PROFILE: JOHN SALVI, born in 1946, New Jersey.
For this profile, Sylvie Covey, the author of: Photoshop For Artists, and Modern Printmaking; sent questions to artist, John Salvi, who answered in writing.
SC: What led you to printmaking?
JS: Printmaking began for me at The Art Students League of New York in 2003 at the suggestion of my League, painting instructor, Frank O’Cain. While Frank’s student I created large abstract paintings that I completed while attending The League full time. This was on the heels of having completed a year of daily, figure drawing and anatomy studies with League instructor, Michael Burban. I ventured into printmaking with encouragement from both of these wonderful, League, artist-instructors.
My original intention was to approach the printmaking studio as an experimental laboratory; a place where I might attempt to merge my newly won skills with paint and pencil into prints. I enrolled in, Michael Pellettieri’s printmaking class at, The League; where I had the good fortune of his patient instruction. As I learned the various etching processes, I discovered my desire to incorporate my digital photographs into my work and wanted to learn to make photo-etchings. At Michael’s suggestion I joined, Sylvie Covey’s, Saturday printmaking class at The League. It was at this juncture in my development as a printmaker that I was graced with Sylvie Covey’s generous teaching and sharing of her marvelous knowledge about art and printmaking,
’. . .when the student is ready the teacher will appear.’
She was then, and is now, an inspiration to me. Her encouragement and vision have helped me immeasurably in my art career.
Simultaneously, I had begun to experiment with printing transfers using a citrus solvent and Xerox images, while making progress in developing my printmaking skills. Finally, Sylvie Covey’s encouragement led me: to photo-etching on plexiglass, rather than on copper plate, layering transfers over sugar-lift etchings, and eventually to digital photo-polymer lithography. I made a quantum leap with the computer skills that Sylvie Covey taught me; and I began to do color separations and multi-colored lithographs. I had the additional expertise of The Art Students League Technical Instructor and Master Printer, Tomomi Ono, to catalyze my newly acquired skills and teach me appreciation for the methodology, beauty and rhythm of the lithography process. Sylvie Covey and Tomomi Ono were both so generous in sharing their knowledge and skills with me that I shall forever be in their debt.
SC: What is the source of your inspiration?
JS: Having been born near the sea, it is no mystery that my lifelong love for all things associated with the ocean persists. I have been beckoned back to live and create by the sea in Monmouth Beach, NJ; and during the winter near, The Gulf of Mexico, in Naples, FL.
I am fortunate to have the tideland estuary of the Shrewsbury River at my backdoor in NJ. My source of inspiration presents me with endless lessons in: dynamism, cycles of change, renewal and the effects of reflected, eastern light. Changes in movement, volume and color that I use to animate an otherwise flat picture plane derive their impetus from my observations of the watery environment that surrounds my home. My art work, like my setting, is at times, subtle and serene, then quickly shifts into a tempest, whose magnitude of primal energy is inspiring. My sweeping gestures of paint and ink are my attempts to capture some modicum of that watery environment’s tension while tempering its raw turbulence with flattened areas of quiescence wrested between areas of intensity and mercurial, fickle restlessness.
For me creating art happens in a moment of creative abandon. Untempered by the restraints of time and space, spontaneous, consummate moments of inspiration direct me in expressing what my image will be. Revealing itself to me, brushstroke-by-brushstroke, or through mark-making on a surface with graphemes that originate and arise out of the visceral action of image-making.
Color and gesture prevail, whether using the computer to transform my photographs into color-separated plates, to be inked for final hand-pulled prints; or Plexiglas plates inked to produce a monotype.
SC: How do you approach your work process?
JS: Animation is much the way of my creative process. I like to work standing-up at the glass-topped printmaking table. Often I have spent a day working on an edition of a particular image to find the mesmerizing, soothing metronome of the brayer’s swoosh of ink to plate has put me into a welcome trance. Repetition, inherent in the lithography process of: wetting the plate, loading the ink onto the brayer, inking from center out to edge, counting the passes of the brayer over the plate’s surface, repeating the wetting and inking until the plate is uniformly covered with ink, and finally printing the plate. Production of an image is done in four-color steps that require pre-registered plates trimmed using a light-box. Printing four-color work is usually done in a sequence of yellow, magenta, cyan and black ink; with time between inking and printing of each color for the previous color to dry. I do like to switch the inking sequence and vary the color intended for a particular plate, i.e., inking the magenta plate with cyan ink, peacock blue, or a purple of my own
design. I find that at the end of a production day the ink
remaining on the table, the ink toned brayers, and ink tipped mixing knives, and spatulas are great tools for creating a monotype. I keep Plexiglas plates, of various sizes, available for just such moments of opportunity. With quick gestures of ink, blending with multihued brayers, nd. I print quickly, with the press adjusted for the thickness of the plate, and often pull an albeit paler, second, or ‘ghost print’ from the plate. These, ‘one-offs,’ are always surprising. Perhaps, since they are usually being created under the fire of the fast ticking clock and The Art Students League security guard’s last round of, “Time’s up! Clean up time! Let’s go!” Some of that immediacy and energy is transferred into and revealed in these staccato monotypes.
My repertoire of creating directly onto the plate includes: using multiple variations of a form, repurposing printmaking tools into ink rakes and scrapers, masking with tape, paper and resists of plastic wrap, repeating a motif, reversing, over-printing and layering of multiple plates and plate fragments for a print matrix to produce a ‘mono-print,’ as opposed to, a ‘mono-type.’ Reductions and embellishments to an existing plate often leads to a series of intuitive modifications that transform what may have begun as an otherwise failed print into a successful effort.
SC: How do you approach the content of your work?
JS: My work is cerebral, in that, it comes from, ‘what my mind knows,’ being literally, tangibly revealed.
My images give visual proof to their timeless existence; captured moments, now, unapologetically, clearly focused. Images that are enlarged, fleshed-out flashes of winnowed, small moments, visions snatched from a grand continuum; one swath of visual plenty, that has no reasoned history, no mortal bounds, no restraints beyond my own imagination.
“Ahh, color, glorious color!
I do enjoy working with color. The visual chemistry that erupts between tones of one color, sometimes many colors, playing against each other within an image, is to me, immediately exciting.
Color - intensified and conjoined with movement is unleashed, visual energy that infuses the volume of my forms. Raucous, colliding, careening forms, that flaunt their dimensions with the power of color, intrigue me because they draw the eye into the surface, beyond the obvious.
I’m not interested in the mundane. Rather, what it becomes when it is flamed red hot with color, or iced to frosty antiquity, gauzed, scrummed and refashioned into something extraordinary.
My images traverse a path from my mind, to a tangible printmaking plate, then onto paper in a gambit of play, surprise and uncertainty, as if:
‘all will be revealed!’
bite of eternity.
to be seen.” - JS
My work is ephemeral. In its dalliance with the mind; in its dance with color, and how it follows with its own strategy of engagement.
Perfection of a technique, minute detailing, and technical excellence in printmaking are all admirable artistic pursuits. I think, in my case, they are pursuits perhaps better left for those inclined toward: small brushes, cross hatching, and diminutive themes. Without apology, rather with a respectful nod to all who choose the etcher’s needle, or engravers’ tools, I prefer robust, muscular dynamics in my prints.
SC: What are your current interests in art?
JS: I embrace the notion of art making as play. A ‘bricolage approach,’ using what is at hand to create a print, is fun to do; and often produces a refreshingly, original image. I prefer to work in an atmosphere where collegiality, friendly art banter, and constructive suggestions, kindly offered, prevail. I have worked monk-like, in my own studio, only to find it a bit too sterile, quiet, isolated, and far removed from the stimulating creative spirit that abounds in a working, print studio environment peopled by kindred spirits. After all, art is to be seen and to be shared. For me art making is not only about a finished product, but all of the hurdles, leaps and soaring moments along the continuum of the creative practice that leads a work-in-progress to a successful effort, fully realized. I value my colleagues’ insights. I see the creation of my art as an enterprise, a mosaic composed of many tesori. Each small piece aids me in crystallizing my inner voice into a sonorous composition of space, color and form.
Being able to recast or reframe a concept, technique or idea into a piece of art in its transit from inception to completion is both intriguing and inspiring to me. Like a mystery solved, or phenomenon explained, my work has its own power and awe at its core. Each image has a visual secret to whisper, sometimes shout; it always has a vibration, an individual voice, of its own. Dissonance, harmony, cacophony, each has its place in my work. Visual tumult and, hullabaloo - make for visual excitement - and that excitement appeals mightily to me.
Currently, I have concentrated on printmaking that incorporates my digital photographs and pronto plate lithography, and saturated, full color, digital transfers. I have determined that I prefer to work in a large format. Therefore, outputting the 18” X 24” pronto plate color separations from my computer files is a technical and logistics challenge. I have had the good fortune of sourcing a local large format printer that can output the plates from my images.
It is my hoped for intention that my artwork portrays: reflections of the sublime, flashing insights into mind, and encounters with what exists, beyond the ordinary. Conveying verve, inherent in its origin beyond the temporal world, I would like my work to be infused with the atmospheric qualities of: awe, glimpsing the mysterious, and the unknown. Hopefully, each of my creations becomes my own, visually animated story.
John Salvi interviewed by Sylvie Covey, 2014.
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