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The art of doing it yourself

I have developed a fair control of techniques which enable me to print a black-and-white photograph onto glass and make it stay there.

But, for better or for worse, I am not a machine. I am a slob. Sometimes I am inconsistant in the cleaning and preparing of glass to receive the light-sensitive silver emulsion. The emulsion may be applied in irregular thickness. The developing chemicals may be of imprecise solutions or be too warm... or too cold.

When I recently printed this portrait of a Lebanese art collector, photographed in the Bekaa Plain in May, a part of the image came unstuck in the wash bath. Massaging it gently with a finger, the entire image was eventually detached from the glass to float spider-web thin in the washing basin.

Disliking waste, I tried capture the image and make rest on a pane of glass and dry there. Removed from its original panel, the pure emulsion image was free to expand and so waxed to double its original size.

The image I caught with a glass sheet turned out to be just a detail of my planned composition. It was a very pleasing detail and showed me it was possible to cut off half the image and still retain, indeed enhance, its sense. I would not have dared this composition if it were not for the accident.

Making an artwork, like making anything, is not an act of pure reason or imagination. It is not abstract. Art can evoke the transcendant, but it is not of it. It is part of the world. It is the meeting of a thought with base matter and the artwork endures as a record of this discussion. There seems to be quite a lot of sub-contracted art around today if my occasional side-long glances at art fairs is anything to go on.

Sub-contracted art is where the artist has an idea and engages a skilled artisan to make it real. Certainly most materially ambitious projects need help from many hands. The grand studios of Rubens and van Dyck were factories with numerous employees. But these studios evinced a profound and unwavering respect for craft. All were craftsmen and the signing artist was at the top of this pyramid.

Our era has, for several generations already, expressed ambivilance, distrust, even disdain, for « mere craft ». But craft, the transformation of raw materials into a new human artifact, is the very act of artmaking. The artwork is the residue of our immortal spirit engaging with the very real yet perishable world our bodies are part of. And when we engage with the physical world to create something we imagine, the thing we end up making is never ever quite as we envisioned. I sought to present a diminutive man ensconced in a couch, a touch of white surrounded by the finery of his collection. After re-capturing the floating photograph, I got a large man with a dry, level gaze dominating me.

The pure sub-contracting artist I have alluded too (a little too vaguely – think of the English Damien Hirst as a type), is missing so much by not making his art himself. When he orders a sculpture to specifications and it comes back as he imagined (good craftspeople can do this for a client), he has missed being told by the materials what he cannot do with them and even worse he has not even got to hear of all the new possibilities the materials, tools and accidents will suggest he can do and which he never even imagined...

I printed the portrait again and that one stuck to the glass. Both versions were presented to the collector. I am told he e is very happy with these portraits. He will put one in a book he is about to publish. I do not know which.

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