Sunday, February 24, 2019

"Naked Selfie No. 12"

3.75" x 4" (block)
White line woodcut
Watercolors on Arches

The latest in the "Naked Selfie" series. I was just tickled when I found the photo of this guy casually waving to the camera in his naked selfie. Check out all of them on this Pinterest album.

Also, I've finally written an artist statement about the Naked Selfie series that I think rightly suits it! Here it is: 

My latest work – a series of “Naked Selfies” of others - explores the translation of visual information from photographs to woodcuts. At the start of this process are people standing naked in front of a mirror, usually in their own bathroom, cell phone in hand, posing in a manner they presumably feel best represents how they wish to be seen. Or maybe they simply want to document the honest appearance of their body at this moment in time. They snap a photo, and at some point the image ends up on the Internet. Maybe the person who took the photograph posted it to an amateur photography or pornography site, or maybe a mistake was made, or someone they sent it to betrayed a trust. One way or another, the image appears on Google searches, which is how I find it.  
At this point in the process there is how I subjectively view the original naked selfie, which is different from the perhaps millions of others who have also seen it. The proliferation of naked selfies on the Internet is simultaneously shocking and banal, depending on who is doing the Google search. My subjective perspective influences how I re-create the image as a white line woodcut. I drop the rectangular border, background, and focus on the isolated figure. Crisp, white lines combined with airy gradations and woodgrain textures emphasize the shape and volume of the body in a way that is more aesthetic than lascivious. I work on small blocks because I want viewers to have an intimate experience with the physical work. Working small scale in woodcut also renders faces abstract enough to give the subjects anonymity. 
At the end of this process there is the print I made as it is received by an audience. The translation into woodcuts recontextualizes this photographic imagery and thereby invite reactions and associations that greatly differ from those typically evoked by the original images. Perhaps some of these woodcuts will be seen by the people who took the original photographs. If so, I wonder, would they recognize themselves?  

Saturday, February 23, 2019

"Naked Selfie No. 11"

4" x 4" (block)
White line woodcut
Watercolors on Arches

The latest in the "Naked Selfie" series. Check out all of them on this Pinterest album.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Elizabeth Catlett's "Survivor" and the Distillation of Photographic Imagery

Every year I take several groups of grade school students to La Salle University's Art Museum for field trips, and I was pleased to discover a copy of Elizabeth Catlett's print "Survivor" on view in the current exhibition. The show is Teaching and Learning in the Art Museum: La Salle University Faculty Selections, and is on view through the month of May. This woodcut by Catlett was chosen by a professor who teaches Introduction to Public Health (see label with more info below.)

This image has always been a striking and therefore memorable one for me and I'm sure many others. The print was created from a photograph by Dorothea Lange called Ex-slave with a Long Memory. (Anne Nydam wrote a thoughtful post discussing this on her art blog a few years ago.) Just as Catlett distills Lange's title with her own, shorter one, with her carving she also eliminates details and context, yet intensifies certain aspects of this person depicted in the original photograph.

This sort of distillation is something woodcuts inevitably do to representational imagery. In my recent post featuring The Round Table of King Arthur, I referred to it as a game of whisper down the lane. We think something is being copied, but it is not. It is being transformed. A specific kind of subtle yet profound change happens with images sourced very directly from photographs, such as this one.

This transformation of visual information from photographs to woodcuts is something I'm particularly exploring with my new Naked Selfies series. At the start of it are people standing naked in front of a mirror, cell phone in hand, posing in a manner they feel best represents how they want to be seen. They snap a photo, and later I stumble across it while surfing the Internet. There is how I subjectively view it, which is different from the perhaps millions of others who have also seen it, and my perspective influences how I transfer it to a woodcut. Finally there is the print I made as it received by the audience. Perhaps some of them will be seen by the people who took the original photograph. If so, will they recognize themselves?

When compared side by side, Catlett's woodcut looks like Lange's photograph, but how much does the woman in Catlett's woodcut resemble the flesh and blood woman whose photograph was taken by Lange? Had she never seen the photograph, would she have recognized herself in the woodcut? Would her friends and family recognize her? I feel this transformation, this obliteration and re-creation is some of the power and purpose, yet also the deep sadness of woodcuts.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

"Pigs In A Blanket" (Chinese New Year Exchange)

Happy Lunar New Year! This is my Year of the Pig 2019 card for the Baren Forum's Chinese New Year Exchange. It is dedicated to my daughter Bebe who is currently obsessed with pigs.

This is a 4" x 5" linocut printed with black Caligo safe wash relief ink, hand colored with Prismacolor markers and watercolor paint. I still have 7 more to hand-color, so they will be sent out a little late, but worth the color.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Year of the Dog Baren Exchange

Tomorrow will be the Lunar New Year. According to the Chinese zodiac, the year of the dog will have ended, and the year of the pig will begin.

Last year was the first year that I participated in the Baren Forum for Wood Block Printmaking's Chinese New Year card exchange. For that exchange, I made this little hand-colored print of Mary, the chiweenie that we had recently adopted. I received most of the cards from other participants around January-March of last year, though some came later, and it's been fun to have them trickle in. I recently received the last of my dog cards (all that I've received are shown in this post.) Thanks to all of the artists who made these cards, some quirky, some quiet and contemplative, some bold, and some surprising. I absolutely love this little collection.

I am participating in the Year of the Pig exchange, and tomorrow I will post about my print for it.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

"Groundhog Day 2019"

It's Groundhog Day again, and that means time for my annual Groundhog Day card. As is evident from the previous designs, I either get a little odd or a bit sentimental. This is the first year I added some color (hand color with Prismacolor markers) to the card, and I did so for what I think are obvious reasons.

Groundhog Day 2014 
Groundhog Day 2015 
(I skipped 2016)
Groundhog Day 2017
Groundhog Day 2018

I love making cards for this holiday because January is a quiet, contemplative month after the hustle and bustle of the holidays is over, and it's still too cold and dark to spend much time outside. I also love the silliness of the holiday. It's one of those low-pressure events that opens itself up for us to make what we want of it. I'm not sure what to expect from Groundhog Day. But I fear that if I and others make nothing of it, it will fade away from our collective cares.

Therefore, a heartfelt Happy Groundhog Day to all! *honk honk* 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

"Fireflies" (Paper Lantern)

8" x 8" x 8" paper lantern with linoleum cut printing on Japanese rice paper with an electric candle inside.

Here is the my first paper lantern all finished. The posted about making the linocut print for it here, and I also did a version of it as a hand-colored mandala, posted here.

This piece will be in the Waiting In Hades exhibition at the University City Arts League. The opening is February 8 from 6-8pm.

"The Round Table of King Arthur" by Onorio Ruotolo

“By what men think, we create the world around us, daily new.” 
― Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon

I found this in a copy of The Story of the World Literature by John Macy that was given to me by a friend just because of the stunning woodcut illustrations by Onorio Ruotolo. This particular print includes the note "From a Miniature of the Sixth Century". This caught my attention because lately I've been thinking about this game of whisper down the lane that we play as humans, copying and passing cultural artifacts down through the generations, all the while their meaning evolving to suit each time in which it is encountered. Some find something universal in this practice that ties all of humanity together like a neat bow on a wrapped gift. But to me that seems an illusion. We grasp on to what has come before because it is readily available and familiar, but what has come before is not of now, and what is copied will never be the same as the original.

It is interesting that in this particular print, the patterns on the floor, wall, and repetitions in the architectural structure are more clearly defined than the facial features of the individuals, the patterns on their clothing, or the food they eat. Some things change more quickly than others, and generations of humanity pass along at a swift pace.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

"Croa!" by Claire Lemay

I found a large, poster version of this woodcut in a pile of art posters at the school I work at and instantly swooned. I'd never heard of Claire Lemay, but online quickly found that she is an artist living in Quebec and you can view more of her work on her website. I was surprised to learn the artist is Canadian because the bright colors combined with the bold, black, expressive shape of the figure and the word Viva made me think of Mexican and South American woodcuts I've seen. This frog also reminds me a bit of alebrijes, the Mexican sculptures of animals made of wood or paper mache that are colorfully patterned and rather otherwordly in appearance. The eyes of this frog are so dauntingly round. Being the same purple as the background, they seem almost like holes, and yet the narrow, green pupils signify the substance of actual eyes in those cut-out sockets. The frog is here, vividly demanding our attention, here to remind us, the living, to really live. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Antonio Frasconi on the Vietnam War

Thinking about what's happening in Venezuela right now and the role our government might take on this matter as I paged through prints by Frasconi made in response to the Vietnam War. This one is a selection from "On the Slain Collegians by Herman Melville". 

"It is important to remember that wars look good to many people in the beginning because something terrible has been done, and people feel that something must be done in retaliation. Only later does the thinking and questioning begin."   -Howard Zinn, from Artists In Time of War 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Hand-colored Version of "Fireflies"

Linocut, hand-colored with watercolors
Printed with oil-based ink on 120 lb Arches 9" x 9" (image)

After making this black and white print for a paper lantern I'm working on, I decided there also needed to be a hand-colored version. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Proof of "Fireflies"

8" x 8" (image)
Oil-based ink on Subi paper

Last year I made a couple 1" x 1" stamps to print in a circular pattern such as this (view those attempts here and here), but they weren't really going anywhere, so I moved on.

Last week I heard about a call for entries into a show at the University City Arts League where I teach. The exhibit is called "Waiting in Hades" and is open to all ages. The only requirement is that the works of art emit or reflect light. The lights will be turned out in the gallery for the opening on February 8 from 6-8pm.

This opportunity sounded like great fun, especially since my two daughters can enter their own pieces in along with mine. My eldest has created a Sharpie drawing on glow-in-the-dark coated paper. My youngest is creating a ceramic candle holder. I mulled the idea over in my head for a while since there was initially a flood of ideas, but as I'm mainly a printmaker, I decided to make a paper lantern with relief printing. It is going to be a small, square, box lantern, and this is a proof of the print I made for it. I like it quite a bit. I'll post more images when the piece is finished and after the exhibition opening.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

"Naked Selfie No. 10"

Here's the last of 4 new woodcuts in this new series. All of the prints from this series can be viewed in this Pinterest album. Read more about the series in this initial blog post

"Naked Selfie No. 9"

Here's the third of 4 new woodcuts in that series. All of the prints from this series can be viewed in this Pinterest album. Read more about the series in this initial blog post

"Naked Selfie No. 8"

Here's the second of 4 new woodcuts in that series. All of the prints from this series can be viewed in this Pinterest album. Read more about the series in this initial blog post

"Naked Selfie No. 7"

It's a New Year! That means back to work - hooray! Now that the holiday season, with all its obligations and distractions is over, I'm throwing myself back into my studio work with serious energy and enthusiasm. 

I've been wanting to get back to the Naked Selfies series that I started in 2017 for a while, and last month I finally found the motivation. Here's the first of 4 new woodcuts in that series.

All of the prints from this series can be viewed in this Pinterest album. 
Read more about the series in this initial blog post.

And Happy New Year!