Michael Ray Charles
Flatbed Press announces the publication of the new deluxe artist portfolio with Michael Ray Charles titled Every World Is A Head, Every Head Is A World. This monumental project was co-published with the support of The Black Studies Department of the University of Texas and has been in process since the fall of 2017. The boxed suite, also known as a livre d’artiste, includes seven fine art prints created by Charles at Flatbed Press using a combination of color lithography, aquatint etching, collage, and blind embossment. Included in the boxed suite are three letterpress pages: title page, a poem by Meta DuEwa, and a signed and numbered colophon page. The completed suites are housed in handmade boxes designed by Charles and created by Jace Graf of Cloverleaf Studios. The prints and pages of the portfolio measure 21 in. x 16 in. and are printed on 300 gsm Fabriano Artistico watercolor paper in a numbered edition of 24.
As a well-known contemporary American painter, Michael exhibits and lectures internationally. He was the recipient of the Hugh Roy and Lillie Crank Cullen Distinguished Professor of Painting in the School of Art at the University of Houston and was most recently honored with the prestigious Rome Prize by the American Academy in Rome and is currently enjoying his residency at the Academy in Rome.
A penny, the only dark coin of our currency and also created with the profile of Lincoln, liberator of slaves, is a signature object that Michael Ray includes in all his work and always places it heads up and upside down.
Flatbed was honored and excited at the prospect of collaborating with Michael on this important project. Having collaborated with Michael Ray in 1994 and then again in 2001 on other print projects, we knew Michael Ray and his work well and understood that he would bring aesthetic and technical challenges, which in the past had resulted in compelling but challenging work. Since the 1990s, Michael work has stirred controversy with his use of iconic images such as watermelons, toothy grins, and mammy figures to deconstruct the images he states were created by whites but believed by blacks.
To begin the portfolio, Michael Ray worked with master printers Veronica Ceci and Katherine Brimberry to experiment with printmaking methods that would help him create the deconstruction and amplification of a succession of seven images. His first test image reflected his vision of an idealized head of a young black person in the midst of floral elements. Using a combination of hand-printed lithography for the constructed floral areas, deeply etched aquatints to print the velvet blacks of the heads, and additional collaged floral elements, Michael Ray began to develop and assemble the images. Ceci’s proofing led to Michael Ray’s decision to make subtle and sometimes dramatic changes in color and placement.
He was intent on seeing the seven successive images create a narrative of degradation and decay.
In a significant breakthrough, Michael decided to add hand-cut collage elements to the prints, transforming the flat, graphic surface of the lithograph/etching to a painterly one. He was intent on seeing the seven successive images create a narrative of degradation and decay. The heads gradually seem infected with discord, and a watermelon smile of a mouth appears. The seventh and last image of the suite has the black faces covering the surface of the paper, and all have watermelon smiles; all floral elements have disappeared except for a few small leaves. The final, subtle element to each print is a blind-embossed penny. A penny, the only dark coin of our currency and also created with the profile of Lincoln, liberator of slaves, is a signature object that Michael Ray includes in all his work and always places it heads up and upside down. Veronica Ceci, lead Master Printer for this project, editioned the lithographic and intaglio layers for all seven editions.
Michael titled the suite Every World Is A Head, Every Head Is A World. Poet Meta DuEwa Jones’s poem, which was created in response to Michael’s images, Crown of Thorns: A Bitmap Bouquet before and after, was printed as a letterpress broadside and included in the final portfolio along with two other letterpress pages: the title page and the colophon, all of which were printed by Max Koch in Austin, Texas. Michael Ray designed the clamshell portfolio box to hold the seven prints and three letterpress printed pages. The cover of each portfolio box has an inlaid penny.
Flatbed’s primary challenge for the project beyond the printing of the images was the cutting and collaging of the printed floral elements for each print. Michael directed the cutting and placement of the flowers, which were printed by Peter Williams of Agave Print in Austin with archival pigment on Japanese Katakana paper. For the completed project over 16,000 cut elements were hand collaged, and every printer, assistant, and intern at Flatbed became involved. By the end of December 2018, the prints and boxes had been completed.
Every World Is A Head, Every Head Is A World now waits in its portfolio box to be experienced as you would a book. Michael Ray has designed an experience that will leave you revisiting each image and reading Jones’ poem, created to be read much like the images are “read.” The images, multi-layered, are visually rich and find echos in Jones’ text.
This portfolio is currently available through Flatbed Press: firstname.lastname@example.org or 512.477.9328.