Sunday, February 24, 2019

"Naked Selfie No. 12"

3.75" x 4" (block)
White line woodcut
Watercolors on Arches

The latest in the "Naked Selfie" series. I was just tickled when I found the photo of this guy casually waving to the camera in his naked selfie. Check out all of them on this Pinterest album.

Also, I've finally written an artist statement about the Naked Selfie series that I think rightly suits it! Here it is: 

My latest work – a series of “Naked Selfies” of others - explores the translation of visual information from photographs to woodcuts. At the start of this process are people standing naked in front of a mirror, usually in their own bathroom, cell phone in hand, posing in a manner they presumably feel best represents how they wish to be seen. Or maybe they simply want to document the honest appearance of their body at this moment in time. They snap a photo, and at some point the image ends up on the Internet. Maybe the person who took the photograph posted it to an amateur photography or pornography site, or maybe a mistake was made, or someone they sent it to betrayed a trust. One way or another, the image appears on Google searches, which is how I find it.  
At this point in the process there is how I subjectively view the original naked selfie, which is different from the perhaps millions of others who have also seen it. The proliferation of naked selfies on the Internet is simultaneously shocking and banal, depending on who is doing the Google search. My subjective perspective influences how I re-create the image as a white line woodcut. I drop the rectangular border, background, and focus on the isolated figure. Crisp, white lines combined with airy gradations and woodgrain textures emphasize the shape and volume of the body in a way that is more aesthetic than lascivious. I work on small blocks because I want viewers to have an intimate experience with the physical work. Working small scale in woodcut also renders faces abstract enough to give the subjects anonymity. 
At the end of this process there is the print I made as it is received by an audience. The translation into woodcuts recontextualizes this photographic imagery and thereby invite reactions and associations that greatly differ from those typically evoked by the original images. Perhaps some of these woodcuts will be seen by the people who took the original photographs. If so, I wonder, would they recognize themselves?  

Saturday, February 23, 2019

"Naked Selfie No. 11"

4" x 4" (block)
White line woodcut
Watercolors on Arches

The latest in the "Naked Selfie" series. Check out all of them on this Pinterest album.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Elizabeth Catlett's "Survivor" and the Distillation of Photographic Imagery

Every year I take several groups of grade school students to La Salle University's Art Museum for field trips, and I was pleased to discover a copy of Elizabeth Catlett's print "Survivor" on view in the current exhibition. The show is Teaching and Learning in the Art Museum: La Salle University Faculty Selections, and is on view through the month of May. This woodcut by Catlett was chosen by a professor who teaches Introduction to Public Health (see label with more info below.)

This image has always been a striking and therefore memorable one for me and I'm sure many others. The print was created from a photograph by Dorothea Lange called Ex-slave with a Long Memory. (Anne Nydam wrote a thoughtful post discussing this on her art blog a few years ago.) Just as Catlett distills Lange's title with her own, shorter one, with her carving she also eliminates details and context, yet intensifies certain aspects of this person depicted in the original photograph.

This sort of distillation is something woodcuts inevitably do to representational imagery. In my recent post featuring The Round Table of King Arthur, I referred to it as a game of whisper down the lane. We think something is being copied, but it is not. It is being transformed. A specific kind of subtle yet profound change happens with images sourced very directly from photographs, such as this one.

This transformation of visual information from photographs to woodcuts is something I'm particularly exploring with my new Naked Selfies series. At the start of it are people standing naked in front of a mirror, cell phone in hand, posing in a manner they feel best represents how they want to be seen. They snap a photo, and later I stumble across it while surfing the Internet. There is how I subjectively view it, which is different from the perhaps millions of others who have also seen it, and my perspective influences how I transfer it to a woodcut. Finally there is the print I made as it received by the audience. Perhaps some of them will be seen by the people who took the original photograph. If so, will they recognize themselves?

When compared side by side, Catlett's woodcut looks like Lange's photograph, but how much does the woman in Catlett's woodcut resemble the flesh and blood woman whose photograph was taken by Lange? Had she never seen the photograph, would she have recognized herself in the woodcut? Would her friends and family recognize her? I feel this transformation, this obliteration and re-creation is some of the power and purpose, yet also the deep sadness of woodcuts.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

"Pigs In A Blanket" (Chinese New Year Exchange)

Happy Lunar New Year! This is my Year of the Pig 2019 card for the Baren Forum's Chinese New Year Exchange. It is dedicated to my child Bebe who is currently obsessed with pigs.

This is a 4" x 5" linocut printed with black Caligo safe wash relief ink, hand colored with Prismacolor markers and watercolor paint. I still have 7 more to hand-color, so they will be sent out a little late, but worth the color.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Year of the Dog Baren Exchange

Tomorrow will be the Lunar New Year. According to the Chinese zodiac, the year of the dog will have ended, and the year of the pig will begin.

Last year was the first year that I participated in the Baren Forum for Wood Block Printmaking's Chinese New Year card exchange. For that exchange, I made this little hand-colored print of Mary, the chiweenie that we had recently adopted. I received most of the cards from other participants around January-March of last year, though some came later, and it's been fun to have them trickle in. I recently received the last of my dog cards (all that I've received are shown in this post.) Thanks to all of the artists who made these cards, some quirky, some quiet and contemplative, some bold, and some surprising. I absolutely love this little collection.

I am participating in the Year of the Pig exchange, and tomorrow I will post about my print for it.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

"Groundhog Day 2019"

It's Groundhog Day again, and that means time for my annual Groundhog Day card. As is evident from the previous designs, I either get a little odd or a bit sentimental. This is the first year I added some color (hand color with Prismacolor markers) to the card, and I did so for what I think are obvious reasons.

Groundhog Day 2014 
Groundhog Day 2015 
(I skipped 2016)
Groundhog Day 2017
Groundhog Day 2018

I love making cards for this holiday because January is a quiet, contemplative month after the hustle and bustle of the holidays is over, and it's still too cold and dark to spend much time outside. I also love the silliness of the holiday. It's one of those low-pressure events that opens itself up for us to make what we want of it. I'm not sure what to expect from Groundhog Day. But I fear that if I and others make nothing of it, it will fade away from our collective cares.

Therefore, a heartfelt Happy Groundhog Day to all! *honk honk*