Friday, January 22, 2016

Franco's chemigrams on ortho litho film: a new path?

Marinai, untitled, 2015

Franco Marinai creates photogravures on copper plates, an older, uncompromising process in which it can take weeks to pull an acceptable print.  That kind of dedication is at the heart of his artistic practice, which has been discussed here before.  Few have the discipline or the skill to do it anymore, and he is part of a very select community.

But it so happens that sometimes, instead of starting with a photograph (his photography is highly regarded), he will fashion a chemigram - from scratch and on the fly - and he does this on the same orthochromatic litho film he uses as a route to photogravures, subjecting it to the same cycle of fixer and developer baths.  He has to be in the mood for it, and it's infrequent, but it does occur.  I try to be nearby when he's tempted.

This past December he found himself in one of these moods.  Working in daylight, he cut two 7" x 11" sheets from a pack of Arista Ortho Litho Film that he buys from Freestyle (their link is on the right-hand sidebar).  

litho film from Freestyle, Los Angeles

He applied the same resist to each, in this case a pleasant, dabbed-on pattern of Elmer's glue, the standard polyvinyl acetate based glue used in schools and by hobbyists and children worldwide.  He let it dry overnight to get it good and hard.  (Chemigramists will recognize this as one of the commonest of soft resists, and many won't let it dry at all but plunge it promptly into chemistry in a matter of seconds.  Methods do vary.)

Next he took the two sheets of film, now resist-coated, and sent them off simultaneously in different directions, one in a fixer bath, the other in undiluted Dektol.  He calls this his 'separate at birth' routine and he often follows it as it leads to the strongly graphic results he favors, particularly when he amps up the contrast during the itinerary of each.  Here you have the two trays at the outset:

Each film starts in the opposite chemistry

The films were switched back and forth in normal chemigram fashion with occasional rinsing in between, over a period of several hours, for by then the resists had completely eroded away.  But what is surprising from such a meticulous worker as Franco, who I've known for years, is that the steps were just as often done without rinsing at all: the contamination of the two baths at times was sought, in a maneuver he has called, with a nod to Nietsche, 'Dionysian',  meaning wild, exultant, partaking of the mysteries.  Well, mysteries he got. 

Marinai, untitled, 2015

Marinai, untitled, 2015

This last one is worth lingering over.  You'll notice the left and right sides look different - in fact the right side looks as if it were dunked in developer from the start, while the left looks, hmm, a bit mixed.  This is true.  The left side was immersed only a few inches into fixer at the start, then quickly went into developer, then back into fixer a ways further, i.e. a few more inches, and so on, so that only by degrees did the entire left side come to share in the chemigram experience equally.

What is the fate then of these rich, gorgeous films?  They get turned into photogravures, that's what, printed in black ink on printmaking paper.  But all is not lost: no longer needed for their primary job, the films themselves are preserved and live on in Franco's archives; he has hundreds of them.  And with some he plays around further still, as in the one below where he has done a bleach-etch (note the veils) and on top of that has laid some hand coloring with gold varnish in a kind of go-for-broke flourish you can only do at the end of a long work week.

Marinai, The Golden Age, 2015

I'm going to tell you something else about Franco.  Every morning, weather permitting, he goes out jogging along the mighty East River just a few blocks from his lower Manhattan home.  Jogging is a grueling sport and for some it's a time to think about things, take your mind off your legs and lungs.  Franco thinks about the darkroom.  The day he made the chemigrams above he'd looked over his shoulder and snapped a picture of the river with his phone, just a record of his thoughts.  Here it is, in its bleakness, fog and power, a reminder.


Marinai, East River, 2015
 





10 comments:

  1. Just incredible! Great work Franco! Printmaking meets the chemigram once again. The illusion of depth, a hard thing to get with these processes, is prevalent here.

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  2. Beautiful images and beautiful writing!

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  3. Hi, I'm a new follower of your blog and I have a question. If you print out these film chemigrams on Fuji photo paper as C-prints, do you manage to keep the wonderful sense of depth? I'd like to hear your thoughts..

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    1. Hi Rachel, I have not tried to print film chemigrams on anything but quality paper from copper plates by way of photogravure, but I assume it could be done, that you could easily reproduce those images on color photo paper. I do like the depth of those images, and at the moment I am attempting to render that depth in black and white with photogravure which is a continuous tone printing process, meaning that the variations in density are produced by the actual thickness of the ink. I just completed etching 13 7”x11” plates, haven’t printed them, I’ll do it tomorrow (the anticipated snow storm seems the right time to do it) and from what I can see so far, it looks pretty promising. Wish I could keep you posted.
      Thanks for your comment, and thanks Nolan, Paul and Gerry.
      Franco

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  4. These are beautiful.Depth and lightness

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  5. A while back a reader posted as a comment a plea for more Mondrian, less Pollock in the work of many chemigramists, and if I were less gracious I would apply that here. But I can't. These are too beautiful, the marks too unusual. I'm sure Marinai considered them as floor exercises in preparation for work to come. I hope the blog grants him space for a sequel, which I feel not alone in looking forward to.

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    1. The work he's presenting here is very much, as you aptly put it, a floor exercise; we expect bigger and better things in the future based on how suggestive these attempts are, on how many different ways one could develop them. Frankly, the closer you look at the details the more you realize this quality of mark is unprecedented. Suddenly the future is wide open. So yes, Franco has a standing invitation to return to us. And to think we had to literally snatch these images from his hands and publish them! Next time should be easier..

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  6. I’ve been intrigued and baffled by Pierre Cordier’s plea for more Mondrian and less Pollock. I am not sure how that relates to a call for more attention to be paid to variables beyond the resist (like temperature, duration, thickness etc.), and I have taken it to be a call for a more thoughtful practice. If that is so, I agree with that and support that call. Because with chemigrams - with all those intricacies, rhythmic shifts of tones and lines, contrasts, counterpoints, and those otherworldly geometries - I find it easy to be carried away no matter what one does. So one – I am speaking for myself - is tempted to accept a practice in which anything goes. But, without intention or deliberation, without a “motive”, one would be basically just monkeying around. And that would result in murdering the chemigram. I’ve got a front page headline: CHEMIGRAM KILLED - NO MOTIVE. I am trying to avoid being an accessory to that crime and I hope I will not disappoint your expectations. Thank you.

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    1. I believe you're right : Cordier is calling for more forethought, more of an idea of what one wants to do, of how one wants to structure space before embarking on a chemigram, which can easily fly out of control quite quickly because of its inherent dynamism.
      At the inquest, Franco, should there be one, we will hold you blameless and free you on your own recognizance. Keep up the work!

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  7. Exciting pictures without a doubt, but for me that 'fog and power' image (where do you get these words?) is the best, I can't stop looking at it.

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