Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Jill Fitterer's Immersion with Flight and Containment

Admit it, haven't we all thought, at one time or another, that we'd like to strap on a pair of wings and fly up into the sky? Some of us are content to only dream about such things, but the work of Jill Fitterer http://jillfitterer.com steps up to the plate and puts herself, and us, right into the heavens. Fitterer's bold and aggressive print installations shatter the scale typically associated with printmaking and dream Really Big. The result is an enormous body of work (literally) that pulls the viewer up off the ground and into the clouds. 
Impressively, Fitterer uses the actual wood panels that are the basis for her printed works and she makes it a part of the installation, as if the blocks themselves are winged creatures that can also fly. Her soaring, billowing prints with wing-like repetitions fluttering and peaking through cloud-formations lets us visualize what it must feel like to be free of gravitational confines. Still, the illusion of oneness with the cosmos via Fitterer's levitating abstract images could also be contemplated with images similarly printed onto sheer fabrics interwoven with the paper pieces to truly visualize the impression of being unobstructed in the clouds with the birds.

Fitterer's non-traditional presentation of the blocks and prints is but one aspect of her installations, as she also uses a wall-length repetition of her feathered friends. At first glance, they seem a little ticked off, and upon second and third glances, they really do look to be rather incensed. Their assessment of us isn't too pleasant, and they make me want to step back from their angry glare. (Strains of Hitchcock's "The Birds" can be heard in the distance..... Sorry, I had to mention it).Unlike the flying birds that we can only barely capture a glimpse of a wing or a beak, here we see they are definitely crowded and confined as they overlap one another all the length of the installation wall. 
Their confinement speaks to Fitterer's next aspect of this installation whereby she tightens the reference a lot further and places individually printed birds around the walls of a niche.  Their positions are regularly-spaced and stabilize the walls as sentinels poised and on guard. They surround a very tall, thin cage that feels as though it would be a death trap for a bird. There is no perch, no room to move their wings, no door to open and escape from and barely room to breathe. The scale of this, too is telling, for she's made it human scale, so we can feel what it's like to be 'contained'. It looks more like an  torture chamber from the Spanish Inquisition than a birdcage. Claustrophobia ensues....
Fitterer's message is clear, the containment and caging of animals, in this case birds, is cruel and against the laws of Nature. She associates the scale of humans with that of birds so we can empathize with their plight. The saying goes that pets are man's best friend. That can be true, but is it selfish to want to confine animals that would naturally be better off in the wild? To illustrate my point, in Chicago's Hyde Park,  a group of green parrots escaped from a pet store fire thirty years ago and they have settled and multiplied in the neighborhood's trees and parks. They've been singing away and delighting the people that visit the parks and No one would dream of catching them and putting them back into a cage. We have the benefit of a harmonious co-existence, and really, isn't that what it's all about?  

Fitterer is an advocate for animals as evidenced by her work with the International Bird Rescue Center in California, http://www.bird-rescue.org/ . She is also an Associate Professor of Art at Boise State University, and she founded the Rocky Mountain Printmaking Alliance in 2009, which is a non-profit organization, creating regional connections an dpromoting awareness and support for the art of printmaking. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Search for the 'Eternal' in Rafa Nasiri's Prints

I am saddened to hear of the passing last December 2013 of Mr. Nasiri. An article in ArtBahrain.org covered the story here.http://artbahrain.org/web/?os_news=artbahrain-mourns-the-passing-of-the-iraqi-pioneer-in-printmaking
Here it comes again, the intangible is made visible. How can an artist strive to visualize that which we cannot see? Rafa Nasiri's work is bears out that question eloquently and assuredly with his work. He manages through the combination of his Middle-Eastern-influenced heritage with his interests in Far East written script and religion, and Western Abstraction to find a bridge to somewhere- a bridge to the visual unknown, a place where artists like Rothko and Frankenthaler, and the great masters of Chinese and Arabic calligraphy, moved about; pondered the mysteries of our existentialism and brought about their messages to enlighten our own paths.

Nasiri's journey began in Baghdad and evolved as his exposure to Eastern influences, namely Chinese art and script and culture developed alongside his knowledge of Arabic script. The search for his own personal truth could have careened when he went to study in Lisbon and Salzburg, but what came from those jumbled up experiences, and years of study was a clear path; an opening between the divergent cultures where Nasiri claimed his own work, and as we see above, the result is a seamless work utilizing elements from Abstract Expressionism with calligraphy, and universal symbols suggesting harmony and unity.
The elegance of his line, which sees written calligraphy as the life force it represents, collaged with  hard-edged pages/forms, demonstrates Nasiri's mastery of composition. One feels drawn into his images as one does when viewing an Al Held painting, only without all the bright hard-edge sinews. There are references to the great cosmos and the infinite, but Nasiri's work emanates a warm, earthy life force, and it feels internal, and a part of us. As for the script, I cannot read what it says, and I'll be truthful, I do not care. The beauty Nasiri's lines contain is enough for me to know it is a deeply personal search he's been on for the breadth of his career, and I respect and admire his honesty to pursue that path in light of much artwork produced today where the human connection to a subject or image is ever-eroding away, so much so that it's meaning, if it had any, is unknown, and is therefore mute.
Nasiri's work arrests us, and makes us understand the true Buddhist idea of 'being in the moment'. I see those 'moments' in viewing Nasiri's work,  and can breathe and be connected with the unknown. I invite you to do the same.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Residencies for Everyone!

This site, out of New York, has the most comprehensive listing I've yet seen for art and curatorial residencies - US and abroad. Check it out. Many of the coming year's deadlines are fast approaching, so if you're trying to find somewhere to get the fingers inked up, then dive into this site and see what whets your appetite!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Elizabeth A. Jabar's Inseparable Marriage of Cultures

Elizabeth A. Jabar's work opens the door to a world, that to a Western eye, seems exotic and evocative of things seen and unseen: through veils and layers of understanding and visual combinations of tradition and observation. Jabar presents a mixture of different cultural elements that capture our attention and makes us curious about her selections of feminine imagery; and the perceptions of their creative history. Her art work, as seen in the image above,  incorporates printed images of Lebanese Bedouin women wearing traditional garments, with hand-sewn applique. The effect is a stunning reveal of what is not seen, what is covered up. The garments are covering the women completely except for the face, and upon closer inspection of traditional Lebanese dress, the fabrics and veils are gorgeously woven and combined to create an almost dizzying effect of texture and color.

The ornamentation of metal, jewelry and what appear to be hanging vines, or flowers, as found in the image below, add a layer of placement and adornment. The subtle layering that hand-sewing onto the print help to further obscure and veil the women, which are printed in half-tones so we have to strain to see them clearly, thus creating an aura of mystery and exoticism.

Jabar fluidly weaves between traditional forms of decorative arts from her Lebanese Bedouin heritage and combines them with her artistic sensibilities. She repeats matrix images and uses them as her starting point of reference, but her process of layering which may include several print process with collage and sewing, creates a denser image and one where the viewer has to concentrate harder to see what's underneath. The threads that weave and bind together her imagery make a symbolic connection between woven fabrics and cultural ties.
 Jabar's craft orientation also mandates that several  prints may become sewn together, continuing in the vein of  Middle Eastern woven fabrics. This affinity she has with her Bedouin past is respectfully played out in her execution and marries her interests in culture, media and art to create a meditative and intensely satisfying series for the eyes and for the senses.

Calling for Participants! Print Exchange for a Cure

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Printmaking on the Streets of Guatemala!

On a recent visit to Guatemala City, I came across something quite unexpected - printmaking as public art! While walking along 6th Street, which is like Chicago's shopping district State Street, I found a number of etchings like the one above, that had been printed,  blown up to billboard size, and plastered onto empty niches on old boarded up storefronts. The resolution of the prints was so clear and so good, I had to go up and touch them to be sure they weren't real printed surfaces. Unfortunately, the artist's name wasn't a part of the billboard, so I cannot give credit to him or her, but I thought they were notably good works to give a shout here on That's Inked Up
I enjoyed seeing these pieces in such a public setting, along with the normal amount of graffiti and nightclub posters adorning the storefronts and street corners. It says a lot about the city that it appreciates local talent to show these prints on such a large scale. (There was also a temporary display of large scale photographs showing cultural diversity being put up on the street.) Try as a might, I could not find out who did them, but for a city more known for it's obvious Mayan heritage and cultural activities which lean more toward crafts, music and dance, it was refreshing to see these works. The print below shows the actual size of the original print in the lower left corner of the picture and how it translates on a larger scale. These translations of a large scale print were not exactly in keeping with the tradition of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec's advertisement of Moulin Rouge lithograph posters, but the drawing element is apparent and the prints translate the artist's love of drawing very clearly.

The local art scene in Guatemala City is tight nit. Contemporary artists have more of an audience in the neighboring tourist city of Antigua, but there are a fair number of public work sculptures - varying from the abstract, to Mayan-influenced, cougars and bulls(like the Cows on Parade in Chicago), and even a scaled down version of the Eiffel Tower

Normally the artwork  found in Guatemala City is more aligned to politics, given their recent history. There are whole walls and the sidewalks covered with xeroxed pictures of the "Missing", thousands of people who were taken by the military and never seen again. Vital documentation on several thousand of them (including pictures taken of the victims at the time of their internment) were recently uncovered in the National Archives, and a documentary about the subject was brought to light in international film festivals last year. 

If you have occasion to visit this bright, colorful and densely populated city, you will surely find all manner of  activities to engage the senses, but the arts are alive and well in Guatemala, and I was pleased to find printmaking a prominent part of it. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Printmakers are descending upon New Orleans!

Yikes! If you aren't eating, breathing, smoking, drinking ink, then clear out of New Orleans this week. The town has been invaded by the Knights of the Order of Ink for the SGC International's 40th Printmaking Conference.

Jeez, the smell of ink should be wafting up and down the French Quarter and any other number of little galleries, storefronts, cafes, bars. Can't you just taste it?  Thousands of artists, book artists, letter press and digital, as well as the tried and true traditional method printmakers should be wielding around little CDs of their work for all to see. But really, we printmakers are a hearty bunch and are often known for having strong bi-ceps, so there should also be a few persons hefting around some litho stones, metal plates, (btw...aluminum plates make great frisbees)and large black-handled things called 'portfolios' to carry around 'actual' work.

My fellow printmakers, be jovial, convivial, friendly and boastful. Defend the work you do to the death, and challenge the medium in light-hearted discussions on the merits of the work.Enjoy these occasions to commune with our inky brethren and make innumerable toasts to our professions' best. Enjoy, my friends.........!

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Printmakers' Haven: The Frans Masereel Centre in Belgium

Yes, that's your sign that you've found the Frans Masereel Centre(FMC). It's unmistakable, as is the residency where  artists come from all over the world to work and create new images. 

I was contacted by the Centre's Director after posting the article on Frans Masereel and felt it appropriate to give you the rest of the story about the non-profit center which was founded in 1972, and named for one of Belgium's most revered artists. 

The Masereel Centre offers a unique setting outside the village of Kasterlee, which is situated just west of Antwerp and Brussels. The Centre boasts an enormous print studio in the round with open lighting. It's enough to make any print maker want to drool all over themselves. 
The working environment is friendly and artists have ample space to spread out to do small, or very large, work. They are fully equiped for printing Intaglio, Silkscreen and Lithography, and for those artists unfamiliar with the printmaking process, there are expert printers available for consultation. 

There are different types of residencies for artists, writers, curators, so check out their website for details http://www.fransmasereelcentrum.be/, but generally Artist residencies run an average length of four weeks up to two months, depending on the type of residency. Essayists and researchers can work for up to one month.

For artists wanting to stay on premises, the Centre provides charming A-frame cottage, and the grounds are a pleasant walk when taking a break from the studio. Each cottage has a kitchen, living room, 2 bedrooms, and artists may elect to bring along an Assistant. Families are also welcome, and bicycles are provided for each artist if they want to tour the area on their own.
Each artist pays 105 Euros/per week for their stay, which go toward financing Curatorial projects. Artists are responsible for transportation to and from the Centre and transport of their supplies. They are also asked to donate one work of art produced during their stay to the FMC archives, which are regularly exhibited.
Residency applications are generally due each January, so think and plan ahead for next year.
For more information to the FMC, here is their contact address:

Frans Masereel Centre

Masereeldijk 5 

Tel.: +32 (0)14 85 22 50/52

Fax: +32 (0)14 85 05 91
Artists' Phone : +32 (0)14 85 22 48