Origins and Destinations: Photo Etchings by Phillip Chen

1 - 22 August 2009

Chinese American artist Phillip Chen’s series of photo-etchings, Origins and Destinations, incorporates both photographic and drawing processes. The arrangement of this exhibition organizes prints by subject matter, but more importantly, establishes a visual pattern that amplifies the linguistic nature and narrative content of each individual work. His installation shows relationships amongst different cultural systems: race relations, personal narrative, gender politics, family history, and international intersections.  One of the categories reveals the equation of social and mathematical values.


The prints exhibited here are photo-etchings: each work has been pressed from a light sensitive zinc plate on which a half-tome transparency has been exposed to light in the darkroom. The exposed plate is then chemically developed and acid etched, resulting in areas below the surface of the plate that cannot be contacted by black printing ink when it is hand rolled onto the top surface. Therefore, the black color of each print is the printing ink and not the color of the paper.


Each work incorporates photographic imagery combined with line-work drawn by hand. The photographic elements of earlier prints were made using a 35mm camera and copy camera, while prints made since 2005 have utilized digital processes. Chen’s change of technology was involuntary: he turned to digital photography when copy cameras used to make half-tone transparencies became widely unavailable in the U.S. Currently, his digital photos, adjusted in Photoshop, are digitally converted to half-tone films by an “image setter”.  He places one of these films on top of a light sensitive zinc plate, along with an additional layer of pen and ink drawing on tracing paper.  The plate, with these two transparent layers on top, is then  exposed to a high intensity halide light source that hardens areas of the photo-emulsion wherever it is not protected by black ink drawing or black half-tone dots.  These areas of hardened photo-emulsion are acid-resistant. When the plate is tray developed, the protected areas are chemically removed, revealing pure metal: these are the areas that are later acid etched below the surface of the plate and cannot be touched by printing ink: they will appear as a light color on the finished print.

A first generation American, Phillip Chen was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1979 and his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Illinois, Chicago. Phillip Chen has exhibited in over 150 venues throughout the United States and worldwide, and his work is shown regularly at International Print Center New York. He has served as an evaluator for the National Endowment for the Arts, College Art Association, and The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


His art is held by the permanent collections of museums throughout the United States. Among his numerous artist grants is the prestigious Tiffany Foundation Award, given in 2005.