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.