The completion of Grassland in sight

 

A couple of years ago, shortly after I arrived in Little Rock, I was traveling to the SPE SE Regional Conference with my friend and coworker, Carey Roberson. We were driving on the interstate and I was looking out the window at the fields and I confided to him an idea that I had been secretly considering for quite a while. “What if I did a series on grass?” I asked. “A series that just looks at all the amazing colors, the light, the beauty of tall grass.” Carey didn’t have a response to that. And I knew very well what my professors at school would have said. No one is interested in grass. Ever.

But I am interested in tall grass. It always catches my eye. The colors, the way it moves in the wind. The way it glows with life when the sun catches it. It is an ecosystem, teeming with life. It is nature, wild and gorgeous and unknowable, right there at our feet.

So I decided to work with grass. And I have done this for the last year and a half, in six works.

First, there was Grassland No. 1 and Grassland No. 2. These are photographs I placed on gilded panels.  The most interesting thing about these two works is the light. Because they are gilded underneath the image, which is hovering slightly above the gold, they have a depth, movement, and light in person that unfortunately doesn’t show in a photograph of the work.

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Although both of these images are gridded, I became really interested in the idea of trying to compartmentalize life and how this need for understanding and perceived control is pervasive and ultimately futile. The rest of the Grassland series works with light, but also with this idea. First there was Grassland No. 3, my first experiment:

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Then Grassland No. 4, which I like a lot but it is a fairly small work, being about 2 1/2 feet wide:

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And then I jumped to Grassland No. 6. I was actually working on Grassland No. 5, and had made several iterations of it, but never one that passed muster. No. 6 was completed first. I made this diptych large–6′ tall, and 6 1/2′ wide by the time you count the space between the two panels. I do love this one. It comes the closest to embodying what I wanted in Grassland, although it becomes very abstract with the tesselation and becomes more of a feeling of light, color and movement.

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Grassland No. 5 is almost complete. I wanted something that read clearly as grass, but still addressed the ideas of gridding  and movement. I printed and folded the work over the last week. The next step is to build a panel for it. I envision this work to have thin resin on it that is almost matte in its luster. This will make the surface too fragile to support itself like Grassland No. 3, 4 and 6. It will need a panel for support. Over the next couple of weeks, while I am simultaneously working on four other pieces (a new panel for Tarot XII, two as-yet-unnamed gum prints for the “And Then I Will See” series and a rework of a tessellated piece I ruined a few months ago) I will complete the panel and apply the resin to this work:

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I still have not really made the artwork that is in my head. I want to make a huge piece, one that covers an entire wall. A massive, 20′ square undulating work that is life size of grass. The logistics of it have me stalled. For one, obviously this would have to be stitched together from multiple photographs. Grassland No. 5 and No. 6 are pinhole images, and I love these, although a long exposure on film might be enough to capture the movement and fluidity that I want in the grass. But stitching together photographs of wind-whipped grass is a difficult thing, since the subject won’t truly line up due to the movement. And stitching together 16 photographs (if I give a 5′ x 5′ square to each 4×5 film negative, and that’s if I give up my idea of life size grass in favor of enlarging it. Otherwise I would need even more than 16) would mean I would have to photograph the field from overhead. From a ladder, that many photographs would mean I would get horizon unless I did macro shots, which I am not interested in at all. This is supposed to be about the enormity of the grass field, not a macro view. How would I get this from overhead? And in a systematic way so that I could accurately grid the field with my images? Using 4×5 film, I would need to be able to work the camera. A drone would not do, even if I could afford to hire one. Digital would not permit me to enlarge the photograph enough to cover a 5’x5′ square, and frankly…I am not interested in digital.

And let’s say I am able to get the photographs. How would I link panels together so that they are seamless on the wall, but come apart for moving the work? And where on earth would I store something that huge? And how would I put it on the wall so that it had the dimensionally that I see in my head? And how would I AFFORD to make this work?

Believe it or not, I haven’t given up on making it. I think one day I will.  If I can figure out some of these issues, maybe sooner rather than later!  But this is why making art is a problem-solving activity that is not for the faint of heart. Wish me luck.

New work!

I took a break from gum printing and did some work on Kozo paper today. This image is a pinhole camera photograph, which means I took a light tight box that has a tiny pinhole on the front of it and a piece of film inside, and I let it make a long exposure from the light entering the tiny hole to make my photo. It was a windy winter day, so much of the softness is due to motion blur. I layered it with photos of my father’s data, as I have been doing for my And Then I Will See series, and hand-colored it. I printed it on kozo paper, which is made from mulberry, folded it, unfolded it, and added colored pencil to emphasize some of the data.

 

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Christina Anderson’s Newest Book! And I’m in it! WHOOHOO!!

Christina Anderson‘s latest alternative process photo manual, Gum Printing: A Step-By-Step Manual, Highlighting Artists and Their Creative Practicehas now been released as an e-book (the printed ones will be available any day) and I am so proud and happy to be one of the artists featured. The first half of the book is a thorough and well-written description of this historical process, including all the information needed to get to work. The second half of the book includes images and writings by over 80 artists who explore all the different applications of this wonderfully versatile process. I am truly humbled and exhilarated to be included in the same book as so many of the artists who inspired me to take up the process, including Diana Bloomfield and Dan Estabrook.

Buy the book for sure–the title is a link to Amazon–but here is a sneak peek of five of my 6 feature pages, as well as the book cover. If you want to see a page larger, just click on it.

Many thanks to Christina, for both including me and providing this fantastic resource. I am eager to see how other gum printers approach the process!!!

 

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About Alecia

I know a young photographer who has shaped her work around light. Light is something that intrigues and inspires all good photographers, but Alecia meditates on light–how it moves, and changes the surfaces upon which it plays. Her work examines light in its small, measured moments. She is currently working on a series of very interesting pieces that involve multiples of these simple images printed on silk and layered over light boxes, which transform the experience of those moments for the viewer and shift and move with every gentle movement of air that teases their gossamer edges. They are improving and growing with each completed piece, and it is a pleasure to see.

Recently I sat in my room, momentarily mesmerized by the shadows of tree branches as they danced across my window blinds, and I thought of her and her work. This image was made with Alecia in mind; she noticed the photograph on my iPad the other day and mentioned that she liked it. For some reason I did not tell her that I made it for her. This beetle, and today’s moment of silence and gratitude, is for the light that surround us every day…and for Alecia, who shines as bright.

 

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Photo Ninja

You know how in movies, often the demure looking librarian-type turns out to be a ninja princess in disguise? Today, I met an alt-process-photo ninja, disguised in the unassuming form of Rana Edgar, the Director of Education and Programs at the Arkansas Arts Center. Rana contacted me last week and asked if I would be interested in giving a talk at the AAC in February, while they have an Ansel Adams exhibit at the Museum. We met for coffee today to talk more about it, and after a little while Rana began to reveal her onion layers of photo know-how. It turns out that she is a tintype and liquid light guru, and received her BFA in photography before going on to complete her graduate work in art history from SCAD. We happily discussed everything from our love of the smell of darkroom chemistry to whether Gregory Crewdson should credit his crew for his photographs the way the film industry does for movies. It was the nicest conversation over coffee I have had in some time. We decided that given the line-up of speakers for “photo month” at the AAC, it would be interesting for me to discuss the alternative process possibilities and history that photography has, and how these historic techniques are experiencing an interesting revival in the era of the New Aesthetic. I am really looking forward to it.

Which is a good thing, because I am also afraid I have lost my gum printing mojo and I am about to drop kick my latest gum print into the Arkansas river. This particular print, which I really want to have complete so that I can include it in an upcoming show in Monroe, LA at the Upstairs Gallery in October, is REFUSING to cooperate. I am currently seven layers in on printing attempt number 5, my third set of digital negatives, and it still isn’t doing right. I haven’t had this much trouble with a print since I first started learning gum three years ago. And for those unfamiliar with the process, please note that it takes about an hour per layer so this sucker has MANY invested hours in it between the five attempts I’ve made to get it the way it should be. I am beginning to wonder if I should let go of this one, put it down, and do something else for a while!  Aargh!

My high-tech development bath and “drying station”  in action:

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Just call me Joli Get-The-Job-Done Livaudais, kicking my home darkroom laundry style.

Copyright 2007-2013 Joli Livaudais. No reproduction without permission.