Mark Phillips is a 48 year old painter, printmaker, and writer from Pennsylvania. He attended East Carolina University’s School of Art where he focused jointly on Painting and Printmaking. In 1994, he started his own sign business which folded in 1998. He moved to Chicago in 1999 where he supported himself as a freelance artist, signmaker, taught printmaking and art classes from his studio and at the Hyde Park Art Center. His work is in private collections in the US, Europe, and Australia. He is currently living in the mountains of southern Mexico working on a novel and experimenting with various hangover cures.
About the work
Basically, I’m a printmaker that moved away from fragile paper and began working large-scale with the plates instead. Back in 2004 I had a bad roof leak in a my studio directly over my flatfiles. The leak destroyed several years worth of work as entire editions and works in progress were ruined. It was devastating and really got me thinking about printmaking in other ways besides just as a medium on paper. Paper was too fragile, too precious. That year I began to explore alternatives to paper but merely switching to another substrate did not go far enough. I wanted to use the inherent properties of the materials. As I would choose papers for their embossing or printing characteristics, my materials selection sought strengths and qualities they could bring to the work. Aluminum for example can be printed on, obviously, but it can also accept patinas, be etched, routed, formed, and anodized. A print need not be a delicate thing, it can be robust and solid.
Paper was too fragile, too precious.
In the 90’s I owned my own sign shop for several years designing and fabricating projects with materials and techniques most artists never see. Signs have a physicality, a presence, that works on paper never achieved for me. So, as artists have done for centuries, I borrowed a bit from industry and adapted old and new techniques and technologies to my work. I began experimenting with new approaches and presentations I had mastered for my commercial sign work.
Signs have a physicality, a presence, that works on paper never achieved for me.
I experimented with anodizing aluminum and resist printing. I tried silkscreen and relief printing on copper plates and dropping them in acid where the final piece became both a print and a souvenir of printmaking techniques. I printed and etched steel and then tried forming the plates into new shapes and elements. I experimented with patinas and blocking the chemical reactions with printed lacquers and resists with varying results. After a while I developed a way of consistently etching the aluminum sheets to achieve what I wanted.
The aluminum plates are etched in an acid bath as I normally would etch for aquatint etchings using timed etches. In etching the more textured the area – the more ink it will hold and the darker it will look. By carefully blocking out and etching the plate for different lengths of time I can control the tones of the plate and how much ink it will hold. The lightest areas in the ALDI commission, for example, were only etched for 30 seconds. Those areas I wished to keep were blocked off to protect from the acid and then the next darker value etched for 1 minute, and that was again blocked off and so on. The ALDI piece had 9 etches so 9 distinct tones to form a simplified photographic look. On some pieces, like “Bus Stop Wait,” I used a single deep etch of a high contrast image to add punch.
Regardless of whether I chose a single stage etch or a multilayered approach, the pieces change as you move through the space, catching the light and allowing you to become involved in the experience. The plates have more of a physical presence like sculpture than any framed print on paper. Working with multiple plates also allows me to make an image any size.
Regardless of whether I chose a single stage etch or a multilayered approach, the pieces change as you move through the space, catching the light and allowing you to become involved in the experience.
For subject matter, I draw inspiration from the streets and people of the city. The transportation infrastructure especially intrigues me. Bridges and L platforms have a character to them that calls to me. They are massive and old, beautiful and ugly at the same time, a great unyielding machine people must negotiate. A city can be brutal in the way individuals are just pieces, widgets to move around. In many of my pieces lone figures navigate this latticework of steel, rivets, struts, and the asphalt of the city to make their way home as they, like myself, attempt to find their place within the mix.