Grayslake Campus: A-Wing
Extinct | 2007.21Gr
About the Piece
Artists: Bert Menco (b. 1946 in Arnhem, The Netherlands)
À la poupée etching/aquatint
Exhibited at CLC: Karena Karras & Bert Menco: Daydreams
and Night Dreams
Menco did not initially pursue a career in art. He worked as a Research Associate Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Physiology at Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) from 1982 until 2006. As a scientist he studied the cellular biology of the sense of smell using electron microscopy. The often tedious discipline required of scientific research is very evident in his art as well. His drawings and prints, although they may seem simple, are quite elaborate and can often consume months in their making. His work references inner visions and tend to be personally narrative.
Menco’s print, Extinct, at first glance appears to depict some mythological hybrid of a bird and man. This creature has a leash around his neck that is held by a female in Medieval garb. The background is a wallpaper-like field of dodo birds. The dodo has been extinct since the 17th century. It is commonly used as the archetype of an extinct species because its demise occurred during recorded human history, and was directly attributable to human activity (Menco). Menco doesn’t see his images as telling a story but rather as reflections of inner feelings, similar to some poetry. What is the artist implying then with this image?
Though he has lived in the Chicago area for twenty-five years, Menco is a Dutch national. It is interesting to note that some ascribe the bird’s name to the Dutch word dodoor which means "sluggard." The origin of this flightless bird’s name certainly seems derogatory. Menco’s print appears to evoke the idea that the two figures are a couple on the verge of breaking up. In this case it’s the female who has the upper hand as she gazes away from the half dodo-half man. The relationship is about to become extinct and it is the male who is the endangered species. Menco has evoked the feelings of a lop-sided break-up, where one partner is on the losing end.
The method of making this print bears some explanation. It is an etching which is a process that employs a metal plate. This plate is covered with an acid resistant coating called a ground. The image is then scratched into the ground with a needle that exposes parts of the metal plate. The plate is then immersed in an acid bath where the acid bites into the lines. Next, the ground is removed and the plate is ready for printing. “À la poupée” is a method of making color etchings by making several impressions from the same plate, each time applying a different color with cloth pads. Menco has said he usually has some idea of what he wants to achieve, but much of the image is generated while he draws on the plate. The end product is always a surprise for him.
Written by Steven Jones, Curator, Robert T. Wright Gallery, College of Lake County.
Menco, Bert. Email interview. 17 July 2008.