Disegno e Colore

Project by Ellen Carey

Ellen Carey, Dings & Shadows (Triptych) 2015 ––

Ellen Carey, Dings & Shadows (Triptych)

The proposal covers an important 16th century dispute and argument among artists, including Titian and Michelangelo, between a “disegno e colore” — a drawing and a color — spontaneity contrasted with careful planning. The subjects of my project's title, Disegno e Colore, revisit and continue this discourse in photography. They complement my conceptual and contextual foundation in characteristics and processes, specific to the medium, as they relate to drawing vis-à-vis the cliché-verre method and to color, by way of the cyanotype process. These two vintage, cameraless techniques visually underscore rich, historical aspects of Disegno e Colore.

Cliché-verre, or drawing on glass, was an early image-making method in which the glass negative was contact printed to light sensitive paper and exposed to the sun to create an image. This would be my first step, the “modus operandi” and “disegno” of my project. With this method, which pre-dates albumen prints from glass negatives, I will use glass, plus clear acetate/vellum sheets. My tools (pens/brushes) will vary (size/scale) as will their mark-making applications (line/pattern) to form compositions in black, its “prima facie”. These direct impressions of the circle (lens) and the square (camera), two ubiquitous codes in art, will be my project’s conceptual and visual centerpiece, seen by me and recorded, as minimal/abstract picture "signs”. As universal structures they contain other shapes and forms, such as the spiral (stairway) or rectangle (window) seen in nature and architecture, also documented and drawn on glass — making/taking a different kind of negative/photograph to create a portfolio.

Color, the second component, will introduce the cyanotype, a method used since the dawn of photography. Sir John Herschel (1792-1871) invented the process using iron salts to make an image of Prussian blue and white. Anna Atkins (1799-1871), the Victorian practitioner used cyanotype for outstanding botanical studies. Echoing her practice, I would use specimens found in nature. This inclusion of organic, natural forms would be a first for me in my work. Both Atkins and Herschel were contemporaries of the British inventor of photography, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) who discovered the photogram method. Talbot’s “sun pictures” or “photogenic drawings”, later titled “photograms” used the negative/shadow image, a ghostly outline of an object’s shape (1834), that was later contact printed for a positive (1840). Atkins partnered his photogram method with the cyanotype process, exchanging his earthy tones for her palette of blue, representing the earliest investigations into color photography, now barely over a century old.

Color is a significant area of interest for me and has broad, universal appeal, as does the medium of photography. In my work, often placed within the context of such practices — Abstract Expressionism, Minimal and Conceptual Art — I focus on photography’s indexical elements — how pure color and light create form. From my ongoing experiments, digging deeper into color’s mother lode, an enriched palette has been created, expanding the medium’s short history in color. Using the cyanotype process I will hand-coat the formula onto fine art paper, contact print my cliché-verre/drawing/negative/object and expose it to the sun. The process will finish in a water bath, during which an image quickly appears and the print allowed to dry. The sun will make for an open-air (dark) room, the "colore" of my title's project, resulting in cliché-verre prints/cyanotype photograms of varying sizes and compositions, or even in sections for a monumental, gridded tableau in line and shape, pattern and shadow, circle and square, triangle and spiral, as seen in my pictures and homage to Disegno e Colore.

Prints in various sizes constructed in sections/parts/whole as collage/series/triptych or in any possible, formal combinations would echo nature and the architecture in the South of France, and furnish a reference, an image bank, mapping system, and template. This proposal would allow a return to my initial investigations into early vintage methods of art making while exploring abstraction and minimalism using cliché-verre, cyanotype and photogram methods, and combinations thereof. This parallels my photogram work (1992-2015) in black/white and color, categorically entitled Struck by Light. Unique images of varying size/scale would be explored, creating monumental cyanotype prints or sections for a grid-like installation, thus expanding my color repertoire and concepts about “drawing with light”, a historical phrase associated with photography. In effect, these cliché-verres are my “negatives” — drawings I made that could be used in numerous creative ways applying other non-silver processes such as platinum/palladium and gum bichromate or in contemporary black and white or color prints at a later date.

To create a new body of abstract/minimal work, “blowing up”, a photographic term, my form/object and color/no color to make bigger, bolder prints in shades of blue, will offer me new experiences in visual thinking.