I’ve spent the last seven or eight months printing scores of “screen tests”—covering my studio walls with them. I wanted to see what all they could do: a necessary precursor to knowing what I wanted to do with them.
I chose screenprinting as a way to dig into and understand pattern, because, first, I love screenprinting—but also for the simple, practical reason that it lends itself naturally to repetition.
For each pattern, I drew a single geometric element that fit into a square, then rotated it clockwise and counter-clockwise in sequence to form a row. Four starting points times two directions equals eight possible rows. The sequence of these various rows determines the overall pattern. The shapes line up against themselves in different combinations, forming new and often unexpected shapes.
I cut each row by hand into a sheet of Tyvek to create stencils, and then pushed translucent cyan, magenta, and yellow inks through them in various combinations (a sort of a punk rock version of mechanical color separation). The patterns are all based on a two-inch grid, which allowed me to combine and layer them with each other. There are between six and twelve layers per print.
I printed these guys in hundreds of combinations of pattern, color, and opacity. At the start of my print-a-thon I had no particular goal in mind, however it eventually became clear that I was trying to get them to move. They’re just ink on flat paper, but I wanted them to give the unmistakable feeling that there was something going on beneath the surface—a lot of somethings and a lot of surfaces.
A screenprinting setup is the platonic ideal of machine as an extension of the human mind and body. It’s a simple technique to learn: pull a big squeegee across the screen, pushing ink through the holes of the stencil and onto your paper. It’s very physical, and you can’t stop because the ink might dry—but also because you’re doing an intricate dance with its own rhythm. Do it over and over again, and you and your squeegee dance partner become a single machine.
In these prints I was aiming for precision, but also OK with their imperfect precision. The images reference the mechanical and the digital, the repetitions of our mechanized, DNA-sequenced beings. But they also contain mutations, intentional and otherwise, retaining evidence of the (my!) human hand.
In my last years as a figurative painter, I had started amassing a file images of mid-century people with comically large yet intimidating early computers and other office machinery, with the intention of employing them in a series of paintings about people and technology. The photographs I’d collected are only about 50 years old, but to look at the machines you feel they might as well be of horses and carriages. And yet, we are just as overwhelmed today by the tiny machines that dominate our lives, maybe even more mystified by their inner workings for all their ubiquity.
Last month, when I finally stopped making tests and completed some actual prints, it came time to name them. It was then that I realized that they are at least partly about the means of their creation, and in fact I had made the series I’d intended—just not as figurative paintings. After two years of just maniacally cranking stuff out, I finally have a little something solid to say about what my new abstract work is “about.”