Friday, April 26, 2013

The Artistic Politics of David Alfaro Siqueiros

Okay, my friends, today we are talking about one of Mexico’s heavy-hitters, David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974, born José de Jesús Alfaro Siqueiros).  He was a Mexican painter/printmaker who worked with Diego Rivera and Jose Orozco, as part of the Mexican Muralist movement. Overall, Siqueiros believed art should be public, educational, and ideological. 

During his career, he visited the United sattes, the Soviet Union, and several Latin American countries as a guest lecturer and visiting artist. His prints are stellar examples of mass and volume and expressive abstraction. Their capacity to evoke passion and anger are beyond the world's sometimes limited scope of understanding of printmakers and the work they do. His background as a painter helped keep his original prints from Looking like prints, thus making them unique compared with his colleagues. 

Throughout his career, Siqueiros' art accentuated angles, muscles and joints of the human form in his portrayal of a strong, revolutionary figure. In addition, many works prominently feature hands, which could be interpreted as another symbol of heroic strength through work.
Born in  Chihuahua, but growing up in Guanajuato, many details of Siqueiros’ childhood were confusing, in part because he gave misleading information regarding his life. What is known is that Siqueiros was the second of three children. His father, Cipriano Alfaro, was well-off, and his mother, Teresa Siqueiros, watched after their children: David, his sister, Luz, and his brother "Chucho" (Jesús). When Siqueiros was four years old, his father sent the children to be raised by their paternal grandparents after his mother had died.

The main part of Siqueiros’ life was spent between making his art and his interest in politics. Schooling aside, the opportunity to network with fellow students for political debate and marches and protests was a larger part of his educational experience. While in school, he came across the writings of Dr. Atl, who in 1906 published a manifesto calling for Mexican artists to look toward their ancestral roots to develop a national Mexican art style. This inspired the young artist to become active in politics. At the age of fifteen, Siqueiros was involved in a student strike at the Academy of San Carlos of the National Academy of Fine Arts, which eventually established of an “open-air academy”. Three years later, he and several of his friends from the School of Fine Arts joined Carranza’s Constitutional Army. In 1914, Siqueiros became interested in the army’s “post-revolutionary” infighting.  He traveled throughout Mexico during his military service and saw the difficult conditions of his country’s poor working class.  It instilled in him a lifelong passion to speak for the masses with his art and his political activities.

In 1919, he went to Paris and learned about Cubism, the work of Paul Cezanne and there he met Rivera, with whom he traveled to Italy to study the work of the Renaissance fresco painters. During this period, Siqueiros' artistic and political activities had become conjoined and  by 1921 he wrote a manifesto in Vida Americana, called "A New Direction for the New Generation of American Painters and Sculptors." He called for a "spiritual renewal" to bring back classical painting while infusing "new values" about the “modern machine” and the “contemporary aspects of daily life". Through this style, Siqueiros hoped to create a bridge between a national and universal art.
In 1922, Siqueiros returned to Mexico City work for the government with fellow artists Rivera and José Orozco painting murals in several prominent buildings. In 1923 Siqueiros helped found the Syndicate of Revolutionary Mexican Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, which addressed the problem of widespread public access through its union paper, El Machete, the weekly paper that became the official mouthpiece for the country's Communist Party. 
Siqueiros remained deeply involved in union labor activities, as well as the Mexican Communist Party, until he was jailed and eventually exiled in the early 1930s for his political connections.  Siqueiros produced a series of politically themed lithographs during this period, which were exhibited in the United States. His lithograph Head was shown at the 1930 exhibition “Mexican Artists and Artists of the Mexican School” at The Delphic Studios in New York City.   Siqueiros also worked in Los Angeles, where his murals there told the story of America's forceful relationship with Latin America. Siqueiros’s work was honored at the XXV Venice Biennale in the first ever Mexican exhibition with Orozco, Rivera and Rudolfo Tamayo in 1950, which recognized the international status of Mexican art. 
Siqueiros was involved with the Communist Party who in 1940 unsuccessfully tried to assassinate Leon TrotskyIn 1960, he  was unjustly arrested for openly attacking the President of Mexico and protesting the arrests of striking workers and teachers. While imprisoned Siqueiros continued to paint, and his works continued to sell.

He later settled in Cuernavaca where he lived until his death in 1974.

Most of this man's printmaking efforts were composed of strong figures, and the later colorful works, moved toward abstraction and abstracted brushwork that didn't look like his contemporaries. They are in fact quite curious pieces and call to mind spiritual musing upon his own travails and the seemingly bi-polar nature of his career path. I find the subtlety of his prints color, the massive weight of his self-portraits and the political bent of his action figures a reasonable and persuasive argument for his diverse subjects. In all, they relate closely to his painting style, and the somewhat chopped off compositions which remind me of El Greco's paintings of earthly and heavenly realms simultaneously depicted. There is also an element of Francisco Goya's Disasters of War prints with his butchered figures. Siqueiros butchers the body of Christ, showing his suffering, floating his body between the earth and heaven. 

Some people don't get those weirdly surreal images, but no matter. Siqueiros' work was consistent showing us the suffering of humanity, the suffering of the poor and the suffering of an artist as all artists suffer to bring forth their view of the world. His world wasn't a calm or happy place, but it was real, and it still speaks volumes for present-day Mexico's  suffering masses about the societal and political woes that have befallen that poor abandoned country.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Mezzo-Manic Prints of Carol Wax

Man, oh Man, OH MAN! I mean Really, my inked up comrades, take a Good look! The images you are about to experience are about the BEST there are to see, and the artist (Carol Wax) has been setting the print world on its ears with these masterpieces. High praise you might say, but honestly, when Wax started exhibiting these prints, people's eyes popped, and one could hear the collective swearing of printmakers the world over, saying, "Damn, how does she DO it?" Well, we printmakers know 'how' she does the process, and it's hard and difficult and most would say its a pain in the a--, but it is a process that has historically, and continues to, yield rich, velvety black tones like no other. Technique aside, because I don't need to delve into that, nor will I, Wax's prints are simply dazzling.
Some obvious things that stand out in Wax's work are the cool, slick, gleam of her subjects; their rich detail and crisp lines. Wax would appear to treat them with a loving and reverent care, as an antique collector would for his/her possessions. She repeatedly produces astoundingly wonderful and complex compositions that invite our eyes to meander through them like one would through Cezanne's highly structured paintings or the Ab Ex brushstrokes of Willem DeKooning. They arrest our attention, but what they do next is transport us to another era, another period where the invention of machines and their design was an art. 
"My mezzotints of prosaic objects reflect my experience of the ordinary as extraordinary. By manipulating light, shadows, repetitive patterns, and skewing perspectives, I strive to reveal the anima in the inanimate."
Well, that's an understament if ever there was one. Wax take objects from a by-gone era of what look like the 1930s and 1940s. Some are portrayed frontally like icons of communication. The mechanics of other objects are mostly splayed out  in some state of dis-assembly. The gears and parts are strewen about, perfectly filling the picture plane. Further, Wax balances the light and shadows pouring over the objects in an engaging and tantalising manner. To be honest, the shadows activate the negative space, caressing the subjects. We'd just like to be able to touch them. 
The effect of Wax's works makes one feels like they're in an old black and white film, a noir, or a Garbo flick, or the film My Man Friday. The flash, the substance of those old objects that transport us to another place and time are all the more interesting when one considers that Wax is describing older mechanisms of communication via an even older tool of visual communication - (the mezzotint rocker). 
One wonders if Wax has a particular fascination for this era since she has spent so much time invested in these items, but in truth it doesn't matter. Who cares? These antiques are ageless and in perfect condition. Wax's choice of subject makes a decided departure from what one normally sees of this process, and for that we are grateful. As she once said in an interview, she understood that realistic images weren't necessarily seen as creative or conceptual, yet she boldly stated that there was a lot of printmaking that wasn't  creative anyway. Sadly, this is true.

I do like the way the artist puts a little chaos into a seemingly inanimate object - as in the case below, the typewriter's ribbon has gone haywire and is completely untangled from its spool. She makes the chaos fun. These images are sleek, sexy and invoke out tactile sensibilities. Granted her choice of subject is far from the norm associated with the process, but that is the beauty of printmaking, it's legacy evolves as do we, and investigative printmakers like Wax have helped propel an older method of making inked up images to give them a fresh look. 
And then, just when we think Wax is the mezzo-manic master of black and white imagery, she shocks us with this colorfully refined gem below. Can't you just hear that thing's keys go clack, clack, clack? I don't tire from looking at her work. She has made a clear and decisive impression upon our field, and we can marvel at what she's achieved. Here's to hoping more of our brethren are inspired to achieve something new with our own work after savouring hers.

Carol Wax was born in New York City,1953. She attended the Manhattan School of Music, and earned a Bachelor of Music Degree in 1975 majoring in Flute Performance. She continued as a professional musician until 1980.
In the mid 1970s, she took printmaking courses at the Lake Placid School of Art, and then studied printmaking at the Pratt Graphics Center in New York City.  She looked at the work of Philip Pearlstein and gravitated to the historical process of mezzotint. Beginning in the mid-1980s, Wax  conducted research into historical printmaking techniques while continuing to develop her own work.  She spent several years learning and piecing together the history o her process until in 1990, Harry N. Abrams published The Mezzotint: History and Technique.
Wax has taught printmaking at the Rhode Island School of Design,  the State University of New York at New Paltz and at New Tork University, and Montclair State University
In 2002, Wax moved to upstate New York where she continues to work.
2011 - Head Juror, First International Mezzotint Festival, Ekaterinberg Museum of Fine Arts, Ekaterinberg,  Russia
2009 -  Individual Support Grant, Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation
2004 - Concordia Career Advancement Award
2003 - Artist's Fellowship Grant , New York Foundation for the Arts 
1994 - Louise Nevelson Award for Excellence in Printmaking from the American Academy of Ats and Letters
The MacDowell Colony Residency,  New Hampshire
1996 - designed a system for attaching adjustable weights to the mezzotint rocker, the first improvement to rocker design in over three hundred years.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Museum of American Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, Boston and New York Public Libraries

Contact: 914 788 5329 or

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Master of the Fantasic: Sergey Tyukanov

My world is the world of the metamorphosis and paradox, which are reality for me, and this reality I materialize in my works. I like to be surprised and astonished, I like to surprise and astonish myself. Creativity should inspire and arouse creativeness. I invite you to travel in the world of my fantasies” - Sergey Tyukanov, Kaliningrad.
 Born in 1955, Russia's Sergey Tyukonaov studied art in his homeland and received a Teacher's diploma to teach an artform he obviously loves - Printmaking! He now lives and works in Kaliningrad. The type of work he does is at once whimsical, amusing and fantastic. The details of his invented creatures and people are filled with infinite description and the work delights all that gazes upon it.   
 Tyukanov is one amongst that group of Eastern European printmakers who can't seem to find a tool small enough to work with on their pieces. They are the type that have to wear a jeweler's loop to make and see the intricate detailing of their compositions. A normal person would wring their hands and have a breakdown making this kind of imagery, but Tyukanov and his comrades delight in the challenge. His results are inventive and quirky. 
 His prints beg to be found in the pages of a well-worn and much-read children's book.  The Alice in Wonderland print above is filled with 'dress up' options for changing her head and hair and face. It's  paperdoll cut out wardrobe via our heroine, in one of literature's more wild-ride adventures, inspires young minds to formulate their creative juices. 
 Tyukanov has exhibited his work in several exlibris circles and the references of his work speak of mechanical inventions, playful mouse-trap-like contraptions comprised of a miscellany of hodge-podge items and parts and string and wheels and  a range of goofiness, but all in good fun. I am suddenly reminded of Dr. Suess' Cat in the Hat as the Cat rides the sweeping machine as  the playful play master rides his mechanical toy seahorse steed overland.  
The assortment of musical hats and other animal instruments is good for the soul, but again, one wonders what that cacophony would sound like. (This may require a set of earplugs.:)
 One can see why Tyukanov's work has been exhibited worldwide (although mostly in European circles where we westerners wouldn't normally get the opportunity to see such refined work). We could do with a few more exposures of this man's prints, and be the better for it. Here's to hoping someone gets a hold of Tyukanov and brings him and his work to the US for a tour.....SOON. Contact him at

Permanent  Collections:
Tretyakovs Art Gallery /Moscow, Russia
Victoria and Albert Museum /London, Great Britain
Bristol Museum /Bristol , Great Britain
Riga Museum /Riga , Latvia
Graphic Cabinet of English Engraver's Society /Great Britain
Bewick Museum of Engraving /Great Britain
Frederikshavn Museum of exlibris / Denmark
Frans Masereel Center / Kasterle, Belgium
Museum of exlibris /Moscow , Russia
Malborc Castle Museum /Malbork, Poland
International Institute of Humor and Satire / Gabrovo, Bulgaria
Kaliningrad Art Gallery /Russia
Kaliningrad Regional Museum of History and Art /Russia
Museum of World Ocean /Kaliningrad, Russia
Collection of Municipality of Raisio / Finland
Portland Art Museum / USA
Gilkey Center  for graphic arts / Portland , USA
Solo Exhibitions:
Russia, Finland, Danmark, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, USA, the Netherlands
Group Exhibitions:
Russia, Yugoslavia, USSR, Finland, Norway, Poland, Mexico, Denmark, Latvia, Germany
Bulgaria, Great Britain, Italy, India, France, Japan, Belgium, Switzerland, USA, Spain
Ukraine, Netherlands
Honour Diploma of Triennial of Graphic Art / Riga, Latvia 1987
Special mention of International Competition of Exlibris /Torino, Italy 1989
Prize of 4-Internatinal Biennial of graphic and exlibris /Ostrow Wielkopolski, Poland 1991
1-premium of 2-Biennale of Easel Graphic Art /Kaliningrad, Russia 1992
Premium of Int. Competition, "Cristoforo Colombo 1492-1992 /Genova,Italy,1992
Honour Diploma of 3-Biennale of Easel Graphic /Kaliningrad, Russia 1994
Distinction Medal of 8-International Biennale /Ostrow Wielkopolski, Poland

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Smoke and Fire Disasters of War by Adrian Barron

“I see printmaking as a game of two… between the work and the process. “

A young artist of British/Belizean nationality who describes the horrors of war is Adrian Barron( b. 1965 - ) He was born in Hanover, Germany and travels between Europe, Asia, and Central America making and exhibiting his work. I will focus on two of his series which deal with war and the effects of an invasion.
‘Smoke/Sybils/After John White’s Algonquians’ is a series of prints which project scenes of a dark place full of dread. His images are left in black and white, although some more recent series are branching into some sophisticated colors combinations. Still, the feeling one gets from seeing these Smoke images is tense. A building enveloped in smoke foretells doom; loss of the physical house structure being on fire, and doom for the those affected by the tragedy lying before them. One doesn’t quite know if an enemy has already come and gone from a village of Belizean colonial homes, but it would seem apparent that the people inside are dead or they’ve abandoned their homes in the wake of an impending invasion. The enemy that perpetrated this disaster upon the village is unseen, making the situation uncomfortable because we don’t yet know if they left the area, or whether they will return. In any event, this is a place filled with death and destruction. 
The presence of smoke billowing out of the homes is velvety and seductive, and it makes us hold our breaths so we don’t inhale.  As an series about war, it shows the us the aftermath of a battle, what is left to burn, as the troops push on to their next engagement. The quiet crackling of wood is the only thing one hears. We as viewers want to call out to the homes to see if someone is still there, if there are survivors, but the darkness of Barron’s view informs us that effort would be futile. The smoke disturbs us also in that it is a living presence.  We will move away from this area, but the soot and smell of the smoke has stained our bodies, hair and clothes. It has left its imprint into our skins, and while we could wash that physical residue away, the memories will stay with us a lifetime.

Barron aptly describes the residual effects as the memories of who lived in these houses,  the equation of the home as a repository of our lives  and collection of the family and clan’s soul. It is gone as are the people who once lived here. The loss is palpable….

Barron’s use of Belizean colonial homes are some throwback to his ancestral past, the wages of colonial aggression is world-wide, and Central America saw its fair share where their ancient ruins sit next to urban areas, and the people who currently live there have no memory nor any genetic connections to the past. They migrated there after the destruction of invading European forces in the 1600s. They aren’t from the land so the ruins mean nothing to them. Such is the situation in a hundred countries around the globe where people are slaughtered and towns and regions legacies disappear forever……
I enjoy the mastery of Barron’s craft, and the images are rich and multi-dimensional. His series of faceless people wearing khakis appear to be militaristic groups marching and taking orders. Not being familiar with the artists’ background, I can only imagine he has seen some military service. Those images are equally interesting with his camouflaged tank series  emerging out of billowing smoke and charging down upon the viewer. We see the tank almost the moment it tramples us. Set within a space of those images, the tanks would seem to come from all sides, and one could imagine quite well the chaos servicemen experience if they are in the middle of a battlefield. Black and white generalizes the picture and we aren’t caught up into it completely because we can detach from the scene, but in color, the effects would be even more startlingly chaotic. 
Barron’s website moves toward his more recent work where his garden is the source of natural wonder. The delicacy of those intimate pieces is in sharp contrast to the heavy-hitting nature of his previous work. I can’t say I care for the recent prints, yet they can arrest one’s view when compared with the earlier work. I will watch them as they move out of their embryonic phase.
I confess not to enjoy or like the images of war, but many notable artists – the German Expressionists, Matthew Brady, John Sevigny, Leon Golub, Eugene Delacroix and Theodore Gericault and particularly Francisco Goya each have given the public a lesson about its horrors, some more directly than others. Barron’s works allude to the horror, but he leaves out the gore, warning us effectively that human displacement and their sacrifices aren’t worth a damn.

1965      Born in Hannover, Germany. British/Belizean nationality
1993      The Slade School of Fine Art, London, UK
1990      Norwich School of Art, Norwich, UK

2010         Idlicote Art Prize
2007         Fenton Arts Trust Award
1994         John Purcell prize for Printmaking
1993         British Institute Award, RA
1991         The Noel Spencer Prize

2010         ‘Untitled’, Byam Shaw School of Art Gallery, London, UK
                  '4th Annual Book Fair', Contemporary Art Centre, New York, USA
2009         'Identity', Mott Factory Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
                  'Landings 10', MEIAC, Badajoz, Spain
2009         Beyond the Hortus', E.A.A. Gallery, Tallinn, Estonia
2007        'Symbiosis',  Gallery Wildeshausen, Wildeshausen, Germany
2001         'Cathedral Project', Poustinia Earth Art Park, Belize

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Impressive Leona Pierce....

I don’t know about you, but researching printmakers as I have over the last year and a half, I sometimes come across people that have been little-known about, or maybe only locally to their own circle. It is a shame that one finds good work and realizes their estates may controlled by galleries or relatives that don’t know what to do with their relative’s work after they’ve passed. I don’t mean to suggest either situation is the case with Leona Pierce’s work. In fact, she did enjoy some recognition for her own art during her lifetime, and in collaboration with her artist-husband, Antonio Frasconi, who I recently reviewed here at That’s Inked Up. Still, I am discouraged when, I see good work, and there is little written about the artist. In this case, Pierce being a woman, and I am not getting on a band wagon about under-recognized women arists, BUT there has been a pre-ponderance for women artists to be given the slight. I hope this article will give her a little more recognition and that people will seek out her work.

Leona Pierce (1921-2002), was a painter, printmaker, textile artist, and teacher. She was born in Santa Barbara, California and later she moved to New York City. Her goal was to study at the Art Students’ League, which she did,  and later she pursued her studies at the New School.  Pierce studied with famed artists Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Stuart Davis. Some of her work reflects their sense of line and color.

While studying at the Art Student’s League, Pierce met artist Antonio Frasconi. They  married in 1951 and began a family. Soon after the birth of their second son, the couple settled in Norwalk, Connecticut where they remained until their deaths in 2002 (Leona) and 2013 (Frasconi), respectively. The Frasconis liked the quiet of Connecticut and  found it a good place to raise their two sons, Pablo and Miguel.  Pierce and Frasconi each continued to pursue their own art and teaching careers, amassing excellent credentials and publishing and illustrating children’s books. 

Pierce became established as an artist and developed an exhibition history with her woodcuts and hand printed textiles. She is probably best known for her bright and colorful woodcuts of children at play. The sense of child-like wonder and funky angles in her prints resemble the work of New York artist/printmaker Irving Amen. Her colors were lively and carefully balanced. I enjoy her lines and playfulness of the children as they play marbles or hide and seek.

Impressively, Pierce’s work is represented in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, New York Public Library, Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Side note* Pierce’s and Frasconi’s sons have both continued in the arts; Pablo is an award-winning independent filmmaker who resides in Santa Barabara, CA, and Miguel is an experimental electronic musician. Surely their parents instilled in them an artistic spark from which they’ve continued to explore their own creativity.