Canvas | jeffrey-hessing

Canvas

He had a mouth full of tacks and never stopped talking. Miraculously, between each sentence he would bring one out standing straight up on the tip of his tongue. He would adroitly catch it on the end of a small tack hammer and bring it down onto the edge of the taut canvas where it stood up straight, just the tip sunken in the wooden stretcher. He’d flip the hammer over and sink it to the head with one blow, barely losing a beat in the rhythm of his story….

Narozni had started working in a canvas factory when he was about fifteen. In his early years, he stretched about 200 canvases a day, or so he claimed, certainly explaining his unique skills. He had noticed that the gesso, the white ground commonly used to prepare canvas for painting, was not solid, and it would often crack along the edges. Narozni realized that if it cracked so easily, it could crack under the paint, perhaps damaging a great work of art. He dedicated the rest of his life to canvas and its preparation.

He explained to me me that the climate in the south of France is perfect for the preparation of canvas, hot and dry. In his traditional Provençal villa on a sunny hillside, he developed his own formula for gesso which would be indestructible. Narozni would wake at dawn to mix his magic formula in giant drums. He loved to demonstrate its properties by folding, crinkling and crushing a sample which would never – even under torture – crack, flake, or break. Two huge 25 meter long rooms, faced in stone to match the local architecture, were built to accomodate the work.

The roll of canvas, generally 10 meters by 2.16 meters, must be stretched out on one huge frame. It is then laid out flat. Several workers run up and down the length of it with long squeegees spreading the thick white liquid evenly over the surface. With a crash they flip the frame upright and stack it with a dozen others, and then flip the next one over on the table and begin again. The floor is thick with dried gesso. The workers are white, covered with it. The canvas is made of either linen, cotton or, more recently, polyester. Narozni is in his office with a small magnifying glass counting the number of threads per centimeter in the weave of a sample of belgian linen which he is about to order.

He is as passionate about his creation as any artist is about his painting. Where would we be without him? I am grateful to see how it is made, to be in touch with being a painter on that level. And to see the stone buildings on the hillside overlooking a valley multiplying and expanding to accomodate the six hundred rolls per week which he produces and ships around the globe. I often wonder who paints all of Nazroni’s canvases and where all of those paintings go.