Studio Visit: Making the Screen with Chuck Sperry

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Chuck Sperry has been creating his particular style of  screened art, usually for rock posters for over 15 years. Sperry was preparing for  his touring exhibition, “The Flowers of Popular Victories” when we stopped by his Oakland, CA studio to learn his process, which he took us through twice, for the fist time using brand new custom designed Kremlin device to print Thalia for “The Flowers of Popular Victories”

The first stop on Sperry’s tour is Mondo Bizzarro Gallery in Rome, which will open a month-long solo show of his work on June 7.  The astounding highlight of Sperry’s Italian visit will be June 10-15, in the town of Tellaro, in Liguria on Italy’s northeastern coast. Sperry teams up with electronic musician Franz Treichler (singer of The Young Gods) and Bill Ham (whose credits include psychedelic light projections for the Grateful Dead) a to create a site-specific immersive audio-visual installation on the inside and outside of Oratorio Santa Maria in Selaa, the town’s medieval Catholic church.

Here is Chuck description of  what goes into making his large-size screen art:

For the past two years I’ve been producing large scale screen prints, pushing the boundaries of what is possible for me to create, pushing the boundaries of scale, and the number of colors and intricacy of my vision as realized in large scale screen print.

As a screen printer, I am a process artist, one that uses many technical steps – starting from brush and ink drawing, and then utilizing computer processes, photographic processes, and chemical processes – to realize his work. For me each step is a part of the resulting work of art. When each step is given full concentration, with a view to it’s contribution to the end result, deeply creative compounding activity begin to express itself.

Since late 2011 when Varnish Fine Art invited me to show large scale screen print art pieces at Art Basel in Miami, I’ve been wrestling with the technical constraints of large scale printing. At Varnish Fine Art’s exhibition at Scope, Miami 2011, I revealed “Mind Spring” which was accomplished in six intricately handprinted colors on birch panel.

When I say handprinted – what I mean to say is – “Mind Spring” was photographically “burned” on my work-a-day exposure unit on silkscreens that were as large as would fit in the machine. “Mind Spring” was also as tall a print as I could reach by throwing my arms forward as far as they would reach, and as wide as a very strenuous print stroke can accomplish. It was very hard to do. Back-breaking printing. It brought to mind the drawing by Leonardo of the proportion of a man, with it’s central figure of a man, fine circle and super-imposed square. “Mind Spring” is similar in that it is the measure of a hand-printed work of art, at least for me.

After making “Mind Spring” I sought to print larger, and located and acquired a cantilevered hand press that measures roughly 6 feet by 8. One prints “sideways” – at least from my reckoning, the lever moves along the the height from top to bottom, using a lever action to give more strength to the muscle you have to put into it. I produced “Chaos” and “Cosmos” for my first exhibition at the new home of Varnish Fine Art in February of 2012.

These were 40 inches by 60, and required four pieces of expensive photographic film positives for each of the eight colors used to produce them.

I had to stitch the oversized films together with clear tape and expose these by spray fixing them directly to each of the eight silkscreens exposed to make these pieces.

The screens were just too big, at that point, for my exposure unit. It was a messy and expensive process. It was a very successful outcome artistically despite the mess and expense.

My vision of the art I would create for my solo show at Mondo Bizzarro in Rome, and in a site-specific installation in a church on the coast of Liguria, this coming June, called for large scale, and I wanted to have an exposure unit large enough for the job. They just didn’t exist! I would have to create one, to custom build one to my own specifications. It seemed a very California attitude to take. Kind of like building a hotrod or Burning Man dream machine. To reference painting – this is a lot like what a painter might call a well worked in brush.

I described my vision of this large scale exposure unit to Todd Merrill, who had just built in my studio gallery space at my studio, Hangar 18. Todd got excited, and drew up plans for a wall-mount exposure unit that measured over 100 inches wide by 75 tall – made these plans within a few hours of opening the discussion. There was some discourse of Archimedes, haha, and it’s weight and lever action to make it smoothly pivot down off the wall and rest horizontally at waist height, and calibrations concerning such a large machine and it’s great weight.

Next day, Todd and I met with a dear old friend and welder Craig Campbell who agreed to make our frames from scratch from steel. We priced a piece of tempered glass; the only normal use of this same size was in skyscraper construction. It weighs 240 pounds, and has two holes custom drilled to house the vacuum fittings. From mid-March to early May, Craig and Todd constructed my behemoth custom built exposure unit, aptly nicknamed The Kremlin, Russian for Fortress.

The new art pieces I am revealing at Mondo Bizzarro are only possible by using my Kremlin. It is, I want to say largest, but will mediate my excitement, and just say, one of the largest exposure units in the State of California. Cindy Schwarzstein of CARTWHEEL magazine came to visit my studio, Hangar 18, and by supreme good-timing, was able to record the first day I got to use my cool new custom-built devise, producing my newest art piece “Thalia” for my solo show at Mondo Bizzarro called, “The Flowers of Popular Victories” opening June 7 and running through July 10 / and as part of my site-specific art installation at the Oratorio di Santa Maria in Selaa, Tellaro, Italy, on June 10 through June 15.













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