by Aaron Shipps
There is a place in Canyonlands Utah, called the Maze, where standing on top of the rim rock, one looks down into the depths of hundreds of canyons colliding and confluencing into each other. The vastness of the horizon combined with the chaotic, yet fluid geometry of so much stone, and space, form, and color all spilled out as onto a fantasy world buffet so rich and intricate that it would take years to pull one detail apart from the other.In the same manner, Asad Faulwell’s paintings pull the viewer in, both with the initial impact of mind boggling geometry, design, color, and form, then slowly lay themselves down, inviting one in to the many worlds that reveal themselves within every corner of the work. And as with experiencing the Maze, in pouring oneself into Asad’s work, one is left with a sense of awe at the patience of forces along with the vastness of time that is required in its creation.
Such were my thoughts years ago, standing in front of my first Asad Faulwell painting from his “Les Femmes De Algeirs” series. And it was hard to imagine how one could ever do justice to such a working style in the print medium, without maxing the tools and materials available to the printer. All the same, I could not help but wishing that I had a line of contact to put me in touch with Asad…….
A year and a half later, that line came through. The memory of his paintings still fresh in my mind, I was quick in getting to the computer to draft out an invitation for Asad to come work at Bedrock, and dive into a collaboration. And was equal parts thrilled and horrified when he accepted. Without doubt, there could be no holding back on my part, and frankly I had to take a quick self assessment, taking myself to task if maybe I had bitten off too big a bite to chew.
As with every project, I open things up with a bevy of phone calls, first familiarizing Asad with the medium (as this was his first print), and then starting to talk about what kind of image he would like to pursue. Those ideas in his mind, I asked Asad to start with some sketching, to get a sense of subject matter and composition, and with those in hand, begin to narrow in on where we would be starting. The sketches went back and forth in the mail, and eventually culminated into the basic concept for “Djamila.”
In my mind, initially I thought that Asad would draw out all his plates, but that the meticulous collaging of the tiny cut-out faces would be pre-printed digitally onto the printing paper, with the hand printing comprising most of the impression. I think its fair to say that we both felt that this would be an economical use of our time, but in our guts, neither of us were all that thrilled about what could possibly end up looking like a cheap knock off. Which in the end, is the LAST thing anyone would want. Still, we did go through with having the collage elements printed out digitally, so that we could see what the impact, or lack thereof, would be. And it was lack. Flat. Boring. An imposter. A no go.
Over the following weekend the idea percolated in my head to mount the finished lithograph on a 1/2″ thick substrate like an acid free foam core, allowing Asad to apply the collage and painted map tacks by hand, thus marrying an already natural technique inherent in his work, to this new medium (for him). Happily, he liked the idea and we agreed that we would start the first proof with that end in mind.
The day arrived for Asad to fly in from Los Angeles and I headed out in the evening to pick him up at the airport, then get him situated in his place. The talk was largely about the project, and the morning to come, and how we might start………
Coffee made, and settled into the studio, we began by looking through impressions of other prints done at Bedrock so that Asad could understand the visual array of possibilities open to him in the medium of lithography, and hopefully, narrow down those tools and techniques best suited to his working styles. We went through questions and observations, and got more clear on what drawing tools he would like to use…….. after that, I introduced Asad to his working space in the studio, and let him spend a while using the variety of drawing tools available to him, followed by an explanation of how to separate colors out onto individual plates, thus building a composition layer after layer. At best, its a lot to absorb.
As is evident in the finished print, Asad was both a quick study in the tools and techniques, as well as game to dive in, start working, and see what found him. And so, Asad opened up the project with drawing up the face for “Djamila”, layer by layer painting in her features and shading with lithographic pencils. Towards the evening, he’d finished the primary elements of her face, and yet, we both felt as though it read a bit flat, so ideas were thrown onto the table about some more textural element which would harmonize her composition, eventually landing on a desire to try using spray paint spattering.
Fixing the drawn Mylars to a board, we grabbed a can of spray paint and headed outside to the alleyway behind the building, choosing a spot under a street light as the sun had gone down…….. after some sample tries on the pavement, Asad dove in, feeling his way into a drawing tool he’d never used before, and one which was hard to harness with the periodically gusting wind. None the less, he got it done, and we closed out the first day feeling like things had gotten off to a good start.
The second day began with a conversation about how he could best pull together his dizzying backgrounds, thus beginning what would turn into seven more days of drawing and making plates, mixing inks, and preparing everything we would need to begin the proofing process. All the same, Asad worked in his deliberately quite fashion, seemingly unflappable……. And towards the end of seven days of consistent work, Asad had cumulatively made 21 plates to complete the composition.
Now, with the monstrous task of drawing so many plates behind him, it felt apparent to us both that we had two and a half days to complete his proof before a group came over for an early reception while Asad was still in town. Heads down, my assistant and I proofed late into the day, printing one color, after the other onto two proofing sheets of paper, each new plate requiring a different feel and technique. And true to all first proofs, once “Djamila’s” face was finished and we moved onto printing the layers of her hair, the drawing style was not working with the other elements, requiring us to work late into the night, Asad drawing new plates, and me processing them, and mixing the new colors. None the less, now completely plugged into the ticking of the clock as well as the coffee machine, my assistant Mel and I dug into the printing to come. What became evident, was that Asad’s new approach of stippling her hair in metallic inks was an arresting and effective approach, thus tying the face to the background, and pulling together the all the elements of the composition.
The morning of Asad’s reception, we were faced with the task of mounting the two finished proofs onto squares of 24″ x 24″ foam core, only to discover that the unfortunate nature of foam core’s softness translates into easy dent ability. Obviously we’d need to find something else for the finished edition. In the mean time, in order to pull the print and the foam core together, we flipped the mounted print over, and troweled silver printing ink mixed with an absurd amount of drier onto the edges, hoping that by the time Asad had finished the collage and application of map tacks, the ink would be dry, and we could cut the boarders off of the paper, leaving the finished print.
Diving in, Asad took care of the collage and map tacks on the two impressions, a task which took a nearly all of the rest of the day. And before we knew it, our time was almost up, and the collectors would soon be arriving, yet still, we were only now attempting to cut off the paper boarders from the still very wet silver ink, and to get them up on the proofing wall, to be viewed. As the last impression went up on the wall, hands covered in silver, the doorbell rang out and our first couple had arrived! So no shaking hands just yet::::
As is true for all lithographs, an image is evolved over time, going through rounds of proofing, thus replacing plates, drawing new ones, etc. until finally the proofs are evolved to its final state as the approval to print the edition. Unusually, “Djamila” was a near perfect impression the first proof in, involving mostly the tightening of little details, each yet, requiring a new round of proofing to insure everything is working together. A month and two proofs later, Asad declared the print to be finished, and ok’ed me to get ready to print the edition.
Importantly, at this point, we decided that the small edition of 14 would have a different application of the collage and map tacks on each impression, thus making this a variable edition, no two the same; a detail we both were looking forward to seeing.
Heading into printing the edition, I knew at best I was looking at three weeks of printing, more if any issues arrived, which often they do. And given the intensity of the layering involved, I had drawn out a map of sorts, for how each color ink would need to be modified….. some needed to dry fast, while others I wanted to keep from drying, and others yet needed a heavy body allowing themselves to settle well on top of so many other layers of ink. Needless to say, I found a whole new level of comfort using drier, a modifying agent I don’t often employ……
Later in the edition, after printing the blacks, each impression needed to be run through the press with a newsprint paper on top, thus stripping off a mass of the ink that had just been printed, giving the right quality of a thin, smokey black. On the opposite side, each metallic in the last three plates of the edition needed to be printed once, then modifying the ink in a unique way, re-printed again, thus giving the metallics a high degree of luster.
In these and many other ways, its always my aim to continually tighten up each layer of ink that goes down so that the finished edition is as good as it can possibly be. In this way, one works themselves through the days of printing as if that plate only was the most important one in the entire stack.
At long last, after finishing the last impression, usually my assistant and I pour a glass of whiskey and toast the hard work having come to and end. Ah, but not yet. Not this time. The impressions still needed to be mounted and readied for Asad to arrive to apply the hand elements.
The week that follwed filled quickly with an ocean of podcasts. Each piece of substrate (that the prints would be adhered to) required a full masking of the boarders, and then all four edges painted with silver acrylic paint, twice. Slow work. Following that, came the setting up of the spray booth for the chine colle’ process, spraying the back of each impression with an archival adhesive, and carefully mounting each print onto its own piece of substrate. Lastly, a single day of cutting the loose paper boarders of each print from its substrate, concluded the printing of the impression itself. And. At last, the edition was ready again for Asad.
His first day back in the studio, Asad started out the day pouring out boxes and boxes of map tacks of different sizes, along with thousands of the small cut out faces he took care of while in his studio, listening to basketball. And, happily, he included some delicate gold pins which he would be trying out for the very first time.
The hand assembly, however, was not without its cost to Asad. The substrate we used to mount the prints on is somewhat hard, and pushing the map tacks into it, let alone at least a thousand or so, quickly became painful to the fingers. So by the end of the day, Asad had discovered the use of the end of a pencil, the rubber eraser griping the tack, the pencil pushing it in::::: nice. And typically, Asad dove in, and in the seven days of his stay back at Bedrock, he collaged down the tiny little faces, one by one, followed by placing the map tacks, and then gold pins, all after which, he retraced his steps, individually painting the heads of each map tack and each face in the collaged elements::::: slow, deliberate, and worth every last detail.
In the end, what found us was a lithograph that has every bit the detail and intensity of his paintings, and yet is certainly a print. Just as the women in Asad’s paintings exist in an historically liminal area, so does “Djamila” appear to land somewhere between a print and a painting and is hard to define, as such. And from my perspective, most importantly, the work holds a similar visceral response which compares greatly to standing up on the rim of the Maze, looking out at miles of staggering complexity::: the eye gets taken along for many journeys into the details where curiosity takes charge.
“Djamila” depicts Djamila Bouhired, one of the female combatants who took part in The Battle of Algiers. Djamila, like her comrades carried out attacks against the colonial French population in Algiers. Later, she was captured by the French military and put on trial in Paris before being convicted and eventually pardoned and returned to Algeria. Upon her return she and many of the other female combatants found reintegration into Algerian society to be difficult. Eventually, Djamila moved to France, marrying the attorney who had represented her at trial. Today she is a women’s rights advocate, fighting for greater equality for women in Algeria.
Inspired by Gillo Pontecorvo’s film “The Battle of Algiers” this piece attempt to show how these women were both aggressors and victims, victimized both by their French adversaries and ostercised by Algerian society. The background references patterning that might be found in religious artwork or in that commissioned by a monarch. This is intended to raise these women out of anonymity and into the spotlight, placing an aura of importance around them. In addition this work references the long history of artists making work depicting Algerian women, such as Delacroix and Picasso. While the anonymous women in the Delacroix and Picasso’s works were shown as sexual objects, the woman in this print defies simple classification. She is both aggressor and victim, existing in a moral grey zone much like the grey tones in which she is shown.
The image was rendered using traditional lithographic techniques taken to an extreme fruition, afterwards finished with hand applied embellishments.