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

Thursday, October 30, 2014

'ash, needle. pencil. match'...glen skien & tachika yokota

'ash, needle, pencil. match' was a collaborative exhibition in early August of this year between myself and Japanese artist/crafts-person Tachika Yokota. It was one of those shows that passed under the radar but for both of us it provided an opportunity to extend our interest in inanimate objects, found or self-made, and their capacity to express a sense of narrative. For Tachika the focus of such relationships had mostly been explored through the photographic image but her year of honors saw that relationship shift focus towards the object and the significance of the hand-made within an expanding digital environment. Her minimal resin relief works of a record album cover and a Polaroid image questioned the loss of the hand made and referenced the layered relationship between our experience of the photograph as documentation and the object itself. It is the type of work that remains evasive in pinning down an exact description of the meaning and intention. No sooner do you find a point of having grasped it before that moment of comprehension shifts or vanishes completely, forcing you to begin again.
For my part the hand-made was referenced through the very literal use of jewelers saw handles attached to cigar boxes that served as a very practical device for attaching and embedding objects and miniature relief sculptures. Beside each piece I had hand written in pencil descriptions of the materials used, a type of inventory of what the viewer was looking at. I'm not certain what purpose it served apart from the intuitive desire to have text on the gallery wall, in some way making them even more marginal. Text dilutes and contaminates the image. It provides a continual shift because it's impossible to engage with both forms at once, becoming quite separate experiences. 

The title of the exhibition was appropriated from a description by the writer W.G. Sebald (1944-2001) in his response to the literary works of Swiss poet and writer Robert Walser  (1878-1956). Walser wrote almost his entire collection of short stories and poetic works in a coded micro-script format written in pencil on the back of discarded fragments of paper. For Sebald the works of Walser were embedded with empathetic responses to inanimate objects that evoked a deep emotional response. Visually his penciled micro-scripts  were a free-form of concrete poetry where the experience is a collision of text and graphic simplicity. 
Our collaborative process will continue in 2015 with further exploration of  the narratives disclosed through the hand-made.

Object-poems (i-ii-iii) Glen Skien and Tachika Yokota