To most people, art is a relaxing, expressive activity to be enjoyed in their free time, a luxury that they enjoy to soothe their spirit. Others use it to express a social injustice or a radical ideal to make an impact. For some professionals, it may be a great way to make a living doing something that they enjoy.
To the artist known as Q, it’s an obsession.
To be clear, Q is the first to admit that he can't draw even the simplest stick figure. He's never taken an art class to speak of. He can't paint, has never picked up a paint brush in his life actually, and as no idea how to blend watercolor, pastels, or acrylics. He's never completed studies of live models in the classroom, whether for gesture drawings or studies of anatomy, never experienced any formal instruction in the arts. Self taught would almost be an understatement. Yet he has produced more original, innovative large scale pieces in a few short years than many artists work on their entire lives ...simply because he can’t get it out of his head.
It’s been only a little more than three years since Q began his quest as a fine artist. But sometimes obsession can be a useful thing, and in that time he has amassed a diverse collection of his work that reveals a talent and skill that evolves with each piece of art. His most recent work, “Afghan girl,” displays a depth of nuance and detail that he asserts was not in his earlier work. Like the Mona Lisa, the eyes of the subject seem to follow the viewer around the room. Her interest in the onlooker is an ineffective veil of the depth of compassion in her eyes, compassion that only a child that has experienced warfare can comprehend. She could just as easily break into tears, or her mouth could open into a wide, knowing smile, in the next moment.
“Afghan Girl” and over twenty of Q’s other finished work can be seen at the Italian restaurant Rana Rinata in Franklin. Q says he and the owners of the restaurant struck up an easy friendship. Just like good food and fine wine, well-crafted art is one of the finer things in life, so the idea of showing his work in the restaurant arose as they discussed their interests.
But it’s the medium that matters most to Q. When inspiration struck him he stumbled onto what he assumed was a new artistic medium, a synthetic Venetian plaster used primarily as a wall finish and for creating faux stone effects on columns and for other marble simulations. But he had an idea of its true potential, call it an epiphany, and so began diligently working with it day in and day out to discover its secrets. Only later did he realize when he researched the subject, that he had actually rediscovered a very old expressive medium utilized by mankind: plaster.
Q explained that he researched the medium further and found not only is it not new but that it is actually one of the most ancient art mediums ever used by man and can be found in some of the oldest surviving art works known from the ancient pyramids to Vatican city.Traditional plaster was an ancient medium dating at least as far back as 400 BC in Greece, and eventually was developed further and used in the frescos designed by such masters as DaVinci, Masaccio, Raphael and others during the Renaissance period. Often these frescos were murals applied to walls and ceilings, such as the awe-inspiring Sistine Chapel. But the problem with the medium was that it became faded and worn over time, often having to be restored within the lifetime of the artist that painted the original image.
There's no doubt that if this modern synthetic plaster had been available to Da Vinci, and Michelangelo, then the Sistene Chapel and the Last Supper would have been done using this instead. Many of the old great masters were always trying to come up with new mediums that did not lose the vibrancy of the color as conventional frescos did at the time. That experimentation is why the Last Supper, by DaVinci, had to be restored within his lifetime. He was experimenting in asphalts that offered vibrancy of color but did not allow longevity. Modern synthetic Venetian plaster maintains a brilliant sheen and is virtually indestructible to regular elements that wear away paint pigments and traditional plaster. Q understand the importance of a new medium being revitalized in the modern era, notably a medium that will outlast the test of time and history.
On a busy day at the restaurant, he's noticed people walking around glaring closely at the art ….and then one of the kids, always the kids, does the unspeakable if it were on canvas, rubbing their hands across what they think is a painting, and exclaims, “It’s cold mommy, like stone,” or something to the same effect. There’s a tactile element to Q’s work that paintings cannot have, since the oils and moisture from people's hands damage the pigmentation and integrity of paintings over time. Modern Venetian plaster doesn’t have that problem, and cannot be damaged by simply touching the artwork. Yet the medium creates raised surfaces and ridges that heighten the three-dimensional effect of the plasterwork in brilliant color, and a cool, smooth tactile experience as well.
Q explained that it is conventionally used as a wall finish and faux stone effects on columns and other marble simulations. He goes on to say it is a synthetic plaster made from marble dust and that is why it feels cold to the touch. He mixes raw paint dyes into the plaster and applies it with a pallet knife and after it cures and gets hard as stone he uses a Dremal tool to polish it. That is where the shine comes from with no top coat or finish applied at all. No top coat, no finish, no paint.
The scope of diversity from one of Q’s plasterwork to the next is noticeable. You can see obvious influences from DaVinci, VanGough, Rockwell, Millette, and Rubens reflected in the artist's work. When he started, he was hoping to find a teacher that could guide him through the process, but Q said there is virtually no other artist that he can find that comes even remotely close to the level of detail he has been able to achieve using this ancient art medium. By emulating several works by the masters, he has developed his abilities and technique on his own over the last few years.
He has completed several extraordinary full series that hang on the walls of Rana Rinata, and one can see how the background of the viewer influences them to be drawn to images that they relate with. Children often remark about the whimsical large-scale plasterwork of two children swimming in pond, with one jumping off the dock into the water. Music lovers enjoy the jazz series featuring such legends as B.B. King and Miles Davis.
It seems that anyone who has ever been to Highlands, NC enjoys the two scenes of Main Street that Q created a couple of years ago. And for the more devout, there are works featuring Mother Teresa, and a modern rendition of the Last Supper, among others.
Most recently Q has been returning to portraits. Portraits that will last virtually forever. He enjoys portrait work, trying to capture the essence of the person. But he pointed out that portraits are also a means to an end. He explained that he thinks continuing to create portraits will help him to perfect details such as faces, expressions, clothing and hands, and will allow him to then live up to the challenge of large-scale pieces much like the ancient frescos that depicted scenes from the Bible and other literary works. His subject matter could be more modern, but would likewise feature an entire scene that tells a story, with multiple figures and detailed background and scenery surrounding the subjects.
So how does one explain how an artist that until three years ago had never picked up a paint brush in his life, now has the remarkable ability to captivate nearly anyone that walks past his work, demanding their attention with their unique appearance and diversity? Where did his inspiration suddenly come from after not being the least bit interested in art for most of his life?
Q didn’t even want to go there. To him, it's about being in the present and focusing on his craft. But he comes clean and shares his story. Years ago, he ended up in the hospital where he had a severe allergic reaction and suffered a near death experience. It's not important what he experienced. But he got up the next day and walked out of the hospital like nothing had happened.
Strangely enough, every piece of art on display at Rana Rinata, every bit of art that he has produced, was done after that day.
While he refuses to speak of his private reason for why he seemingly acquired this new found skill overnight, he goes on to admit what the doctor had to say after a 30- day check up concerning motor skills and speech problems after the experience. It's not that he had lost any of his faculties. He seems more inquisitive and intelligent than most. But he was concerned about the residual physical effects. “Don’t worry Q,” said the doctor. “These problems will fix themselves over time. Sometimes after what you experienced, part of the brain is damaged and other parts of the brain that are dormant kick in and compensate for it.”
Evidently, the doctor explained, the part of his brain that has awakened is where art comes from. Now it’s always on his mind.
Rana Rinata Italian Grill is located at 57 Highlands Road in the Shops at Riverwalk. Stop in to view the collection of Venetian plaster works by Q. For more information or to contact the artist, call Rana Rinata 828-524-3663.