Mono- and linoprint
This piece of work is a development of my rune- crucifixion prints.
I wanted to cut letters in lino: not that anything I did was going to come close in terms of either skill or scale, but I thought the lino cut maps by Mark Andrew Weber were awesome, and wanted to at least try cutting out text. It was also a response to the feel of “typesetting” I had when doing the rune prints, and so, at first I planned to cut word-strips that could be rearranged in different permutations on paper.
Random words are always fun, as they resonate in different ways depending where they end up. I remembered this idea of making poetry from moving sheep, which I liked very much at the time!
However, I realised that if I set the words on a single piece of lino, it would be easier to print. Doing the runes, which were repeated patterns, involved stamping the pieces face down on the page, which led to a less dense ink-coverage. That was fine with that particular piece, since it made an ambiguous brick-work type of pattern. And to be honest most people wouldn’t be reading runes: it was sufficient that they just be suggested. However, to get more even inking a single piece would be preferable. The option to cut it up into separate words would still be there, and besides I could create some variety with masking.
I used the same text as the inspiration, extracted from an inscription on the Ruthwell Cross, and gathered related words from different historical periods. “Ic waes with blode bestemid” is in an Old English (Northumbrian) dialect, and translates the runic inscription I used earlier “ I was with blood bedewed”. “Dream of the Rood” is the old English poem from which these lines come, a longer extract of which is inscribed on the Ruthwell Cross. The “I” of the line is the tree/ cross/ rood. The Ruthwell Cross is an important source for the study of this poem, which has been found written in different Old English dialects and must have been well known. The poem describes a piece of “the true cross” telling the story of the crucifixion and it has elements which link it back to earlier pre-Christian times, yet its relating the story of the true cross also links it to the fashion for collecting religious relics, an obsession with ownership of material objects which were deemed to be holy.
“Idolatrie utterlie to be suppressed” is a quote, with a nice, if threatening, ring to it, from an act by the Aberdeen Assembly of the reformed Church in 1640 to the effect that all crosses were to be destroyed, and specifying the Ruthwell cross. This, then, is the voice of a later age that had no tolerance for any objects, images or visual effects that mediated in any way one’s relationship with God. It’s an idea that I feel has a lot of resonance still today, for example, with our image-dominated media on the one hand, and similarly intolerant Islamic doctrine on the other, or with what some would argue is the replacement of spirituality with celebrity and materialism.
I consulted a scholarly text from the beginning of the 20th century and pulled out words and phrases that seemed to have some relation to each other, but that also had sufficient ambiguity to be read outwith the context of the actual Ruthwell Cross. The texts states that “The upper block [of the Ruthwell Cross] is stained blood-red, but the stain does not pass quite through the stone”. These words fitted with the idea of the original tree being “with blood bedewed” during the crucifixion: in fact in another part of the poem, it is described as being “stained”. But the word “stain” has certain other connotations of corruption and degeneration, as well as being the basic foundation of printing, staining the paper with ink.
Another historical source, reporting on the state of the inscriptions on the Ruthwell cross reported that “time and ill using hath abras’d them” I simply liked the sound of the word “abras’d”. The phrase “time and ill-using” neatly summed up the concept that the passage of time is inevitable, but human actions over the course of history are often consciously ill-intended.
As suggested above, I chose words with a feeling for how they sounded and looked: there were certain words that harmonised because of having similar vowel sounds, and those whose consonants were similarly produced- labial and dental consonants in fact- made using the lips and teeth. Repeated consonants and vowels created assonance ad internal rhymes. All in all, I felt they could achieve a poetic effect, while seeming slightly random.
The meanings of words tended to play around concepts of change, destruction and death, and I chose to keep the phrase “Idolatrie utterlie to be suppressed” as a whole with the word “Idolatrie” highlighted by its positioning and the size of the letters. The definition of what is idolatrous has changed over time, and I chose to print certain words vertically, those involving the passage of time, and the verb “to be”, which I placed near the centre of the lino block. Bearing in mind the links to typesetting and newspapers, I decided to print the word “Idolatrie” in red, using selective inking with a small roller. I wanted to achieve an effect of a red-top headline, (referencing Gilbert and George), with emphatic language “Utterlie to be suppressed” and shocking revelations, true-confession style, underneath “I was with blood bedewed”. In line with a modern front page news story, I chose to copy modern computer fonts. By using several fonts, I could still suggest the semantic links between the original phrases.
This is a very wordy introduction, but I guess that’s what happens when words are introduced into art works, and why people prefer their 100 words to be painted.…
(I was paying particular attention to works involving words when I was at the Hong Kong art fair. Martin Smith was telling whole stories with his, and quoting communications verbatim. Willliam Kentridge used them to link his drawings in a way that made them almost become graphic stories. Tracey Emin’s were a little too much like soppy tweets for my taste. “Fucking Art” was perhaps the one I could most identify with, where the words and images were playing off against each other in a satirical way.)
So, to the image.
The monoprinted background was to be either a tree or a cross I thought, or something that could suggest both. It means that the relationship between the two layers is something akin to illustration I guess, which may or may not be a good thing. But with all the words, there is a lot going on already. I made patterns by painting directly onto the inking plate, used a palette knife to spread and smear and scratch effects into the ink, used torn paper masks, and took first and ghost- prints.
I limited the colours- black and red for the print, and no more than two in the background. In fact I think perhaps limited them to just black and red might be best, although the olive green tree works reasonably well, I think, as it’s does just enough to communicate that it’s a tree without dominating.
Another decision I had was whether to show the inked outlines of the texts. (I had kept my options open with the lino block, leaving blocks to be reworked, or ignored through selective inking and wiping) I felt that leaving the outlines could emphasize the “printed” look of the text, and make it look rough. Finally I think the clean versions are probably better, and I can try to get a roughness into them by wiping the text a bit before printing so that some of the letters are only suggested.
It was an enjoyable journey, making this print, and I feel quite chuffed at not getting any of the letters back to front!