Saturday, 10 November 2012

Elemental Artspace Show by Dennis Wild

A small show of Photogravure.

Elemental Emu Bay Road Deloraine

I’ve been making a small number of Gravures over the years and I’ve never seen them in a single solo show.  So when the opportunity came up to show in a nearby town I jumped at it. Elemental Artspace in Deloraine Tasmania has a small gallery especially suited to small works of art. The problem I always had with these works was that galleries don’t get enough commission on a sale of say $350 when a reasonable sized painting occupying the same space could sell for $1 - 6000 with a lot more commission going to the gallery. Galleries often take 40% so after framing my little photogravures weren’t all that profitable.
Elemental is full of interesting hand works - clothing, jewellery, painting, glass, candles, textiles, quilts, and prints,  etc and it will go very well as business. So if your looking for good work by a Tasmanian artist head for Elemental in Deloraine and see a good Photogravure show as well. My prints are very reasonable at $350 in matts. Deloraine has a good framer who will do a good job for you. These are small prints - the image area is around 125 x 185mm in size. The show will be there for 5 weeks.

A small card about gravure

They are rich in appearance as a gravure is and nothing like a traditional photograph made in a darkroom or an inkjet print where a machine sprays pigment on paper.
Generally I print for a day and then number what I have rarely more than 20.
 Photogravure comes up often in the history of photography. Invented in the 1870’s as a way of making beautiful (as opposed to photomechanical halftone prints) repeatable pictures. Look for Peter Emerson, (around 1885 - 95) Paul Strand and many others.
While you are browsing around have a look at the small portrait of me by Robyn Mitchell (a friend of mine) and one of the few photographers I know who experimented in Albumen printing. Its the best portrait I have of myself. Thanks to Robyn for gifting it to me.
Jo was an amazing help come the day! framing too! thanks Jo
 I decided that a card printed Letterpress would be nice companion to the show. Most people are unfamiliar with these kinds of prints, so a card could be an informative keepsake and a nice small project. I decided on text only, in a few colours and printed on a hand platen. Centaur was used for all the setting - 12pt text, 20 point Museum Caps (Dale guild Foundry) and 42 point Monotype from M&H foundry. It ended up being two sides and four colours. Somewhat 1950’s was the look, using some vintage card I had tucked away. So if you visit make sure to ask for a card or two. On the card reverse there is an explanation of the process. Its not an advertisement its just a keepsake.
It has a nice feel about this space and it does the work justice

PhotoGravure Prints

When Photoshop was first released I bought a copy - the first for northern Tasmania. It ran only on Macs and we knew each other! All desktop publishing was Mac and at the college where I started teaching I began agitating for a studio of Macs. I could see that photography was going to be digital and I pushed for a radical approach to training. I wanted for once to have training in a leading position. We started in a small way and by 1996 we had scanners printers and some 20 computers. It was the political fight of my life as the Windows crowd were quite beside themselves with anger at having to compete for funds with wacko artists using Macs.  We had finally broken through but the opposition was still there in 2005 despite the fact that they had lost most of their training to private training providers.

We ran all the industry standard software and our graduates mainly drifted towards publishing because photography really didn’t get good cameras or printers until the turn of the century. After that, I had trouble justifying the darkroom even though students generally preferred darkroom work over digital. 

 I was beginning to feel the same way. I noticed that digital could make really good pieces of film and these negatives allowed a photographer to work in many of the “obsolete” processes like Cyanotype, Albumen, Brown printing,  Dichromate (gum printing). These are all contact processes needing film the size of the final print, and sheet film disappeared as the printing industry that used it changed completely. Inkjet is the replacement and is very flexible.
For me though, I became interested in Photogravure. Firstly it was copper plate using a sensitised transfer sheet. This is the traditional 19th century method and it turned out to be fraught with problems and very unsafe. My darkroom despite all my safety precautions began to show stains from the Ferric Chloride etch - dangerous stuff. I wore apron, visor, and gloves but I began to feel very wary of this process. I stubbornly stayed with it until I had a print in my hand and quietly tried something else. 

 Photopolymer is a letterpress plate material that will make a gravure plate when worked with a film positive. It processes in water. Perfect! I had plenty plate material and soon I was making good prints. Its not without its moments though. It is actually quite tricky. A gravure attempts to be a continuous toned print emulating grain in which printing ink resides. Its an intaglio printing process and a “mezzotint screen exposure introduces the grain. A balance has to be achieved between the first screen exposure and then the main exposure. The plate material has to be fresh and the plate is prone to marking if its not finished cleanly and post exposed to harden it.
Once you have a good plate they are a joy to print and if you work hard it is possible to make about 15 prints a day!
Choice of colour is user driven and not determined by the process. Its just a matter of mixing an ink in enough quantity to edition. Same with paper. I like Fabriano Rosapina, also a good Letterpress paper.  gravure fits in with my love of Letterpress, Photography, and playing with my hands and brain! Making stuff!

 I love making and converting bits and pieces. I built this vacuum frame out of a homemade copy stand a vacuum lid off a platemaker and a vacuum pump off a process camera. Works well! I've never owned a shop bought exposure unit.

exposure unit

The press is small (A2) but does a great job

Photopolymer can be hard to "read" because of its colour