TALK: with Decorative Artist & Gilder Tuesday Riddell

Saturday 1 December 2018

Tuesday Riddell lived up to her surname when she started explaining the arcane practices that go into creating her delicate and intricate lacquer ware paintings during a talk at Messums Wiltshire.
Holding a wooden panel that she had sanded and then painted with a mixture of varnish, powdered iron and volcanic ash she demonstrated how she creates her quietly elegiac works featuring golden insects quietly devouring each other on the forest floor.

Each picture takes three days to prepare and Tuesday usually has six on the go at the same time. Having drawn a beetle in glue onto the board, she then delicately brushed on a fluttering piece of gold leaf with the effect that the image of the beetle materialised, it seemed, out of nowhere.
‘I am very meditative when I am making my lacquer ware pieces – they force me to concentrate. I have to stay very calm when I am painting them as there is no space for error. If I skip a meal my hand will shake and the work will be ruined.’
The hardest and most dangerous part of the process she said was right at the end of creating a piece when she sweeps the whole board with a final coat of shellac that he has to paint quickly and without hesitation. One false move and the images underneath can be destroyed.

The process begins with preparing a board with up to 30 layers of European lacquer which is sanded between layers to create a mirrored black surface to then paint images upon with gold which will afterwards be gilded with 23.5 carat gold and silver leaf before brushing off the excess gold to unveil the image on the surface. She subsequently builds up the shaded background with line, gold powders and metal flakes before being layered with the final coats of varnish.

The pieces are, she revealed, a quiet elegy to the destruction of the planet by mankind.

She mourns the destruction of the forest and its tiny inhabitants in her miniature worlds of golden insects devouring each other on the forest floor.

‘These dark enchanting techniques are especially suited to my voice as an artist,’ she said. ‘The mirrored reflective surface lends an elegance and grace fitting to my images and compositions.’

‘I want to reflect the mass loss of species caused by global warming’ she said. ‘Insects are used as symbols in a political scene in which horror contrast with beauty. Whimsical small animals and insects devour each other and the birds are dying.’

Tuesday has been inspired by amongst others, Otto Marseus van Shriek – a 17th Century Dutch master of vanitas paintings. ‘We have at our disposal technologies that are numbing and unhealthy. This escape from reality created a need in me to return to physical material.’
Artists Grayson Perry and Rakib Shaw as well as stores like Liberties are all exploring art of the past she pointed out; William Morris’ designs are currently being used for a new range of clothes by Gucci.
‘I care about aesthetic legacies and lacquer work is one area which is not yet surpassed by modern ways of doing things. A lot of modern techniques give the art a Disneyland, plasticky feel, and it is important to me to keep the human, manual product’ she said.

When making her works she can get small ones finished in a couple of weeks or six weeks for the biggest works. Now, she wants to go still bigger – making works six-foot high.

‘Lacquer ware is a bridge to our past culture,’ she said, ‘but it must evolve with contemporary art practice – I want to take it to new places.’

Tuesday’s works are on show in the Long Gallery until Sunday 22 December, read more at

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