(and other images of memory)
Rimer Cardillo began his artistic career in Uruguay as a printmaker, honing his skills in a field that thrives on media specialization and technical achievement often at the expense of conceptual rigor. In todays art world, we take it for granted that fine artists frequently turn to master printers to collaborate on print portfolios; it is not unusual for such deluxe editions to be published by sophisticated print workshops that place teams of experts and technicians at an artists disposal. It is rare though to encounter an individual working within this most specialized of artistic practices whose endeavors are both theoretically ambitious and technically innovative. Cardillos artistic practice skillfully negotiates a political commitment and methodological facility within image making today. The artists major print series measure out the career and contributions of this prolific artist, and these portfolios convey a graphic facility and subtle variation that enables creative exploration and determined advocacy.
During the 1960s, Cardillo studied art at a politically liberal (if not radical) institution of higher learning in his native Uruguay. He is a great advocate of the training he received at the National School of Fine Arts, Uruguays most prestigious institution for studies in the visual arts. Though the printmaking facilities and equipment were modest, the artist is generous in his praise of his professors and their teaching:
I was at the university from 1961 to 1968 seven years was a normal course of study because we were required to have knowledge of all the different artistic media and technical procedures. My idea was to become a painter, but I still remember first visiting the print workshop, and for me printmaking became a means of discovery. The teachers I had were trained in the great European tradition of printmaking, they shared techniques and skills that they had learned from master printmakers. In the early decades of the twentieth century, a wave of European immigration brought highly skilled craftsmen extremely knowledgeable printers to Uruguay. This was a generation that had gained their expertise in long-established print workshops in Italy, Germany, and other European countries. They brought to Montevideo a vital and active tradition of printmaking. 1
Exhibited at the end of his graduate studies in Montevideo, the Ovalos (Ovals) series of 1966-67 (see catalogue Plate I, title page) is a remarkably mature and professional body of work for a young man just out of art school. Amazingly accomplished woodcuts, the Ovals exhibit a sophisticated sense of hip design and hot color they are, after all, very much products of late 1960s youth culture. Cardillos woodcuts do not look dated. With the counter-culture retro-design of the 1960s currently very much in vogue, these graphic works appear remarkably current. Exhibiting exuberant style and fashion, the abstracted seed-like forms presage Cardillos lifelong interest in botanical variety and abundant fertility:
I was working with organic ideas. I wanted to escape from the square format of traditional painting and printing, so I cut the woodblocks into oval shapes. I used plywood blocks of cedar and also imbuya, a wood from Brazil that is a very hard and will print the finest details. The forms are reminiscent of seeds and fruits some people found them very vaginal but basically abstract.
Brash and rebellious in their experimentation with color and shape, these early prints are indicative of more than just formal revolutions in art and design. Early in his career, Cardillo learned that, for him, radical aesthetics worked in tandem with progressive politics and communal activism.
In 1968, I graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Montevideo. While I was a student, there were still official Salon des Beaux Arts exhibitions, with awards and prizes, mounted annually by the Ministry of Culture. In 1968, there was tremendous turmoil within the art community of Montevideo we no longer believed in the government, its powers and institutions. The artists went on strike and refused to exhibit their work at the Salons anymore. Also in 1968, I was contacted by the Printmaking Club in Montevideo and became an active member. This was a large community of artists interested in expressing themselves through printmaking. They invited me to give a course and I continued to teach it for several years. The organization had over 2,700 subscribers, and they all received an original print each month. The Clubs aim was to take art out of a commercial gallery system and get it directly to people, everyone could have an artists print in their home. It was a phenomenon of the 1960s and 1970s, this newly emergent interest in printing, but it did not survive.
In 1969, Cardillo won a scholarship to study at East Berlins Weissenssee
School of Art and Architecture, and late that year the young artist
sailed for a Europe. The journey was an adventure, for he traveled on
an East German merchant ship and was at sea for eight weeks. Cardillo
remembers being impressed that the boat had professional women sailors
on board, the Democratic Republic of Germany being rather more progressive
in its sexual politics. The young Cardillo was able to explore museums
and galleries in European ports where the ship anchored before arriving
at its final destination, and Cardillo reveled in studying original
works of western art that he had previously experienced only through
I was working in Berlin with students of Kandinsky and of the Bauhaus. Most were repressed and couldnt express themselves or do what they wanted. There was an official aesthetic. East Germany was tied to Soviet conceptions of art, so the emphasis in printing was in technique and medium. There was a delegation from Poland that arrived to see the school and they were far beyond the East Germans in the conceptual realm, so the dean of the school showed them my work they saw me as an ambassador from the West.
Cardillos studies in East Germany were formative for both his artistic and intellectual life. Historical connections to both the printing industry and paper manufacture were a very tangible part of the German milieu, and made a lasting impression on the young printmaker. Following his year in East Berlin, Cardillo was invited to further his printmaking studies at Leipzig in East Germany.
At the Leipzig School for Printmaking and Art of the Book, I studied with master printers born at the turn of the century who had worked with the German Expressionists. These were amazingly skilled printmakers with knowledge about materials and a connection to processes that had been passed down from generation to generation for centuries. The German print workshop was a beautiful environment, very 19th century. It was wonderful to work in those studios with the master printers and hear the stories that they told.
exposed to extraordinary expertise in printmaking, Cardillo was also
studying examples of European (and particularly German) art history.
Cardillo speaks about being allowed to peruse the woodcuts and engravings
of Dürer in the print study rooms of East German museums, libraries
and collections. Over a decade later, Cardillo would produce one of
his most accomplished prints, a meticulously engraved image of a beetle,
and give the work the title Dürer in Sacsayhuaman as an
homage to the great Northern Renaissance painter and printmaker.
Organic and natural forms are juxtaposed with more mechanical and architectural objects. This was my first contact with Europe and the world of technology. In Uruguay, life was more connected to nature. The imagery expressed my feelings during this period. Every day it snowed during the German winter, and it was the first time I had seen snow in my life. The Floating and Flying Objects involved working on one copper plate and printing in black ink on white paper; I was in love with the intaglio processes and the intaglio inks. I was reading a lot of Latin American literature, Jorge Luis Borges of Argentina and Gabriel García Márquez of Colombia and Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru the 60s and the 70s was the great period of Hispanic literature. There are narrative connotations in the prints: imagery of animals and birds and organisms. The compositions and images were built up from collages. I found paper that was used in the studio for blotting purposes and I took that paper and made collages. This was the first time I did etching, engraving, and aquatint in a very concentrated way, when I was working with the master printers in Berlin. Back in Uruguay, I also did a woodcut version of the print Un Traga-aldaba for an exhibition poster; the title is difficult to translate since it is a made-up word, but suggests people that are greedy or selfish.
In Leipzig, Cardillo also began the Objeto deslizándose (Moving Object) series of lithographs (see catalogue Plate III, page iv). Incorporating the title Luciérnaga fantástica (Fantastic Lightning Bug), these largely abstract designs announce the artists first venture into explorations of insect life a subject to occupy his aesthetic for many years.
The University of Leipzig is one of the oldest in the world filled with students of literature and philosophy. Leipzig was a city that had not changed since the Second World War. In places, they still had gaslights in the streets. These lights gave me the initial image, and then I connected it with organic forms and memories of the countryside in Uruguay. The prints were in my second one-person show in 1972 in Uruguay, after I had returned home from Germany.
The Moving Object lithographs, like the Floating and Flying Objects prints, attempt a rapport between diverse cultural traditions, seeking visual forms that translate difference and that bridge division. For Cardillo, the printing process itself is always a conceptual resource, providing a visual syntax that reverberates with meanings. The principle that oil and water repel each other is the basis for all lithography. When you draw with a greasy substance upon a lithographic stone and then wet its surface with water, an oil-based ink will stick to the greasy marks and allow a positive image to be printed. Alternatively, a negative version of the same drawing can be achieved by etching the lithographic stone as if it were a metal plate. The process involves covering the stone with shellac, a substance that, except in the areas where it has been drawn upon, will harden and protect the stones surface from an acid solution. Because the original oily drawing is eaten away, this procedure is usually reserved for the final stage of producing an edition of lithographs. This reverse printing is used to great advantage in the last image of the Moving Object series, which offers a darker nocturnal version of the abstract forms developed in the prints.
Voice of Protest
rise of military rule in the early 1970s led to a tragic transformation
of Uruguayan social, political, and cultural life. After the artist
returned to Montevideo in 1971, Cardillos work began to metaphorically
reflect and comment on the threats of imprisonment, torture, and violence
that became part of existence in Uruguay. As the military junta consolidated
its power, the National School of Fine Arts in Montevideo a hotbed
of resistance to the rise of conservative forces was closed down
and literally dismantled. Anything at the institution that could be
carted away was loaded onto trucks and hauled away; for the printmakers
this included the loss of their presses. To this day, Cardillo reports,
the studio equipment for teaching printmaking has never been recovered
the presses probably buried at some remote location never disclosed.
The School of Fine Arts closed. The only places that one could learn art were the private studios. Mine was dedicated to printmaking and works on paper in other media; other workshops around Montevideo were devoted to painting or sculpture or very specific purposes. My workshop became not only a place to learn, but also a place to be together with other people. It was also a healing environment; there were people who had recently been let out of jail and, following medical advice, began to pursue art. They never thought they could ever do anything again those were difficult moments. The studio was open two days a week from 3 in the afternoon until as late as 3 in the morning. Everything was watched and controlled. There was a retired military man across the street, a very cultivated man who always wanted to talk about art. I am sure he told the authorities to leave us alone, and his support protected us. The studio operated from 1974 until 1979, the year I came to the United States.
Cardillo describes a world turned upside down and inside out by a military force determined to secure its grasp on power. Suddenly, with no debate and no recourse, everything was censored. The police actually detained the artist and several of his colleagues, arresting them for publishing a calendar that illustrated popular ballads that the government suspected of subversion:
Printmaking Club of Montevideo created a calendar for 1973 and asked
me to contribute a print to the project. There was an art fair that
year in Montevideo, and the association had a booth where they sold
the calendar. They chose to illustrate popular songs, some had controversial
political subtexts and, for that, we were picked up for questioning.
They knew everybodys address and found us. They took us to jail
where we were interrogated. We were all sleeping in one room in a building
that was infamous for being a center for detention and torture
called the Tintoreria Biere, or dry cleaners.
still recalls this episode as an utterly surreal occurrence and otherworldly
episode in his life. The artist downplays the incident because he and
his associates were released after a couple of days, but such tales
are chilling especially since others who found themselves in
similar situations were not as fortunate. Many citizens of Montevideo
were caught up in cycles of arbitrary arrest and periods of indeterminate
incarceration. A significant number of Uruguayans merely suspected of
dissident activities or questionable associations
by the new military regime were never seen again, and many more were
condemned to years of imprisonment, often suffering inhumane conditions
and even brutal torture. The repressions and intimidations were relentless,
turning what had been a long-term liberal democracy into a repressive
military dictatorship that lasted for almost a decade. 2
I was able to view the insect through an electron microscope, and there was no end to going deeper and deeper into the detail. Each plate took a month and a half to complete, but that was not a problem since it was a time when one was terrorized by what was going on in the streets, and so one spent days in the studio. It was almost a medieval time. I would just wake up and start to work. If I got hungry, I would eat some bread and salami and then go back to work. I had a radio and could listen to that, but I did not have a phone (one had to wait seven or eight years to get a phone line) and so friends would just stop by. The rest was work, that was what kept us alive. The connection with our work was the only thing we had. We didnt have any materials no inks, no papers and I had to ask friends to bring things back when they traveled.
Progress on the Insect project can be followed from the meticulous detailing of the original pencil drawings to the sculptural relief of the zinc plates that are themselves very much works of art. Two sets of prints were produced, one of only embossing with no color other than the white of the paper, and another colored version. Working in his Montevideo studio, Cardillo developed a new process to achieve the lustrous metallic finish of the colored prints:
For the color versions, the paper was hand painted after it had been embossed. Then, two or three layers of acrylic gesso thinned with alcohol were applied. The coated paper was then rubbed over with inks applied in an aerosol thickness right onto the paper and then wiped as if it were a plate.
Cardillo, such carefully worked surfaces emulated the Christian icons
he first encountered during excursions into Bulgaria and Romania while
studying in Eastern Europe during the early 1970s. The artist had grown
to admire the muted color and appreciate the layered patina of these
relatively small, but powerfully evocative images. Cardillos encounters
with these and other objects of veneration increasingly encouraged him
to explore sacred forms within his own art, but more to evoke their
general experiential effects than to further their specific religious
Viscosity printing entails using one plate to print many colors it is like doing a painting on the plate and then passing it only once through the press. I used very small and delicate brushes to ink the plates, so each plate used in the Sublime Jewelry series took three to four hours to paint and prepare for printing. And then, for each print in the edition, the plate has to be repainted. It is a very intimate and intense kind of work.
this zinc plate itself is cut out to follow the outline of a butterfly
or to create a non-rectangular form. Almost all prints in the series
are embossed and printed with a leaf design. Each botanical specimen
was cast in polyester resin to produce a plate, which was then engraved
to ensure visibility of the minute veins and delicate edges of each
leaf. In some of the prints, photomechanical cliché plates are
also incorporated into the design. Cardillo collects these increasingly
rare antique plates, leftovers from an era when intricate patterns and
detailed borders were standard fare for newspaper and magazine production.
In other cases, machine parts from long-lost industrial processes are
recruited as plates for embossing.
In 1979, Cardillo accepted a residency with the art department at the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale. In re-establishing his life and career in the United States, Cardillo was one of more than a quarter of a million Uruguayans many the cultural elite and intellectual leaders of the nation who left their country to escape a repressive military reign that stretched into the mid 1980s.
general situation in the county was very bad. Eventually the atmosphere
became unbearable. The invitation to work at Southern Illinois University
provided an opening for me to come to the United States. It was very
difficult for artists and intellectuals to get permission to travel
outside of Uruguay and because I had exhibited my work in Cuba,
my passport privileges were limited. To travel to the United States,
I had to be invited by an institution and I ended up staying
in this country.
is a little more than an hours drive southeast of St. Louis, Missouri,
near the southern tip of Illinois. A professor of printmaking invited
Cardillo to visit a lithography studio in New Harmony, a small town
to the east, just across the state line in Indiana. While visiting the
workshop, Cardillo was asked to work with the master lithographers to
produce a print, and the remarkable Wasp from
New Harmony of 1980 (see catalogue ill., page 41), an image
dominated by the enlarged image of a wasp native to North America, commemorates
this professional collaboration. Though specifying the place where the
print was executed, the works title also announced the beginnings
of Cardillos artistic work in the United States. Several proofs
of the lithograph exist and reveal Cardillos progress toward a
final image. An initial trial proof (or impression made to review progress
on a print) shows the wasp printed in black ink using one lithographic
stone. A working proof (or sheet onto which the artist has added work
by hand) proposes the addition of a reddish background, with details
of a smaller insect design sketched out in white. The final impression
includes a more precisely rendered insect drawing, photocopied from
a Italian engraving the artist found in an a entomologists guidebook
probably dating to the 17th century. Meticulously etched into a second
stone, the image was printed in umber to complete the small edition
were beginning to loosen a bit in the 1980s. The hardest times were
during the early 1970s when the militares first came to power. By 1980s,
they were easing their control over the political parties allowing
a little freedom to assemble and debate. There is a healing process
after a period of such repression a silence. There is a collective
understanding that for many people it is too difficult to remember;
they just want to try to forget it.
way that Cardillo worked through his personal struggles as a working
artist and Uruguayan émigré was to immerse himself in
a Latin American literature that was attempting to grapple with some
of the harsher political realities of the era. He voraciously devoured
the writings of many contemporary Uruguayan authors, including the poetry
of Mario Benedetti and the prose of Juan Carlos Onetti.
At the 53rd Street studio, only the first three floors were functional the rest of the building was abandoned. Some pieces of machinery were left over from an old industrial factory and the tin ceiling was falling down and decaying. Rust was all over the place. The whole floor was like a collage covered with greasy spots and patched in places with metal sheets. Every time I saw that floor, I started to connect it with metal plates, and litho stones, and wood blocks I had seen before. I found many pieces in that building the ceramic sink used in Silent Barrack and the wooden planks used in Memorial Diptych. Every time I went to the fourth and fifth floors, I found some pieces.
heavy sheets of handmade paper were attached to create the tall and
elongated format of the three large Memorial
Diptych prints of 1989 (see catalogue ill., page 45). These
double-sized sheets were subsequently embossed using a large rectangular
section of wood flooring from his midtown studio a massive plank
into which the artist had gouged long deep furrows with his woodcutting
tools. Each embossing was then hand colored by rubbing the deeply furrowed
sheet with graphite, charcoal and pastel creating white, grey,
and black (or light, medium, and dark) versions of the same composition.
The section of wood flooring was eventually incorporated into a large-scale
sculpture of the same title that suggests both a gaping box-like form
with its lid precariously propped open and some primitive pressing mechanism
ready to go into action (see catalogue Plate XV, page 22). Following
the practice of African sculptors, the raw wood in the sculptural apparatus
is sealed and preserved using natural fat obtained from ducks and chickens,
giving the work a slightly stained luster.
I began to find images in that floor and connected these images with rupestrian signs. I began looking at images from the Tiahuanaco culture of Bolivia, and researching the markings on stone petroglyphs and shapes of rock forms made by prehistoric man. There are iconic images embedded in my works a warrior with a shield and spear, a paired man and woman, vessel and amphora shapes, fossils produced by plants, definitely stones from the Uruguayan countryside, all this is in these works. It is an imagery going to the essence of form and shape going to the sign and the symbol.
Encrusted with graphite, oil stick, powdered pigment, sawdust seemingly every mark-making substance close at hand these crude designs hover between figuration and abstraction, possessing an affinity with the pictographic forms of Adolph Gottliebs early abstractions, the emblematic shapes of Roberto Mattas line drawings, and especially the symbolic vocabulary of Joaquín Torres-Garcias mature work.
was still a powerful presence in Uruguay during the years when I was
in school. Many of his works remained on view in Montevideo and his
late followers continued to exhibit. There is in Torres-Garcias
work the will for form to span two different civilizations and two different
eras. The compositions have connections to Mondrian and de Stijl, but
also from the ancient sources the carved stele and stone monuments
of the Americas. Those connections inform much of my own work, and I
always try to find that relationship in the objects that I collect.
Installations and Castings in the 1990s and Today
During the early 1990s, Cardillo began to silkscreen large, unstretched canvases. These works were hung with grommets and hooks, and like the grand tapestry cycles produced in medieval Europe, covered entire walls and transformed whole rooms into densely textured environments. One such series of wall hangings called the Vanishing Tapestries were printed with the same imagery that appears in the Archeological Prints of 1991-93 (see catalogue Plates XX - XXI, page 34-35). Cardillo made photographs and plaster casts of animal carcasses ducks, minks, armadillos, and partridges that he would come across, and incorporate them into both his two and three-dimensional work. In the Archeological Prints, images of animal remains are juxtaposed against photographs of excavated human bones recorded by anthropologists working in the field. Cardillo maintains a network of associations with anthropologists and archeologists throughout the world who eagerly share their research and studies. The human skeletons in the Archeological Prints are the remains of ancient cultures some 7,000 years old excavated in far-flung areas of the Americas. Archeological sites in Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador, and other regions of South America yield finds that bear remarkable parallels with digs in the Mississippi River Valley and other parts of the North American continent. For Cardillo, this geographical diffusion of early peoples speaks to common pasts and cultural connections that have relevance and import for society today. The juxtaposition of evidence endangered animal species shown together with extinct human civilizations creates layers of meaning, challenging viewers to contemplate not only their own evolution, but also their relations to other living species and the surrounding natural world. The black-and-white format of the Archeological Prints conveys a hard-hitting matter-of-factness as if the images were snapshots of a recent crime scene. Not since the Cicadas and Moths silkscreens of the early 1970s has Cardillo employed such a graphic rawness, and here again it is used to introduce an element of urgency and immediacy into discourses of environmental preservation and cultural détente.
Cardillo began teaching at the State University of New York at New Paltz in 1994. This move inaugurated a long-term, ongoing relationship with the unique environment of the Hudson River Valley and the ecological system of the Shawangunk Mountain Range. Throughout his tenure at SUNY New Paltz, Cardillo has worked with his students on numerous large-scale projects, including a large outdoor wall mural constructed of ceramic tiles printed with iconic images culled from Cardillo's art of the 1990s. Cardillo's work increasingly blends two realities, his Latin American roots in Uruguay and his adopted home in the United States. The artist's interest in the preservation of the virgin forests of the Amazonian basin parallel and compliment his deep commitment to sustaining the environment and ecology of the Hudson Valley region.
The 1995 Project for Sao Paulo Biennale prints (see catalogue Plate XXIII, page 52) were developed for a never-executed installation that Cardillo proposed for the international art exposition that takes place every two years in Brazil. The series formulates an abbreviated guidebook to the sculptural forms and iconic imagery explored by Cardillo in the mid-1990s: cupí (conical earthen mounds patterned upon ancient Meso-American burial sites), catafalques (architectural structures displaying the flayed skins of large cats and other endangered species), fossils (ossified remains recording a plenitude of past life now extinct), and Tlazolteotl (the Aztec mother goddess of fertility and birth, more often than not emblazoned in the prints upon mirror-like reflective foils). These images circulating around themes of loss and continuity, prehistory and its accessibility are printed upon heavily textured panels of vintage wallpaper. Resembling sandpaper or corkboard or burlap, these brown and tan wallpapers salvaged from 1940s and 1950s sample books carry their own allusions past and present, natural and cultural that enhance the repertoire and expand the dialogue instigated by the images.
Cupí is a Guaraní word for the giant conical mounds created by a certain species of ant building its extensive underground habitat. In an exchange between nature and culture, the cupí retain formal links to tumuli, or the prehistoric burial mounds of aboriginal peoples throughout the Americas. The Minuanes, the Yaros, the Timbúes, the Chaná-beguáes, and the Charruás are the names of the South American tribes decimated by the empire construction and nation building that were often little more than pretenses for genocide. The few remaining members of the indigenous Charruás tribe indigenous to Uruguay, for example, were annihilated during the 19th century. Savagely slaughtered by the same armed forces that sought an independent Uruguayan nation-state in the 1830s and then finally wiped out by an opportunistic smallpox epidemic in the 1860s, the Charruás were victims of both ethnic cleansing and germ warfare. Cardillos work adeptly explores the links between the historical norms that kill off indigenous peoples and the cultural habits that exploit animal and plant life. The metaphorical and allusive are hallmarks of an art that reveals how such inconspicuous and unobtrusive processes of destruction pervade contemporary existence.
Photographs and sketches items compiled and collected over years of travel and study point to Cardillo's continuing concern for the survival of native peoples and preservation of natural ecosystems across political barriers and societal divides. Cardillo seeks out some of the most remote regions of the South American continent, places such as the Pantanal (the southern Amazon region that remains one of the largest continuous tracts of undisturbed wetlands on earth), or the rustic cattle ranches (called estancias) of the Uruguayan interior. Cardillo records his observations in travel diaries, and these sketchbooks supplied the imagery for the ongoing El Pantanal and En la estancia (On the Ranch) series of woodcuts, both started in 1998 (see ill., page 47; see Plate XVIII, page 27). Using an overhead projector to enlarge his small pencil drawings, Cardillo traces his linear outlines onto expansive sheets of plywood.
I have a relationship with the estancias and with the men leading the life of the gauchos. For me, being on the estancias is like being with friends. When made, the sketches were about describing daily life there were no pretensions about creating a work of art. The sketches come from how I react instinctively to life on the estancias. I also take a great number of photographs, but on the estancias the camera is not enough. One must take out a pencil and make a small notation. This is how the series of woodcuts started as an emotional reaction to life, with no pretenses.
Cardillos enlarged linear notations, combined with the overall texture of the printed wood grain, result in some of the most elegant and appealing prints of Cardillos career. It seems fitting that, in these works that borrow from Cardillos personal diaries about life in Uruguay, the artist has returned to the woodcut medium first explored at the beginnings of his artistic career.
There is a rich tradition of woodcuts in Uruguay because metal plates are expensive and lithography stones come from Germany, wood is the most natural element that we have. Many people influenced my work in woodcut Luis Mazzey, Antonio Frasconi, Carlos Gonzales, and then I had contact with all the woodcut printers at the Printmakers Club of Montevideo. Mazzey was one of my professors; and Gonzales is considered the José Guadalupe Posada of Uruguay but Posada printed with metal plates and Gonzales made woodcuts.
The correspondences between casting and printing both means of making impressions and imprints run throughout Cardillos recent work. The images used to produce the Birds of Gardiner photo-silkscreens of 2003 (see catalogue Plate XVII, page 26) come from a series of wax casts. To produce these sculptural objects, plaster molds were taken of the dead bodies of small birds Cardillo found on and around his property, located near the town of Gardiner in New Yorks mid-Hudson Valley. The plaster is poured over the carcass through a grid of metal screens or wire meshes that keep the plaster rigid and stable once it has dried. From this first negative cast of the bird, other positive casts can be made. According to Cardillo, he can sometimes obtain both latex and wax pieces from one plaster cast. The direct casting maintains the actual scale of the animal's bodies, and this, combined with the bits of feathers or hair or scales trapped in the casts, can make a creatures physical presence quite palpable.
learned casting techniques at the school of fine arts, first in Montevideo
and then in Germany, from master craftsmen who made amazing plaster
casts of clay or wax models in the process of producing bronze sculpture.
These professors were amazing, possessing secrets about technical processes
that had been passed down for generations.
Cardillo recounts the accidental deaths that initiate each work in the Birds of Gardiner series the birds fly into the windows because they see the sky reflected in the glass and think it is open space. It is a simple, matter-of-fact explanation, but one that clearly both fascinates and troubles the artist. These flying creatures have not naturally evolved the ability to distinguish between real and reflected light on a vertical surface. Such a difficulty in perceiving depth and flatness is, no doubt, of exceeding interest to a visual artist so self-consciously involved with the incremental translation of three dimensions into two. A failure to see accurately is (for humans no less than other animals) a common cause of accidents and destruction. Townspeople who build houses in the countryside (the artist being among them) did not intentionally set out to harm these delicate creatures, but they had a role in their demise nonetheless. Though on a small scale, for Cardillo these prints record yet another destructive consequence of mans intrusions upon the natural environment. Premeditation is not the issue, but the damaging results of building construction and land development are being scrutinized. The modesty of Cardillos imagery makes such insights hit home in a literal (and thereby very strategic) way.
In some of the Birds of Gardiner prints, as many as eight colors of ink have been applied to create the rich texture of the final image and a single color could be passed through the screen more than once to create a dozen or more layers of ink on each sheet. Cardillo describes his procedures and aims:
The images are prints and paintings at the same time. It is a process of translating from three dimensions to two dimensions. Photographs of the wax casts are first manipulated on the computer. From these revised and modified images, acetates are produced for the silkscreens each image uses two or three different screens. Each print is built up of many different layers of screened information. Later layers often cover up much of the information underneath, but it makes a difference in the final print. Sometimes I think a print is lost, but then I screen one more layer and it comes back, but in a way that is different than if each one of the previous layers were not beneath the last.
each of the ten images in the series, there is what one might call a
more-or-less standard version, usually printed in a muted shade of brown,
olive, or black. However, unique variations were also made in which
Cardillo began by sponging ink directly on the paper to form an intense
puddle or stain on which the image was then screened. Cooler and more
brilliant shades such as lavender or rose were also used to create,
from one screen, an array of variations with both subtle and
This and all subsequent quotes from Rimer Cardillo are from conversations
with the artist that occurred during the organization of the exhibition
during 2003 and 2004.