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Talking about Collateral Damage at the Ridgefield Guild of Artists

Here is my October 2012 presentation at the Ridgefield Guild of Artists walk-&-talk, edited for clarity. Click on any image for a closer look.
Collateral Damage (above),  is based on a concept I call The Burning Garden, which originated with a news photograph from Kosovo’s war in the 90s. I’ve been working with that theme off and on since then.
Q – Moderator – Can you say anything about that newspaper picture that inspired you, was it in color or black and white?
A – It was in color, it was very unlike this image. After a couple of decades of evolution it’s moved away from the sort of surreal, ghostly, and pastoral quality which it had. This has incorporated figures and forms from other work that I have been doing which I call Imaginary Landscapes. That’s been part of the evolution of that idea.
I did this monotype in 2010 while working for a week with Christopher Shore at The Center for Contemporary Printmaking. They have a cottage set up as a studio…it’s where they have their residents work. It was great uninterrupted time…
…if you’re working with somebody for a week… It’s sort of like going on performance because you really have to be able to create on demand. So I had to do a lot of preparation. And because I’m sort of improvisational in my work it was more like rehearsing than it was choosing something to print, I wasn’t planning to do an edition or anything like that.
The first thing we did when we got together that week was to develop a palette based on the encaustic and pastel work I had been doing. I only used a tiny bit of that palette in this piece, mostly colors from my pastels.
I’d like to talk about the way this monotype came together. It’s lithographic inks on an acrylic plate and in this case there is one ghost image underneath the top image. A ghost image is when you’ve printed a plate and you take that plate that has most of the ink taken off of it, and print it again, onto a new piece of paper.
This is the image (at right) that is printed underneath… you can see the faint image especially the reddish area the lower right corner. It was sort of a warm up study… testing out the way the ink was acting using brushes, swabs, and rags to put it on. It also has a tone in the background from working on a plate that had not been cleaned completely, which allows you to work up a modeled ground, to work rags into it to lighten and darken the background.
…we managed to get two ghost prints off of that plate, and it found it’s way into this print as well (at left). There are actually two ghosts and a fully saturated layer in this one. These tree forms allude back to the original (newspaper) image where the forms were more flat silhouettes of full trees not the charred skags of the burnt forest.
…this (image at right) is the source of the second ghost under (the image above)… you can see how complex it is with all these things going on in the background…  the result of this being printed underneath there.
And, from the top layer in the image (above), you can see what a ghost print looks like without anything printed on top of it (below).
Also you can see a strong yellow color to the whole thing, when doing a ghost print you often roll a thin layer of transparent ink base over it to moisten the inks and bring it up, in this case that base was tinted with some yellow.
I have one last image (below) which contains a secondary ghost of (the image above right) but it’s so faint that it just creates a little bit of a plane in the background.
This work all happened in the course of one afternoon. We could get a lot done during a whole week of working like this. And I was able to explore a huge number of techniques… monotypes and monoprints using paper lithography.
Are there any questions?
Q – Audience – I have a quick question about narrative, you mentioned that this is based on Kosovo…how does the narrative enter into it as you do ghost images and come up with things that you hadn’t had before?
A – It’s definitely an evolving narrative, it’s much more broadly about ecological issues, environment, and war. And the ecological damage of war. Also the politics of food play heavily in my thinking at this moment, and the garden being destroyed, which was what was going on in the photograph, people’s home gardens were being burned, to drive them out by depriving them of food. So a lot of things have come together and it’s become multi-layered and maybe less narrative about the particular event, more a joining of different issues.
Q – Audience – …did you feel that initial idea was something you needed to discuss with the master printer you were working with, to maintain that throughout all the steps, or did you find it was more about making form? Did you have that conversation?
A – I think it was more the latter, which is that although we talked about what I was representing, we were involved in the technical process… we were in a sort of pattern where I would work on a plate while he was printing the plate I just finished or preparing materials. So I was constantly working on the plates, which again, made us able to create a lot of work. Chris was enabling whatever came out of me, which sort of gave that performance quality to the event.
Q – Moderator – Who’s idea was it to rub the plate with a tone to bring the color up?
A – That was Chris’ contribution.
Q – Moderator – saying you can get more out of this, push it one more step?
A – Yes, and adding the tint to it, which didn’t happen in all of them was his idea as well. He presented me with a lot of different challenges and techniques that I had never done. So this was a great learning experience.
Q – Audience – How many prints did you make of that?
A – …It’s a monotype so it’s only possible to do one that is truly the original, as you can see (from the ghost prints) they just fade away very rapidly. I did some paper lithography that week, there you have a plate that can be re-inked as part of the process. But even those were unique prints because they were layered with monotype.
Q – Audience – How long did it take you to complete that?
A – The monotype process is pretty rapid, working on the one plate was probably a half hour or forty five minutes, an hour at the most. Of course you have some time in between…it needs to dry before the next layer goes on.
Q – Audience – I’d love to see it bigger, I’m curious how you chose the size.
A – Size was something I was playing with… I was used to working small and this was a scaling up for me… Because I had been working so much with encaustics which I found, with the way I was working, was limiting me to pretty small sizes. I did some long vertical half sheets which connected back to the Imaginary Landscape thing I was doing, which sort of keys off of the oriental scroll landscape form…those were a little larger.
Q – Audience – I was just curious if you had the same yearning that I have to see it larger or you are happy with the scale.
A – I think I’m happy with it as it is. I’m really striving to work larger, trying to approach some other methods to do that. At this moment I would like to see some things bigger.
Q – Audience – Aren’t you also restricted by the size of the press?
A – Yes, but the press will take a sheet about 22 x 30 inches, maybe larger, at least with the presses they have there.