I have a couple of gum bichromate prints nearly finished (I’m hoping to print the final layer today). I’m pretty sure they won’t turn out well, which has been the case with all the gum prints I’m attempting this summer. I have a few more images I’m working on, but they are still in the digital stage, and haven’t even been printed as negatives yet.
With work progressing slowly, it seems like a good time for the second installment of From the Archives, wherein I post an old piece of work and write some comments about how it was made and what I was thinking about (you can read the first installment here.
Altarpiece was made in the fall of 1996. It’s the first piece I made while in graduate school at Cranbrook Academy of Art (technically, it’s a revision of that piece. When first made, it was prints only, I didn't have the bowling ball and pins yet). While it looks like a first graduate school piece (it’s a little overambitious, and could have been thought through a little better), I still really like the piece. It’s one of the few times I’ve ventured into installation-type work, which I appreciate, but don’t feel very compelled to produce. It’s also funny, and the humor in the piece seems natural and isn’t forced.
Here’s a short statement I wrote after completing the piece:
Altarpiece unites the iconography of two very different American cultural institutions, religion and sports. Bowling is the quintessential American sport, being a pastime for the masses and recreation for the non-fit and non-elite. The imposition of bowling imagery onto the basic triptych form of an altarpiece comments on the fervor and passion felt for sports in general and also on the elevation of sports in our culture to an almost religious station.
Altarpiece is a mixed-media work, combining hand-colored black and white photographs with gold leaf, a wooden pedestal, bowling ball, and bowling pins. The negatives used to print the photographs were created digitally from various appropriated and original source images.
The digital negatives made for Altarpiece aren’t like the ones I make now for alternative process photography. Back in 1996, inkjet printers did not lay down enough ink to make a useable negative. For this project, I had to take my digital files to a commercial printer and have 4X5 transparencies made (at about $15 each). I used those transparencies to print real photographs. The images came from a book on bowling instruction, and a history of altarpieces checked out of Cranbrook’s library. The photo of the bowling trophy I took myself (see below).
I’ll finish with a couple anecdotal stories about gathering the bowling paraphernalia.
I needed a bowling trophy to photograph for the center panel, and couldn't find one anywhere. At the time, my sister was living across the street from a thrift store in Chicago, and went there to look for one. She misunderstood what I needed, and ended up buying about 15 bowling trophies that happened to be in the store. I used them to decorate my studio at school, and all year long, people thought I was a bowling fanatic. I kept the one I used for the center panel (It’s still in my studio, on top of a bookcase), but I don’t know what happened to the rest of them. They’re probably still decorating student studios at Cranbrook.
I also had trouble finding a bowling ball (I didn’t want to spend money on a new one), but a friend at school said she would bring one back when she went home for the holidays. Turns out, home was Fresno, CA, and the purple bowling ball (in a tacky baby-blue case) was her carryon luggage for the flight back to Michigan. I wonder if you could carry a bowling ball onto a plane today with all the ridiculous new ‘security’ measures?
Altarpiece won a juror award at an exhibit titled Myth America at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, MI in 1997. I also exhibited it at the annual faculty art exhibit at Moraine Valley Community College in 2006 (the show’s theme was showing older work alongside current work), where it received many interesting comments.