"Ellen Heck: Variations"

Heck revitalizes the ancient art of printmaking by making fierce use of its potential

<i>The Light and the Letterpress</i>, by Ellen Heck
The Light and the Letterpress, by Ellen Heck

"Ellen Heck: Variations"

Wally Workman Gallery, 1202 W. Sixth, 472-7428
www.wallyworkmangallery.com
Through June 30

Palimpsest.

One good way to define the word is to write it on a piece of paper, erase it, and then write the word again in the same place. Faint traces of the initial, obliterated marks add a subtle texture or complexity of shade to the second instance. That's a fine gambit for visual artmaking, the palimpsest, even as it alludes to the constant textual palimpsests that occur in in the work of writers – those fussy, narrative-makers always changing a word, a sentence, and sometimes entire swaths in a manuscript as they hone their tales toward the vision in their heads.

Ellen Heck, the artist whose work is currently on display at the elegant Wally Workman Gallery in West Sixth's loose conglomeration of art galleries, has used the palimpsest as a method of portraiture, capturing the image of one Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, at various ages in his life. But, see, this isn't just a series in which the first print is obscured and then a new image is printed over it, and so on, repeating until six stages have been overlaid and the final image is ghosted by what came before. No, that would be effective and evocative enough, but Heck's done something much cooler: She's used the printing plate itself as a palimpsest, etching the first image of Twain into copper, pulling the prints, then etching the next in the series over that first one on the same copper plate and pulling the prints, and then repeating over and over to take Twain from a young age to the hoary-headed raconteur we're all familiar with.

We reckon that Twain himself would've found this presentation a laudatory, even badass choice – especially as the results are sublime.

We've gone on about the above partly due to the clever process of The Aging of Mark Twain on One Copper Plate and partly because we're partial to writers. But that's the smaller part of this show by Heck, by heck – her printed portraits of friends in the guise of Frida Kahlo are the major feature of this one-woman show. The portraits are presented in single face after face or as a sort of souvenir sheet of images, like a display of artisanal free-range philately writ large. The beauty of these prints and others lies not only in the artist's drawing skill, but in the variety of methods used to to achieve her goals – note especially the larger works of "color wheels" that incorporate drypoint, acrylic, crayon, watercolor and sometimes more. Note all of this exhibition for examples of how so ancient an art as printmaking can be revitalized by a creator making fierce use of its possibilities and potential.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Arts Reviews
Theatre Synesthesia's <i>The Fault</i>
Theatre Synesthesia's The Fault
In Katie Bender's play, an American family tries to save itself from being shaken apart

Robert Faires, Oct. 19, 2018

"Ed Ruscha: Archaeology and Romance" at the Ransom Center
This evocative excavation into the artist's process of creating art and making books reveals the work of art is the completed book itself

Melany Jean, Oct. 19, 2018

More by Wayne Alan Brenner
The Grand Re-Opening of the Museum of Natural and Artificial Ephemerata
MNAE: Grand Re-Opening
Local treasure comes weirdin’ on back with a new annex and guidebook

Oct. 17, 2018

Austin Filmmakers’ Waking Nightmares
Austin Filmmakers’ Waking Nightmares
They’re just making a movie. What could possibly go wrong?

Oct. 5, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

"Ellen Heck: Variations", Wally Workman Gallery, printmaking

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle