Starting from a sketchbook drawing, which is revised and refined as it is scaled up, sometimes to wall-size, Alison Elizabeth Taylor creates her images (which she calls “paintings”) out of wood veneer.
Using different kinds of wood, sometimes 100 or more varieties in an image, she applies the sections in ways that allow the natural color and grain of the wood to contribute to the image, like a cross between brushstrokes and mosaic tiles.
The process is called wood marquetery, a form of decorative art that was developed to a high degree during the Renaissance, but hasn’t exactly been a household word or staple on art school curriculums since.
Taylor, a graduate of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, took her original inspiration from a whim to make a portrait out of cheap wood-grain contact paper.
After moving to New York to go to graduate school at Columbia University, she encountered the Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbino at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Studiolo means room or cabinet, and refers to small rooms that royals would use as studies or sitting rooms, that contain their books, papers and works of art. The piece in the Met is a wood marquetery version of the interior one such room, its faux cabinets and trompe l’oiel books and lutes arranged around the interior of a small room in life-size approximation of the actual room, in what is perhaps one of the earliest examples of virtual reality.
Taylor was immediately struck by the process and inspired to begin working earnestly in real wood, a painstaking process.
Taylor sets her pieces into position in her intricate representational images and holds them there temporarily with a tacky plastic film used in sign making, until they can be glued into place with a press.
For a new installation called “Room” that is her modern take on the Studiolo, the pieces were too large for her own studio and she had to enlist the facilities of a architectural woodworking firm with a commercial veneering press.
Unlike her Renaissance counterparts, but in keeping with her other work, Taylor’s images are not of nobles and their rich belongings, but of the everyday and mundane, even the ugly, but represented with captivating beauty of the grains, colors and textures of wood.
There is an article on the New York Times site, with a slide show of her work. She has a show currently at the James Cohan Gallery in Chelsea until June 21, 2008.
[Link via Kottke.org]
James Cohan Gallery: installation views, works, artist info
Interview on Brooklyn Rail
Chelsea Art Galleries