The new photogravures from veteran collagist Arturo Herrera extend his work in visually gripping and emotionally affecting ways. Though his early reputation was established by his intricate reworkings of pop cultural motifs, it was quickly apparent that—for all the Disney borrowings—Herrera’s sensibility was eloquent rather than brash, and inquisitive rather than sardonic. In his densely intercut collages, the jittery noise of visual life is not quashed, but rejiggered into counterpoint.
For years Herrera has been frequenting the book stalls in Berlin flea markets, collecting battered volumes on German Romanticism or self-taught karate, objects that have outlived their original purpose and can be recast as interlocutors in a new conversation about history, the world we find and the world we make [see Christina Nippe’s article on his over-printed found books in the July–August 2014 issue of Art in Print].
The photogravures arose from a volume picked up in a second-hand bookshop in Charlottenburg—a 1947 publication of dance photographs by Serge Lido with a preface by Jean Cocteau.
Most of Herrera’s previous work was girded by a spine of tension between the destruction necessitated by the construction of what we see. It is the nature of painting and its unique multimedia cousins—you end up with one thing only and every decision made entails the loss of what came before. One of the glories of print is that you can have your cake and eat it too—state proofs, templates and impressions can all be preserved as a kind of archive of the image. These lowered stakes facilitate experimentalism and also, in the right hands, poetry.
Photogravure enabled Herrera to bypass the irremediable acts of cutting, gluing or overprinting. Instead he arranged objects—string, mesh, shards of metal— in the manner of photograms over transparencies of the book pages. When exposed to make the printing plates, these ephemeral addenda become solid blocks of darkness, some sharp-edged, some retreating into increasingly out-of-focus depths. In and around these irrational, unidentifiable black shapes and wiggles, the arms of long-gone bend gracefully, satin toe shoes gleam, and muscular legs arc through the air. Almost all the faces are obscured, which inevitably reads as an act of aggression, but the rhythmic cohesion of the composition is so compelling one can’t help seeing the dancers and the shadows as part of a single choreography. Herrera’s familiar themes of loss and creation, chaos and coherence, are given form here not through absence and presence but through darkness and light.