Monday, June 20, 2011

Chemigrams in the IPCNY summer print show

There's something special, or especially elusive, about chemigrams that makes them one of the hardest of art objects to pin down, for those who like to classify things.  Are they paintings?  Mapplethorpe's new show suggests they are: in gesture, scale, ambition.  Or photographs?  Well, they're created on photographic paper by manipulating silver gelatin emulsion with fixer and developer, so they have the parentage.  Or are they prints, with affinities to lithographs and etchings?  The summer New Prints 2011 show at the International Print Center of New York, curated by Trenton Doyle Hancock and running from June 9 to July 29, 2011, proposes the latter.  Prints are about process, where the methods and restrictions in creating a plate often determine what the image pulled from it will look like.  The layers of work that go into it, the hours and days of drawing and scraping on a plate, are part of this process too, so when we consider a print we must think about time, a time of creation, very legible in the finished product in front of us.  In his remarkable curatorial essay, available on the IPCNY website, Hancock speaks not only of this time but also of timelessness, the infinite continuum in which the print resides: 'I am humbled by its disregard for the now,' he writes.  Where prints come from is a sacred place, and their very existence can lead us beyond our limiting temporality.

Collins, Things to come and the ways of coming, 2010

The chemigramist, of course, understands this intuitively. He has observed the mysterious kinetics of what happens in his trays, the physico-chemical reactions.  He watches shapes emerge, morph, and vanish, only to reappear elsewhere or in other guises.  His hand is respectful as he lifts off resist; as an artist he is a minor player.  He influences, but someone else is at his shoulder, some spirit.  He knows this.  So it was perhaps no surprise that two chemigrams by Douglas Collins were selected for this show, and yet these are the first chemigrams ever displayed at IPCNY, a capital in the world of printmaking.  The old order is giving way to the new.

Collins, Gentle bodies, 2010

A technical word: these pieces used Golden MSA varnish and were printed on Hahnemuehle German Etch paper with an Epson Stylus Pro 11880 printer.

Collins on left, Hancock on right at opening

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