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Sandstone: A Closer Look

By: Xavier Hardison

September 17, 2023

The material that transcends time - Sandstone. The integration of sandstone in my work began during my time at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). While in Providence, I began researching the process of fresco-secco, or "dry fresco", which is a historical technique of painting on walls. Extraordinary artists such as Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, now generally known in English as Michelangelo and Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, now generally known in English as Raphael, both used fresco methods to create their iconic Sistine Chapel and Raphael Room mural installations (see below).

Sistine Chapel (The Last Judgement) in Rome, Italy made by Michelangelo (c. 1534-1541)

Vatican Museum (Raphael Rooms) in Rome, Italy made by Raphael (c. 1508-1524)

In awe of more than just their imagery, but of the process in which these masterpieces were executed, I began experimenting with similar materials...

I started off by painting on sandpaper and grip-tape in order to replicate the coarse nature of a wall. I admired these surfaces because they gave my paintings a certain quality that felt unchallenged and courageous. I further referenced their process by mixing sand directly into my paint to add physicality to the medium. Now, I wasn't simply painting on a wall-like surface, I was creating a wall-like surface with the paint. This was a crucial breakthrough for me as I realized I could implement the qualities I wanted the finished product to have into my process and into my medium. I began to completely ignore the need to produce an image, and focused instead on creating art. What excited me was the distinction I found between painting an image, and making a piece of art. Art doesn't need to look a certain way or be done in a certain way. Art is the act of creating. To reference the Webster dictionary, to paint is the act of submerging a pigment in a liquid and applying it to a surface. Therefore, I was still painting, just in an unorthodox manner.

I began creating small sandstones in my studio to test its strength, and flexibility. I studied the results of various different binding agents, glues, and adhesives to see which performed the best in yielding my desired outcome. When mixing, I tried different ratios of materials and analyzed the effects of sourcing these materials from different locations. I went about my art practice like a mathematician or scientist would by hypothesizing and testing variability. I fell in love with this process because it was both physically and mentally engaging. Not only that, but I was able to begin incorporating my symbol, X, as an easy identifier connecting me to my work and to my audience.

Stay tuned to hear more about my process, background, and experience as a full-time practicing fine artist!

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