Night vi­sion

Print­maker Mary Te­ich­man at Ar­gos Stu­dio/Gallery

Pasatiempo - - CONTENT - Mary Te­ich­man

Alow shrub sits by a fence whose in­de­ter­mi­nate length dis­ap­pears into dark­ness. Its branches are just vis­i­ble be­side a road that is dully il­lu­mi­nated by a sin­gle street lamp. Yel­low light breaks from fac­tory win­dows, re­veal­ing few de­tails of the im­me­di­ate sur­round­ings. This street scene at night is de­picted in a color etch­ing by print­maker Mary Te­ich­man, who has fo­cused her prac­tice in re­cent years on night­time im­agery. Qual­i­ties of mys­tery and in­trigue are height­ened when the world is plunged into shadow. De­tails of ob­jects and sur­round­ings only slowly re­veal them­selves as the viewer en­ters a dark out­side from the safety and clar­ity of a well-lit room. It is this lim­i­nal state, when the viewer’s pupils widen to ac­cept as much avail­able light as pos­si­ble, that Te­ich­man cap­tures in her prints. “I am def­i­nitely a night per­son, and I work best at night,” she told Pasatiempo. “They’re all about light in one form or an­other. If it’s day­light, then the light is also the sub­ject.”

Ar­gos Stu­dio/Gallery and Santa Fe Etch­ing Club present a com­pre­hen­sive ex­hibit of Te­ich­man’s prints in ad­vance of a work­shop for ex­pe­ri­enced etch­ers. At that work­shop, Te­ich­man teaches her process, which in­volves us­ing mul­ti­ple plates to achieve sub­tle color gra­di­ents and con­trasts. “The tech­nique I use re­ally lends it­self to night scenes, be­cause you can get such beau­ti­ful blacks and darks. It’s all done with lay­er­ing. That’s one of the things I love about the tech­nique. Also, the light com­ing out of the dark­ness is an­other thing that I love and is pos­si­ble to ren­der us­ing this tech­nique.”

But the show, Mary Te­ich­man, Master In­taglio Print­maker, fea­tures more than just ur­ban night scenes. She does still lifes and land­scapes as well. The lat­ter is a genre she avoided for many years. “My par­ents were both land­scape painters,” she said. “I didn’t think I could do a land­scape while my par­ents were still alive, be­cause that was their ter­ri­tory.” Some years af­ter their deaths, she gave land­scapes a try. “The first land­scape I’ve ever done was maybe three years ago. My hus­band and I were on va­ca­tion on Cape Cod, and we hap­pened to be stay­ing at this place that Ed­ward Hop­per had painted. Walk­ing around the sand dunes around there, I re­ally felt like I was in­side a Hop­per paint­ing. I was in­spired by this. There’s a print called Ry­der House, Truro. That was my first land­scape.”

The print Ry­der House, Truro (Af­ter Hop­per) is in the ex­hi­bi­tion. It’s a day­time scene, and the fore­ground of the Cape’s tall marsh grasses is largely ob­scured by shadow, ren­der­ing the land­scape am­bigu­ous. Like many of her etch­ings, it’s a painterly com­po­si­tion, re­sem­bling a wa­ter­color. “I started out as a painter in col­lege and didn’t know I was go­ing to get so in­ter­ested in print­mak­ing,” she said. “All the pro­cesses I use are in­taglio pro­cesses. I use line etch­ing, soft ground, and a lot of aquatint. The aquatint gives them that wa­ter­color look. You grind up tree-sap rosin into a fine pow­der, sprin­kle it on the plate, and melt it so

that there are lit­tle blobs of rosin dust. When you im­merse it in acid, the acid etches in be­tween all the lit­tle blobs of melted rosin, which are very fine.”

Te­ich­man was born in New Jer­sey and moved to New York City to at­tend the Cooper Union for the Ad­vance­ment of Sci­ence and Art in the 1970s. She re­mained in the city for 17 years be­fore mov­ing to western Mas­sachusetts 25 years ago, where she set up her stu­dio in an old con­verted fac­tory build­ing. The fac­to­ries in her vicin­ity, es­pe­cially as they ap­pear at night, are what in­spire many of her images, far re­moved from the pro­cesses used to cre­ate them. “Most of what I’ve done since I moved to western Mass are th­ese fac­to­ries at night.”

In­taglio prints can in­volve draw­ing with an etch­ing nee­dle and then sub­merg­ing the plate into an acid bath that fixes the lines in the plate. The etched, re­cessed lines hold the ink be­fore the print is pulled. Us­ing mul­ti­ple plates to cre­ate a lay­ered im­age al­lows for a broad range of col­or­ing and de­tailed scenes. “It’s sort of like solv­ing a puz­zle,” she said. “The over­lap­ping and the in­ter­play of the dif­fer­ent plates have to fit to­gether. That puz­zle part of it has al­ways drawn me. There’s def­i­nitely the el­e­ment of sur­prise, which is the en­gag­ing thing about the tech­nique. I’ve been do­ing this for a re­ally long time, so I have a pretty good idea of what I’m go­ing to get, but it’s one thing to see some­thing in your mind, and it’s an en­tirely dif­fer­ent thing to re­ally see it.” Te­ich­man can be work­ing for weeks be­fore she gains a real sense of how a fin­ished print will look, un­like with paint­ing, which is po­ten­tially more im­me­di­ate.

Te­ich­man’s prints, in part be­cause of the tra­di­tional process, have an old-fash­ioned qual­ity, al­though the im­agery is of­ten con­tem­po­rary. One ex­cep­tion in the show is Ex Lib­ris, a still-life depict­ing blue glass bot­tles ar­ranged on a book­shelf hold­ing clas­sic ti­tles such as Lewis Car­roll’s Alice’s Ad­ven­tures in Won­der­land and Through the Look­ing-Glass. Thumb­tacked to the shelf is a page from an il­lu­mi­nated man­u­script. “I al­ways say I was born 300 years too late,” Te­ich­man said. “I love the old look. Tra­di­tional etch­ing is not be­ing taught — not even in art schools. Cer­tainly not as much as it used to be.”

Ar­gos is one of few or­ga­ni­za­tions de­voted to etch­ing and the only stu­dio/gallery of its kind in Santa Fe. Early print­mak­ing, be­cause edi­tions could num­ber in the hun­dreds, made high art avail­able to the masses. Now, more than five cen­turies on, etch­ings are less com­mon due to a grow­ing scarcity of prac­ti­tion­ers. “They’re be­com­ing more rare, th­ese old pro­cesses,” Te­ich­man said, “and that’s why I want to teach them: to keep them alive.”


Mary Te­ich­man: Ry­der House, Truro (Af­ter Hop­per), 2012; top right, Noc­turne, 2014; op­po­site page, Night Shift, 1998; all mul­ti­plate color etch­ings

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