What is being given attention and what is being neglected?
What belongs, and what is out-of-place?
What is in the front yard, and—more interestingly—what is out back?
Behind the subject matter lie my abiding interests in the formal qualities of texture, composition, and light.
Since late 2015 John Pearson has been working primarily in polymer photogravure, an intaglio printmaking process in which photo images are transferred to photosensitive plates.
In 2016 he was an artist in residence at the North Dakota Museum of Art’s McCanna House. Images captured during that time make up the series “Invisible Valley.”
“I’m drawn to subject matter in which the man-made world rubs against the natural environment.”
He has photos and prints in business and private collections around the Twin Cities, and his photography appears at the Minnesota History Center where it is incorporated into exhibits and hangs in public spaces. Pearson presently has prints available at Highpoint Center for Printmaking in Minneapolis.
Read John Pearson’s full bio at johnpearsonstudio.com
The Red River Valley of the North is a rich agricultural region that buffers the border between Minnesota and North Dakota. The landscape is so broad and flat, and the descent into the valley so gradual, that, upon arrival, a person has no sensation of being in a valley at all.
In June, 2016, Pearson spent two weeks photographing this region as a guest of the North Dakota Museum of Art’s McCanna House Artist-in-Residence Program. This was a homecoming of sorts; he had lived in Crookston, Minnesota for several years after he graduated from art school.
“Invisible Valley” presents a selection from the hundreds of photos he gathered as he explored the region’s towns, fields, and wild places both in the Valley and nearby.
The resulting photos reveal his persistent fascination with how people establish their place in the environment. What is being given attention and what is being neglected? What belongs, and what is out-of-place? What is in the front yard, and—more interestingly—what is out back? Behind the subject matter lie his abiding interests in the formal qualities of texture, composition, and light.
The residency coincided with his adoption of a new medium of expression: polymer photogravure printmaking. This approach allows Pearson to combine his interests in photography and printmaking. A polymer plate yields a softer, more tactile image than other contemporary photo printing processes. Building upon this intrinsic surface quality, in this series he’s applied traditional intaglio techniques to maximize the expressive potential of the medium. This includes using more than a single ink color on a plate, layering plates of different colors, and printing plates adjacent to one another to expand an image beyond the original digital capture.
Polymer Photogravure Printmaking Technique - John Pearson
Polymer photogravure—or polymergravure as it’s often called—is a contemporary version of traditional copperplate photogravure printmaking. Both approaches involve the transfer of a photographic image to an intaglio plate for printing on a press. Polymer photogravure materials were developed for commercial printing purposes and were later adapted for fine-art printmaking. The medium provides a rich, distinctive surface quality that is unmatched by other photography printing techniques. Below is a description of the steps involved.
2. Exposing the Plate
The film positive is sealed against a steel-backed, polymer-coated plate that is sensitive to ultraviolet light. A timed exposure of ultraviolet light transfers the image onto the plate by hardening the polymer where the light shines through the film. An additional exposure of an overall gray aquatint screen assures an even tone in dark areas. The exposed plate is then gently rinsed in plain water. Polymer that wasn’t exposed gets rinsed away leaving a surface of microscopic pits that will hold ink during the printing process; shallow pits print light tones; deeper pits print dark tones. An overall exposure to UV light finishes this step.
3. Printing the plate
The cured polymer plate is printed like a traditional intaglio copper etching plate. A skim of ink is applied over the whole surface. The ink is then wiped away with tarlatan, a piece of starched cheesecloth. The wiping action removes ink from the highlights of the image but leaves ink in the more pitted areas. The wiped plate is placed on the bed of the press and dampened art paper is laid over it. Under the high pressure of the press, the dampened paper is pushed against the plate to receive the inked image. The finished print is dried and flattened. Last, the print is titled, edition-numbered, and signed.
4. Adding Color: I use two methods to add color to the print.
- Multi-plate method: Two plates of the same size are made using the procedure described above. One plate, usually printed in black, carries the image detail. The second plate, created from the same original image, bears colored ink for select areas. The paper is run through the press twice, first to receive the colored ink, and then again to receive the black ink. Careful alignment of each plate on the press bed in turn is required for a clean image.
- Single-plate method: Various colors of ink are applied to different areas of the plate. The printmaker’s traditional term for this technique is “a la poupée.” The areas are carefully wiped to prevent too much mixing of adjacent colors. I often combine this method with the multi-plate technique.