An engraver explores technique

Experimentation with new techniques of image-making seems to be an issue of growing concern among contemporary artists. In part intrigued by technological advances and the potential they offer for art, artists are also interested in redefining traditional media by often blending different techniques for a hybrid, visual effect. Considering this emphasis on method, it seems appropriate that the solo exhibition of engraver Apostolos Koustas currently on view at the Hellenic American Union revolves around the technique and process involved in making an engraving – all the more so given that Koustas has invented his own technique which is based on tradition and an intricate manual process, rather than the recent high-tech methods of digital print engraving. Resembling the cave drawings of Stone Age man, the engravings of Koustas are meant to recall the origins of culture and, by metaphor, the fundamental, machine-free techniques of engraving. A display of cement-based molds, drawings, engravings and unique engravings on canvas is meant to draw attention to the different stages involved in the elaborate process of engraving. A 25-minute video that shows Koustas at work follows this process step by step. Unlike most engravers, Koustas does not use ready-made molds but prepares his own by blending cement and marble dust, thus ensuring control over size and texture. In order to recreate the grainy texture of rocks, Koustas scatters pebbles on a metal slab and pours over it his mix of cement. Once it dries, he removes the cement slab, turns it on its rough side (whose surface texture has been created by the pebbles) which he then scrubs with sand to give it further texture. Once the slab is prepared to actually resemble the surface of a rock, Koustas begins drawing on it and then carving out the lines he has drawn. He then takes paper, covers it with layers of differently colored paint and applies it on his mold. Each mold usually yields a series of 10 or 20 engravings which, if successful, should all be identical. Koustas also makes one-of-a-kind engravings with canvas. More like paintings than engravings, but with the same grainy visual effect, these works have an interesting and unusual color palette; the salmon hues are especially pleasing. Although Koustas keeps pace with all the latest engraving techniques (he has participated in major international engraving exhibitions, including Osaka’s Triennale), he prefers to work without technical support. Inventing traditional-based techniques is his way of giving a new status to the art of engraving and distinguishing it from the more mechanical techniques that yield infinite reproducible images. In light of the knowledge that engraving was originally invented to produce images in multiples, this is an interesting twist. Works by Apostolos Koustas at the Hellenic American Union (22 Massalias, 210.368.0000) to June 4.

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