Sunday, February 8, 2015

From zombie prints to Lazarus prints

Turnbull, untitled chemigram with additions #1, 2011-15

We've talked a lot about living prints - lumens, pinholes, mordançages, chemigrams - but let's talk now about death and about prints that no longer breathe.

What are dead prints?  We've all seen them, we'd be lying to say we haven't.  A dead print is one that is damaged beyond repair, either by something the artist did herself in creating it - an experiment gone awry, an idea that didn't pan out, a flat-out screw-up - or by an extrinsic act.  Take your pick of these: maybe someone spilled coffee on it, or ripped it accidentally, or got it caught in a door, or they drove a spike through it.  Whatever the case, these prints are off life support.  In the trade (you may have encountered this), dead prints are also known as zombie prints, because in art nothing ever really dies, though there is little argument there are times when it should.

This raises the question, what do you do with them?  You can't get rid of them, after all they're zombies.  They will pile up and crowd around you and haunt you forever.  They will never let you forget them.  To provide an answer, Rich Turnbull has invoked the notion of the Lazarus print, a sort of antidote to the zombie print.  The Lazarus print, like its namesake, is a kind of do-over, a second chance, or what I believe they call in golf a mulligan.  Here's how it works.  You take the zombie, lay it on the table, stare real hard at it, and then start drawing on it.  Simple as that.  You are breathing life into it as you draw.  Soon, the print stirs and awakens.  It lives.

Turnbull, untitled chemigram with additions #2, 2011-15
There are several tips to keep in mind.  One is don't get too serious about what you're doing.  Normally a staid, thoughtful individual, Rich proves that point unequivocably in untitled chemigram with additions #2If you make a mistake, well, it's already dead anyway.  And you'll be surprised that the more relaxed you are in applying ink or paint, the zanier your moves, then the more life you find you're pumping into it, because life really responds to zany.  Here Rich's piece has been quickly revivified and would now look commanding framed on a wall.  Back in 2011 it didn't look so good.

Another tip, don't limit yourself to drawing.  Consider painting, spraying, tearing, collaging, fouling, burning or any activity that comes to mind: nothing is illegal, feel free as a child.  Each activity is as powerful as another in restoring life.  It was after four days that Jesus, in the Book of John, brought Lazarus back from the dead.  He used faith.  Rich used marker pens after four years.  Each is effective.

The critical reader may have noticed that the same errant tool that 'accidentally' led to the zombification of the print earlier may equally, and paradoxically, lead to its restoration as a Lazarus today.  This is true, and is one of the great paradoxes of art.  

Turnbull, untitled chemigram with additions #3, 2010-15
Another may ask, is this the same thing as hybrid art, where different artistic approaches are combined in a single work?  Well, yes and no.  Often it's a matter of intention versus nonchalance or desperation.  The results may look the same but it's really all about how you get there, and what you learn along the way.  Here's a well-known Saul Steinberg photograph/drawing hybrid recently shown at the Pace Gallery in New York:

Steinberg, Girl in Bathtub, 1949
Clearly, this was conceived in advance as a hybrid, and in fact it's from this that it derives all its charm: neither photo nor drawing can stand on its own.  On the other hand, from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts of Houston, here's a Pierre Cordier chemigram that plays with ambiguous possibilities and suggestiveness.  Are those dark lines around the major shapes laid down after the fact, with a non-chemigramic tool such as a brush or pen?  Very hard to tell.

Cordier, 6/7/81 III, Homage to Robert Capa, 1981

To qualify properly as a Lazarus print a work must have been judged dead by its creator before the Lazarus intervention, and neither the Steinberg nor the Cordier come close to that - happily for us.  Yes, there is an element of devil-may-care desperation in the Lazarus project.  When it succeeds, though, it is all the more wonderful for itTurnbull's recent trio of works clinches the case.




  1. This is a good way to make chemigrams more human, something they sometimes need. Thanks.

  2. Every time I teach a chemigram class the question of what to do with all this chemigram production comes up – the stuff that students are initially blown away by and once in the common wash tray cannot even be sure is theirs. Drawing is great way to reclaim those works and make them mean something. I really do like Rich’s examples.

    1. We're overrun by zombies and you're right, this is a step toward reclamation, not to speak of good housekeeping. I'm going to advocate it in my workshops.

      For the record, Rich used a Sharpie oil-based white marker and a Montana water-based acrylic red marker. There may be a subtle immiscibility thing going on too, if you look closely. The Montana brand is a new one for me.

  3. A side note--I initially got confused as to who was resurrected after how many days--Lazarus, Jesus, whoever--until Doug straightened me out. I put my confusion down to being Jewish, until my wife pointed out that even Orthodox Jews believe in resurrection. Who knew? Nice prints, Rich!