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The King's Dome Commission
Designed and built in 1906 the interior of the King's was designed by J.D. Swanston, a Kirkcaldy architect with many fine theatres to his credit. The Kings Theatre is one of Edinburgh’s more famous buildings surrounded by traditionally refined classical properties in Edinburgh’s well known Tollcross area North West of the meadows...
Over the course of 35 days in the summer of 2013, the King’s Theatre was closed to the public for a very special make-over. The 42 metre height of the King’s auditorium was filled with a free-standing scaffold to allow access to the walls and the ceiling without damaging the delicate, listed interior for a major restoration of the decorative plasterwork. The main feature was the installation of a new centrepiece for the theatre, the King’s Dome Commission – an original mural designed by acclaimed painter and playwright, John Byrne.
Photographer Ron O’Donnell documented the entire project from the drawing board to the final unveiling of the artwork titled ‘All the World’s a Stage’.
This display presents a selection of Ron’s photographs giving a sense of the process of transferring the original design onto an 85m2 curved plaster dome, working at a height of over 42 metres above the ground. The design was then transferred to the dome using digital projectors and Laser measurement to locate, and outline the image.
Following scenic artist and project manager, Kevin Leary and his team of six, including John and his daughter Celie, Ron’s photographs capture the realisation of a major contemporary commission.
Ron O’Donnell is one of Scotland’s finest contemporary art-photographers, renowned for his work in constructed and narrative large format photography. He has exhibited nationally and internationally and is collected by eminent institutions. Born in Stirling he lives and works in Edinburgh, and is a Lecturer in Photography at Edinburgh Napier University.
John Byrne was born in 1940 in Paisley and attended Glasgow School of Art. He is celebrated for his diverse talents as a fine artist, a designer of theatre sets and album covers, and one of the most notable playwrights of his generation.
Ron O'Donnell, Edinburgh Napier University
John Byrne's original design
about John Byrne's original design
John Byrnes original design, using acrylic and gouache on paper for the King’s theatre dome, the title ‘All the World’s a Stage’ depicts a swirling celestial scene, where a black harlequin carries the sun through the clouds and a flame-haired woman, draped in a star-cloth banner, pushes the moon through the sky.
Composite panorama depicting the entire dome
about Composite panorama depicting the entire dome
Composite panorama depicting the entire dome, with the original painting and plasterwork. The domed ceiling of the auditorium, which had greatly deteriorated over the years, was repaired and replastered and now requires repainting. As the remaining trompe l'oeil decoration of the dome is not original and was painted in 1985, this presented the Trust with an opportunity to commission a new design in a more contemporary style, that would become an attraction its own right and greatly enhance the King's Theatre.
Plaster gilded crown half cleaned shows the accumulation of dust and debris over the decades
about Plaster gilded crown half cleaned shows the accumulation of dust and debris over the decades
Panorama of the primed dome, prepared for outlining
about Panorama of the primed dome, prepared for outlining
The entire dome spans 12m in diameter and is approximately 1.5m high giving an approx. area of 57m2 the box shaped free standing scaffold inside the King’s theatre disconcertingly swayed as painters ascended or descended ladders, and John said “it’s like painting on a bouncy castle,”…..so if I had to make a long exposure or take shots in sequence it had to be done when the workers were on a break and as there were teams of artists and painters this was not always easy.
The original painting had to be projected onto the curved dome ceiling
about The original painting had to be projected onto the curved dome ceiling
Against a white primed dome, and using digital projectors, the original painting was digitized and projected upwards onto the curved dome ceiling, position and scale is critical, and had to be accurately measured, artists then outlined the design in paint.
Applying a soft wash similar to watercolour as a base for additional layers of paint
about Applying a soft wash similar to watercolour as a base for additional layers of paint
There was no daylight this was a problem because the artists and painters had differing lighting needs, the painters needed small 110 volt 80watt portable tungsten light at 2500k, the artists needed high power 500watt halogen lighting to maximize illumination covering large areas of the dome evenly, and to approximately match daylight at 5000k to match paint colour, every time I was on site the lighting changed as workers moved around. I needed to get a soft painterly light in my images to match the original painting but the lighting was harsh and mixed I tried various methods to get this right including flash, also a ring flash it gives a softer feel to the light but nothing worked all too harsh. Eventually I used a mix of long exposures (when the scaffolding stopped swaying) and against my better judgment increased the ISO. Increases the sensitivity of the digital sensor.
Using a ruler and brush to produce a star effect, on the flame-haired woman’s banner
about Using a ruler and brush to produce a star effect, on the flame-haired woman’s banner
Panorama of the dome with high resolution scanned prints, to represent the full scale image, determining detail and texture
about Panorama of the dome with high resolution scanned prints, to represent the full scale image, determining detail and texture
Blocking in and adding texture and shadow to the theatrical masks comedy and tragedy
about Blocking in and adding texture and shadow to the theatrical masks comedy and tragedy
Showing the scale of the 57m2 dome
about Showing the scale of the 57m2 dome
The artists are dwarfed by the enormous legs as they paint the centre cornice and clouds.
John Byrne with his design adds some touches to the face of the large female figure
about John Byrne with his design adds some touches to the face of the large female figure
Spraying clouds on the outer edge of the dome, giving texture and a soft effect in contrast to the solid figures
about Spraying clouds on the outer edge of the dome, giving texture and a soft effect in contrast to the solid figures
Final varnish, overall protective layer with four coats of emulsion glaze
about Final varnish, overall protective layer with four coats of emulsion glaze
Panorama of the auditorium, with the painting platform, and scaffolding
about Panorama of the auditorium, with the painting platform, and scaffolding
John at the end of the project relaxing with a cup of tea
about John at the end of the project relaxing with a cup of tea
Final image of the completed dome, viewed from the stalls
about Final image of the completed dome, viewed from the stalls