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Art in which there is no attempt to represent anything existing in the world, particularly used of the 20th century onwards. ‘Abstraction’ refers to the process of making images that may in part derive from the visible world but which are reduced to basic formal elements.
A photographic negative is transferred onto a copper plate, which can then be manipulated like an etching. It allows for creative working and results in a wide range of tones in the finished work.
An image pressed or stamped onto paper or fabric. This encompasses a wide variety of techniques, usually produced in multiples, although one-off prints, known as monoprints, are also included. The term is also applied to photographic images.
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Concentric Bearings A is a two-colour print using aquatint, photogravure and drypoint techniques on Rives BFK paper that brings together prints from two separate plates on a single sheet of paper. One print is an image of a starry night sky while the other replicates a drawing by the artist based on a photograph of Rotary Glass Plates (Precision Optics) 1920 (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut) by the artist Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968). It is the first of four prints, lettered A–D, that make up the Concentric Bearings series (AR00469, AR00482, AR00483, AR00470). It was printed and published by Gemini G.E.L. (Graphic Editions Limited) in Los Angeles in an edition of thirty-four plus six artist’s proofs, in collaboration with master printmakers Kenneth Farley and Doris Simmelink. The copy held by ARTIST ROOMS is artist’s proof number 5/6, inscribed at the bottom left corner of the print, and signed by the artist at the bottom right in pencil.
The narrow rectangular print of a starry sky is based on a found photograph rather than direct observation of the night sky, and has been printed using aquatint. The curator Susan Lambert has described the basic premise of aquatint as ‘a method of etching in tone’ (Lambert 2001, p.60). Etching is an intaglio technique: an incised design where the print surface is sunk beneath the areas that are to remain blank. This print has a lively, textured surface. Looking closely, evidence of the drypoint’s linear engraving is visible. The drypoint needle, often used to retouch and refine an aquatint, here enhances the detailing of the variously shaped stars, whose pinpricks of light are in fact the un-inked white surface of the paper, which contrasts dramatically with the pitch black ink of the deep space that surrounds them.
The slightly larger accompanying image depicting Rotary Glass Plates (Precision Optics) makes use of photogravure to transfer the soft, greyscale quality of Celmins’s pencil drawing of the photograph into printed form. The artist commented on this process in a 2001 interview with the curator Samantha Rippner, saying: ‘I made a drawing on vellum specifically for the print. I drew the rotary device from a photograph, of course, with all its beautiful lines and shapes, and then transferred the drawing to the plate using photogravure.’ (Quoted in Rippner 2002, p.35.) Explaining this technique of photogravure, Susan Lambert states that it is:
a process by which a line or tonal image can be transferred photographically to a metal plate in such a way that it can be etched in one operation without stopping out by hand … it is dependent on the characteristics of light-sensitised gelatine. The image is printed on to the gelatine, and then the gelatine is attached to the plate.
(Lambert 2001, pp.67–8.)
This multi-stage image development, in which a photograph is translated into a drawing which is then transferred photo-mechanically onto a reprographic printmaking plate, demonstrates the layered complexity of Celmins’s working practices and highlights the ambiguous relationship between hand-drawn and mechanical mark-making in her prints. Duchamp’s motorised work is equally concerned with layering, in the form of a spatial illusion that rotates five separate panes of glass to appear in motion as a series of complete concentric circles. Celmins has also included drawn reproductions of notable works of art in other prints, such as Constellation – Uccello 1983 (AR00606), another dual-image print in the ARTIST ROOMS collection that features the artist’s traced version of the Italian Renaissance artist Paolo Uccello’s Perspective Study of a Chalice c.1430–40 (Uffizzi, Florence).
Concentric Bearings A is the first print in a series of four works that collectively presents four separate plates (two different night sky prints, the Duchamp photogravure, and a grainy image of a falling plane) in different configurations so that no one print contains all images from the series. Prints A and B contain two images each, while C and D have three images. A sequence of repetitions and juxtapositions occur over the series as a whole. Discussing the genesis of the Concentric Bearings series, Celmins has said:
A sort of theme was developing around describing space … about spirals, concentric circles, the plane spiralling down, the rotary device spinning, the stars turning: a similarity of events. And of course I always liked Duchamp’s piece and also the reproduction through which I found it. I though it was kind of humorous that Duchamp wasn’t going to call his object art, so I put it in something that maybe you would call my art. It’s those little nuances that hold the work together.
(Quoted in Rippner 2002, pp.34–5.)
In Concentric Bearings A the two images are small relative to their paper support, which is a large, portrait-oriented sheet. There is more blank paper beneath the plates than above, and the prints appear to float against this large expanse of bare white paper, positioned close together and aligned along their bottom edges. As part of a series of prints that investigates spatial relations, this proportionality is purposeful. The artist has commented on this aspect of her printmaking practice, explaining:
The paper became an extension of the print. How the print sat on the paper and the peculiar proportion and placement all became the work … My feeling is that every decision about the size of the borders has a corresponding effect on how one perceives the image.
(Quoted in ibid., p.15.)
Susan Lambert, Prints: Art and Techniques, London 2001.
Samantha Rippner, The Prints of Vija Celmins, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2002, reproduced p.26.
- Acc. No. AR00469
- Medium Aquatint, photo-etching and drypoint on paper
- Size left image: 20.80 x 13.80 cm; right image: 24.10 x 17.90 cm (paper 60.80 x 46.80 cm) (framed: 65.00 x 51.50 x 3.90 cm)
- Credit ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
Vija Celmins (American, born 1938)
Born in Latvia in 1938, Cemins and her family emigrated to the United States in 1948. Although beginning her career as an Abstract Expressionist painter, she is now best known for her intricate, monochromatic drawings of a select range of subjects. In 1966 she began to use photographs as the subject for her works, creating what she described as “impossible images” which remind us of the complexity of the simplest things. These meticulous renderings of the surface of the ocean, expanses of desert, the night sky, or a spider’s web, demonstrate her fascination with the surrounding world. With a slow, painstaking approach, some of these works take up to a year to complete.
Term applied to a loose grouping of New York-based artists in the mid-20th century including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. Internal feelings were expressed by the physical action of producing the art works.
An image made with a single colour.