Sunday, November 25, 2012

Welcome to Margo's World: The Prints of Margo Humphrey

Just gaze upon the beautiful woman before you. See her doe-like eyes,  luscious red lips, silken hair and an iconic pose that rivals any Christian Madonna. The History of Her Life Written Across Her Face (1991) is one of Margo Humphrey’s most recognized images.  Here, the artist has given us a formal connection to portraiture, but the artist has also given us a rare insight. She has chosen to let us into the world of the subject; making visible the commentary in her head, what she hears. It looks playful, but there are dark thoughts behind the façade. That, and her The Last Bar-B-Que (1987) which played with traditional representations of the Last Supper and Christianity, added a distinctly Caribbean/African-American perspective to the final meal when she added chicken, bananas, watermelons, and mangoes. Humphrey shifts the somber occasion and infuses it will color, joy and humor. 

Humphrey is one of the artists of the later 20th century that enjoyed attention in the Pluralist era. She falls squarely within the multicultural period when artists of color were given the art world’s limelight, not that that mattered to her or her work at all, but she was able to utilize the attention to bring about a message of multi-cultural emphasis, and seamlessly blended it all together in a body of work that is striking for its bold, expressive color, animated figures and sometimes humorous take on relationships and religion. ‘…her works offer artful commentary on American culture, including food ways, folkways, spirituality, love and loss.’

Humphrey takes us on a journey telling us about the story of what it is to be an African-American female artist during the Feminist period of the 1970s, and shows us how her work speaks about a larger message of the human spirit; how one’s life crosses continually between the physical and spiritual worlds. Her iconography addresses issues of race, gender, and spirituality.

Her visual connections between other artists of the era, like Hollis SiglerJean–Michel Basquiat, Elizabeth Murray and Red Grooms convey a sense of something initially comic and humorous, but the deeper layers show an underside of reality that isn’t always so pleasant.

Humphrey’s prints have become iconic in the consciousness of her peers, and her vibrant, lively images lift her characters off the paper and into the lives of the viewer. Whether her images are about a childhood experience or they confront a personal demon, Humphrey's artwork conveys a sense of hope and promise. Her unique language is easily accessible and we empathize with her personal memories as if they are our own.  

Margo Humphrey was born in Oakland, California in 1942. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts and in 1971 she was awarded a Fellowship to The Whitney Museum of American Art Summer Program while attending graduate school at Stanford University. She graduated from Stanford in 1972 with a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Printmaking. After her studies, she traveled in Europe, Brazil, the Caribbean, and Africa. She also taught art in Benin, Nigeria, Uganda.

Humphrey began her teaching career in 1973 at the University of California Santa Cruz.  Since then, she has taught art at the University of California, San Francisco, University of South Pacific at Suva, Fiji, and University of Texas, San Antonio. She has since taught at The San Francisco Art Institute and has served as Visiting Professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  She became a faculty member in the Department of Art at the University of Maryland, College Park, in 1989, where she currently teaches printmaking.

Her work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions in the United States and internationally In 1996, she was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s International Invitational World Printmaking Survey exhibition.
I am adding to this article, as it was just passed along to me via Chicago's Anchor Graphics' Master printer David Jones, that Ms. Humphrey has just completed a new lithograph with  Anchor called  "Black Madonna". See it here below and contact Anchor at before they all disappear into private collectors' hands....

Fellowships and Awards:
The World Print Council’s James D. Pheland Award
Two National Endowment of the Arts Fellowships
Ford Foundation Fellowship, 1980
Represented the United States at the Print Biennale in Ljubljana, Slovenia, 1999
Louis Comfort Tiffany Fellowship to Stanford University,1971 & 1988
First American artist to open the American section of Nigerian National Gallery of Art
Three United States Information Agency Arts America Program Teaching Fellowships
National Research Council for Research, Tamarind Institute in NM, from the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.

Public Collections:
Museum of Modern Art, NY
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England

Contact the artist at email:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hale Aspacio Woodruff: The African-American Regionalist

Hale Aspacio Woodruff was born in 1900 in the southern Illinois town of Cairo. After the death of his father, Woodruff and his mother moved to East Nashville, Tennessee. He was always interested in art, but segregation prevented him from receiving art education classes at that time, although he did do cartoons for his high school newspaper.

Woodruff later went to study art at the Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, Indiana. He served as a political cartoonist for an African American newspaper, called The Indianapolis Ledger. Woodruff also studied for a short time at the Harvard's Fogg Museum School. After a brief stay in Chicago, where he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, Woodruff returned to Indianapolis in 1923, where he developed one of the country’s most successful black branches of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).  

In 1931, Woodruff decided to return to the States. He took a teaching position and taught for  at Atlanta University (later Clark Atlanta University) for fifteen years, where he was one of Georgia’s first college professors of studio art. Due to his hard work and enthusiasm, the school became a mecca for young African-American artists. Woodruff also conducted art classes on the Spelman College campus for Atlanta University's Laboratory High School and for Spelman and Morehouse College students.

Woodruff brought art to Atlanta University from the Whitney Museum of American Art’s collection, and works by fifty-four contemporary black artists sponsored by the Harmon Foundation. He started a national competition series of art exhibitions for African-American artists, called the Atlanta University Art Annuals, from 1942-70. The university's amazing collection of African-American art is entirely due to Woodruff's efforts to bring it to the public. 
He once said, "The one thing I think that must be guarded against is that, in our efforts to create a black image and to assert our quality, our character, our blackness, our beauty, and all that, the art form must remain one of high level."

In the late 1930s, he painted black history murals for Atlanta's Talledega College Slavery Library, reflecting the great mural painters’ tradition of Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera - the latter with whom Woodruff briefly studied in Mexico in 1936. While Woodruff may be best known for his murals, drawing parallels between Mexican art and African art, his prints about black lynchings and poverty are his most striking and poignant.

“I think abstraction is just another kind of reality” – H.A. Woodruff

On a personal note, Woodruff married Kansas teacher Theresa Ada Barker in 1934. They had one son, Roy, in 1935.

Woodruff moved to New York to teach art at New York University in 1946; retiring in 1968. In the mid 60s, he and Romare Bearden established Spiral, a weekly discussion group for African American artists. The group was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. 

Woodruff died in New York in 1980. His legacy for the African-American art movement in Georgia and New York is critical to the understanding and accessibility of their work to mainstream venues across this country. Woodruff tirelessly encouraged countless young artists to pursue their talents and dreams and for this we must pay homage to his work as a lightning rod of enlightenment for the masses. 

Recognition and Awards:
Julius Rosenwald Foundation Fellowship, 1943
Harmon Foundation fellowship, 1926
First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, Senegal – Chair, US visual arts committee

New Jersey Society of Artists
New York State Council on the Arts  
Society of Mural Painters

Public Collections:
Atlanta University  and Talledega College, Atlanta, GA
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
Howard University and Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
New York University and New York Public Library, NY
Newark Museum, NJ

1951 - The Art of the Negro, Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries. Atlanta, GA
1949 - The Negro in California History, Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company, CA 
1939 - The Amistad Mutiny,Talladega College, Atlanta, GA

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Depth of One's Soul : Prints by Lee Bontecou

Lee Bontecou is most recognized for her impressive multi-media 3-D constructions that are often installed onto walls. "My most persistently recurring thought is to work in a scope as far-reaching as possible," she wrote early in her career, "to express a feeling of freedom in all its necessary ramifications—its awe, beauty, magnitude, horror and baseness." 

In the 1970s,Feminism was coming down the next art movement path, but Bontecou didn't embrace it or its politizing schemas. The feminists saw Lee's work as heroic. They saw her crevices and deep spaces as a symbolic form of vaginal imagery, but that wasn't a part of her ideology at all.She did her work independently and has chosen to be true to herself and her own inner timing; so much so that she has preferred to work in relative obscurity for the last couple of decades, developing her craft, and exploring her ideas away from the galleries and museums that would willingly exhibit her work. 

I will say that my first exposure to seeing actual Bontecou prints was when I did an internship at the Art Institute of Chicago. The Prints and Drawing department was putting together a catalogue raisonne from its vast collections of Gemini G.E.L. archives, which included Bontecou's work. I saw firsthand the scale of her lithographs and the depth of her black on black images. Their minimalism was apparent and they spoke to an aesthetic not unlike Mark Rothko's. It wasn't until years later that I saw and was blown away by her mixed media pieces.  Now that I have had time to reflect upon seeing those images again, my gut feelings about her prints are the same, but being more informed, I can see another level of her working process.

Bontecou's menacingly industrial/mechanical constructions have consisted of welded metal frames with recycled canvas and found objects. They appear simple and organic in spite of themselves, and her prints moreso. Her prints are in many respects much simplified compared with the constructions. She tends to work in two veins: one owes homage to the Mattas and Gorkys of the world via a sort of surrealistic internal/cosmic space with waves, orbs and planet-looking objected layered in an infinite depth, while the second aligns itself more toward an Modernist tradition established in the works of Arthur Dove and Georgia O'keefe. While Bontecou's constructions are ambitious and fascinating, her prints radiate flashes of her constructions, but they are also quiet and deeply introspective.

Bontecou's prints deny a lot of the surface that her 3-D work are obsessively concerned with. It appears she's chosen deliberately to deny us the sensual pleasures as found in her 3-D work by working strictly flat. The lithograph's planographic nature will not allow us the same sensory delight.  I will confess that when I first viewed her prints, I didn't care for them. They seemed almost too straightforwardly minimal. But upon closer inspection, I see now the spiritual, transcendental side of them. I see also from her more 'drawn' images how Bontecou is working out the structure of her 'innerscapes', where things fit. 

Bontecou makes clear choices to simplify her drawings and prints. She's decided just how much is necessary for us to see of her cosmic worlds, just as a Chinese painter will isolate a fraction of a panoramic landscape to show us the most beautiful part, Bontecou is showing us the most important parts of her universe. Some of her later works are simply elegant, and for me evoke a oneness with one's essential core. The orbs and symbolic 'O' pieces are like portals to a deep place within ourselves and our souls. The viewer is not made to feel worried or anxious about the depth and richness of her black Os. They are a place for one to dive into willing, to explore what is beyond our sights and find our own inner peace. I am encouraged by Bontecou's spareness in these prints to do what we cannot with her constructions. Those pieces' tactility gets in the way of our ability to really fall into them, move through them. They leave the impression that if we stand too close to them we'll be sucked into a worm hole across the universe. Bontecou's prints let us make the decision to dive into her pieces. We decide, and that is as it should be.

Lee Bontecou was born in Providence, RI in 1931. From 1952-1955 Bontecou went to New York to study at the Art Students League.   She went to Rome on a Fulbright Scholarship between 1957-1958. She commuted between Pennsylvania and New York to teach at Brooklyn College. After fifteen years there she retired in 1991 and moved permanently to Orisbonia, PA. where she has continued to mostly work in seclusion.  After her marriage in 1967 to William Giles, and the birth of her daughter, she restricted herself largely to drawing and printmaking. After decades of self-imposed isolation, she came back into the public’s attention with a 2003 retrospective co-organized by the Hammer Museumin Los Angeles and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago which traveled to the MOMA in 2004. Bontecou's work was also included in the prestigious 2004-2005 Carnegie International exhibit in Pittsburgh.

Commission for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York,1964
National Institute of Arts and Letters – First Prize award, 1966

Public Collections:
TheCleveland MUseum of Art, Cleveland, OH
Brown University, Providence, RI
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
theNational Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Walker Art Center,  Minneapolis, MN
Whitney Museum of American Art, NY

Included in three Whitney Museum annuals
2004, 2010 - Museum of Modern Art retrospectives
1963 - "Americans” - Museum of Modern Art
1961 - "The Art of Assemblage" – Museum of Modern Art
Articles in Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Life 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Manuel Rodriguez, Sr.: Father of Contemporary Philippine Printmaking

Manuel Rodriguez, Sr, a.k.a. Mang Maning,  is a pioneer in the Philippines’ graphic arts movement. He turned 100 last year and continues to make art and spread the word about what has become his true passion – printmaking. Rodriguez said, “I have to fulfill something but I don’t know what, but I think I will just continue, then I will know when it’s time to go.”

Rodriguez was born in Cibu in 1912. His father was an engraver and goldsmith for liturgical vestments and church ornaments. Rodriguez left Cibu in 1935 and moved to Manila to attend the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts, where he was mentored by Philippine artists Toribio Herrera, Fernando and Pablo Amorsolo, Fabian de la Rosa, and Ramon Peralta.
In the 1930s Rodriguez was first introduced to the art of printmaking and in 1948 he spent a lot of his time reproducing his paintings via screen printing methods. Rodriguez began to really experiment with printmaking in the 1950s, making greeting cards of rural Philippine life.

He left the Philippines in the 1960s for New York to pursue a Rockefeller printmaking scholarship at the prestigious Pratt Graphic Center. It was during 1960-62 that Rodriguez worked in the print department of the Museum of Modern Art, after which he repeatedly visited the famed Atelier 17 in Paris, run by British artist and teacher Stanley William Hayter. Here he met with other printmakers Mauricio Lasansky, Gabor Peterdi, and Michael Ponce de Leon and his works developed into an abstract imagery which defined his particular style.
When Rodriguez returned to his native country, he taught and established printmaking departments at UST and PWU, where he brought with him all the knowledge he’d learned from the US; teaching younger artists about printmaking and spreading the word and interest in it so much that it grew to become popular at a time when experts thought printmaking was a ‘dead art’. In 1962, he opened the Contemporary Arts Gallery for graphic artists and sold his students’ work. Printmaking changed the course of his career, and his influence was felt mostly between the 1950s to the 1970s.
Eventually, Rodriguez moved back to the United States in the 1970s and settled in New York. His enthusiasm for printmaking has known no bounds. He continues to teach and give workshops.  He says, “First, I learned what is art and then I learned what is printmaking, so I want in my life to fulfill the purpose, to explain, or to teach, everyone or to start a school where you can learn what is art.” We can only hope the enthusiasm he has felt continues to inspire young artists everywhere…..

Honors and Awards:
Founder of “Interarts” multi-media foundation for the arts
Founder of the Philippine Association of Printmakers
1st Filipino artist and printmaker to represent the Philippines in International biennial exhibitions.
2007 - Presidential Merit Award, for his contribution to the visual arts
1991 - University of the Philippines Alumni Association of New York Achievement Award
1988 - Bruna P. Seril Advancement of Philippine Cultural Award
1979 - Patnubay ng Kalinangan Award
1975 - Lingkod Bayan Award
1967 - National Heritage Award, the Philippines
1963 - Honorary Professorship, University of Florence, Italy

Selected Exhibitions:
1983 - the Museum of Philippine Art, Manila, Ph
1968 - Pacific Culture Museum, Pasadena, CA
1977 - the Milwaukee Public Library, WI
1964 - Sao Paolo Biennale, Brazil  
1965 - Indian Triennale, New Delhi
1965 - Tokyo Biennale, Japan
1968 & ’69 - Yugoslavia Biennale
1981 - Intl Media Studies Foundation, NY
1982 - World Bank, Washington, DC
1962 - Best Graphic Art award, AAP

1939       BFA, University of the Philippines, Manila, Ph.
1940-41 Architecture studies, Mapua University, Ph.
1945-46 Architectural Draughtsman Certificate.
               Central Institute of Technology Foundation, Manila, Ph.  
1960-62 Rockefeller Scholarship – printmaking. Pratt Graphic Center, NY

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pumping the Pulse of the Voters: Political Campaign Prints

Oh yes, the time is at hand, my fellow inked up comrades, to cast a ballot for a person or party, and do as we Americans do every four years  - hope that the Best person gets elected to the highest job in the land. This time it’s been a pretty heavily media-blitzed contest, and the two main candidates are running the race neck and neck. 
What I wanted to share with you today were some of the more interesting examples of political campaign prints through the ages – for the most part consisting of lithographs and screen prints. As you will see they are fairly ‘descriptive’, almost painfully plain(as seen above). No nonsense with those guys. 

I personally like this one above that looks like a political roulette game board, but one can imagine in an earlier era, before the realm of social media, I-pads, computers or television, a campaign poster showing the candidates’ faces might have been the only time voters could have seen them. Now our world is blitzed ad infinitum with television ads and Youtube videos. We see them very clearly, but do we have any better a  sense who these people are athan before? Maybe yes, but probably not

For the most part, I find these posters quite accomplished artistically, and in some cases a downright sign of their times, i.e. the classically handsome face of actor-turned politician Ronald Reagan as seen below. 

The psychedelic poster of Bobby Kennedy was a little humorous but surely, we wouldn't ever have associated the same imagery with his elder brother, Prince JFK, heir of Camelot. 
I’ll let you scroll through a few of these beauties and you will see what I mean. The attention getters start to change with the times, developing complex color, and drama. The red white and blue is always a prerequisite, but that, too, will change.

Granted, the candidates knew and approved of what these printed posters would look like,  but I hardly think Nixon would have approved of his change from the young, and almost handsome, man he started off being as a senate candidate, to the grotesque Andy Warhol-smudge faced ghoul he morphed itno.
Where these posters start to really get interesting is when they branch away from formality into humor and these are a real 'sign of the times'. Notice the colors and casual ensemble of Candidate James Carter from the Great state of Georgia pictured below.
Kudos to the artists that took a stab and jab at humor in these campaign posters. Lord, the candidates are  enormouslyly humorous fodder  for us anyway, so why not show a lighter side to the absurdity of this whole political process? These guys are human, as they claim, and we need to see how they'd fare if they actually understood the satire being shot their way.
At least below we get a little glove action, although I'm thinking Romney's pectorals may not be so 'developed'.

Mercifully, we were spared the nightmare of whether Ms. P would indeed have become leader of the free world (Whew!) but I bet she and Hilary would have given us a good match.:)
Not sure about these two above, but tomorrow will tell our future course for the next four years, so
all I can say is...
we have come a long way since the first President, trying out this new thing called a democracy, and Yes, We Can and will try to keep moving Forward to keep what is precious about this country. This  place, with all its faults and troubles IS something  special, and yes we all can make a difference as long as we vote. VOTE, my inked up friends. Cast your ballots and may the BEST candidate win.