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Cement and Glass "Paintings"

Learn how an artist experimented with materials to develop paintings using cement and glass.

Laddie John Dill’s experiments with materials since graduating from Chouinard Art Institute in the late 1960s has led not only to acclaim but to an artistic process entirely his own. Laddie creates expressionistic abstract landscapes with carefully pigmented cement "paint" covered by geometrically cut plates of glass. The strict lines of the overlying glass often contrast the natural chaotic swirl of the colored cement beneath.

Each new work is created on the floor and is thoroughly conceived before undertaken (sometimes so thoroughly that Dill never bothers to make it!). It all starts on a mahogany grid with a 1/2-inch-thick plywood exterior face, where the mahogany acts like a canvas's stretcher bar. It is covered front and back with a water sealer to prevent warping. The glass is cut from a sheet and placed on the surface, where their positions are marked. The marks are traced with silicone from a caulk gun.

An acrylic polymer emulsion mixed with the cement transforms it into a high-bond epoxy that will adhere to surfaces cement usually repels (like glass); this solution is mixed to a cream consistency and pigmented with oxides. Dill "paints" this mixture between the silicone markings to his aesthetic whims. The glass is then laid back in place. At this point, Dill often walks on the glass to help compress the materials and remove any and all air. He places large weights on it overnight.

The next day he cuts away any of the cement that has been forced outside the glass, and it is sealed around the edges. Any negative spaces (no glass or cement yet) are filled with another cement polymer, and when these areas are leather hard, he sculpts away at pieces to create a topography and a three-dimensional texture. The color of this relief can be manipulated through further oxidation with any of his pigments. He also makes use of inlaid metal, like aluminum or steel, between the plates of glass and bare cement surfaces. Once he's finished filling in all the open space, the entire structure is sealed with a clear lacquer-based industrial sealer to prevent further oxidation (or discoloration).

Dill still has an area of his workshop devoted to pure experimentation with new materials. He likes applying the scientific method to his art, the play of pure light on natural materials in their natural state. Though cement and plate glass never looked like this in the hardware store!

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