On Monotypes About Forest Fires

By Thom Wright   Jan 2021

This past fall I returned to making monotypes, which are one-of-kind color prints made on my large press.  In three earlier posts, I presented my earlier works and described how they are accomplished, especially requiring a clear and fully developed design before beginning.  In this post I’ll focus on my concerns and approach to this abstract series titled “California Climate Change” and my metaphor of the rampant forest fires that devastated over four million trees in 2020.

“California Climate Change #3”, Monotype, 18” x 24”, oil-based color inks on Rives BFK printing paper, Thom Wright  2020

I begin with the third piece in my series, shown above that I made, because the first two did not survive the cut and contained too many errors in the control of the medium.  This one shows the relatively simple landscape composition with an upper region of red-violet that is gradated in value, and a lower region of brown-black.   These are rolled onto the printing plate first, and then more additive and subtractive elements are worked serially.  The entire plate is mostly completed in less than an hour, followed by some touch ups for spots and small local areas and edges that can be easily fixed.

My theme demands warm and hot colors mostly, and emphasizes processes of change and transformation of trees on fire.  Of course the area at the bottom suggests the burn-scarred land, where the lighter content forms from roughly torn plastic stencil and hand-drawn lines and marks. The lighter browns and red-orange colors are dramatically lit against the dark surface, and they also relate to the colors of the standing tree shapes above.

Many times in my paintings I used vertical triangles to represent the forest pines, and in my monotypes I almost do the same.  In this composition, all the tree shapes are in a horizontal band.  To get varying rhythms of height, width, branching and growth variation, I use hand-cut stencils and create a large variety of alterations to the triangles.  Being the principal elements, they also have the greatest variation in bold colors.  To heighten the luminosity, even more lower level stencils made of thin plastic are laid down with fiery yellows and oranges that also suggest the trees are on fire.  Once all these stencils are placed for the trees, I draw into the inks to add white lines and active marks around and next to the trees.  The whites add more intensity and movement as trees in flames.

Finally, the upper region has an organic, light-colored, horizontal shape to suggest the gases and ashes added to the atmosphere from the fires.  My emphasis on this process also adds small triangular shapes of various colors as representing these emissions.  They are placed at the upper ends of straight lines coming from the tree shapes below.  The straight lines also provide ties of the trees to the emitted gases and ashes, and a more geometric patterning and structuring of the parts into a whole.  Which is to say, that there are many ways to invent an abstract of pieces and parts that relate to the whole and allow for wider interpretations.

“California Climate Change #5”, Monotype, 18” x 24”, oil-based color inks on Rives BFK printing paper, Thom Wright  2020

In my second piece shown above, it is clear to see the similarities and the differences of this one from the first one.  The sky region is filled with white and colored bubbles made by spraying mineral spirits with a toothbrush. The tree shapes are more distinct and geometric, but have more texture and cut-out shapes, and there are simpler and fewer hand-drawn lines.  Notice too that the tree colors are mostly darker valued than the light red-orange sky area behind them.  Still, there is a variety of shapes and relative positions that make the dominate horizontal rhythm of the trees and their paired relationships too. In the lower blue-black base are, only two horizontal bands stand out. This simpler composition still has a lot of music to it.

“California Climate Change #9”, Monotype, 18” x 24”, oil-based color inks on Rives BFK printing paper, Thom Wright  2020

In my third piece shown above, I forgo hot colors altogether, and use cool and greyed colors for the sky and ground.  It reads like a winter night scene of the forest in its aftermath of the fire. Red-orange and blue-green are extreme opposites of temperature. The hand-drawn areas behind each tree read like ice and snow.  The triangles are charred with browns and black, yet have color and glow against the grey background.  Only the upper triangles of the emitted gases have a greater brightness and contrast. I particularly like the two blue-black bands at the top and the bottom and how they enhance the middle area as well as enhance the colors and the few white lines. 

Although there are many ways to flatten space and integrate objects and grounds, these monotypes could be made more flattened to work as 2D abstracts.  However, my interests in expressive color and gestural mark making contribute to my process of abstraction of landscape.  I invite your questions and comments about this series.

Published by Thom Wright Art

Thom Wright has combined his passions for art, music and engineering, and all of his practices have benefited each other. In 1986, he had an epiphany, one of those moments when he realized that he had to be a better artist. His subject matter moved toward contemporary issues, including geopolitics, global environment, technology, cultural and natural processes of change, and jazz. His abstracts also migrated towards mixed media and printmaking. These interests and processes continue in his art work. Desiring to improve his skills, theory and knowledge in art, he took early retirement from the Boeing Corp. in 1999 and entered art school full time. In May, 2006, he completed the MFA program in Drawing and Painting at California State University, Long Beach.

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