Monday, October 8, 2012

A Moveable Feast: Taking Flatbed to Luis

Luis Jimenez, "Adan", soft-ground etching, edition of 30, 1997.
Jimenez, "Raven Skull," edition of 75, 1997
Ordinarily, an artist comes to our studio to work.  We have great presses, controlled acid baths and all the grounds, paper and inks that we need to work well.  However, one of our best projects had its beginning in the foothills of the New Mexico mountains with Luis Jimenez during the summer of 1997.  Luis was no stranger to making etchings and lithographs.  We had just finished his "Self Portrait" the previous year. This summer he was a very busy man working on his 9,000-pound, 32 foot high fiberglass statue of a bronco which was commissioned for the Denver International Airport.  Luis was also a very generous man and often donated his work to non-profit groups.  He had consented to make a small print for the Dallas Visual Art Association, now known as the Dallas Contemporary.  The DVAA offered a print from a select artist once a year to its supporters.  We were chosen to be the print shop to work with Luis for the 1997 print which was to be distributed that September.  Instead of bringing Luis down the mountain to Flatbed in Austin, I decided to travel there and work with him at his own Hondo, New Mexico studio.

Jimenez, "Annie", edition of 30, 1997.
Luis’s studio was a huge old apple-processing warehouse.  In one room he had an antique etching press, circa 1840.  It had curious damage on its printing bed that looked like impressions of wrenches.  Luis told me that this was evidence of damage done by luddites, an original “throw a monkey wrench in it” group.  I set up a modest print shop there, with a pancake griddle for a hot plate.  I had brought soft ground and inks with which to print.  With a little coaching I learned to use his press.  The four plates I brought were small, two 5” x 5” and two 5” x 7” polished pieces of copper plate.  Luis took time from the sculpture to draw on the soft-grounded plates.  There was no preparation on his part; he drew from his heart what he loved:  “Adan”, his son, “Annie” his favorite horse, “Mares,” the horses he loved, and “Raven Skull,” the skull of the fledgling bird he had rescued and raised after it fell from its nest.  The magic of the mountains brought surprises with the liquid soft ground we applied with a brush.  It created beautiful reticulated backgrounds that might be mistaken as aquatints.  We proofed the plates and they were good.

Jimenez, "Mares," edition of 75, 1997.
I returned to Austin and the plates were editioned by Jerry Manson, master printer of editoning at Flatbed.  Dallas Visual Arts Association chose “Mares” for the collectors’ edition and Luis chose “Raven Skull” as an edition for himself.  “Adan” and “Annie” became editions of 30 published by Flatbed.

Luis lived nine more years and worked with us again in 2006 on two lithographs.  His death was a tragic accident involving machinery failure while finishing the Denver bronco.  He lived well and died well. Bringing Flatbed to him on his mountain was an honor and a very rare privilege.  I can’t help but think that these four small prints encapsulated that moment of late summer, late life and a side of Luis that few have been privileged to share.    

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Late Bloomer

Piccolo Fiore, Hand-colored etching, edition of 46, 2007
 I have great respect for artists that come to work with us at Flatbed.  They come from their studios where for the most part they work in solitude to Flatbed where they work in collaboration with a master printer who guides them in their mark making through a maze of technical operations.  The objective is to create an image that can be printed from a matrix such as a copper plate in the case of etching or aluminum plate when creating a lithograph. Because this can be confusing or unfamiliar, when we work with an artist for the first time we do a small “test” plate. This initial step helps both the collaborating printer and the artist know what to expect from the technique they have chosen and how to proceed with the planned project. Occasionally our “test” plates have been so successful that they have become the finished matrix for printing an actual edition!  Terry Allen’s Caged, Suzi Davidoff’s Escobilla Study and John O’Buck’s Arcadia are three exquisite, small jewels that began as “tests.” 

Dan Rizzie signing "Piccolo Fiore"
However, there is one that almost got away from us.  It is the test that became Piccolo Fiore by Dan Rizzie.  Dan came to Flatbed for the first time in February, 1993.  He was experienced in making prints, especially monotypes and was full of enthusiasm at trying his hand at an etching at Flatbed.  Since we wanted to try an aquatint process called “sugar lift” we chose a tiny 3” x 4” copper plate for him to test the sugar-ink solution.  It was a rough plate with a few scratches.  Dan used a small brush to paint a small flower with the sugary ink onto the plate. We applied hard ground over the drawing and “lifted” the sugar ink drawing off the plate in a hot water bath.  It lifted beautifully revealing the drawing as clean copper surrounded by the dark hard ground.  Next, the plate with its image was covered with rosin powder and heated until the powder melted (aquatint.)  The prepared plate was put into the acid bath to etch the flower now seen as open copper areas. We left it while we worked with Dan on a larger plate with the same sugary ink since it had proved to lift so well. Some hours later, when we went to etch the next plate, the little Piccolo Fiore plate was discovered still in the acid, having etched for seven hours instead of one.  The acid had eaten away the edges of the plate and even through some spots on the plate, but Dan’s aquatint flower was surprisingly preserved.  We printed a few proofs of the plate, admired the “organic” quality of the plate and turned our attention to the larger print in progress. Dan kept the proofs of the little print and we put the plate away.

Fast-forward 14 years to 2007.  Dan and I had a phone conversation about our new project, Blackberry Thieves, which was in progress at Flatbed.  Dan had found our old flower proofs and wondered if we might try to print it for a small edition.  Of course we did have the plate, since we keep every old plate for our archives.  The editioned ones are struck (cancelled in some way) and a few uneditioned ones are stored and often forgotten.  Thus was Piccolo Fiore found, resurrected and printed.  Dan hand colored all the final impressions in the edition.  It is a jewel.  It is our favorite late bloomer.    
Veronica Ceci, Editioning Printer and Katherine Brimberry