Thursday, January 28, 2016

Monotype Discoveries

Someone told me their nightmare.

That's not how anything started, but that's how something interesting continued.

In April, 2015, I began a series of black and white monotypes, the subjects of which are people.

Like my concert drawings, this series has its rules. All prints are painted in process black ink on the same 20" x 16" monotype plate.  All use the same set of brushes.  Each monotype is derived from a very rough sketch that can be interpreted in different ways. Each is printed on 30" x 22" Rives BFK paper.

When I was at a sleepover workshop at The Headlands Center for the Arts, I did nine tiny doodles of people in an urban setting.  In November, 2015, I used these doodles as the source for several new monotypes (Hot Press).

For the January, 2016, session, I thought I might use the same set of sketches and re-interpret them. I came to Chrysalis Studio at SOMARTS prepared with the brushes, the paper, the monotype plate. And the enigmatic drawings.

Then the interesting thing happened.

Someone told me their nightmare: A woman was on a bed in a shabby rooming house and several men were standing around the bed ridiculing her.  Another man, our dreamer, was standing and watching.

Having set up to paint the first plate, I used the same source drawing as I had used in the November session (for the print "Well"). With the nightmare in mind, a different image emerged.

As you may know, I am very dedicated to the sense of story in all my work.  Each thing I make has to make sense in a narrative way. In my mind, each of these monotypes has their own story. But, now that I am looking at them, I see that there is something similar in their stories, something that comes from the source image: a sense of someone looming, or dominating, in a very dark way.

I think the story of the first print, "Well", is one of a person being exploited by a larger person, one who is expressing dominance, and even possibly ownership. The story of the second print, "Nightmare", is the story of the nightmare, a woman being ridiculed while someone more powerful looks on.

Originally, I thought of the source sketch as being of some cool guys standing around together.  But, it seems that underneath the juxtaposition of the standing and seated figure, with the passive figures in the background, has developed, in my mind, a kind of menace.

Something else interesting emerged.  Something that a more experienced printmaker would already know and make allowances for: We might well "read" a narrative image the same way we read a printed story, from left to right.
One thing that a printmaker has to get used to is that each print is the mirror of the image on the plate you made.  Someone standing on the left in the image on your plate, will be standing on the right in the final print.

In the print "Well", the reclining figure, which I think is a young man, but most people see as a woman, is looking left, toward the looming figure; the story reads from left to right. In "Nightmare", the woman is not looking at the accusers or at the looming man.  He and they are looking back across the image, from right to left, at her.  I find that this makes my eye go back and forth. Does that weaken the story? Does it create tension, or just make the image hard to interpret?

If I had thought about this, I might have built the image on the plate in the opposite direction, to tell the story of the accusers and the man acting toward her.  Of course, my process is set up to allow a great deal of spontaneous composition, so this kind of forethought doesn't happen very often.

You can see "Well" starting February 10, 2016, at San Francisco Women Artists Gallery, 647 Irving St, San Francisco, in their "Icons" themed show.

But, wait! What's a Monotype??

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