Scott Bodenner is a gifted textile designer, polymath, and friend. He trained as a hand weaver, with a degree from RISD and early on-the-job experience with a German textile mill. He has a unique perspective on industrial mill capabilities and limitations, to which he brings a deeply held concern for recycling. One of his favorite books is Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World: Human Ecology and Social Change .
I am lucky to have had the chance to work with Scott to produce a custom bolt of synthetic artist’s canvas using recycled polymer. I recently sat down with Scott to talk about that project and ask the questions that a painter might have for a textile savant.
Before (left) and after(right) photos from MoMA’s conservation of Jackson Pollock’s Number 1A showing work to reduce discoloration of raw cotton canvas.
NASA photos comparing the Aral Sea in 1989 (left) and 2014 (right).
The Arnold Print Works in North Adams Massachusetts produced 330 miles of cloth in 1905. Forced to close in 1942 due to low prices, the complex is now home to MASS MoCA, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
Fabric under gentle tension . Roy McMakin chairs upholstred in fabric by Scott Bodenner
Mix Tape is a recycled fabric designed by Scott Bodenner using recycled cassette tape along with other recycled yarns
Five months of hand-painted circles on an eight foot canvas are compressed into these two minutes. I made this video as a diy instant replay for myself, hoping to learn something that will make me a better painter. The resulting clip is fascinating for several dramatic changes to the painting and the many layers of paint it reveals.
Music is a Library of Congress field recording:
Title: Devil’s dream
Contributor Names: Mann, Thomas (performing on hammered dulcimer) Cowell, Sidney Robertson (collector)
Archive of Folk Culture (Library of Congress)
Created / Published: 1937.
These are unusual prints. When you see them in person, it’s obvious immediately. They are shiny. Like silver-leaf shiny. They shimmer. When you reach out to touch one, they suddenly reflect the color of your own hand. When the sunlight streaming through the skylights here at the studio is interrupted by a passing cloud, the change is startling. Words fail, so here’s a video:
How’s that possible? Well, because these prints are made over aluminum leaf. The entire image area of each piece is covered with aluminum leaf by hand before they are printed with an archival, black-ink only digital image. Aluminum leaf is great because it doesn’t tarnish rapidly like genuine silver leaf would. And we use a black-ink-only printing process because we’re a little bit Amish like that.
The images in the prints were generated while working on one drawing over a period of about a year. Each “state” is a kind of snapshot of this one drawing at a point in time. As time progresses, the drawing gets darker. So the progression through the five prints is a progression into a twilight of sorts. To nudge that idea a little further, two of the prints contain additional touches of gold leaf. State 3 has flecks of gold that roughly correspond to the position of stars in the night sky surrounding the constellation Ophiuchus, or the serpent bearer. The last print in the suite, State 5, is accented with a thin crescent of gold– a waning crescent moon.
The aluminum-leafed image area of each print measures 6″ by 8″ and the outside dimensions of the paper are 8″ by 10″. It’s the perfect size for looking at up close. Each state is part of a very limited edition of fifteen prints. The nature of the hand-applied aluminum leaf means that there are small differences between each of the 15 prints of any given edition. I think you’ll find that these imperfections are lovely and add value.
In this case I’m referring to an obsolete 24″ Epson Stylus Pro 7500 that I picked up for free about a year ago. Once a commercial printer sporting 5 colors plus black, it’s still a sturdy machine, if a little cranky and low-res by today’s standards.
But this printer has been set up to do something that was never intended. The original inks have been replaced with a set that I mixed up myself, using examples others have posted online, and using special software created by an enthusiast. This custom inkset is made using a commercial carbon black ink that has been diluted with a home-made base solution to create five shades of grey. The result can only print in black and white– but the output is very light-fast and chemically stable. And since the printer can now use shades of grey instead of dithering to to make a printed area less dark, the effective resolution has gone way up.
How’s that Amish? Well, a little background: A few generations ago, one part of my family was Old Order Mennonite. If you saw them, you’d call them Amish, as they dressed plain and drove horses and buggies. But if you looked carefully you might have noticed that they used tractors on the farm, instead of just horses. Gasoline tractors were just becoming widely available, and promised better quality of life. So they were allowed– with a restriction: the tractors could only use steel wheels. You see, steel wheels worked fine on the farm, but were unwieldy and slow on paved roads. And this clarified the the difference between a gasoline tractor and the automobile, which already symbolized all that was “englisher” or outside to the plain Mennonites and Amish. The steel wheeled tractor was a way to adopt a technology while maintaining their emphasis on small communities and separation from the world at large.
So for me, there’s a funny resonance in crippling this old inkjet printer by replacing it’s bright color inks with grays. There’s a separation from the world at large– I can no longer go and buy ink cartridges from the store if I run out. Instead I have to mix dilutions of ink and refill the ones I already have. And in a virtual sense, a community is reinforced, as I learn from the group of people who have made this same conversion and who share their successes and frustrations via the internet. And I’m working to produce prints with carbon pigment and quality cotton rag paper, true archival materials. In art market terms, that’s kind of like the moral high ground that my ancestors thought so important. And it feels right.
Of course, as with any technology, this is all changing very rapidly. The specific church that I refer to here has split many times, as new decisions had to be made and things got murky. I’m sure that my decision to use this particular set-up in my studio will be just as unclear in the long run.
But for now, I’m just excited to see what it can do!
Mr. Saltz is a professional critic– he knows how to use words to set a fire. But still, his experiment with Facebook is provocative, and maybe even virtuosic. Under his guidance, critical discourse and a critical mass of interested participants are pushing Facebook up against its own technical limits. When Saltz invited artists to post statements about their work in the comments for some interactive editing, over one thousand comments resulted, which had to be spread out over seven threads to prevent automatic “deletions”! The result is a new media epic and admittedly quite a bit to wade through. But if you have ever had to write or edit one of these statements, it is a priceless read.
Saltz coaches the writer to treat the statement as a question of life or death, referring frequently to the riddle of the Sphinx. Here’s a little bit of his coaching style, in all caps:
NOW, [writer’s name] DEAR, STAND BEFORE THE SPHINX; A STORM MORE HORRIBLE THAN THE WORST FEARS OF THE WORST DARK NIGHT OF THE WORST SOUL WILL COME OVER YOU; IN WAVES IT WILL WASH OVER YOU. TELL US WHAT THE SPHINX ASKED YOU. NO HURRY. IF YOU DO NOT RETURN IN 40 YEARS WE WILL SEND LAWYERS, GUNS, AND MONEY.
REMEMBER, WE WILL ALWAYS BE WITH YOU.
I ONLY NEED FOUR HONEST SENTENCES ABOUT YOUR WORK. FOUR.
The quote comes from the December 25th, 3:59 PM comment on the thread titled Repost II: An experiment. An amazing Christmas gift!
Admittedly, there is some irony when a painter who was “raised without television” has something to say about Bob Ross. But the television painting programs that I did see as a child certainly made an impression. I know I saw Bob Ross programs a few times, and there was also something shown in elementary school called “Draw Man.” (I think that was what it was called — anybody remember that?) And then there was William Alexander. He was fascinating– that accent!
Fast forward to the current business of making very tactile paintings that probably get seen more often online than any other way. Getting comfortable with those low resolution images of Alexander’s painting-in-progress was training for accepting the compromise of presenting paintings on a computer screen.
Personally, I find myself pushing back against the compromises of screen resolution by making big, intricately textured paintings. The texture almost never shows up in reproduction. And scale is lost. In the end whatever I paint will need to translate at least somewhat if it is to find an audience, however. I am grateful for the discipline this contradiction provides for my painting practice. I wonder about previous generations of painters. How much was Monet pushing back against photography as impressionism developed? When did he first see a photograph of one of his own paintings?
What about the relationship between the low resolution of the TV screen and the greatly simplified compositions chosen by the TV teachers. How much is their speedy, broad-brushed stylization a precursor to the sort of simplified painting seen frequently today? Does the computer screen perpetuate a specific contemporary style of painting?
One of the first really exciting painting resources I remember discovering online was Bruce MacEvoy’s website handprint. When I was actively engaging with my limitations as a watercolor painter several years ago, his comprehensive section on the medium was invaluable. Lately, I have been enjoying exploring the newer section on color vision. Mr. MacEvoy presents his subject matter with clarity and depth. Both sections include extensive references to other valuable books and websites. If you have time for nothing else, take a quick look around the page on watercolor books, which are logically organized and presented with insightful summaries. The only danger– you might end up with a pretty long wish list for your own library!