One thing about Tacita Dean’s captivating new lithographs of clouds must be made clear at the start: they are hand-drawn. It would be easy to understand them as photo-offset lithographs unless informed otherwise; Dean, after all, is primarily known as a filmmaker and photographer, and the prints certainly appear photographic. Yet she has employed her considerable drawing skills to create these lithographic plates, a fact that changes how the viewer perceives the image, heightening the attention we pay to their surfaces and deepening our appreciation of their facture.
LA Exuberance is part of a larger body of work titled “A Concordance of Fifty American Clouds” that Dean created during a residency at the Getty Research Institute in 2014–15. The British artist was fascinated with the whiteness and wispiness of California clouds: unlike the low-hanging, rain-laden clouds of Europe, these appeared to reflect “the imperceptible activity of winds high above the earth’s surface.”1 In her desire to translate their evanescence to paper, the artist took up several new drawing and printmaking techniques, including spray chalk on blackboard, altered postcards, white charcoal pencil and gouache on antique slates, and the present lithographs—her first collaboration with Gemini G.E.L.2
Though Dean has created editions in various media, including photogravure and offset, these are her first hand-drawn lithographs. The process required a steep learning curve: an artist accustomed to working with the projected light of film had to find a way to convey, through an opaque medium, the luminosity of clouds. In the end she drew them with black spray chalk on Mylar that was exposed as a negative—the clouds’ apparent glow is produced by the bright white, unprinted paper. Once she had selected the final drawings, the printers had to transform them into plates that could print the area surrounding Dean’s clouds while maintaining their delicacy.3 The rest was a matter of combining plates and blended colors in what the artist calls “controlled serendipity”: a complex system of layered, blended rolls of up to six colors for the sky and up to three plates of cloud imagery per impression. Dean requests the works be hung significantly higher than standard eye level to encourage a viewing experience akin to cloud-gazing; LA Times art critic Christopher Knight notes, “you crane your neck while looking at clouds and condensation trails, the better to daydream.”4
- Tacita Dean, in “Tacita Dean … my English breath in foreign clouds” (New York: Marian Goodman Gallery, 2016), press release.
- This larger group was shown at Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 2 March – 23 April 2016.
- Further information in Tacita Dean at Gemini G.E.L.: LA Exuberance (Los Angeles: Gemini G.E.L., 2016), online http://www.calameo.com/read/004903359cdc749b8b7ec.
- Christopher Knight, “Tacita Dean’s remarkable hand-drawn cloud prints at Gemini G.E.L.,” Los Angeles Times, 8 October 2016.