The world’s largest painting – a backbreaking endeavour, basically

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts that look at art and museum stories from a Rakish perspective.

The world’s largest painting on canvas sold for $ 62 million this week. The 17,000-square-foot painting, titled The Journey of Humanity (2020), is the work of a British artist named Sacha Jafri, who will donate all of the proceeds to a number of children’s charities. (It was bought by a “cryptocurrency businessman” in France, of course.) Wondering if you have what it takes to paint a work this size? Well, apparently it took this Jafri eight months of 20 hour days to put layer by layer of paint on the canvas on his feet or hands and knees. Due to an injury he suffered, he had to undergo emergency surgery on his spine. “I was in a trance so I didn’t realize the damage I was doing to my body,” says Jafri.

Jafri is far from the only artist who knowingly or not knowingly put work before health. For centuries, painters suffered from the mysterious symptoms that doctors eventually identified as lead poisoning, or “saturation” from using pigments containing large amounts of the toxic metal. It has been speculated that Caravaggio died of lead poisoning and that Van Gogh went mad from his habit of vacuuming paint-splattered paintbrushes.

Lead paint was phased out in the mid-20th century, but other dangers emerged – most notably performance art, perhaps. Artists like Marina Abramović, Ulay, and Stuart Brisley appear to have gone through a series of tedious and often painful procedures with no regard for their physical well-being. Most famous though, American artist Chris Burden literally got himself shot in 1971 and hired a friend to fire a gun at his left shoulder. Cue countless copycats and parodies.

Then there are the unfortunate accidents which fortunately can lead to quite good stories. The Argentine artist Tomás Saraceno has more than once pointed out an incident that occurred in 2010 when he was testing one of his “aerosol sculptures” to facilitate solar powered flight for humans. The machine crashed and Saraceno broke his back. Saraceno said of the event that it is a landing that should not be attempted at home.

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