Just when it seemed that the once glorious golden era of marquetry—the 16thC must-have interior style staple for sophisticates like King Louis XIV—was forever lost to the modern world, artists like Alison Elizabeth Taylor and Tilo Uischner have given it a much needed modern makeover and reinstated it as an awe-inspiring fine art.
In its hey-day, marquetry was the symbol of luxury, privilege and taste, intricately adorning cabinets and boxes with multi-coloured inlaid wood veneer arabesque or foliate designs. Fast-forward to today and we see how it inevitably lost favour in an age where ‘less is more’ styles are the rage; The hand-me-down sideboard cupboard in 50-shades-of-brown-veneer that your great uncle left to you, sporting a leafy rash of a design (which clashes with everything in your home) understandably has tainted your perception of marquetry’s artistic integrity and potential.
Tilo Uischner, one of the artists who have saved marquetry from the brink of extinction, has done so by innovatively combining his mastery of two fine arts to create inspiring portraits. He integrates photorealist portraiture painting with finely honed marquetry skills so seamlessly that you find yourself looking closely to be sure which parts are painted and which are inlaid. His artworks inspire a great appreciation for the wood grain itself, which lends the artworks greater honesty, sensitivity and warmth. In works where Uischner intentionally leaves the background woodgrain untouched, blending it into the foreground, the wood takes centre stage and you marvel at how tastefully it has been both hidden and revealed in the artwork.
Images above and below © Tilo Uischner.
Another modern master of marquetry is Alison Elizabeth Taylor. Her technical approach may be more traditional than Uischner, but her passion for gritty, dystopic subject matter is at odds with the opulent past of marquetry and this enriches her contemporary message. Taylor’s subversive, suburban scenes allow the aesthetic qualities of the material to add to the emotional-murk in each depicted unsettling or morally ambiguous setting.
Images below © Alison Elizabeth Taylor
The traditional technique of marquetry involves painstakingly cutting patterns or pictures from different coloured thin wood veneer, bringing the pieces together like a jig-saw puzzle, and gluing it to a base. The final transformation comes in the lacquering phase when the true character of the wood is revealed.
Image below © Alison Elizabeth Taylor
In summary, we wish we had the skills to create our own marquetry masterpiece as hero artwork for our next campaign, but are quite happy to simply marvel at these works — fully appreciating the blood, sweat and tears that Uischner and Taylor invested in theirs.