Monday, November 25, 2019

Mike Jackson: the secret lives of light

Mike Jackson, yellow study #2, 2019

Some call it painting with light, others call it making luminograms, and still others don't bother with a proper name for it, they just go into the darkroom and fool around until somehow, against all odds, they manage to do it.  It's not easy.  We've tried before to describe how Mike Jackson proceeds, first in 2015 and again in 2016, but according mail from readers we've come up short.  It's just too difficult to describe unless you have a darkroom, good lightbulbs, proper chemistry, tons of photo paper that you can run tests on and waste, lots of time, and a vigorous imagination - which in this digital era limits prospective students to quite a small number.  For a start, if you want to try it yourself, I would think of employing scrims, gobos, fans, and hand-waving, but this is not an authorized recommendation: the thoughtful man who is redefining luminograms for the modern age has remained mum.  This leaves him pretty much the whole terrain, so let's see how he's progressing.

The Foley Gallery on Orchard Street in New York has just wrapped up a show of 15 of his recent pictures.  We'll share a few and then comment.

Mike Jackson, yellow study, 2019

Mike JacksonBirdsongSummer 2018, 2018

Mike JacksonBirdsong, Winter #6, 2019

Mike JacksonBirdsong, Summer #20, 2019

Comparing these with the earlier pictures, we immediately note a heaping on of detail, a fecund proliferation of dark and light planes to imply a sense of motion where formerly the surfaces were more unitary and static, and the introduction of delicate white vectors seeking to tie everything together.  The work as a result has become more restless, as if it wanted very badly to tell us something about what it's experiencing, which must be a great deal, but of course it can't.  Light bounces, refracts, gets absorbed, leaks out, carves shadows, it's active.  That's how it speaks.  There's no sense of where it's coming from.  The tension is palpable.

From this he produces accidental homages, adding to the richness: the density of pictorial constructs at the center of each image is so supercharged that it becomes nearly gear-like, recalling Italian Futurism, or, to bring it back home, the blurry operation of an early kitchen blender. 

Mike has moved from the Wales of an earlier post to the "deeply historic landscape" (his words) of Wiltshire, England, where contact with the outside world from his darkroom is often limited to the sound of birds chirping, thus his titles.  The prehistoric megaliths of Stonehenge loom nearby as does Lacock Abbey, the 13th century monastery where Fox Talbot in 1835 produced the first photographic negative; this immersion in great moments of human awe and discovery cannot go unnoticed or unfelt by the artist.

Lacock Abbey, cloisters

Wiltshire's wonders don't stop with Jackson, Fox Talbot or Stonehenge, either.  It's also where almost all the Harry Potter movies were made. 

There must be a strange magic in the air.  Jackson's lineage is most distinguished, and it's starting to show.

Friday, November 8, 2019

A virtual ramble through Paris Photo 2019

John Chamberlain, Downtown, chromogenic print, 1989

I will not fool you, dear readers, into thinking I was there while in truth I'm just sitting in a room in New York and the fair opened last night without me (it runs November 7 - 10).  I can only wish.  The beauty of art fairs nowadays of course is you don't really have to go, you can just scroll through the images on your computer.  I've taken advantage of that and I'll share with you the half dozen or so that caught my eye out of perhaps a thousand on display, a ratio of significance.  For the grand majority of photographic works at such fairs will not usually have much to interest us, the non-figurative community, devoted as these fairs are to familiar camera-based tropes of haunted landscapes, glum nudes, shopworn surrealism, subjects of prurient social interest, documentation of marginal lives, typologies, and so on.  You will look in vain for work that accepts the photographic emulsion itself as the site of the artistic act.  Probably because it's so hard to comprehend, there is little attempt to create something out of nothing, of finding the resonant forms that only the most immediate and obdurate materials can provide.  No chemigram, no bleach-etch, no cliché-verre, no cyanotype has found its way into the Grand Palais this year as near as I can tell - though to be fair, and I am fair, a scant few photograms were sighted, and perhaps certain works of a hybrid or invented nature, but not many.

Grand Palais, home of Paris Photo

So, we take it for what it is and overlook what it is not.  Let us be open to surprise.  I begin with the item I like best, the C-print above by the late John Chamberlain, the artist best known, even exclusively known, for making sculptures out of twisted, wrecked, flattened automobiles.  Many of us don't realize he branched out toward the end of his career into painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, even into furniture design, bringing with him the jarring rhythms of his earlier metal-based work.   To my mind these subsets of his oeuvre have not earned the respect they deserve.  I encourage you to have another look at them.  Galerie Karsten Greve is showing him in Paris.

Klea McKenna, photographic rubbing, photogram on silver gelatin fiber paper, 2017

Klea McKenna has modified the photogram process to accommodate her fascination with the tactility of surfaces, especially where the surfaces have been part of a living organism or constitute the record of a life.  I love how she goes out at night, performs a rubbing in relief of, say, a cut tree, onto photographic paper, then shines the raking light of a flashlight over it and develops it.  She has worked with rocks, spider webs, women's garments from various cultures, rain, and other materials, both the hard and the diaphanous.  What facilitates this is her great insight, so elemental yet so decisive, that photo paper can receive and impart information simply by being physically pressed and shaped by the artist.  She's having shows this fall simultaneously at the Gitterman Gallery (New York) and the Von Lintel (Los Angeles).

László Moholy-Nagy, Fotogramm III, 1925

The Kicken Gallery of Berlin has provided us with a photogram by László Moholy-Nagy which I had not seen before, from 1925.  Anything by this great theoretician of the Bauhaus, who as much as anyone developed the ideas underpinning what we know as modern style, is worth looking at, and this is no exception.  Does anyone know what that object is, hovering over the black expanse below it?  Send us a comment.

Noboru Ueki, title unknown, hand-colored silver gelatin, date uncertain

An early experimentalist working around Kyoto during the 1940s and 1950s, Ueki was considered important but we have had difficulty finding much else about him except that he liked to hand-color his photographs, and clearly he was quite good at it.  The Mem Gallery of Tokyo included Ueki, who died in 1992, in an historical show last month of members of the Kyoto Photographic Society.

Jérémie Lenoir, Stockage, Saint-Cyr-en-Val, print on dibond, 2013

Jérémie Lenoir is interested in environmental processes and the ways in which society impacts those processes.  He spent several years photographing around the Great Salt Lake in Utah, with emphasis on the mineralization of the shores.  The picture above is apparently a reservoir, near Orléans in central France.  If it looks familiar it's probably because bears an uncanny resemblance to work by the sculptor Lee Bontecou, although the scales are altogether dissimilar.  He is represented by the Galerie Guillaume in Paris.

Edward Burtynsky, Tsaus Mountains #1, Sperrgebiet, Namibia, pigment print, 2018

The Burtynsky is the final one I'll offer you in this potpourri - for the life of me I can't find any others in the entire Grand Palais worth adding to the list.  But a Burtynsky is always prodigious and riveting, and I could never exclude it.  For me, his work extends beyond photography; it feels like we're consorting with the gods.  We last wrote about him in 2016 here.  Our words then ring true now.  He's currently at Nicholas Metivier in Toronto.

So there you have it, the 2019 edition of Paris Photo.  Six pictures.

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