Alumna brings ghost towns to TED stage

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Author: Rourke Healey

Abbey Williams ’14 never imagined she would give a TEDtalk a year after graduating from Occidental College. Speaking last November at a StateStreet sponsored event in Boston, Williams gave a talk titled Ghost Town Road Trip: Evocative Glimpses in Time, based on her senior comprehensive project illustrating ghost towns through printmaking.

Williams applied to speak at the event through the investment management firm she works for in Boston—who sponsored the event—but was surprised when she was selected to speak. Although Williams does not currently work in the art field, the presentation gave her a chance to revisit a project and topic she put a lot of passion into.

“I am fascinated with lives once lived dissolving into the landscape,” Williams said

Using monotype printing, she translated images of abandoned houses and burned down saloons onto paper. Studio Art Professor Linda Lyke saw monotype printing as the ideal medium of choice for Williams.

“The monotype is a painting on acetate which is transferred to paper by using a printing press,” Lyke said. “The result is transitory and fleeting; it allows you to capture a moment in time. Abbey’s selected images of ghost towns disappear into the paper, alluding to the ephemeral nature of life through her choice of process.”

This was precisely Williams’ goal. As she described in her TEDtalk, the beauty of these towns lies in their impermanence. Monotype produces a singular, unrepeatable image. Much like the once-bustling mining camps, these black and white images fade into the paper just as the towns have become one with their landscape.

Williams attributes her command and understanding of the medium to her experience at Occidental. Through four years of studio art classes, she learned to push the medium and render images as she envisioned them. Understanding details, from image selection to visual presentation, were all the result of her time working in the studio.

Amanda Devine (senior), a current student in Basic Printmaking, described the monotype process as a mixture of painting, drawing and printing. Devine recognizes the dedication required to master the medium, as she has found monotype to be very difficult.

“As a beginner in studio art, monotype is definitely challenging, mainly because it’s so easy to add too much ink or be imprecise with your paintbrush, which can make the image look like a blob,” Devine said.

For artists obsessed with capturing the details of a scene or landscape, printmaking can be a frustrating medium. Adjusting to the monotype process takes a great deal of practice.

“You start to learn that tiny details are really difficult to do well in printmaking, so I’ve stopped trying to do that in my pieces, and they turn out a little better,” Devine said. “Also, paying more attention to negative space is another way to improve your prints.”

Williams capitalizes on negative space—unpainted white paper—in her work. With small dark images placed on a large 42″x30″ paper, the negative space is an essential component of her work.

But it was not only design and image translation that Williams learned from Occidental. Williams credits her development of critical thinking and dialogue skills to regular art critiques with Lyke and her peers.

Williams intends to continue her craft, and has worked to balance her professional pursuits with her hobbies. Unlike her ghost towns of focus, Williams does not see her passion for art fading away any time soon.

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