Monday, January 20, 2014

Turnbull in Carmel

Turnbull, Dot Studies I, 2013

Richard Turnbull grew up in a hard-resist world, as anyone who explores his website can verify.  He's gone through a checklist of varnishes, putties and lacquers and mucked up an assassin's satchel of knives, blades and other weapons, all in an effort to harness that wild bronco that is the chemigram.  More often than not he's been successful, but that's not been enough.  His restless spirit has drawn him back to more innocent beginnings, to those first steps in chemigram class where they teach you about soft resists - the glues, the syrups, and the tapes.  A lot of professional chemigramists ignore the soft resists but it is here that, for the time being at least, he has found a home, and where he is producing some amazing art.  Arthur Danto, the late philosopher, said there will be no more linear progress in art as a continuity because we're at the end of it: you do what you want, go where you want to go.  Richard Turnbull is a fine case in point.

Dot Studies I, shown above, was picked by the jury at the prestigious Center for Photographic Art in Carmel, California, to hang in their main hall during the annual show which runs until March 1, 2014.  It's made with dot labels, the stick-on kind, and with tape; Rich roams the streets of New York looking for new kinds of tape and labels since each, he says, has a characteristic stickiness, and an associated chemistry.  Under repeated assaults of fixer and developer the dots and tape eventually detach and lift, leaving behind a signature of the last chemical they were in contact with.  Different materials produce a different randomness and present the artist with different choices of when to block or snatch - technical terms of the chemigram trade that refer to an act which terminates a chemical attack.  He's also drawn to stick-on materials for their ability to generate hard and relatively precise lines which, after a good pummelling by chemicals, become little islets of stability and order in a sea of disorder.  Isn't this the beauty of chemigrams, after all?

Rich will offer a workshop in chemigrams at Manhattan Graphics Center on February 22, 2014.  Plan to be there.  In his spare time he teaches art history at F.I.T. and lectures at the Metropolitan Museum, and is also - this must be a sideline, or is it? - an accomplished cook of south-east Asian cuisine.


  1. Way to go Rich!! What is the size of the piece at the CPA? That is a beautiful gallery and I'm sure your piece stands out as a testament to the chemigram. Thanks Doug for posting!

  2. Hey Nolan, thanks for all the kind words. The piece is 15x15" and the frame is slightly larger. It was all done in such a rush before leaving for SE Asia just before Xmas that some of the details are hazy.

  3. Rich, people have been asking me what kind of paper you used, so I'm asking the same of you. Fiber or RC? Vintage or contemporary? Let's stop them from guessing.

  4. So here's the deal on the paper: I used Ilford Direct Positive FB paper to make this chemigram. It was a sort of accidental discovery about a year ago--there happened to be a box in the paper area at Adorama here in New York--and I bought it knowing almost nothing about it. It comes out of the box and into the light a ghastly pink color, but this disappears once the chemigram cycle progresses. The main advantage of Direct Positive FB seems to be its capacity for brilliant whites when it interacts with fixer. The chocolatey browns are a kind of bonus...

  5. Wonderful recognition Rich, and intelligent, beautifully written analysis Doug. A suggestion about the term "soft resist," the only type of resist I have used. On beginning with the process over ten years ago and calling the Chemigram a Chemogram before I knew of Pierre or any others working with it, there were jars of Golden paint I was using so these were natural to use as a resist. As a resist this is able to be washed off immediately after immersing the paper with its resist in a chemical bath. This is a bit different from tape and varnish and so we might want to use the term "soft resist" to refer to material that stays "soft" and can be washed off of the paper in seconds or minutes. Doesn't diminish the beautiful works but a suggestion so we continue to build a vocabulary about our work that is as clear and defined as possible. Direct positive paper - interesting! We need to meet over some south-east Asian food and discuss this Rich and Doug - as soon as possible.