Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Winter Streetlight" by Ellyn Stokes

Image used with the permission of the artist. Ellyn Stokes has an online store here. However, the shop will be closed until June 2011 when she returns from Turkey.

A fractured circle of light radiates from a street lamp. Against all logic the circle is mostly blue, darker than the yellow night air all around. A reversal has happened, as with the winter solstice when the days which grew shorter halted, did an about face, then slowly marched back through the frigid air toward a longer, warmer state. The world is turned inside out, upside down. This image is night, feels like night, yet light - which does not emanate from the electrical bulb - abounds. This image is winter, feels like winter, for stark, naked trees reach desperately toward the lamp's glow. Electrical wires and post form a sort of gate, an entrance through which the trees must pass. An entrance into better days, when warm rain soaks the earth, leaves bud and become rich foliage, and flowers bloom.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

“Two Rabbits Under the Full Moon” by Utagawa Hiroshige

Sky like a cut-out.
Glow of moon shadow
Like the collar of a bib.
Waves of atmospheric blue
In the grain of the wood.
One rabbit observes while
The other sniffs the ground,
Ground covered with snow.
The empty spaces, so bright
They blend together
Erase the edges
We know are still there.
The empty spaces have volume
More substantial than
Anything else.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Dreams of Tigers, Dreams of Sheep"

20" x 24"
woodcut, oil based inks on Masa paper
Edition of 6

Children have nightmares,
Great boogeymen come in the night,
Carry away boys and girls and
Eat them.
Images of sharp teeth and claws,
Hairy hides over lean muscles
Drawn from the well of humanity's past
A time when us as prey was a
Legitimate fear.
So many generations later
They have become "Cleo," "Tigger," "Max."
Their food from a can.
Their fur, soft and combed.
Their fate in our hands.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Orangeman" by Jennifer Schmitt

Image posted with the permission of the artist. Jennifer Schmitt's work can be viewed and purchased on her store Azure Grackle.

A great polka dot serpent slithers
Behind even greater leaves
Red leaves that stab the ground as
They fall and stay standing
As if pillars of stone.
There are monsters in the sunset.
Red behemoths rising beyond
A blanket of mist.
Shadows and light crack, crumple
Dig deep into the plank of pointed grass
On which I stand alone.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"Kirifuri Waterfall" by Hokusai

Full title: "Kirifuri Waterfall at Mount Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province" by Katsushika Hokusai

Hokusai is most famous for his prints of nature (Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuju and the Great Wave of Kanagawa) and what I love most about these and similar works is how exquisitely he renders the natural world, as well as how powerful nature is depicted in comparison humankind. In this sense these works remind me of the cave paintings of Lascaux where elegantly drawn images of stags and bison tower over stick-figure human hunters.

The first time I saw this picture I read the waterfall as the roots of some humongous tree, even though I knew from the color and my familiarity with the style of Japanese woodcuts that it was meant to represent falling water. I had to pull out an old travel photo album to look at a snapshot I took of my husband in front of Ta Prohm - a temple in Cambodia overgrown by gigantic tree roots. In the photo the temple's entrances are dwarfed by slithering, bulbous roots, many thicker than my husband's legs.

The lines of Hokusai's falling streams are just so sharp that at best they reads as thick ropes of ice. That is, until the eye reaches the bottom of the image where the frozen-looking streams finally meet the ground and sizzle up as small waves and mist. The people at the bottom look up, and the people at the top look down, probably at each other, although their respective gazes keep the eye moving up and down the real subject of the piece, and emphasize the waterfall's substantial height. Unlike the waterfall itself, the people's gestures suggest movement. Though the waterfall moves fast, it will be there much longer than them, and the streams' frozen appearance almost seems intended to underscore that deeper truth.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Figure Study 12/8/10

Image measures approximately 4" x 11"
Water-based inks on Rives BFK
Monotype and woodcut

I've been going to figure drawing sessions at Allens Lane Art Center for over a year now and this is a little study developed from one of this week's drawings. I wanted to play around with different layers of monotyped color under the carved block layer. Out of the batch this was the best final product. The screaming yellow background and jagged blue line-work suggest turmoil. These combined with the naked body, the cropped out face, and the bend of the body forward with arms behind the back create a sense of anxiety, possibly violence. It takes a pretty typical model pose for a run-of-the-mill figure drawing session to another level of suggested narrative and emotional tension. Perhaps I was inspired by all the model's tatoos and piercings (in addition to her wonderfully dynamic poses.)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Village Market" by Isaac Sithole

This piece reminds me why I so love color woodcuts. Just as with black and white woodcuts, because the marks must be so definite and the color so rich, the image is striking and oftentimes even jarring. Particularly in this piece, the orange in contrast to the vivid blue pop. Bright yellows surrounded by deep greens seem to shine as if reflecting sunlight. Everything is warm and suggestive of movement.

I love, too, the lack of perspective in this picture. The buildings slump and bend with the landscape. The trilogy of figures seem overgrown beside the fruit stand, and yet are dwarfed by the central plant. It is as if to remind the viewer that while they command the distribution and use of the harvest, they are dependent on the land.

The swimming sky, the hot, red sun, the ground speckled with seeds and reeds - all is life.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"Lady Holding A Baby" by Stephen White

I discovered this 1973 gem here. The figures in this picture are stylized in the same fashion of White’s other works (most evident in the woman’s face) and yet in this image I only noticed that after I was grasped by the overall image. The grace and delicacy of the outlines along with the tender and domestic subject matter remind me of Mary Cassat’s gorgeous drypoints, often also of mothers and children. White's paintings contain a great deal more color, thick textures, and elaborate patterns, but in this much more simple work the weight of soft, warm flesh, comes across with great economy of line and limited color palette. For this reason I find it far more powerful and expressive than any other work by the artist that I've been able to find.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Nursing" (Final Edition)

Woodcut (reduction)
Image is 3" x 3.25", paper is 4.75" x 6"
Oil-based inks on Rives BFK
Edition of 6

Cotton candy mama
(Blue raspberry)
Holds her cotton candy baby
(Pink vanilla)
And between them
Twinkles of white light
Cut through the seams
Where shadows bleed

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Nursing" (AP)

"Nursing" (Artist's Proof)
woodcut on decorative paper
3" x 3.25" (image) on 6" x 6" (paper)

Mother's hands encircle a nursing child. All around them puffy flowers float like snowflakes, arranged over a field of yellow. Flowers and bodies, soft and round, like a hill of clover or a fresh baked loaf of bread.

Friday, November 26, 2010

"Kana" by Lynita Shimizu

Reposted with permission of the artist. More about Lynita Shimizu and her artwork can be found on her website here.

I am simply in love with this image. This rosy-cheeked child softly emerges out of the warm colors of her surroundings. I feel myself sink into her dark brown eyes and hair. I'm pulled out again by her pink shirt and aqua pants that visually pop in contrast to the yellows and move the eye around with their child-like patterns. Not only do the colors radiate, but the textures of the wood bench and slatted wall teem with suggested movement. The child sits on the edge of her seat, one delicate foot poised to slip into an over-sized shoe. The brush she holds also seems too large for her tiny hand. She is cornered, intensely gazing at her viewers and about to move on from this moment of innocence.

Monday, November 22, 2010

"There Is A Woman In Every Color" by Elizabeth Catlett

This image was created by the renown African American sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett, who was born in 1915 and currently resides in Mexico. Read more about her here.

The image combines (from left to right) woodcut, linocut, and screenprint. Catlett uses the media to emphasize harsh contrasts. The result is an image that is raw and confident. Like the title, the image reads as a strong and clear statement.

The face is specific, it is that of one particular woman, shown in both positive and negative as if to references a universal duality. Perhaps the inner self vs the public face or the draw toward both selfishness and benevolence. The two sides are halves of one whole.

The line of figures are generic yet joyful in their bright colors and stance with arms raised. They seem to be universal symbols of womanhood. Turned on their sides and together they create a stunning and stalwart trim.

The visible grain of the wood in the black on the left introduces some wandering texture to what is otherwise a totally flat arrangement of shapes. But the grain also connects with various other aspects: the delicate texture at the edges of the woman's hair, the stripes in the bottom lip.

I venture into the image over and over again, and every time I come out with two concepts more firmly burned into my mind: unity and strength.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

"Cat and Baby" Revisited

I am finally done with this block. Did a total of 10 versions of this image, but I still like this first one best. Out of the rest I'm generally pleased with these three:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Bajo la Sombra" (Under the Shade) by Maria Arango Diener

Image reposted with permission of the artist. Learn more about Maria Arango Diener's work and check out her very reasonably priced work on her blog 1000 Woodcuts.

The tree bows, the human bows, but who do they bow for? The tree reminds me of bonsai trees at the Bunjae Artpia on Jeju Island in South Korea. I used to think of bonsai trees as tiny little things, but the ones on Jeju Island were mostly human-sized or larger. Being an animated being, it is logical to assume that the person in the print bends for the tree. But art is not logical, so I must also consider that the tree bends to compliment the human's pose. Perhaps they bend for each other, a reciprocal relationship, yin and yang. There's something wonderfully strange about their equal weight. The person seems to be both sheltered by the tree, and somehow also in the foreground in front of the tree. A subtle conflict between the objective truth of the natural world and our subjective, human perspective. We are not the center of the universe, but more often than not it sure feels like we are.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Auti Te Pape" (Women at the River) by Paul Gauguin

I have always enjoyed Gauguin's work most for the interplay between naturalistic and primal imagery.

Here, a woman in the foreground sits on a blanket of what seems to be yellow stones or mounds of sand gouged out of black shadows. These pocks of light are rendered spontaneously, some spilling into each other, some crossed with thin, vertical lines suggestive of grass. They read as a teeming, organic mass that wraps not only around the landscape of the subject matter, but also conforms to the composition of the rectangular image. The way the yellow land is depicted is in stark contrast to the lighting on the woman's shoulders and face, which are much more carefully rendered. The woman in the background better matches the more abstract ground. She is mostly flat; only rough streaks of black on peach give the suggestion of light and shadow around her form.

The lighting in this image is harsh, and so many details slip into shadows: the center of the first woman's body, one of the second woman's hands, and countless elements in the black of the river. I'm not sure which is more mysterious, the black itself, or the strange blobs, scratches, and splotches that emerge from it. The first woman is turned away from it, in toward herself, contemplative and still. The other woman not only faces the black, but arms raised and tilted, seems about to jump in. It is as if when in action people become more abstract and part of the landscape, and only when we are still and reflective do we come to be concrete, but also more detached from the world.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Tiger Eye"

Image is 8" x 5.25", paper is 12.5" x 9.5"
Woodcut (reduction)
Water-based inks on rag paper
Edition of 7

I've wanted to make prints of a tiger for a while and this is my first attempt. Had a piece of wood with a nice knot and grain around it that reminded me a of tiger's eye, so I got to work on this little two layer reduction.

Beautiful camouflage
Black against white
Stripes wriggle
Slither like snakes
Spread out like branches
Then wither away

More to come!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Seated Woman" by Margaret Rankin

Image reposted with permission of the artist. Read and view more work at Margaret Rankin's blog here, and purchase prints at her store here.

This is the sort of image that grabs me on a visceral level. The woman's defeated gesture is so evident. Her body embedded in wood, pulled down by gravity and streaks of grain. I wonder if it is the weight of some terrible news or experience that brings her down, or is it simply that she is exhausted by a hard day, hard year, or hard life. Either way, the feeling evoked is something universal.

Even without the title the figure seems feminine, with her sloping shoulders and soft curves. But her body is thick and heavy. The woodgrain gives texture, yet her actual skin seems smooth - she strikes me as physically strong. Perhaps this assumption is reinforced by the connection with trees. Wood is sturdy, firm, and strongest when part of a living being. Defeated for the moment, this women is still green with life.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"By the Little Green Gate" by Lilian Miller

Learn about the artist Lilian Miller (1895-1843) and view more of her work here.

The bright and airy colors in this print first caught my eye. This combination of blue and yellow with a splash of red reminds me of Frida Kahlo's kitchen. I saw the kitchen fifteen years ago during a tour in Mexico (Kahlo's home is now a museum) and that wonderfully striking combination of colors stayed in my memory. It seems playful, joyous, as childhood should be.

Like a kitchen, this image illustrates a domestic setting: a girl just outside a home, a woman (perhaps her mother) peeking out at her through a doorway. Due to the perspective, the girl towers over the woman. The top of her head even rises above the wall that separates her from the outside world.

So much is simplified in this image. The leafless tree, the solid blue sky, the girl's face turned just enough to make her anonymous. She could be any girl, the center of her own universe, soon to outgrow her world and enter a much larger one.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Block

I printed a few more monoprints from this block this week, hoping to produce an image as successful as this version. Unfortunately, nothing really caught my eye.

Also this week two of my artist friends who are not printmakers made the same comment. A comment that every printmaker hears (at least every woodblock printmaker), but few want to hear. That comment, of course, is "The block is so cool looking! You should show/sell that." Or in its worst form: "The block is more interesting/beautiful than your prints!"

Yes, a wood block that has been painstakingly carved with some thoughtful image then stained with different colors of ink on various sections inevitably becomes an interesting and beautiful object in its own right. So why not slap a frame on that baby and hang it on a gallery wall?

Certainly many printmakers have given into these comments and do show and sell their blocks. Typically they do so with some additional thought or intention behind what they are doing. For instance, some black and white woodcut printmakers retire a block by painting it white, then inking up the raised sections in black one last time. Others might simply cover the surface with a sealant.

Almost all of my prints are reductions. this means that I print several times with different colors onto the same piece of paper. In between colors I carve the block a little more so those newly carved away sections will be whatever color I printed last. The end result is a limited edition of colorful, complex prints -- and a totally mutilated wood block.

There is some deep satisfaction I find in destroying the block. The block, after all, is a tool, just like a paint brush. If in the end it is quite beautiful, that is still merely a byproduct of the art making process, not part of my artist's intention. So while I find myself enjoying the subtle color contrasts between the foreground and background and color changes in the carved outlines in this block, I don't feel I can take full ownership of that. Much of the beauty in the block is mere happenstance, and while there's nothing inherently wrong this art that comes about in this manner, it bugs me.

I started this print with the intention to only do monoprints. However, not only am I dissatisfied with most of the results, but while printing, I could not escape the thought that this print, too, would be much better as a reduction. I'd like to create a pattern on the surface the baby is laying on, some carved texture and layers of colors on the cat's fur and the baby's outfit.

Yup, there's no getting around it: The block must die.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"You Talk Too Much, You Think Too Much, You Don't Do Enough" by Sandesh Nicol

Image posted with permission by the artist whose website can be viewed here and works for sale can be purchased here.

A solitary cat sits, seemingly calm, but marks jut up from behind him like porcupine quills. Is he the one delivering the criticism that screams from the top banner in thick, black, all-caps? Or maybe "you" refers to the cat? Or perhaps it is neither, and the cats are just another part of the mysterious scenery.

A trail leads from the solitary cat to hut-like structures. I wonder about their scale: are they large enough for human beings, or are these more like cat houses? I cannot imagine what sort of hut for people would occupy the same environment as evergreen trees.

There is an innocence about this image. The three cats at the bottom resemble children's sketches. The trees are simplified as upright poles with balanced rows of needly branches, and as such they more resemble artificial miniatures than real evergreens. But this indication of child-like innocence is only one element.

There is also something wild at play. Fields of cool green and blue glow behind jagged black marks, the sense of their light emphasized by white lines radiating over the still blue. Is the blue water? Is the green the continuation of the trees? Whatever they represent, they feel as if they go back quite far, and I feel as if I could jump into the lake and swim away, and what is in black to the left of the color is very close, dark, small, and perhaps secret.

The more I look at this image, the more I want to lock myself into a room by myself, blast music to dance freely to, or pull out paints and paper and just go crazy. Tap into that inner child, that wild, intuitive part of the brain and take action.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

"Danse Macabre" by Michael Wolmegut

Today I acknowledge the Día de los Muertos (November 2nd) with a few words on Danse Macabre (Dance of the Dead) by the German Medieval artist Michael Wolmegut.

As soon as I saw this print it reminded me of the Mexican Day of the Dead where deceased loved-ones are remembered and celebrated, often with colorful folk art, candy, and revelry. The holiday is timed with the Catholic holiday All Soul's Day, although much in the way it is observed can be traced to a pagan Aztec holiday that goes back thousands of years.

Wolmegut's print was not inspired by death in the general sense, but rather the Black Death that terrorized Europe for most of the 14th century. The fear, grief, and outright madness that afflicted plagued communities is unimaginable. It is estimated that as much as 60% of the European population was killed off. In the face of so much sudden, mysterious, and unstoppable death, it is no wonder that artists like Wolmegut created images making light of death.

The connection between the Mexican holiday and Wolmegut's print is obvious; in this picture skeletons play instruments and dance with seeming joy. It can be interpreted in a cynical manner, the ultimate triumph of death over life. But it also brings some levity to the often depressing but inescapable truth that we all die. Laden with that awareness, hopefully we can make the most of our brief lives, and live them as colorfully as the Mexican people celebrate the lives of their dead.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

"I'm A Little Teapot"

Image is 8" x 10", paper is 11" x 14"
Woodcut (reduction)
Oil-based inks on Masa paper
Edition of 8

I'm a little teapot, short and stout.

These pants only go halfway down her shins and
When she points the shirt rides up over her round tummy
Exposing her belly button.
0-3 months, 3-6, 6-12...
She grows out of each size so fast.

Here is my handle, here is my spout.

Point and grunt. (This time she wants the Russian nesting doll,
Which sits too high on the bookshelf for her to reach.
A blast of dance hall Reggae sounds from the radio and suddenly
She squeals with delight, bends her knees, raises both arms, and
Up and down, up and down, just as "the children on the bus go."

When I get all steamed up hear me shout.

The blender terrifies her even though she can't yet understand what
Spinning metal teeth are doing to her sweet potatoes and green beans.
People have stopped asking "Does she sleep through the night?"
(She does not.)

Tip me over and pour me out.

She used to dive off the bed and couch head first and we would catch her.
Now she rolls onto her tummy and dangles her legs off the edge.
Most of these rolls are clumsy, but every once in a while
One is quite graceful, and I almost expect something more to happen.
Like maybe she'll put her arms out, smile like Marilyn, and say, "Tada!"

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Balance and Distraction" by Kirsten Francis

Kirsten Francis is a printmaker who frequently creates color reduction woodcuts (a time consuming and physically demanding process) such as this one. Learn more about her work (and better yet, buy some) at her website.

Much of Francis's images are allegorical, and this one is no exception. The thing with allegories in visual artwork is that artists can only get away with them if they have enough mastery over their medium to convince viewers to take the image by itself seriously. Francis does.

Like all of her woodcuts, this image is packed with excruciatingly delicate marks that give the image depth and movement. There are just enough carving marks left around the figures to suggest motion. Variety of textures give the various surfaces (cloth, feathers, fur, skin) each their own feel. And some of the areas of color remind me of Seurat's stippling. I believe there is a body under this woman's clothing, and muscles and bones beneath her skin. I can hear the flapping of the raven's wings in my mind. I feel the weight of that cat.

The compositional placement of all the figures and objects as well as the pose and posture of the woman are believable. I imagine the woman's grip and muscles tightening in anticipation of the bird on the pole lifting off, causing the cat to perhaps leap off the pole itself, which would then require a rapid double compensation for the changes in weight distribution. And that's only one possible sequence of events.

Of course this image is not literally about a woman on a tightrope. But that literal image must be convincing for me to take the allegory seriously. And I do take it seriously. The image is about what it feels like to balance many interrelated objectives in life. It's easy to lose our balance if we have too much going on: get passed over for a promotion, miss too many of a child's softball games, take out all our stress on a spouse, neglect health problems, etc. Making a living, maintaining healthy relationships, and achieving personal fulfillment is a tall order, but everyone is trying to do it.

If something finally goes out of balance, a fall can happen quickly: loss of a crucial job, a death in the family... But clearly the woman on the tightrope is not thinking about these possibilities. Her body shows she's moving in response all the weight changes that are out of her control and her facial expression shows calm concentration. This delicate dance takes all of her focus. She can't worry about falling and do her best to prevent it at the same time.

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Ex Libris Ctibora Šťastnýho" by Josef Vachal

I've recently discovered the amazing woodcuts and other prints and paintings of Josef Vachal. I first came upon his work on this blog, and later found out more about him on this website.

This is from Vachal's Ex Libris woodcuts and depicts Ctibora Šťastnýho, an artist and teacher in Bzenec contemporary with Vachal.

When I look at this image, I feel a passion for knowledge and an exploration of the mind's eye. Books clutter the bottom of the page and hands are everywhere moving, staking, opening, and writing. The positions of heads and gestures of the three figures to the left swiftly guide my gaze up and around. The dynamism of the composition is greatly intensified by the sudden color changes, stripes and swirls of texture. Everything moves up counter clockwise in a great wave. Information and the human response to it build up on themselves until they reach the pinnacle: a great, upright torch lighting the flowing "Ex Libris" sign. Šťastnýho holds the torch. His face is calm, eyes closed in concentration. The direction of the piece then gracefully slides down across his chest, into his hand and feathered pen. But it doesn't rest there. Just as the pen needs to be replenished with ink, the artist's mind must be replenished with more information and experience. And so gravity pulls the eye downward, back to the books, to begin the cycle over again.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Flying Phantom"

Image is 8" x 10", paper is 11" x 14"
Woodcut (reduction)
Oil-based inks on Masa paper
Edition of 4 (there is also an addition of 4 on Kozo paper)

This isn't like most of my other work; there are areas where part of the imagery starts to fade because the background and foreground colors are so similar (the bottom of the white wings and the butterflies at the bottom of the image.) Also, the two main foreground characters are integrated into the background by the highlights which read more like cutouts. For these reasons the picture also has a more psychedelic feel to it. I imagine putting my fingers through the holes in the butterfly and baby; peering into those holes to find, perhaps, a parallel universe that is similar to but not quite reality.

Nothing in the image is substantial. Everything is fading in and out like the Cheshire Cat from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It's all in the lighting, like when a black cat slips into the shadows and disappears. Sometimes the sun is so bright in my eyes that everything starts to fade into a blurry mess of yellow and white.

All the imagery here appears especially flat, like paper dolls but thinner. More like tissue paper dolls. So easy to crumple up and toss away.

Lighter than air. Floating up like a helium balloon but slower and softer. Soon out of reach. Eventually out of sight, forever.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Daisy Chain" by Fleur Rendell

Image reposted with permission by the artist. More of Fleur Rendell's work can be found here.

I love images that represent a sensible, mundane scene in a way easily interpreted as fantastical.

White daisies, black stems, an array of flat gestures on a blanket of snow. Seasons mesh, time compresses. The unpicked daisies float free. They parachute down from the sky all around this giant child like dandelion seeds. As for those harvested, cloddish fingers thread and transform those innocent flowers into fragile jewelry, which will turn limp and brown soon enough. The child's expression is serene and methodical, her whole body focused on her task. She kneels down in a puddle of ink, which also reads like a hole into which she could climb. Primary colors red and blue scream, more solid than anything else. More permanent. More real? Everything else will pass away quickly: the flowers, the child, the light on the ground. Enjoy the light now. Hold tight as we enter the darkness.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Fujiwara no Yasumasa Playing the Flute by Moonlight" by Yoshitoshi

This image is considered one of the great masterpieces of the last master of Ukiyo-e in the history of Japanese art: Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. It is from his series One Hundred Aspects of the Moon. This particular image illustrates the tale of a bandit who intended to attack and rob the flutist Fujiwara no Yasumasa. However, the flutist's playing so captivated the bandit that he followed him home where the Yasumasa gave his would-be attacker a new set of clothing.

Yoshitoshi's works date to the late 1800's, but many look like modern-day illustrations. He was an incredible innovator, both influenced by outside art and devoted to the traditional Japanese craft of woodcuts. His images stand out not only for their masterful use of color and gradations, but the dynamic and expressive postures of his characters. Even the setting seems to move. Though the two figures technically float, shadowless on top of their environment, the shape and direction of their limbs and clothing so echoes the angle of the horizon, clouds, and reeds, I can practically hear the sound of the flute on the wind and feel a cool breeze. Though it is a elegantly balanced triptych, this image is anything but still.

Yoshitoshi must have worked fast to produce so much high caliber work in his lifetime. Maybe he felt a sense of urgency given the fast rate at which technology and his own society and culture transformed around him. Maybe that is why so many of his images have a ferocious sense of movement. The environment around the flutist pushes and pulses with motion, and the bandit is poised to strike. But the flutist stands perfectly upright in the center of a triptych, pulling my gaze to him just as his music drew the bandit to his home. In the tale his music compels the bandit to stop, and listen! Here, I feel commanded to stop, and look!

Hopefully tomorrow I'll step out into the world and be of a mind to continue this practice without need of the command.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Cat and Baby"

Cat and Baby
woodcut monotype
12" x 9" oil-based ink on black Rives

This is really just an artist's proof. I carved the line drawing and printed the baby and cat, but there is a background too. I enjoyed how they looked on just the black paper, so I left this image without the printed background. Will print more versions soon.

Autumn Haiku for Baby

Nights are getting cold.
Time for pajamas with footies
And cuddle time.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

"Tomoko At Rest" by Helen Gotlib

The image is a nine color wood block print, which measures 22 x 28" inches. The artist, Helen Gotlib, has a website here, and an online store here.

Immediately I recognized part of a face near the center. A feminine brow, cheek, and closed eye. But as my gaze moved outward, all logical assumptions were thwarted. Where I thought there would be a shoulder faded into dark, blue mist. The place I expected a hand appeared more like seeds and straw taken up in a great gust of wind. I looked closer and what I took to be hair, an ear, and part of a nose became increasingly abstract. Twigs seemed to be stuck in or growing out of the ear and head in odd places and directions, and a curly lock which stopped and started again in a strange fashion obscured the nose. I began to wonder if I was looking at an anthropomorphized landscape. Perhaps this face was meant to represent one of the ancestral spirit beings from the Aboriginal Dreamtime.

But, no, the links to landscape are mere visual suggestions. That feminine brow, cheek, and closed eye are clear. More than anything else, this is the image of a girl's face. It's just that the image only comes together when viewed as a whole. Trying to make sense of the details and edges leads to dead ends because the image in its entirety is one grand sweep.

I have come to interpret this image as the girl caught in the midst of a dream. Dreams take us outside of ourselves. We can be anyone or anything else. Dreams present experiences that seem as real as reality but which can defy the laws of physics and logic without questions or even funny looks. Dreams don't have to make sense, and very often they don't. After waking, we forget all the details, and sometimes even the overall impressions. They are difficult to describe to others. Dreams are a domain of feeling and intuition. There, something can seem incredibly profound merely because we feel its importance, not because it possesses any explainable merits.

This print reminds me of both dreams and Mark Rothko paintings in this sense: I instantly felt the profundity of this image and continue to feel it after considerably more looking and thinking. But I still can't explain why.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

"Salome" by André Derain

This picture is so lyrical, particularly for a woodcut. It reminds me of the most voluptuous of Indian figural sculptures because here the artist has taken a rigid substance (wood, stone, or bronze) and carved into something curved and which implies soft surfaces and rapid yet delicate movements. This is unsurprising coming from Derain, one of the founders of Fauvism. Salome's hair and dress bunch and tumble back as her legs push off the ground and kick forward. One hand seems to hold the onlooker off as the other beckons. Bracelets and anklets seem to spin round, echoing the flurry of movement in the hair and dress.

One aspect of this image at first seemed distinctly unlike Fauvism to me: the restrained use of color. But while these colors are not as typically vivid as familiar Fauvist works, they are unnatural and expressive. Salome's intentions are cold, after all well-suited to the grey that dominates the figure and sharply pops out from the pitch black background.

The exaggeration of the nose and eyes with the curly, black line down the side of her jaw to me imply a mask, although there is no mention of Salome wearing a mask during her dance for King Herod, nor can I find any references to masks in cultural references to the Salome myth. Perhaps the curly line is simply a line of hair, and the indelicate, bird-like features are meant to signify the wicked intentions of the Biblical seductress.

I still read it as a mask. She seems a body playing a part - entertaining. Only a lovely, fast, and distracting surface appears for her audience. Her true depth remains unveiled.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


4" x 4" (image) 6" x 6" paper
Edition of 8
Oil based inks on Rives BFK

She floats and glows under a spotlight in the center with a quizzical expression on her face. Fingers splayed as if she's maintaining balance after a bit of a shock. The starfish dances behind her like wings. Fizz and bubbles all around. The wings and the bubbles help keep her afloat. At least until the spotlight moves on.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Kali - Goddess of Destruction" by Marissa Swinghammer

All things arise,suffer change,and pass away.This is their nature.When you know this nothing perturbs you, nothing hurts you.You become still. It is easy.
-Ashtavakra Gita 11:1

This is my favorite work by one of my favorite contemporary woodcut printmakers, Marissa Swinghammer, or M. Lee. Her art blog can be found here, and her Etsy store can be found here. The print measures 15"x11" - a humble size for an image that contains cosmic contemplations. M. Lee is a master of layered, color woodcuts. All of her prints emphasize the grain and natural texture of the wood in translucent layers of color, and the stunning final products lyrically move the eye around and possess an ethereal quality.

Perhaps this is why this image of Kali is my favorite. Kali is the Hindu Goddess of destruction. Not destruction in the sense of angry or mindless demolition, but in the sense that all things in life are transient. The Goddess's flowing hair seems to move in front of a background teeming with life in the throws of death - falling yellow leaves, faded bark... The wide variety of organic marks contained in her locks remind me of layers of sediment, layers of time recording generation upon generation of organisms. Her eyes and arms both stretch in opposite directions, rigorously moving forward while reaching back. Though we can see through her, the Goddess is bold and determined. Her work presses on, eternal.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"Village Well" by Mabel Hewit

Mabel Hewit
Village Well
White line woodcut
17" x 12 1/2"

The first thing that gets me about this image is that the two women gathering water seem to be dramatically high above the road and buildings, as if there is a steep drop just behind them. Perhaps the buildings aren't sized to life.This fits with the way they are drawn: simplified planes of pastel color and lines that bend and waver instead of stand up straight. These buildings remind me more of a toy block city or cardboard model than real architecture.

The people themselves appear quite like stiff models, too. Thick-armed, faceless, and getting right down to their work, they blend into their wooden surroundings. Round, green forms representing trees rise up from the figure on the left, continuing the caterpillar-like chain of segments that begins with the back of her head. The line of the sidewalk cuts across the shape of the woman on the right causing her blue clothing to stand out while making the flesh of her face and arms blends in even more with the warm-colored stone around the well and ground between the sidewalk and buildings.

The visual connection to toys and models is furthered by the thin brown frame around the entire image and the woodgrain emphasized evenly across the sky and far away landscape. What would be miles of distance collapse into a very flat picture, resembling a wooden puzzle. I am reminded of traditional American folk art, toys still created by and used by the Amish and Waldorf schools. Objects that directly connect to a simple way of life because of what they are made of, as well as what they are. Playthings so plain that most of the game is left up to the child's imagination.

There is an exhibit of this artist's work, Midwest Modern: The Color Woodcuts of Mabel Hewit, at the Cleveland Museum of Art, on display through October 24th. Click here for more details.

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.