Beneath the Surface: Subterranean and Secret Narratives in the Work of Russell Craig, Tim Mosely, and Glen Skien
Questions of surface and depth are a central concern for contemporary-art printmakers; a tension exists between the flat spaces and uniformity of the digital print and the perceived enriched surface qualities of traditional printmaking methods. As Ruth Pelzer-Montada argues, this is essentially the dichotomy of contemporary art that Terry Smith draws out— that of ‘viscerality’ and its emphasis on materiality on the one hand, and of ‘enervation’ and its mechanical or screen-like surface, on the other. In many instances, this duality of surface can equate to the differences between traditional and contemporary modes of production. For purists, digitally produced printed images lack the unique surface quality that are common to traditional printing modes, such as intaglio, etching and lithography. Even screen-printing, once derided for its commercial flatness, is seen to have a more substantial materiality than the digital surface.
In many ways, this discourse of surface and how it relates to the old and the new is superficial for it suggests that surface is only appearance. Yet, if one looks beneath the surface of printmaking as merely elided to its materiality and visual effect, what murky secrets might arise from the subterraneous complexity of the contemporary art print? The artists presented in Beneath the Surface engage with printmaking as an expanded field of practice, including sculpture, assemblage, installation, and the digital. Although their conceptual concerns and printing techniques use vastly different approaches, through their work, it is not only possible to consider discourses of materiality but also to reflect on more abstract concepts of depth—where the print’s surface is a complex process of history that unfolds through time and space.