History is Left Beneath, Not Behind

Woodcut and linocut on repurposed fabrics, appliqué and reverse appliqué stitching.
Approximately 12'x7'

History is Left Beneath, Not Behind was created for the 2017 Frogman’s Faculty Exhibition at University of Nebraska Omaha’s Main Gallery. I have a long history with Frogman’s as a participant and assistant so it was a tremendous honor to be able to come back to the workshops as an instructor. I had been promoting the relief printing on fabric theme for our class for the last couple years through using those techniques in my contribution to Frogman’s exchange portfolios, but I wanted to be sure that my contribution to the faculty exhibition upped the ante for our students. This piece was constructed to fit the gallery specifications provided to me by department faculty. Little did I know that the roughly twelve foot ceilings included a significant vault! As a result my quilted figure, straining to expose the history locked within the strata of earth, wraps around the vault, deepening the visual space in an unexpected fashion.

After the Frogman’s exhibition I replaced the self-portrait woodcut with a new woodcut portrait of our toddler, Levee. By making this change the work becomes more about the outsized impact even the smallest humans have on the environment. He is doing what children do, digging in the earth without any thought for the damage he is inflicting. Alas, most adults are equally thoughtless, but much more destructive. The Levee addition also speaks to the realization of his connection to the past and the future of the planet.

The piece is composed entirely of components from previous woodcuts printed on repurposed fabric. The gray backdrop for example are proofs from Reach, a huge project from my thesis show nearly a decade ago. In this way the finished work highlights history, both the natural history of Earth and my own development as an artist. It is also evidence of my commitment to repurposing materials, using every proof, every scrap, every cast aside block that may be useful in the future.

The accompanying images provide context to the process of creating the work. As always, that context often highlights the tight quarters and domestic bliss of our home studio.

Mocking up a potential composition/solution using pieced components.

After the first day of sewing. The hub of the fossil deposit is composed of “ghost” remnants, where the same fabric was used to strip the residual ink of a number of blocks. The result is a dense image that records the act of printing. Documenting and paying tribute to the process, literally highlighting the history, is one of my favorite things printmaking as a medium can contribute to an artwork. To give you a sense of scale, the gray backdrop is eight feet tall.

The figure block is finished and ready for eyelets to secure it to the rest of the composition.

Our lofted second floor is both bedroom and sewing room/studio. It’s also storage for much of our framed work and previous projects. As a result there isn’t enough open floor to lay out an 8′ composition for ironing and piecing. Our queen sized mattress was the closest thing available to a large flat workspace. We also only have two conventional sewing machines, which made it difficult to work on a piece this large. I see a long arm machine in our future for sure!

After three days the bulk of the larger fossil deposit is composed and complete. The next step is adding the surface earth and grass, as well as the soil that will attach to the figure block.

A close-up highlighting how the figure block attaches to the primary composition. The result makes it look as if the figure is rending the earth and physically pulling the fossil record from the strata beneath.

The finished piece on our living room floor. There are advantages to working in a split level home. The potty and toys show just how closely we work with our toddler!