The first attempt went well. I really enjoyed stirring up the paste, and spraying the painting (image side down) and the backing paper, and smoothing on the paste with a wide brush. Just as Mr. Choey had done, I was able to lay the wet backing paper over the wet painting, then pull both up together and, holding up the wet, newly-fused work like a freshly-processed photo, draped it against a vertical board so that it could dry. Very satisfying.
So I thought I'd move on to the painting that really mattered to me, a painting of two fish. I have been planning to send this as a gift to a friend for many weeks now, as soon as I had mounted it.
Everything went well once again. The whole activity was absorbing and very enjoyable. I was taking risks, learning, exploring. Smiling a lot. The experience, and the work, were, dare I say, perfect.
It wasn't until this morning, when I checked whether the two paintings had dried, that I noticed the problem. Somehow, I had managed to paste the fish image-side down against the backing paper. When everything was wet, the paper was translucent and it was hard to tell which side was which. (Though the backwards calligraphy should have been a clue.) Now that it was dry, it was clear that everything had gone oh, so wrong.
Well, only one thing had gone wrong, but it was a very important thing. So much for perfection. Now I was looking at loss. A lost painting, a lost gift.
But not yet. I wasn't giving up on it yet.
I couldn't find anything in my books or on-line about how to remove a wrongly-applied backing from the front of a painting. Just the note from one of my books:
Take care not to paste the rice paper on the painted side! Mounting a painting back to front is a common mistake made even by professionals.
Made even by professionals. Cold comfort.
I decided to try to separate the backing from the painting by brushing water over the whole thing, hoping the paste would dissolve and release the paper before it all turned into one soggy rice-papery mess.
After about twenty minutes, I found that I could begin to peel away the backing. But bits of the painting, onion-skin fine, stuck to the backing paper. Gently I held up the backing with one hand and eased the painting layer back in place with a knife. I would say "scraped," but the effort was to approach the notion of "scrape" without truly meeting it.
The suspension of paper, the suspension of breath; the suspension of fear, lest fear pierce the onion-skin boundary between not-lost and lost.
Here is the painting, face-up, after I had removed the backing. A bit torn and ragged, but mostly whole.
After a few hours, it was dry again. I cooked up more paste, rewetted the painting and a new piece for backing, stroked on the paste, and made certain -- certain -- that I was applying the backing to the back of the painting.
Here it is, re-mounted and drying on a vertical board.
The painting is bruised and scarred, but nobly so, I hope. I think that it wasn't perfectionism, in the end, that drove me to transform back-to-front to back-to-backing. For through all this anxious, meticulous effort there was a lot of joy. I think this was Right Effort, Right Diligence. For if someone were to ask me why I was doing this, I would say, "Because I like it -- it is bringing me joy."
This fish has been through the wars, so to speak, but it still embodies joy to me, and I hope to others.
The calligraphy means "Friend." Jacqueline, this painting will soon (I hope) be on its way to you.