Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Dinner is Served" by Sue Woollatt

Image reposted with the permission of the artist. Sue Woollatt blogs about her work here, and sells her artwork online here. She blogged about this particular print here.

I'm wasting my time up here and I know it. The smell of fresh bread just wafting up into the air - oh how can something so small and far disperse so large an aroma! The illusion of tiny people waddling 'round with their trays of deliciousness taunts me; fly down and they will grow to the size of giants, brushing me away with large arms, and if need be, fleeing to the safety of their houses. Their houses - what treasures much those odd-shaped boxes contain? These people spend so much time inside, wandering out in different outfits, always bringing new things in, and new things out. These houses contain such multitudes, is it possible they are larger inside that they appear? Countless numbers of these houses dot the horizon of these cities, towns, villages. So tiny they seem when perched up high. The world is such a tease from a bird's eye view. These distorted perspectives can give one an inflated sense of power, delusions of grandeur. From far enough away, all problems seems simple and small, little buns of fresh-baked bread seem as minuscule as grains of sand, not even worth it. But that heavenly aroma does not lie.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"The Warrior's Tomb" by Gertrude Hermes

In January of 1940, German U-boats began an offensive against Brittish ships. That same month, the Royal Air Force Coastal Command fitted airships with Air to Surface Vessel radar detection sets in order to better target the submarines. Along the bottom of this image, Gertrude Hermes, a Brittish artist, inscribed: "And all that remained to be seen were bubbles rising and oil spreading over the surface of the sea," these words based on reports in The Times about the bombing of a submarine by Coastal Command on January 16, 1940.

This image does not conjure up my typical associations with World War II, despite the inscription. Oddly enough, I am more reminded of an episode of Reading Rainbow, where the host Levar Burton stands beside a man-sized caldron and explains that it contains all the material elements that make up a human body. But without the proper organization, and perhaps something more, these elements remain nothing more than a container of indistinct, creepy liquid. What a thought for a child to contemplate: that what could have been a person, can be just a tank of glop.

Looking at this wood engraving, I feel I am looking down into that cauldron, only this time what truly was once a person has been melted down, or drowned in oil and water. The body has disintegrated as if in acid. Bubbles and foam slowly swirl and curve around an axis like water down a drain. Glug, glug, glug, and soon will be gone, forgotten. And yet I am not alarmed by this image. While it makes a firm suggestion of previous violence, at this point the act is complete. This is an image of death after the fact, and so ultimately an image of peace, albeit a dark and empty sort of peace.

In his 2003 essay Artists in Times of War, Howard Zinn writes, "...the artist transcends the immediate. Transcends the here and now. Transcends the madness of the world. Transcends terrorism and war." I feel this work does this so well, and in such a subtle, yet powerful manner. The composition arranged within a perfect circle, the divine form, while more dynamic and organic forms and lines ungulate within the circle, the viewer is shown both heaven and earth, or for atheists like myself, both the body and the mind. Wars involve so many factors, politics, propaganda, strategies and ideals. But with this image, Hermes hones in on the single most significant and inevitable outcome of war: the loss of human life.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Alice in Wonderland, paragraph 141

8" x 12" (image) 11" x 15" (paper)
Water based ink on Kozo paper

I created this woodcut illustration for paragraph #141 of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as part of the Alice Project/What is the Use of A Book Without Pictures. This is a project where a variety of artists illustrate Lewis Carroll's famous children's tale paragraph by paragraph. This is my third illustration for the project, and I wrote more about it here.

To give a little context to this image, Alice is speaking to a pigeon in the highest tree after her neck has grown so long that she can no longer see her body. The pigeon believes Alice is a snake who has come to eat her eggs. I decided to emphasize the anthropomorphized pigeon's point of view by making Alice seem particularly fearsome. The story of Alice in Wonderland turns out to be a dream, and even though it is Alice's dream, often in dreams the dreamer is able to see various points of view. Also, the relationship that children often have to animals is a power trip, in reaction to feeling powerless against adults in their lives. Animals typically fall below children in the totem poll, which is why mistreated children tend to mistreat pets. Not to say Alice is prone to abusing any animals, but after reading the stories, I believe that on some level she enjoys it when they fear her.

Paragraph #141 goes as follows:

‘I have tasted eggs, certainly,’ said Alice, who was a very truthful child, ‘but

little girls eat eggs quite as much as serpents do, you know.’

‘I don’t believe it,’ said the Pigeon, ‘but if they do, why then they’re a kind of

serpent, that’s all I can say.’

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Red Chestnut No. I" by John Platt

The imagery in this print seems so surreal, the plants so exotic and the cat like some mythical creature, even though the scene is literally quite mundane. In my head I hear the birds' shrill call as they dive across vertical streaks of vivid blue. I can't tell if the crouching cat is preparing to pounce or cowering with concern. Maybe a little of both. He seems safe enough under his monstrous leaf canopy.

The angle of the perspective is fantastic. I'm made to feel so low to the ground, yet focused on the sky. Up is what matters. The flowers rise and reach up, the cat strains to look above. So much blue sky, so high that the tops of trees rest at the bottom of the composition, and even the clouds are confined to the bottom third.

All this length emphasizes the birds' descent. There's those avian shrieks again. I'm sure now, that cat is scared. He'd be crazy to not feel a little fear with two, sharp beaks cruising in his general direction at the full speed of gravity's pull and then some. Maybe this is an image from another world. Planet of the birds, where felines hide in gardens under the terrifyingly immense and unpredictable blue.