Thursday, May 29, 2014

Experiments in acrylic resist etching, cont.

Continuing my experiments with different mixtures of acrylic-based resists, I'm getting some idea about which combinations of materials work best in order to print a good image, and to get a clean plate surface around the lines. All of the prints below were taken from re-used 6" x 4" copper plates. The inks are Akua intaglio inks.

The following plate had three layers of dried resists made from GAC 200 and  a few drops of black airbrush ink. The lines were drawn into the dried resist using an etching needle. The print looks remarkably like a hard ground etching, even though no mordant was involved. It's difficult to avoid air bubbles in the GAC 200, though, but I decided to let those stand as part of the texture of the print:



The next plate is the same mixture, the drawing was done with varying pressure of the etching needle, so that part of it looks like en etching, parts of it like a drypoint. Some of the resist dried in tiny ridges that picked up ink in the background. It took a lot of wiping with q-tips to make it look white:

 
 
The next one is a resist of GAC 200 and a little water to thin it before pouring onto the plate. Once it was dry, I prepared a small amount of GAC 200 and half a teaspoon of fine carborundum and drew the figure of the boxer. I drew the lines with an etching needle. I inked the plate à la poupée, using blue-black for the figure and red for the drypoint. Again, I let the ink-trapping air bubbles in the resist become part of the background for the print:


Lastly, this plate was coated with two layers of Lascaux acrylic resist. It's more expensive than GAC 200, but you get what you pay for: it dries very quickly, with much fewer air bubbles (which I am sure I can eliminate completely). I also used the Lascaux with carborundum for the collagraph figure, and it made a very dark tone even though I added a smaller amount of carborundum to the mixture.
 

Next stage: experiment with different strengths of the Lascaux/carborundum mixture to see if it approximates different tones of aquatint.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Seeing an old work in someone's house

I was at a party on Saturday night when I was introduced to someone who I met once, maybe ten years ago. It turns out that this chap bought one of my prints on that occasion -- a fairly big linocut -- and this was the first time we had seen each other since then. He's a writer, and came back into our orbit through my writer-wife Patty. Still a hell of a coincidence, though, and a nice one.

This is a picture of the print hanging on the wall of his writing room:


It's at least 24" x 18", maybe slightly bigger, and it's based on the Ray Bradbury story "The Illustrated Man." It's a fantasy-type story that takes place in a circus, about a giant tattooed man who ultimately gets murdered (or commits a murder, I can't recall which) by one of the story-like tattoos on his body. My version has the illustrated man standing in a circus tent under a spotlight, with other freak-show members of the circus standing around him, and the love of his life turning away and covering her face in grief. For his body, I drew and carved as many of the tattoo-stories as I could fit: dragons and snakes on his chest and sides, a rocket ship on his left calf, a dinosaur on his left thigh, the devil's face on his left arm, flora everywhere, and, on his belly, an image of him strangling his girlfriend. At the time I was making this, I cut a much bigger piece (six feet high), but this was and remains the most complex linocut I ever did. Now that I see it again, I think a) it's pretty good, and b) I've been in Chicago for a long time!

Thanks to Mr. B. for making me think of this print again.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Two to Watch

Last Thursday I attended the MFA Photography degree show at Columbia College Chicago and saw work by two artists that was as good as most of what you would see in a commercial gallery or museum. I happen to have worked with these two students in the semester that just ended, one in a directed study program, one who took the Journal and Sketchbook course as an elective class. Most of the credit for their great work in the show comes from their major, and the teaching and guidance that they received in the Photography Department. But I was extremely proud to feel that I had contributed maybe five or ten percent to the final degree work.


David Rodriguez's piece, "Better Place" (above), distinguished itself from everything else in the show by containing the least physical amount of conventional photography. He constructed a table frame with welded rods emerging from it, which climbed up to a point that resembled a mountain-top. About five of the facets formed by the peak contained prints. A wood panel painted in a pastel colour lined up with this peak when you look at it straight on. From seeing ideas develop in his sketchbook this semester, I know that this piece combines personal associations about place and relationships, with a formal investigation of cultural signs heavily influenced by Ed Ruscha. If this was in another context, you would say that this was a sculpture rather than a photograph -- though the piece as a whole added up to an image. I think that the genre is unimportant: call it what you like, it was a very impressive and thought-through investigation of form.

Ani Katz is that rare bird: an artist who is as good with words as she is with images. Having seen my own work that combines print-animation and narrative, she requested to work with me on a directed study program to develop an installation that combined spoken narrative with video slideshows of her photographic work. The visual material was well on the way to completion when we first met. The work we did together focussed the writing more on key personal moments, and brought out the theme of her relation to her family more. This was all there in embryo in the writing: I just saw it as my job to lead Ani to recognize it. For the degree show, she created a three channel video piece, synchronized with recordings of her voice reading selections from the written material. Just as with David, she created something that went well beyond the conventional form of displaying a photograph, or the narrative form of even the most documentary type of photography. I saw the things that she had taken from our sessions together, but I also saw that she had created something bigger, more weighty, more expansive, by projecting it in a large space: a sustained, mournful meditation on loss and coming of age.


If they continue to make work with these individual vocabularies they have developed, I am convinced that these two artists will have a great deal of success.

And if you live in Chicago, you can see their work as part of a one-day exhibition in my studio of pieces produced by Journal and Sketchbook alumni from this year and previous years. Details to come.

(P.S.: Thanks, David, for introducing me to the correct pronunciation of Ed Roo-shay.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Cleveland Dean: Burnt Cherry Blossoms

Cleveland Dean
"Burnt Cherry Blossoms" was a one-day event at The Walton in Chicago, comprising a CD launch for musician Windimoto, and an art exhibition by Cleveland Dean. I know Cleveland a little, but this is the first time I've seen his work in the flesh, so to speak. Actually, 'in the flesh' is an appropriate phrase for his paintings, which are dense with thick, juicy textures of poured paint and varnishes, blistered and burnt from repeated applications of a heat gun, layered with collage elements which in turn might be subjected to pyromaniacal distress. When you get up close to the surface of these paintings, you can smell the charring.

erasure, 2014, mixed media on panel
There were two bodies of work: the darker pigmented, 'burned' paintings, and brightly-toned paintings of poured paint, which has dried into swirls and waves of greens, reds, and yellows. Cleveland says that he often exhibits sets of contrasting work like this, as he thinks his creative personality isn't confined to just one mood or mode of expression. I respond most strongly to the darker paintings, but I see the validity of the choice in exhibiting work of a different character.

I particularly liked a piece called "of first and last." It has a continent of grey, white, and soft-pink material, the surface pitted and burned to reveal other layers of stuff, all floating in a highly varnished sea of black. I may be wrong about this, but it looks like the black area has been painted up to the edges of the central shape. This suggests to me that the creative process at work has a lot of unconscious and spontaneous expressivity, but combined at some point with a more deliberate searching for form.

of first and last, 2014, mixed media on panel
What is clear is that the paintings are one with the man: quiet and impressive, suggestive of roiling inner worlds, and emanating conviction.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Acrylic hard ground prints

 I'm continuing my exploration of non-toxic printmaking, looking for ways to achieve the sorts of marks you get via traditional intaglio etching but without using the chemicals, acids, and so on. Below are two proofs of a print I made as follows:

Take an old steel plate, 5" x 7".

Coat it with three layers of an acrylic hard ground, consisting of 90% GAC 200 acrylic varnish and 10% black airbrush pigment. Wait for one layer to dry completely between coatings.

Scratch lines into the dried varnish using a drypoint needle and an etching needle. Some of the lines are very shallow, some of them are very deep.

Ink and wipe as for an intaglio plate. I used a red-black mixture of Akua inks.


The first proof looks like a hard-ground etching. Even the lightest lines held ink and printed well. For the second proof, I added a lot more deep lines, wiped it less, and it came out more like a drypoint. All in all, the experiment was a success.

There are a couple of things that I haven't solved yet. One of them is how to lay the varnish on the plate so that it's flat and smooth, without any ink-trapping ridges or hills. To get the white areas in these proofs, I had to wipe heavily using a lot of newsprint and even Q-tips. Of course, I might also want to have plates that display a lot of texture, so this medium would be great whenever I want that result.

The other thing is that the initial creation of the plate is time consuming, as it can take two full days for the layers of resist to be completely dry. For a more traditional hard ground etching, you could lay down the resist, dry it out, draw into it, etch it, clean off the plate, ink it and proof it in half a day. Nevertheless, this acrylic non-toxic method would be good to use, for example, in a classroom setting.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Revivals

A few posts ago, I mentioned that I had started going through dozens of copper and steel plates that I've taken out of storage. Some of them go back to when I first learned printmaking, in the late 1990s. I mistakenly stored some of them in bubble wrap, without ensuring there was a barrier between the bubbles and the plates. When I cleaned off the protective layers of vaseline from these copper plates, I discovered dark, round shapes all over the surface, seemingly from the bubbles in the bubble wrap. I took a fresh proof print from a plate, fearing that the pattern would show up, and thus probably imply that the plate was now unusable. But thankfully, it didn't: the bubbles are purely at the level of plate tone, so it printed like this:


The plate is from 1997, in a series of etchings and aquatints inspired by the Nighttown/Circe chapter of Joyce's Ulysses. I haven't taken a print from the plate in over ten years, so it was particularly pleasing to see how well it printed. I used Akua intaglio inks, which are quite oily, and I think that must have helped. As you can see from the following detail, the ink sank into all the marks, whether hard ground etching, several layers of aquatint and scraping, and lots of drypoint:


I never took a big edition from the plates in this series (ten in all), so the copper hasn't worn down too much. But I think it's a tribute to the Akua inks, too, which I highly recommend to printmakers for their viscosity, high pigment content, and easy clean-up-ability.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

I Shipped my Ship

I am in a group show at the Hyde Park Art Center starting next week. It's part of a new program of experimental, month-long exhibitions at this venerable Chicago art institution, on the south side quite close to the University of Chicago. Artist and curator Kathryn Fimreite has put together a show called The Pram Endeavor, for which she invited artists to make a small boat that will act as a metaphor for carrying an experience or a memory.Until now I had never heard the word 'pram' to mean 'boat', but a quick trip to the dictionary shows that it's a medieval English word meaning a flat bottomed boat with a squared-off bow. You learn something new all the time.

I finished my piece today and delivered it to Kathryn's studio. My contribution is called "Funeral Barque for My Grandfather.":


The boat/pram is a piece of heavyweight printmaking paper on which I printed a selection of the images I have been using for my film and works on panel during the last year: images relating to my coal miner grandfather, maps of the mining areas where he worked, references to chimneys and smoke. The face is my grandfather in his coffin, from a drawing that I did in my diary thirty years ago, the night before he was buried:


I reinforced the edges with some folded and cut pieces of offcut prints (if I'd had more time to work on this, I might have placed oars across these. I guess that would make them gunnels, or something):


There's a small accordion book on the inside of the boat, with a few lines of text adapted from something I made about five years ago. It says: "My grandfather, who became a miner at fourteen, said to me once: There'll always be a job for you here in the mines if you want one."

Total size: 17" high x 14" wide x 28" long. 

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