Nearly half-way!

18 Apr

This project is huge. It’s a lot of work, I’m digging away at it though.

Minmei Madelynne Pryor

I think a danger of making work in a big series like this is that too often artists tend to just provide a lot of variations on a single theme.

Sometimes this approach works, but generally I find it either disappointingly lazy or completely redundant. So a big part of what I’m trying to achieve in my project is making sure that each print is an independent piece with differing formal and conceptual aims.

In Chapter Three, the plate finds our heroine Minmei Madelynne Pryor in a hospital waiting room. She’s feeling alienated and repulsed by her pregnancy and surrounded by non-fictional people with extremely abnormal bodies.

This was the only plate I did out of numeric sequence, because I was waiting for some books to come into the library to help me solve a visually complex problem: I wanted to construct an image with a circular form that encouraged the viewers’ eye to move around the waiting room on a central axis, like they were pacing in a circle. I remembered seeing paintings that dealt with implied navigation within two-dimensional space like that in the Tuscan city of Sienna. Here is a little history lesson from an enthusiastic but inexpert source:


Sienna offers a really interesting example of a different route that Western art could have taken if the invention of perspective, developed in Florence, had not been so economically supported by the oligarchy of the powerful city-state.

Florence was run by a dynastic family of bankers, and these bankers funded the art they liked. By contrast, Sienna existed in a startlingly democratic situation almost unparalleled in its efforts to provide equality and civic-mindedness. Most citizens in the small city were at one point elected municipal officials; everyone from bakers to bricklayers took a turn with twelve other citizens for sharing the responsibility of running the Parliament.

For this reason the residents were enormously invested in and proud of their city. It was ordinary for Siennese painters to depict their environments in a hierarchical way, above figurative or narrative elements; the viewer is invited to walk around inside the image in an immersive way rather than as a spectator. There is no fixed perspective, the kind that dictates terms to you as a viewer, the way most camera shots and most lens-based drawing/painting does i.e.  you are a viewer and this is the scene.

In Siennese painting, you’re a participant.  You sort of start on a hill, walk down it, climb up some steps and walk into a house, then climb up to the second floor and look at some sleepy Saint in a bed. It’s amazingly sophisticated and elegant, and whenever I spend time with it I’m thrilled by the possibilities of this form of image-making in contrast to what we’ve come to perceive as the more neutral or natural manner of lens-based viewing. So I wanted this plate to take a stab at this kind of space-building.

Here are some snaps of my sketchbook studies:

ra sienna

ra ra sienna

ra ra ra sienna

ra ra ra rar a

ra ra ra ra

What I like most is the way the artists were able to squeeze such an immensity of space into what is often a very narrow segment of a picture plane. In the space of an inch they’ll design a deep hallway with stairs going off to another aspect of the picture, or broaden the way the viewer sees the space by putting a head peeping through a window above the main action, all this while keeping everything breathing and clear. It’s not an easy feat to pull off.

super saint

The other aspect of these paintings of particular interest for me is the way they deal with narrative. There is a strong case to be made for these paintings as being early examples of what became the medium of comics. This is most apparent in the small grid-like arrangements underneath an altarpiece called predella’s.

the little guys at the bottom

I’m not the first to notice this. This is a frame from a VHS documentary on the 13th century painter Sassetta that draws parallels between the fantastic actions of a flying saint with the Man of Steel himself.

I'm not the first

Anyway, all of these interests informed my efforts in this piece:

prep. drawings

Here you can see how I’ve worked out the rough drawings for the print on transparent paper so I can flip it over to see how it will look when printed. Like all printmaking, etching reverses the image, so you need to plan how everything will look backwards.  This is of particular concern in a large narrative like mine, where the impulse to read an image from left to right has a lot of subconscious bearing on what the image means.

And here is the drawing for the etching itself – a lot tighter.

Minmei Madelynne Pryor 3

The crappy little camera that came with my phone has a very helpful feature for me: it lets me see in negative,  which in the case of etchings let’s you know more of what your drawing will look like after it’s been bitten with acid and printed on paper. That’s why these photos look a little hazy or out of focus – they are negatives taken with a cheap camera phone.


This is what I see as I use a needle to scratch through the acid resistant ground over the copper plate; the shining parts are exposed copper, and the last two photos are negatives. Please to enjoy:

don't be so negative

cool effect

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