Work of UH Hilo’s master printmaker Jon Goebel shown in national exhibition

Goebel’s print, Pursuit of Latitude, is a copper plate intaglio print pairing the Foucault pendulum with a Death’s-head Hawkmoth.

By Kara Nelson.

Print: A pendulum hanging over a moth. Sepia tones.
Jon Goebel’s Pursuit of Latitude. 2014. 14″ X 11″. Print, dry point and aquatint on copper plate. Courtesy photo.

Jon Goebel, an assistant professor of art, master printer and the director of University of Hawai‘i at Hilo’s printmaking program, has an intriguing and beautiful intaglio print featured in PRINTWORK 2014, a prestigious annual national juried art exhibition in Pittsburgh, PA.

Goebel’s piece, Pursuit of Latitude, is a 14” x 11” print that was completed in 2014 using dry point and aquatint on a copper plate. His unique print pairs the Foucault pendulum with the Acherontia atropos (Death’s-head Hawkmoth), and is part of a new series he began after moving to Hawai‘i in 2013.

“What was really interesting to me about the moth was that it has a natural survival mechanism built in to cloak itself with a pheromone that smells like honeybees,” says Goebel. “And so it can actually go into a beehive relatively undetected and it can eat, it can survive doing that. And so I started thinking about survival mechanisms that people might have and dealing with identity.”

Jon Goebel holds up a print in his studio. He stands next to the printing press.
Jon Goebel holds print, Pursuit of Latitude, at the UH Hilo print studio. Photos by Kara Nelson. 

He also began thinking about place and location.

“The pendulum really echoes a lot of those concepts of misperception, I think,” Goebel elaborates, noting that the pendulum offers an interesting contextual contrast to the moth. “It does bring into context the idea of misperception.”

He explains how the Foucault pendulum swings on a frictionless point and appears to be moving, swinging back and forth, appearing to be rotating, when it’s actually the viewer and earth that are rotating.

“I’m really interested in the perceptual shifts you can have based on the context that you’re in, so a lot of my newer works are exploring that, how your perception can change relative to your environment,” he says. “A lot of it’s having to do, or will have to do, with the universe and greater unknowns that haven’t really been resolved yet in science.”

Goebel first began printmaking as an undergraduate at the University of Southern Indiana. Unsatisfied with his intended field of study, engineering, which couldn’t fulfill his “creative niche,” he took an introductory course in printmaking in his junior year and then continued to attend printmaking classes into his senior year. He received his master of fine arts in printmaking at Texas Tech University at Lubbock.

A master printmaker at work

The plate of pendulum hanging over moth.
The plate. 

The process of making Pursuit of Latitude is a lesson in exquisite intaglio, or engraved, printmaking.

Goebel first cut and polished a copper plate, drew out the contours of his image, and transferred the image to the plate from a photocopy. Using a scribe (a sharp, basic artist’s tool) he scratched out the design to the plate. The light gradations were created through the use of aquatint, which is a rosin dust from solidified tree sap ground into dust. The rosin creates millions of dots on the copper plate, which is fused to the rosin using a hot plate to make it stick but still leaves little spaces between these dots. Goebel says an artist ideally would want 50 percent dots and 50 percent open space.

Then he used a mordant–basically acid–on the copper, but the rosin dots protect the plate from the acid, making a sandpapery texture. The smooth areas of the plate are where he protected the plate with an acid resist during the etching process. Using a spray paint as an acid resist, Goebel created the entire background of the piece.

Goebel peels back the print form the copper plate.
Goebel, at the etching press, peels back the print from the copper plate. Click to enlarge.

After more work with stencils and spray paint, the printmaker protected the background while stage biting the moth and pendulum, a process of eating away at the copper with acid while painting out parts of the design to protect it from further wearing away of the acid. The deeper the stage-bitten area, the darker the area will appear when it is filled with ink.

Once the plate was finished, it was filled with ink, the smooth areas cleaned off, and the ink pushed into damp paper in an etching press, which at the same time embossed the paper with the plate’s bas relief, or imprint.

Side-by-side, the plate and a print.
Side-by-side, the plate and print. Click to enlarge.

Goebel is the only instructor at UH Hilo who teaches intaglio. The UH Hilo Department of Art offers one type of printing course each semester on a rotating basis and based on demand.

A recently published book features some of Goebel’s work alongside other artists and print shops, Contemporary American Print Makers, by E. Ashley Rooney and Stephanie Standish.

For more information, contact Jon Goebel.


About the author of this story: Kara Nelson is a senior at UH Hilo double majoring in English and communication. She is an intern in the Office of the Chancellor and writer at UH Hilo Stories.

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