"Durham artist Mark Iwinski's "stump prints" of ancient trees taken directly from old growth utilize printmaking as a surveyor's tool for measuring contemporary amputations and absences."
-Edie Carpenter, Head curator at Greenhill
His use of trunks and tree forms in his work allude to a sense of loss and destruction that can be seen through the colors in his prints and also in his sculptural works.
We were recently able to interview Mark on his process and the deeper meanings and implications of his work.
How did you get into printmaking?
Well, I started initially with sculptures and I was very interested in tree forms so I was out in the woods drawing and observing in nature and I was exposed to old growth out there. At the time I was teaching and one of the printmakers at the university suggested that I translate the wood sculptures into prints and it got me thinking. I began to get more and more involved with forests and trees and learned how to do intaglio prints. I began doing basic etchings and did a series based on tree drawings. I then taught myself the sugar-lift technique which is when designs are put in a syrupy solution of sugar and painted onto a metal surface prior to being coated in a liquid etching ground or varnish. Later, the plate is placed in hot water and the sugar dissolves and lifts off, leaving just the image. The plate can then be etched.
So trees and old growth seem to be the main subjects in your work. How did you start working with trees?
Well in 1999, I came across an essay about landscapes in Vermont and I became inspired and began hiking and looking for old growth which are forests that have not had any human disturbance for hundreds of years. I started seeking these old growths out and reading and researching about them. In 2002, I tried printing crosscuts and started collecting different pieces from loggers. As I continued, I learned how to find more trees like the ones I was searching for and it all came from this interest in the history of the landscape before human contact.
That's very interesting. Your work is very nature-oriented and has an environmental charge. You also mentioned a little before about the sugar-lift technique. What are some of the difficulties with this technique?
Well I print on sight which is definitely a challenge and requires a lot of effort. I have to take time to look for good pieces and research areas with good stumps. Having to carry and haul all of the materials back and forth takes a lot of effort as well. The long hike to these places is also a challenge, although sometimes the pieces are shipped directly to me.
Wow! I'm really fascinated by your determination to print on site. That sounds like a lot of work. Now, let's talk a little about your message. What are some of the deeper themes behind your work?
Well like I mentioned before, my work revolves around old growth and this idea of the human impact. I really focus on understanding what used to be and how much is gone and never coming back. Before these landscapes and forests had a chance to be something but now it's a mall. We don't take time to recognize what used to be and the impact that these forests and trees had on the land. They played an active part in cleaning the air, the water, and created an environment where man could live and we are so destructive. I want to communicate what used to be and get people to realize that once it's cut, it's gone.
My work is only part of the story, you only get that view of the tree once it's gone and it's about the ever-present loss and trying to make that absense pertinent. I want people to understand what's missing and to then understand the value of it all and protect what's left. It's also important to understand that the loss of these trees are also due to other factors such as invasive species, which April touches on in her work. Along with human destruction, there's this invisible killer of species and also pathogens.
Several species of trees are disappearing such as the hemlocks and elms. Some organizations and people are trying to replenish by plantnig blight-resistant trees and cross-breeding trees to make them more resistant.
I didn't realize that this was such a serious problem and I think that's a huge reason why your work is so relevant and important. You speak a lot about the "human impact" and the problems associated with it. When you're out in those forests or printing on site, what measures do you take to make sure you're not leaving an effect?
Well I'm of course not cutting down trees, I make sure to use what's there. The ink that I use is also water-based which means that it eventually breaks down. I try my best not to have an impact by not treading on roots and by treading lightly. The only time I did leave an impact is when I used gold-leaves on the trees to speak about the value of wood and trees, to allude to that sense of commodity and bring the issue into the public domain.
I see, what about your color scheme? It seems more subdued and restricted. Why is that?
I like to use it to emphasize the idea of absense in different ways. I want to make that absence visible yet elusive. The white on blue works are a more direct idea of a ghost because of the white. Before, I used to use the color of wood or black but I decided to use blue to reflect the color of the sky and some of the other colors reflect the oxidation of wood. The blue is also a more dramatic look and also reminds me of old illustrations.
I think white gives off a ghostlike sense and the white on white works are very translucent, ethereal, and invisible in a way, forcing the reader to see the "ghost". This idea of the ghost is meant to speak about the trees and the landscapes that get destroyed. I wanted to create a sense of the gossamer, the ghostly and the visually elusive.
Thanks so much for you time Mark. Lastly, what would you say is the overall message to your work? Why do you make prints?
My work began with curiosity and the want to experience the scale of these forests and I couldn't go back in time but I could find places like vestiges. I was enamoured with the landscape and I wanted to experience the massiveness of these trees.
I think this is a great exhibition and I wanted to use printmaking to communicate about the danger of shifts that are occurring. My work is not about climate change but touches on it and I wanted to point out what's happening and make it visible to audiences.
To check out some of Mark's works you can visit his website here or you can see them in person in our Imprint exhibition going on through March.