John Cage, whose visual work consists mainly of works on paper, spent fifteen years beginning in 1978 working at the Crown Point Press in San Francisco and elsewhere making etchings, monotypes, drawings, watercolors, and lithographs. It is from this period that this aquatint, published by Crown Point in 1989, comes.
Cage was a practitioner of Zen Buddhism and through it became enamored with aleatory, or random, processes as a way of making art. His use of the I Ching, or “Book of Changes,” is well documented and he used its hexagrams, or six-element arrangements of solid or broken lines, to determine, for this work, the placement of the smoked paper on the press and the arrangement of the vertical lines. The use of smoke to distress the paper is another element of the work’s randomness.