Richard Noyce is a critic, author, and former Jury President of the International Printmaking Triennial—Krakow. He is the author of several books on contemporary art, including a series that deal specifically with contemporary printmaking styles and techniques. This excerpt is taken from "Printmaking at the Edge—(ch. 12, Extreme Techniques)"
“ Born in Vancouver, where he still lives and where he studied painting and printmaking at The Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Jim Gislason is both an artist and a poet, and has exhibited his work in Montreal and Vancouver. His endeavours in the twin fields of art and literature seem to him separate but complementary. In each, while the grammars are complementary, the task is the same: to illuminate the chosen subject through form. Of his paintings he writes:
“ These works are painted in ‘flag’ format and displayed not so much as contemporary art work, but more as relics (figuratively ‘flags’) to represent a given state at a given time. As we move through time these states necessarily change, and their flags become obsolete, relics. It may be that this consciousness of moving through time gives rise to a more metaphoric or poetic mode of thought, pushing the images towards religious tone and content. Ultimately, we draw pictures of ourselves.”
Gislason’s technique is a hybrid of silk-screen preparation and painting finish. The ‘flags’ are begun by using conventional silk-screen techniques employing photo-emulsion, with a selection of images to be used as blocks - a face, figure, hands, pattern, text, etc. The screens are then exposed the normal way to create the final composition. At this point the exposed image could be printed in the traditional way onto a secondary surface, creating an edition. Instead, the artist applies oil paint in selected colours to the back of the screen and uses a squeegee to extrude the paint to the front, leaving a high relief image that is allowed to dry. In some works he finishes the image using painterly techniques to manipulate the wet paint, adding further colour if desirable. It is not surprising, given Gislason’s twin interests in the literary and visual arts, that many of the finished works incorporate text, usually in the form of one of his poems. By so doing he seeks to increase the potency of each medium by imbuing each with elements of the other. In this way the words are ‘made of’ paint and the painted image is ‘made of’ words.
This increases the density of each piece, combining the elements but diluting neither - rather they strengthen each other so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The poems are often exhibited beside the print-paintings, enabling a more intimate access to the artist’s intentions and thoughts. There is a close parallel in this unusual technique with the various ways that jazz has been combined with other mediums: for example, the fusion of Indian music with jazz in the Joe Hariott/John Mayer Double Quintet, the innovative work of Jacques Loussier that used Bach’s music as the basis for jazz improvisations, and the many examples of poetry and jazz being combined. In each case the resulting synergy of seemingly disparate forms served to underline the universal quality of music as a language transcending time and culture, and in the case of poetry and jazz the ability of one form to riff with the other, blending musical improvisation and lyrical inspiration.
The manner in which Gislason approaches his work - whether in word or image - in some ways resembles jazz and his interest in music is clearly evident. Equally, his work displays a strong interest in literature and myth. In Icarus (2003) the doomed antihero of the Cretan myth is reduced to a cipher of lines symbolising a feather, with a photographed face that resembles the artist. The background is filled with extruded text; the sun is a circle of golden text. In the accompanying poem there are the lines, ‘ There is a wind for every Icarus/ and an Icarus for every wind’. In Rising Sun Blues (2003) a grand piano stands on a stage draped with mesh curtains and a backdrop covered with a music score. The accompanying poem, ‘I Cover the Waterfront’, which appears at the foot of one of the curtains, refers to a night in a bar. It contains the lines, ‘We turned the coasters into eye patches though/ that was pretty funny/ ‘cept the waitress hated us’. Gislason’s poetic and visual imagination reveals aspects of a world half-seen, half-heard against the music.”
Richard Noyce, Printmaking at the Edge
Printmaking at the Edge, published by A & C Black, London, England.