I am fascinated by rust. Rust’s various seductive colors, ranging from black-brown to red-orange to brilliant yellow-tangerine, express a beauty intrinsic to its destiny of complete decay.
For most of us, coming in contact with rust elicits words like erosion, disrepair, deterioration, corrosion and oxidation. Given sufficient time, oxygen, water and iron combine, convert to rust and disintegrate. What was once a shiny surface becomes flaky, crumbly and brittle.
I am preoccupied with time. It is, after all, the clock of the human condition. Could rust, with its slow decaying properties and process serve as a beautiful metaphor for our lives? Might it symbolize the journey from birth to death, from ignorance to knowing, from innocence to harsh reality?
Rust can certainly stand as a metaphor for aging – for a life intensely lived and exposed, a sign of wisdom and erosion of the ego. Can rust stand for the dignity and beauty of our experience as a species and of life’s fragility and limitations? On another level, can corrosive thought patterns and behaviors weaken the immune system and make our bodies more susceptible to chronic diseases and disorders? Can this sort of rust potentially lead to a body’s ultimate breakdown and demise?
These are some of the questions I’ve asked myself while working on the Explorations with Rust series.
My process for creating the rust paintings begins with taping together three sheets of paper to create a larger surface. Next, I apply the rust solution with a large brush, making quick gestural marks and drips. Once the rust is activated with peroxide, golden colors start to emerge. At this point, I randomly spray sumi ink into the mixture, adjusting the nozzle slightly to create additional patterns and contrast.
The randomness that I am seeking to interact with gradually unfolds. I find the fact that I am not in control exciting and inspiring. As the chemical reaction progresses, I am challenged to approach the painting from a fresh point of view each time.
When activated rust and ink has dried, the work is ready for the final step. With a large brush in one hand and a bucket of gesso in the other, I utilize a process of elimination, painting away what I deem is unnecessary. I circle around the paper, turn it upside down, closely observing and studying what is happening in front of me, how the composition changes depending on the point of view. I am waiting for the figures to reveal themselves. Where is the head? Where is the torso? Can I detect where the arms might be? Sometimes I see it in an instant, other times I have to persuade and coax the figures into being.
My hope is to communicate that despite the randomness and seeming chaos at the beginning, an image eventually appears, the painting evolves and a structured outcome is finally reached.
Rust diminishes, life diminishes, and despite the physical breakdown a stubborn spiritual core survives.
Marianne Kolb, 2017