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Following a Thread

A portfolio inspired by the work of Anni Albers

As new materials became available, Albers sought to incorporate them into her practice, and she created many swatches as experiments. Eleven study swatches created in 1948 were displayed at David Zwirner. Many of these included Lurex, a laminated metallic fiber developed two years earlier. The interplay between this industrial material and the natural jute fibers created a dynamic that we wanted to experiment with ourselves by printing red “fibers” against a neutral background. For this print we overprinted three plates. - two 3D printed plates for black and red and one color block for ochre.

Throughout her career, Albers investigated the relationship between weaving and geometric abstraction.1 The grid structure that underlies weaving provided a platform for Albers to develop a complex abstract vocabulary.2 We were drawn to Albers’ use of repeating elements to construct complex abstract weavings. The inspiration for this print was Open Letter a weaving that Albers completed in 1958. The print was created using a 3D printed plate with digital chine colle on crumpled mulberry paper.

1. Fer, B. (2018) Close to the Stuff the World is Made of: Weaving as a Modern Project, Anni Albers, Yale University Press, p 25.

2. Fer, B. (2018) Anni Albers Weaving Magic, Tate Etc. – 10 October 2018

Albers explored knots as free geometrical forms both in her knot drawings of the late 1940s and later, as a printmaker, in her lithographs. In these drawings and prints the thread runs free of any grid structure and loops back on itself with many seemingly random crossings. While at Black Mountain College, Albers was exposed to formal topological principles which included knot theory.1 Although we don’t know if and how Albers incorporated these ideas into her practice, we wanted to relate her fascination with knots to the formal mathematical structures of underlying design by creating free form linear shapes arranged in a loose grid structure, referencing formal topographical knot tables. We made this print by overprinting two 3D printed plates and hand coloring the ground color.

1. Danilowitz, B. (2018) Tangles, Knots, Braids and Links, Anni Albers, Yale University Press, p 25.

Albers approach to design was to build a whole out of single elements.1 We were drawn to her Meanderseries where she used a single pattern screen, rotated and repositioned, to create evocative multilayered prints.2 We were also fascinated by Albers’ use of the triangle motif as a mechanism to build shapes out of the rectangular grid. This print is made using two CNC cut stencils rotated at right angles to each other and sprayed with black and silver acrylic paint on red book cloth.

1. Oral history interview with Anni Albers, 1968 July 5. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

2. Daunt, C. (2019) Interlaced: Anni Albers at Alan Cristea, Art in Print 8(5)

Josef and Anni Albers arrived in the United States in November 1933 following the forced closure of the Bauhaus. This print – a collection of “swatches” - reflects on the pervasive atmosphere of intolerance and repression that the Albers fled from. The base layer is a dry point print overlaid with milk which was later burnt. The next layer is a pigment offset composed from historical images of barbed wire from Nazi concentration camps. The next layers are etchings and the final “acquisition label” in an inkjet print overlaid with burnt milk.

As we explored Albers’ work, “weavings” started springing up around us. The original image for this print was a damaged chain link fence. The print is spray paint over a 3D printed mask.

We have always admired the architecture of Albers’ prints. She related weaving to architecture through the idea that a textile was a ‘pliable plane’.1 Like architecture, weaving by its very nature produces an underlying integral structure that is intrinsic to the overall surfaces, forms and colors that we see. This print is made using two overprinted CNC cut plates.

1. Fer, B. (2018) Anni Albers Weaving Magic, Tate Etc. – 10 October 2018

This plate was first printed by us in 2015 as an element of a gridded Manhattan landscape. Our journey with Anni Albers allowed us to reinterpret this image in new context. This is precisely the goal we have for our viewers. This print is made from a photopolymer plate.

Artist's Statement:

Last fall, we visited three exhibitions that included Anni Albers’ work at: David Zwirner in New York: Anni Albers, The Museum of Modern Art: Taking a Thread for a Walk and the Art Institute of Chicago: Weaving Beyond the Bauhaus. Although we have always drawn inspiration from Anni Albers’ work, the coming together of these shows served to focus our attention on the processes and architecture of her weavings in a more reflective way. We decided at that time to challenge ourselves with the task of creating a postdigital portfolio that would take inspiration from her life and work.

As it happened, Covid-19 became part of our lives and we were forced into isolation mid process. We were fortunate to have our studio with a small proofing press, a CNC cutter and a quiet space to reflect on things. We decided to allow ourselves six months to complete the prints and a custom case for this portfolio using the materials we had on hand. This has kept us going during these challenging times.

This portfolio is the culmination of our exploration of Anni Albers’ work, weaving together the many individual surprises of discovery that we encountered along the way. We researched, sketched, made notes and took photos of elements large and small. In the studio, we refined our images by combining, altering and stripping away information until we arrived at discrete visual elements that embodied for us the vitality and visual vocabulary of Albers’ work, letting the process itself inform our next steps in a nondeterministic way through careful observation. As Albers said: “… listening to it, not dominating it makes us truly active, that is: to be active, be passive. The finer tuned we are to it, the closer we come to art.”1

In the end, we included eight 9”x11” prints. We entitled the series Following a Thread because each print reflects an aspect of Albers’ work or life that resonated with us as each print informed the next. We started with a re-imagination of a sample swatch but as we progressed through each edition, we became more attuned to a vision of the world as seen through Albers’ process and our image sources became more far afield ranging from cut fencing to entire sides of buildings. We also sought to represent some of the historical facts and influences in Albers’ life.

Like Albers, we are highly experimental in our process. The techniques that we used for the prints include 3D printing2,3, CNC cutting, etching, photopolymer, spray paint, watercolor and collage. Also, like Albers we are focused on the physicality of our prints. We build layered prints often over-printing multiple plates and create surfaces using techniques including embossment, layering and surface alteration.

We used the portfolio format so that we could show our images without the context of scale and in ambiguous juxtapositions to give our viewers a path to the rediscovery - moving away from recognition and identification toward seeing and exploration. We want our viewers to immerse themselves in the experience just as we did, share our excitement and leave with the desire to appreciate their own familiar environments in new ways.

We are pleased to present these prints as a record of our visit with Anni Albers and her influence on our work, not only in this portfolio but her influence on our work going forward.

Phyllis and Victor Merriam

1. Horstman, F. and Medina, K. (2020) Anni Albers – Experiments, New Britain Museum of American Art

2. Merriam, P. and Merriam, V. (2017) Print to Plate to Print. Printmaking Today. 26(4), pp. 28-29

3. Merriam, P., Merriam, V. and Kumar, V. (2020) 3D Viscosity Printing. Printmaking Today. 29(114), pp. 32-33

Note: We would like to thank Sage Reynolds for his excellent YouTube series on the construction of a clamshell box.


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