Relining a larger work onto a smaller, rigid support can be a re-imagination of possibilities. For canvases below 16 x 20 inches, I choose from a selection of quarter-inch mahogany panels pre-cut to standard sizes.
Here are the steps:
1. Select a painting that’s not directly on its way to the Guggenheim. Candidates include dogs with hot passages and damaged work that’s hard to let go of.
2. Be an artist, not just a conservationist. You may be saving something, but you’re also eyeing your piece for potential. Pick the new size you’ll reduce to — you may even be able to get two out of one. A viewfinder or a couple of “L”s are excellent re-composing tools. Try several different new compositions, including verticals on horizontal formats, and vice versa. Mark your chosen corners as inauspiciously as possible.
3. The idea is to build strengths and lessen weaknesses. Very often you’ll find that fresh and underworked passages are clamouring to shine. Abstract power can often be built by cropping. Zooming builds drama.
4. Using a sharp blade, remove the canvas as close to the stretchers as you can, leaving lots of room to play.
5. When you’re ready, set the canvas aside and squeeze a good amount of neutral pH adhesive PVA (polyvinyl acetate) on the panel. PVA is an archival-safe glue that stays flexible, dries clear, doesn’t yellow or crack with age, is permanent and has an excellent “lay flat” quality. Use a spreader or spatula to distribute the glue in an even coat.
6. Lay the canvas on the panel and make any needed adjustments. Check horizons and watch out for undesirable lineups and tangential joins that take place in problematic places, especially equal amounts of space around the edges of things. Don’t be worried about letting the sloop’s mast, the snowy peak, the forest edge, or the dancer’s fingertips reach up and out of the picture plane.
7. Sandwich the glued piece between other blank panels and press it all under a moderate weight. A book press is the ultimate friend for smaller jobs. Medium pressure is adequate.
8. In an hour or so remove the painting from under the weight and trim it with a blade. Your new jewel is ready for her close-up.
PS: “Cropping helps an artist understand more about his or her personal style, mannerisms and professional signature. Being pushed into a new compositional diagnostic, you often surprise yourself with hitherto unnoticed spots of beauty, as well as mysterious flashes of energy that you didn’t know were there. Earlier compositions can be made more viable than when originally conceived.” (Robert Genn)
Esoterica: Post-impressionist Mary Cassatt’s tightly cropped compositions modernized sentimental 19th century portraiture into deft eye control. These cropped worlds of pattern and texture endure as an invitation to participate in physical closeness. Zooming-in transforms pictures into revolutions. “With cropping, a new integrity appears and winning abstractions flutter up like butterflies. You can afford to be critical, discriminating, innocent, open minded, charmed, beguiled or bamboozled.” (Robert Genn)
oil painting, 16 x 20 inches
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