Back in 2002 I was taking an advanced printmaking class at CSULB. There was a different method/technique to learn every one or two weeks. Students were expected to define their own approach and theme for each of them. For the silk-screen printmaking assignment, I chose to do a rather simple mask-and-template cutouts approach first. The beginning silk screen provides a multi-colored block print that is then further developed with additional mixed media or finer silk-screen applications on top of the first level print. Note that each color requires its own silk-screen application, including the drying time for each layer. Generally speaking, silk screens are a very effective way to make colorful compositions using just a few hues and colors. For my theme I chose to develop a figurative work based on Dante Aligheri, a 13th century Italian poet who became famous for this long poem, “Divine Comedy”, that describes his view of the 13 rings of the medieval reality stretching from heaven to earth to hell. In two weeks I had to make ten copies of my series of silk-screen prints and then modify each of them to create a set of ten finished silk-screen monoprints. This group of prints is like a theme and variation set of work with a common beginning design.
My first image shown above is one of the ten mixed-media silk-screen prints of my “Divine Comedy” series from 2002. After I made the silk screen, I then used colored pencils and drawing ink to refine the central image of Dante. However, as a composition, I never felt that it was completed. The beginning silk screen layers are too separate and the standing-figure-in-an-alcove design was too static. Although I did complete the class assignment, I then put these prints in my file drawer for the next 18 years. Dante himself might have been disappointed.
After these 18 years of not deciding what to do with these silk-screen prints, I finally decided that I am a painter and that I could improve these prints with some gouache painting. For all of those not familiar with this medium, gouache paints are water-based opaque paint that goes back about 150 years. Most watercolor painters don’t like to used opaque paints, because they are not transparent unless the color is thinned down with lots of water. My second image shown above of the #5 silk-screen print includes both thick and thin gouache painted over parts of the original silk screen work. I chose a light valued blue-grey color, which includes white gouache to lighten the value, as well as added water to thin the paint and make it semi-transparent.
Comparing these two images, one can see that the blue-grey lines added over the reds, yellows, greens and the bare white paper really integrates the composition and adds its own painterly marks. I varied the density of the blue-greys in different areas to get a mixture of subtle variations. They cool down the bright yellows and the hot flat reds to add more variety of color to the silk screen print and to soften many of the hard-edged color shapes that did not come together. Also, there are variations in the blue-grey gouache in parallel brush strokes that add a variety of mark making and texture as well as cool color.
In my third image shown above I show another application of light blue-grey gouache to another one of the ten silk screens. I point out that there were some variations in each of the original ten silk screen prints. Again, I added a light blue-grey brush marks over many of the original colors, and gain a better integration of the composition. In this one I also added a light-warm pink gouache color to the central figure’s face and left arm, because the values and color were off. In the red alcove area above the figure, the light blue-greys are shifted with more blues in some of the marks to both reduce the flat broad red area and add more variation to the alcove. Note too that adding the blue-grey completes the color composition and makes it more pleasing to the eye.
For my Dante figure I found an old painting of him, done after he had passed away. But it gave me a model to work from. None of the ten images in the ten silk screens are really not the same, but that does not matter to a Modernist painter in the 21st century. I hope that those reading this blog are following my logic and argument that you can draw on the Western art tradition of painting, and even make references to the past, while making a contemporary work or art.