Friday, June 14, 2013

John Abell Explores Gallows Humor on Love and Life

British artist John Abell is making a splash with his large scale relief prints.These mega-inked up babies  bring with them a microcosm of art historical references which allows the viewer to move through late 19th c. early 20th c image-making. Abell's interest to make the image a life-sized scale is not  a purposeful decision as much as it is opportunity.  You see, he uses available materials. The scale of the piece is the scale of the matrix. Plain and simple. The guy doesn't believe in wasting useful printing surfaces. Gotta love him for that. (Face it, most printmakers are a resourceful lot, and we've all re-used matrixes before.)
Abell maximizes his whole picture plane, and one finds fractured scenes with main characters and subplots, as one would find in a novel. His descriptions of love and sacrifice, of losing on'e head(quite literally cut off) from one's body is a little ghoulish, but meant in good humor. We all lose our heads when we're in love, or in fascination. As figures pine away for their beloveds, or stare at us complacently with their limbs detached and lying about, one ponders the sense of emotional or real pain one suffers in the course of a day or a life. 

The physical carvings or wounds upon  Abells' matrix  compliment the subject well. His references to the works of German Expressionist printmakers is clear, but he fills up the pictures with lots of flowing rivers - of blood, perhaps, for the work is in black and white, and if presented in color, might seem overpowering or repulsive. The animated quality the work retains lets us look endlessly through the compositions and want to touch their printed paper surfaces

Complicated passages of people passing through time, lost love, childbirth and impending death weave seamlessly together. We are curious where these subjects come from, but there is a whole history of cartoonish gallows humor. These are less cartoon-like, but harken back to more medieval times, where a 'how to be a good christian' prophesy and faith were more intertwined in one's daily existence. They are refreshingly simple, yet complex, and encourage us to break with printmaker's traditional scale to produce images we feel we can walk into.Bravo!

Abell pictured below printing an image in his apartment.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Julia Goos Pence's Prints of a Re-consructed History

Julia Goos Pence is an artist who lives and works in Oregon. She one of the artists participating in Monoprint 2013  at University of Stevens Point (May 31-June 6). I support of this project, I am reviewing some of the artists in this year's event.

After spending time with her work,, one perceives her search for history; for ancient structures, cultures and places where people have come to a place to settle, put down roots, only to be displaced or abandon their homes. There isn't a sense of destruction in the sense  that Adrian Barron's work portrays where homes are being burned down. Pence gives us diagrammatic structures that seem to be projections or layouts of what will be a settlement. Her drawing sensibility is securely set in linear perspective.  But then she throws in a hearth fireplace without the home, a symbol of the core of the family activities. Pencil thin sticks make up fragile fort-like structures, or a clustering of trees as some form of natural defense against the danger of the wilds. Still other prints reveal what appear to be temple-like structures found in ancient Greece or Stonehenge.
In this series, Pence's colors are muted and faded, like memories of places one's seen but they're not tangible enough to hold long in our consciousness. There are soft flat bands of color that permeate the linear space and they create small barriers to navigate the compositions. Their seemingly random placements aren't, for they build patterns often seen in quilt-making. Again, the suggestion of a home-making activity reserved historically for women, but veiled under these circumstances. 
More contemporarily, some of Pence's imagery relates to the other-worldliness of Mies van der Rohe's early skyscraper diagrams from the 1920s, but her spatial depth and emptiness is more keenly attuned with the mammoth drawings of Anselm Kiefer and the shipyard prints of Robert Stackhouse. Her subtle reference to feminist artist Joyce Kozloff may not be conscious, but  it is implied.
This curious blend of seeking out one's destiny and planting roots in a vast emptiness, coupled with the intent to provide safety and secutiy through the patchwork quilt designs, shows Pence's an understanding of the nature of man - to settle down, have a family, survive the elements. It's a story ingrained in every culture since the dawn of mankind. Her work ably continues that legacy.