Kim Marhoefer Willis

Skimming the Surface

Senior Project December 2013


Familiar scenes from nature encourage us to feel connected to our surroundings. Throughout history, landscape painters have helped connect viewers to the environment. Artists can be masters of illusion, and some trompe l'oeil* painters are so skilled that they can momentarily fool you into thinking you are seeing an actual landscape. Once you spend a little time gathering more visual information, the picture becomes clear and you realize your original perception was inaccurate. Perception can be inaccurate. It can also be the foundation of many of the decisions we make.  People base their decisions on both intuition and deliberative thinking, each in varied degrees. Studies have shown how people will defer more to intuition when pressured by time. As the information age places more pressures on our daily schedules, it stands to reason that we may rely more often on first perceptions and intuition when making critical decisions. As with the trompe l'oeil paintings, our perceptions about the environment may also be inaccurate. The grass is green. The sky is blue. All appears in order. Or is it? My landscapes are intended to celebrate our environment, and remind viewers that what we see on the surface may not always be the complete picture. My project examines the relationship between time and perception. My landscape prints demonstrate that our perceptions are developed as fully as the time we invest in them.

I have created two identical images, only different in their coloration. One image is sepia-toned; one image is in color. The sepia image may inspire a feeling of nostalgia, based on the perception we have developed for sepia images from the early days of photography. The color of the other image is arbitrary, and may inspire a variety of spontaneous perceptions based on personal choice. As you spend time with the prints you acquire information to enhance your perception. The label gives you information about the title, size and materials used. You will see the materials used for the sepia tone images. Suddenly, your perceptions may change. The sepia image may no longer seem nostalgic. It may now seem to be an environmental statement. Without having invested the necessary time, you would only be skimming the surface of the concept; you would not have recognized the material as the message.

The materials for this project are an essential part of the concept. As a printmaker I am able to make multiples of the same image. This duplication provides an easy side-by-side comparison. The contrast of images and materials symbolize the options we all have available in our daily interactions our environment.  My landscape images are taken from photographs. I carefully choose compelling elements from many different photos, which I then bring together in the final compositions. I used Solarplates to create my final prints. The Solarplate process utilizes the sun’s light to transfer my image to the printing plate. Traditional etching processes, which use acids, are typically hazardous to the environment. My pigments, one environmentally friendly, one not, were chosen to highlight the disparity between stewardship and complacency. The images are inked in relief and intaglio methods, and are printed on 100% cotton rag paper.

* trompe l'oeil

   ˌtrômp ˈloi/


1.visual illusion in art, esp. as used to trick the eye into perceiving a painted detail as a three-dimensional object.

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