Life and Death

Edition Review

  • Matthew Day Jackson, LIFE, June 5th 1944 (2014)

  • Rust (iron oxide) transfer and woodblock, 30 1/4 x 21 3/4 inches. Edition of 25. Printed by Shore Publishing. Published by Hauser & Wirth Editions with Diane Villani. $2,500.
Matthew Day Jackson, LIFE, June 5th 1944 (2014).

Matthew Day Jackson, LIFE, June 5th 1944 (2014).

A one-time printmaking major, Matthew Day Jackson has often embedded printmaking in his multivalent art practice, which includes activities from drag racing to sculpture and collage. Found or self-generated printed material has been a frequent starting point for his two-dimensional work, and he has made a handful of editions over the past eight years. Some of these have pushed the boundaries of printmaking in their format, materials, or both: Missing Link (Lady Liberty), from The Dymaxion Series (2007, Peter Blum), is an editioned installation that applies a Buckminster Fuller-esque pattern of triangle-based polyhedrons to three prints, including a Degas exhibition poster. That same year he created Metamorphosis, a seven-print installation that included a print made with Flavor Aid powder (2007, Lower East Side Printshop). His recent edition Seer (2013, Hauser & Wirth) is printed on a found circuit board and incorporates gold-plated copper, LED lights, a solar panel and various electronic apparatuses. In each case, the materials provide an essential key to understanding the work; in Metamorphosis, for instance, the Flavor Aid is a reference to the Jonestown Massacre.

Day Jackson’s latest edition—the product of the recent collaborative venture between Diane Villani and Hauser & Wirth (see Art in Print Vol. 4, No. 6: 8–9)—likewise employs unorthodox materials to articulate content. LIFE, June 5th 1944 (2014) investigates the metaphorical and cultural implications of Life magazine, a subject he has previously explored in collages and canvases. Here, he recreates the cover of the issue published on the eve of D-Day, showing a sea of marching, uniformed soldiers with the caption, “The US Infantry.” History, mortality, individuality and the subjective experience of time are leitmotifs for the artist, and are intimated here through his use of rust to print the battalion of soldiers. At top and bottom, hand-carved woodblocks emulate the original masthead and typography.

Day Jackson developed the rust print technique in collaboration with master printer Mae Shore of Shore Publishing. An etched steel plate was rusted under controlled conditions and the resulting iron oxide then transferred to the paper using the pressure of the etching press. Shore explains:

There are no binders or additional chemicals used to adhere the iron oxide to the paper. Essentially, the paper is stained as the wet paper absorbs the iron oxide particles. The iron oxide powder in itself is not corrosive but rather inert on the paper. Without the presence of the steel (which is what’s corroding), the rust behaves as a dry pigment.1

The steel plate, however, continues to corrode and eventually ceases to produce a readable image. Shore and Day Jackson “worked against the clock” once the oxidation process had begun. “The rusting was repeatedly timed and monitored before the plate passed through the press for each impression” to create a relatively consistent edition. They also conducted light fast tests in which they exposed prints to direct sunlight for two months with no change to color or image.

While the columns of young men on the magazine cover could constitute a familiar and orderly representation of military might, the date at lower right will, for many viewers, superimpose images of the chaos and terror on the beaches of Normandy the following day. Hindsight obstructs the uncomplicated view. With a simple transformation of medium, Day Jackson deftly evokes the wider implications both of the magazine’s moniker and the photograph on its cover.

In our previous issue (March-April 2015), we misstated the archival status of this print. Subsequent discussions with the printer and artist resulted in information we felt was both pertinent and interesting, hence this second review of the work.

  1. Mae Shore, e-mail with the author, 16 March 2015. []