Mundi Fabricator

Alkyd and Watercolour on 300 lb Paper,
104 cm x 75 cm (41" x 29 1/2")

Price: Inquire

Originally conceived as a study for Knights and White Satin, Mundi Fabricator is very different from Tolmie’s earlier Knight Studies. This is the latest in a series of mixed media experiments in which the artist uses watercolours to achieve subtle textures and oils for vivid highlights; earlier examples of this technique include Fountain at Aix and the spectacular Forest Landscape. Here the artist began with a complicated background texture created with a combination of watercolour wash, bubble wrap, sponges, and sandpaper. The figure of the knight was also originally in watercolours; the transparent watercolour effect is still visible in the right leg. The artist then turned to oils to deepen the blacks and brighten the white and yellow highlights. Satisfied with this effect, he reworked the entire figure in oils using broad strokes in a manner reminiscent of Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). The effect is one of heightened realism, creating a more powerful impact than the fine details in Tolmie’s watercolour studies.

At an early stage in the painting’s development, the artist grew dissatisfied with the simple composition of a figure against a background; he chose to a Latin text taken from a manuscript illustrated by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). The artist has used text that he cannot read in previous paintings, notably Chinatown Window II and Meat Market on the Danforth. It is important to Tolmie that his works communicate not narratively but symbolically. The figure of the knight is symbolic of many things: masculinity, violence, rank, a specific historical period and method of social organization. Written language is a system of symbols that readers combine to form complex meanings if they understand the code. Since most viewers lack the now rarified skill of reading Latin, the knight conveys meaning far more effectively than the text, which is reduced to a purely aesthetic function. On one level, the text reinforces the symbolism of the knight: like military equipment, Latin was the property of an élite social group which used it to secure their hegemony. On another level, it supports Tolmie’s artistic principle that visual symbols such as a suit of armour communicate differently from and more powerfully than narrative.

By a happy chance, part of the Latin text that Tolmie reproduces advocates the worship of the Tetragrammaton, or the four Hebrew letters that spell the name of God in the Old Testament (alternatively transliterated as “Yahweh” or “Jehovah”). In certain cultures, these symbols were revered and sometimes attributed with magical powers by people who could not read them, nicely illustrating the power of words to function symbolically as well as textually. The artist was unaware of this when he chose the text, since he cannot read it; the correspondence between the text’s meaning and the artist’s intention is purely co-incidental.

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