Fragments, Calum Colvin and Tom Leonard, 2003

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Calum Colvin and Tom Leonard, Edinburgh Printmakers 2003

The series of images in the portfolio entitled ‘Fragments’ are the result of a collaboration between visual artist Calum Colvin and poet Tom Leonard. This portfolio of five large-scale etchings and complimentary screen printed texts is an

extension of the Ossian series created by Colvin and further explores issues of nationalism and identity. Leonard’s words are responses to each of the Colvin images and employ bold composition, typography and use of colour to create powerful visual as well as literary statement.

The central image in the series, the face of the blind bard ‘Ossian’, is based on an etching by Alexander Runciman (1736-85) for the frontispiece of James Macpherson’s ‘The Poems of Ossian’ 1807. This cycle of images creates a sense of the passage of time, with the figure of Ossian as a constant imprint on the landscape, culturally and physically. This echoes elemental evocations of the land and natural dramas as found in Ossianic poetry, a sense of desolation and a depopulated landscape. The face of Ossian is painted and carved three dimensionally over an arrangement of carved stones. As the series evolves we see the shape of the Ossian/landscape change as if by the movement of light at particular times of day. Gradually the figure crumbles and fades until we merely perceive a vague outline of the image, something there and not there. In a sense this repeats the process involved in the original etching, the gradual wear of the etching plate, the dissolution of the image through repetition.  This treatment also acknowledges the artifice of the image. As an etching it contains the notion of something that is both present and absent – the ‘positive’ of the inked line and the ‘negative’ of the un-inked areas of paper. This becomes a metaphor for the fusion of the real and the fabricated in Macpherson’s ‘translations’ of Ossian, which are themselves emblematic of the mingling of the mythical and the factual in Scottish history. 

Complementing the visual imagery is a series of five poster poem contributions by Tom Leonard. A first poster poem is meant to be a simple colourful text about the need for loving and accepting both one’s own deepest childlike self and the creative freedom of children in the world; the second poster shows a list of the top 50 companies engaged in the so-called defence industry in America, the list arranged in order of the number of thousands of dollars they each received for this work in 1998; the third poster is a collage of competing narratives about language and culture that features a fragment of chronology contextualising the publication date of MacPherson’s Fragments of Ancient Poetry; a fourth poster presents a list of aspects of a society linked, via a short lyric, to the same list individually cancelled; the final fifth poster is a deliberately monumentalist poem being a reflection on the nature of our ephemeral lives in our individually transient times. 

Photopolymer prints use a light sensitive photographic film which is adhered to a metal plate (copper, steel or zinc). A transparency with a photographic (or drawn image) is then exposed in a light box to the metal plate which is etched/developed with soda ash to create the intaglio surface. This is then covered in ink and rolled through an etching press with paper so that the image lifts off onto the paper. “Fragments” was published by Edinburgh Printmakers in a limited edition of 12 numbered folios, signed by Calum Colvin and Tom Leonard. The photo-polymer plates were made and printed by Alfons Bytautas, assisted by Denise Walker at Edinburgh Printmakers Workshop in 2003.


Treat the Child

Blind Ossian I

Military Analysis

Blind Ossian II

Put a Radar

Blind Ossian V

The Place The People

Blind Ossian VIII

Who Are We

Blind Ossian IX

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