Renaissance Man: West Caldwell resident is keeping an ancient art technique alive
See Ken Weiner’s amazing metal point drawings at the Caldwell Public Library until April 30.
Lucky for us, West Caldwell resident, Ken Weiner, is back at the lost art of metal point after taking a break to raise his family. If you’ve never seen a metal point drawing (and chances are, you haven’t) make it a point to stop by the Caldwell Public Library, where a collection of Weiner’s art will be on display until this Saturday, April 30th. A member of the West Essex Artists’ Association and the Salmagundi Club of New York City, his ethereal images are sure to enthrall. If you miss the exhibit, you can view Ken’s art on his website, http://kweinerart.com/
Your art is very unique. Can you explain the technique?
It’s an ancient technique called metal point, traditionally called silverpoint. Silverpoint was used until graphite became commercially available sometime in the 18th century. The technique was replaced by graphite since all you needed was a pencil and a piece of paper. With metal point you need to prepare the surface with a special type of gesso, you can’t use raw paper. I’ve experimented with many other formulas other then gesso—even ones that I’ve pulled out of 15th century renaissance art cookbooks.
Silverpoint, it’s very shy. It doesn’t like to be photographed, but when it does, you get surprises. There’s a certain ethereal quality to it you just can’t get with graphite when you use a regular pencil. You have wider range values to choose from. With graphite, you have much darker darks and you can really push the envelope on how dark you can get it. But metal point, the darks automatically start higher up on the value scale so they’re much lighter which I guess contributes to the ghostliness of the work, but unlike graphite, metal point oxidizes so in time the work will take on tonal qualities that graphite never will. Silver, for example, goes on as a gray but over time turns into a really warm brown.
What inspired you to work in this medium?
In college, I saw this beautiful Belgium drawing—a preliminary drawing for a painting—in silverpoint. I started doing research and thought, if you can draw with silver why not gold? Slowly, my palette expanded to include two kinds of silver and yellow, white, rose and green gold and pure gold. I was just given a platinum point to work with as well.
Are you a full-time artist?
Now I am. About five years ago, after raising my family, I just came home and said to my wife, I’m quitting my job and I’m going to do my art until I die.
What was your prior occupation?
I was working with autistic children, but I’ve been many things: I was a respiratory therapist for 15 years, a neonatal respiratory therapist, I’ve been a cowboy…
Did you always want to be an artist?
Always. How I got into it? I was 5 years old and I saw my brother draw a face and I thought to myself, I can do that. And I taught myself to do that and obviously kept on doing that.
Do you have a creative routine?
When I have a blank sheet of paper in front of me, I can’t tell you what the finished product will look like. It’s such an organic process. It’s like skating on thin ice, and you make it across without falling through—that sigh of relief. I can’t believe I made it. That’s how I feel when I finish a drawing without truly screwing it up.
I don’t do art for relaxation. It’s the hardest thing I know how to do. When I finish, I’m exhausted. I’m physically and mentally exhausted. It’s not something that refreshes me. The only point I feel a sense of joy is when I have a finished product.
What recharges you?
At the end of the day I’ll pick up the guitar. It’s very spontaneous and instantly gratifying. Some people will paint for that feeling, but for me, art is work. I’m very serious about my art. I want my art to convey serenity, beauty and contemplation.
What’s next for you?
Jerry’s Artist Outlet in West Orange now carries silverpoint supplies, and I’ll be giving a lecture at the store on metal point drawing techniques. Also, I’m an artist in residence at the Black Feather retreat in New York state and will be spending a week or two up there this summer. I’ll also have an exhibit at the West Caldwell Library in December. I’m still working on art of that show. The theme will be In Praise of Women.
The emotional response that I want to evoke in people is peace and serenity. Lord knows we have too many other emotional buttons that tap to the dark side. I don’t want to tap into the dark side. At my age I want peace. And so I look for beauty. If I can come up with something on par with The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Vermeer or the Mona Lisa by da Vinci—that kind of eternal beauty—then life will have been worth it. It sounds like a small thing, but for me it’s a lifelong pursuit.
Age: 58 years old. That’s old enough to have studied under one of the premier renaissance instructors, Robert Beverley Hale, from the Art Students League in New York. He was curator of Renaissance drawing for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and taught at the Art Students League for many years.
Medium: Metal point
Professional or Amateur: Professional
Training: Studied at Montclair University, bachelors and masters in studio art.
Style: I am a representational artist, but at the same time, if you look at my work and begin to break down what’s truly representational about it you realize that they’re all abstractions that form together to make something appear.
I use patterns and textures to convey something. And hopefully it comes across—I think most of the time it comes across.