Monday, December 30, 2013

The Poetic Minimalism of Zarina Hashmi

The joy about writing this blog is that once in a while I find some really wonderful artists working out there, and such is the case with Zarina Hashmi. Here is a woman that has been working for quite a while, has traveled the world and one who presents a rarity found in printmaking circles – that of the conceptual mind. Zarina, as she prefers to be addressed, has been working with a spare, minimal image that at first seems very simple, but when looked at more closely, presents a haunting and authentically personal journey. One can sense her displacement and yearning for home, like reading Arshile Gorky’s personal letters about his native Georgia, Zarina describes the memories of her life through the architectural studies of former dwellings and delineated border crossings.
Her memories from within are held in small, square rooms like passages of poetry within the confines of a book’s cover. It is deeply personal work, and she imbues it with references and phrases of Urdu, her mother’s native language. This, all done in minimal tones and lines, carries a gut punch that an overly decorative image more indicative from the cultures she’s visited and lived in would seem tastelessly filled with sugar.
Minimalism and Conceptualism had a clear impact upon Zarina’s work. As pertains to her early interest in architecture, mathematics, geometry an emphasis on structure is evident in her prints. Her work initially seems as analytical and controlled as Ad Rinehardt, and her palette is decidedly minimal (loves black). Zarina’s consistent body of work enjoins her to other noteworthy minimalists – Agnes Martin and Richard Tuttle, but her aesthetic sensibilities are more in tuned with Mark Rothko, Louis Nevelson or moreso, Leslie Dill.
Zarina creates conceptual series describing her nomadic locales and travels. Her art poignantly chronicles her life and recurring themes include home, displacement, borders, journey and memory. For example, her Home is a Foreign Place series consists of 36 prints, each representing a particular memory of ‘home’. Her prints depict the floor plans of the houses and apartments in which she has lived.
Other series involve geographical borders, maps of countries and cities and contested territories. Her travels and global experiences make her an artist of the present generation, although when she was coming up in the 70's this sense of globalization was not the norm. The artist's most recent works are imbued with a meditative spirituality. Zarina directs the viewer’s mind to ideas of nothingness and infinity, the eternal.
Paper is allied with literary tradition, and it is a deeply important choice in the making of her work. She also incorporates her native language, Urdu, [poems and calligraphy] within the image to signify how vital a role it plays in her own heritage and in her artwork. “Prints are like books,” she says. “They have to be in black so you can read them.”
That which rests in our mind is often more powerful than anything we could draw, paint or photograph. Zarina’s images arrest our imagination and let us remember things of our own past. I am excited to think her work could impact the consciousness of younger artists who want to explore their own ‘global’ side. Could we be as poetic, as multi-dimensional in concept, or find as much emotional depth with such a spare line? It’s rare to find a conceptual printmaker. Our medium’s history has been tied so much to literal imagery. Here is a breath of fresh air, my fellow printmakers. Take it in, and savor it.
Zarina Hashmi was born in 1937, in Aligarh, northern India. Her father was a history professor at the local university, and thus she was exposed to a lot of literature and family outings to look at Indian architecture. All of this fueled an interest in architecture which led Zarina to study mathematics in college, hoping to become an engineer, or maybe an architect. In the late 1950s, her family was forced to migrate to Pakistan. She married in 1958 and traveled extensively with her husband, who was a member of the Indian Foreign Service. For 20 years the couple traveled between Europe, Asia, Thailand and India. This gave her a lot of mobility compared with other Indian women of the period.
After receiving her degree, she went on to study printmaking in Thailand and Japan, then went to Paris to study with the famed Stanley William Hayter, at Atelier-17. “And he [Hayter] was a great teacher. He showed me that there are no shortcuts in prints. Like when you solve a problem in mathematics, you can’t jump a step because you’ll get caught.” In 1975 Zarina moved to the United States, settling in Los Angeles and then in New York City, where she currently resides. Zarina threw herself into New York’s feminist community, curated shows and taught art.

Zarina has widely exhibited her work in numerous exhibitions, including the Indian Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale, and been made part of several prestigious public collections US, Europe, Asia and India.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Print master of Manly Maneuvers: Zhang Minjie

China's Zhang Minjie - b.1959, in Tangshan, in the northeastern province of Hebei.
Minjie’s art is impacted by real-life events; the first of which was the 1976 Tangshan earthquake. It completely destroyed his hometown, causing untold tragedy and devastated the region. Minjie himself became trapped in the ruins of his home, but was miraculously saved, and now describes the experience through his work. Haunted by this episode, Minjie turned to painting and later worked on the theater as a stage designer and actor.
Later, he went to study printmaking at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Minjie has gone on to exhibit his work throughout China, Japan, Korea, and the US. His work is well-regarded as one of the more dominant in the field, and his mastery of scale further impresses itself upon the viewer. We feel the overwhelming weight of his stone walls and masses of male-dominated imagery, the breadth of power and expanse of Chinese symbolism tied to physical perfection, working in unison and coordinating massive groups of characters toward one goal.
Minjie’s prints follow his vision, following complexities of M.C. Escher’s twisted perspective prints. His crowds, normally covering the entire composition, create abstract patterns, which at time relate to the incredible intricate and fascinatingly inventive pen and ink drawings of Vincent van Gogh. Maybe because of his visual complexity, Minjie chooses to work in monochromatic-colored relief, often making it appear somber and serious. It’s not about reducing color to achieve structural integrity, it’s more about achieving unity, commonality. The result is a sense of great orchestration, but with no joy, no individuality. Then, after witnessing the opening ceremonies of the Chinese Olympics, one realizes a strength of the Chinese people is their ability to unify into one; the concept of expressing one’s individuality or something unique isn’t always desired, or needed.
Minjie presents compositions of stiffly-moving, rural-dressed people; some performing everyday chores, dancing or moving in sync. His unified masses appear to practice battle formations, but their physical activities seem futile to achieve any meaningful results. Always practicing for a war, but never seeing any action. Frequently stone walls are seen in his works, which seem to represent barriers and futile efforts to conquer large obstacles. Some could say the wall represents the thousands of people who suffered during the building of the Great Wall of China, but it seems more attuned to his own history surviving the collapse of his home upon him during the Tangshan earthquake. Additionally, the monumental scale of his work overwhelms the viewer like a tsunami.
Minjie’s bizarre surreal scenes of crowds following some mystic symbolism are ranked among the most powerful among Chinese modern artists. His access to international artists work in Japan and elsewhere has brought some western influence to his work, but the principles of Chinese hard work ethic and pride come through even moreso. Today, Minjie is the director of the Chinese National Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou. He also is founder of the Masses Art Center in Qinghuangdao. Since his career is in full swing, we can only enjoy what this printmaker will bring to us in the future, and we will look forward to seeing more western exposure for this work.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays from That's Inked Up

Greetings to all on this fine holiday season. I wanted to spread a little cheer throughout the print world with some of the vintage
Christmas cards I've found. Some I think you will find amusing and illuminating. Blessings to everyone and have a safe and happy holiday!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Raymond Verdaguer's Smack-down Prints

Raymond Verdaguer, b.1947 in the French Pyrenees, is of Catalan descent but claims Canadian citizenship. He is a popular printmaker and illustrator, currently living in New York. What struck me about Verdaguer’s prints was their bold, direct statement; even if the image was simply executed. They pack a wallop, and some of them can knock you out of the proverbial park.
I like this work, and respond equally to his black/white and color pieces. They sing with a similar bravado of a Fernand Leger, an 20thc. French artist known for his vibrant Cubist compositions. The smack-you-in-the-face message of Verdaguer’s images is what makes him such a breath of fresh air in a medium often challenged by an audience who are ignorant of the technical hurdles we printmakers face when making an image, or lack patience deciphering subject and content. Verdaguer gets right to it, doesn’t mince words and communicates more directly than anyone I’ve seen for some time.
Since 1976, Verdaguer has made prints which have been published in numerous books, newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times, Harper 's Magazine, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Magazine, Libération, International Herald Tribune, Le Point, Le Monde diplomatique, amongst others . As a book illustrator, Verdaguer works for a number of major publishers in the U.S. and Europe ( Hachette Livre , Random House, Viking Penguin , etc.)
His images utilize strong compositions of shapes and contrasts. He usually deals with social-political-ethical issues. His illustrations show the disillusioned and suffering from an anthropological perspective. He presents to us the man suffering today as the one eternally suffering. Some of the subjects shown here deal with AIDS, mental illness, the human guinea pigs of medical genetic innovations, religion, human torture, fighting ignorance through education and man’s survival in war-ravaged areas. His work is candid and effective, which is the best thing I can say about anyone’s work, and so often cannot.
Verdaguer has shown his work in galleries throughout Canada, Croatia, France and New York City.
More of this printmaker’s highly desirable prints may be found at Start collecting these now, folks.....

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Utagawa Hiroshige: Precursor to Modern Art

While this blog focuses mainly upon contemporary printmakers, I have selected a great master of the East, Utagawa Hiroshige a.k.a. Andō Hiroshige, to address his fine work but to also credit his impact upon the French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, which as we all know has deeply impacted contemporary art. Hiroshige has been widely considered one of the last great masters of the ukiyo-e printmaking tradition. His legacy has been felt far and wide; the subject of his work differing slightly from his colleagues to emphasize landscapes and nature.
Hiroshige was born in Edo (modern day Tokyo) in 1797. He came from a samurai legacy, being the great-grandson of Tanaka Tokuemon, who held a position of power under the Tsugaru clan in the northern province of Mutsu. Hiroshige's grandfather was an archery instructor, and his father was adopted into the family of Andō Jūemon.

Hiroshige changed his name several times early in his life and we find he used the names Jūemon, Tokubē, and Tetsuzō. He had three sisters, one of whom died when he was a child. His mother and father both died when Hiroshige was only 12. He inherited his father’s fire warden duties and he was charged with prevention of fires at Edo Castle, a duty that left him much leisure time to pursue his interest in art.

Hiroshige—then using the name Tokutarō— began painting at the age of fourteen. He went to study at the Utagawa school, and later at the following schools: Kano, Chinese Southern ,Shiho and uki-e.
Hiroshige began his career by apprenticing on book illustrations and single-sheet ukiyo-e prints. In 1823, he resigned his post as fire warden, though still acting as an alternate, and he turned his firefighter position over to his brother, Tetsuzo, who in turn passed the duty over to Hiroshige's son in 1832.
He declined an offer to succeed his master teacher but became a member of the Utagawa school, along with the artists Kunisada and Kuniyoshi. The school was particularly known for their actor and historical prints but Hiroshige’s work was especially noteworthy for his choice of unusual vantage points and striking colors.

As for two of Hiroshige’s students, his daughter, Otatsu, married Chinpei Suzuki, also known as Hiroshige II, and later she married Shigemasa, who is known today as Hiroshige III. Both Hiroshige II and Hiroshige III worked in a style based upon that of Hiroshige, but neither achieved his level of success. Some of Hiroshige’s other students included Utagawa Shigemaru, Utagawa Shigekiyo, and Utagawa Hirokage.
Unlike western artists who produce a single image in editions, Hiroshige produced multiple image in a series. Their delicacy of color and subtlety of line honor the subject and we as viewers feel the season that the artist was portraying. We can smell his springtime blossoms on a tree, feel the gentle summer rains and hear the soft fall of snowflakes. In 1829 Hiroshige began to produce the first of his numerous print series, specializing in landscape, Kacho-e style bird and flowers prints. His series go as follows:
1829-30 The Eight Views of Ōmi
1831 Ten Famous Places in the Eastern Capital
The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kiso Kaidō
1832 The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō
1834 Illustrated Places of Naniwa
1835 Famous Places of Kyoto
1834 Eight Views of Ōmi
1838 Eight Views of the Edo Environs
1848 One Hundred Famous Views of Edo
During Hiroshige’s time, printmaking was popular, and collectors quickly developed large collections, yet despite his popularity, Hiroshige never became wealthy from his work, even though he produced over 8,000 prints! He dominated printmaking with his unique brand of intimate, almost small-scale works. His travel prints generally depict people in all types of weather making their journeys and stops along famous routes.
Hiroshige's work ultimately had a marked influence on French artists such as Monet, van Gogh, Bilibin, Cézanne and Whistler. He was not the eccentric genius of Hokusai, but he wielded an enormous influence upon the western artists’ way of seeing, and helped to change the way western art dealt with composition.
After two marriages and having a family, Hiroshige "retired from the world," in 1856 to become a Buddhist monk. He died two years later during the great Edo cholera epidemic of 1858, although it is unclear as to whether the epidemic was the actual cause of his death. He was buried in a Zen Buddhist temple in Asakusa and before his death, he left this poem:
"I leave my brush in the East
And set forth on my journey.
I shall see the famous places in the Western Land."

To this day Hiroshige remains the most beloved of all Japanese printmakers, but artists from the Impressionists to the Modern period also owe a debt to his influence.