11×15 mixed-media monotype, 2004
My recent prints are about the relationship of humans to habitat loss and species extinctions. The monotype in this show is part of a series of prints inspired by accounts of extinct birds, such as the Passenger Pigeon, that once thrived within the oak, beech, and chestnut forests of the Eastern woodlands. For the backgrounds of these prints, I photographed tree carvings on a wooded hillside above the Monongahela River, in a place called Sophie’s Woods, where the bones of a young woman lie in an unmarked grave. Sophia Allegre eloped in 1766 with Albert Gallatin against her mother’s wishes, and died 5 months later at the age of 23. In the woods surrounding her gravesite, decades of lovers have their carved names in the soft grey bark of the beech trees. I printed ink transfers of these bark carvings onto watercolor paintings of flowering trees.
Many of my prints end up as mixed-media monotypes combining drawing, painting, and printmaking. I use a wide range of nontoxic print processes including relief, engraving, stencil, color-viscosity, photocopy transfer. Matrices are interchangeable, and images move from print to print. In this monotype, laser printouts of my original digital photographs were coated with gum arabic and rolled up with ink and water in the manner of a lithograph without acids or solvents. Then I soaked the printed-over watercolors in water, agitating the painted areas with brushes to lighten and enhance the contrast the interface with the printed layers. After the prints were dried and flattened, I drew and collaged fragments from 19th Century natural history prints on the final layers.
Most of my monotypes have been reworked many times. They rarely evolve steadily from start to finish. Additions and erasures are performed at intervals over periods of months or years. The act of erasure and reprinting, and the residual images produced by many changes, attempt to create a passage through the space and duration of the picture which suggests the ephemeral quality of natural forms. Vaporous states, transitions from solid to liquid, and the accumulation and dispersion of particles, are impressions I try to convey through manipulations of paint and ink.
Maggy Aston is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art and Design at California University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches Drawing and Biological Illustration. She lives in in rural Greene County, Pennsylvania with her husband and daughter, and spends her summers painting landscapes outdoors on Chincoteague and Assateague Islands, off the coast of Virginia. Examples of her prints, paintings, drawings, watercolors, and garden work can be found on her website at maggyaston.com