Saturday, May 31, 2014

"The Music Makers" by Jane Bearman

I found this little gem at a flea market in New Jersey about a year ago. Matted, framed, signed and numbered, and in excellent condition - I paid only $20. It's an original woodcut #37 out of 50. I had never heard of the artist before and haven't been able to dig up anything about her except a New York Magazine classified ad mentioning work by a "Jane Bearman" at a gallery in NJ in 1972 (That gallery no longer exists.) There are also a few illustrated children's books from the 40's published by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in the late that might also be her, but I can't tell from the style of the books' covers. If anyone reading this has any information about this artist, I'd love to hear from you.

The stark contrast between solid black and white gives the notes some punch. Hands, faces, and instruments slip in and out of shadow as the child-band jams. I see the boy's hand strum his guitar. The girl's hair falls freely as she swings her head  from side to side following the rhythm of their song, her voice and that of her accordion blending into one. I feel the focused concentration of the boy who stands perfectly upright, his whole face in shadow as his fingers nimbly swagger around his clarinet. The violin player shrinks a bit in the background, but his voice and the gliding motion of his bow are just as distinct as the rest. The music rises like steam. This room is getting hot, but that won't stop the dancing.

Friday, May 30, 2014

"Sculptor of Buddhist Images in Kyoto" by Kurosaki Akira

The work-in-progress glows like a firefly. He, like all of us, is incomplete. Off to the side, a dismembered head with peaceful expression lies on its side. In the back, a calmly seated figure is cut off at the forehead. The artist has carefully laid out his tools, just as a surgeon does. Though the smell here is wood and oil, not flesh and blood. He is restoring another kind of life.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Diego Jourdan Pereira's Bible Scenes

Diego Jourdan Pereira started his blog Jourdan Woodcuts: Journey Into Printmaking! in December. The artist has enjoyed an extensive career in illustration and comics, but is now attempting to more personally express himself through the medium of woodcuts.

His new blog has averaged two posts a month, and the posts are almost entirely photographs documenting both the work and his studio process.

Most of the featured works are part of a series illustrating the artist's favorite Bible scenes, particularly stories from the New Testament and centered around Jesus Christ.

Full disclosure: I don't typically read the Bible and I'm about the farthest thing from a Christian as is possible. But I found this series of images tremendously moving, and powerful in a way that transcends literal, personal belief. Images and stories connected with Christianity have dominated Western civilization for centuries, and thus, often carry profound meaning for non-Christians. In Context and Crucifixes, Morgan Meis writes about the use of Christ imagery by Jewish painter Marc Chagall: 

He saw Jesus on the Cross as a universally recognizable symbol of human suffering. Chagall hoped that Jews and non-Jews alike would be able to relate to this symbol.

The first image I've posted here is a depiction from Luke 24: 30-32, when Jesus appears to some of his disciples after his resurrection from the dead: 

When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, 'Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?'

What I was immediately struck by in this image was how alien the three figures appear, while at the same time expressing complex and unmistakably human emotions. The eyes more resemble those of a chameleon. The sharp angles and geometric shapes found in the faces and hands give an almost robotic feel. And yet I can almost hear the figures in the bottom corners gasp in amazement. The face of Christ is most dynamic and even disturbing. One eye focuses on the disciples, while the other eye, cast in shadow, arches up to directly confront the viewer as he assertively presents the two halves of the bread. A row of white streaks read as teeth clenched and bared. Streaks of carved wood rise up from the table like steam, and fall from the ring in the center as if it is a rising halo. 

This is a moment of profound revelation. Moments when one person who has has endured an excruciating and deeply profound experience discovers a way to share that experience with others. I am reminded of great story tellers and a rapt audience gathered around a fire, or an inspired teacher who has brought an entire classroom of students to stunned silence. 

Most of the images of Jesus in Diego Jourdan Pereira's Bible woodcuts are of the divine Christ revealing himself to others. In fact the very first image posted in December is of the Magi presenting their gifts to the Christ child (second image in this post). This scene is probably the most recognizable as a Bible story. It has the star of Bethlehem, the three Kings donning halos, and of course a baby. 

In a shift from more conventional illustrations of this scene, we view the three Kings from just above where the baby lay (Mary's view, perhaps?) The baby's two, chubby arms rise up from the bottom of the frame, gesturing signs of perfection and benediction. The bright light emanating from the child seems to slice apart or dissolve the Kings. Instead of bugging-out eyes, their eyes are barely visible, turned down in reverence. As a mother, I cannot help but be moved to contemplate the impact a new baby has on the adults in that child's world. Indeed, adults bring gifts and fawn over the child, in awe at the sudden appearance of a whole, new person. A person who seems flawless, like a pristine canvas on which the story of their life has yet to be painted. A person who brings whole new depth and joy to those who love him. 

The third image shown here is from John 4, when Jesus speaks with a Samaritan woman at a well and convinces her that he is the Messiah. And the fourth is from Acts 9:5 when a blinding vision of Christ appears to Paul - the one who will spread the faith. These were the two I had the most difficulty with because while I find the imagery stunning and mysterious, they depict Biblical stories that are more typically an affront to my personal values of skepticism and pluralism. In both images, the figure of Christ is made to seem powerful  in his radiance, and mystifying as we cannot see his face. In the first, Christ's halo even shoots out to fix the gaze of the Samaritan woman on him. In the second, the artist incorporates the knot in the wood to give the appearance of Christ as a burning pillar with arms outstretched. In both instances is a bit terrifying, and I cannot say I am comfortable with the embodiment of so much power in the form of a man. I feel the Samaritan woman has been seduced or manipulated, and Paul has been intimidated into subservience. Surely such power and control is wielded every day in the world, for better or for worse. 

My favorite print from this series is the which depicts Luke 19: 41-44. Jesus is on his own in this image in a state of bittersweet contemplation over his fate as he nears the end of his days on earth. 

When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, 'If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.'
Here the face of Jesus is made anonymous. A smooth, curved surface, like a mask with no features. Two small knots which resemble a pair of eyes appear in the sky facing a third, larger and more ominous black blotch of a knot. He has a vision beyond that of the mundane world and moves forward, rather steadily, though the head of his steed hangs low.

It is like a desperate longing for peace in a time of unavoidable war. Finding the courage to do the right thing, knowing one will be met with punishment, not reward. What I see in this image is both the futility and undying hope of the human condition.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Woodcut reduction, 4 layers of color
Image 3.5" x 4", Paper 5.5" x 8"
Water based inks on 100 lb. smooth Bristol paper
Limited edition of 6
Available for purchase here.

Those who know me probably recognize my oldest daughter in this image. She has been taking Pre-ballet for 2 years already, and has another year to go before she'll be in "real" ballet class. But she dances all the time in her pink leotard, tutu, and little pink slippers.

I created this print as an end of school year gift for my daughter's dance teacher. She is one of those people who is always joyful and patient around young children. After the kids' end of year performance - which only lasted a few minutes - she beamed with pride and I swear I saw her eyes watering. Great teachers are priceless.

Below you can see the preliminary pencil drawing and what the wood block looked like by the time I was finished.

Monday, May 26, 2014

"Sunday Best" by Ida Binney

Here's a WPA-era gem from the Met's collection. The Met has a few works by Ida Binney, but I couldn't find any other information about her as a fine artist. I did find a couple of children's books, Boppet Please Stop It and This Is the Way the Animals Walk. The illustrations are not woodcuts, but I'm fairly certain they are illustrated by the same artist since they are from the same era and the gestural way the figures are drawn reminds me of the style used in her woodcut The Wheel, also from the Met's collection.

The girl could barely keep her bottom half still in that chair, legs squiggling, thighs itchy against layers of cloth, waiting for the rest of the grownups to Be Ready. Left in a chair on a round rug in the corner of the room, as if being punished. Pretty as a blooming flower in her coral-colored dress with the ruffled-collar, head topped with her yellow straw hat. Her upper top half remained as still as the piece of furniture she sat on, hands gripping the bouquet, eyes fixed on the ceiling. Or rather, something small (ignored by bigger folks) crawling on the ceiling almost directly above her head.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Butterflies in Exlibris by Kosa Balint

The temperature drops, and the butterfly on the green can no longer flap its wings. It sits on a flower, motionless, reliant on the patterns and colors of its wings to ward predators off. Most likely no one will notice its presence.

The temperature rises, and the insect flutters, popping off the floral field, demanding all of our attention, like Mrs. Monet's red kerchief.

More exquisite exlibris by Kosa Balint can be found archived here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"Tracy" by Alex Katz

Found this and much more on Alex Katz's print archive.

Am I her, or am I standing behind her? After all, she could be almost anyone. Well, anyone Caucasian and blond. I imagine we are older, smiling, carefree. This soft breeze is pleasant. The calm field of slate grey before us is inviting, like a blanket for the soul.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"Hunter Thompson" by Loren Kantor

The artist and writer Loren Kantor contacted me to check out his woodcuts. (You can check them all out at his blog Woodcutting Fool.)

At first glance his style and subject matters are fairly conventional. He does a lot of portraits and illustrations of famous landmarks and places, and his black and white images are always centered with a neat frame.

Kantor doesn't employ a huge variety of mark-making. Instead, his images display a simple interplay between planes of solid black and white, with minimal use of uniform line-work and occasional small fields of texture, usually with stripes or dots.

There is huge potential for expression within such limited stylistic and technical parameters, particularly with portraits.

Take this image of one of my favorite writers, Hunter S. Thompson. The cigarette casually dangles out of the edge of his mouth, a mouth slightly askew, slightly frowning. Three parallel lines of smoke rise up, balancing the mildly confrontational tilt of the Gonzo journalist's head. The lines of his receded hair frame his prominent forehead, emphasizing the two lines in his brow, which in their expressive meandering show more than age. They show wear, and add to an  overall look of mundane contempt.The lenses of his glasses read like black holes. Instead of a barrier blocking entrance to the soul, they become a portal into a dark psyche.

Loren Kantor's woodcut portraits remind me of the portraits of Alex Katz because in both, so much is stripped away that only something essential, eerie, and difficult to describe about the subject remains.

After looking at Kantor's work, I started searching for images of Katz's work, and discovered that in addition to being a famous painter, he is a prolific printmaker. I found this linocut titled Sharon, which has much in common with Kantor's portrait of Thompson. Here is a subject wearing sunglasses, portrayed in black and white with scant and simple linework, but the tone is completely different. The gesture of the woman's smile alone convey enjoyment. Strange white shapes float all around her and in the flatness of the whole image seem as if they will bump or meld into her. The lenses of her glasses are white, and seem to connect her more with the white shapes that surround her. She is turned away from the viewer, engaged by something else, and we are merely onlookers.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"Kitchen Table" by John Allgood

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More of John Allgood's reduction linocuts can be found at his website,

I can't decide if it was during the earliest morning rays of sun or the waning light at dusk, but it was all pink and shimmery wiggles. All pink except the shadowy bowl-of-produce on the table, which turned green with envy at all that pink. Was it a butternut squash or avocado sliced-in-half and glowing in comparison to the rest of the dark, edible contents? Breakfast or dinner? Did we eat inside or was the weather fair enough to sit at the table outside. The table and chairs in the white light just outside the window. The table and chairs so high in the frame of this image, but that I remember looking down on. Was it many steps downward that led into the yard? Was I ever this tall?

Owl and Cat in Love, "Exploration and Discovery" (double page spread pages 21-22)

"Exploration and Discovery (parts 1 and 2)"
Woodcuts (reduction)
Each is 11.25" x 11.75" (image), 15" x 16" (paper)
Oil based inks on Sulphite Block Printing Paper 
Limited editions of 3 each

Cat examines the scattered skeleton of a lizard. Behind her, a mysterious stone hammer hovers. Owl munches on his latest prey while perched on brick wall ruins, hastily marked with the word "Oust." The dormant volcano which formed the island stands in the distance. Much closer, native eyes continue to watch the newcomers' every move. 

Hopefully this isn't getting too bizarre. Then again, it is a purely visual retelling of an over 100-year-old nonsense poem written for children, so, can it really get too bizarre? 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Owl and Cat in Love, "Entering the Forest" (double page spread pages 19-20)

"Entering the Forest"
Woodcut (reduction)
20" x 9.5" (image)
24" x 15" (paper)
Oil based inks on Sulphite Block Printing Paper 
Limited edition of 3

After watching the sunset on the island where they are now stranded, Owl and Cat enter the forest in search of food and find fluttering delicacies. Unbeknownst to them, the natives are still watching... 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Linocuts by my Four-Year-Old

My daughter has been bugging me to let her use my brayers and ink. She also enjoys using watercolors on the dud black and white prints I give to her.

This morning I handed her a piece of Blick EZ cut linoleum and told her to draw some shapes for me to carve out. After carving, I had her roll out some black ink and showed her how to print using the wooden spoon. She did it herself (her inability to put much pressure on the spoon is why the black areas have so much texture - which I think worked out nicely.) Later, she hand water-colored one of them. I can't decide if I like the color or black and white version better.

While I was carving, she wanted to carve, too, so I handed her another piece of linoleum, some carving tools, and showed her how to not cut herself. She had some fun ripping the block up a bit, and then printed that by herself, too (the image on purple paper below.)

 She draws and paints all the time, and I suppose there will be a lot more printmaking now. At the rate she's going, she'll surpass me in skill by the time she's 18. That would be pretty awesome.