If these wabi-sabi walls could whisper . . .
22 August 2010 4 Comments
Yesterday I started painting the whitewashed walls in our little bungalow. The plaster walls are 70 years old so bumps and cracks and drips abound. When I helped remodel old houses in Arkansas we would have hand textured the walls to cover up all of the imperfections. This texturing technique was nice, a bit of a stuccoed appearance. It made the place look new on the inside.
Work with the painter I’ve been helping out this year has been slow the past couple weeks, so I’ve busied myself with other things as much as I’ve been able (other things that are somewhat financially advantageous in these lean times, things not necessarily sculpture related as I’d prefer). I spent some time in my dad’s shop, The Milestone Gallery, painting walls, signs and staining furniture.
Dad has noticed that people even want their antique furniture to look and function like new. Doors that are warped or don’t close all the way, the crazed finish of a tabletop or patina from age on a cabinet can deter people from purchasing the unique objects he collects. “I thought that patina was something people liked,” he said.
Indeed, why do we as Americans so often crave the new? The walls in our little house do just fine at what they were built to do, and as I spread “Sand Trap” — a taupe-y tint with hints of rose or purple in different lights — over the scuffed up old walls I began to appreciate their textures. In fact, I’ve concluded that perfect walls are actually boring in comparison.
By saying this I’m not necessarily advocating any kind of trumped-up aging process, no intentional distressing of new walls or surfaces. When you build a new building you should do it properly, straight studs and square corners. The history of a place must come organically; our little Nebraska bungalow may have more of an overall patina than most places, having been a rental for most of its years according to our neighborhood historian.
And now for an uncomfortable question: Does our dislike for the appearance of age or imperfection in our buildings hearken back to the same aversion we have to age in our own person, or in our American culture of human beauty where maturity is not esteemed as it is in other cultures?
My uncle, whose home also boasts whispering plaster walls, took advantage of the patina by exaggerating it, showing it off. I haven’t seen how he’s done this yet, but the idea is intriguing to me. If I feel like I have the time, I’ll probably try something similar.