Thursday, April 30, 2015

Peace Puzzle, Collaborative Woodcut (My Small Contribution)

This is my contribution to the Peace Puzzle, a monumental collaborative woodcut with 160 participating artists, conceived and lead by artist Maria Arango Diener. Here is the website/blog, and if you'd like to watch the Indiegogo informative video, click here.

I received my block for this project a while ago, and changed my mind about a dozen times on what to draw on it. The first things that came to mind were symbols of peace, but that was too obvious. Then I thought about figures from history famous for working toward peace, but that felt too specific for a big, collaborative project. Then I started thinking about images from nature, such as maybe a tortoise, elephant, or owl, that are associated with patience and wisdom. But nothing I came up with really resonated with my personally.

Finally, I realized that I'd completely over-thought the whole thing and felt stuck.So I emptied my head and asked myself when in my own life do I feel most at peace. And the answer was when I'm reading to my girls before bedtime.

Now as I was drawing and carving, I didn't exactly consider how this block will be oriented when it is put back into the larger piece. I simply came up with an image that fit the way it fit. So as you can see from the second photo of both the block and the proof, the girls will be upsidedown in the final piece. But I'm okay with that because the overall design for the big print is very fluid and it seems as if things are being gently blown all around the composition. And after all, Marc Chagall never had a problem with people's heads being upsidedown!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Greek Myths Told in Woodcuts (Student Work)

This winter I worked with 30 students at Roman Catholic High School and their art teacher Shannon Gallagher, through the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Delphi Art Futures program. The students carved and hand-printed actual woodcuts, with the more experienced class doing color reduction prints. I've never worked on a project this technically challenging with this age group, and it was truly gratifying to do so. The students (and their teacher!) worked hard and produced so many striking images.

Here are some highlights from the exhibition, which will be up in the PMA's student gallery for one more week. The color images are double-page spreads from a collaborative book telling the story of Achilles by six Art III students, and the black and white images are from a telling of the story of Icarus by four Art I students.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"Owl and Girl" by Iwao Akiyama

The owl cannot fly with a broken wing.

My teacup face angles toward the sky, searching in vain. There is a hole in my heart, my fingers interlaced with shadows. A face peers out from the void, asking all the hard questions, like how long ago did the sun set? Why didn't I notice it happen? And what color is the moon, anyway?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

"California Trip" by Antonio Frasconi

Here's a composite of woodcuts by the late, great Antonio Frasconi, one of my absolutely favorite American printmakers. Few woodcut artists manage to develop a style as expressive and unique as Frasconi.

I hesitate to write about the images presented here. I feel the heart of Frasconi's work is so completely visual. With Frasconi's woodcuts, I am entralled with an image when it is in front of me, but after I am away from it for a while, I forget what it was which so enthralled me. I feel as if I must have been like a drunk person, and that the image wasn't really that captivating. Later I return to the image and am every bit as gratified as before! But how to write about that experience which is so utterly separate from words? That is partially why I've only featured Frasconi's work one other time.

Okay, so that's also a bit of a cop-out since the ruminations I pair with images on this blog are never an attempt to translate the image's meaning into words. They are simply literary responses; an exercise I employ to focus my attention on specific images which grab me, and explore my subjective response to them more intensely.

Speaking of experiences which engage the intellect and enliven the (metaphorical) soul, I dearly miss traveling. The United States is such a vast country with an overabundance of diverse and breathtaking scenery, and I have seen so little of it with my own eyes. Ah, but if I do not have the time or resources for that, at least I have art. Art, which cruises me down slithering rivers, escorts me through valleys and mountains under many-colored skies, where every sort of folk reside, and the horizon knows no bounds.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Archeologist from Helen West Heller's "Woodcuts U.S.A."

Yesterday a new friend gifted me a copy of Helen West Heller's Woodcuts U.S.A., a 44 page, 6.25" x 4.5" paper back collection of woodcuts, originally published in 1947. What a treasure! Each double-page spread pairs Heller's charming woodcut of people engaged in various occupations, from delivering mail to picking fruit to sewing or logging. Everyone is engaged in productive or practical daily activities, and the linework and patterns used to describe them adds a stirring hum to their movements. Each image is paired with a related quote from a famous poet.

Heller was an artist an activist whose work and life has gone largely unsung. Although I did find one brief, though informative and moving biography at Modernism In the New City.

This particular image, which I assume is an archaeologist, was paired with these lines from T.S. Eliot's Burnt Norton, the first in The Four Quartets:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.

I was drawn to feature this particular image from Heller's book because of my recent interest in ammonite fossils and extinct fauna. A wealth of information about life in earth's past has been discovered in America, perhaps most notably the Pleistocene megafauna fossils discovered at Big Bone Lick in Kentucky.

I also loved how at first glance it seems the two animals are galloping in the distance, but upon closer inspection, the one on the left is in fact leaping out from the man's hat, which I interpret as his imagination based on the fossil he has just uncovered.

Looking through Heller's book, I, too, feel a more recent past being brought back to life in my mind's eye.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

"Amina as Lysistrata"

I made this for a print exchange: [Baren] Exchange #64. The image is 5" x 7", full bleed. It is a 2-layer reduction woodcut, oil-based ink on Stonehenge paper. 

The theme of the exchange is "Freedom of Expression," which was decided after the Charlie Hebdo shooting. I spent a lot of time thinking about the concept of freedom of expression, modern verses so-called traditional values, the tensions between the West and Arab civilizations, and what sort of image to create in response. 

I ended up reflecting mostly on women, and specifically, looking at images of both Western and Arab women expressing their ideas regarding the political oppression of women in places that are not merely Muslim, but under the heavy influence of Islamism. The European group FEMEN has gained a lot of publicity for their political protests of women going topless or in skimpy and erotic clothing. While I admit FEMEN holds a certain appeal for me, when I viewed images of their protests and read articles about then, something always struck me as off. The women are almost always young, beautiful women of European descent. And when they get in serious trouble with the law, it is typically for things such as vandalism. The thing about female nudity in the West is that women are not only free to go about scantily clad in public, but images of scantily clad women, not only walking around, but in ads and entertainment, are ubiquitous. The message and goals of FEMEN are not clear. The protests strike me to be more like a scream of rage and frustration over assorted women's issues such as abuses in the prostitution industry. And while it can be argued that the protests at least draw public attention to those issues, the targeting of specific issues is often unclear. As a result, when FEMEN has protested against the oppression of women in the Mulim world, many women in the Muslim world have taken offense. 

FEMEN fighting against Islamism is in stark contrast to activists such as Egyptian Aliaa Magda Elmahdy, famous for the nude blogging which got her into trouble. She has collaborated with FEMEN, but is much more direct and clear in her messaging. Two years after Aliaa Elmahdy caused a stir with her nude photos, a Tunisian woman Amina Sboui (now Amina Tyler) began posting her own nude selfies with messages protesting Islamism scrawled across her body. 

Women like Aliaa Elmahdy and Amina Tyler risk a lot more when they take their tops off. Aliaa has sought political asylum in Sweden. Amina spent time in jail and a fatwa has been issued calling for her to be punished with 100 lashes and stoning. Also, they aren't outsiders telling women in the Muslim world what they should value and what battles they should take on. The much harsher backlash they have received for their naked protests prove the point that women in the Muslim world do not have the same kinds of freedoms as their Western counterparts. 

So that brings me to the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, where the women of Athens and Sparta, lead by the title character, protest the Peloponnesian War by refusing to have sex with their husbands. It is rather astounding to me that a play from the year 441 BC features such a premise considering that  marital rape has often been socially accepted, and until modern times it has gone ignored and unpunishable by law. 

The play is a comedy, and originally the costumes for male characters included giant phalluses. Aubrey Beardsley illustrations of the play included a number of ridiculously oversized, erect penises. In Norman Lindsay's illustrations the men appear desperate and pathetic in their desire for the naked, youthful-looking and voluptuous women who tempt, but refuse them. Pablo Picasso's illustrations are the most humanizing of the characters. Instead of oversexed, the men seem to plead and seduce before falling into discouragement. The women don't flaunt their enticing bodies, but appear more thoughtful and sophisticated. 

I find great value in all these interpretations of Lysistrata, and also see that they all point to one constant: in order for women to employ our sexuality as a tool of political protest, we must first possess a certain amount of respect and autonomy in the eyes of men. Refusing a husband sex until he agrees to stop risking his life in war  is ineffective if he does not respect her feelings, acknowledge her autonomy, and can force sex on her without social or legal consequences. What is so beautiful about the story of Lysistrata is that the women are motivated to protest by their love and concern for the men, and their protest is effective because the men love them in return. 

In her nude protest photographs, Amina Tyler often appears tough, overtly provocative not only in her nakedness, but in the bluntness of her scrawled messages, her glaring facial expressions and disdainful postures. None-the-less, what she and women like her are doing with these protests is an act of trust. They pose the question to the societies in which they live, even though what I do upsets you, do you love me enough to not hurt me for it? 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Another Cat by Ingaki Tomoo

I first wrote about one of Ingaki Tomoo's masterful cat woodcuts last month, but since I just completed my own black and white woodcut of a sleeping tabby, I felt the urge to draw attention to, and reflect on this image.


The soft, sloshing sound of the sea
Or maybe the distant wing-beats
Of a flock of birds
Are they coming, or going?
Does the red hot smoothness,
The snoozing, stretched-out swine
Draw them close
Or frighten them away?
Green shadows teem with life
Like moss, or pools of microbes
The tide carries us in
Or maybe out to sea
Either way, we float

Saturday, April 18, 2015

"Sleeping Tabby" (Cats A-Z End Pages)

18" x 9" (image), 22" x 14" (paper) oil-based ink on Stonehenge paper.

I created this print to be for the end pages of Cats A-Z. This image will appear in the front end pages, and its mirror image will appear in the back end pages.

Time for the final push! Cats A-Z will definitely be published this summer thanks to the success in meeting my initial fundraising goals. My Indiegogo fundraising campaign has less than a week left. If I reach $4,000, it will guarantee the publication of the second book, Owl and Cat In Love, this fall. If you can help support this campaign by sharing, please do! This is the link to share:


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

"Impatiens with Border" by Millicent Krouse

Last Saturday I finally checked out the local exhibit Artists in the Garden: PAFA at Morris Arboretum. PAFA (The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts) is my alma mater, so I was familiar with a number of the artists who had works in the show. But I did not yet know Millicent Krouse, who continues to enjoy a prolific artistic career, primarily as a wood block printmaker. For readers interested in learning a wee bit more about Krouse, check out page 38 of the Woodmere Art Museum's catalogue Women and Biography, found in PDF form here.  

The blossoms are beautiful, but sink. Black leaves droop over the double-thick bottom border, almost obscuring the block-letter label. A more airy blue squiggle fills the empty space above their heads. There will be no silences during this conversation. Three, open faces lean forward, their gazes locked on an audience that so long has eagerly awaited their colorful entry into this world. We so longed for spring, but nothing worthwhile comes without a price. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Indiegogo Campaign Art Card #8: Cut Lace

2.5" x 3.5" art card
Oil-based ink on cream-colored, 90" smooth paper
Open edition

The last of 8 original woodcut art cards for my Indiegogo fundraising campaign is complete! These will be thank-you gifts for all funders who contribute $20 or more. Funders will get to choose their preferred design to receive.

I wanted to make a card that featured some lettering, and wasn't sure what word or short phrase to include. I decided on the word "cut" only partially because it is related to the process of making woodcuts, Mainly I chose it because I enjoyed the contrast between such a harsh-sounding word and a piece of lace that is delicate, and abruptly cropped. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Indiegogo Campaign Art Card #7: Sphinx in Sweater

2.5" x 3.5" art card
Oil-based ink on cream-colored, 90" smooth paper
Open edition

This is the sixth of 8 original woodcut art cards being created during my Indiegogo fundraising campaign. These will be thank-you gifts for all funders who contribute $20 or more. Funders will get to choose their preferred design to receive.

This card depicts a hairless cat wearing a sweater. 
Enough said. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Indiegogo Campaign Art Card #6: Ammonite

2.5" x 3.5" art card
Oil-based ink on cream-colored, 90" smooth paper
Open edition

This is the sixth of 8 original woodcut art cards being created during my Indiegogo fundraising campaign. These will be thank-you gifts for all funders who contribute $20 or more. Funders will get to choose their preferred design to receive.

Yesterday I posted card #5 depicting a nautilus shell. Today's print depicts the fossilized shell of an extinct ammonite. One of my upcoming book projects will be illustrating the poem The Nautilus and the Ammonite, anonymously written, in which two aquatic cousins form a friendship, travel and witness great sights together, until the ammonite is lost in the same mass extinction that ended the reign of dinosaurs. 

Writing about another ammonite fossil woodcut in October of last year, I outlined some of the reasons why I think these creatures have captured so much of my attention. 

Click here to view all the blog posts featuring my ammonite prints.