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Thursday, 10 November 2011

Words with Bite

Oak King K Howell 2011 Acrylic on Board 61 cm x 92 cm
     This is the first of a pair of disparate paintings based on the same oak tree. It has complete dominion over a sloping beech grove, and although it's not exactly a typical 'Frame of Civilisation' oak, it has attitude. Its wild disarray and exposed heartwood are intriguing; its galls are quite incredible.
     I've painted it many times and in trying to research what has caused the galls (disease, bacteria or parasite), I did find some recipes for oak gall ink, used extensively in Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. The smaller galls produced by parasitic wasps are boiled to extract gallic and tannic acids to make an ink that bites into parchment. Over time, it slowly eats away at the substrate, and leaves a tracery of empty space instead of words.
      The word ink is directly related to encaustic, from the Greek 'to burn in'.  While I knew that many manuscripts were slowly 'eroding' due to chemical reactions, I didn't realise parasitic wasps were at the heart of it.
     It does make typing seem so ephemeral...

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