“For sixty years Pat Adams has approached painting with an empiricist’s concern for the nature of visual form and the intimist’s sensibility that addresses the layered complexity of being. With abstract paintings characterized by seductive colors and richly encrusted surfaces, Pat seeks to bring from her “gatherum of quiddities” – that stew of unnamed qualities – a visual situation that bestirs contemplation.”
Pat Adams (b. 1928), That is to Say, 2010, oil, isobutyl methacrylate, pencil and crayon on paper mounted to panel, 19 x 24 inches, courtesy of the artist
From 1973 through 1976 Pat Adams was my professor at Bennington College. Pat already had 20 years of experience as a serious artist, showing in New York and collected by museums. The “landscape” for women artists was not an open one. The art world was both smaller and fairly closed to women. Things were changing, but most advances were hard won. I’m not really prepared to talk about what Pat was up against. All I can tell you is that until the 1980s, I believe, only two women had had a one person shows at the Guggenheim — Helen Frankenthaler and Helen Frankenthaler.
Seeing Pat’s paintings today I wonder why I didn’t know them better; why I wasn’t more aware of what she was thinking; what her process was; what battles she was waging on canvas. This retrospective at The Bennington Museum gave me a chance to experience her work and also see some of her materials: things she was looking at, tiny drawings she compiled endlessly in her notebooks. It was a revelation.
It was the opening night and not the best opportunity to take in the work, but at the end of the evening, when the rooms emptied, I had a moment to look closely at some of the pieces with the director of the museum, Robert Wolterstorff. I was struck by how my eyes were pulled around the canvas, how I flet moments of speed and slowness, of agitation and rest, of chaos and precision — like I was entering the universe. I wondered at the surfaces. How she achieved tiny irregularly shaped dots in a grid, how she painted a curved line that was at once as precise as a calligrapher’s curve, and yet broken in spots revealing the paint surface beneath. There was something so illogical about this line, so confounding, I couldn’t figure out how it was made.
When I was able to speak briefly with Pat during the show, she told me that some of the marks on the canvas were achieved by a kind of printing or transfer process. Painting on mylar and “stamping” it onto the canvas. But I didn’t get a chance to ask her about the lines.
Pat’s paintings are full of texture and unusual materials, mica, sand, pigment, and other minerals. Wolterstorff was most taken by this aspect of the work, which made him think of both Keifer’s straw and Beuys’ lard and felt. I forgot to mention to him that there was a Beuys exhibition at the college in the 1970s.
As we looked at the paintings, the rigor of the composition struck both of us. To me, they felt like mathematical journeys. Jamie Franklin, the curator, had displayed some things that Pat had pulled elements from — postcards of a Gothic Cathedral, the composition of an old Master painting, the shape of a sliced geode. All of these were echoed in the work.
Pat Adams’ Notebook
I believe that in the misogynistic days of the 1970s, these elements were at times dismissed as decorative. Seeing them now I know that they were no more decorative than the letters of a formula. What, after all, can be eliminated from E = mc 2 .
Artist collaboratives can be a tricky business, but try doing it with neither the internet or even a computer. Years ago I collaborated with the brilliant, contemporary composer Henry Brant on a piece called “Inside Track“, which was played at the Holland Festival. My part in it was that I made slides of dozens of paintings on paper that were displayed on four projectors, which were “played” by two percussionists. Since the piece was performed in Holland, I never got to see it.
Let’s break down that last sentence. “I made dozens of slides.” We are talking about real slides, physical slides; slides that take a week to process in a film lab; slides made out of film and cardboard, that can’t be cropped, but rather have to be taped with physical tape to block out anything you don’t want the viewer to see. “The slides were ‘played’ on four projectors”; yes, these were slide projectors, all mechanical, nothing electronic about them. They were noisy, had different lenses, could overheat and burn the slide. Or if you used the projection long enough, the slide just faded or turned brown. The button to forward the slides was not always reliable, nor was it easy to control the speed of the advancement. The percussionists must have been very talented.
The New Artist Collaboration with Composer Thomas Oboe Lee
Recently the Boston composer Thomas Oboe Lee asked me to collaborate with him. He made two music videos using my paintings. In this case, I uploaded the images to dropbox, he downloaded them to his computer and edited them to his music. By that night I received the video in an email and we both posted it to “the world” on Youtube and Facebook.
A quarter of all of Gustav Klimt’s paintings were landscapes. When I finally saw them all at an exhibition at the Sterling Clark Museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts, what struck me most was their flatness — even Bonnard’s landscapes recedes more into space. Klimt did not paint panoramas, but rather simple motifs: gardens, meadows with fruit trees, farmhouses surrounded by lush vegetation, and details of the lake and its shoreline. Perhaps it is not surprising that the landscapes appeared flat, considering the decorative nature of his other paintings, but it soon became apparent that something else was at work here. Klimt used a variety of viewfinders; initially, a simple piece of cardboard with a hole cut out of it, and later an ivory plate or an opera glass. [austria.info/uk/art-culture]
He also used a telescope. He would stand on one side of the lake and look through it to the opposite shore. The telescope made the landscape appear flat. Klimt used the pointillist’s mark to create his landscapes. However, he did not use it in the same way as the pointillists did, to optically mix colors. His landscapes were organized into blocks of colors and shapes.
Klimpt with Telescope
When you examine one of Klimt’s landscapes close up, a couple of things become apparent. First, he leaves a fair amount of the canvas showing through. And, he frequently outlines things, like the edge of flowers or leaves. I have seen Joseph Raffael do a similar thing in his watercolors. It seems that, especially with watercolors, if you let the edge of, say a leaf, just be the place where the color ends, your whole sense of the leaf as an object disappears, something seems quite off about it. Reinforcing the edge with a line helps it hold its space. This was most obvious in Klimt’s paintings of flowers.
Here is a short video of Joseph Raffael fine tuning one of his watercolors.
Below is a continuation of my experience of working with Master Printer Tim Sheesley at Corridor Press in Otego, New York. You can read Part I by clickinghere.
Tim in his spot.
I believe that one of the reasons we were able to accomplish so much in a short period of time was due, in part, to my planning, but in a larger part due to Tim’s organization and economy of movement. His studio is set up, just as with a short order cook, with everything at hand. Tim stands in one spot in the studio with two glass slabs in front of him, his inks to his right next to an old Uline catalog that serves as paper on which to clean his palette knives, rags below him, solvent to his right, the press behind him, and printing paper to his far left. He didn’t move more than three feet all day.
Old Uline catalog used as scrap paper.
I, on the other hand, walked miles, as I found a spot across from him to watch as he mixed colors and then moved to the other side of the room to watch the print being rolled with ink.
Tim Inking Plate
Tim and I worked through all the color permutations. There were several points where we would have loved to have stopped, because the results were so beautiful. It was time to add the black that depicts the branches. This was the final step, the last layer of color. He pulled the first print and THUD! Disaster! Worst print of the day.
Tom looked worried and disappointed. I think he was afraid that I’d be devastated. Instead, I felt that the print confirmed what I had felt ever since seeing the first tentative proofs weeks earlier — the black just didn’t work. In paint and even in the computer generated image, the black acted like a gestalt – stunning and integrated into the overall image. In the print, the black sat on top of the page both dwarfing and destroying the colors beneath. It might as well have been a black and white print. Tim and I both thought that switching to a middle gray would accomplish what I was after. Even within the gray you can have a range of color, and I wanted the gray skewed toward lavender.
Pantone book, oil paint sample and computer generated image.
This is when Tim finally pulled out the Pantone book. This is the printer’s Bible. It contains every color he can mix with his inks, and gives him the formula to do so. I flipped through the color samples and pointed to the color I wanted. The improvement was immediate and dramatic. It quickly became apparent that the other color versions of the print could also use gray, but the value of the gray would have to be adjusted to work with the other color versions.
Getting exactly the right shade of gray (don’t even go there) was as much work as determining the other color combinations.
As we printed each layer we were both delighting in the detail. But here is the truly confounding result: it seemed that the print would have to be viewed from about 18 inches for them to be appreciated. That is exactly the opposite effect of my paintings, which look best when viewed from across the room. The paintings look painterly close up (down right messy, in fact), but at a certain distance they snap into focus and look almost photo realistic.
When we added the gray to the print Tim and I found ourselves backing up across the studio. The prints were still reading well from twenty five feet away. We managed to produce the same effect in the print as in my paintings.
Once we saw these qualities in one print, it was a matter of bringing that effect to all the prints. Sometimes remarkably small adjustments made the difference between reading the print as color and reading it as light. This is where the skill and integrity of a Master Printer makes all the difference. The work is demanding and exhausting. At the eleventh hour, Tim was still willing to mix one more color and make one more adjustment so that I could see if we could perfect the print.
A great Master Printer hangs in there with you to the end. When your energy flags, he shores you up, so that you can produce the best work possible. Tim told me over and over that it was about my vision, and he did everything in his power to make that happen.
After spending the night at the home of artist Ashley Cooper and her family in the surprisingly beautiful Cooperstown, New York, I headed over to the rolling hills of Otego to meet with Tim Sheesley at Corridor Press.
Tim showed me samples of other artist’s work to give me some ideas of how I might use the medium in my own work. I was thinking a lot about this myself. The research I have been doing over the last weeks not only into lithography, but also other forms of print making, made me think how I might best use the medium to expand what I was doing in paint. But until I get my hands dirty, I am not really going to know what will work best for me.
I am especially interested in the ways I can use print making to explore the use of color in my work. There are two ways of going about this (I am sure there are more, but these are the ways that most interest me at the moment). One is to use what printers call “process” color. That is to break down the image into CMYK – cyan, yellow, magenta and black. This is also the way the color is broken down to make a straight forward reproduction of a piece. When an artist uses this method of separation, its a little like math for artists, as they have to think about the layering of colors to achieve a full color variation.
The other way to approach the print is to pull particular colors from the original and lay them down distinctly, one next to the other. There can be some mixing, of course. But since you may not have the elements of a color wheel — red, yellow, blue — but colors like umber, lavender and ocher, it is far more likely that you would lay them down next to each other and not over each other.
I love seeing how artists use lithographs and all the variations involved: the type of plate, the quality of ink, color of paper, and the drawing medium.
Here is a video of Tim showing me how Sondra Freckelton produced the print pictured above. I took the video without looking through the camera, so that Tim wouldn’t think about it while talking to me. Please forgive the occasional missing head. Video of Tim Sheesley.
You can check out the prints of the artists featured here at Tim’s website:Corridor Press.
In April I will be working with Tim Sheesley, the owner and master printer of Corridor Press, a collaborative professional lithography studio in Otego, New York, where I will be creating a set of color lithographs.
Richard Haas, “Flatiron Building”
I haven’t made prints since I studied with artist Richard Haas and master printer Catherine Mosley at Bennington College. Cathy made many of Robert Motherwell’s prints.
At that time I was an utter failure as a printer. Once I pulled one copy of the print, I didn’t see the point in making another. The very essence of printmaking escaped me. In those days, I took abandoned etching plates with someone else’s images on them, to the sculpture shop, where I cut them into shapes and defaced them with an oxyacetylene torch. With little regard to the damage such a plate might do to a press I made a print, and before making another I would alter the plate again. (Perhaps I shouldn’t be sharing this information before I work with Tim.)
Leslie Parke, etching made with used plate, band saw, oxyacetylene torch and grinder.
Moving to a new medium is never really about replicating what you do in another medium. While there is imagery in my painting that I’d like to explore in lithography, I am not interested in replication, but in a conversation between these two mediums.
Is there a painting of mine you would like to see re-imagined in print? I was thinking of working with the tree paintings, but I would be interested in what you think. Drop me a line, if you have a suggestion.