Friday, January 23, 2015

POST #73: LOW TECH/HIGH ART: a tribute to my overhead projector

I think I covered a lot of this ground earlier in Post #11, but my readers and I are getting to be like old married couples: we repeat the same stories to one another all the time.

Many years ago, I taught art history at the University of Connecticut campus in Stamford. I clearly remember the moment when I walked down a hall and glanced into a classroom where the instructor was using an overhead projector (pre-PowerPoint) to put notes up on the blackboard. “Why does it have to be boring notes,” I thought, “why not artwork?” Now, more than two decades later, I am still exploring the potential of the overhead projector, a dinosaur from the pre-computer age.

I borrowed a machine from the University’s A.V. department along with some sheets of acetate, quickly discovering that I could photocopy my sketches, no need to even trace the image. Having done that, I was able to enlarge work to any size I wanted. Sketches could be projected onto canvas without having to create a laborious and time-consuming grid. I invited my artist friends over to see what happened when small drawings were made to cover walls and ceilings and six- inch figures grew to monumental size. I soon found myself behaving like a prehistoric cave painter or Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, working by torchlight to create magic on a superhuman scale. Photographer friends even took photos with words projected onto me

Since then, I’ve done a number of “performance pieces” with the overhead projector, including a dance number with “true to life” people, (the kind you see cha-cha-cha-ing together at bar mitzvahs and weddings) to tacky music. I used projected imagery to create scenery for Jean Cocteau’s “Wedding on the Eiffel Tower”, a production I gave at the old lofts on Henry Street. I also illustrated Carolee Ross’ brilliant poem about her “demon lover;” it was to appear along with my illustrations in a darkened gallery space in SOHO, but, unfortunately, the project never happened. At the moment, I use my projector mainly to enlarge sketches into paintings. It stands in a prominent spot in the middle of my studio, to be used whenever the need arises.

About two years ago, I put out a call to all the teachers I knew for projectors (everything is PowerPoint today) and was overwhelmed by the response. Nobody was using them anymore and they just took up space in the AV room. I took everything offered and now have a lifetime supply (fifteen or so) stashed in my attic. I’m thinking about having a “projector party” one of these days and invite all my artist friends to create something. I even have blank transparencies (donated) they can use.

By the way, the illustrations for this Post come from some small, “torn-paper “ figures I did many years ago. I recently found them in a folder and put them on the projector glass to see what would happen. Giant, Matisse-like images jumped out at me. Plus, I even created some interesting shadow play on the projector glass itself.  They don’t photograph too well, but you’re welcome to come by after dark and see for yourself.


  1. You mentioned a recent edition of NYC-Arts,on PBS TV, they had a segment showing Matisse, near the end of his career created cut-out artworks, which
    I think? MOMA featured in a recent exhibit.