John Robert Craft announces a new body of printed works titled Fire Etchings. These steel plate etchings are a continuation of his ongoing fascination with ferrous metal. Fire Etchingsis a body of work consisting of ten prints. It is a study of the degradation of material through heat and oxidation. The plates are developed by placing a cast iron sculpture on a steel plate and firing to 1800 degrees F. The sculpture acts as a resist, and the areas where the sculpture does not touch are subject to more heat erosion. The two areas (the protected and the unprotected) reside in juxtaposition to each other.
The tetraptych is an untitled color study that examines the breakdown of material through the use of color. The first print is representative of steel in a pristine state, the second reflects a small degree of rust, the third is heavily rusted, and the final is evocative of iron returned to its mineral state. The use of heat erosion to accelerate the degradation gives me one more tool to study the properties of steel. Previously, I have used the mass of my sculptures to carve matrices for woodprints. These non-traditional techniques allow me to explore ferrous compounds through a different lens and to push the boundaries of printing by pushing traditional processes.
If the process could work for one object/plate it could be utilized for several. The furnace used in this process is a car furnace that can be rolled in and out of the heat chamber. Working with the foundry I arranged to include a group of ten castings and plates placed in the furnace for a heat treat cycle along with some of the foundry’s castings. In doing this I was able to heat-treat my large casting and simultaneously etch the plates. The etching process works opposite from a “normal” resist and acid etch in that the object that is placed on the plate acts as a resist to the effects of the heat erosion that degrade the unprotected parts of the plate. The result of this process is that the areas where the object is in contact with the plate are in relief, which is higher, in relation to the rest of the plate, so that they make a printable pattern. On many of the smaller plates the object’s contact with the plate was so liminal that the result is scarcely legible and the primary printed mark is made by the plate’s eroded surface. The resulting images posses a certain tension between the relief mark and the random seeming marks made by the heat erosion.
The plate sizes are, ascending order of scale, 4- 4” x 4”, 2- 6” x 6”, 2- 9” x 9”, 1- 6” x 8’, 1-12” x 10”
The edition size is ten plus proof sets.
The paper is white 640 gsm Lanaquarelle hot press.
The inks chosen to print this series are all metallic. The large plates were printed in combinations of grey and aluminum ink. The two, nine-inch plates were printed in blue-black metallic and aluminum-graphite. The two, six-inch plates were printed in mixtures of yellow ocher and red oxide inks; with the two inks blended in inverse proportions to achieve balanced tonalities. The four, four-inch plates are aluminum and graphite combinations with various red oxide and yellow ocher relief rolls, with the exception of the last plate that is a blend of red oxide and yellow ocher.
John Robert Craft is a commercial cattle rancher and artist who lives in the Texas Panhandle on his family land.
Work: Craft works primarily in the mediums of cast iron and ink on paper utilizing a variety of non-traditional print techniques.
Integrity: The artist is deeply influenced by place; the landscape’s flora and fauna, the geology and weather of his home region, the work and business ethic of the people he has been surrounded by in his life on the ranch. He insists on casting work solid so that the work is, as it appears to be. This material integrity allows him to use his work in surprising ways and helps keep the objects humble and approachable, not precious and fragile.
Process: Craft has always been drawn to ferrous metal and uses it almost exclusively in his three dimensional works. He works with groups of artists at communal iron pours that are reminiscent of neighboring ranches going together to do spring and fall cattle work. Between the knowledge of casting he has gained at iron pours and an understanding of business from his ranch life, he has been able to work with some commercial iron foundries to produce works of a larger scale than can be made at communal iron pours. He uses the cast iron objects directly to make printed images. Ink has been applied to the objects and then the object to paper in order to explore the dimensions of each object. The objects have been dragged across plywood surfaces so that their mass carves the wood, creating a matrix for relief woodprints. He has placed the objects on steel plates and heated them to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit in order to heat treat the object and to simultaneously etch the plate with heat erosion. (The object acts as a resist so that the area of the plate that the object rests on is protected from the effects of the heat erosion.) The plates are then intaglio printed. The prints are made with communal work in cooperation with contract printers. The resulting images are surprising abstractions that are mindful of subatomic particles, night skies, or topographic maps.
Concept: The artist uses his work as a conceptual and literal tool to explore his areas of interest. In many cases he uses the work as a means to learn the things he never learned in school. The use of his sculpture as a mark-making tool moves the work in surprising directions. The marks lend themselves to a scientific train of thought and help develop a connection between the variety of mathematics used to determine volume and mass of the cast iron objects as well as the geological formations and ideas of molecular and crystalline structures that the forms bring to mind.
Material: Iron has been an obsession of the artist from a very early age when first given access to a blacksmith shop he learned the plasticity of hot steel. That strong interest translated to casting when he was exposed to the cast iron process. Iron is intrinsically linked to life on earth and the artist deeply feels that connection.