Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Learning To Crawl"

Learning To Crawl
Image 4" x 3", Paper 8" x 6"
Edition of 8
Oil based inks on Kozo paper

With her fanny in the air and one curved foot tucked under her stomach, she's moving away from me. The weight of her proportionately massive head combined with gravity work against her stubby arms and legs, which struggle to achieve balance. She rocks back and forth, flops, and occasionally crashes head first. Her environment is a minefield of hard wood or tile floors, sharp corners on tables, chairs, and armrests. But still, she turns away from me, "mama", soft and safe. She is fulfilling a biological imperative, striving with determination toward a bigger, better, and more robust world that she knows in her animal heart is just over the horizon.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Hibiscus" by Viza Arlington

Viza Arlington
19" x 25.5" (image)

This image first captivated my attention a few years ago when I discovered it on Etsy. The artist made an edition of 40 and has sold several over the years. It is easy to see why this image is so striking, but difficult to explain.

Last Thursday was the autumn equinox; the official start of fall, even though most people in this part of the world think of fall as beginning in September or after Labor Day. I chose to post and write about this image today in honor of the colors of autumn, which is a tad ironic considering that the hibiscus plant only grows in subtropical and tropical regions. Sort of reminds me of when I saw decorated evergreen trees and heard "White Christmas" over the airport radio in Thailand. But in this age of fast travel, imports, exports, and the Internet, why not have a tropical flower stand for a celebration of fall?

This portrait with no face, no background, is therefore anonymous and without context. With the delicately rendered ear and contours of her facial profile, the picture seems highly realistic. And yet the uniform planes of color: black, umber, orange, coral, the simplicity with which the flower is rendered, the tight cropping, and anonymity, make it seem quite abstract. This is a pleasing arrangement of colors, shapes, textures, and lines, and at the same time she is a person being watched, examined (by us) while unaware. The colors radiate, and yet the distance created by our voyeurism and her gaze turned away from us, cools. This, too, reminds me a fall.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Girl in a Forest", unsigned

Girl in a Forest
woodblock print
31" x 14.5"

She thinks she's ugly.
In a way, she is. Thin lips,
Weak chin, flat chest,
Dark, bushy eyebrows on
Pale skin. I mean
She doesn't have much
Conventional beauty.
Boys her age will never
Gush over her looks.
She's the kind of girl who'll
Really come into her own
In college. Maybe
High school if she's lucky.
She's not just "smart" or
"Funny" or "sane."
Her fingers are long enough to
Play Chopin's Fantasy Impromptu
She wears her heart on
Her sleeve, and a blue beehive
Wig to the junior high dance.
Conventional beauty is like
Sidewalk chalk. What she has
Is chiseled in stone.
I tell her this, in so many words,
But right now she can't
See the forest for the trees.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Ring Around the Rosie"

Ring Around the Rosie
Image 8" x 10", Paper 10.75" x 15.5"
Edition of 5
Oil based inks on Masa paper

Ring around the rosey,
A pocketful of posies.
ashes, ashes.
We all fall down.

Fishes in the water,

Fishes in the sea,
We all jump up,
With a one, two, three!

Down at the bottom of the deep blue sea,
How many fishes can you see?
With a one, a two, a three!

(Traditional Nursery Rhyme)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Robot Baby" by Courtney Woodliff

This is a woodcut created by Courtney Woodliff in 2008. The image reposted with permission of the artist. Woodliff's website can be viewed here.

The image displays so many mad scientist/horror elements: tubes jutting out of an infant, the top of his or her head replaced by a gear, one arm severed, disembodied mouth with sharp teeth, mysterious liquids. And yet I don’t feel horrified. I’m more amused and intrigued. It’s the serene expression on the baby’s face. With that turned up nose and thick, pursed lips, the kid is even cute. Maybe he or she is sleeping, or, since the title tells us this is a robot, not turned on. Anyway, I’m not worried.

Certainly something has gone wrong. After all, an electrical socket is on fire, there’s spilt milk (or, well, whatever other liquid would be in a robot baby’s bottle) all over the place, and that big rat in the foreground has menacing eyes. But on some level it also seems rather cartoonish and fun. The black heart over the baby’s chest also lightens the mood. Perhaps the image is simply about the age-old story of how humanity at our rational, technological, and moral best, is always sabotaged by the human animal.

No doubt I find this image especially captivating because of connections to my own experiences. I am constantly over-anxious about my baby hurting herself on household hazards. Even when chances are slim-to-none, I visualize disaster! Every parent checks their baby’s breath when they sleep. It’s really kind of silly.

Here, the baby’s heart and the face is where I return and finally rest, over and over again. Ultimately that’s why this print makes me smile.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"La Paresse" by Felix Vollotton

This woodcut is by the innovative (for his time) Swiss artist Felix Vollotton. Vollotton's prints were known for his flat planes of black and white and patterns instead of gradations.

I love Vollotton's prints for all the same reasons I love the drawings of Aubrey Beardsley (who was likely influenced by Vollotton.) There's something fun about the figures and the world they inhabit. The postures and poses of people and creatures have personality. But there is also something eerie about them. The patterns and textures on clothing, furniture, and fabrics are suggestive and seem to move. The larger planes of white seem lit up, while the black shadows seem like deep holes. Pictures such as these carry me to another world, and I'm both delighted and cautious to be there.

The woman in this picture is just laying on a bed petting a cat, right? So why do I feel like there's much more to the story? It just seems sort of pretty at first, but the longer I look and notice details the more my imagination carries me away. The zig-zag edge of the blanket seems to comb the floor. The pillows and blankets behind the woman's body appear to have hair and creepy crawlies all over them. The bed appears to sink under the woman's outstretched arm, so is it really a bed or something else? The strange angle, the woman's nakedness, and the stretched body of the cat heighten some sense of drama. And yet the woman's pose is relaxed. Her head leans on its side and she gently kicks her legs back and forth. After all, she's just laying on a bed petting a cat, right?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"Standing In the Tub"

Standing In the Tub
Image 3" x 4", Paper 5.5" x 7.5"
Edition of 8
Oil based inks on Masa paper

This is a figure study of my daughter, Lysistrata. It is my fifth small-scale baby print, and I plan to do more. I captivated by infant body proportions. They are both cute and alien. And while I do enjoy the intimacy of these tiny prints, the main reason I began working in smaller scale is because since having the baby I have much less time to work in my studio. I'm still doing big work, but I need to do these small works in between larger projects or else the achingly slow pace convinces me that I'm not doing anything at all.

I wanted to keep this image light and airy, so I went with the bright, complimentary colors and white outline. I suppose I did this because I have so many positive associations with bath time, which have been recently reinforced by Lysi's enjoyment of baths. I especially love the pose here. Her arms are bent and raised as if she is triumphant. Maybe I made this image to celebrate Lysi's learning to walk - that seminal achievement that separates the babies from the toddlers. My baby is a toddler, hooray!

The greatest aesthetic challenge with this study was striking a balance between too much and too little. I think I did okay. In fact I think this particular style could be applied to a illustrated narrative. Maybe I'll make an artist's book. So many ideas. So many "maybes". Wish I had more time.

This print is available for purchase on my Etsy store here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Barcode Bondage Babies" by Laura Wagner

Barcode Bondage Babies: One Boy, One Girl by Laura Wagner
woodcut, thread, and mixed media
15" x 16"

This image is posted with permission of the artist. Laura Wagner completed a small series of Barcode Bondage Babies in 2007 that can be viewed at her website here.

This is the sort of image that instantly engages me. The iconic shapes of the children pop out. My husband glanced at the image and called it “cute.” And yes, the forms of these paper doll children are cute, but in a generic illustration sort of way. Like a lot of art today this series of works reference iconography that is both adorable and familiar, but then adds a cynical edge. The heavy black straps, the black and red barcodes, and absent faces signify that these children are objects to be bought and sold, with no identity or will of their own. The background, too, is blank; they can be inserted into any environment.

However, the interpretation shouldn’t end there. The red barcodes appear like kites or balloons afloat. The children hold the strings, as if engaged in a fun activity. The use of actual thread - gentle loops of red string below the children’s clenched hands – further softens the image. “Barcode Bondage Babies” is more than ironic. There is a genuine tension between innocence and vice.

Laura Wagner posted an Artist’s Statement for the Barcode Bondage Babies series. It reads:

Found newspaper advertisement, 2003

"Loving, Married, SANE, stable and reliable professional couple (not an agency) seeks egg donor. Candidate must be healthy, non-smoker, 18 to 25 and willing to meet briefly with prospective parents. Caucasian, blonde, red or light brown hair, 5'6"+, slim and very pretty. Proven academic achievement, SAT score 1300+. Outgoing, sense of humor, organized. Interest in art or architecture a plus. Very generous compensation.”

I’m left pondering a conundrum: I assume no parent would want their daughter to end up so desperate for quick cash that she’s willing to undergo the painful and strange process of donating eggs to strangers. If this couple ever did find their ideal baby mama, they’d have to then also live with the knowledge that their impressive laundry list of socially and biologically advantageous characteristics isn’t always enough to get ahead, at least financially. If they ever told their child the story, the child would live with that truth, too.

Of course a generic list of stats does not describe a son or daughter, or any person who is known and loved. Stats about advantageous characteristics are most useful and meaningful when dealing with populations, not individual people. But the thing about being a prospective parent is that we can’t help but fantasize about what our future children might be like, and without a person present, we easily turn to stats.

When I was pregnant with my daughter Lysi, we called her “Notacat” (because we have 4 cats) and I refused to learn the sex because we had names chosen; I did not want him or her to be named until I could know him or her as a real person. After Lysi’s birth, my husband and I both recalled feeling a slight pang of loss. Underneath the immense joy of learning she was Lysi, we both felt the loss of the potential baby boy. No doubt if it had been a boy, a part of us would have felt the loss of the imaginary girl. No matter how much I avoided becoming attached to a fantasy, some managed to creep in. But those dreams of future children are just games of pretend. Like playing with cute, paper dolls.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

"Woman After Bath" by Goyo

This color woodcut was created by Hashiguchi Goyo in 1920. The artist only produced 14 prints in his life (cut short by illness), and this is perhaps the best known. The blog Venus Observations offers this short article outlining Goyo's career with additional images from the artist's small but stunning portfolio.

I find the masterfulness with which this print was executed tremendously intimidating. How I feel meditating on this image is probably close to how a portrait artist feels meditating on the Mona Lisa. “Woman After Bath” depicts such a mundane scene from every day life. The woman is caught in the middle of washing, her hands squeezing a cloth over a basin of water. The basin is cropped, as is most of the room, reminding me of a snapshot. This is one moment in time, like any other, passing away. And yet with the woman’s body drawn so painstakingly in the center of the image, her youthful form glowing, creamy white against the soft compliments of reds and greens, the moment becomes monumental.

The moments after cleaning or organizing anything are blissfully calm. After I place all my daughter's toys back in the toy box, vacuum up all the wood shavings, or push the "on" button on the dish washer, all is set right. I know it will just get messed up again the next day, but that is a joyful thought too, because after that much more living, it can be set right again and again. No matter how bad things smell, how ugly they get, no matter how many mistakes are made, I can always start over again. This great sense of relief is that much more gratifying when my body itself has been made clean. I love that this print reminds me that this simple, daily chore can be a great joy.