Some Ciavete paint schemes come together in a rush of colour and chaos, while others demand patience and a steady hand. And some, as our recent collaboration with American artist, Emil Lukas shows, seem to paint themselves.
Words by Emil Lukas
Several visits ago, while preparing for an exhibition in Venice during the Venice Biennale, I became curious about the knowledge of tapered tubes for the sculptures I was making. These sculptures fit into a group called lens sculptures, where you look through the tubes simultaneously. It was obvious that we needed to talk to Dario because he had a wealth of knowledge in tapered tube from the rear stays of bicycles and the history of tubing through mid-century modern furniture and Colombo or Columbus tubing.
I’ve been in love with bicycles my whole life, as many people have. I grew up in a pretty sketchy neighbourhood in Pittsburgh, and one of the best things to do was to pull bicycles out of the garbage and rebuild them. I always wanted to build my own bike from the tubes up, but that’s a challenge for a high school kid! So when I started talking to Dario, our conversation quickly left sculpture and turned to bicycles. Gradually, I became aware of exactly who he was and what he accomplished in his career. And then I started to look at his bicycle painting, and I became fascinated with the idea that he wasn’t solely interested in putting decals on a bike. He wanted to use pressure and energy and move paint around the tubes. And I immediately had a parallel with a vocabulary of painting that I had been working with for decades, which is having thousands of larvae move ink over a surface. So I immediately proposed the idea of doing a larvae painting on a frame, and the next time I came to Italy, I brought a sample tube to show him.
Now, in the interim between when I talked with Dario and what transpired on the frame, I discovered the fine properties of soot through vintage hand-ground Sumi ink. It’s a Japanese process, and you make it by collecting soot from special trees in Nara, Japan, combining it with a deer antler binder and forming into a small cake. That cake is then matched with a stone where you grind the solid block of ink back down to a liquid substance with water.
That introduction allowed a new perception of a three-dimensional quality to the line. Because the binder, which is like the glue or the varnish that holds everything together is so weak and so thin that when one larva crawls back over its line or when a different larva crawls back over the line, it erases the line if the new line is lighter. So that brings a depth perspective where lines can be in front of, or behind in the natural process of using the ink, which the tube that I gave Dario didn’t utilise.
Whether I’m working on a canvas or a frame, the process starts with one to five to however many larvae crawling over it, while I control the atmosphere around the piece. I could be letting it dry out; I could be fogging it with a mister, or using my breath, which is the perfect environment for the larvae to move through and promote their line without putting too much water on them.
To emulate how the team at Pegoretti paint, I had handholds on the frame, and a wooden dowel rod coming out of the bottom bracket, the seat posts and the headset, all attached to a bracket on a table so I could rotate it in any direction and never touch the frame. So there was this whole dance going on between the larvae crawling along the tube, or crawling around the tube, based on how I was turning the frame and moving it and giving it moisture and warmth from my breath as the larvae got to work and responded to what I liked them doing.
It’s such a physical way to make a painting on so many levels. There’s the physicality of having thousands of larvae and being able to physically make millions of lines that all intersect and have an intention – from temperature, vibration, moisture, moisturising, humidity, the direction of light and where you are in proportion to the sun and a window. That’s all really fascinating. but it’s only really ever acted out on a plane. I’ve always wanted to act this out on a physical object, but what object? I’ve never had an answer for that. So to have the piece be something so dear to me, and something that I think is part of the solution to the problems the world faces was very fitting.