the other "regulars" at Bill Mishoe's auction.  It was in terrible shape, literally falling apart.  To me, it looked like a dress straight from Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, something like the decaying wedding frock worn by Miss Havisham, something that was once beautiful but had been ravaged by time. Yet the pretty pink color also made me think of a Sweet Sixteen party from a long ago fairy tale, one attended by Princess Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty.
(Above:  Sleeping Beauty, detail.)

I've been working on all sorts of fun projects in anticipation of a spring show with artists Flavia Lovatelli and Olga Yukhno called Alternative Storytellers.  The dress seemed a perfect vehicle for a twist in the plot.  First, however, I had to figure out a way to use a garment in such poor condition.

(Above:  The finished piece leaning up against a wall here at Mouse House.)

The dress was very, very fragile, especially the chiffon sleeves.  The back of the dress looked better than the front.  So I removed some of the existing trim from the front and attached it to the back.  I knew I wanted artificial cemetery flowers to surround the garment and I knew I wanted to pour epoxy over the entire thing.  The epoxy would protect the deteriorating dress.  It would also create a reflective surface that would heighten the sense of a former, luscious textile ... so close to the viewer's touch but subtly out of reach.

(Above:  Sleeping Beauty, before being put into custom frame, on our front porch.)

The shiny surface of epoxy, however, makes photographing the work very, very difficult.  Most angles reflected my tripod and camera, the sky, and the trees and building across the street.  Inside was even worse.  Steve helped hold up 32" x 40" pieces of black foam-centered boards in order to capture any worthwhile image.

I am really pleased with the results even though the dress actually looks far better than I expected.  I sort of thought it would retain more of a disheveled appearance.  Below are in-progress images and the entire story line that is written in individual letters on the frame's inner lip.

Because epoxy adds plenty of weight, I started with a piece of particle board cut to 54" x 34" and a piece of over-sized foam-centered board cut to the same dimensions.  I applied a heat-activated glue to the foam-centered board.  It curled badly while drying.

I stapled the curled foam-centered board to the perimeter of the particle board.

I had to put staple every few inches.

I auditioned several colors of fabric for the background, deciding that the black was definitely the best for both contract and the concept of death.  The fabric, however, did not iron properly to the heat-activated glue.  I applied a very thin coating of the glue and position the fabric on the wet surface.  It stuck perfectly.

The entire black surface was coated with Golden's GAC 400 fabric stiffener and allowed to completely dry.

I purchase the fabric stiffener by the gallon but have never used it expect to coat fabric with a thin wash.  This time, I had to pour it.  Picking up the fragile dress wasn't possible.  It could hardly carry its own weight.

The stiffener was poured under sections of the dress and over the top.  The solution was moved around gently until all the fabric was saturated.  To be honest, it looked dreadful.  I knew that the stiffener was supposed to dry to a crystal clear finish. By the next day, there were still "white" areas of stiffener.

Amazingly, the solution did become crystal clear after the second day.

Because I've poured epoxy over all sorts of surfaces, I knew that this piece would require two applications.  The first coating went on perfectly well.  These photos come from the second pour.

During the second application, I could move the epoxy to fill areas that weren't as thick.  Using my gloved hands, I made sure the entire surface had at least some epoxy.

Quickly, I used the propane torch to force tiny air bubbles to the surface.  This gives the epoxy the high reflective, shiny surface.  I had to work fast because there is only about a fifteen minute open time with this UV filtering, artist grade epoxy and I had more to do!

Before pouring the epoxy, I'd set out artificial flowers collected from cemetery dumpsters.  All the plastic parts had been removed.  These are simply the fabric of the flowers and leaves.

I had to remove my gloves for this part.  They were covered in epoxy.  I picked up and positioned flowers with my left hand.  I pressed the center into the epoxy with my right index finger.  Epoxy is very, very sticky.  I couldn't risk getting any on my left hand!  (Please note, the piece was raised from the table's plastic covered surface ... so that it wouldn't stick to the table!)

For this shot, Steve got on the ladder and turned off the lights in the garage.  Why turn off the lights?  Because overhead is a long fluorescent bulb.  From this angle, all that could be seen was its reflection!   (We had the big door open for natural light!)

Finally, I had all the flowers I wanted positioned around the dress.  The piece dried overnight.

Now it was time to create the custom frame on which the alternative story would be told. A champagne colored shadowbox was built to the outer dimensions.  Then, a wooden liner was built to fit inside it.  I painted that liner black and ironed on pink, green, and copper heat-activated metallic foiling.  Finally, I wrote my story, counted the letters/spaces, divided by the linear inches and came up with a plan for spacing out all the letters inside the lip.  

I have two different containers of letters clipped from various sources.  One container is all vintage letters, mostly in shades of black-and-white.  The other has letters clipped from contemporary magazines, mostly in vivid colors.

Around the lip I applied the letters.  They spell out:

The story of the Sleeping Beauty has Prince Phillip kissing the comatose Princess Aurora and lifting the one-hundred year curse. The prince's desire might have been the result of necrophilia. She probably looked like a beautiful corpse but her dress would have deteriorated beyond regal recognition.

Mostly, I used the modern, colorful letters.  They seemed to match the artificial flowers.

I even had a place for my name and the date. 


Anne Godwin said...

Again, love, love, love. You (and Steve) put so much thought and effort in your work. This one had several scary moments, not knowing how the process would work. I DO NOT need to start saving cemetery flowers...

Christine said...

Another marvellous piece of work! I like to think that the original owner of the dress happens to see either your Blog post or your wonderful art.

Christine said...

Another marvellous piece of work! I like to think that the original owner of the dress happens to see either your Blog post or your wonderful art.

Shirlee Fassell said...

Wow you are amazing! Love to see your creative process.

Linda Laird said...

Sealing the dress in epoxy resin is absolutely BRILLIANT!!! Adds so many literal and figurative layers of meaning to the piece.