After opening my first big show with Kurt Westfall in Safety Harbor, in August 1972 I got on I-75 heading for Gainesville with two hitchikers from Detroit. When my riders told me rookies were making the ungodly amount of $3.50 per hour on the assembly line, I passed the Gainesville exit and kept on truckin' to Detroit. Onward to the big city to seek my fortune.
What they didn't tell me was that, in late summer, the lines shut down to re-tool for the new model year. There was no work for weeks.
So I took a job in a little liquor store that had been sold to two auto workers and their wives the day before I applied. When I told them I had worked for ABC Liquors in Florida, the largest chain in the world, and that I knew something about wine, they hired me on the spot. At $2.50 per hour.
In 1974 I salvaged the guts of a prototype liquid color copier from a dumpster behind APECO Corp., added some wires, motors, belts and pie plates, and created the color processor shown above. It had tanks for cyan, magenta, yellow and black toner in a mineral spirits solution. It also stank up our studio apartment. What a wonderful wife I have!
I lived in the back of my Toyota pickup truck and started going to the local galleries, and in one of them I heard that my mentor, Jerry Uelsmann, was having a one-man show at the Art Institute of Chicago. So I took the five hour drive. I saw Chicago. Now THAT's a big city, I thought, and I moved there within a few days.
I took a job with Foremost Liquors as a wine consultant and applied for the Master's program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Despite the fact that I had never finished my journalism degree at UF, after a battery of interviews and a psycho-analysis via portfolio, they admitted me.
Sonia Sheridan was on the admissions committee. She was an associate professor who founded a department called Generative Systems and was taking the SAIC into the 21st century kicking and screaming. She told me of her vision for using technology to close the gap between vision and reality. I wanted to create printed images that combined photographs to unveil greater truths, but I wanted to use color and mass production methods such as offset printing. I became her first grad student, and as such became the world's first grad student in Art and Technology.
While she was artist in residence at 3M Corporation, I was working with Harry Wayne, a physicist at American Photocopy Co. (APECO). I salvaged a prototype color copier from APECO's dumpster, and bought a used and beat-up Davidson offset press. I took photographs of apples and worked with them on my home-made machines to gain control over color. I used tungsten wires to charge zinc oxide coated papers, then exposed them under an enlarger with separation filters, and dunked them in tanks of mineral spirits with pigments. I made my apples every possible color. I spent days producing a single print that can now be produced with Photoshop in a few minutes. I tried every tool I could think of: computers, holography, copy machines, telecopiers, chromalin, thermography, reprographics, offset presses, and laser projectors.
Then one day I charged a zinc oxide sheet, pressed it against my face and dipped it in a solution of charged carbon black pigment suspended in mineral spirits. It made a faceprint that I called a sensugraph. I made another and sent it to Kurt. The next day, a print from my friend Kurt Westfall arrived in the mail. He had made it by painting his face, pressing it against photo paper, exposing it to light, and developing it. He had made a faceprint and mailed it to me the day before I mailed him mine. Spooky.
While at SAIC I took classes with some pretty good photographers: David Vestal, Ken Josephson, Harold Allen, Joyce Niemanas, and of course Sonia Sheridan. Most of my graduate work, however, was with electrostatic imaging. In 1973 I bought an eight foot long Xerox flatbed camera, their first copier, charged the selenium plates and shot out the window of my apartment. I even found a way to make the antique Xerox machine work with color toners. At the time, Sonia produced an art magazine called YONY, and my master's thesis became Volume 1 Number 4, in May 1975. I produced it entirely with electrostatic printing plates and printed on my Davidson. Essentially I was trying to do the kinds of things we can now do with Photoshop only instead of working on a computer I was working with an enlarger and Rube Goldberg device made from old photocopiers and pie pans.
In January 1976 I curated an exhibit at Columbia College in Chicago called "Unconventional Imaging Systems." It featured the work of 17 artists from around the world, among them Sheridan, Joel Swartz, John Bosche. It contained 3M Color-in-Color, electrofax, telefax, thermofax, Xerography, and computer printout. This was almost certainly the first exhibit of its kind in the world. Finally, in 1977, I was awarded an MFA from SAIC with a specialty in Generative Systems, the first of its kind.