John Robert Craft lives and works on a ranch about 70 miles southeast of Amarillo, Texas. The land has passed down in his family over several generations. Mostly he raises cattle but has indulged in a wide variety of pursuits, among his most serious and long term are sculpture and printmaking.
The distance between Craft’s sculpture-making and printmaking is intentionally short. He shapes strategies that undulate between these 3D and 2D disciplines. I’m tempted to say that there is a dialogue between them but this suggests that the activities are readily separable. On the contrary, Craft’s printmaking and sculpture-making often seem seamless, more like vibrations that move through his work and find expression in both.
The AP/RC recently acquired ten prints from Craft (all printed at Flatbed Press in Austin, TX), four of which are housed in a boxed portfolio that includes a colophon. The portfolio, part of his “CMY Series” (cyan, magenta, yellow), was created in 2019 by taking what he calls his “simple point” sculptures and placing them in exacting configurations on metal plates, biting the plates with acid, and then printing them with combinations of cyan, magenta and yellow inks. The images include three different arrangements of the “simple points”: Four Point, Five Point Collapsed, and Five Point Expanded. In addition, the metal plate matrices had been tossing about for two years in the back of his ranch truck. The abrasions that resulted created a rich ground of plate tone.
The AP/RC obtained Five Point Expanded for its collection. There are four images in the portfolio each printed with a different combination of inks. The first is printed with cyan/magenta, followed by yellow/magenta, cyan/yellow, and cyan/yellow/magenta. The four prints are housed in a plywood box that also includes one of the “simple point” sculptures, a Five Point Expanded, used in creating the imagery.
Most of Craft’s sculpture is cast in ferrous metal, a process that involves intense heat. Five of his prints in the AP/RC are part of his “Heat Series,” creating links between the formation of his sculptures and his development of a printable matrix. In the “Heat Series” Craft placed select cast iron sculptures on steel plates and re-fired them in a 1800 degree F furnace at a foundry. The sculptures acted as a resist. The heat, oxidation and scaling during the firing degraded the metal plates. He calls these works “fire etchings”. When the plates were printed in 2015, the surface debris from the firing was not cleaned from the matrices. As oxidized bits and scaling mixed with metal-infused inks (graphite, aluminum, and oxides were mixed with the inks), the pressure of the printing press transferred the residues as well as the ink to the surface of the paper. The metal plates were rough and deeply eroded in areas, causing the paper to tear and creating obvious relief (along with the bits of metal debris) on the surface of the paper. The AP/RC has two groups of works from this series; the long, narrow (12×120 inches) Diamondback and Degradation Study 4, a polyptych of four, four inch square images.
Craft has also used his sculptures as carving tools for wood relief matrices. In Full Circle (2011), the artist turned, pushed and dragged one his sculptures on top of a sheet of birch plywood. The raised points on the cast ferrous sculpture abraded and removed parts of the wood. The matrix was rolled up with black ink and printed.