The Creative Process
An Analysis of content and Medium
When I was eight years old in France, I told my art teacher I was going to be just like her, and she said no, don’t be a teacher like me, be an artist. My mother gave up her career as an artist to raise us, so for me it was pretty much decided then. I knew I was going to be an artist, and forty years later I am still exploring this indefinite path.
Perhaps the mystery of the unfamiliar lured me to choose graphic arts as my major in college when I lived in Paris. Perhaps older friends, two artists from Hungary whom I observed building an etching press in their apartment, influenced me. Back then my choice of printmaking was more physical and emotional than intellectual. The processes, their variety, and the delicacy of their particular qualities attracted me. In Paris from 1972 to 1975 I learned the traditional techniques of etching, aquatint, hard and soft grounds, lithography, silkscreen, and many others.
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A Physical Process
Printmaking is still today a continuous learning experience for me. The physical component to printmaking involves a third dimension whereby etched plates and lithographic stones become microscopically sculpted surfaces where acids have, in a metaphorical sense, bitten away or enhanced reality. Printmakers use chemistry: different metals are bitten in different acids, grounds are made soft or hard, and stones react to different strengths of acids. The hand tools used to mark the metal or the stone, the crayons, the etching needle, burins, roulettes, and scrapers demand both strength and dexterity. The physicality of printmaking is even more pronounced in the printing process. The printer’s hand touches this third dimension of an etched plate, which is accentuated by the length of time it sits in the acid. These fine grooves determine how much ink is held, how deeply the dampened paper will emboss. The printing press responds to laws of gravity and compression, muscle and sweat, wise adjustments to the metal gauge, and careful timing to control the humidity of the paper. If all is done well, the right pressure picks up most of the ink on an etched plate or stone. This process is like cooking a superb meal, and there is an absolute high in that concentration.
Back then in the early seventies I was not interested in photography; my background was only drawing and painting. Drawing on an etching plate felt like performing a sacred ritual: every process and every step had a reason and a consequence. I was learning to make an etching as I was learning to live life. At the same time I became interested and briefly active in the feminist movement in Paris, trying to define my boundaries and my identity. At the age of eighteen I found myself living alone in a sixth floor walkup maid’s room. Suddenly I was free from my parents’ authority, and I became the master of my own body.
As it happened, I made my first etching series “Maternity” in 1972. These dealt with the subject of deciding whether to become a mother. The images related to the physical transformation of a woman’s body, with almost monstrous expansions of the stomach. Those images also dealt with the roles assigned to man and woman in our society, as if I was looking for my place in relationship to others. My work still addresses this theme today but more elaborately.
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I did not find my place in France and I wanted to discover other cultures, so I left and traveled the globe for about a year and a half, recording my journey in a book of watercolors and writings. During that time I studied Balinese painting in Indonesia and Sumi-e painting in Japan, where I lived for six months. In the fall of 1977, I settled in New York City and joined Michael Ponce de Leon’s printmaking class at the Art Students League. I was his monitor for seven years, from 1978 to 1984, while I also studied printmaking with Seong Moy.
In 1980 I bought a large etching press and set up my studio in Times Square, where I still am. While I continued to study at the League for a few years, I also painted in my own in my studio. I knew however that printmaking was going to be a lifelong commitment.
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