A Silver Chinoiserie, In Paint

Color Therapy

This was my first one of these murals on a full-sized wall, sort of a trial run. And by the second day, I thought I had the wrong room, the wrong wall, the wrong basecoat paint, the wrong camera with which to shoot it and the wrong lens, but I'm actually pleased with this final photo. Here's what happened...

The idea of Chinoiserie or Orientalism goes back to Europe in the 17th Century, when a fascination for things from the East arose but that were produced for a European market. When I first became acquainted with the wallpapers of De Gournay and Gracie, I was in awe of what could be done to create a complete environment in paint. But their wallpapers are elaborate affairs. Once you decide upon a treatment, they'll make elevation sketches of the room (so you don't get a switch plate over a bird's eye), test colors and then produce them in China where a team of painters may spend many, many hours on a single roll of silk or paper. Do the math — it's expensive.

Slowly over the last few years, I started to wonder if I could do something similar to suggest an exotic environment but without being so rarified, either for children's rooms or whatnot. As I began to experiment, I found I had more success with the less color I used, and that my hand produced something that feels both traditional and contemporary at the same time.

And let's be clear, the products from the other companies are paint, too — gouache, I think, over silk, paper or foil; but I'm using house paint, various metallic paints and artist's acrylic. Don't ask me which color in this instance, the base was a Ralph Lauren Regent Metallic that didn't match my sample but I pressed on; and Farrow&Ball Blackened, which became three different colors, depending on density.

At any rate, this was (nearly) impossible to photograph and has already been painted over, I suspect, due to a sudden change in residence. I had my experience and there's always more paint.

Images: Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter