We Are All Mixed-Media

Is it a painting, or an etching, or a sculpture, or a drawing? It is all of those things. Just like we are all of the things.

This is Oh Susanna By Nathan Oliveira, 1964, print 50/60.

Nathan Oliveira is known for making mono-prints and monotypes. This piece is part painting, part print, part etching and part drawing. The process he used involves brushing and scraping and pushing oil and ink and thinner around on a plate, soaking rag paper in a tub of water and running that whole mess through a press. You get an image, and the plate has a leftover “ghost” of what you just printed. You can go back into the print itself with ink pen or whatever. You can go back onto the plate and add and subtract and make another print, and it will look like a cousin of the one that came before. I don’t know if the 60 prints are the same or all different. I have no idea where the title came from, I don’t see a banjo anywhere. Maybe you do?

But there are figures embedded throughout. Nate often incorporated many expressions of the figure mixed in together. In the image below left there is a face on the left edge, then a robed-like figure at center, and then another fellow on the right. You can probably find more above.

I was lucky enough to study with Nate, and watch him make prints like this. He had Rottweiler dogs that hung around. The studio smelled like ink and linseed oil and thinner. The materials were quite flammable so we had to keep rags inside of bins with lids on them. I goofed up a lot of prints in that place. It’s tricky to get the press to work exactly right. It’s so worth it though. We were painting and drawing and printing all at once.

Here is Skull in Wax by Mike Monteiro, 2022.

Mike’s work in wax is a heck of a process to witness. It involves a mass of layers, and the lines are not drawn so much as built, embedded, and then scraped back out again. There are layers upon layers, and heat, and the smell of hot wax, and it generates super tactile little waxy bits all over that are very fun to pick up. Those can be melted again and made into more stuff.

The effort that goes into a piece has a whole lot to do with how much line work there is going to be, since that all has to be filled in with whatever color the lines are being built out of. One layer at a time. So much building up, so much scraping. Some of Mike’s pieces are incredibly intricate.

I have been lucky enough to hang out with Mike in his studio and watch him work on the surfaces of some of these pieces. He makes some monumental ones, too. He keeps going bigger in scale. His work speaks loudly and boldly and in this tactile and confrontational way that you can’t look away from.

This skull glows in the dark, too.

Categories are nice, for example if you want to know if something is edible or not, or if you are trying to find the lightbulbs at the hardware store. But they are also a trap. Museums tend to label pieces according to what they are made of, like oil paint or wood or plaster (good to know if you’re gonna try and restore something). But boy do a lot of those labels say, “mixed media.” Pretty much everything we encounter in the world is a collision of stuff and circumstances. Even us. We are mixed media, made from whatever materials were present when we came into being. We are not data points, and we are not labels, and neither are the things that we make.