Friday, June 29, 2012

Celebrating our Independence!

The anniversary of our independence is upon us, and as always, I have looked for printmakers' input on that momentous occasion. I am pleased to share with you a collection of images, contemporary and older, that depict our activities and commemorate those founding fathers who helped shape this country we love, and serves as a model to others of what is possible. 
I wish all my fellow printmakers some quality time with family and friends, a little grilling at the cookout, sleeping in the backyard hammock, sharing recipes and a little brew with your fellow printmakers before heading to the ball park to enjoy America's favorite passtime, or the local racetrack for some down home entertainment or going to the park to see the fireworks' display. 
The sacrifice of many for the life we lead should never be forgotten, and who among us cannot feel a little swell of pride and a catch in our throats when we see that beautiful red, white and blue piece of cloth that identifies and unites us. This is a mighty fine place to live, and it's good to know printmakers have had a hand in presenting it's history. These images are in no particular order. Enjoy the holidays! 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

China's Printmaking City of Guanlan

When one looks at a map of the world and sees China, you think, ‘Man, that’s one BIG place’. I was searching for an Asian inked up experience, and knowing its rich printmaking legacy, I sought something in China.  I stumbled across this terrific place, the Guanlan Original Printmaking Base. In the southeastern part of China, not far from Hong Kong, is the city of Guanlan.  It is very close to the famous Mission Hills Golf Course and the city of Shenzhen, (which is quite modern and has a population larger than New York City!)

The wonderful thing about this place is that it’s not just a building or two that is called an artist colony. The Center makes up a whole village! Guanlan is a 300 year old (ancient by western standards) Hakka fishing village, and in 2008, it was converted into a studio center for printmakers! How Excellent! 

To give it chops, the village is also the hometown of China’s famous printmaker,  ChenYan Qiao, (featured here) who  is widely considered the pioneer of the New Chinese Woodcut Movement, and is also a well-known art theorist/educator.

Guanlan Original Printmaking Base is a full-fledged art studio. It includes a printmaking studio for production, an exhibition space, a permanent collection for original fine art prints, a research area, training and marketing development.  The Guanlan Center  also produces an international print biennial competition, and winners of the competitions are often invited to come as Artists in Residence the following year. Residencies usually vary between three weeks and three months, and artists are provided food and housing during their residencies.
The studio has been open to Chinese and international visiting artists who want to come to work and concentrate on producing original prints.  They emphasize all printing methods: etching, serigraphy, lithography and relief. Artists are provided with studios, basic supplies, 24/7 access to the workshop and technical printing support. Artists are expected to produce editioned prints while they are in Guanlan. Edition sizes are normally around 30.
The studio work spaces are quite nice, and the supply of print paper is to die for!  
Since the printmaking center opened in May 2008, over 40 countries and more than 200 famous printmakers have come to work at the Center, (creating more than one thousand original prints!) Free for visitor sightseeing.
Add: Guanlan Original Printmaking Base (Dashuitian, Niuhu)Guanlan, Baoan District, Shenzhen        
Tel:  86-755-29782529

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Original Lonely Boy: Edward Hopper

American painter and printmaker, Edward Hopper (1882-1967), was born in Nyack, New York. He was one of two children raised in an upper middle-class family of Dutch descent. He was well-educated and well-read in the classics. By the age of 17 he had already decided to become an artist, but his parents wanted him to him to have a stabile income so they encouraged him to study commercial illustration. While still in school, Hopper worked part-time with an advertising agency, where he did cover designs for trade magazines. He attended the New York School of Illustrating and then the New York School of Art. At the NYSA he studied with both William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri. Hopper once said of Henri that he was 'the most influential teacher I had'.
Hopper later went to study in Paris, but claimed no European influence except French engraver Charles Méryon. He also went to visit England, The Netherlands, France, Germany and Spain on his travels. He spent several years searching for what he became known for as his ’American Scene’ imagery. In 1913, Hopper sold his first painting  at the Armory Show.  Although his paintings were showing and selling, he still had to earn a living as a commercial illustrator; something he despised.  
 In 1915 Hopper chose to make etchings, which was a new market. He produced about 70 works, many of urban scenes in Paris and New York. Around 1920 Hopper’s etchings began to get the public’s attention and they began to sell more than his paintings. His prints reflected a similar sense of isolationism as his other work, but the stark black and white of his beautifully etched plates have drama, movement, jossling, bustling and an amazing quiet that can be found under a city streetlamp. His lines barely ‘describe’ his figures, but they are representative of every city’s figures. There are old and young and wealthy and working-class all wrapped up together, struggling to find their way through his sea of humanity with the sparest means possible. His prints are rich and textured and immensely satisfy our desires to be a part of his images.
Hopper moved to Washington Square in the Greenwich Village section of New York City where he would live for the rest of his life. In 1923 he renewed his friendship with fellow artist ,Jo Nivison and they married soon after.  She was his lifelong companion, and became the female model for all his work for the rest of their lives.
The Depression of the 1930s had little effect upon him or his popularity. He lived well and sold much work during this period. It wasn’t until the 1950s when the new Abstract Expressionist movement’s style made Hopper lose the public’s attention, but he didn’t care because the new style didn’t appeal to his realist, puritan sensibilities. He and his wife kept to themselves, and in the last two decades before his death, Hopper’s health suffered from several ailments. He died in his New York studio, and his wife died several months later; bequeathing their joint collection (over 3000 combined works) to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Some of his major works are also found in the New York Museum of Modern Art, The Des Moines Art Center, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
As for his influences, Hopper's visibility in art and popular culture is far-reaching. Artists such as Willem de Kooning, Jim Dine, and Mark Rothko have named him as an influence upon their work. Hopper's dramatic use of light and shadow has made him a favorite among filmmakers, namely Alfred Hitchcock, Terrence Malick, Sam Mendes  and Ridley ScottStores sell countless posters of “Homages to Nighthawks” featuring famous icons James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. He even influenced Japanese animation.
His birthplace and boyhood home was made into a non-profit community cultural center in 1971. It features exhibitions, workshops, lectures, performances and special events. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, and is known as the Edward Hopper House Art Center.
Much is made of Hopper’s lonely figures in the big city, and his solitary figures languishing by a window watching the world go by.  There is something truly arresting about his figures, where the person is enjoying finding a quiet corner of a park to sit a read a newspaper. His nighttime scenes harbor the most lonely, bleak outlook. People riding trains looking out at a skyline are like every newcomer to a big city; eyes full of wonder and dreams yet to be fulfilled. And a couple huddled together on a train in an intimate exchange, stops us and makes is wish we were one of those two people oblivious to their surroundings.
Hoppers’ two primary subject sources
were average American places and people (gas stations, motels, restaurants, and street scenes) and rural landscapes. He would give the viewer a pulse of the city as being dangerous, but also a place where someone could find quiet and peace. His figures were usually placed in small, solitary confinements in his high-contrasted compositions, and his more intimate interactions between a couple make viewers become voyeurs. The emotional impact of his work is a sort of loneliness, quietude, and resignation, but something of knowing oneself also come through Hopper’s figures. They know what they want, even if it isn’t where they are at the present. There is an awareness of their environment, and a vision of where they want to go. Hopper’s work, like great cinema, infinitely fascinates us for what is he does not portray, what is not said, but then his images don’t have to. He gives us everything we need to know in what is not seen, what is not heard….  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Graduation, Summer, Inked Up Fingers and Giving Thanks

Greetings, all my little inked up friends and colleagues. This time of year brings about a slight shift from our normal working  routines as we move on to the summer season and the activities that keep us human and keep our sanity to deal with the rest of our yearly commitments. Those that are lucky enough head out of town to the summer cottages, clean out or redesign studios, move to new places and set up new studios, squirrel ourselves into said studios for some uninterrupted quality time, take a workshop to refresh and improve our skills or take something that will keep us abreast of the latest technical developments. We also travel to see new things and places for personal and artistic inspiration and we look at art in museums, galleries, art fairs and read books on art and philosophy and catch a few barbecue cookouts, outdoor concerts and movies just to round out our collective cultural experience. Then there's baseball, fishing, swimming and sleeping in the backyard hammock. Yep, that's summer in a nutshell. Gotta love summer.

Yet, there is something else that occurs at this time of year, and it may just be me, but I think about graduation. The sea of little art graduates embarking onto their next adventures in life make me I think about  my own graduations from college and graduate school; the poignancy, sense of achievement and abject fear about the future that came with receiving that little piece of vellum. It makes me think also on the people that helped get me to those points in my career: family and friends, surely had a hand in it all, but I think about my teachers' and instructors' contributions. Those men and women gave considerable time, talent and effort to help me on my way to doing what I do today, and I have to say "Thank You".

Like most of us, I know I haven't said it enough over the years, but I am privileged to still be in regular contact with many of my university professors, and consider several of them colleagues and friends. There have been some instructors (and colleagues) that have retired, passed away but for the most part they are still around and working. Their mentorship has been invaluable.  I want to state here and now that they have been a source of inspiration and a role model of teaching that has extended well beyond the classroom, and I am grateful to have worked with them.

I want to extend the invitation to all my fellow printmakers that you think on the impact your mentors and teachers have had on your work and your career. Give them a call, email, text, skype, or in the case of my undergraduate mentor, Robert Wolfe, from Miami University, where only a hand-written letter will be appropriate to send (if I should hope to get a response). Tell them something you remember about working with them, some funny story, or how they stood up for you during a terrible critique, or how they demonstrated patience showing you some technique outside of class time that you just couldn't get, or how they casually said something one day in passing that made all the difference to becoming an artist.
The world is filled with artists, and we are as good as our instruction, drive and stamina can stand in a world that largely undervalues the profession. Give something back to those that helped you achieve your goals, keep your fingers inked up and helped you get to where you are in your own career. It's a small gesture, but it's impact for them will be immeasurable. I have had students come back and keep me abreast of their achievements, and I feel proud about their accomplishments as like a parent with her own children. It's part of this cycle of art, and the least we can do to repay their efforts on our behalf.

So, this is my personal thank you to the following persons, in no particular order: Mrs. Schawn, Mrs. Truster, Robert Wolfe, Barbara Telleen, James D. Butler, Harold Boyd, Ray Jackson, Richard R. Finch, Raymond E. George,  Crossan Hayes Curry, Catherine Johnson, Alex McKibbin, Rocio Rodriguez, Claire Seidl, and Clive Getty.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Enigmatic Grandeur of Rockwell Kent

Rockwell Kent (1882–1971), who grew up in New York City, was a writer, architect, adventurer, sailor, family man and a social activist. He studied art with several influential painters like  Arthur Wesley Dow at the Art Students League, William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri at the New York School of Art, and he apprenticed with Abbott Handerson Thayer. He also did undergraduate studies in architecture at Columbia University .
After his studies, Kent helped organize the Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1910. He did illustrations from 1912-1916 for a radical journal called The Masses. He also admired the writings of Thoreau and Emerson, and he found inspiration in the beauty of wilderness so much that he lived in Newfoundland , Alaska ,Tierra del Fuego, Ireland , Greenland and Asgaard Farm, in Au Sable Forks, New York. While he lived in Alaska, he spent a winter at Fox Island where he published a series of illustrations called Wilderness. From the 1920s through the 1950s, Kent established a reputation as an engraver, lithographer and illustrator of books. His bold and enigmatic images were seen in Vanity Fair, New York Tribune, Harper's Weekly, and the original Life magazine,  and he is most famously known for having illustrated Moby Dick.
Kent shifted his priorities to progressive politics and in 1939 he became increasingly active with a Communist organization called the Harlem Lodge of the International Workers Order (IWO), he served as the organizations’ President from 1944-53.  He was the first American artist to have work exhibited in the Soviet Union, and he donated several hundred of his paintings and drawings to the Soviet peoples. He became an honorary member of the Soviet Academy of Fine Arts, and later received the Lenin Peace Prize in 1967. A portion of the Lenin Prize monies was awarded to women and children in North and South Vietnam. 
Kent's increasing support for a Soviet-American fiendship affected his stature as an artist, and his popularity declined in the postwar years. He fell out of favor with the American public and his sympathies about the Cold War era made him a target of the US government. As with many people subject to Senator Joseph McCarthy's scrutiny, Kent was blacklisted and his US passport was revoked. 

When Kent died, The New York Times described him as "... a thoughtful, troublesome, profoundly independent, odd and kind man who made an imperishable contribution to the art of bookmaking in the United States."
Kent often portrays an enigmatic solitary, iconic figure in some form of repose or contemplation of the grandeur of Nature; caught in some spiritual/physical conflict, even pathos. Based upon the twists of his own life, it would be easy to assimilate how these figures were manifestations of himself. The interesting thing is how he does it with economy of means. His lines are crisp, clean and while his images are for the most part a small scale, the figures emanate out of their confinement and project a grand, imposing posture. One relates easily with his compositions, which call the viewer and his figures in these images to be a part of ‘the infinite’. Nothing could be more beautiful than his white, Modernist Deco-influenced figures against the dense, black vastness in which he makes them dwell and fight to maneuver.
Kent's images were seen as increasingly radical and his creative style was overshadowed by the new modernist art movement.  When Abstract Expressionism became popular, it pushed his  work further into obscurity.
The Archives of American Art holds Kent’s correspondence repository, while the Philadelphia Museum of Art has one of the more comprehensive collections of Rockwell Kent prints, drawings, and illustrated books, (collected by Kent’s longtime friend, Carl Zigrosser).

For further reading, Kent’s autobiography, called It's Me O Lord, was published in 1955.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Three years later, Mexico Still Waits for its Nursery Law

This is the one hundredth post for That’s Inked Up, and while I had planned to celebrate this occasion with a post on an entirely different topic, I have chosen instead to discuss an event which since has  changed the focus of my own artwork, and has compelled me to inform others visually about issues and causes I feel are important. In a departure from discussing the prints of other artists, this post is dedicated to the 56 children of Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, who needlessly died in a fire that broke out on June 5th, 2009. The situation, as you will see, has been a brutally frustrating legal process, but for the deceaseds’ families one can only pray they find justice as they march annually in cities all across Mexico, begging the judicial system and President Calderon to implement the Nursery Law, which would help  protect children and set operational safety standards.

Most working parents have to consider some form of daycare for their young children, but the opportunities, other than family, are limited, and as is commonly found in Mexico, most of these businesses  take in extra children. They want the money, and parents have to work, so sets the background for this story…

The ABC Nursery in Hermosillo was a business licensed since 2001 by the Mexican Social Security Institute, or IMSS to provide legally required childcare services to workers' children, aged 2-5.  The building in which ABC operated was set to manage 40 children.  Before 2006, the IMSS sought to privatize Mexico’s daycare system and subcontracted over a thousand such businesses across Mexico. In a country rife with corruption, not even the children of Hermosillo would be spared.

This particular ABC Nursery was set up in an old warehouse with toxic and inflammable walls, with a facing wall adjacent to an auto and tire company. While the IMSS claims annual safety inspections of daycare centers occur, that doesn’t bear muster. Unfortunately for the IMSS, this daycare supposedly passed an ‘inspection’ 10 days before the fire. If it had actually happened, the inspectors would have found only one working exit instead of three (the others were barred and bolted), and no working sprinkler system, nor any fire extinguishers. The Nursery’s fire alarm system was later found to be in working order, but it didn’t go off.

The actual numbers of children found in the ABC Nursery on the day of the fire was much higher than was allowed by law. There were over 100 children in the Center, and they ranged in age from 3 months to 6 years old. The Center normally operated with a staff of 20, but on that day only 6 were working. When the fire broke out, firefighters, parents and civilian rescuers frantically tried to rescue the children and one man rammed a hole in the Nursery’s cement walls with his truck so rescuers could enter the building. A side note* That day, most of Hermosillo's police and public safety bosses had been attending a meeting in the US when the fire occurred.

Result: 56 dead, 75 injured, including children aged 3 months to 6 years old.

The Mexican government called for an investigation and the Supreme Court eventually found several members of the Sonora Finance Ministry had direct responsibility for operating a warehouse full of tires and old files in the same building as the ABC Nursery. The Sonoran Governor and wives of other high-ranking officials were also identified as having culpability with the incident. The owners of the Nursery have never been brought to justice, nor served any time for this event. Additionally, the investigation found that of the 1,480 outsourced contracts signed by the IMSS, only 14 met all the legal requirements. 

The results of the ABC fire were so horrendous it made international news for a few days, and it continues to pop up periodically as the families of the deceased call for the President and the government to enact the Nursery Law. So far, no action has been taken.

When this tragic story came to my attention on the internet, I felt a call to speak about it.  I was later able to commemorate the incident in two installations in Mexico, and in a print suite called UN- Natural Disasters. Nothing can bring back those innocents, or heal the emotional and physical scars of the injured, but SOMETHING can be done to help prevent it from happening again. Not naming any one person, for there are numerous people involved and it is pandemic of the country’s lack of a governing body, but it is clear that the collective responsibility of the government has failed, at least in this situation, to care for its own people – something they were elected to uphold. As for my print, it seeks only to acknowledge a injustice,  give support to those families who have lost their babies and pray they will one day find peace.

A book about this tragedy, written by Mexican journalist Diego Osorno, is called "Nosotros somos los culpables" (We Are to Blame). Royalties from its sales will go to the Citizens Movement for June 5 Justice.