Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Life's Novel through the Eyes of Frans Masereel

Flemish artist and printmaker Frans Masereel  had a penchant for observing the eccentricities of European society as it rushed like a locomotive into the industrialized 20th century. Masereel painted, but his real contributions in art were his woodblocks. His stark, yet broken, black and white compositions loosely re-call some of  his German contemporaries like Schmidt-Rotloff or Heckel, but his densely -laden compositions are more in tune with the Italian Futurists, whose own fractured images were a product of the Industrial Age.
Masereel could truly visually and physically align his artistic stars with them as he often saw his own world  turned upside down while he and thousands of artists voluntarily criss-crossed Europe during the war. Their world was shattered, and everyone felt it internally. Artists like Masereel depicted what they saw and felt, and rarely has art mirrored so well the depth of people's fear and emotional instability. The print above reveals the fear of people being caught in the gaze of Death and the futile effort of Man to rise up and away from its clutches.
Masereel developed an art form he called 'romans en images';  comparable to today's graphic novelsHe incorporated a balance of highlight vs. shadow in his images which are fascinating to look 'through'. I say look through, because one feels a part of these images, these places. One also sees the intersecting angularity of Masereel's images as something unstable and uncertain. Our want to upright a person who is running headlong into the night  reflects the era within  which Masereel and other artists worked. No one or no thing could stop for long in his urban settings. Neither can one can feel that standing on a street corner for more than a few seconds would be enough of a reprieve from the frenetic pace of the city. There is a presence of angst, fear of being watched, confusion and desperation. 
Darkly-lit urban situations abound in Masereel's oeuvre, and there is a mixture of society's baudy side; filled with brothels, dance hall dames and fervent, fifteen minute affairs. The print above shows an young, handsome intellectual set against a chaotic speak-easy, striving for a moment's reading peace. He seems immune to the enticements of the sultry, blaring music, and immune to the 'come hither' women that look as easy as coins can fall from a pocket. It could be that the man is reading about the vision pictured above his head,but in any event, we are called to witness his actual circumstance, or this place where he's let his imagination flow. The entertainment in each scenario is exciting and begs for more.

Masereel's style of telling multi-storied tales is pleasing and reflects a brittle vibrancy rampant during the time. 
His artistic cousins, the Americans Robert Delaunay and John Marin connect to Masereel's work in similar arrangements of visual information; Delaunay through his cubist Eiffel Tower series, and John Marin, through his softly-fractured watercolor and etching series of New York. They all responded to the modern period, and the dizzying pace of the new industrial world .

Producing artwork that reflected his interests and life, especially dealing with Europe's periods of aggression - world war, Masereel was an anti-war activist, and an advocate for human rights.  In the last print, his depiction of a man's silent tenure behind prison bars is poignantly sad. He will see life pass him by and can no longer participate in the things that life has to offer - love, pleasures of the flesh, or communication with anyone on the outside. This piece is is a fitting end to how a person ages and become further disconnected from their former selves, because of age, illness, madness, confinement. It is one of Masereel's most quiet, simple prints, but it's ability to tell a story is no less powerful.  

No matter the situation, Masereel's work skillfully revealed extremes; from the masses vs. the  individual, the powerful vs. the poor, or  good vs. evil. These stories don't need words to grip our conscience. They do that very well. But Masereel's work doesn't call for a passive reading. Instead, they implore us to read them and be a part of them - the novel of life. 
Note* Masereel was a pacifist in World War I, and he worked to make his art accessible to the masses. His works were banned by the Nazis and widely distributed in Communist countries. He rejected "political" art and party affiliation, condemning all enslavements, oppression, war and violence, injustice, and the power of money.  In 1972,  Masereel was buried in the city of Ghent, and in the same year a non-profit foundation, the Franz Masereel Center, was set up in his name in Kasterlee, Belgium, as an international artist retreat and work space. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Maine's Circling the Square Press is a Great Place to Get Inked Up

Circling the Square Press is an up and coming press/workshop located in Gardiner, Maine. Karen Adrienne is the director of this operation, and it boasts several presses, workshops, memberships, classes, presstime rental, as well as a mighty fine little gallery space for exhibitions. 

If you want to shop around for some US coastal printmaking sites this may be just the one you'd want to check out. It's just up the road from Portland, and a picturesque drive outside of New York City, but the charming town of Gardiner would be a welcome reprieve for the urban dwellers in the summer, and especially in the Fall when the colors are abundant. There are any number of little towns and available camping areas in the region for print makers seeking a true Northeast coast experience, and it would seem assured that you'd also find a little place to stop get a bite to eat in some fabulous quaint village or road stop. This is not Mayberry, folks, but it may not feel far from it. The aura of the Northeast is to be savored no matter what time of year you can trek up that way.

For more information, contact Karen at:

207-582-6600, 207-582-2108, 207-582-0834

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Carson Fox Teaches Lessons on Imminent Danger

Now my dear, just be Careful! ...Okay, this is what you Don't want to do!  
The instinctual recoil one experiences when seeing  Carson Fox's message-laden prints throws us all back to the days when, as children, our grandmothers and mothers told us not to play with matches, or not to play too closely to the stove for fear we'd get burned. The intentions of our well-meaning, doting parental units - to instill fear into our little naive souls and bring us face to face with the reality of our actions  - is clearly illustrated here., 
This is gonna hurt!
Fox, however, repeatedly uses the arms and hands of a slightly older (19th c. by the look of her lace-covered sleeve) girl and she has placed these delicate appendages in somewhat compromising positions. The young woman's innocence and naivete is apparent if she would willingly submit to the objects about to harm her. *Note there is no other person involved holding the so-called 'dangerous' objects to inflict pain or maim. Therefore we can only see these prints as teaching tools of 'what not to do' to ourselves, or to our cousins or siblings. They are visual lessons of what will happen if one doesn't listen to warnings or puts themselves into harm's way, or doesn't pay attention to the pain that will ensue momentarily. In any event, the work warns that consequences come from ignorant or risky actions, and we cringe with understanding.  
For instance,  the genteel woman below allows her arm to be the temperature guinea pig for what would appear a pot of hot water or coffee; which would make her either seriously mentally deficient, or a masochist who likes that kind of scalded flesh sensory overload. In either case, the result is not going be pleasant.
Watch out!  That's HOT!
Likewise, the idea of a woman below curiously submitting her sweetly-refined forefinger to the salaciously sharp shears encircling it will shortly find reason to stop pruning her roses and give up gardening altogether. The red background surrounding the hand and shears mimics blood spatters and we feel her impending pain all the more acutely.
That will surely leave a mark!
Carson Fox hails from Oxford, Mississippi, which is also the hometown of famed writer William Faulkner. Her work expresses influences steeped, in part, from growing up in the American deep south. The series being discussed here is drawn from that gothic tradition. The images are microcosms of sensory experience, and their under-the-glass tondo presentation isolates the individual strains of abnormalcy; the thing that makes them bad girls that continue to submit to these curious experiments of pain.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Navigating Currents - 2012 Southern Graphics Council International Conference

The Southern Graphics Council International 2012 Conference is being held next month (March 14-17) in one of the most fabulous cities imaginable - New Orleans! Indeed, this is the place for any convention, music, food, culture, and just hanging out. The fact that several thousand printmakers, printers, letterpress artists, and collectors who love prints will shortly descend upon this jewel of the south is not only exciting, but it more importantly commemorates the fortieth anniversary of the SGCI. will give you information on membership and all the activities available to you.

While it would come as no surprise that printmakers can enjoy a conference with the best of them, there will, in addition to the food and music of New Orleans, be some fantastic exhibits, discussions, and other opportunities to network and showcase what are some of the finest artists working in this inky medium we have willfully injected into our veins. For more information specifically on the conference, see the link here  Hoping to see everyone there!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Enchantments of Hawaii: Prints by John Melville Kelly

Our imaginations soar when we think of the beautiful Hawaiian islands; the people, the colors, the exotic flowers and warm waves lapping onto the beaches. Those things are fondly recalled of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific", "Bali High" and the Tahitian travels by 19th c. French artist Paul Gauguin.

John Melville Kelly came to Hawaii in 1923 and like so many others, he fell in love with the place and stayed the rest of his life. He originally came from the deserts of Arizona, so its no wonder he became enchanted with the lush and exotic colors found in Hawaii. Kelly was a real estate executive, and eventually turned away from it all to become an artist. Thank goodness. He did paintings and prints, and the ones you'll see today show an unseen, or rarely seen, view of this man's 'Tahiti'.

Kelly drew people working on the beaches, fixing fishing nets, workers sorting products for market, women sewing on the ground, and dozens of portraits of women in exotic gowns surrounded by flowers. Some of the portraits resemble a more formal study of the figure, and the fact they are Polynesian is the only thing that separates them from  figure studies similarly found in thousands of portraits studios worldwide. As with the study of the woman pictured at the top, Kelly has an excellent grasp of line and defining the figure in a measured, cross-hatched study and it emanates sensuality. Contrasting that with his portrait of the old man pictured below, his line becomes more loosely defined but still captures the the figure's masculinity and elegant features . Here his line is more reminiscent of Anders Zorn, a contemporary of John Singer Sargent, and it looses and finds the figure in a energetic, coagulated frenzy.
Kelly's love of the Hawaiian people was honest and not a touristy view of island life. His fascination with the Hawaiians and their daily existence is akin to the manner in which Gauguin portrayed his view of the Tahitians, but the work is less exotically symbolist-colored than Gauguin, and more in tune with the warm colors he found in Hawaii. This figure below is one where Kelly experimented with a detailed figure found within an abstract field of texture and color,

which for me is more alike to the lost and found figure compositions of Sargent and Whistler, and has references to the Asian-inspired prints of Cassatt. The homage is apparent, and we can be as enthralled with Hawaiian culture as he was.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Marwin Begaye's Warrior Messages on Unhealthy Addictions

Oklahoma artist Marwin Begaye's making some strong statements regarding unhealthy living and addictive eating habits. His are the type of images that get-in-your-face and speak the prophesy of our fast and furious lifestyle; that alcohol, drugs, smoking, and restaurant chains have obvious consequences = death

Begaye utilizes the ever popular gang and subculture-induced tattoo imagery of skulls, Gothic lettering and visual messaging to communicate the evils of a hard and fast existence. His messages are multi-layered, and splashed with bright colors. Their complexity pulls in the viewer and lets his subliminal images settle into our collective subconscious, much in the same way that Pieter Bruegel the Elder's work did in the playfully moralistic "Fall of Icarus" painting from the 16th century. 
The fun-loving skeleton in "Addiction 3" (above) is loaded with disarmingly bright color and deceptively beautiful script detailing a mantra of different addictions,  and how the searingly comical  cracked-skull skeleton can smoke, drink and be haloed by an assortment of  heroin addicts' needles is inspired. Clearly, Begaye is trying to reach out with his work to grab peoples' attention easily seduced by this blatant form of  gratification and rock band CD covers to think a little longer about the results of such frivolous pastimes. 

Lastly, I enjoy Begaye's humorous and spirited reference to Albrecht Durer's Horseman of the Apocalypse, his "Mancmesaround", (above) where his horseman warrior wears Indian feathers, has an alcoholic beverage emblazoned on his shield and McDonald's crowning the top of his spear, while his masked steed tramples over a land strewn with discarded fast food wrappers and pop containers. 

Begaye's scatheing viewpoint of the affects of our mass-marketed, logoed existence asks these questions, 'how will you hide from the fast food horseman?' and 'what are you willing to do to save yourselves from this drug-infested media blitz that surrounds our every move?' Only the junkies who are truly repentant can survive. Those zombied souls addicted to salt, sugar, caffeine, coffee, cigs, BK, McD's, alcohol, mj, h, and meth willingly follow the apocalyptic horseman as he rides across this diseased Earth.  They don't know where the journey will end, because they can only seek the next high, the next buzz. As Begaye forewarns, what they don't see coming are the Gates of Hell. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Treasure Discovered in the Jerusalem Print Workshop

Artists in Israel have known about the Jerusalem Print Workshop since it's founding in 1974, but  the general public will find a treasure when they come across this place. The JPW has maintained a quiet but steady existence, while making some of the finest prints to be found in the Middle East.   I came across the JPW while searching for print shops in the region and when I saw some of the artwork produced there, it stopped me in my tracks. See their website for more information

The shop was founded, and is still lead, by the legendary master printer, Arik Kilemnik. He, along with five other master printers, help artists from across Israel and abroad to create some extraordinary editions. The likes of Dine and Rauschenberg have utilized their services.

The print shop holds classes, workshops, and exhibitions. It has several rare presses, which allow for traditional and contemporary print processes, and they invite artists from Israel and abroad to make editioned prints.  It is a non-profit institution dedicated to maintaining a space for artists to work and be creative. It has certainly sustained and is keeping Israel's printmaking heritage alive. But the real cause for envy here is that Israeli artists can come to work at the shop for free. I am envious....

JPW is located in the sometimes difficult Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem, which is also home to the complex issues of race and religion between Arab, Jewish, Ultra-Orthodox and Christian sects, but to its credit the print shop balances the neighborhood with its cultural programs.

If you are looking for a place in a culturally diverse setting and rich in history, then send them an inquiry and see what happens. You will surely discover a treasure worth the journey.

38 Shivtei Israel St., Jerusalem 95105 

Telefax: 02-6288614
Opening Hours: Sun -Thus: 08:00 -15:00, Friday: 10:00-12:00 or by appointment

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Call for Participants for Madonna International Print Exchange

Ochosi Editions is calling all artists to participate in their Madonna International Print Exchange. Deadline May 1st. See details at or email
When reserving your spot, remember to give your name, city, state and country. Right now, the show will travel to US and Mexico sites, and we are looking for more venues, so let us know if you  may have a spot.