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.

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