Copper in the Arts

February 2008

Rochelle Toner: Exploring the Organic Form Through Printmaking

By Donna Dvorak

Rochelle Toner Printmaker Rochelle Toner in her studio

Photograph by Paul David

Rochelle Toner, a resident in Philadelphia and Rock Hall, MD, executes intaglio prints using copper plates. These etchings, as well as her work in other media, all use nature and the forces of nature as their subject.

She taught at the prestigious Temple University Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia for thirty years, the last thirteen of which she also served as the Dean. In the late seventies, Rochelle spent three years teaching in Rome at Temple University Abroad, just north of the Piazza del Popolo. Her work has appeared in many selected invitational and solo exhibitions, and has been exhibited in more than 100 competitive exhibitions in the USA and Europe. She has participated in a number of nationally curated, limited-edition portfolios, and has chaired and served on the panel of numerous visiting artist workshops and symposia. Rochelle's work is represented in a number of permanent public collections, including The Philadelphia Museum of Art. She's been the recipient of many awards and grants, and served on boards and juries. Her Academic Appointments, besides the Tyler School of Art/Temple University, was as instructor at the University of Illinois, (Urbana), and instructor at Clark College (Dubuque).

"I never desired to do anything else except be an artist," she explains. "I didn't even know what it meant, nor did I realize that my father was a folk artist. I didn't have much conception of either of those things, so in my mind being an artist meant being an art teacher. My first undergraduate degree was in Art and Art Education from the University of Northern Iowa (Cedar Falls), and then I taught for four years in the public school system in Dubuque (IA). I attended graduate school at the University of Illinois (Champagne, Ill) and that's where my interest in copper plate etching started."

Rochelle began focusing on copper plate etching in 1966, but had always been interested in forms derived from nature. In recent years, the drawings and prints that she has made have the collective title; Nature, Pleasure, and Innuendo. She states that she is fascinated by the way abstraction evolves from a process of observing, distilling and internalizing information in a synthesis of conscious and subconscious interactions.

Rochelle Toner Printmaker Toner's uses copper plates to create intaglio prints

Photograph by Paul David

"My work explores the juncture between abstraction and representation, the point at which the referent may be felt in the work without the intrusion of the literal," she explains. "I'm always interested in the tension between things like how the sea is so beautiful, and people flock to the beach to play in it, yet a quality exists in nature that's unforgiving. The sea has an air of danger as well as beauty. I believe, to some extent, that it's one of the reasons that I love copper, because working on copper is more resistant than working on a piece of paper. And, when a print is 'pulled' from a plate there is an element of the hidden, the concealed, as the print is lifted from the plate. Although, the actual look and materials of my work has changed over the years, there has been a clear, if unintentional, interest in the use of forms that relate to nature and abstracted organic phenomena. I'm truly fascinated by how those forms relate to human nature and the force of life. It's the power of art that conveys that kind of force and energy that we feel in nature."

Rochelle purchases her copper from an art supply company and uses 16-gauge industrial grade copper because she etches very deeply. The prints and plates become very beautiful in themselves. She feels that people are sometimes more interested in the plates than in the prints because they're very sculptural and relief-like with textured surfaces etched deeply into the plates. Rochelle says that copper itself is a beautiful material that is very responsive to hand work and the effects of the natural environment.

"When the copper plate is inked, the ink is smeared across the surface of the plate and worked into all the texture and lines with a dauber, an instrument that forces the ink into the lines and textures," she explains. "Then, the ink is scraped off with a chip of cardboard and the plate is wiped with a tarlatan, starched cheese cloth. The ink is released from the plate, depending on how rough or smooth it is, so the rougher the plate the more textural, and the more ink it holds. Consequently, the darker the tone in print. The smoother the plate is, the more ink is released and the tone is lighter. A range of values is possible from rich blacks to crisp whites, with a wide variety of grays in-between."

Toner is a firm believer that art is its own reward.

"I love working and naturally want people to like my work, but I like it for myself for its self-rewarding qualities," she says. "It makes me happy when I go to my studio."

Resources:

Video of Rochelle Toner demonstrating her copper etching technique. For more information and availability, visit Rochelle Toner's Web Site, or call the Dolan/Maxwell Gallery at (215) 732-7787.

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