Palimpsest Portraits: Art of Ancient Wisdom
Palimpsest Portraits: Art of Ancient Wisdom
Series of 25 color etchings of portraits-each of Jesus paired with another figure-drawn with text taken from writings from mystic monks
Series of 25 color etchings of portraits-each of Jesus paired with another figure-drawn with text taken from writings from mystic monks Read more
The Palimpsest Portraits series of etchings is a project that was originally envisioned about fifteen years ago. Essentially, the project is conceived as twenty-five pairs of portraits (fifty total portrait images). Each pairing includes one image of Jesus from some art historical context, along with another person. The various “non-Jesus” figures are historical, from popular culture, as well as some lesser known individuals. They range from great moral, religious, and civic leaders (Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, Abraham Lincoln) to popular actors, musicians, and reprobates (James Dean, Johnny Cash, Adolph Hitler). The odd juxtapositions of good and bad—some both good AND bad—figures with Jesus cause viewers to question the good and bad in us all, and what the phrase “made in the image of God” may mean.
The Concept behind the Series: The Desert Fathers
The springboard for this idea came from a reading of the Desert Fathers, the ancient, mystic monks of the Egyptian desert. In one particular story a monk is said to have asked God to show him who he was like. God proceeded to send him to several individuals, both good and bad, with whom the monk could make this comparison. In the end the monk concluded that, “no one in this world ought to be despised, let him be a thief, or an actor on the stage, or one that tilled the ground, and was bound to a wife, or was a merchant and served a trade: for in every condition of human life there are souls that please God and have their hidden deeds wherein He takes delight.” This got me thinking about how I view and treat people. Do I see that element or spirit of God in everyone? Is or was there ever a person I could not view in that way? That is when the figure of Adolph Hitler came to mind. And the remaining figures followed, one after the other. This series is to be considered as a whole, with the good, the bad, and everyone in between, populating the parade of characters.
What exactly is a “Palimpsest?”
Close inspection of the smaller demonstration or sample etchings shown here reveals that the images of the figures are actually made from text. The values that create the images are the very words of that tale from the Desert Fathers. The image IS the word. While this has theological implications, it is also derived from the format of the palimpsest. Traditionally, the palimpsest was a parchment from which the primary layer of text was scraped—leaving a perceptible residue of that text—then covered with a new text layer. Both layers coexist within the same parchment and the history of the entire document is seen through those dueling layers. These etchings are developed in a similar way. The imagery is created digitally from layers of the text, transferred to a copper plate, then developed in a more traditional manner.
The unique process of Color Viscosity Printing
This particular printing process was developed by the artists of Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17 in the early 1960s. It allows multiple colors to be applied to a single plate and printed in one pass through the press. Previously, color etchings were only made from multiple plates with various colors that had to be printed and reprinted to get the final result. This technique opened up new creative possibilities for hundreds and thousands of artists and was part of the resurgence of printmaking as a creative medium in its own right during the mid-twentieth century. The results of the process were often abstract Modernist forms, though some artists, such as Dick Swift, employed the technique for semi-representational works.
The development of the etching plate
The copper plates for the viscosity color etching process are created in a sculptural method. At least three distinct levels must be developed within the plate. One deep level is bitten into the surface of the plate to be inked like a traditional etching. Ink is forced into the crevices of the plate and the top surface is wiped clean. A secondary surface between the top surface and the low crevices is also bitten into the plate. This allows a harder roller to distribute ink onto the highest surface and a softer roller to place ink onto the lower surface, while still maintaining the line work of the deepest level. A difference in how oily or tacky the inks are (their viscosity) allows them to either mix or separate as they are placed on the plate, causing a variety of color combinations in the final print.
What do these funds go toward?
The color viscosity etching technique requires specialized equipment. Not only does it require an etching press, but at least two large diameter rubber rollers to apply layers of ink to the plates. The current, smallish ink roller I use allows for a maximum image size of 5” x 8”. I am proposing the acquisition of four rollers so that I have the ability to create greater color variations within each larger pair of etchings. The equipment costs are about $3000. Supplies include the fifty copper plates, dozens of cans of ink, solvents, etching materials, and hundreds of sheets of paper. All of that comes to about $5000. The equipment and supplies will allow me to create the series of twenty-five etching portrait pairs in editions of twenty-five prints (625 total prints), along with some separate editions of individual portrait images. The remaining funds cover the costs of framing works so that the exhibition can travel to several galleries. (Included as a percentage of these amounts is shipping costs for donor rewards, as well as the service fees to Kickstarter)
After the Ink Dries
My intention after the Palimpsest Portraits are printed is to put together an exhibition of the twenty-five portrait pairs, as well as some other unique pairings of images from the series. This exhibition would be able to travel throughout North America (or farther) and because of the nature of the medium, more than one version of the exhibit could travel at the same time. The ability to see all the work together in one place is essential to my concept of the series.
Beyond the Palimpsest Portrait Series
I have truly reached the limits of the work I can produce with my current equipment and materials. I have already produced the handful of smaller versions of these works because I needed examples of some physical work to show just what I planned to create. I also wanted potential supporters to receive their rewards immediately. After all, who wants to wait for the payoff for their investment? The process for creating the works can be lengthy. However, I want investors in the project to understand that their support is not merely an investment in this one project. The equipment acquired for the printing process will be used well into the future for works not yet even conceived. With each new work my understanding of the process and materials grows. It is exciting to think of how much better I will be at the process after making fifty new plates. I hope you will join me on this journey.
About the Rewards
To show my strength of dedication and personal investment in this project, I have already worked up several, smaller prototype versions of the proposed etchings to demonstrate the process and style of the work. Because these pieces are already developed they can be shipped as soon as a successful campaign is completed, without waiting months for the entire project to be finished. There are also additional reward levels with similar imagery composed from hymns, and a few noteworthy options that require the completion of the proposed project for the rewards to be delivered. In all cases, the artwork available as investor rewards is offered for project support levels that are lower than my usual prices, to incentivize investment in this and future projects. Once you have selected the reward you would like, please consider posting an image and link to this campaign on social media.
A Word about Original Prints
As a printmaker, I take special pride in the work that I do. My prints are created as a specific artwork that can be issued as multiples. I design and etch all my own plates and then print them myself on a press. Sometimes artists, dealers, and galleries use the word "print" to describe a "reproduction" of an image that exists in another form, usually as a painting. Rest assured that the project you invest in, while using appropriated imagery, is the original artwork, as conceived and executed by me.
Risks and challenges
The development of viscosity etching plates can be lengthy. My goal is to work on these pieces during the spring and summer of 2016, doing much of the printing during the summer. I expect that all the images could be color proofed in that amount of time, but the full editions of all the plates may not be completed by the end of the summer. It can take two days just to print a full edition of one pairing that uses two plates. Printing is as complex as the development of the images.
Additionally, I am currently in the review process for a Fulbright Scholarship. If that proposal is accepted, I would be working in Eastern Europe during the Fall of 2016. If the editions are not yet finished, they would be on hold until my return. This is why I have allotted a full year for the completion of the project and why I wanted all but the very top rewards to not be tied to the completion of the final prints. Still, I believe that there will be enough images printed by the end of the summer to fulfill all the rewards. I also desire to use this technique for the Fulbright research, so this work on this proposed project would be a great complement to my proposal for the Fulbright, if it is also funded.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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