I am foremost a decorative painter, but my greatest joy lies in teaching the trade to anyone who wants to learn, and once in a while a painter who has taken a class with me will contact me to help on a job. One of the most interesting projects came to me through my friend Anita Medina, a gifted painter I met in one of my faux fresco classes. A client of Anita’s was interested in replicating the entire fresco cycle of the life of St. Peter, as depicted in the Brancacci Chapel. The “Cappella dei Brancacci” is a chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. It is sometimes called the “Sistine Chapel of the early Renaissance.”
Anita called me, and I met with the client. Afterwards, he decided to add several additional projects, including the Fall of the Giants, by Giulio Romano, The Vision of Ezekiel by Raphael, the Last Judgment by Michaelangelo, and the Baptistry Doors (Gates of Paradise) in Florence, Italy, by Lorenzo Ghilberti, as well as other pieces.
This was clearly an ideal project for collaboration by some of the top decorative painters in the business, who I count among my closest friends: Pascal Amblard, Pierre Finkelstein, and Michel Nadai. We became friends at The Decorative Painter’s Salon, an international gathering of decorative painters, where we demonstrate and share techniques with each other and the public. We bonded through our mutual passion for painting, a love of the trade, a desire to share, and last, but not least, a good sense of humor. I could tell many tales about this collaboration and friendship (and will), but that’s another story.
Working closely together on this project, we began to informally call our group “The International Brotherhood of Painted Decoration.” The ties that bound us together include our mutual ideals with respect to teaching and sharing information, techniques, or experience with each other and any painter interested in learning. We believe that this sharing is what keeps the trade alive and strong.
Due to the enormity of the scope of work requested, we agreed that the majority of the paintings would be done on canvas, and installed using the marouflage technique. Exact measurements of each area were taken on site by my Assistant, Craig Walsh. These measurements included all architectural details, vents, sconces, outlets, light switches, baseboards, crown moldings, doors and jams, etc. throughout a master staircase, hallway and several rooms where the murals would be installed. The murals were planned to fit each area exactly, with modifications to the original masterpieces where necessary, while maintaining the integrity of each piece.
Pascal would team up with Michel Nadai in Michel’s studio in the south of France, to paint the Baptistry Doors, a trompe l’oiel masterpiece that would be installed on a ceiling. A little background on this particular piece is warranted, as the client originally intended to reproduce the doors using a computer program that would cut barelief in plaster, with the finished product gilded with a patina. There are some things that the computer just cannot do, and it was not able to cut deeply enough to create the shadow accent needed to accurately reproduce the piece. However, with Pascal and Michel’s talent, I knew that the piece could be completed as a trompe l’oeil. The client was not convinced until he saw the marquette that Pascal prepared. The final piece, approximately 30’ X 12’ is magnificent and demonstrates the genius of both Pascal and Michel. While the original doors took Ghilberti 21 years to complete, Pascal and Michel, pushing them to the limit, completed the trompe l’oeil piece in 15 days. It was then shipped to the Mural School in Delaware, where I had been working on several pieces.
Aside from the Baptistry Doors and several masterpiece replicas painted by Pascal, the rest of the work was done in my studio in Delaware. I was fortunate to obtain assistance from a number of friends and fine artists who worked on the project, including Jean Dumphy, a talented muralist working out of the Brandywine River area in Pennsylvania, who worked with me on the Last Judgment by Michaelangelo (approximately 10’ X 6’). Danielle Fernekees, a well known decorative artist from Boston, Massachusetts assisted me in the Fall of the Giants–a series of murals that covered the four walls and ceiling of a guest bedroom (approximately 20’ X 14’.) Additional pieces were completed in the Delaware studio, included Mars and Venus United by Love, by Paolo Veronese, The Pesaro Altarpiece, by Titian and Assumption of the Virgin by Titian. The list goes on.
With the murals ready, the installation was completed by again bringing together the best in the business. Decorative painter, master paperhanger, and friend Russell Weyl, from New York, supervised the maroflage installation of the Baptistry Doors. Pierre Finkelstein adjusted “super accents” of shadow and light on the piece to match the actual lighting in the space, and also magically blended edges to hide any seams.
The installation process and touch-ups for the remaining pieces took approximately ten days to complete.
As I write this article, I continuously feel that there are at least a dozen stories here in this one project. I can tell stories about each panel that was painted, the adjustments that were planned and executed to assure that every piece matched it’s intended area, the mistakes made and corrected, and the installation process that I believe is valuable to every painter out there – each piece had its own unique challenges and solutions.
The bringing together of such talented artists and good friends, the humor and fellowship that I’ll never forget occurred while this project unfolded all bring me back to the basics of what I do, what we all do. There is magic in doing what we love, and when we have the opportunity to do it with friendship and good will it is just as good as it gets.
editor’s note: Sean will be sharing each of these stories in the coming months. If you missed the radio show with Sean, you can hear it here… Artistically Speaking with Sean Crosby.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Sean Crosby began to explore his artistic talents as a young age. He developed a keen sense of observation, recognizing that geometry was the key to accurately reproducing drawings and paintings.
Sean took weekend classes in commercial illustration at Parsons School of Design and the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and he periodically participated in a local watercolor class, where he learned the value of layering glazed colors over a white background to achieve a translucent, light enhanced affect. This technique would play a key role in his future paintings.
In 1996, Sean was invited to teach his first mural class at the Finishing School in New York. And the rest, they say, is history. As word of this rare talent spread, Sean was invited to teach graining, marbling and trompe l’oeil while he continued commission work and his client base also continued to grow.
In 2003, Sean was invited to teach mural with Pascal Amblard at the prestigious IPEDEC in Paris, the only American invited to teach the “long class” by the IPEDEC faculty. In addition, Sean has been invited to lecture and demonstrate at numerous decorative painting trade shows and expositions. Sean’s innate artistic talent is second only to his desire to share his knowledge, and a keen sense of humor, all of which have contributed to the tremendous success of his classes. With over twenty years of experience, Sean has become a highly sought after instructor, and has taught extensively in France, Italy, Belgium and Holland, as well as throughout the United States. He has been a member of the International Salon or Decorative Painters since 2001. Pierre Finkelstein and Sean will co-host the Salon gathering in 2011 for the United States, in New York City.
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