How do you like your eggs?
If you are not familiar with the egg tempera technique, there’s an opportunity to witness contemporary master S. Mark Thompson at work. Knox Gallery in Beaver Creek is hosting a demonstration of this demanding style by the artist today and Sunday from 1-4 p.m. His egg tempera paintings are marvelous examples of a technique not much practiced since the Renaissance. Each of his panels are created with thousands of tiny brush strokes, layered upon one another, atop an under painting, that result in tight, almost photographic images.
Although trained at Colorado State University as a commercial artist, Thompson didn’t discover egg tempera until 1972, sometime after he finished his schooling. Influenced by the work of Renaissance giants such as Michaelangelo, Botticelli, Fra Angelico and Cennino Cennini, Thompson’s self-taught skill even captures tiny cracks and peeling paint on a wooden dresser, as if by camera. Overshadowed by the arrival of oil paint, the medium was all but lost until the mid-1840s when a book by Cennino Cennini describing the process was first translated. Modern day practitioners such as Andrew Wyeth and Robert Vickrey were inspirations for Thompson to take up the method, and the art world is a better place as a result.
For those unfamiliar with the medium, egg tempera uses the yolks of chicken eggs, with the albumen membrane removed, and then mixed with water and dry pigment, and will, when applied, dry very quickly, enabling the artist to lay down color upon color almost immediately. The process also requires a gesso panel; fine sable-hair brushes, loads of patience and enormous skill. “Today’s fast-paced world keeps most artists from trying it. Not everybody has the patience to do it,” Thompson said.
As if the egg tempera works were not enough, Thompson also creates etchings that are precise and lovingly drawn. His fish and wildlife subjects are done with an assurance and keen eye, and are quite affordably priced, making them excellent gifts for the outdoor sports enthusiast.Stew Mosberg regularly writes the Art Scene column for The Vail Daily, and although he tried painting in egg tempera in art school, he now prefers them scrambled.