Behind The Scenes: Retna's Etchings for "Excavated Revelations"
Recently Retna visited a small print studio in Colorado called Copper Plate Press to work on a handful of several extremely limited editions of prints for the exhibition Excavated Revelations at Known Gallery. These etchings were produced utilizing an improved non-toxic approach to one of the oldest westernized print making techniques in history called galvanic etching. This is the first series of etchings that Retna has ever released, a completely new and unique take on his signature style.
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Traditionally, etchings are produced from a metal plate that is coated in an acid resistant ground. The printer, in this case the artist, scribes imagery or writes into the wax-like coating, exposing the metal plate beneath, with a sharp pointed tool called an etching needle. After the desired illustration has been attained the plate is dipped into a bath of nitric acid, the acid is repelled from the coated surface but eats into the exposed metal where the coating has been scratched away. This results in chemically carved lines in the surface of the metal plate. These lines ultimately render the imagery on paper after the plate has been cleaned of any excess waxy coating and has been prepared with ink which is subsequently wiped away leaving ink only in the acid etched lines.
In galvanic etching, the metal plate is prepared in the very same way except that it is then undergoes and electro chemically charged bath that pulls ions from the plate, resulting in the very same etched effect without the use of acid. The print is ultimately produced when the etched and inked plate and a sheet of paper are simultaneously rolled through a press that exudes pressure in excess of 2000 lbs. per square inch.
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Sarah Melendez who assisted Retna during the production of these editions, stated that a variety of techniques were applied involving washes and resists that have never been tried before. “The quality of line work and detail observed in these prints is completely unique to the medium. Retna found the resulting textures to be very representational of wall textures, a nice marriage between a very traditional form of printmaking and the art of vandalism.”
Retna ultimately prepared plates for ten print editions during his time spent at Copper Plate Press. Taking about an hour to render only a single one of these prints, the project is still currently in production in Colorado. One completed suite of prints is currently on exhibition at Known Gallery through February 25th.
Photo: Sarah Melendez