Bruce Nauman’s work defies easy categorization and cannot be identified with any particular style. Trained as a painter, Nauman gave up this traditional practice for a plethora of mediums, including sculpture in rubber, steel, fiberglass, and neon, architectural installations, video, photography, and performance. Also important in Nauman’s oeuvre has been body art, a movement originating in the 1960s and 1970s in which the artist’s own body, rather than traditional materials such as paint or wood, was the medium of choice.
Although the conventional techniques of printmaking would not seem a natural choice for Nauman, he began to work at Cirrus Editions in Los Angeles, a print workshop and gallery opened by Tamarind-trained printer Jean Milant, in 1970. There he experimented with lithography and intaglio mediums, often using unconventional implements such as carpenter’s files in lieu of traditional tools. Since that time, printmaking has remained a constant aspect of his creative output.
Although Nauman’s first editions derived from his body art, much of his subsequent printed work has dealt with language. Language is among his most important subjects, explored in many mediums. He dissects and deconstructs words and phrases, reverses them, reassembles them, plays with them, depicts them, and recombines them as part of an ongoing conceptual practice. In this example, Violins/Violence, Nauman creates a pun that is verbal, visual, and aural and plays on these two homonyms and on the sound that might be conjured up by his sharply scratched drypoint lines. The theme of language is especially prevalent in his prints, as nearly half are word images. He says of this work, “When I began to see the information as poetry, doing them as prints made sense.”
Publication excerpt from an essay by Sarah Suzuki, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 189.