The Austin Chronicle, Review: Ellen Heck Variations by Wayne Alan Brenner
One good way to define the word is to write it on a piece of paper, erase it, and then write the word again in the same place. Faint traces of the initial, obliterated marks add a subtle texture or complexity of shade to the second instance. That’s a fine gambit for visual artmaking, the palimpsest, even as it alludes to the constant textual palimpsests that occur in in the work of writers – those fussy, narrative-makers always changing a word, a sentence, and sometimes entire swaths in a manuscript as they hone their tales toward the vision in their heads.
Ellen Heck, the artist whose work is currently on display at the elegant Wally Workman Gallery in West Sixth’s loose conglomeration of art galleries, has used the palimpsest as a method of portraiture, capturing the image of one Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, at various ages in his life. But, see, this isn’t just a series in which the first print is obscured and then a new image is printed over it, and so on, repeating until six stages have been overlaid and the final image is ghosted by what came before. No, that would be effective and evocative enough, but Heck’s done something much cooler: She’s used the printing plate itself as a palimpsest, etching the first image of Twain into copper, pulling the prints, then etching the next in the series over that first one on the same copper plate and pulling the prints, and then repeating over and over to take Twain from a young age to the hoary-headed raconteur we’re all familiar with.
We reckon that Twain himself would’ve found this presentation a laudatory, even badass choice – especially as the results are sublime.