Ann Aspinwall

About Artist: For the past twelve years I have been making images of urban surface textures and patterns, particularly sidewalks and other pavements. This interest began while I was living in Venice from 1998 to 2000. Venice, rich in textural details and exquisite colors, overwhelmed me at first, and I could not fathom how to depict my impressions of it. My solution was to examine the city inch by inch, a practice I have continued ever since. When I returned to my native New York for a visit in early 2000, and subsequently to live here again after an absence of ten years, I saw and experienced this city from a new perspective. I was enchanted by the textures, patterns, and colors of the surfaces underfoot, which were familiar yet which I had never examined carefully before. I began to seek out expanses of interesting pavements from a variety of vantage points. I continue to do this wherever I am, especially in Germany and Italy, where cobblestones are more prevalent and where my pace slows down and I am able to spend more time walking and looking. I have amassed an extensive collection of photographs of cobblestone compositions. The vastness of limitless space is an exhilarating sensation. When I stand alone under an unobstructed night sky or before an expansive seascape, I am permeated by a deep feeling of both reverence and quietude. In an urban environment, this experience is harder to achieve. Large stretches of pavements are a haven for my senses. I am captivated by the individuality of each component and the rhythmic cohesion of the surface as a whole. There is an elegance in the imperfections of the terrain. In my works, the absence of a horizon or a hierarchy of elements induces the viewer to explore sensuous details at length and to perceive a tangible sense of space, which seemingly extends beyond the borders. I work often in collagraph, a printmaking technique that I first learned in Venice and which I have been experimenting with and refining ever since. Collagraph is a process whereby materials are adhered or applied to the surface of the printing plate to render tones and textures when the plate is printed. I have often used bookbinding cardboard for the plates, but in the last few years I have started to use steel plates because this thinner and heavier material is easier to handle when printing and I can combine collagraph and etching on the same plate. I paint directly onto the plate with materials such as a variety of acrylic mediums, modeling paste, and plaster. When the surface structure on the plate is dry and stable, I print it just as I would an etching plate. The smoother the material on the surface of the plate, the less ink the area will hold and therefore the lighter it will print. Conversely, the coarser or more porous the area, the more ink it will hold and the darker it will print. Because so much pressure is exerted on the plate when it goes through the etching press, textures that look very subtle on the plate will often be considerably more evident in the print. When the plate is well made and the surface structure is stable, it will hold up for many consistent printings. At the start of a project, I usually refer to a photograph for the layout of the pavement pattern and draw the outlines of the cobblestones onto the plate. At that point I put the photograph aside. The textures of the individual stones come from my own imagination. The most engrossing part of a project is the process of rendering each stone as a unique component of a harmonious field. For every print I think about a new approach to seeing and experiencing the terrain: a higher vantage point, a longer depth of field, a different pattern, a different scale, horizontal or vertical format, very textured granite stones or very smooth and worn porphyry. I also think about new ways of creating the image, such as limiting myself to only two kinds of acrylic mediums; combining collagraph with etching; limiting myself to only one plate; using multiple plates; introducing hand coloring; and constantly exploring an infinite range of warm and cool grays. Ann Aspinwall, 2011

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