When Max Portnoy of New West Editions first inquired whether I’d be interested in pursuing a print project, I was certain what I’d do: create one of my thought forms (a series of drawings of improbable, crystalline forms) using etching or aquatint. But, about a week or so after our initial conversation, I suddenly found myself thinking wistfully of photogravures. For those not familiar, photogravure is a means of transferring a photographic image onto a plate, either copper or polymer, that can then be etched in an acid bath. The etched plate when inked and printed produces a velvety and richly seductive, subtly gradated image – the inked surface of the paper both absorbing and emitting light. My initial longing became an imperative when not soon thereafter, as luck would have it, I saw an exhibition of London artist, Darren Almond’s photogravures of strangely atmospheric landscapes at Crown Point Press in San Francisco. The matter was settled. I had to make use of this mesmerizing technique.
Most folks within the artworld know me by the drawings I make – images exploring the materiality of graphite or ink and that fluctuate between event, object and space; but far less know that I also occasionally make films, or more correctly, videos (I’ll explain in a moment). Having seized upon the idea of photogravure, I became increasingly excited by the possibility of combining both my drawing and film work into a single medium, thus creating a material and conceptual bridge between two seemingly disparate aesthetic activities.
The work I create with moving images begins its life as Super 8 celluloid film. Yes, its still being manufactured by Kodak! Almost every film I make is composed entirely of footage (no matter how altered later) of things, events or scenes directly captured from the world around me. Once the processed Super 8 film is received from the lab, I then transfer the footage to digital video. This transfer process is as simple as me projecting the film on a bright white but non-reflective surface (like mat board) and then recording that projected image using a digital video camera. I then import the digital footage into my computer and edit it, or add any effects (what’s called “filters”), using the software program, Final Cut. So in essence my films are, in fact, digital videos; but that’s all semantics, right?
Final Cut can export stills of video footage, but at very low resolution and relatively small size. This was of concern to me as the beauty of a photogravure print lies in its ability to render the most exquisite range of tonalities along with an extremely fine granular texture. What I didn’t want was to end up having produced a pixilated, degraded image. Fortunately, I wasn’t concerned with making a large-scale print as the delicacy of surface and detail in the photogravure process brings to mind the small, the intimate.
A diminutive scale having been determined, Max and I decided that we would produce a suite of six prints based upon stills of several films of mine, video mandalas I – III and memory in d minor. What I ended up selecting were images that alternated from the resolutely abstract to the wholly figurative: three fantastically complex organic/inorganic kaleidoscopic patterns set in contrast to an image of a starkly black sky with curved, cloudy horizon falling below, a vintage prop plane flying through smoke-like clouds, and a forest glade suffused in moody, dappled light.
I titled this suite of prints, steganographic memories; steganography being the art and science of encoding content within pictures so that only the sender and recipient know the hidden message contained within. This interspersing of abstract and figurative images becomes the interplay between the ideational spaces of the mind and the observed world around it – the mind transmitting coded messages to itself – and a metaphor for the interiority of experience. Each image evokes a melancholic quality and in their diminutive scale invites the viewer to become steeped in reverie. In the way that one can only get lost via the world of miniature, things seen remotely even if closely, these enigmatic images slowly open themselves unto themselves revealing their secret life.