Chemigrams and Cliché-verre Prints by Nolan Preece

On view June 19 through September 4, 2017 in the Chan Gallery.

This body of work began over thirty years ago, and encompasses prints made with the cliché-verre and chemigram processes. Included are purely abstract works and those that employ recognizable images, and all reflect a passion for discovery, invention, and the natural environment.

The cliché-verre is an antique photographic technique for making prints from handmade glass negatives. The artist discovered a way to create beautiful yet mysterious imagery by activating smoke-on-glass with chemical solvents. The works reflect a ratio of approximately half control and half serendipity, along with many attempts and digital enhancements to arrive at the final image.

The chemigram process is a mix of painting, printmaking, and photography. The process starts with gelatin silver photo paper onto which are applied resists of acrylic floor wax, tape, spray paint, and other materials. Common photographic developer and fixer are used alternately to create complex and unpredictable graphic structures. By using these chemicals effectively, gradations of tonality and color are achieved.

In this process of cameraless photography, a feeling of mystery or enigma naturally arises. For the artist, these chemigrams resemble the desert, which is his home and passion, and these resonances flow through the work. It reflects the textures, colors and shapes of the landscape in eastern Utah where he grew up and the Nevada desert where he currently lives.

The chemigrams have shifted from nonobjective works, having no recognizable imagery, to prints that reflect the artist’s involvement in the environmental movement. Signs of human intervention in the landscape are combined with abstract chemical painting. These prints challenge the viewer’s awareness by directly condemning the degradation of the air and water through hydraulic fracturing and the emission of carbon and other substances into the earth’s atmosphere.


Artist’s Biography

Nolan Preece was born in 1947 in Vernal, Utah. His parents encouraged his early interest in art, and he was helping his father in the home darkroom at age five. Preece was an avid young photographer, who remembers the impact of his father making a photo collage of what is now Dinosaur National Monument to show what it would have looked like, under water, if a proposed dam were built on the Green River.

Preece’s interest in nature has been a constant, from growing up in the desert, to being a river guide in the Grand Canyon, to working as a field photographer for environmental impact statements in the 1980s, to creating an on-going series of landscape photographs.

After serving in the army, Preece studied photography at Utah State University, receiving his BA in 1973. Four years later he began his graduate study there in photography, learning the Zone System method of exposure and development, and absorbing the tradition of Western landscape photography. Preece became interested in experimental photographic techniques, and in 1979 he was working with the cliché-verre process using smoke-on-glass as a photographic negative. He accidently spilled kerosene on the glass, and it created unexpected and fascinating forms. He discovered that mineral spirits worked best and perfected his newly invented technique, using the prepared glass in the enlarger and printing the resulting images photographically.

In 1981, Preece’s darkroom experiments led him to develop the chemogram, a technique for painting abstractly with chemical processes on silver based photographic paper. The work has shifted from being nonobjective to including images that reflected his involvement with the environmental movement. Throughout, the work has, in the artist’s words, reflected his “relationship with the desert in eastern Utah where I grew up and now the Nevada desert where I currently live. The desert is my home and passion. These resonances flow through this work.”

Over the past thirty years, the artist has continued to create images of surprising complexity and beauty, exploring new methods including the use of digital technology. Preece has noted that having been trained in the Ansel Adams tradition of fine art photography, he was able to envision his physically created chemigram print as the “score” and the digitally scanned and manipulated image as the “performance” of that score. In 2013 he met Pierre Cordier, the Belgian who had originated the chemigram in 1956, and persuaded Preece to use this designation for his work. He was inspired by Cordier to use resists of acrylic floor wax and other substances, and began a new and very productive phase in his art.

Preece’s work is in the permanent collections of 34 institutions across the country, and his solo exhibitions include Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV; Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, UT; St. Mary’s Art Center, Virginia City, NV; Oates Park Art Center, Fallon, NV; Nevada State Arts Council, Carson City, NV; and California State University, Turlock, CA.

Visit his website for more information.

Exhibition organized through Katharine T. Carter and Associates.