Saturday, January 17, 2015

Navigating Etching's Reverie

Etching and collage (detail)...

From the collective response of print-makers answering the request for descriptions of what it is that connects them to etching and the intaglio print (several responses have been from artists making collagraph prints) it seems that  the personal, cultural and historical filters of the process evoke a dialogue of binding contradictions. The melt of its time, its mood and its process are seemingly never fixed to any singular experience.

S, a Japanese print maker living in Paris creating poetic observations of everyday experience described the liminal space that etching creates in being able to achieve a delicacy of line and tone that remains fluid and balanced between drawing and etching.

M is a print-maker from Philadelphia who is interested in the historical link between etching and photography. He made the analogy between etching and developing black and white photographic prints where the emergence of the image in the developing tray has a similar expectation to lifting the paper from the etching plate. Even when editioning a moderate number of etchings the sense of anticipation and surprise in pulling each print remains in place. He also felt there was a pace and timing to both processes that is very similar, Each process allows you windows of time to day-dream.

R from Brisbane, a print-making under-graduate interested in exploring transitions of the human condition reflected on etchings alchemy in the blending of materials and process where each of the natural elements are engaged. Earth through the melt of a ground on metal. Water in its effecting release of the size in paper, making it receptive to the most delicate of marks and its method of extending or diminishing time when combined with acids. Fire/heat in the etching of metal and the combining elements of Air and Water required to stabilize surfaces. The alchemy extending in the shift between metal, ink and paper.

D, a print-maker from Glasgow described making collagraph prints where the gathering of textures and materials is an integral part of her creative process. There is a sense of quiet expectation in the formal placement of shapes and textures that translates as collage and driven by the intuitive response. D often finds her sense of connection sway in deciding which form provides the strongest mediation, the print or the collagraph plate. She admits there are times when she feels as if the print exists as a subsidiary layer, a mere side-effect.  This duality in the relationship between process and the print is unique to collagraph, so many of my students relate a similar response.
E, also an under-graduate from Brisbane with a photographic background related etchings contradictions and the element of chance that needs to be embraced set against the discipline of mastering a process immersed in control. With the connection to photography E enjoyed the methodical progression of altered states that transpire with each re-etching. The emotional sway is something that she regarded as unavoidable. The swing from the quiet confidence that carries you through the preparation stage, the pleasure of drawing into the dark ground to reveal the shimmer of metal, the moment of frustration when the first proof is too dark or too light and the need to dissolve the disappointment and re-focus on achieving a desirable outcome.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Reverie of Etching...

Detail from artist book: Walking and Falling with Language 2014

Poetics of Etching

In Gaston Bachelard’s sublime book on the poetic resonances of objects within intimate spaces, The Poetics of Space, he observes that ‘the poetic act has no past, at least no recent past, in which its preparation and appearance could be followed’ (Bachelard,1958). In its cryptic manner Bachelard’s observation is what it feels like to make etchings. The process is so immersive that for the practitioner there is ever only the moment, and once completed the effects so mysterious that nothing could possibly follow and defeat such a singular experience.
The comparison is of course somewhat tilted. One is constantly aware of etchings sustained history and anyone who has ever engaged in the process will admit that it’s impossible to ignore the resonances of its past. The nuanced elements of the process are embedded with an historical consciousness together with remnants of the past made available in the very materials and equipment. Presses with large wheels attached that allow  you to feel like you’re at sea, steel beds like kitchen tables that invite conversation, thick felt blankets that protect and veil anticipation, liquid and hard grounds that are archaeological and black inked surfaces that bring you to the edge of the subconscious.
Discovering precisely what it is about etching that takes hold is as elusive and fluid as Bachelard’s description. The natural response is that it is never one thing and that the layered experience of process and materiality disclose a response that will always be collective. The poetic act remains essentially vague and enigmatic but there is always a moment where the fluidity is suddenly fixed and something takes hold, and then it is gone. It is this instance of reverie within etching that I wish to explore.
Objective descriptions often provide the best starting point. This questioning has commenced a personal project of enquiry into the character of etching and how it resonates with individual etchers/print makers and I invite anyone who has engaged with etching to send me their reflections on what it is that takes hold of them or likewise what it is about etching that disengages them.

Please send your thoughts by email to:

Friday, December 5, 2014

'Calling all Etchers'

I realize I am engaging with a somewhat marginal audience but I have commenced a project of gathering the descriptions of anyone who has immersed themselves in the process of etching, student or experienced print maker for the simple purpose of composing an anthology of  reflections on what it is about the process of creating an etching that takes hold of you. If you would like to contribute please contact me at this email address:

Friday, November 14, 2014

Silent Horses

I promise this will be the last of the horses...I'm sure some of my wonderful first year students roll their eyes by the end of semester at my repeated request for the need to 'exhaust' their imagery in connection to their underlying thoughts or narrative. I'm not certain that the narrative is ever exhausted...stories can always be reinterpreted...but through the pure physical process of making one arrives at a point were you know you have described all that needed to be made visible...its as if you suddenly reach  a certain silence that is deeper than the one you hold onto during the making...these horses have arrived at such a point. 

'Maps of Horses 1988'...etching (proof)

'Horse Maps 1988'..etching:(proof)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mapping Horses...continued

"Maps of Horses 1976" Dry-point (detail)

Without going into any great detail this latest series of etchings simply allows me to bring together two forms that I have always felt a certain connection with...horses and maps. The underpinning connection is that maps provide a method in navigating our location at a particular moment in time...a way of positioning our experience within the here and now...regardless of whether it is Google earth or a hand drawn 'mud map'...the experience is identical...the horse is more of a personal connection to the past...a continuance of metaphor.

"Maps of Horses 1976"...dry-point and spit-bit etching 

"Maps of Horses 2003"...dry-point and spit bite etching 

"Maps of Horses 1959"... dry-point and spit-bite etching

Saturday, November 1, 2014

"Maps of Horses:1959-2014"

Dry point etching: detail from Maps of Horses:1959

 "The Maps of Horses" is a new series of dry-point and spit-bite etchings of horses embedded with cartographic-like notations. Made on aluminium plates the series extends the recent book projects that combined a similar use of surface numbering. This is a direct reference to the sketches made by botanical artist Ferdinand Bauer during his gathering of studies of Australian flora and fauna as part of Matthew Flinders circumnavigation of Australia in 1802/03. Bauer had a system where by each of the numerical notations within his pencil sketches referenced a chart of over 250 colour variations that he would use for the creation of colour illustrations having returned to his studio. The only difficulty was that Bauer had to extend his colour palette to over one thousand due to the unique tonal variations he experienced in Australia. The mapping of horses is a combination of personal narratives and historical sensibility. My father owned and trained race horses and my childhood was a familiar space shared with horses. 
 Like maps these horses are seemingly fixed to some historical narrative that are hopefully embedded with a sense of more personal stories.
Maps of Horses:1969

Maps of Horses:1976