Friday, March 5, 2010

"Proof" artist essays-Tom Virgin

In conjunction with the Proof show (March 22-May 14), we have asked the participating artists to write about one of the other artists in the exhibition.

Here is the first essay on Tom Virgin written by Andrew Binder.

The current work (2009) of Tom Virgin is multifaceted, and I have had the privilege to see it grow and change over the years. I first encountered the prints of Tom Virgin before I met the man. I was taking a printmaking class held by Robert Watson in approximately 1990 at Florida Atlantic University. The class was printmaking I where Professor Watson had the students learn the art and discipline of Etching. During his initial introductory lecture he used examples of prints from the FAU print shop collection to introduce and underscore his points. It was a small class, and we were able to handle the prints directly, and study them in an intimate fashion. Among this collection were Tom Virgin’s prints from 1989: “Sisyphus Today” and “Nocturn.” They are both full plate etchings, printed full sheet on a 22 x 30 buff paper. While figurative in nature the forms of the pieces are flattened and abstracted, with almost no anatomical referents. Mostly texture, tone, and mark making dominate the compositions, which have a dark and brooding quality. “Nocturn” seems to project menace and fear of the dark, and “Sisyphus Today” the torment of the modern condition as exemplified by the referenced myth. What I got out of the pieces (and others shown that day) was that texture could be vastly more important in an artwork, and give a grand and gnarly quality to the art. I thought of etching as intensified drawing for this reason, and was amazed by the possibilities of aquatint, white ground, and soft ground processes of etching for texture and mark making. Eventually when I met Tom one of the first things that we did was exchange work. His work is still part of my personal collection, and it graces my walls to this day. At that point Tom had already graduated FAU and would often visit the Print Shop. We had been contemporaries at the school, but had concentrated on different spheres of work, and had never met until that time. Eventually I also received my MFA and followed Tom to the University of Miami where he had just gotten his degree. During those years, Tom branched out into the print process of Wood Cut and spent much of his time refining his drawing technique, with a distinct focus on the human figure. From that time on the Wood Cut and figurative study has become an important part of Tom’s artistic lexicon.

In an interesting aside a Tom Virgin woodcut can almost always be identified by the distinct use of his line work. Usually artists for the last 500 years or so (that are drawing realistically) use the cross contour method of cross-hatching when they are describing a volume with line. The most often angle of the dominate set of lines to fill a volume is at a 45 degree angle, and minimally shift the direction of the lines for changes in the slope of the depicted planes. This is a very comfortable angle to draw, and an easy way to get the viewer’s eyes to flow over surfaces from bottom to top. Tom’s mark making often uses a vertical slope in opposition to this and it adds a distinctive element of design to the cutting of the wood blocks, giving his work an uneasiness (related in style to the work of the German Expressionists) that many viewers do pick up, but can’t easily quantify.

During the late 1990’s Tom continued his exploration of drawing, and woodcut printmaking, often making a series of images, and showing them as a sequence. During many a conversation, I had urged Tom to collect the works into portfolios and make artists books which have long been my focus, but perhaps because of their scale, Tom did not pick up on the advice. That is until he started learning digital photography and he was able to resize the prints and start making explicit connections between and sequences with the work, combining text, printmaking methods, and graphic design to establish and make narrative environments in the book form. The book that started this facet of his work is Escape I. All other works from that time have been informed by this work, as they have grown in complexity and technique, but still retained the connectivity and depth of the work. Since that time Tom has started to include photography in his work, and in addition to making artists books he is also making whole environments of art. These include both public art (in the landscape) and instillations on a more intimate level (shown in gallery spaces) mixing photography, text, drawing, printmaking, sculpture, and architectural elements in a manner recalling the concept of Bricolage in Postmodern art.

The subjects of Tom’s current work have started to focus on human interactions and their effect on the landscape. Although these ideas are always sifted through the lens and context of Tom’s experience, and jump from the micro to the macro. This set of comments usually involve Tom’s relationships with people, and with what surrounds him, as when the City of Miami started to tear down buildings in his neighborhood, which Tom documented in a photo series, or about trips to Key West that Tom referenced in his Escape series.

In addition to teaching art, which forced Tom to use his verbal fluency to explain the art making process to his students, applying for projects or residencies, and applying for grants has added an new depth to Tom’s work, and helped him focus the ideas. In fact he is the only artist that I know that considers these “project” descriptions as part of their art making process. In effect the work has become intensified because he can also use the written word to make connections in both his instillations and add the narration to his artists books. Often Tom uses a self deprecatory style of narration that both titillates and puts the purveyor of his work at ease, while at the same time transporting them into the new environment that are constructed by the imagery and sequence of the ideas and environment.

After the first artists book that Tom created, he started participating in artist residencies and he has used them as a workshop to both refine his craft, and inform & change his imagery, by telling the story of his interaction in a evolving set of landscapes. In effect he has been using the new scenery to boost creativity. This use of travel to shift his focus, has made Tom’s work grander in scale, and given it more of a national scope; while at the same time it has lost none of its very personal quality.

Andrew Binder
October 31, 2009

Thursday, March 4, 2010

coming March 22

Kari Snyder Bufomarinus Tom Virgin Vulture

Proof: South Florida Printmakers
March 22- May 14, 2010

This group show of various printing techniques features
Diane Arrieta
Andrew Binder
John Cutrone
Kathleen Hudspeth
Brian Reedy
Kari Snyder
Jonathan Thomas
Seth Thompson
Tom Virgin

More information coming soon. Exhibit is free and open to the public.
For hours click here