Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting by Aidan Hart

Recently I purchased Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting by Aidan Hart. Billed as the most comprehensive book on iconography in the English language, this book is everything it is chalked up to be and more. It does not disappoint! In addition to explaining the history, theology, and technique of iconography it does the same with wall painting - fresco and secco (painting onto a dry wall... not "drywall" per se [i.e. sheetrock] but literally a "dry" wall... as fresco is painted on a "wet" wall). This added feature definitely sets the book apart from others on the market.

Aidan Hart is a world renowned iconographer who studied under some of the best teachers in Greece and Russia. In this book he addresses the theological and technical aspects of iconography in great detail. The photography and layout is extremely well done, and it has an extensive bibliography. It comes with recommendations from everyone from the Bishop of London to  Prince Charles. Aidan Hart has done the English speaking world a great service by producing this book.

As someone with an art degree who learned to paint icons through a book, observation, and lots and lots of practice, I have found this new Aidan Hart to be very affirming of some of my own techniques I've developed over the years. "Book learning" has obvious limitations, and one who learns something on his own through books always wonders in the back of his head if he is doing things right, or if the book or books he's learning from are accurate. So I was happy, for example, to discover that many of my own practices, such as drawing the composition directly on the panel as opposed to using transfer paper, slightly altering compositions by excluding certain figures, etc. are perfectly acceptable techniques within mainstream iconography and are practiced by many iconographers. Of course, all one has to do is study the history of iconography and look at the work of various schools to see how wide and varied the practices and techniques are. It is the theory and theology is what remains unchanged. But in any case it is nice to have someone with talent and stature like Aidan Hart to articulate all of this variety within the tradition.

I do not recommend this book for someone just starting out with iconography because I think he or she might find it overwhelming. Instead I would start out with a more basic book that has a few specific projects that can be done. The book by Guillem Ramos-Poqui is a great place to begin. Then, if you want to go deeper as I have, check out this book by Aidan Hart. It is a real treasure.