The deluge is terrible and beautiful. A chaotic mess of boulders, mud, sticks and logs in some places recognizable, in others a dissolution into a tangle of gestural marks. The image is a memory of a flood, an imprint of the experience of watching and hearing great rivers of water pouring off the mountains.
In both monumental scale and exacting detail, Michael Brooks Arnsteen has created artwork inspired by last year's torrential floods with Alluvium, now on display at Colorado College's new student space and senior exhibition gallery, 802.
But where there was once the bombardment of clothes and music of the Leechpit, there is now a spare space with two series of elegant stone lithography prints from the 25-year-old CC grad. Though none of this is outlined explicitly, both fold in ideas of geology and process; the only verbiage is the definition of alluvium — the debris left behind from running water, the silt and mud that creates the shape of some mountains (as they tend to fan out) and enriches the soil.
Originally from the Springs, Cheyenne Cañon to be exact, Arnsteen saw the severe rains beget the floods firsthand, and with photographs from family members documenting the event, he sketched out what would become Alluvium.
"My imagery is all about geology," he says, recalling how he would draw crystals at museums, even though his initial major at CC was geology. "I was all rocks, and I realized that then there's a printing method that you can use stones, and I was like, 'That's my thing.' So I switched my major to art."
Stone lithography is the ultra-labor-intensive process of drawing on heavy limestones, and through several processes involving (at the very least) grease-based marking tools, gum Arabic, nitric acid, water and ink, an image is pulled from a press. But Arnsteen's works are far too large for any single stone, so he printed the works in segments — nine in the largest piece — and after each one, he scraped the stone clean to begin again.
The series directly related to the flooding starts with the huge print in full color described above, then breaks down into two triptychs of the same image, one in black and white and the other again in color, but with the registration shifted, so it's an even more intense barrage of lines. Yet the atmospheric quality of lithography gives the layers the appearance of depth.
Each triptych is a "regression" from the nine-panel "key image." Like alluvia, they reorder, mesh and break apart, to create, by the final triptych, something almost completely different, albeit with the same materials.
The other series depicts a broken lithography stone (pictured), a tribute to Arnsteen's beloved medium.
"I try to connect my process with the imagery as much as possible," he says. The busted hunk, the ultimate destination for all lithography stones, which wear too thin for use over time, reflects the natural world, with earth breaking down and then reforming into something else.
Back outdoors, Arnsteen is looking at the regrowth on the Waldo Canyon burn scar, and thinking about his next project.