Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"Two People. The Lonely Ones" by Edvard Munch

She stands alone, draped in white, a lantern placed firmly at the water's edge.

He approaches and breaks through the waters at a height equal to hers. But he is dark as the sand and rocks of the landscape, and so quiet as a whisper.

Maybe she wants his company. Maybe she doesn't.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

"The Saga of Frankie & Johnny" by John Held, Jr.

Live long, drink deep, be jolly, Ye most illustrious votaries of folly !
-Desiderius Erasmus 

For anyone who loves rough, expressive, black and white woodcuts that tell a good story of the common people, a copy of John Held, Jr.'s The Saga of Frankie and Johnny is a must-have.

If readers are not already familiar with the 
popular American ballad Frankie and Johnny, it's a story that dates back to the turn of the last century about a woman who catches her man cheating, shoots him dead, and is subsequently tried and executed for murder. 

John Held, Jr. created his woodcut illustrations of the ballad in 1915 when he was 26 years old and living in NYC during the Jazz Age In the book's preface, Held writes:

"Versions in the hundreds have been turned up, but basically the saga is the same. Versions have been evolved to fit the locality, but the story of the eternal triangle remains identical. Details are rearranged to fit geographic conditions. In this illustrated edition, I have taken only the rudimentary verses. I have tried to keep off of local tangents."  

I've had this book in my possession and been enjoying it on many occasions over the past nearly two years. The intense mix of humor with pathos never fades. I don't linger over the right or wrong of the choices made and consequences endured by the characters. All at once they somehow seem farcical archetypes and real people to both pity and admire. This is driven home by the artist's ambivalence toward consistency in the details of the visual narrative.

For example, the three images from the book I present in this post all illustrate the moments when Frankie is shooting Johnny. In the first in the sequence, Frankie looks and points the gun directly at Johnny's punctured heart, which he grasps. He stands at the top of a stairway, suggesting he may fall backward and tumble down the steps. The smoke from the gun is thick and black. It is an image of aggressive violence stemming from sudden rage. However, in the very next image in the sequence, the mood has dramatically changed. Here Frankie stands over the fallen Johnny, still alive, but clearly dying. His black blazer is now white, as if he has now paid for his sins in full. The stairs are gone, replaced by a jagged tear in the top of the wall above Johnny that is mimicked by the zig-zag line of smoke coming from Frankie's gun. She has turned away, too horrified by her lover's suffering to watch. Her cross necklace is gone, her shoes have changed, and her one breast exposed in the first image is now discreetly covered by her bodice, as if to drive home that though only a moment has passed, already this is not quite the same Frankie.

The third image presented here does not come until much later in the sequence, after Frankie has mourned Johnny's death and repented her actions. At this point she is on trial for the murder, and the image, like the song lyric paired with it, is pure comic relief: "I didn't shoot him in the third degree. I shot him in the ass." But if she literally shot him in the ass, why do the images paired with the actual moment of this crime of passion have him shot in the heart? The obvious answer is that to get across the seriousness of Frankie's rage, horror, and Johnny's suffering, being shot in the heart was the greater truth. What is consistent in the narrative is the characters' types, their patterns of behavior, their utter humanness. What transpires seems not only predictable, but inevitable. The details that matter are not the literal minutiae, but the subjective truth of any given moment. 

Frankie and Johnny are the votaries of folly they are, no more, no less. We must laugh at, pity, and ultimately love them for who they are, just as we must love our foolish selves. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Three "Vanities" by Julianna Joos

These are three woodcuts from a series titled Vanities by Julianna Joos. Learn more about Joos, her work, and the entire series of 7 Vanities at the artist's website.

I felt drawn to this series and these three images in particular initially because something feels erased, or rather, cut out and removed from each. Yet they are not ghostly. The removal feels almost surgical, or perhaps predatory.

A knotted loop encircles each of these creatures. The turtle glides through the knot as if it is a hoop and he is doing a trick for us. All the same, he is vanishing, dissolving into a field of bright white, right before our eyes.

The nautilus, too, has a shell, but unlike the turtle, she is using it (not that such a hiding place could stop this sort of snare.) Then again, maybe there is nothing of her left but the hallow shell. It floats casually, and the rope wiggles loosely around, mimicking the striped pattern on the shell's surface. There will be no struggle.

Last of all, there is the parrot. The knot seems most tightly wrapped around this creature - a bit like a slowly stalking python - though the bird doesn't seem to realize. Something else has caught its gaze.

As a side note, now I have the terrifying image of a python eating a parrot stuck in my mind.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

"Small Horned Owl on Maple Branch under Full Moon" by Utagawa Hiroshige

The moon swells, taut, like a great balloon lighting up the blue-streaked sky. It's shape echoed by the spots encircling the sleeping bird's eyes and the form of his curled body. I hear marbles crack and roll across the wood floor. Your grip must be tight, little owl, or else you'd roll right away into the lower branches embrace.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

"Spring Melt" by Rick Allen

When sunlight shines through water vapor that hovers just over a crystal-clear pool of refreshing drink, it is impossible to turn back and see what has been. 

I discovered the wonderful artist/illustrator Rick Allen just today while perusing books at a local bookstore. Specifically, I pulled Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold off the shelf, a picture book of nature poetry written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated with Allen's colorful relief prints. I immediately looked up more of Allen's work after I came home. There were too many lovely prints I'd love to feature on this blog, so I quickly settled on something seasonally appropriate and depicting an animal that happens to be my favorite color.

Reproductions, cards, books, and calendars featuring Allen's work can be found and purchased here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

"Tornado" by Hajime Namiki

Everything goes round and round, a long path, a slender serpent. Sharp spikes along the back like thorns on a rosebush. Scales, more like sequins than armor. I am too enamored by his beauty to be afraid. Besides, he's smiling and about to toss a ball.

Blue and gold, so regal and rare, with just a bit of red. But is this all the view I'm given? So limited, like looking at a sunset through a keyhole.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Highlights from Baren Exchange #67 (Part 3 of 3)

Check out post 1/3 about Baren Print Exchange #67 here, and post 2/3 here

This untitled woodcut is by Lisa Toth. 

Hello, my friend  
I see we both bow to see the 
Upsidedown world  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Highlights from Baren Exchange #67 (Part 2 of 3)

Check out my first post highlighting prints from Baren Print Exchange #67 here

I knew right away that I had to feature these two prints together in the same post, but it's hard to articulate exactly why that is. They both evoke a calm and comforting effect on me while, oddly enough, simutaneously causing me to imagine myself as a rat in a maze. 

The first print featured here is "Natator Scene" by Achim Nicklis.

We're at the center of the universe, and everything has its place, and all the pieces fit together nice and neat, except it doesn't, not really, not exactly, and then we see the ripples, feel the flow, and hear a quiet but constant hum. We notice the imperfections in the lines and move a little more carefully, and after a few moments take in the startling realization that we will never be in this spot ever again, as it is fading away even as we float here watching and wondering. 

The second print featured here is "Start Somewhere" by Brad Ladwig.

The real path is not linear. Some of these walls are solid, but others will crumble if we only put some effort into knocking them down. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Highlights from Baren Exchange #67 (Part 1 of 3)

I am very excited to have received the prints from Baren Print Exchange #67. So much so that I'm going to devote three posts to highlighting some of my favorites.

The above print is "Moondog" by Joseph Taylor, and the below print is "Fish Follies" by Anne van Oppen.

Both here and there, we focus on a creature. In one instance it is a dog, honed in on by one-point perspective, nightime isolation, and a spotlight cast by the moon. The light falls from behind the dog, and so casts a dark shadow that bleeds into the frame. I am particularly captivated by the misty, dark grey in the corner that seems even more ominous and likely to swallow him up than the pitch-black structures. The dog himself is in the moment, lapping up water or eating out of a dish. Maybe the dish has been kindly put out for him, or maybe it is merely a found object, such as the lid of a trash can. Under the raining heavens, he satisfies a most basic yearning.

In the second scene, the creature in question is a fish. She, too, eagerly consumes (in this case, a smaller fish) under a heavenly body (this time a bright and cheerful sun) and textured sky. She, too, is diminished by a man-made structure, though it is at a distance and the boat's passenger seems to celebrate her feast.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Fibonacci Numbers and Spirals

4" x 4" (image)
4-color reduction woodcut
Edition of 7 on various types and size sheets of white paper

As I made this latest ammonite print I thought, This is the last one. I've done enough of them, and there's no where else I want to go with it. 

But after it was finished, I felt somewhat differently - like I'm giving up on a quest. I've been making prints of ammonites for about a year and a half now, and I feel that this whole time I've been grasping to get hold of certain things, some of which I've found, but others which I've yet to discover.

The problem is that I question whether mathematically intriguing and aesthetically captivating spirals found in the impressions of once flourishing creatures that went extinct millions of years ago is a combination of thoughts so mind-blowing in-of-itself that I'm just being silly trying to capture something about it in art. This is the reason I never paint sunsets; they are so awe-inspiring to experience in reality, what the hell would I do with that in art?

Argh, what to do? Think on it some more, I suppose. Better yet, get back to work on my picture book "The Nautilus and the Ammonite." In completing that project, maybe I will figure out whether and how I might continue this related body of work.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Student Collographs with Cubes

These are a couple collographs made by two students enrolled in my 2D Mixed Media after school class for 3rd-6th graders at the University City Arts League. They used cardboard, craft foam, bubble wrap, yarn, Popsicle sticks and toothpicks.

One of the kids in the class has included cubes in almost every work of art he makes and he's apparently influenced the others. Ironically, for this project that kid didn't feature any cubes in his print.