Terry Kurgan (who was born in 1958) makes images that are often about children and childhood. But her depiction of childhood is never romanticised or sentimental. Instead she explores the sometimes hidden side of being a child, the sadness that might be below the surface – if we dig a little deeper. She is interested in uncovering the “scars”,
the hidden shadows of sadness or pain that adults prefer
not to remember: “the fragility, hurt and pain that is also part of childhood”.
Kurgan sometimes uses family photographs as her source material, some from her own childhood. She describes how she once found a box of photos that didn’t make it into her mother’s photo albums because they were the ones “that didn’t quite say: ‘I promise you I am having a happy childhood’.” Kurgan is drawn to those that hint at something else, that do not “pretend” in order to reassure the grown ups.
This artwork, called (I promise) I love you, is an etching. Etching is a printing technique, involving scratching into metal to create an image. First, the surface of a metal plate (copper or zinc, for example) is coated with a waxy layer. Next, the image is drawn or scratched into this layer with a sharp tool, exposing the metal wherever it is scratched. The plate is then dipped in acid: the acid erodes, or eats away, the surface of the metal where the metal is exposed. After this, the rest of the waxy layer is cleaned off, and the plate is ready for printing. The plate is “inked up”, by pushing ink into the grooves created by the acid. The smooth surface of the plate is then wiped clean, but even the finest of the grooves still hold the ink. Finally this side of the plate is then at great pressure applied against a sheet of paper (usually in a special machine called a press), so that the ink in the grooves is transferred onto the paper.
The printed image will appear on the paper back to front, as a mirror image of the original scratched drawing.
For Kurgan, this scratching process feels appropriate: she is both literally and metaphorically “scratching the surface of appearances” to discover and understand what is hidden beneath.
Talk About This
How does the little girl in this image show her feelings? Copy her pose and facial expression. How does it feel after a while?
Since this image is derived from a photograph, do you think her feelings are related to the fact that she was being “captured” by an adult? Explain why you agree or disagree.
Can you relate to the experience Kurgan describes, from any time in your own childhood? Did you ever feel you had to appear happier than you really felt, or that you had to protect your parents or other adults from your real feelings?
Why is this artwork called “(I promise) I love you”? And why are brackets used in the title?