Old wooden printers trays (also called type cases) are readily available in a variety of styles and sizes on the Internet or in antique shops. Although they are widely used as decorative display cases for small knic-knacs, they can also function as the basis of more serious art projects. The divisions within these trays provide a built-in structure to the piece, and they have the added advantage of not needing an external frame. Some of my attempts to work within the framework of printers trays are shown below.
10 1/2″ x 13″
The embossed letters in this case suggested the theme of the piece since the four chapters of Lamentations are each arranged as an acrostic with the opening lines beginning with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Within this literary framework, however, there are variations so that each succeeding chapter becomes increasingly disordered, mirroring the disintegration of the nation of Israel after the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC.
When I purchased this printers tray, it was somewhat damaged. This prompted me to actually remove additional dividing slats so as to provide larger frameworks for the most prominent collaged images. Thus, the use of chance elements can be used to advantage by the artist even if they seem to be problems at the time. Witness Marcel Duchamp’s comment when his Great Glass masterpiece was dropped by workmen, cracking a glass panel—“Now it is complete!”
The Book of Genesis is the theme of the above piece. The literary structure of this book actually forms an interesting, and contrasting, counterpart to that of Lamentations. Ten of the eleven major sections of Genesis begins with the words “This is the generation of.” The first sections have no recognizable sub-structure, but slowly a pattern emerges. By the time the last section appears– the story of Joseph– it is seen to have a highly organized symmetrical structure. In this manner, the whole Book of Genesis is seen to reflect the creation of an ordered world from chaos and God’s choosing of one particular family over the many people on earth. This increasing symmetry can be seen by comparing the patterns of divisions in the tray going from left to right.
6 3/4″ x 8″
A very unusual variety of printers box was used for the above piece. It is a hard rubber tray used for linotypes. The title and subject were felt to be appropriate ones for the material in question. In biblical parlance, a “type” is an Old Testament forerunner to a New Testament person or event. In a way, it is a form of hidden prophecy whose meaning is only revealed later under the influence of the Holy Spirit. In this particular collage, the example is that of Jonah, who was a type of Jesus in that they were both “buried” for three days before being raised (see Matthew 12:38-40)
One For Many (2003)
32″ x 16 1/2″
It is hard to see much detail in the photo above, but at least one can admire the inherent artistry in the unusual tray itself. The major divisions in the tray gave rise to the arrangement of the collage elements with the center panel representing Christ’s crucifixion and the flanking panels showing events on heaven, earth and hell (going from top to bottom) before and after, respectively, this key event in history. The title comes from Caiaphas’ inadvertant prophecy (John 11:49-51) that one person should die on behalf of the many, who are represented in the portraits lining the bottom row.
God’s Plaything (2009)
32 1/2″ x 16 3/4″
This rather playful piece pictures the mysterious, composite sea creature called Leviathan. It is described in detail in Job 40-41 as the epitome of God’s creation in the ocean. Despite its power and invincibility, it is a mere plaything for God (Psalm 104:26). Its immunity to man’s attempts to capture it with hooks or spears prompts the inclusion of the encapsulated objects in the upper and lower rows of the picture. Note that I removed almost all of the wooden slats from the original type case before constructing this work.
Dubious Denouement (2009)
32″ x 16 3/4″
The strange images in the above piece are appropriate to the rather strange passage that forms the ending (chapter 16, verses 9-20) to Mark’s Gospel in some, but not all, modern translations. The controversy over whether to include these verses arises from the fact that the majority of ancient Greek manuscripts end with this passage, but not the earliest ones. My own studies of this gospel from a structural viewpoint have led me to the following theory: Mark ‘s original ending to his gospel was lost early in the history of its transmission but reconstructed later from memory by his associates. Luke, but not Matthew, had access to the original edition of Mark’s Gospel when he wrote his story of Christ’s life and teachings so we can get some further idea of what was originally in Mark from the ending of The Gospel According to Luke.