Wednesday, May 27, 2015

"Submarine" by Marcia Brown

Three weeks ago the accomplished illustrator Marcia Brown passed away. Brown was a master of woodcuts (among other mediums,) and won the Caldecott medal three times, including for Once A Mouse, a fable in woodcuts. Jil Casey posted several images from Once A Mouse on the blog The Art of Children's Picture Books. You can also read Marcia Brown's obituary in the New York Times.

Skimming along just above the surface, we see above and below. Spindly feelers stretch out as we pass through the shrouds of water and air. Eye wide open, always moving, we are armored by steal scales and ready for any encounter. Like a fish with wings, we are caught between worlds.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Into the Pond" by Nancy Darrell

This is a wood engraving by Nancy Darrell, another artist I discovered in the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts gift shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. 

The swimmer, a solid, naked form, plunges into the deep. Her presence is a disturbance. While other creatures merely release gently floating bubbles, her bold and deliberate movements scratch through the previous calm.As she heads down into the dark, the ripples she's created will travel across the surface until they bounce against the edge of the shore from which she came.  

Friday, May 22, 2015

"Walking the Dog" by Jan Heath

I discovered the prints of Jan Heath in the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts gift shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This linocut especially caught my attention because of the energetic, yet balanced composition. The woman's lean back is emphasized by the blunt cropping and aerial perspective on her feet, and that is pitted against the giddy pull of her small dog. The dog's flight is playfully punctuated by his perky tail, asymmetrically flopping ears, and the bottoms of his rear paws flatly facing the viewer. So much tension lands on that pointed finger and the thin line of a leash that connects dog-walker and dog. If not a puppy in age, certainly one in spirit. 

The subject matter, bright, complimentary colors and style of mark-making also reminded me of the late, great Stephen Huneck, who possessed a great love of dogs.  

Thursday, May 21, 2015

"Blind Boy" by Agnes Nanogak Goose

This is a stonecut print by Inuit artist Agnes Nanogak Goose, illustrating a scene from the folk tale The Blind Boy and the Loon.

The pair are joined in flight. It is unclear where her plumage ends and his fur begins. His nose, her beak point the way, and they dive. Are they hovering in the air, or plunging down into thick and bubbly waters? She paddles mightily with outstretched wings as he kicks. She is spirit, he is mind, and together they soar.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Workable Kitchen" by Lagana Bluangtook

This is a black and white linocut with color serigraph. The artist has posted both the color and black and white version on her website which can be found here. More often than not when I see two versions - color and black and white - of a relief print, I prefer the black and white. There is usually more of a surreal element, an added layer of psychological and formal complexity to those versions.  Color versions are usually flattened, too often in a predictable manner, and therefore provide viewers fewer entryways into the unknown.

However, in this case I find the color version much more intriguing. For one thing, may aspects of black and white are maintained because only that screaming yellow and a few, small swaths of blue and red are added to the basic black and white image. Rather than setting all the shapes in their predictable places, the color here seems to arbitrarily highlight certain shapes within an image that is ultimately - in its truest form - a colorless image. The color is an overlay or even an intrusion. In the black and white version, I feel I am in a simple kitchen with all the basic and necessary tools for preparing a meal and cleaning up afterward. But in this color version, I am in a place with a shrill emotional tenor. A place where - though all is still in this moment - something has happened here, and left its hysterical tinge on the walls and certain objects. The serenity of the composition and literal images is at such odds with the intense color that I cannot ignore the strikingly conscious, human presence.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

"Le Confiant" by Felix Vollotton

His face presses into her gentle hands. His body melts into the black folds of her gown. In this dark and quiet corner, he is safe. She will never hold these secrets against him.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Scottsboro Alabama: A Story In Linoleum Cuts (Still Relevant Today)

A friend recently gifted me a copy of Scottsboro Alabama: A Story In Linoleum Cuts by Lin Shi Khan and Tony Perez. It is a series of 119 expressive, black and white linocuts, interlaced with brief text, that dramatically tell the story of the Scottsboro Boys. Apparently the book was created in 1935, but then quietly disappeared until it was re-discovered in a library archive, and published 2003 in a version edited by Andrew Lee. I was given the book mainly because of my work teaching art to elementary and high school students, as these prints have the potential to be a powerful teaching tool. 

I feature these three images from the book because of how clearly they express emotion and personalities of the Scottsboro boys (and men.) In just a handful of cuts that break up the field of black ink, these faces convey fatigue and frustration, but also determination and hope.

Larry Wilmore of the Nightly Show recently sat down at a diner in Baltimore with rival gang members who had come together to quell the destruction of property and violence being committed amidst the peaceful protests. The most moving moment of the interview for me was when Wilmore asked, "Do you guys have hope?" (4 min. 40 seconds in the video) Without missing a beat, they all nodded and answered, "Of course."

Even though many horrible aspects of slavery, poverty, and racism are depicted in this book, taken as a whole, it is an incredible story of hope for progress. The story focuses on those in power who work to keep the races divided in order to keep the least affluent distracted and powerless. The third and final section of the series is titled "White and Black Unite" and the final sentence reads "But the symbol of Scottsboro will weld the masses forward and driving all of the many parasites into the ash heap of the bitter past."

Unfortunately, that hope has yet to be realized. In the year 2015, we might have a black president, but there is also so much reported evidence of racial bias in employment, schools, and healthcare, as well as criminal justice. Legally mandated and enforced segregation may have ended, but the divisions between black and white are still widespread. We see disproportionate poverty in black communities, and the killing of unarmed, black men by police, that sparks protests and riots such as those in Baltimore last month, as well as the Black Lives Matter campaign. Later this month we'll see the release of the film Southern Rites that documents racial divisions today (including the killing of a young, black man over his relations with a white woman) in two counties in Georgia.

80 years later, these linocuts are every bit as relevant to issues of poverty, racism, and race relations in America. If art truly can be a catalyst for social change, I highly recommend getting a copy and sharing it with young people.