Art Notes: High Water, 2017

Mixed Media

Acrylic/aqueous paint, water-based and acrylic inkjet on engraved $1 U.S. bank note in plexiglass frame

2.63 x 6.12 in

6.7 x 15.6 cm

Signed by the artists on verso.

PRICE: $300  or as low as LEARN MORE

2.63 x 6.12 in

6.7 x 15.6 cm


    About The Work

    Using actual dollar bills as the physical foundation for each work, the artists satirize, ponder and comment upon the monetary system, politics, art, and the ties between corporations and the economy. Look closely, as there are many details, visual quips, and quotes from artists and other broad-minded thinkers. Clearly, the Farnsworths are on a roll and having a good time with this ongoing series. 


    Artist’s statement:

    One of the most beloved but lesser-seen treasures at Magnolia Editions, secreted away in an unassuming flat file, is the late conceptual artist Chris Burden’s Diecimila, a color photo etching depicting an Italian banknote with criminally perfect precision and printed at Crown Point Press in 1977 on a sheet of handmade Donald Farnsworth paper, complete with an approximation of the official watermark. Having worked on Diecimila has served as an inspiration to us over the years, just as U.S. paper currency has served as an aspirational challenge to printmakers ever since the dollar bill’s original engraving was designed in 1929. After all, the basic concerns of the Bureau issuing currency are fundamentally identical to those of any fine art intaglio printmaker, from questions of registration, engraving, and ink additives on down to the molecular composition of the fibers in the paper. As Jonathon Keats details in Forged: Why Fakes Are The Great Art Of Our Age, artists including Ed Kienholz and J.S.G. Boggs have advanced projects further obscuring the line between printing art and printing money, breaking “out of the museum-gallery complex [and] leveraging the absurdity of art to question the sanity of finance.”

    Working with Enrique Chagoya at Magnolia Editions in 2004, the dollar’s design became the basis for a series of prints and projects satirizing the Bush-Cheney administration’s fiscal policies and the economic disaster that followed. This prompted discussions about the transition in our lifetime from a bill backed by precious metals like gold and silver to a far more abstract kind of note, inspiring Don to begin experimenting with coating the surfaces of one dollar notes with layers of 22 karat gold and silver leaf. These inaugural Art Notes reminded us of ‘scratchers’ (scratch-off lottery tickets); paradoxically, the precious metal which once insured their value now made them valueless, unable to be tendered until the gold layer was scratched off. Earlier this year, the colorful historical relationship not just between art and money, but between artists and currency as medium and subject matter, was further revealed when we were invited to tour the wonderful collection of David and Louise Riemer. The variety of currency-inspired works we encountered at the Riemers’ inspired us to continue using the design of the ubiquitous greenback as a vehicle for creative commentary. 

    Working with the one dollar bill has provided a fascinating series of challenges. Elements from the original bills were sanded, scratched with a single-edged razor blade, and even chemically removed. To introduce new words into the bill’s design, fonts had to be painstakingly recreated over the course of nearly a year; to introduce new graphic elements, we needed to paint a ground that would be opaque enough to cover the rich, deep black lines of the original engraving while also accepting a layer of meticulously registered water-based inkjet printing. Eventually we arrived at a concoction containing titanium dioxide, gum, and digital medium, which serves to bind and bring out the colors in the overprinted ink. For those bills bearing a layer of gold and silver leaf, we printed acrylic ink in the target areas and then applied the leaf by hand directly to the wet acrylic. Using sequential bills made registration slightly easier, and retaining the Federal Reserve’s serial numbers helped us to keep track of each bill as the project grew to include dozens of proofs and variations.

    We’re not interested in counterfeiting money; by using an actual dollar bill as the physical foundation for each work, we hope that our intentions – to alter, satirize, and comment upon the bill’s design, rather than to slavishly reproduce it – will be clear from the outset. Initially we simply sought to capitalize (so to speak) on the humorously strong similarities between the dollar’s portrait of George Washington and the Mona Lisa, using various methods to merge the two faces until we arrived at a bill with da Vinci’s portrait entirely replacing that of the first president. Later, we began to compose bills with the intent to honor artists to whose brilliance, courage, and innovation we are indebted – well known iconoclasts like Frida Kahlo, Vincent Van Gogh, and Marcel Duchamp, as well as unsung international treasures such as Zinaida Serebriakova, one of the first female Russian painters of distinction, and Gustave Caillebotte, a French painter who was also a patron and generous supporter of other Impressionist artists – an art lover who truly put his money where his mouth was. Another sequence, bearing the slogan “Corporations Only” addresses the troubling assignment of ‘personhood’ to corporations and the sense that great sums of money are now restricted to corporations only, as tax loopholes and offshore accounts are increasingly making wealth the sole province of corporate entities. Still other bills, like HONEYBEE’s images of endangered honeybees or the bills depicting American Indian leaders like Red Cloud and Sitting Bull, serve to chronicle and celebrate lost or vanishing treasures. Most bills with a human figure also feature a quote from that person; Kahlo’s bill reads: “Nothing is absolute – everything changes.” The Art Notes remain legal tender, but through careful embellishment, we’ve altered their value; in doing so, we hope to provoke reflection upon what is truly of lasting value in both art and life.


    (as told to Nick Stone)
    Courtesy of Magnolia Editions

    About Donald & Era Farnsworth

    From The Magazine

    • Please note that although part of an open edition, each note is unique and may bear slight differences from note to note within the edition.

      Published by Magnolia Editions. 

    • This work is framed.
    • Comes with clear plexi display box measuring 7.25” x 3.625” x 0.5”
    • Ships in 2 to 3 weeks from California.
    • This work is final sale and not eligible for return.
    • Questions about this work?
    • Interested in other works by this artist or other artists? We will source them for you.
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