Monday, February 15, 2016

Ready, Set, Print

It has taken a few months to get everything aligned, but the time has finally come. The Kickstarter Campaign to make the Palimpsest Portrait Project a reality is now live. You can find out more about the particular printing process I use below, but all the specific details are available right on the Kickstarter Campaign page. The best overview is actually presented in the video shared here.

Your first question about the images you’re seeing is probably, “Why are you pairing those particular people together?” Well, the answer to that comes down to the text that actually makes up these images. That text is from the Desert Fathers, the ancient, mystic monks of the Egyptian desert. While reading of the accounts of their lives, I came across a monk who was said to have asked God to show him which of the saints he was like. God sent him to several individuals, both good and bad, with whom the monk could make this comparison. In the end the monk realized that, “no one in this world ought to be despised, let him be a thief, or an actor on the stage, or one that tilled the ground, and was bound to a wife, or was a merchant and served a trade: for in every condition of human life there are souls that please God and have their hidden deeds wherein He takes delight.” This got me thinking about how I view and treat people. Do I see that element or spirit of God in everyone? Is or was there ever a person I could not view in that way?

These figures, and more, came to my mind and I began to design this provocative project. It is meant to be seen as a whole series and not just as individual works. After years of working on the concept, on and off, it is time to finally see it made. That is why I created the Kickstarter Campaign. This project cannot happen without the help of many people coming together to make it happen. Unless artwork is specifically commissioned, it is typically up to the artist to self fund the project and hope that someone will, eventually, like it enough to buy it. Often, the sale of one artwork funds the creation of the next one. When the funds needed to obtain equipment and materials reach a certain level, turning to crowd sourcing is a wise option.

So, please take a look at the campaign. Join in if you can. Even if you can’t, please share the project on social media (you can do that right through the Kickstarter page). When many people come together around this project it can become reality. 

Note: The full funding goal for this project was not reached through Kickstarter, however, several generous individuals did fulfill their pledges directly To Tyrus so that he could begin a portion of the etching portraits. If you would like to give toward the completion of the funding goal, to see this project fully completed, you can do that through his website.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Palimpsest Portraits: A Resurrection

In 2006 and 2007 I first began serious work on a project that was not yet named. Conceptually, it was to consist of twenty-five portrait pairs—fifty total portraits. Each pairing would situate an image of Jesus, from art history, with another individual. The other person might be historical, from popular culture, or even relatively unknown. He or she may be generally acknowledged as good or bad or somewhere in between. The idea was based in my understanding of a story I read from the Desert Fathers and has been mentioned here before. (for an explanation of “Palimpsest,” refer to the previous posting)

For various reasons the project was not completed a decade ago. Mainly, it was an expensive venture. I did acquire some of the materials needed to complete it, but the process was also quite time consuming and my job at the time left little available time to devote to the task. And, quite a daunting task this was. The color viscosity printing technique planned for the series is technical and complex, too. And I added the complication that the images were to be “drawn” from text—just to complicate matters more.

I had wanted to utilize this printing technique since I first came across the works of Stanley William Hayter and Dick Swift in the university art collection when I was in graduate school. The intensity of the colors used and the complexity of the color mixings enticed me. Hayter’s work tends to be on the more abstract side, though some of Swift’s includes a good amount of representational imagery. I wanted that element of representation, but desired to make it my own. The use of text, running through all forms of my artwork, was my distinctive take on the technique. 

The major pause in the project came when I moved in 2008 and no longer had access to the large rubber ink rollers of varying density that are required for the printing process. Over the past few years I have further experimented with the technique on a limited scale, with the small ink rollers I do possess. They are not large enough to complete the project as planned, but I have been determined to perfect the technique and seek funding for the equipment and materials needed to complete the project as originally envisioned. The images here reveal two of those experiments.

The digital “drawings” of the images are first composed from text in Photoshop. When the values have been sufficiently produced, the image is transferred to a copper plate. However, much traditional etching work still needs to be completed at that point. At least three distinct levels need to be developed into the copper plate (this is for color separation and mixing with the various inks and rollers). Surfaces need to be bitten in acid or smoothed with tools so that colors and values print clearly. Here, I show the multiple states of a self portrait and an image of Martin Luther King. The first tests of each can be somewhat unrecognizable, but over time, the development of the plates reveals both the images and the tiny textual elements that compose them.

These are still only trial images, to give prospective funders an idea of what I’m attempting to produce. The comparison between the first images from a decade ago and these newer versions shows how my process has changed—and improved—over that period. I feel that I am finally ready to complete these works as they first existed in my imagination. The larger images allow for much greater complexity with the text as it relates to the design. Hopefully, new larger works will find their way into future posts later this year.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Love Letter: Foundations of a Family

Anyone browsing through posts on this blog will quickly find that the presence of text and words within my artwork has been evident for about two decades. In paintings this has often taken the form of applying paint over book pages. When incorporated into printmaking techniques the combination has become increasingly integral to how the imagery is actually developed. At first, the layering of words and images was related to the concept of the incarnation of Christ—the Word made Flesh. While that idea remains in the background, I more recently have embraced the terminology of the Palimpsest for this process.

The origin of the term Palimpsest comes from an ancient practice. Before paper was developed in the West, the writing of manuscripts was often done on parchment (dried and prepared animal skins). Preparing the parchment was time consuming and expensive, so it was much more precious and less plentiful than paper would later be. If a parchment document was no longer needed or wanted, the text layer could be scraped off to erase the words from the document. This was ink, so the text was never completely erased. When a new text was written on the parchment the first layer was invariably still legible beneath. A parchment with both layers of text visible was called a palimpsest.

While I first began to develop the use of erasing and relayering texts to create an image with etching, I eventually employed the process for lithographic techniques. With both of these I actually develop the imagery in Photoshop. Portions of a page of text (often scanned as a high resolution file) are erased in Photoshop, then a new layer is added and more portions are erased, and so on. Eventually the values build up and the image is created from the words that still remain.

The images here are printed as polyester plate lithographs. These plastic plates can actually be fed through a toner-based printer or photocopier. The toner will attract the oily ink which can be offset onto another surface when run through a printing press, or even rubbed with a wooden spoon or baren to transfer the ink. The plate is wiped down with a wet sponge during the inking process, like any traditional lithographic printing. While there are multiple ways to develop a plate with this medium, I prefer to create the image in Photoshop and then print the plate through a toner-based printer and print from that matrix. 

In these works I chose to recreate photographic images of my maternal grandparents which I then printed on paper, antique textiles, and even hymnal pages. This takes a bit of experimentation since some fabrics are more receptive than others. Also, any preprinted pages (like the hymnals) require several layers of printing. The first three or four passes are with a white or cream colored ink that deadens the text already printed on the page. The final layer is in black and it is enhanced by the underlayer of text. The “white” printing produces an additional erasure to that already created digitally. 

The text that creates this image is actually from a handwritten love letter that my grandmother wrote to my grandfather in 1936, before they were married. The text that reveals their relationship materializes into a physical form in the prints. It recalls the physical manifestation of their union which was eventually my mother and her siblings, extending into future generations. While both of my grandparents have now died, the materialization of their love still exists in new generations. I believe that these works provide a unique visual metaphor—our words and their intentions are able to carry forth into the future as physical manifestations of who we ultimately are.