Naval engineer Richard James worked diligently at a shipyard in Philadelphia to develop springs that could stabilize instruments on battleships during rough seas. It was 1943 and World War II was raging in Europe and the Pacific. One day, he knocked a spring off his workstation and watched as it bounced from a book to a tabletop to the floor and then re-coiled itself to stand upright.
Two years later, James walked into Gimbels department store and demonstrated the first Slinky. The unintentional toy was an instant hit.
Wonderful things have been discovered by accident, from champagne to penicillin, and so was the unique printing process used by French artist Alexandra Sivov. Her exhibit, “Between Here and There,” is on display through April 29 at the Back Lot Gallery owned by Keith and Suzy Hankins in downtown Brenham.
“It’s been great,” Sivov said. “Suzy has been really supportive and everything was really nice and smooth. I’m very happy to be in Brenham.”
Her initial interest in art was in painting but after she became a Houston resident, she began experimenting with printing. She wanted three dimensional art that played with perspective and shadow. In a nutshell, she wanted one piece of art to project onto another behind it.
Sivov’s first attempts didn’t produce the desired effect. She tried to print an image on thin fabric so that when light hit it, it would project onto another fabric in the background. But the printed fabric was still too thick to let the image show through.
Then day one she accidentally printed the image straight onto the plexiglass that lay under the fabric. Voilà! That was the answer. She could emblazon a plexiglass pane with an image and the shadow of the image would shine through to the fabric in the background.
She also worked with the fabric itself to create layers of images. Each piece is unique and produced by hand in a painstaking process. She does not mass produce her art. Her pieces are not cycled through enormous printing presses like t-shirts or, for instance, newspapers.
Her press is about the size of a folding table and is the centerpiece of her workspace at Winter Street Studios in Houston.
“Printers usually print editions of 50 or 100 and that kind of thing is absolutely not for me” Sivov said. “I like unique pieces and I don’t want to get bored, so when I make a print, I like the surprises of the print each time.”
Most of the pieces at the Back Lot Gallery are one of a kind, including two of buildings right here in Brenham.
“She came and explored and took pictures,” Suzy Hankins said. “This particular exhibit has had a great response. Her stuff is so unique and most people have never seen anything like it.”
As Sivov continues to experiment, she is currently developing a process that blends four different types of printing: monoprinting, collagraph, lithograph and screen printing. There is no room for error in the complicated formula. If she makes a mistake, she has to start over from the beginning.
But the experiment is part of the fun. As long as she stays interested in the concept, she will continue to push its boundaries. And before her exhibit closes in Brenham, she will be in town to meet patrons on the last two weekends of the show.
“It was a very nice opportunity for me to exhibit my work and we have had a lot of visits, so we are very happy,” Sivov said.