Morandi Print Series
Akiko’s Bottles I
‘Akiko’s Bottles’ is a small drypoint print from acetate in two colours. This is an artist’s proof pulled to try out colours. Later prints lost their strength of tone, as the burr on the plate wore down. This print was a spontaneous expression of pleasure at acquiring these two hand-thrown stoneware bottles, expressed through direct mark making. The print, like the bottles, is directly influenced by still life etchings by Giorgio Morandi, in which he used complex hatching to express tonal contrasts between simply expressed shapes.
I wanted to acknowledge a relationship with Morandi’s work whilst not producing a print ‘after’ Morandi. I have tried to achieve this by using freely drawn single lines in the foreground. Where I have used crosshatching, it has generated sufficient tone to soften its linear effect. The background is very dark in order to throw the delicacy of the bottle necks into relief and provide tonal impact. The wobble and inconsistent spacing of spontaneously drawn lines reflect the hand made nature of the objects. Initially the plate was proofed in just blue but a second, analogous colour was added to help separate the bottles from the background. These calm colours were chosen to suit the tranquillity and non-confrontational nature of a still life. The size was chosen to be small and intimate, inviting the viewer to look into the print closely.
Technically, I think the print is successful with good tonal contrast and the mark making coming through. The two colours have mixed through wiping at the edge of the bottles creating transitional colours and making the space between the bottles pleasingly ambiguous. Although the colours achieve the tranquil effect looked for, the green is perhaps too reminiscent of glass, and a brown would have reflected the stoneware better and been a more direct Morandi reference.
The diagonal line and the dark toned background stop the print becoming insipid. The non-symmetrical shapes of the bottles and the highlights, reflections and shadows have been described with an ambition to involve the observer in the objects and share my pleasure. Whilst small, the print is full of dense information.
Morandi’s exhaustive investigation of everyday objects inspired me to continue my exploration of a simple subject but I have tried to find my own path by looking at these bottles from different, hopefully, original aspects. This print is based on a sketch drawn in strong, low sunshine, looking directly from above. Visually, the shadows had more impact than the objects casting them and I have placed them in the frame to dominate. They also provide a strong diagonal design element. I have chosen to crop the shadows which emphasises their length and creates interesting negative spaces. The tones from my sketch were carefully mapped into three grades and created on the collagraph plate using micaceous oxide (similar to carborundum), the matt board itself and brown parcel tape. I wanted to make the viewer see the shadows and then puzzle out the objects casting them. The first proof in a single colour integrated the shadows and the flasks too much making the puzzle rather hard. Two colours were therefore used and I chose the same colours as the previous print in order to create a reference between them.
The tone mapping has created a Cubist feel, which perhaps isn’t inappropriate considering Morandi’s early interest in that movement.
The large areas of flat tone made this plate difficult to wipe and there are inconsistencies of tone. The view from above has created ambiguity and this is a more challenging print for the viewer than the drypoint.
The intersection of the shadows with the frame works well and the shadows draw the eye down to discover the flasks, but these are placed very close, perhaps too close to the right hand edge. In creating a large plate with the centre of interest in the bottom right hand corner I have tried to break common compositional rules, further challenging the viewer.
I feel that the green is the wrong colour, again, and have reprinted this using a burnt sienna for the bottles, which is more successful as an expression of the subject but this is the better wiped print. Of the five or six proofs, I was only happy with this one and this has some light patches on the upper right edge where I held the plate whilst wiping it.
Two Flasks III
Again I have tried to be inspired by, but not copy, Morandi and seek an unusual viewpoint for a still life. My ambition in researching Morandi was to learn from his approach to a figurative subject whilst simplify and abstracting. I have looked at the flasks from underneath and drawn the two shapes of their bottoms, suggesting the rest of the form with gestural lines. The design references Morandi’s painting of two barns near his home. The two are placed centrally with just a line of hillside behind them. The painting is all about the conversation between the two simple shapes.
This print is a sugar lift etching and I have tried to create texture in the two main shapes, which reflect the marks produced by the potter cutting the work from the wheel, and create a variety of mark. The plate had earlier been used for a failed soft ground exercise. I hoped that the faint traces of a previous design would add interest in otherwise blank areas. The plate was etched three times to create three different tones and in this print, a roll-over of very thin colour added to emphasise the two main shapes. Earth colours were chosen to suggest the clay, but the shades also reference a Morandi still life at the Estorick Collection. I experimented with different chine colle shapes but prefer this less cluttered image.
I found the sugar lift etching very satisfying supporting painterly mark making. However, whilst technically successful, I don’t think the works. I was trying to create a design that didn’t necessarily have to be read figuratively but this is just not interesting enough to involve the viewer. I think the gestural lines are too strong and actually distract from the conversation between the two shapes.
Two Flasks II
In addition to trying to look at the subject from different viewpoints, I also used different lighting conditions. Here the flasks were sketched in a room lit by light through a door just highlighting the side edge of the shapes but loosing the form in the shadow. I wanted to capture in a print a dreamy, contemplative quality with subtle transitions and an extreme range of tone. I wanted the shapes to be mysterious, possible flasks but possibly towers or chimneys.
My sketch reminded me of the qualities of a mezzotint, and, over ambitiously, I tried to create the subtleties of tone using a litho crayon on aluminium plate and copper sulphate etch. My drawing on the shiny plate left a greasy mark barely visible to the eye, affecting the quality of my drawing. The proofs didn’t create the range of tone I was looking for, nor the velvety mood of the darkness, so I modified the plate with carborundum. This greatly improved the tones but the accurate expression of the curves was further lost.
This print is in black, something I rarely use because of its deadening nature, but here I wanted the darkest tone possible.
I think the mood has been captured, but the subtleties of curve and transition of tone are poor. I think this idea would have been better expressed through a different approach, mezzotint or pure carborundum print although the etching has provided some variety of texture to the image. I find the black rather flat and dead; I suspect it can always be improved with a touch of blue or sepia but recognise that this might be a watercolourist prejudice.
Dark City I and II
I have looked at how Morandi took his investigation of simple utencils and used the same approach to objects in the landscape. I also looked at artists either inspired by Morandi or working in a similar was; Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, John Piper and John Virtue among others. These prints bring together that thinking with my earlier collagraph experiments using materials melted and bubbled on the plate by a blow torch. By including the ‘Gerkin’, my landscape is clearly rooted in a real place but the buildings have been suggested as softened shapes reminiscent of standing stones. A dark, threatening sky has been added to create movement, add interest at the top of the frame, and also create atmosphere. I have included drypoint linear marks to break up the junction between building and sky and add another dimension of mark.
My initial proof (I) was very dark and atmospheric but I felt lacked some interest of tone and texture on some areas. These plates absorb a lot of ink at first and loose detail. I developed the texture in some areas with pva and carborundum and reprinted. Unique prints were developed through successive pulls, leaving some areas as ghosts and reinking others. I also experimented with ‘rubs’ of colour and rolling ink over, as in print II. This approach can lead to a wide variety of response from a single plate, offering great opportunities for development and experimentation.
I felt that the invented landscape in ‘Tundra’, although grounded in my passion for wild places, was a too easy option, a ‘cop out’. I hope that the inclusion of a recognisable, iconic building places the landscape and involves the viewer. Here, the storm clouds over the City of London can be read as an anti financial institution metaphor, but I prefer to see it as manmade structures being powerless in the face of forces of nature. I want to encourage the viewer to look at an image over and over and seen something different each time; a different reading, a different nuance of texture or tone.
I feel I have just scratched the surface of where this project is taking me. I hope to continue with this thread and look at sculptural, industrial structures in the landscape, perhaps oil refineries, blast furnaces etc and look at creating a richer surface using over-printing, monoprinted backgrounds and other approaches.