An interview with Ali Osborn

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Ali Osborn is an artist and printmaker living in Northampton, MA. His show 7×10 is on view at Flying Object from June 18th until July 14th. The following interview took place between C.S. Ward and Ali through G-chat and email, during the week of the opening. CW: So, how did you come up with the concept/layout for the 7×10 images? And, when in your drawing process did you think “I am going to make X amount of images?”

AO: The layout of 7×10 images was conceived fairly recently, like in the last month and half or so. But, I’ve been working on these images for almost three years or at least since the Giant Sale. I’ve often toyed with the idea of showing them on a wall all together, but the 7×10 format posed some difficulties since some are horizontal and some are vertical. And, more recently, I’ve found that some are ambi-directional, which I do not think is a word but you know what I mean?

CW: That should be a word if it isn’t already.

AO: Totally, so anyway, until I knew about this show at flying object my plan was always to make more and more of these drawings with the idea of covering a huge wall with them sometime. So, X amount was always the goal— X being an unknown quantity of vast proportions. So far I’ve made around 115 of these images.

CW: And what was the number at the show?

AO: 85

CW: And you did the math on that, or did you just lay them out on the floor?

AO: I did the math and found that the lowest common multiple of 7 and 10 is 70, meaning a row of 10 vertical images would equal the length of a row 7 horizontal images, once I measured the wall at Guy’s( F.O owner) place, I found that I really only had about 80 or 90″ vertical inches to work with. Alternating rows of horizontal and vertical images allowed for only ten rows to fit into that space comfortably.

CW: Got it. I want to ask you a little about the individual drawings. The 7×10 images are all photocopies, which I’m assuming was a conscious choice. What do you like about what photocopying does to a drawing, in this case, to the texture of marker drawings?

AO: Yes, the images on the wall are all photocopies and this was a very conscious choice Over the years I’ve made many copies of these drawings and found that there are many different photocopying techniques…After seeing all the versions available I finally settled on this one that uses a Nuvera brand copier at Paradise Copies, on text setting with 80 lb color copy paper. The result is a smooth flat black that is slightly glossy in finish so it doesn’t mar or scuff as easily as a super matte finish copy. This copy format also takes any area of heavily colored black and obliterates the strokes left by the marker, leaving the final image with broad, uniform surfaces of black that would be impossible to create by hand. There is something I love about the unmistakably hand drawn quality of these images combined with this mechanical reproduction.

CW: It sounds like some sort of analog Photoshop filter.

AO: Yes analog’s a good word for it. The action of photocopying (especially with this project wherein many images bleed to the edges of the paper requiring each drawing to be hand placed in the middle of the copying area) is still so analog and physical. The modern copy shop has amazing machines but they still need all of us humans to take that weird little drawing or scrap of paper from the customer andplace it on the glass to be copied.

CW: Being Human will one day be very punk rock.

AO: So physical and punk rock and cheap, but also really nice.

CW: Yes, we (humans) seem to have built up an aesthetic affinity for that photo-copy look, but your images have both the flatnessof the copy as well as a really nice professional print look, which leads me to my next question(s): You have been printmaking, or making prints for a while, right? How much control do you feel like you have? Do you ever wish for the days of ignorance and surprise that you had when you were just learning how to make prints, or even drawings for that matter?

AO: I’ve been doing printmaking seriously since sophomore year of college. I guess that’s about 8 years or so. I usually only feel confident of my control in the medium that I am currently using. In this case, that would be linocut. I try to push this material, the linoleum, to hold as much detail as possible. Lately I’ve found myself wanting even more detail in my pieces, more minute points and corners than this material will support. This makes me want to try something else with an even harder and denser surface, like resingrave.

I think no matter how experienced you are in printmaking there is always an element of surprise in the pulling of a print. There is always some moment during which the pressure is being applied when you can’t see the matrix (e.g. the block of linoleum, metal plate, or woodblock) or the paper. But, yes I do sometimes miss the experimentation that happens when you are first learning about printmaking. I think that I could and should push myself to experiment more with the tools and skills I already have.

The photocopying of the 7×10 drawings still holds much surprise because I am not the one who is physically copying the drawings. This process has made me realize that I have trouble contracting my art out to people. I really like to be there and have a hand in at least some part of the production. I think I am much better at explaining by showing than telling. It can be hard to explain by showing when you’re at a copy shop and there is a counter separating you from the process.

CW: I notice a lot of singular events or objects in the series of images, and that makes sense when you put them all together, but do you ever feel like you want to add more to a given drawing? Or, how do you keep such a long-view to your art? I am always trying to finish a drawing during the day that started it. What keep you from this impulse?

AO: The more singular events and objects are depicted as such because they are most appealing as singular

entities. They undergo a simple but transformative change when they are presented clean and unencumbered. I sometimes do feel like adding more and I sometimes do add more. There is no rhyme or reason to this, but as I go farther into this series of 7×10 drawings some patterns and rules emerge. These rules are good to follow but also good to play against by creating subtle exceptions: like not perfectly centered objects, or unleveled horizon lines.

CW: We talked a little at the show about the “drawing” aspect to bodies of water, in the case of your work, reservoirs. Could you talk a little about natural occurrences of form, and how that maybe plays into printmaking? Also, what kind of prints are the reservoir series?

AO: I am interested in looking at our reservoirs as massive, artificially created flat shapes; their planar surfaces intersect the surrounding land at a specific elevation. When we dam a river the water fills the void to the height dictated by the dam. The result is a perfect description of the negative space occurring at the given elevation in this area.

My reservoir prints are linocut relief prints (with handset lead type). Everything except the shape of the reservoir’s surface is cut away. In this sense, these prints are akin to a two-dimensional version of the concept used by people studying the tunnel network of anthills or archaeologists discovering the cavities left by bodies in the volcanic ash at Pompeii. In both cases scientists cast the negative space in plaster then

remove all the surrounding material to discover the form within. With my reservoir prints I am isolating the shape of the negative area which has been filled in by this controlled flood. Relief printmaking is an ideal medium to achieve uniform areas of color so it felt like a natural choice for this project.

CW: Yes, the prints look amazing, I urge our readers to check out the show (until July 14) and also to visit, to check out more of Ali’s work.