A Million Vessels

Posted on: March 10th, 2015 by jmbroekman 6 Comments

A few of the million vessels are above, and If you’d like to see more of the working prints (not the final prints, which I will post soon, but three of the potential sets of 5) clickHERE.

Maybe not a million, but lots and lots of them

I’ve been working for almost a year on a project that is not like anything I’ve ever worked on. That’s not to say vessels haven’t shown up in my work before, but this time it’s different. This project even has a name: Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here. You can Google it. It’s that kind of project. And since I haven’t posted anything here in a long time, and I am required to write a statement about my contribution to this project, I thought I’d work out my thoughts on this electronic piece of paper. I welcome your comments (and I warn you, this will be by far the longest entry on my news page ever).

Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here is a an international coalition of writers and artists responding to the car bombing of the literary district of Baghdad, Iraq on March 5, 2007. Beau Beausoleil, a poet and bookseller in San Francisco spearheaded this series of responses: first with letterpress broadsides, then publishing an anthology of poetry and essays, followed by 260 artists’ books, and now a call to printmakers.

Accepting the invitation to join the coalition of Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here artists was the easy part. The printmaking response, with a theme of Absence & Presence, immediately resonated. Still, I knew, right from the start this was going to be a challenge. For one thing, my work is not usually politically motivated; and then, how would I visually describe that Al-Mutanabbi Street starts wherever people gather to talk freely and exchange ideas?

My solution was to create something that spoke about time and existence; that what is here in one moment may not be here in the next. It is an idea I’ve been exploring for a very long time: how what has been, and all that we experience, shape and inform who we become and how we respond to the world around us; thus what is absent never completely disappears, but is carried forward within us through the memories we hold and stories we tell.

Why a Vessel?

I settled on an image of a vessel, a teacup, in part as representative of the tea shops destroyed in the bombing, and in part because it symbolizes one of the universal ways we share time and space – over a cup of tea.

Drawing vessels (cups, sugar bowls, and creamers) is a practice I come back to over and over again. So this project became, to a certain degree, an extension of work I had been doing. However, in this case I needed to push it a lot further. It was no longer my mother’s sugar bowl, it was a vessel that was meant to symbolize our need to communicate and connect.

Even when I finally settled on the cup as an image to work with (and it took several months to get to that point), I made more than 50 prints before I felt like I hit it. I was looking for something that both reflected some of the violence – in a very non-literal way (through the marks and color), and allowed an image to move in and out of focus – to be there and not exactly there. By using both fully inked plates and residually inked plates with ghost images I was able to let the cup move into the foreground and settle back into the background somewhat simultaneously.

Adventures in Printmaking

Usually, my prints are fodder for other work (cut up and remade into collages, or as base sheets on top of which I continue to draw). In the case of this project, I wanted to make “just prints”, which required that I go back to Printmaking 101, reminding myself to build the layers slowly, one plate at a time. The prints had to be a lot more than a bunch of random seeming marks. They had to add up to something, communicating specific ideas. This was a challenging and novel approach for me. It pushed me way beyond the edge of my comfort zone.

The requirements of the project ask for an edition of 5 prints. It is rare that I create editions. So I decided to make a series that clearly were meant to be together and thus when separated would in some very subtle way be missing something. Each print is slightly different and has some counterpart in another print in the series. You won’t necessarily know that something is missing, though you will see ghost-like images alongside the more visible vessel.

I started this project with a whole bunch of uncertainty and allowed myriad possibilities to present themselves to me. I am still intrigued by some of those unexplored possibilities, and though my prints are due in Boston this month, I suspect I’ll continue making vessels for a while longer. I am grateful to both Stephanie Stigliano for inviting me to participate in the project, and toSissy Buck (who is also a participant) for collaborating with me early on and at some point making an offhand comment suggesting I consider a vessel as a means to move forward.

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6 Responses

  1. Sandra Quinn says:

    Excellent! What an engaging and meaningful project – thank you for sharing your thought process that inspired these beautiful prints. Congratulations, Jessyca!

  2. Mary Brennan says:

    Lovely to see the progress you’ve made on this project. It brings together so much of your work, and it is a wonderfully vigorous idea. Congratulations.

  3. Sissy says:

    Bravo Jessyca!!!!! not only are the prints beautiful, but your story behind the process is enlightening and thought provoking. I can’t wait to see these in person!

  4. anne garland says:

    a well articulated process, the true meaning of “process”, of searching, of exploring an idea, never a linear thing! And, the images speak to the core of your ideas, striking and engaging! So well done, and shared. Thank you!

    • jmbroekman says:

      I love that all my fellow Peregrine Press printmakers are responding to this post. Thank you one and all. So true, Anne about the process never being linear. I run in a million circles at once it seems! I look forward to seeing how you all respond to the final prints, which are still somewhat of a departure to these – new plates even.

  5. yvonne sokolow says:

    what a fascinating project and the story behind it. Lots of luck.