His work reminds me of some of the work I saw when we visited MONA in Hobart – it can be said it is just designed to shock, but it is very effective in stimulating discussion (or outrage) and it is difficult to ignore.
This sculpture has proved to have the same shock value of some of his pieces; when Viselec was displayed in Grand Rapids, Michigan in the U.S., many panicked phone calls were placed as the people thought the sculpture was someone attempting suicide. Created in 1997, the tiny figure of Sigmund Freud, who hangs by his right arm and has the hand of the other in his left pocket, is said to reflect Černý’s thoughts about the role the intellectual would play in the new millennium. Located on Husova street near Betlémské náměstí, the bearded figure has made the rounds to Malá Strana, Berlin, Stockholm, and London.
I’ve talked about my practice in terms of my interest in surface, and in mark making. Where to from here?
Earlier this year I lived and worked in Venice for a month where I made some large format prints of those crumbling Venetian walls. I have plenty of photographic material for new work about surfaces. I’ll let the images speak for themselves…
Usually, prints are presented behind glass, with a matt surrounding the image and a frame enclosing the whole lot. Why struggle to achieve a beautiful surface, then put it behind glass, with its hardness and reflectivity?
I remember discovering encaustic at an exhibition in the Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Sydney, some years ago. There was a beautiful Kim Westcott drypoint embedded in a glowing sensuous red wax. It was large, and unframed. I could see that potentially I could free myself from frame and glass if I explored encaustic. Encaustic is a medium entirely on its own , but it can also be used to collage prints or works on paper together, and to seal them from dust so that they don’t have to be presented behind glass. To work the wax, you can use techniques which are familiar to printmakers. Moreover, the wax can make even quite thick paper translucent, so there is an opportunity to explore the use of light. And, like in printmaking, there are lots of happy accidents. For the last few years, I have been learning as much as I can about encaustic, and have used it together with my printmaking, and alone, as a separate discipline.
I can see that I have plenty of new directions to take, places to stop on my journey, before I move on again.
The works that I had been doing now seemed too constructed, or fabricated, and I wanted to move to a simpler and more direct technique where the marks could speak for themselves. Having experimented a lot with monotype, and realising what beautiful, sensitive and immediate marks I could make with that technique if I forgot about formal imagery and just went with the flow of surface, I moved on to a series of panels based on the shapes of letters. I noticed that when presented in a manner which stripped them of any meaning, letters could flow thoughtlessly from my hand. Like a madwoman, I turn up the music and draw the letters of the alphabet over and over again. Sometimes I layer several colours onto the image.
These are transfer monotypes. In this process, you roll out a colour, carefully place the paper face down on top, and draw through the back. The drawing tool forces the paper into direct contact with the ink, and the drawing is transferred to the paper. As part of the technique, the letters are reversed so they don’t make any sense, and the eye can concentrate on the graphic shapes made by the letters.
There’s just been a hiatus involving root canal therapy, teaching a workshop, and a friend visiting, but I intend to complete these posts related to my practice by hook or by crook!
Now I wanted to escape the constraints of the paper. Traditionally, prints are placed on the paper with a border all around. Now I moved to making images comprised of layers of tissue paper joined together in long scroll forms. The light could penetrate them to show more than one level of imagery.
Unframed, they float, and move with the air currents. They appear very delicate, but are actually strong. These works dealt with the colonisation of Australia and the displacement of Aboriginal culture, which had no written language, so I began to introduce text.
Here are a couple of details from works in the series, so you can see the texture of the paper. To see the full image, go to the printmaking page of the blog.
*A Midden is an old dump for domestic waste, or occupation site which reveals a great deal about the way people lived.
I’m also an explorer. When I make work, I hope for something outside of me to contribute something. It might sound a bit crazy, but it’s as if I’m only part of the process. I’m on a journey which hasn’t got a destination, so commonly, pieces of my work or series in my work are stops along the way.
Over time, I’ve learnt to trust my hand, so that I no longer throw things out, and I no longer regard things as ‘failed’. They will sit around the studio for months sometimes, until I can find the right place for them. I find time in the studio when I can get out of my head is the most productive. I play music or listen to the radio to facilitate the process of turning off my brain to let it happen.
Some years ago, I made a series of prints based on x-rays and scans of the body. X-rays have a kind of bloom on the surface which carries fingerprints and scars from being handled by doctor and patient. They seemed to me to be beautiful – the ghostly image, the passages of darkness and light – and the surface seemed to me to carry a message about what people were feeling about their bodies, their hopes and fears. As I explored these images I noticed a texture of fine striations of darkness and light, which looked like the weave of a fabric. Noticing the way wet ink often transferred to tissue paper laid between newly made prints, I developed a printing process which layered imagery on transparent papers onto the base print. This produced subtle colour shifts, and allowed for a lot of compositional experimentation.
It was very liberating. I felt no longer tied to the information on the plate. I found I could make a series of different prints from one plate by altering the way I inked up and overlays of transparent paper on the base print. Now, I could print many different images from the same plates. I started to develop a library of plates, which I used in different prints by inking them in different colours and combining them with other plates in different ways. I stopped routinely making editions.
Yesterday I gave a talk at Manly Gallery to accompany the Leave Nothing but Prints Exhibition. Since I worked quite hard on it, (I find it very difficult to write about my own work) I thought I might publish it here, because it is an explanation of my approach. It was quite long, so I’ll have to publish it in a few parts.I hope you find it worth reading. This first part is illustrated with my photographs.
Why do I make prints?
The things that attracted me to printmaking were things I couldn’t find in painting, though others might. I am immensely attracted to paper, because I am really attracted to the surface of things. I make the joke that I am deeply superficial!
Through printmaking, I work with the paper, layering the images onto it, and trying to make the most of those happy accidents that are the gift of the printmaking gods from time to time. I look for marks I can make to create a seductive surface which will draw the viewer in. I have grown to love the random, the accidental, the gestural where the nature of the marks I make leaves room for a kind of visual exploration of the surface.
My images are about surface, rather than form, line, colour and so on. I am attempting to evoke a feeling, or a mood, through the surfaces I create.