"Fail; fail again; fail better." - Samuel Beckett
I’ve been etching since about 1985 when I was expected to teach the medium at The Putney School. I had tried etching a few times but didn’t know much about it at all. (To painters, printmaking is a decidedly secondary art). Its craft, its history, its recurrent themes, and its look grew on me, and I learned from books and from the effects of my own early misteaching on students.
I began to work in series of etchings linked by theme, which I later bound together with text into books. In 1989 I founded Bridge Press, now in Westmoreland, New Hampshire, to publish limited edition artist’s books and etchings.
Books are an ideal vehicle to connect images rather naturally, ordering and structuring a sequence, and allowing the viewer a controlled pace and progress through the images. I’ve been thinking in sequence or series since my painting days. I like the idea of a visual story whose narrative may be inferred but will remain ambiguous, its shapes, textures, and movement guiding the viewer. Visual books offer fruitful possibilities for the continuity, connection, and unfolding of images. Each image is complete in itself, yet linked to every other through the structure of the book. A book reads, travels, exposes, and tells its story. Text and visual image speak in parallel, through association, synthesis, or divergence. The reader is transported beyond what is written in words or shown in pictures. The book is a house. It contains and describes a world, and creates its own space; it is touched, held, and opened with intimate pleasure in the hands and time of the viewer.
I stumble upon less technical and more makeshift approaches to etching. I start out broadly, a little uncontrolled, but with a clear geometric underpinning. I don’t really want to know how the image will look beforehand — too many unexpectedly and potentially satisfying things may happen to exclude the accidental or the momentarily inspired ahead of time. I work on as many as 30 or more etchings at once. The process of etching is physical and elemental, requiring force and pressure, inviting aggression and then delicacy, conjoining fire, water, earth, and air. There is something about setting an image into metal that implies permanence, duration, and enduring presence, and I hope my images mirror the medium in that sense.
I am attracted to large, futile, and obsolete things. I love movement and transportation. I like things that people have made and placed in the world, even when these things fails to remain vital and functioning over time but lurk about in the collective memory. A train is an emblem and vehicle of a journey through the world. Bridges look like how they work, trajectory and movement shaped to shifts and transitions in the land. The zeppelin is an airship floating over the world, aloof, but hard to miss.
I am as often inspired by what I read or listen to as by what I see. I look back at images from old postcards and photographs, or at older books. I embrace themes of loss, futility, destruction, and unexpected, redemptive beauty, themes tied to the tradition of printmaking, whose imagery has always tended toward critical commentary and serious contemplation, and often toward humor and irony as well.