Glasgow based artist Ella Walker presents an ethereal construction of Anglo Christian imagery within her mural THYNK AND THANK supported by wasp studios at The Briggait. An aspirational work, Ella’s first mural, eight metres high and painted with the aid of scaffolding, is a remarkable compilation of her technical and academic artistic inquisitiveness.
A graduate of The Glasgow School of Art’s Painting and Printmaking course, Ella’s repertoire of works are fertile, milky concepts that explore pre-renaissance references to mythology, religion and sociality. A deliberate and investigative approach to paint is fundamental to Ella’s work; THYNK AND THANK is permeated with knowledge and association of 14th century frescos.
On a visit to The Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy, Ella observed Giotto’s famed fresco, noting the scene of judgment’s, “balding figures, [with] lots of their flesh is bleeding, red and raw”. However, what interested her more was the nearby depiction of the kiss of Joachim and Anne, “holding each other’s heads and snogging… it’s just really interesting how, within a certain framework, passion and sex is allowed within religious imagery and within other frameworks it’s totally not”.
Vessel motifs nod to Ella’s graduate show, revisiting the notion of woman as vessel. An emblem strengthened by a conspicuous jug in ultra marine blue, referencing artist Alice Neel. THYNK AND THANK’s warped baptismal scene reconsiders these ideas of fertility and birth. The combination of vertical and horizontal figures provides a framework for opposing scenes of mischief and divinity, laced together by a queue of ghostly creatures awaiting their baptism. Alongside sexually charged ‘snoggers’ painted in raw flesh tones, observed by a sickly, yellowing voyeur, a central figure is sensationalised, adorned with a halo and re-birthed. Other ghostly figures are transposed through the ritual of baptism, sliding into the water, epitomised by the physicality of their swimming.
Ella’s interest in pre renaissance frescos is as technical as it is thematic. Studies and observations motivated her research into 14th century fresco painting materials and techniques. This directly influenced the decision to develop colour by adding pigments to gum arabic, a meticulous and personally pliable process. Resultantly, the carmine reds, yellow ochres and malachite greens, have measured and significant opacities. The base plaster was painted whilst wet; its absorbency allowing the paint to be applied almost delicately like watercolour, affording fluidity. The pastel chalkiness is a result of the gesso (base) layer disintegrating when applied with paint. This dilution of loosely applied pigments is contrasted by the starkness of deeper tones, visibly worked up through deliberate layers.
This considered approach to process is balanced by the gestural quality of painting. Ella emphasises the elasticated sheen of her medium, devising lucid and lyrical applications of paint. Beneath this, working drawings visibly peek out, offering a tangible immediacy to the work. Compositionally THYNK AND THANK’s hierarchical, ritualistic scene of unearthly figures is capped with angels. The rendering of figures varies from suggestive, articulatory drawings to over saturated, red raw, serving to differentiate characters. Similarly, the swimmer’s scale is inflated, creating a Jarring relationship with the viewer on the ground, whilst higher figures are depicted at human scale. A testament to her iterative approach to painting and composition, Ella explains that the decision to vary the scale of figures occurred spontaneously in response the to space, making use of the Briggait’s staircase (which sat opposite the work) and offering the opportunity for observation at varying heights.
Part of the impressiveness of THYNK AND THANK is its collaboration with the variable nature of the space at the Briggait; natural skylight alters and assesses the translucency of the paint. On display for three weeks, Ella addresses the temporariness of the work, stating that, “water would bring it down”, heightening its transcendental quality.