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Strangely Familiar

Photogravures by Lothar Osterburg

  • Friday, February 3, 2006 from 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm
  • On View: February 3, 2006 – March 17, 2006

Imagine a world of mysterious, far-flung places, where time seems to have come to a long-ago standstill. Here, a scrap-wood footbridge precariously spans a wide, flowing river. An old-fashioned cargo ship washes to shore on a deserted beach. Aeroplanes, flying machines, and extraterrestrial spacecraft brush through the clouds. Shanties and shacks cling bravely to cliffs and treetops, and group together on the outskirts of shadowy unnamed cities.

This is the world created by New York-based artist and printmaker Lothar Osterburg. Highpoint will be exhibiting a selection of Osterburg’s recent photogravure prints, highlighting the imaginative and adventurous imagery for which he is known, and his mastery of the complex traditional photogravure process. Strangely Familiar will open on Friday, February 3rd, with a free opening reception that evening from 6:30–9:00 PM. HP’s Supporting Members are invited to preview the exhibit and enjoy an exclusive lecture with Osterburg on Thursday, Feb. 2nd, from 7:00–8:30 PM (registration is required, see below for details*). The exhibit closes on March 17.

Behind each Lothar Osterburg print is an obsessive creation process. First, Osterburg builds a miniature model using common materials such as soap, twigs, twine, and peanut butter. He then photographs this construction though a magnifying lens, obscuring its humble reality. From this photographic image, Osterburg creates a plate and prints the image using traditional photogravure printmaking techniques.

Photogravure was first created in the mid 1800’s as a unique combination of intaglio printmaking and early photography techniques. The process remained mostly unchanged and was little-used for much of the 20th century. In recent years, a renewed interest in photogravure has led to new adaptations for its use with digital imaging and polymer (plastic) plate technologies.

Despite photogravure’s modern evolution, Osterburg prefers to use the techniques of the early photogravure masters. His process begins by taking a photographic film positive and exposing it to a thin layer of gelatin; depending on how much light passes through the positive, areas of the gelatin remain soft or are hardened. The exposed gelatin is transferred to a copper etching plate. The soft gelatin areas are washed away, while a negative of the image, made of the hardened gelatin, remains on the plate. A rosin aquatint is dusted over the plate and affixed. Then the plate is etched in baths of varying strengths of ferric chloride. The water in the baths causes the gelatin resist to slowly break down before biting into the plate, starting with the thinnest areas (whereby the longer etching time creates darks and shadows); the thickest gelatin breaks down last (leaving light areas). Finally, after etching is complete, Osterburg prints the plate in the intaglio fashion, wiping the plate with ink, placing a piece of paper on the top, and running it through the press.

The result is a print with an endless number of unbroken, seamless grey tones, almost as fine as a photographic grain. Osterburg compares traditional photogravure’s ability to create a continuous tone to an analog recording, which “record[s] the actual shape of a sound wave”. “Just as a digital recording is always an approximation of an analog recording,” he explains, “the digital revolution has still a ways to go before believably imitating [traditional photogravure’s] true continuous tone.”

Born in Braunschweig, Germany, Lothar Osterburg now lives and works in New York City. His prints have been exhibited widely in solo and group shows in the US, Europe, and Japan, and can be found in the public collections of Dresdener Bank, Banana Republic, Wells Fargo, and Microsoft. Osterburg was recently Artist-in-Residence at Hui N’Eau Arts Center in Hilo, HI (2005) and the recipient of a Concordia Career Advancement Grant from the NY Foundations for the Arts (2004).

In addition to creating and exhibiting art, Osterburg has taught and lectured extensively and is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at Bard College and an Adjunct Professor in Printmaking at Cooper Union. An accomplished Master Printer in etching and photogravure, Osterburg has collaborated with artists such as Judy Pfaff, Kiki Smith, Jim Dine, and Wayne Thiebaud. He is now Master Printer and sole proprietor at Lothar Osterburg Studio in Brooklyn, where he creates work and offers printmaking workshops and other services.

To learn more about photogravure and to see examples of Osterburg’s prints, visit Lothar Osterburg’s website at home.earthlink.net/~lotharosterburg

Lothar Osterburg is represented exclusively by Achim Moeller Fine Art, New York, NY.