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