Fine Art or Miniatures? Darryl Audette Believes They Are One and the Same
By Pat Ostovar Photography by Ernie Mayer
No visit to an art gallery would be complete without time spent sitting in front of a painting long enough to contemplate the artist’s rationale, basking in the emotion the work evokes and marveling at the harmot1ious composition and illusive utilization of light and color. Darryl Audette, whose fine art creations in mixed media take the form of miniatures, deserves that same attention and scrutiny.
Shame on the galleries that say that his work is “miniatures” and not fine art, and shame on the miniaturists who say that his work is “fine art” and not miniatures. Darryl has been caught in this web of fallacious nomenclature since he first put knife to putty 20 years ago. His ultimate ambition is to have his miniatures exhibited in an art gallery, accepted as fine art. Unfortunately, many art galleries tend to stereotype and trap artists between parameters, stifling both creativity and originality. Those who are followers are oblivious to this paradigm. Those who are leaders have always endured the consequences. Fine art and miniatures can be one and the same, insists Darryl, who meticulously researches his subiects and executes his ork with dtermf- ‘ nation and precision.
Eve of the Requiem is an Audette diorama that freezes a moment in time, capturing Mozart, who has been composing his requiem, pausing for a break. In the scene, the great composer playfully puts his foot on his cat’s back while his young son crawls toward the animal to play. Attending musicians draw their bows from violins and cellos and the pianist lifts his hands from the keyboard. As Mrs. Mozart and a child enter the room, one of the patrons offers her his chai:i;.’ Patrons and friends interact throughout the room, pausing from the demands of rehearsal.
Darryl visited Mozart’s home to research this setting, and obtained copies of actual portraits of Mozart’s parents to miniaturize and frame. He used several layers of varnish to simulate the appearance of brushstrokes on an oil painting and put epoxy putty behind the frames to achieve the angle at which a heavy painting would hang away from the wall. Expanding on his concern for authentic detail he said,
His ultimate ambition is to have his miniatures exhibited in an art gallery; accepted as fine art.
“The sheet music is actual music by Mozart, photographed, then scaled down to size, then dyed with coffee to a nice off-white/yellow color. The sheets were then seaked in water, glued, folded and creased as needed.”
“The area rug,” he explained, was a 1:12-scale dollhouse carpet with cork backing. The borders were cut off and then the carpet cut down to the correct 1 :32-scale size and the cork backing peeled away. It was then completely glued to the floor, off center, and folds and wrinkles added where people might have bumped the edges with their feet.”
Their powdered wigs and garments may be similar in style, but each figure in the setting is unique in terms of facial expression, posture and body language. Each begins with a white metal casting. Darryl cuts the casting apart and reassembles the body parts, using Plasticine to allow for experimental manipulation of arms, legs and neck. When the desired pose is achieved, Darryl replaces Plasticine with epoxy cement and putty, then sculpts fabric folds, costume details, wigs and facial expression with more putty. He follows a coat of acrylic primer with acrylic underpainting in the final colors. Next Darryl uses artist oil colors, carefully controlling color value so that a fabric fold is darker at its depth and lighter as it approaches the surface and the light. He sprays his figures with a coat of matte varnish, then applies gold buttons and cords, using a paste made from gold powder and bronzing liquid. Black and brown paint add definition and depth to the braid.
Darryl secures the figures into position in the completed roombox and finalizes electric wiring. The carefully controlled lighting creates a compelling atmosphere. The viewer perceives the scene to be lighted by six candles whose flames cast a soft light on their surroundings. But that flow of light is created not by the candles, but by 12 volt spotlights hidden from view behind the inner frame, and by the lightness and darkness of the oil paint used on adjacent figures. The chiaroscuro is both real and perceived.
“The candelabra,” Darryl revealed, “is lighted by 1.5-volt subminiature bulbs. The wires form the arms of the candelabra, and run through the hand, arm and body of the figure, coming out the left leg and through the floor …. The table candle is a 1.5-volt bulb with wires running through a brass tube and candleholder, down the pedestal of the table and through the floor. All the candles are modelled with epoxy paste to form dripping wax, painted and then varnished slightly. These are the ‘effects’ lighting.”
Darryl further controls light quality by tinting bulbs with theatrical gel to achieve a warm yellow tone for candlelight, and a blue cast for the moonlight that floods in through the windows.
Figures from military history dominated his efforts until 1992 when he exhibited two pieces in Canada’s Annual Juried Show of Miniatures. His horse sculpture won first place in the animal category and his room box, Sunrise in Salzburg (M.C. Summer 1993, pg. 56) won best in show. After winning his third best in show in 1994 with Eve of the Requiem, he decided not to compete in that show again so someone else could take top honors.Remove featured image
In recent years there has been an increased demand for his horse sculptures. “The wild horse represents a soul and character that I want to portray,” said Darryl, who wants to capture great moments in sports that involve horses. He freezes their likenesses in motion or repose with an understanding of anatomy, musculature, movement and body language that brings vitality to his work.
“I’ve been spending much of my spare time around them and in the fields studying the grasses. I’d probably make a good farmer if I didn’t have to work 15 hours a day,” he quipped. “I love the time around the horses and out in the grass. It’s very relaxing.”
This self-taught miniaturist worked full time as a denturist in a successful business he owned and operated in St. Boniface, Manitoba. Between patients, when time allowed, he worked on his figures at the office. At the pinnacle of a career that just wasn’t satisfying his personal goals for artistic achievement, he made a momentous decision to sell his practice and devote his life to what he loved best, creating miniatures.
“I believe with all my heart and soul,” he confided, “that through the medium of miniature, just as with the media of painting and photography, one can express emotions and communicate with the viewer.” Critical of the contemporary art scene, Darryl feels that meaningful communication is sadly lacking. “We have become a comic book society,” he concluded with a note of sadness.
Darryl’s courage to leave the security of a lucrative profession and concentrate on earning his living from his art at a time when Canada’s shaky financial status is adverse to such a decision proves his dedication. His success will benefit the world of miniatures.
Darryl’s work is either commissioned or purchased by collectors on completion. He can be reached at 3 Blue Heron Crescent, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R2C ON1, Canada. Phone: (204) 222-3822.
Pat Ostovar is a contributing editor to Miniature Collector. An avid miniaturist, she was a cofounder of Canada’s Annual juried Show of Miniatures.