I have been working with AP/RC materials received from Eldon “E.C.” Cunningham’s widow, Allison, for several months. This has been an interesting challenge, demanding that I reverse engineer specific links among art works, printing plates, notes, mylars, drawings, proofs, and other supplemental materials that were used in the development of Cunningham’s lithographs and etchings. The process requires puzzle solving, intelligent guessing and luck directed toward, for example, understanding how some strips of paper with obtuse markings were used to register colors for a particular lithograph, or determining why the artist printed a three-color floral pattern over a one-color proof.
For one of Cunningham’s lithographs, Rauschenberg vs Van Gogh: Who Can Build a Better Chair (1998), I sorted through more than 40 different photocopies and printouts that Cunningham worked with before arriving at his final composition. When looking at the wide spectrum of materials that Cunningham utilized in the production of this print, the finished work yields
even more about his intentions and the decisions that he made. Drawn lines, transparencies, collages, printouts and cutouts fused together. All of these tangential materials related to the final work and delineated an understanding of the artist, or at least framed an educated guess at how he thought and manipulated these materials.
However, one has to be careful when dissecting a finished art work and its support materials. Assumptions about how or why
one image was chosen over another remain more or less speculative. Do I know for sure why Cunningham picked a particular Van Gogh drawing? No, but I can identify drawings that he did not pick. Similarly, Rauschenberg’s images can be compared and sifted through, yielding intuition into Cunningham’s juxtaposition of these two artists.
No exacting blueprint exists with which to reassemble the processes that led to the final print. This lack of definitive answers makes the AP/RC invaluable to researchers because it points toward varied avenues of speculation and exploration
. Many of the secondary materials that Cunningham used to develop his print have only a marginal presence in the final image. If an artwork can be understood to create an aura, as Walter Benjamin argued in The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936), than Cunningham’s secondary material is tactile with this presence. We create this aura through interaction with an object. The art work precipitates a reaction. My elicited memories, experiences, and understandings of Cunningham’s print are my conversations and maybe, on occasion, will resonate with others. A constant relay of information between an object and an observer compiles new experiences, opinions, and knowledge; auras change and research pathways appear infinite.
The piles of copies and plates and printouts and mylar sheets are vestiges of Cunningham, an archaeology of his thoughts and actions. Encountering them, trying to make sense of them, makes the AP/RC more than a collection of pictures.