August 24, 2022

Ross's Collagraphic Cities

         John Ross (USA, 1921-2017) was a prominent printmaker who used a variety of techniques but particularly did a lot of work in collagraph.  To get the full scoop on collagraphs, see these previous posts: Collagraph and Students’ Collagraphs.  The basic gist that a collagraph is printed from a block that is built up (collage-wise) rather than carved down, or etched or engraved down.  One thing that makes collagraphs interesting, though, is that they can be printed relief or intaglio.  This first one looks to be relief-printed, with all the tiny white lines of the stairs carved into the material, but the thin black lines of the scaffolding 
on the right built with thin lines of mat board or some such material.  You can see that those black lines have a sort of white halo immediately around them where ink can’t reach and/or the paper doesn’t get pressed, while farther away from the raised black lines there is a bit of ink.
        For comparison, the second piece is clearly printed intaglio.  All the little scratched-in lines making textures are printed in black, and you can see the look of wiped away ink on the large arches at the top that would be built up out of pieces of material.  Naturally I favor the relief printing, but it would be fun to experiment with both.
        I paired the next two pieces because if you look closely they have a number of repeated elements, which makes me curious about Ross’s process.  There’s a section that includes the tall 
tower with vertical lines on the left, across to the cathedral with arched doorways and a dome on top.  The block extends the entire height of the paper, although the piece above goes higher with the arches, and the one on the bottom goes slightly lower on the roof with the skylight.  This entire section appears to be reused in its entirety in both of these pieces and I can’t figure out which of these two was made first, because they both seem to be cut down instead of added to.  Then the top piece has more added to the right side, while the bottom piece has more added to the left.  So how did Ross construct them, in what order, and what was the creative process?  As another note of interest, the top is printed black on white, while the bottom is printed silvery-grey on black, giving them a different look and a different emphasis.  (I like them both a lot, but I definitely like the top one best!)
        The final piece is also printed relief, and also printed with light ink on dark paper.  In this one you can see some really interesting texture in the cliff on which the city stands.  That part of the collagraph block is built not with carefully cut board, with carefully cut details, but rather is crumpled paper.  It makes such a wonderful texture!
        In all of these pieces you can see that Ross really loved the idea of imaginary cities, which is a recurring theme for me, too.  He made an entire book in which he illustrated some of the “Invisible Cities”  of Italo Calvino.  I love the fantasy element in these cities, such as the proliferation of staircases, and the great arches as of entire cities being underground or enclosed.
        As for the medium of collagraph, Ross himself said, “One of the most useful printmaking techniques for my images is the collagraph, which I helped to develop.  The plates for this method are generally made of mat board with gesso adhering paper, fabrics, cardboard and found objects to the mat board base. Razor blades can cut lines and other shapes to place on the base.  From these ordinary materials, I can create city streets, mountains, canyons, pueblo dwellings, oil refineries, skyscrapers, and other constructions, either realistic or visionary.”

[Pictures: Isadora, collagraph by John Ross, 1993;

Atrium, collagraph by Ross, c. 1970’s;

Despina, collagraph by Ross, undated;

Cellar City, collagraph by Ross, c. 1980’s;

Silver Peak, collagraph by Ross, 1984 (All images and quotation from The Old Print Shop).]


Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

This looks like he had a big look in M.C. Escher's works before beginning. I like it, and collagraph sounds smart.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Hello, Charlotte. The first one is especially Escheresque, isn't it!