One of the most versatile and influential contemporary artists, Bruce Nauman moves effortlessly between sculpture, video, film, sound installation, drawing and printmaking. Since the 1960's, he has experimented with emerging technology, including video, holography, neon, infrared film, as well as a wide range of printmaking techniques. His two recent series published by the Los Angeles-based artists workshop, Gemini G.E.L., Soft Ground Etchings and Infrared Outtakes, find their source in early photographs taken on infrared film. Gemini's first series of digital photographs, Infrared Outtakes, and a related series, Nauman's first-ever soft ground etchings aptly and simply titled, Soft Ground Etchings, will be on view from September 6 – October 20, 2007 at Gemini G.E.L. at Joni Moisant Weyl at 980 Madison, 5th Floor New York, New York.
In the mid-60s while a student at University of California, Davis, Nauman's work began to focus primarily on his own body in performances pieces, films, sculpture, and drawing. He made a list titled "Codification" that provides insight as to his concerns at that point in his career. The first two items on the list are 1.) Personal appearance and skin and 2.) Gestures. He made a pen and wash drawing in 1967 titled Both Lips Turned Out/Mouth Open/Upper Lip Pushed…. As was often the case at that time, his drawing was a pre-cursor to another project. Nauman approached photographer and friend, Jack Fulton, and asked him to document a session of himself "making faces" that were similar to those in the drawing. Always eager to explore non-traditional art-making materials, Nauman wanted these photographs taken on infrared film with a yellow filter, which lent his skin an eerie yellowish quality. These photographs became the source images for Nauman's iconic series, Studies for Holograms (1970), published by Castelli Gallery.
Other images from this session were underexposed and sat dormant in his studio for almost 40 years, unable to be processed until digital technology was developed. In preparation for the exhibition,
A Rose Has No Teeth: Bruce Nauman in the 1960's, curator Constance M. Lewallen unearthed some of these underexposed images and Nauman worked with the original photographer, Jack Fulton, to breathe new life into them digitally. Nauman approached Gemini to publish the series Infrared Outtakes as part of the workshop's 40th Anniversary program, and it is these four inkjet prints that are the seminal images for this exhibition.
Inspired by these images and a return to the Gemini workshop in Los Angeles, where he had been making prints since the early 70's, Nauman began his work on the series of six Soft Ground Etchings. Soft ground is an etching technique for drawing a softer, more textured line similar to charcoal, crayon and pencil. The soft ground process allows the artist to draw directly on paper offering a more familiar feel than drawing on a polished copper surface. For this reason, these prints rival the sensuality and fluidity of his drawing. Initially, drawing from the Infrared Outtakes, he resolved the etchings related to Neck Pull, Hands Only, and Cockeye Lips. He returned to the workshop armed with images from Studies for Holograms—(Pinched Lips, Pulled Cheeks and Squeezed Lips) to create 3 more editions for this series. Originally conceived to be black and white, as the project progressed Nauman decided that each image needed a colored background and an aquatint was applied to achieve the effect.
Nauman is an artist's-artist – greatly admired and closely observed by his contemporaries as well as younger generations of artists. These two projects in the exhibition – with their visual, technical and conceptual range – make it clear to see why.