LARGE DRYPOINTS 1988-1994
Drypoint is the purest form of printmaking, pure but maybe primitive, glyphic, crude. You have to plough a line with a tungsten or diamond point across a sheer metal sheet be it iron, steel, copper, zinc, brass, aluminium, or even soft heavy lead. The drypoint line forms a furrow which throws up two ridges of razor sharp metal on each side. It is these raised ridges that hold the ink when the plate is wiped and give such deep evanescent blacks. This rather brutal way of drawing means you have to have a lot of strength to control your line, even on the softer metals. You are often not drawing with the drypoint tool held between finger and thumb but in a clenched fist. James Gilray often worked through blood soaked fingers because of his love of those velvet blacks which drypoint rewards us with. Aluminium was my favourite drypoint medium for a long time because the plate reacts in weird and subtle ways with the chemicals you use to clean off the ink or to polish the plate. This gives a delicate varied misty and magical background tone behind the actual plate tone, and makes the heavy lines on top float.
To get an even more luminescent feel to the prints I sometimes use a process called Chine-collé. Here you cut a piece of light strong Japanese silk tissue paper to the size of the plate, lay it on the plate, coat it with a thin brushed layer of egg white and then put a bigger piece of heavy brilliant white etching paper on top. When the print goes through the press the pressure embeds the lighter paper into the heavier paper. The final effect is that the background white illuminates or shines through the light paper on top. In the prints opposite the wasp and the giant flea are good examples of the technique.
AUSTRALIAN DRYPOINTS ON LEAD 2002
My quest for the pure print, with as little intervention or technical hoo-ha between the act of drawing and the act of printing lead me deep into large scale dry-point. When I arrived in Australia in 2002 for the Witchety Grub project I was driving around with a friend Stephen Zagala and we found a big scrap metal junk yard. Rolled up like fossilized carpets were sheets of lead. I had always thought about the possibility of making dry-points on lead, and so I bought a roll. I cut it into plates with garden shears. I put the soft cold heavy plates through an
etching press a few times and they flattened out beautifully.
Drawing into lead with dry point is probably the most sensual experience you can have with metal, it cuts through it like a knife through butter. You can only do one print before the burr is flattened in the press. Then you have to rework the plate, and each time the plate goes through the press it flattens out a bit and gets about a millimeter bigger, and the lines get flattened so they have to be re-incsribed for each print. This means that each print is, in a way, a mono print.
The real bonus with lead is again plate tone, you get not only a tone from the ink but from the lead itself, like a vast piece of light lead shading undulating under everything.
Why I made so many prints of of marsupials while in Australia doesn't need explaining. Just look at them, they are so different from any other life form. I followed a wombat on its slow way through the bush at two in the morning. I walked with it for about an hour, I saw its magnificent gait.