Step-by-step: Documenting Anthony Gunin’s creation of The Most Holy Theotokos “Glykophilousa” icon

I look at private commissions as a way to sponsor or upgrade an artist’s portfolio. The artist wants to put their best foot forward, but producing work that costs thousands of dollars in materials and hundreds of hours of labor isn’t practical for the artist to do merely as demonstration pieces. It’s hard to grasp what artists are capable of unless you see their best work, so I look for cases where an artists best work needs to be unlocked by giving them the necessary funds, and getting the hell out of their way. This opens doors for new opportunities, and causes positive things to happen that take on a life of their own. I want to set things into motion for hundreds, if not thousands, of artists in my lifetime.

In the case of Anthony Gunin, here was a special opportunity: Since I could walk to his house in 30 minutes, I was not only permitted to visit regularly to take photos of this icon as it was being made, but the icon itself (and the iconostasis that it was a part of) could be much larger than I would have dared to commission from long distance. So the plan here was to commission the first piece of a giant puzzle (left of the central doors):

We begin by looking at the prototype for this icon side-by-side with the completed commission, so that you can see where Anthony departs from the original:

So getting there began with the basic drawing, made to scale at 40" h x 26" w:

Then the details were added to the drawing:

By the time I got to Anthony’s house for the first round of photos several weeks had passed, and you can see below that the background has already been completed for the “kovcheg”, the recessed area of the icon board. The base layers for the clothing have been added, and the drawing for the border design has been laid down and incised into the white gesso.

At this stage you can see that the base layers have been speckled to add texture and depth to the transparent layers above it:

The next day I arrive is when the flesh has been completed:

A few transparent veils were then added with decorations. Anthony took these three photographs, where you can also clearly see his incisions in the background:

Next Anthony adds gold relief, with a complete mastery of technique that is unequaled:

Next the ornamental border is added in:

Along with a few notes of cinnabar for details and writing:

And finally some details of the completed icon:

Inscription in Old Church Slavonic:

And as a special reward, this very icon that I commissioned expressly for the purpose of promoting the gifted talents of Anthony, was honored with a full-page placement facing the title page of Christian Art 2018 (Христианское искусство 2018).

Thank you so much for reading and looking! I strongly believe Anthony Gunin is the foremost tempera iconographer in the world, and that the steady patronage of living artists as talented as Anthony will go a long way in making the 21st Century a prominent century in the future history of art.

Best regards,

Stephen Chow