Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Travail" by Tames Oud

The movement in this composition reminds me of Thomas Benton's landscapes of the American heartland. Though the zebra patterns and simple yet expressive linework remind me that this is something more exotic (and certainly not as romantic or melodramatic as Benton's paintings.) The villagers are in total harmony with their environment. They move in the direction that the trees bend and billow, like smoke. The curves and patterns in their robes match the curves of the rolling land. The roofs of houses, a wheel, and the solid black shape of the sky catch the eye of the viewer more readily than the human beings in this picture. Indeed, we don't even get a glimpse of their faces, as they march steadily away, the tools of their work in hand. Everything moves in an anonymous and fleeting sort of way, as if the whole image is just a memory. A bold, but flickering impression.

1/22/12 Update: This blog post had an error. I had used the title "Village Life." The artist's great nephew emailed me and informed me that the accurate title of this print is "Travail" meaning work.

Monday, August 29, 2011

"Wild Ride"

Woodcut (3 color reduction)
4" x 6"(image) 5.5" x 7.5" (paper)
Oil-based inks on Stonehenge paper
Edition of 4

When I first conceived of this image, I imagined a sort of surreal balance between the stillness of two floppy, soft toys hanging loose off a wooden horse, and an avalanche of dollies dropping from their galloping steed.

Now what I see is a rhythmic, diagonal, and quiet sort of composition, presented in a calm and cheerful color scheme. I am bored.

I think I need to get a new block and make this image again.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Flower Child"

Woodcut (3 color reduction)
4" x 6"(image) 5.5" x 7.5" (paper)
Oil-based inks on Stonehenge paper
Edition of 4

The doll lay on the floor, discarded by some child, a shadow behind her so dramatic that it seemed as if she had sunk into a hole. Streaks like rain wet her lacy, white dress and bonnet. Perhaps instead of a hole in the floor, she is floating through a opening in a wall. An apparition coming in from the storm.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Woodcut (3 color reduction)
4" x 6"(image) 5.5" x 7.5" (paper)
Oil-based inks on Stonehenge paper
Edition of 4

Online social networking is a wonderful place to lurk. Bored and looking at photos of an old acquaintance, I found a photograph of her and her boyfriend engaged in a kiss. The image is slightly blurred, the two of them unexpectantly caught in a dark and enclosed space. Her hand clasps his shoulder. He uses one hand to steady himself against a doorway while his other hand, pressed firmly on her back, pulls her closer. Normally I can't stand this woman. Every previous photograph of her face - smiling garishly into the lens, or posing like vixen - had conjured up memories of her arrogant demeanor and nasal tone of voice. And yet, when I looked at this image of tenderness, of genuine affection, my mood softened. In my mind she and he became nothing more than human in the best sense of that word. Looking at this image I felt the love I have deep down for all people. I thought of the lyrics from the Dresdon Dolls song Sing: "Sing for the terrorists, sing for the president, sing!" and how listening to that always brings tears to my eyes. I felt a twinge of shame for my previously ugly thoughts.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Making The Pierogi" by Chris Doogan

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More about Chris Doogan and his art can be viewed at his website, and a larger version of this print can be viewed here.

This image immediately brought back memories from my childhood. Many of my Polish relatives grew up in and around Cleveland, Ohio. For years, my mother and her siblings made sausage from scratch. I remember her and her sister sitting at a kitchen table cutting up and sorting pounds of meat, fresh from a butcher. Meanwhile, their brothers worked an old meat grinder (which must have weighed a ton) in the basement. The smell of garlic and sounds of pleasant chatter permeated the air.

Such experiences produce a sort of in-the-moment happiness. The sort of happiness which occurs when we're engaged alongside others in a task with a repetitive flow, which also has a clear purpose in mind, and finished product to show for our efforts.

The women here are firmly situated in their task. They form a considerably solid composition: a symmetrical pyramid. Yet the bright, warm colors give a sense of the speed and agility of their hands. The expressive marks heighten that sense of movement, and add a hint of levity to the women's calmly focused expressions. They glow, like a fire. Something is happening here. Something is being created. Though the literal scene is mundane, the characters serene, this is life in its most essential form: movement and reproduction.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"The Chinese Warrior Zhang Heng" by Utagawa Kuniyoshi

The child warrior lifts the leviathan, his skin red hot, and baby fat bulges as he flexes his muscles. His eyes focus hard, with lips pursed as he holds his breath for the task. In the midst of the struggle, chunks of white foam rush to the surface like an upside-down snowstorm. A rushing current forms with the lifting of the great sea-beast. He wriggles forcefully, kicking up waves, but it is of no use.

The beast's opponent is no ordinary child. This is the rise of mankind: a colorful contrast to his surroundings with an ability and motivation to dominate. The red warrior has strength beyond strength. He can go where there is no air to breath, grab hold of what seems far more powerful, and bend it to his will.

Monday, August 22, 2011

"The Kill"

Woodcut (3 color reduction)
4" x 6"(image) 5.5" x 7.5" (paper)
Oil-based inks on Stonehenge paper
Edition of 4

They had eyed each other from opposite ends of the toy box for some time now, one trembling with fear, the other salivating with hunger. Not unlike a mouse thrown into the cage of a snake who is not yet hungry, but will be soon enough.

Bellies rumble, and what must be done, must be done. It should be acknowledged, however, that there is no sport in this sort of kill.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Spots and Stripes"

Woodcut (3 color reduction)
4" x 6"(image) 5.5" x 7.5" (paper)
Oil-based inks on Stonehenge paper
Edition of 4

At first I didn't notice when I glanced in your direction. The patterns in your coats blended into that crazy quilt backdrop, and my brain read it like a Kandinsky or African textile. But once I did notice, your forms became clear. You, leopard, perched on top of you, tiger, like some kind of savage, feline totem pole. Standing still and staring straight ahead, are you even aware of each other? Is perhaps leopard hiding from tiger in "plain view", or vice versa? If you turn your heads to meet my gaze, will you believe I can see you, too, or will you continue to assume your camouflage is effective, as does a black cat gazing out from a shadowy corner?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

"Death By Honey"

Woodcut (3 color reduction)
4" x 6"(image) 5.5" x 7.5" (paper)
Oil-based inks on Stonehenge paper
Edition of 4

Starting a new series of color woodcuts featuring toys as subject matter. Hugable predators, tiny babies, monkeys with long floppy arms... Such bizarre things. Think I'll do at least nine of these little 4" x 6" ones, probably within the next few weeks.

A swarm of bees hover over the bodies. Two more victims of gluttony. Brought to the ground, not by sting, but sweet.

Friday, August 19, 2011

"The Calling of St. Fatty" by Tessa Shackelford

Image reposted with the permission of the artist. Tessa Shackelford's website is Dumbkat Press. Check out her latest work and musing at her blog, Dumbkat's Folly.

A light shines, a voice is heard, and she turns, gripping a rail (or is that a baseball bat?) and poised to run (or perhaps mount an aggressive defense?), though her eyes are calm and searching.

Just who is Saint Fatty? Though she (and the wall behind her) seem soft, those luscious "brushstrokes" are deceptive. She is really carved in wood, each cut quite deliberate, each layer of color put down in its entirety in a matter of minutes. Firm and unmovable. She has integrity, the makings of a saint.

She seems so casual in her nondescript T-shirt, skirt, and tousled, shoulder-length hair (okay, the halo gives her away), but don't underestimate her. She has been called, answered, formed with chisels and ink, and canonized by ART.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel's Monkeys

I'm a sucker for beautifully designed animal illustrations. These monkeys' bodies are described with great attention to detail, yet with a certain economy of line and shape so the image is sharp. In addition to that, as with many of Jungnickel's illustrations, the animals depicted come alive and exhibit personality.

It seems clear these are zoo monkeys. Even though there is no literal cage, compositionally, they are trapped in a box going round and round, as if pacing, as zoo animals (particularly the more intelligent mammals) tend to do. It is monotonous, but not a torturous monotony, at least for the monkey closer to us. He looks directly at us and smiles as if to say "Hey there."

The monkey in the back is a different story. Her face expresses not only quiet reflection, but deep melancholy. I find myself wondering if this is her typical state of mind, or if something specific occupies her thoughts. I almost feel guilty staring at her, as I sometimes do when I've joined a crowd of people gawking at a mother orangutan nursing her newborn infant, or a grumpy old gorilla with his back turned deliberately to the crowd.

What strangeness, to live a life on display. What a joy for the exhibitionist. What a nightmare for the introvert.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"His teeth will fall out..." (Cat Haiku #3)

Oil-based ink on gray Stonehenge paper
5 layer reduction with 2 blocks
Edition of 4
8" x 12" (image) 11" x 15" (paper)

This is the third print for my book of twelve haiku poems about my cats with accompanying woodcut illustrations. It goes with this haiku:

His teeth will fall out.
I found one the other day.
He's old, this happens.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Snowy Owl" by Katherine Grey

Image posted with the permission of the artist. Learn more about the work of Katherine Grey, as well as her gallery in Eagle, Idaho on her website, here.

Strange to be writing about a print involving snow in the middle of the summer, but I am sick of the heat. I also couldn't help it; I'm drawn to this image. There is something otherworldly about it. Perhaps because while the owl is quite clearly an owl, it also seems alien - such expressive, intelligent eyes while the mouth and nose are signified only by a small, black mark. Also, the stars in the night sky appear unfamiliar, as if the scene is located in some very far away part of the universe. As in an episode of the Twilight Zone, things seem backwards and out of place. The texture on the head reminds me of craters on the moon, while the streaks in the landscape allude to a long, lush body of hair. The part of my brain that knows how things are supposed to be tells me that feathers cover the owl's body, and the bird is perched on a rock in front of a mountain or hill, and yet as I look closer, every contour and shape seems to suggest something else, something more. This is no mundane wildlife illustration. The true weirdness of the owl - this lonesome, night predator, this chimera with a bird body and cat-like face - is captured in a manner which transcends the naturalistic.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Self Portrait as Priest" by Leonard Baskin

I came upon this striking portrait at the La Salle University Art Museum today. They have quite a few prints by Baskin and Charles Wells on exhibition this summer. I'm familiar with Baskin's incredibly detailed and distinctly-creepy wood engravings, so I was surprised to see this woodcut, a fairly naturalistic portrait featuring a large area of inky, black woodgrain. With a heavier and much more economical use of line than seen in his engravings, Baskin's skills as a master draftsman come through. His uniquely expressive lines give life to the ear, mouth, and eye. His face turns back, an already severe expression made even moreso by the stark contrast between solid black and white areas and a handful of strategically-placed lines that pull the chin tight. It is an expression of authoritative judgment.

What are viewers to make of this, considering Baskin was the son of a Rabbi and included many Jewish themes in his huge body of work? So much of Baskin's art makes dark statements about the human condition. Is this portrait the artist attempting to illustrate feelings of contempt for the worst inclinations of people?