Thursday, October 22, 2015

Prints from the Normal Editions Workshop

"If We can't Print it, You Don't Need it Done!". If you recognize that motto, then you know which of N.E.W.'s printmaking brat packs were hanging around in the printshop ambitiously learning how to make some amazing works of art. That was the motto emblazoned upon the dark red and white t-shirts of the elite group of students and faculty who worked at Normal Editions Workshop, at Illinois State University, from the mid to late 1980s. We proudly wore our shirts to printmaking conferences and workshops, and we followed our mentors James D. Butler, Harold Boyd, Ray George and Richard Finch happily like mice after a pied piper.

The mission: work with any and all visiting artists coming to ISU, get them to make a print, and learn from watching the Master R.D. Finch roll up a transparent yellow like no one else in the whole printmaking universe. The atmosphere working at N.E.W. was serious, electric and collegial. It was more than that. It was a printmaking inked up fingers group of people that loved the smell of ink and loved hearing the snap of the roller coming off the litho plate. We grained stones, prepped plates, went to the shop at all hours, including weekends, to complete an edition within the prescribed deadline. We shared our lives, our artistic aspirations and managed to make some mighty fine prints which helped to sustain the print shop operations, and earn some kudos from the university's administration.
The program, one of the pioneers in the country, quickly established itself as a major destination to go study printmaking and gain some practical training with which to take under one's arm as we moved out into the world of art-making. Good lessons were learned about patience, perseverance, and all with a healthy dose of experimentation thrown in for good measure. Some of the artists coming through the N.E.W. shop when I was there were Sidney Goodman, Roseanne Retz, Wayne Kimball, Stewart Hitch, Dike Blair, Claire Seidl, and editions by the ISU art faculty James D. Butler, Richard Finch, Harold Gregor and Ray George.
When Richard finch retied a couple of years ago, the N.E.W. helm was passed over to the capable hands of Veda Rives. She, and her print guru faculty and the ever-ambitious printmaking students at ISU are continuing the tradition, and are bringing in visiting artists with a 'taking no prisoners' attitude.

Another thing that helps sustain the N.E.W. printshop activities are its travelling shows, like the one currently showing at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL. Forty-two original prints are located in the 2nd floor Atrium Gallery in Kindlon Hall through December 19. It is well worth the trip, so get your pilgrimage print hats on and come take a look at these beauties.
I don't know about you, but I am liking the idea of a printshop that has the courage to try several different media and styles, brings in a wide variety of artists so students get some real world experience working with ideas and personalities. N.E.W. is one of the best in the country, and if you were a printmaking student wanting to get a good dose of the print world, you would get a great experience coming to Normal, Illinois. (Really, no one really admits going to school in Normal. It just takes too to explain, so we say Bloomington, or just say its in McLean County.)
I credit the experience at N.E.W. as having honed my printmaking chops and it helped me pursue my career goals as a teacher and curator. Thanks are an inadequate expression for all the experience has done for me, and the print students coming out of this program.
The team at N.E.W. is a cut above, and in a couple of years, the school will have a new art facility, and hopefully an expanded N.E.W. printshop as well. Here's to all the great people at N.E.W. If you are interested on bringing one of their travelling print exhibitions to your venue, contact Veda Rives at

So remember, "If We can't Print it, You Don't Need it Done!"

Friday, October 16, 2015

Jiri Anderle: The Czech Printmaker of Beautiful Evil

Jiří Anderle (b. 1936) is a Czech artist, originally from Pavlíkov, Rakovnicko. Anderle faced oppression in the making of his work, and he fought through the era of the Iron Curtain to produce a large body of prints, paintings and drawings which has received international acclaim. Fortunate for us, his work has been exhibited globally and is included in numerous museum collections.

Anderle’s evidently looked at the Old Masters, borrowing a thing or two from the excellent, detailed still lives and seductive portraits of Caravaggio. He has utilized his great drawing skills to portray portraits of young Renaissance-period women, youthful clad in elegant gowns and hair plaited with ribbons and pearls.They exude an aura of innocence and purity. Yet, there lies and undercurrent of something beyond their facade. No maiden could be so untouched, could she?

He contrasts these women with his later, more abstracted style of portraiture which is clearly influenced by Dubuffet, Klee and Bacon. Their facial and figural surfaces are butchered, nearly extinguished, yet their emotional/physical impact leaves the viewer with the feeling they have truly seen someone evil. One is reminded of the sickeningly ugly faces of Nolde and the German Expressionists who tore away the mask of civility to reveal Mankind’s truer nature. Anderle gives us a hint of that, and scrapes away the flesh of his subjects to reveal a complex interior system of hoses and pipes and chaos. We don't see the figures for the chaos of what's pouring out from their interiors.
The family portrait above looks a lot like the work of fellow printmaker Mauricio Lasansky. The faces are detail but everything else is left undone. He gives us what we need to see. Nothing more.

Throughout his work the drawn line is revered, and the polar contrasts of good and evil are presented in classically drawn faces imposed upon composed surfaces of emptiness. The portraits are virtually complete, yet he lets the faces evolve and change in a serial sort of passage of time. In contrast to the elegance of his drawn line, the edges of Anderle’s images appear to be eaten away, eroded and corroded. They break us from whatever narrative he tried to imbue upon the image, and tear us away back to the surface’s edge. They stop us from delving into the composition and make us explore the irregular edge of things, the breakup of the world. These images are indicative of the state of Man, our want to see beautiful things, but in the end they show the reality of our society’s unending need to destroy everything.

The more abstract images are harder to look at, morbid, in fact, but look we must. For they tell us about our own truer destructive nature, and foretell our own demise. Anderle’s work is not bleak or somber. It is sometimes dually ugly and inviting. Whatever Anderle chooses to depict, he invites us to look. We can’t help ourselves. It’s like trying to eat just one of your favorite mom's freshly baked chocolate chip cookies that she just took out of the oven. You can’t eat just one. You have to have more and more until you are sick to your stomach. Not trying to equate Anderle’s work with food per se, but it does compel us to look at it, ingest it, savor it, and then spit it back out. His beautifully evil work can be addictive. It should be. Take a look for yourselves, my inked up friends. Anderle makes certain there is enough for everyone's taste.

Jiri Anderle lives and works in Prague, the Czech Republic.

1955-1961 – studied at the School of Applied Arts and the Academy of Fine Arts, in Prague.
1961-1969 - member of the Black Theatre of Prague.
1964 - Marries Milada, a fellow member of the Black Theatre company.
1968 – USA exhibition debut, works with Jacques and Anne Baruch Gallery, Chicago.
1981– awarded Grand Prix at International Biennial of Prints, Ljubljana.
1982 - exhibited at the Biennale di Venezia. Print retrospective at the National museum, Stockholm.
1995 - Retrospective at the National Gallery, Prague.
2008 - Largest USA retrospective of Anderle's prints at Cincinnati Art Museum.
2006 - awarded the Medal of Merit III.

100 - solo exhibitions throughout the world

Selected Public Collections:
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, UC, Berkeley, California, USA
Bibliotheque nationale de France, Paris, France
California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California, USA
Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
Czech Museum of Fine Arts, Prague, Czech Republic
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan, USA
Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Turin, Italy
The Jewish Museum, New York, New York, USA
Library of Congress, Washington, DC, USA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, USA
Musee d’Art Moderne, Brussels, Belgium
Musee des Beaux-Arts, Liege, Belgium
Musee National d’Histoire et d’Art, Luxembourg
Museum of Contemporary Art, Skopje, Macedonia
Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, USA
Narodni galerie v Praze (The National Gallery in Prague), Czech Republic
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA
Nationalgalerie, Berlin, Germany
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden
Slovenska narodna galeria (Slovak National Gallery), Bratislava, Slovakia
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy
USC Fisher Museum of Art, USC, Los Angeles, California, USA
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England
World Print Council, San Francisco, California, USA

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Albin Brunovsky: Slovakia's Surrealist Printmaker

Here's a curious image. No, wait, here's another one.

And another....
What the heck is this printmaker up to? Most everyone feels the same after seeing the work of Albin Brunovsky, one of Slovakia's most celebrated printmakers. His work combines a lot of information in minute detail, obsessively so, and he opens up our eyes to a unseen world within our universe. The complexity of his figures, mostly female. show his love of the feminine physique. Curvy, bouyant, yet serene.

Brunovsky creates a universe of oddly-shaped and obviously heavily-laden 'stuff' (for lack of a better phrase) on top of women's heads. They carefully carry their burdens upon their delicate necks as they effortlessly move about the composition, smiling at us as they walk by.
One can see his interest in the quirks of Northern Renaissance illuminations and paintings of Peter Bruegel. His play on perspective and scale is amusing and his elaborately developed composition details and interaction of characters borders on the erotic and just plain kooky.

Albín Brunovský has been widely considered one of the greatest Slovak painters of the 20th century. Born in 1935, in Zohor, Czechoslovakia, he studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bratislava. The school was well known for its high degree of artistic and technical instruction in the graphic arts. Brunovský became a lecturer, and then a professor of art at that same school from 1966 to 1990. He later went on to establish his own engraving school.
Brunovský's work often followed suit with the ideas of Modern Art, and his illustrations were often used in children's books; many of which were done in watercolor. Brunovský was also the designer of the last series of Czechoslovak banknotes before the split between the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

His artwork was certainly influenced by poetry and literature. He explored the ideas expressed in surrealism—and the subconscious. with wild landscapes and seascapes, bare-breasted women and odd little creatures floating in the air. Brunovsky lets us dream of other places and other worlds . His linear qualities were magnificent, and his sensibility for the fantastic enduring.
Brunovsky influenced many artists and hopefully those of us who have not see this work before will re-examine and take inspiration from his work.

Friday, October 2, 2015

"Erica Walker: Printmaking about Fear and Ego"

The prints of Ericka Walker are like no other artist's work I have seen in recent memory. Her work brings together disparate elements, like animals and machines to align different periods of time and the perceptions upon which we base our current identity as Americans. As one print collector told me once after seeing her work..."there's a whole lotta 'something mighty cool' going on on that work". And he was right.

Walker unites iconic patriotic imagery from earlier eras and war efforts in a strangely unique method. We aren't used to seeing machine guns strapped to the side of a bull. We aren't used to seeing missile rockets strapped to the top of a combine machine. Those images of country and the farming community's right to protect their land and crops while in the production of their profession are just as noble and patriotically inspiring as the US War Department's propaganda poster machine to incite and unite the US population to join the battle cry, to defend our freedoms as Americans.

This work is compelling and fresh. It makes us curious as to how Walker comes up with these ideas, and why she challenges the public to re-examine the farming profession as a well-equipped military, with rights to defend themselves and protect the land we call home. Her use of text, lifted from an earlier era of war posters, links us directly to the world war efforts of the 20th century when raising the fear factor of a foreign enemy was commonplace, and we see that the world hasn't changed all that much. We still are in a conflict somewhere, or the potential is still there, anyway.

Walker wants us to recognize the hard work efforts taking place at home. The country's phobia about defending one's borders and the need for our country to defend itself from outside invaders is interestingly neutralized when we see a vine of robust tomatoes growing up and overtaking the barrel of a cannon. There is humor and a whole lotta tongue and cheek going on here. I, for one, am loving it.
So what is Walker doing? Well it seems she understands the plight and hard work efforts of the American farmers. She knows they feed a good portion of the world, and we do need to recognize their labors just as much as any factory workers who would have made airplanes or ammunitions during a war.

These prints are slick and classy. They make us puff up our chest, our ego and proudly proclaim we are American. There are many printmakers who make images about social causes, and injustice. I do not see many printmakers today who inspire and instill a sense of pride through their work as Walker does. No offense, my inked up comrades. It's just that Walker has been able to bring together two sensibilities; one of the old patriotism we Americans felt during the world wars as we fought the 'bad guys' overseas, with a clean 60s Modern look of sleek machinery.
Then she throws in a little classic baroque sculpture of a Saint Theresa with a machine gun. Just inspired.

Walker's work has been seen globally and the invitations on her resume grow by the minute. She is an original artist, and we will do well to watch her as she continues to carry on her work in the medium we love. To read her accomplishments is a long read, indeed. Suffice to say, it is an impressive sent of credentials. I am listing a few of the public collections who are fortunate to claim an Ericka Walker print as being a part of their collection.

2010 University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Knoxville, TN, USA
2005 University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA

The Harrison McCain Foundation, Florenceville-Bristol, NB, Canada
Collection of the US Embassy, Reykjavik, Iceland
Southern Graphics Council Int’l Print Archive, Oxford, MS, USA
The Leifur Elríksson Foundation, Richmond, VA, USA
The Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO, USA
Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute, Jingdezhen, China
Art collection of Mount Saint Vincent U., Halifax, NS, Canada
The Print Study Room, the U. of Alberta-Edmonton, AB, Canada
Special Collections Dept. & Rare Books Room, the U. of Colorado-Boulder, CO, USA
The Paul and Lulu Hilliard Art Museum, the U. of Louisiana-Lafayette, LA, USA
Collection of Icelandic Printmakers’ Association, Reykjavik, Iceland
Museum of Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX, USA
Art collection of Nicholls State U., Thibodaux, LA, USA
Art collection of The U. of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, WI, USA
Art collection of the U. of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND, USA
Purdue Print Archive, West Lafayette, IN, USA //