Monday, March 11, 2019

Cordier & Falk: the 'L'en-allée' pictures from 2012

Pierre Cordier & Gundi Falk, Chimigramme 13/5/12 V, 15,5 x 10,5 cm, 2012

In the year 2011, having completed his treatise on chemigrams, Pierre Cordier emerged from semi-retirement in the south of France with renewed vigor and found a colleague, Gundi Falk, a Brussels-based painter, to help him advance the chemigram initiative further.  Together they embarked on a significant series of pictures entitled Pair-Impair, or Even-Odd, which they completed in phases between 2011 and 2013.  In many ways these pictures embody the best of the Cordier style: calipered grids overrun by a shower of classic chemigramic embroidery, an improvised balance of lights and darks in the key squares, and the many remaining squares processed out to a mackie line of absolute zero.  There are descriptions throughout this blog on how to do this but be advised, it's far from easy.  Here's an early version:

Pierre Cordier & Gundi Falk, Chimigramme 17/9/11 Pair-Impair, 2011

And a later one:

Pierre Cordier & Gundi Falk, Chimigramme 23.5.13, Pair-Impair, 2013

Meanwhile, the Brussels editor and gallerist Jean Marchetti approached Pierre and asked him if he could illustrate a delicate, bristly, highly charged, nearly unfathomable text entitled L'en-allée by the French poet Yaël Cange.  It was understood now that they were a team, Pierre and Gundi, and they accepted - yet without having the vaguest idea how challenging the poems of this writer, whom neither had heard of, were to be.  In the early months of 2012 they settled on a strategy of thinking about key words in both the poems and in the poet's life as a way to steer their work.  Gundi took the lead in coming up with sketches and mock-ups, which together they would criticize, modify, redo, and develop further around the table in Pierre's studio.  They put the Pair-Impair project for the while on quasi-hold.

Pierre Cordier & Gundi Falk, Chimigramme 14/3/12 (detail), 10,5 x 17 cm, 2012

The title, L'en-allée, a seldom-used expression, is nowadays shrouded in high-poetic fog from the 19th century, perhaps from Valéry, and conveys the sense of 'setting out' or 'leaving for', of seeking what was once there but no longer is, yet it also contains the idea of just 'going away' or decamping, wandering, perhaps to unknown or undisclosed destinations, with many stages and hesitations.  It speaks of memory and loss, and the possibility of redemption at the end of a trajectory that may be as long as a lifetime, or of the despair of not attaining it at all.  In more recent literature it has been associated with the curt, aphoristic writing of the novelist Marguerite Duras. 

So when Cordier & Falk began producing material for the book, it was apparent their images would resemble 'normal' chemigram images such as seen in work across many artistic practices today, only slightly.  Nor would they be expected to, given their radical assignment.  We are in an oneiric world here.  In grappling with the tortured verses of Yaël Cange, the artists had to invent their own symbolic language of response and stake out their own territory, which may have represented also a sort of pushback, gently done, leavened at times with sly humor.  We find fragments of eyes, floating gamely, of ears and lips, of railway tracks leading blindly nowhere, of stars with the softness of a child's dream, diagrams of past and future, mandalas, blips suspended in space, erasures.

Pierre Cordier & Gundi Falk, Chimigramme 22/5/12 II, 15,5 x 10,5 cm, 2012

For all that, the making of the marks on paper obeys what we expect of the chemigram procedure, following the rules of the trade: a puncture is begun somewhere, a cut, an abrasion, and it grows in time and space as the paper gets alternately bathed in fixer and developer.  The artists watch, terminating the action when they deem the moment right.  Nothing could be more straightforward.  Still, it is remarkable that Cordier and Falk have found a way to strip away years of refinement in chemigrams to arrive at an almost infantile level of attack, especially in the midst of creating their sophisticated suite Pair-Impair.  In so doing, they have managed the unexpected feat of matching poetry with poetry.  

We hear that Madame Cange was well satisfied with the work.

Pierre Cordier & Gundi Falk, Chimigramme 13/5/12 VI, 15,5 x 10,5 cm, 2012

Pierre Cordier & Gundi Falk, Chimigramme 22/4/12 IV, 15,5 x 10,5 cm, 2012

Pierre Cordier & Gundi Falk, Chimigramme 14/3/12 (detail), 10,5 x 17cm, 2012

Pierre Cordier & Gundi Falk, Chimigramme 25/3/12 I (detail), 15,5 x 10,5 cm, 2012

Pierre Cordier & Gundi Falk, Chimigramme 13/5/12 IV, 10 x 10 cm, 2012

The book was printed at the end of May 2012, just days after the last chemigram left the water wash, in an edition of 600 copies on fine rag paper.  It is still available from the publisher, La Pierre d'Alun, Brussels, and elsewhere on the internet.  Definitely an item you may want to collect. 


Sunday, January 27, 2019

Edgar Hartley's ceremonies of chemigram magic

Hartley, The Warding, on Adorama FB, 2018

If you see a very tall gentleman striding down West 40th Street in Manhattan whispering mantras to himself in an Asiatic language, possibly a dead one, it's most certainly Edgar Hartley, known also as Upasaka Bodhisattva, absently preparing himself for a day's work in the darkroom.  When I first knew him this was not on the program: he was mainly concerned then with the devising of warding sigils, amulets and protective seals for the summoning and healing of spirits - a specialized occupation to be sure - but in recent years he has transitioned smoothly into printmaking and cameraless photography.  Are the two related, wards and prints?  In his hands they most certainly are.  In fact you probably can't truly appreciate the accomplishment of his new show, Grinding Iron Rods Into Needles, at Manhattan Graphics, February 1 to February 28, without seeing how they inform and interpenetrate one another.  I'll let you explore those connections on your own since I admit my scant knowledge of the magick arts, yes that's a 'k', my loss to be certain.  Come to the opening reception Saturday, February 16 to meet the artist and discuss your sigils with the Bodhisattva himself.

For those unfamiliar with Tang dynasty chengyu, or idioms, it's helpful for starters to shed light on the show's title.  The story goes that one day in the 9th century young Li Bai encountered an old woman by a stream.  She was beating an iron rod between two stones.  What are you doing, Li Bai asked.  I'm beating this iron rod into a needle.  Let me try, he said, and he tried for a minute or two and gave up, saying this is crazy.  No it's not, the woman said.  If you keep doing it again and again, you will eventually have a needle, it's all about perseverance.  Li Bai left her and thought about this, and later would become the greatest poet in the history of China.

So much for background.  Let's turn to the work and see what we can learn from it.

Hartley, Chronos, on Ilford Warmtone FB, 2018

On Chronos, pictured here, Edgar has used several resists that have become popular of late (cf. our post last month on soft resists) including guava paste and oil spray.  Soluvar by Liquitex was the hard resist, and he used varying amounts of stabilizer, or ammonium thiocyanate, on this and all the other darkroom pieces in the show.  I suspect he may have dampened the warmtone here with a bit of selenium, judging from the sober quality of the red, although he's mum on that.  For The Warding at the top, Soluvar and tape were the resists (no guavas there) but the major difference lies in his use of bleach-etch methods, a newer tool in his box, to soften the surface and give it a suitably sensuous effect.

Hartley, Shi Tou, on Ilford Warmtone FB, 2018

Hartley, Untitled, on Fomatone Classic 132 Mat MG VC FB, 2018

Hartley, Your Phenomena Is Not My Phenomena II, on Adorama FB GL, 2018

To create the Fomatone image the artist used both brush and tape, although the dominant gestures arise clearly from bleach-etch, as they do also in Your Phenomena, where the hard resists, MSA Varnish by Golden and Soluvar by Liquitex, are barely perceptible however past the veils of floating emulsion.

As Edgar tends to work on small format paper, for a show like this, where most of the pictures are 16 x 20 inch C-prints, hi-resolution scanning can play an important role in how things get viewed and loved by the public.  David at Print Space, West 21st Street, stepped in and scanned the originals at 1600 dpi and some even as high as 2400 dpi, and then did all the printing on Kodak Endura.  You won't want to miss seeing the results.

It's only fair to add that this show includes an assortment of other printmaking endeavors by the Bodhisattva: paper litho, collagraphy, photogravure, etching, even silkscreen.  But you know why we aren't talking about them.  His website is

Young Li Bai and the Old Woman