Scenes from the 34th City (A)

Michael Byron
Scenes from the 34th City (A), 1996
Michael Byron (American, b. 1954), Scenes from the 34th City (A) (detail), 1996. Etching, aquatint, screenprint and photolithograph, 16 1/8 x 13 3/4 in. Gift of the Oppenheim/Lamet Collection in memory of Wellesley College trustee Mary Gardiner Jones, 2007.109

Michael Byron’s Scenes from the 34th City (A) is from a series of three prints titled Scenes from the 34th City, referencing St. Louis, which at the time was the 34th largest city in the U.S.  Byron had been working on a large series of postcard collages and continued this exploration, curious to see if collage strategies could be effectively replicated through the printing process. While small in size, this series was no easy feat to complete. Enlisting the services of three different print workshops for three distinct printing processes—photolithography, intaglio, and screenprinting—and discovering a way to seamlessly combine all the techniques, took almost a year to finish.

The photographic image, comprising the background of the print, was taken by Byron in St. Louis and printed through a photolithographic process as the first step. Next, the image of the sailor was added with etching and aquatint. The final process was to add varnish  through screenprinting, creating an overall glossy, shiny look to the print.

In Michael Byron’s Scenes from the 34th City (A), a sailor from another era is located in an industrial neighborhood.  Hand-drawn after an image in a book on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century tattoos, the sailor, with his dream-like quality, feels misplaced, lost amongst the industrial growth of the twenty-first century.  He is fading into the background, merely becoming a memory of a past long ago.  The layering of the printing processes emulates the layering of images in dreams, creating a tone of exclusion and detachment.  The collage quality has been successfully translated through the medium of printmaking, leaving the sailor lost in translation.

Kristina Bracero ’14
Curatorial Intern, Summer 2011