It was one of the biggest news stories of the 20th Century. The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred at 11:39 EST on January 28th, 1986.
This is a linoleum cut of the spacecraft at launch printed on the pages from a National Enquirer newspaper that was published on the fateful day.
The story behind the piece.
Since moving back to Ohio several years ago I've been focused on producing more personal artwork. And with my office being in a letterpress printing shop, I've become particularly interested by printmaking art.
Old letterpress print shops are like candy stores for artists and graphic designers. The vintage equipment is massive and extremely heavy duty yet finely tuned with intricately geared workings. Sort of like huge wristwatches. But maybe even more fascinating is the goldmine of antique wood and metal printer's decorations, images and of course movable type found in a traditional printshop like ours.
One day while digging though some piles of dusty junk in a back storage room, I came across a box of National Enquirer newspapers from the mid 1980s.
I immediately knew I wanted to create a letterpress art print using the pages from the newspaper.
The stack of papers continued to age in a box next to my desk for a year or so more. I had several ideas but they were just too ambitious. I was hoping to practice my linoleum cutting skills and knew I wasn't ready to print hundreds of pages which was about the size of the newspaper stack.
One day I decided to look through the newspapers more closely, hoping to find a photo or headline that sparked an idea. If there was nothing in the sensational stories the papers contained there had to be something in the date of the editions I thought.
All of the newspapers were from around the same period, 1985 and 1986. I was living in New York City at this time. A quick Google search of the edition dates pulled up all kinds of things that happened on these days in '85 and '86. Like Hands Across America on May 25th, 1986 for example!
When the results for January 28, 1986 came up, I immediately knew I'd found the event and interesting subject matter for a linocut print.
The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff that day. This was one of those defining events that anyone who is old enough remembers quite clearly. Word got to the advertising agency where I was working and our Creative Director turned on the office television and we all gathered around and watched in silence.
The contrast and juxtaposition of this major historical event against the sensationalism and trashiness of the Enquirer makes a statement. I also liked the idea of doing a traditional old-fashioned hand-carving of what was the most advanced technology of its time. Plus the idea would only involve printing one copy of the newspapers which was the size of project I was hoping for.
The commentary on news and media is the focus of the piece. However, there was a personal connection to the day that also added to the idea for me.
Immediately when I had pieced together the date and news, I remembered something else very special that occurred that day. My wife Marina flew from Britain to NYC the same day, making her immigration to the US. We met about a week later and have been together ever since.
It pleases me that the personal story neatly ties into the mix of stories.
I ended up with 31 prints in the series. Since the varying pages from the newspaper makes each print unique, I see it as a series of monoprints. I have titled the series News.
There were also several coincidental storylines in the Enquirer articles that I found intriguing. Continue reading for more on those and the process the work involved.
The linocut print process.
I hadn't done a linoleum print since college, so needless to say, I needed a bit of practice. I had the idea for the News series shown here but did some small warm-up cuts and prints of a space satellite and pick-up truck which are not shown.
I learned a lot and am currently working on some new cuts. I really enjoy the process. Please have a look. Additional technical information can be found below the photos.
These are 2-color linoleum cut prints. An overall tint of semi-opaque white ink was printed first to soften the newspaper images in the background and make the Space Shuttle cut stand out more strongly. The background also provided a place to include the date.
I wanted the look and technique of the carving to be respectful of the important subject matter. I learned much about cutting and am pleased with my progress in this technique. A small edition of just the Challenger image on white paper was also pulled for space enthusiasts.
The unexpected ways in which the Shuttle image merges with the various newspaper stories and the variety of layouts, graphics and photos adds visual interest as well as subtle twists to the concept.
The Enquirer edition had plenty of the publication's usual frivolous stories and celebrity news. There also were articles that somehow seem to associate to the big news story that was unfolding that day. These include pieces on the Royal British aircraft and fleet, how safe 1986 car models in crashes, a Russian Cosmonaut and article on ghosts and spirits.
The graphics and subject matter of the more shallow stories also play against the shuttle image in thought-provoking ways
- Medium - 2-color letterpress monoprints
- Size - 9-1/4"x11-7/8"
- Paper - Sheets from National Enquirer newspaper
Please visit my Etsy shop to purchase a print.
A selection of the News prints are currently available in my Etsy shop here. More will be listed soon. If there is one you are interested in buying that is not in the store, please contact me and I can take care of that for you. There is also a small edition of the Space Shuttle Challenger linocut prints for anyone who would like a piece featuring just the space craft.