San Francisco Featured Artist: Patty Mulligan

Featured Artist Patty Mulligan at Red Union Hair Salon and Art Gallery San Francisco, CA
Patty Mulligan has been creating photographs on real 22-carat gold for almost 20 years. Previously, she worked with Polaroid film doing Polaroid Emulsion Transfers, but in 2009 Polaroid ceased making the film she used. She has only a few prints left using the Polaroid emulsion transfer process, some of which will hang in the Red Union Salon. Recently, she has developed a new process for printing on gold, which she refers to as “orotones”. (See description below.)

All of her gold photographs evoke the historic process exemplified in the work by Edward Curtis who documented the West at the turn of the century. With her unique processes, she can transform a typical photograph by backing it with 22-carat gold. By doing so, the gold fosters a warm, emotional response that that changes depending on the light that strikes it. She is interested in how different light throughout the day changes the effect on the photo and as a result, the viewer’s response. She also enjoys blurring the distinction between a photograph and a painting.

Edward Curtis would print a black & white photograph on glass plate and then coat the back of the plate with gold, giving the images a transparent, glowing effect. Patty has spent the last several years developing her own orotone process to achieve a similar effect using a high-end archival inkjet printer. To create these pieces, she first coats a glass plate with a liquid emulsion and then prints the image on the plate. Later, the plate is backed with 22-carat gold. The entire glass plate is then reversed so that both the image and the gold are on the underside. Because she uses a modern printer, she can print in color (unlike Curtis) so that photographs come alive with the vibrancy of color that is enhanced by the gold. The glass gives depth and the metals luminescence and warmth, yielding a print with sparkle and life not found in regular photographic prints on paper.

“The ordinary photographic print, however good, lacks depth and transparency, or more strictly speaking, translucency. We all know how beautiful are the stones and pebbles in the limpid brook of the forest where the water absorbs the blue of the sky and the green of the foliage, yet when we take the same iridescent pebbles from the water and dry them they are dull and lifeless, so it is with the ordinary photographic print, but in the Curt-Tones all the transparency is retained and they are as full of life and sparkle as an opal.” – Edward Curtis