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UP IN ARMS: AN EVOLUTION

Introduction

When I ran into a roadblock four years ago with my series of paintings and wood engravings devoted to hands–I couldn’t get permission to photograph hand surgeons operating on hands–I literally broadened my interests to encompass arms. Thinking ironically about imagery from the good old U.S.S.R. and its propaganda of heroic posters of working men and women holding up hammers and sickles, I wondered what do Americans value so highly that they would hoist it proudly in the air. As in the hands series, I wouldn’t paint faces.  I would only paint the arms and the objects being held aloft.  I was interested in the connection between the individual and the object.  I would ask a farmers’ market vendor to hold up produce; a parent an infant, a musician an instrument, a mechanic a tool, etc. And not being too shy of puns, I titled the new series: UP IN ARMS.

This essay is not just a listing of the series that now numbers 65 paintings, but I’ll relate how my understanding of the series changed over time and how that understanding affected how I would exhibit the paintings. (For a nearly complete listing of the UP IN ARMS series, please see my portfolio: http://www.scottponemone.com/portfolio/up-in-arms-2/)

First exhibition

Naturally I started with little dogs.  As an owner of an 78-pound airedale, I’ve always found little dogs and their owners amusing.  What is that squirrel-size thing at the end of a leash?  Anyway, picking on little-dog owners walking in the neighborhood with their pet was a way for me to build the gumption to ask strangers to pose for my camera.  The experience was heartening.  About half of those folks I asked agreed to hold their little pup above their head. I always presented my models with my business card, saying contact me if you want a photos of yourself modelling for me. No one has ever emailed me afterwords.

(left to right) Pet Lift D, watercolor, 30 July 2013, image 23 1/2″  x 13 1/2″; Pet Lift B, watercolor, 19 July 2013, image 26 1/2″ x 17 1/2″; Pet Lift C, watercolor, 24 July 2013, image 24 1/2″ x 13 1/2″

Above are three of the first four UP IN ARMS paintings.  Each was painted on a sheet of Arches cold press watercolor paper measuring about 35″ x 25″.  The cat painting–of me holding up Oscar–if nothing else demonstrates that cats don’t like being taken out of their comfort zone while dogs just might enjoy the view.

RAISING CORN, watercolor, 7 August 2013, image 25 3/8″ x 15 1/2″; MEAT:LAMB, watercolor, 4 Sept. 2013, 22 3/4″ x 17 3/4″

With my confidence raised by pet owners, my next source of models was found at the local farmers’ market.  I approached a corn seller with the age-old question: How many ears of corn can you hold above your head at one time?  There was no hesitation to find out.

Then came chard, watermelon and eggplant.  My first foray into livestock came when I asked a friend who’s a commercial photographer and happens to raise sheep on his Harford County farm if I could visit him during lambing season.

KW-Caught II (Tuna), watercolor, 21 Oct. 2013, image 21 1/2″ x 23 1/4″; KW-Caught I (Barracuda), watercolor, 16 Oct. 2013, 17″ x 28″

I used images of these early UP IN ARMS paintings in applying for a residency at The Studios of Key West.  I said I would go down to the charter boat dock and ask tourists/fishermen to hold up their prized catch. The Studios of Key West took the bait. And as you can see from the images above, so did the fishermen.

KW-Fake I (Paper maché toucans), watercolor, 12 Oct. 2013, image 27″ x 17 1/4″; KW-Feathers I, watercolor, 25 Oct. 2013, 21″ x 22 3/4″

But the best part of Key West is not the tourists, but the locals.  If you think Baltimore can breed some oddball types, imagine what tropical heat can do to the brain.  The paper machè toucans were sitting in one of several huge wire cages outside a house not far from the residency.  I biked passed several days before I came across an elderly husband and wife were doing yard work there.  I asked the gentleman where are your birds.  He said neighbors complained about the noise they made; so they’re now inside. The fake toucans were the only outdoor cage occupants. Upon request, the wife modeled them for me.  The real macaws lived at Nancy’s Secret Garden.  A small sign by the sidewalk of a rather ramshackle wood-frame Victorian house led you to a gate and buzzer beside the house.  Nancy with her long grey hair in a ponytail and her black t-shirt with human skulls soon answered. She led me to her backyard populated with large wire cages.  While she normally charges to bring out her macaws, as a fellow artiste she modeled them for me gratis.

Python Fore, watercolor, 5 Aug. 2016, image 21 1/2 x 44 1/2′; Python Aft, watercolor, 5 Aug. 2016, image 25 1/2″ x 44 1/2″

And then there was the zoo underneath the Monroe County Detention Center.  One Sunday a month there was an open house.  Jeanne, the woman who ran the place, had a year-old sloth draped around her neck.  The rest of the zookeepers wore jail-issued orange jumpsuits.  After they held up an African tortoise, rabbits, the sloth, a kinkajou, and a large lizard, I asked: What about the albino python curled up in its cage?  Did they ever take it out?  Yes, I was told, to feed it.  So the next Wednesday I returned (they wouldn’t take it out during the open house with swallow-size children running about), and the python was held aloft by Jeanne and three inmates.

Note that the date on those two paintings is nearly three years later than the other Key West paintings.  The logistics of this image were daunting.  Do I paint the snake as an albino and struggle with making it jump out from the white paper? Do I paint four separate paintings, one for each holder?  I finally decided to 1) yes, keep it albino and 2) paint it on two pieces of paper–each 35″ x 52″–cut from a 10-foot roll of paper.  I kept the scale the same so that, should I decide to, I could cut the right margin off the Fore painting so that the two images would fit together. (See the photoshopped image that leads this post.) However, I don’t intend to.

The Key West residency did lead to my first exhibition of UP IN ARMS paintings. And it was a disaster.  At a carnival there I met a potter of playful ceramics. He offered to exhibit my works in his showroom in early 2014.  I agreed to frame four paintings and send four others with just a foamboard backing.  Well the frames got damaged in shipping. So I had to have a Key West framer repair them. Nothing sold. Then I had all eight shipped back without frames.

SEcond Exhibition

By the time of the second UP IN ARMS exhibition in November 2015, I had 48 paintings to choose from.  I had added six paintings of naked infants held by  a parent, four of critters both domestic and wild, three of food both baked and raw, two of music, five of plastic, one of a tire, one of a chain saw and one of a CPR dummy.

One way I could exhibit them would be in single file, marching around a gallery with no sense of order, just one image after another, independent of each other yet somehow in conversation with adjacent paintings.  Then I conceived of the notion of Triplets, groups of three that are arbitrarily arranged as if appearing randomly at a slot machine window.  This is what I wrote in an artist statement for an exhibition competition in 2015:

I believe the paintings can be quite powerful individually. Yet I always suspected that a dialog would occur between paintings once they are presented formally in a gallery. But not until recently did I realize how magical groupings of UP IN ARMS paintings would be. And groups of threes–Triplets–seem to work best. The selection and order within the groups are very interchangeable, and each variation instantly creates a new dynamic, a different energy, a change in tension.

My first chance to display UP IN ARMS paintings in Triplets came at Jordan Faye Contemporary in Baltimore in November 2015.

Jordan Faye Block, director of Jordan Faye Contemporary in Baltimore, ponders Triplets of UP IN ARM paintings before mounting them on the wall.

(left Triplet) ABoy, watercolor, 10 Sept. 2014, image 27 1/2″ x 16″; MEAT:PORK, watercolor, 16 Sept. 2013, image 20 1/4″ x 19 1/2″; HBoyButt, watercolor, 25 Sept. 2014, image 28″ x 16 1/2″. (Right Triplet) TOOLBOX, watercolor, 23 July 2015, image 29 1/2″ x 20 1/4″; ONE FOR THE ROAD, watercolor, 30 Dec. 2014, image 26 1/2″ x 16″; RAISING EGGPLANT, watercolor, 28 Aug. 2013, image 24″ x 15 7/8″

As you can see, none of the paintings in this gallery space were framed.  (Unfortunately these Triplets were only hung for the opening. The space was later used for a holiday bazaar.) I presented most of the paintings in this exhibition unframed to maximize the interaction between the images of each Triplets.

KW-Caught III, watercolor, 20 Feb. 2014, image 29 1/4″ x 9 7/8″; BBoyButt, watercolor, 3 Oct. 2014, image 25 3/5″ x 21 1/2″; Horn, watercolor, 29 Nov. 2014, image 27″ x 18 3/8″

Above is a Triplet with frames, while below are two Triplets unframed in the same gallery.

(Left Triplet) KW-Fake I, watercolor, 12 Oct. 2013, image 27″ x 17 1/4″; MEAT:GOAT, watercolor, 16 April 2015, image 28″ x 16 1/4″; LOAVES, watercolor, 15 July 2015, image 25 1/4″ x 20 1/4″. (Right Triplet) RAISING HEADS, watercolor, 22 May 2014, image 28″ x 19 3/8″; SAW, watercolor, 17 Sept. 2015, image 30 3/8″ x 15 1/4″; WARTY GOURDS, watercolor, 2 April 2015, image 28 1/4″ x 15 3/4″

While I’m thankful that Jordan Faye Contemporary gave me this exhibition, I was disappointed that most of my show was presented in a rather small, disjointed  space that both limited the number of Triplets on display and didn’t provide optimal viewing distances to see individual triplets as well as to see the variations in the Triplets.

THIRD EXHIBITION

In 2016 I started to create groupings of related objects.  In reaction to the uprising in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Grey, I tried to get images of objects related to police and gun violence.  Going through formal channels at the city Police Department went nowhere not surprisingly.  Going to the downtown shop that provided tools of the trade to law enforcement officers also was a waste of time. Ditto at gun shops. I even went to an outdoor target range in Baltimore County.  The good old boys who ran the place were immediately suspicious of my request for folks to model their weapons. They offered to bring up my request at the club’s board meeting, but I knew not to expect a positive result.

FF CPR, watercolor, 11 Sept. 2015, image 29″ x 16 1/4″

So until I figured out how to approach weapons use in Baltimore, I turned to the fire department. I already had a related image painted, thanks to the 2015 Maryland State Fair, where firefighters had a CPR dummy on display.  Unlike the Police Department, the Baltimore Fire Department was quite welcoming. One of the huge garage doors was open at the Lombard Street station when I approached in August 2016.  No one was about when walked in. The fire trucks stood ready. By each door were uniforms with boots attached, positioned so that firefighters could quickly outfit themselves.  Finally I came upon a control room. I explained to the woman on duty there why I was there.  She summoned a young firefighter, who was white, to be my model, and he gamely first held up the giant pneumatic wrench called “The Jaws of Life,” then a pair of axes, an oxygen tank with its harness and finally a helmet.  I returned a few days later with printouts of some of the resulting photos, but my first model wasn’t there.  I asked the pair of black firefighters I met on my second visit to hold up a coil of hose, but they declined, offering instead to summon a muscle-bound firefighter whom they called The Hulk.  And The Hulk dutifully arrived by sliding down a brass pole.  He effortlessly hoisted a coil of hose.  Once again firefighters helped me out. I only wished The Hulk was black so I could represent the racial diversity of the Fire Department.

(from the right) FF HELMET, watercolor, 10 Nov. 2016, image 26 3/4″ x 18 1/2″; FF TANK, watercolor, 29 Nov. 2016, image 26 1/4″ x 15 1/2″; FF CPR; FF HOSE, watercolor, 31 Oct. 2016, image 23″ x 20 1/2″; FF JAWS, watercolor, 30 Sept. 2016, image 24 1/2″ x 21 1/2″

While I was painting the firefighters suite, which I was later to call LIFESAVERS, someone told me about Continental Arms, an indoor pistol range in Timonium, just north of Baltimore.  There I watched guys fire their weapons at paper targets.  What do they do with the used targets, I asked the woman in charge.  Often they throw them away, I was told.  She offered to collect some over the weekend.  Good to her word, the following Tuesday I picked up about a dozen bullet-ridden targets, most with a black torso and head, a few in magenta.  Now I needed models.  The paper targets–each about 35″  by 22″–were too flimsy to hold up. So I glued a black target to one side of a piece of foamboard and a magenta target to the other.  Then I took the board to the park around the Washington Monument in the Mount Vernon neighborhood in Baltimore.  I asked various folks to hold up the target for me to photograph.  I told each willing person that you could choose to hold up the black side or the magenta side and that you could hold the target right-side up, upside down or on its side. I found willing models black and white, male and female. This was a new approach for me. Instead of having models hold up an object closely associated with them–most notably a parent and a child–I sought out models based on demographics.

As I was drawing the first Target image, it dawned on me not to paint the bullet holes.  Doing so would be a pain. Since I don’t paint white, it would mean painting around each hole in order to leave the hole white.  Why not, I asked myself, use my Target paintings for target practice.

 

As you can see, my request was wholeheartedly accepted at the Timonium pistol range. All that I asked of Lucito “Lou” Lara, the range master, was to fire within the painted image of the targets.

After he shot it, Lou Lara holds up TARGET B.

Above is a closeup of Target B.  Now how could painted bullet holes compare to these? Soon all of the Target paintings were violated with pistol holes.

By the end of February 2017 I had seven Target paintings, five with black targets like Target B and two with the colors reversed. I decided against painting magenta targets.  There was no metaphoric import to that hue.  Instead when models chose to pose with the magenta target, I painted the target tan and the background black (or reverse of the black target paintings).  This way I could present paintings where the targets could represent the skin color of victims of gun violence, while the skin color of the models could represent either the victims or the shooters.

(Left to right) TARGET A, watercolor, 5 Jan. 2017, image 33 1/2″ x 16 1/2″; TARGET D, watercolor, 2 Feb. 2017, image 30″ x 23 1/2″; TARGET G, watercolor, 23 Feb. 2017, 34 1/8″ x 17 1/4″; TARGET B, watercolor, 12 Jan. 2017, image 35 1/4″ x 18″; TARGET E, watercolor, 9 Feb. 2017, image 26″ x 16 1/4″; TARGET C, watercolor, 20 Jan. 2017, image 35″ x 15 1/4″; TARGET F, watercolor, 15 Feb. 2017, image 34″ x 16 1/2″

OK, now I had what I hope would be seen as a thought-provoking group of paintings. The only problem was that the curator of my next exhibition didn’t know about this turn in my oeuvre.  Last summer I was contacted by the curator of the art gallery at Harford County Community College.  He saw images of my paintings at the Baker Artists Awards website. He asked me and a number of other artists to apply for an exhibition in 2017.  I provided him with a proposed exhibition of Triplets.  The result was an offer of a summer 2017 exhibition at the college.

As I was about to tell the curator about these new paintings and a new way of showing my UP IN ARMS series, I attended a theatrical performance that dealt with racial stereotypes that might be encountered in an upper middle class cocktail party.  After the show I stayed for a discussion led by a professor from Morgan State University.  As I drove home afterwords, I realized I needed to contact the professor.  Would he, I would ask him, be interested in leading a similar discussion during the run of my exhibition in Harford County?  The next day I called the theater and got the email address for the professor.  I sent him images of groups of paintings for my show.

(top to bottom, left to right) ABoy; HBoyButt; BBoyButt; WBoyButt, watercolor, 22 July 2014, image 29″ x 14 1/4″; BGirl, watercolor, 19 March 2015, image 25 1/4″ x 17 5/8″; WBoy, watercolor, 7 Aug. 2014, image 26 1/2″ x 13 1/2″

His reply was generally positive, but he had this reaction to the above grouping of paintings that I call TABULA RASA;

What immediately struck me about the artwork below is the presence of genital organs of white boys (2) and a black girl (1) and the absence of a similar display of white females and black males. Is this deliberate or is it part of the entire exhibition? I mention this because the most common rape of women in American history is that of the white male raping the black female and the most forbidden relationship was of course, between the white female and the black male. Just curious about this.

This is exactly why a discussion would be needed for this exhibition. His comments are perfectly appropriate; however, my selection of paintings entirely depended upon what side of the child the parent was willing to show the camera. Thoughts of potential rapists and victims were furthest from my mind.  These infants–all younger than six months–were selected to illustrate how we each come into this world as a blank slate or tabula rasa.  Infants are vessels that will be filled with the language(s) of the parents, the social standing and moral compass of the parents, of siblings, of schoolmates, of friends and extended family.

The professor did visit my studio and thankfully agreed to be available for a discussion during the run of my exhibition. With this promise in hand, I contacted the gallery curator and told him about the professor.  Then and only then did I send him a schematic of my exhibition using the diagram of the gallery space that he had sent me.

You’ve seen three of the groupings: TARGET, LIFESAVERS and TABULA RASA.  The others are PYTHON where I position the pair on either side of a corner, PLASTIC for the common composition of the objects, FOOD with both vegetables and adorable young livestock, MUSIC with an instrument case and two potential ad-lib instruments, and SPARE because that it what it is.

All of the paintings were delivered to the curator last week along with the diagram and instructions for spacing.  The paintings will be hung with magnets. The exhibition opens June 2 and closes September 15 with a reception Thursday, September 14.  I’ll be out of the country until just before the opening.

Even though I would have preferred not showing over the summer, this exhibition has given me an opportunity to display UP IN ARMS paintings to reflect how I currently think of them–an evolution that has gone from seeing them as individual paintings, to members of arbitrary Triplets, to groupings of like-minded paintings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Walker’s NEW NEO IS HERE

INTRODUCTION

George Walker’s new edition of Images from the Neocerebellum is a wonder indeed.  Of course its presentation clamshell box is exquisite. One expects that in a Walker limited edition wordless book.  The book itself with its beveled boards and black moiré cloth has heft and presence.  And the personage with crossed arms stares at you from the box cover, the book cover as well as the title page.

George A. Walker, Images from the Neocerebellum, 2016, George Walker Books, Toronto, Canada, #2 from edition of 28, with clamshell box right. (All images courtesy of the artist.)

 

Lenticular version of “Big Hands,” signed, with black matboard.

And when you first lift the book from the case, a surprise greets you. A lenticular (ridged plastic ) version of his “Big Hands” wood engraving. So tempting to pick it up and slowing turn it from side to side so you can see the bigger hand become the left hand, then the right. (See a short video of it at the end of this post.)

But the real treat is inside Neocerebellum: page after page of some of George’s most powerful wood engravings. Each was inspired by a dream he had.  He called it a dream diary. When Images from the Neocerebellum first appeared in 2007 as a paperback (The Porcupine’s Quill, Erin, Ontario, Canada), across from each image was a title and brief text description of the dream illustrated. In the new publication no text appears.  Walker will explain his decision to eliminate text in the interview that follows.

Why George Walker decided to publish a limited edition–what I call his New Neo–was explained in a previous ART I SEE post.  (See http://www.scottponemone.com/george-walkers-neo-neocerebellum/ It’s worth checking this out if only to see photos of the work in progress.) In short, George agreed with me that his Neocerebellum images deserved hand printing on his Vandercook proofing press. I made the suggestion in 2015 when he was in the midst of producing his Trudeau: La Vie en Rose wordless biography of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He then gave his wife, Michelle, the task of finding the blocks for Neocerebellum. Some blocks stayed stubbornly missing.  A few blocks were damaged.  But last summer he set about to publish New Neo, deciding which images merited recutting because they were either missing or deemed not so well cut.  He also needed to determine whether and where to trim the damaged blocks. In a few cases George chose to add wholly new images.

INTERVIEW

After the limited edition of Images from the Neocerebellum arrived in early December and after comparing the new version against the old one, I sent George my usual cascade of questions. He graciously replied just before New Years.

George Walker working on his limited edition of Neocerebellum. (Michelle Walker photo)

It’s odd that I need to reference the original book with its titles for each image in order to ask you about changes you have made.

Yes, I suppose it is odd to need one book to interpret the other, but what I was trying to do in the limited was to create a new experience. I thought the images should stand on their own without the explanations I provided in the popular edition. I printed 28 copies (half my age) because this edition was nostalgia for past dreams and a reflection on whom I have become. Some dreams were a transparency on my unconscious self and others (even now) remain opaque.

Essentially you kept the same sequence as in the original when I guess you were free to choose a completely new arrangement.  Why so?

When the first edition of Neocerebellum came about in 2007, I spent a lot of time sorting my dream diary images into a chronology that I thought made sense. At the time I was thinking about Jung and Freud and dream interpretation. The task I faced was a perceptual “identifying” of sensory patterns, complexities of the dream images made into single frames. When we dream and then recall that dream later, the rationality of the daytime experiences before the dream filter gives the censoring force another form of meaning. Freud called this “secondary revision” when the mind attempts to sort the dream-sequence by giving it a narrative sense and coherence. The dream interpretation severs the pieces that have been artfully joined in the mind. The arrangement is more of a chronology, but this fails slightly because some of the images are based on recurring dreams.

“Meeting My Subconscious” (left) and “Hand Smoke.” (All plates © George Walker)

I see you left out “Meeting My Subconscious.” It seems a perfect topic for this book. But you leave it out. Why?

That was such a prophetic dream. It still haunts me. I searched my studio to find the original block—and I should have recut a replacement for the lost one—but I didn’t. This dream was two years before the birth of my granddaughter. I now think it foreshadowed her arrival. The text reads, “Waking up, I sit at the edge of the bed and am feeling distressed that I can’t remember my dream. As I puzzle over this, the room begins to move and a little girl runs from the dark and places her hand on mine. I try to look at her, but she became only a shadow. A fear runs through me as I realize I am still dreaming.”

 What about dropping “Hand Smoke”?

Michelle had spent many hours in the studio looking for the blocks used in the Neocerebellum. She found most of them, but some remain lost, and I was left with the problem of what to do. I could recut—and some blocks I did just that. The other option was to replace them.

I like the new Bear image.  Have you been face-to-face with a black bear?

I’ve encountered bears on my hikes and camping adventures, but I have never faced-off with a bear and I certainly wouldn’t want to. I used a similar image for the cover of Sue Goyette’s book, The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl published by Gaspereau Press (2015). In the book the bear appears as a symbol of hope and is the grounding force of the little girl’s fears and hopes.
In my dream of the bear, I am followed and then confronted by the bear as it emerges from the woods. Bears can be unpredictable, and its appearance in my dream made me wake up immediately. The psychologist Carl Jung believed that all wild animals in dreams represent feelings and emotions. I was profoundly affected after reading Goyette’s book and trying to find an image that fit her narrative. After the dream I knew exactly what the image would look like.

 

The first version of “Steppenworlf” (left), the recut version (right).

It appears you recut “Steppenwolf.”  Tell me why, please.

In Herman Hesse’s book Steppenwolf the protagonist is ill-suited for a world filled with the everyday of frivolous bourgeois society. He is a stranger to his own society and outsider of two souls.  I lost the original block and I felt this dream was significant enough for me to recut. I identified with the transformation imagery that I had in the original dream—myself as both man and animal.

Original (Left) and partially recut versions of “Night Jasmine.”

I see partial recutting of “Night Jasmine.”

When I started to pull proofs of the blocks to ready them for printing, I noticed that some parts of “Night Jasmine” were damaged, and I decided to recut some of the lines to fix them.

 

(L to R) “Dancer,’ “Crow with Rose” and “The Blackbird, Girl and Fish.”

Very nice new images after “Night Jasmine.”  I know you’re not putting into words your dreams in new Neo, but can you tell me a little about them?

Thank you! The new images explore new haunts that I am puzzling over.

The image after “Night Jasmine” is a dancer who has just stopped moving and is resting between performances. I am sitting close by, but the dancer does not notice me. I can see the choreography in her mind and know exactly what she will spring into next. But I am not able to speak to her.

“Crow with Rose”–There is a landscape that is flat and wide open with the hot summer sun beating down. Three trees stand in the distance. I hear the distant caw of crows, and then one appears with a rose clutched in it’s beak. The rose falls from the crow’s grasp and lands near me; the crow fades into the horizon.

“The Black bird, Girl and Fish”–I am on a street and a girl is talking to a fish. The fish seems to understand her and she it. The language they are speaking makes no sense to me. A black bird flies over them, and their words become visible patterns in the air. I think I may be able to read them, but they are squiggles and lines that fade like vapor as the air from bird’s wings blows the whole dialogue away.

“Algonquin Park” before  (right) and after trimming (right)

“Closed Eyes” before (left) and after trimming (right)

Why did you trim “Algonquin Park” and “Closed Eyes”?

The blocks were damaged and had crushed edges that I could only repair by cutting away the damaged parts. I find it interesting though how things change with time even if we leave them to their own fates. Just like these revisited dreams are not exactly the same as when I first made them.

“Momento Mori” was cut new for New Neo.

After “Closed Eyes” I see a number of changes like the reintroduction of “Evergreen Harvest.” The one new image that catches my eye is just before “Sleeping.”  I love the skull on the right margin. What’s the story behind that?

I titled this one “Momento Mori” which literally means “remember to die” [in essence: “remember you must die”]. I was working on a book, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe. The story is about a group of mesmerism doctors who decide to mesmerize a man on the cusp of death. The experiment works, but the man is trapped between the two worlds. The horror of this predicament kept me up at night. I imagined death was pulling at me and I was trapped.

“Timmy the Pierced Face Wonder” before (left) and after trimming (right)

I’m not to sure about the trimming of “Timmy the Pierced Face Wonder.”  The original taller brow gave the head a shape to mimic of open mouth. Comments?
I agree. I was torn about how to deal with the damaged block. Perhaps I should have just printed it with the damage instead of trimming it down. But what’s done is done.

Original “Whaler” (left) and in New Neo (right)

Congrats on opening up and trimming the top of “Whaler.”  It enhanced the narrative.  Comment?
A happy accident really! I was preparing the block to print and was trying to fix the damaged top portion. Sometimes things just work out for the better.


The jester after “Whaler” seems to come from a different source.  Was this image borrowed from another project?

I had this dream about the images on a Tarot deck coming alive. I thought the jester was symbolic of the mercurial man, clown and entertainer. I was working on my Leonard Cohen book at the time, and I thought perhaps he was the embodiment of this card. Then I changed my mind and didn’t use it in the final book.

If so, were any other new images borrowed?

Yes, “Momento Mori” is from The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe. But the process of “borrowing” is not as straight forward as taking from one thing and using it elsewhere. Sometimes I will engrave a dream image and then find a purpose for it in another project.

“Sleeping” and “Woman in Conversation”

[In fact George reused “Sleeping” and “Woman in Conversation”–both of which appeared in the original 2007 Neocerebellum (and reappeared in the new version)–in his first limited-edition wordless narrative Book of Hours, 2010.]

“Birds of a Feather” before (left) and after trimming (right)

I like the recutting of “Birds of a Feather.” But I’m not sure which version of “In Praise of a Lunar Phase” I like better. Your thoughts?

When I first made the image “Birds of a Feather” I intended to print it as a two-color block. The image that was printed in the first edition of “Neocerebellum” was the yellow colour block for the background. What you see in this new edition is the black key block that should have been used in the first edition.

“In Praise of a Lunar Phase” before (left) and after trimming (right)

The block “In Praise of a Lunar Phase” was modified to show movement. It was one of those experiments that I wanted to try but should have thought better of.

“Tow-headed Man” before (left) and after trimming (right)

I miss “Flying Dream” in the new edition.  Did you not like it, or was it missing?

It’s a lost dream! I’m still looking for it.

I like the new version of “From the Building,” while I don’t think you improved “Two-headed Man.”  Just my opinion.

Sometimes I fail and sometimes I get it right. Sometimes I don’t know until I leave it alone and wait a few days. Jack Kerouac famously said, “My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.”

That’s probably too much, but I am curious as to what went through your mind when you worked on this project.

I revised my text introduction to this dream diary. I went back to reread some texts on dream theory and rethink the meanings of the signs and symbols that inform our unconscious mind. Like Jung’s experimental exploration of the unconscious, I wanted to confront my dreams through willful engagement and conscious revisiting of what Jung termed “mythopoetic imagination.”

Did your thoughts about dream imagery change?
I would say my thoughts about dreams are changing but only insofar as I am still torn about the conscious and unconscious communication between states. The questions I have–on how much of one state of mind informs the other and are they equal in their effect on our behavior–still engages my curiosity.

Was your appreciation of your earlier block cutting generally enhanced by redoing Neo?

No, I sometimes grow to dislike my previous work. I wanted to consider again why I did the piece in the first place, especially with the possibility of changing the order and deleting dreams I did not like. Revisiting my blocks disrupts my ego and makes me consider what the purpose of the project was and why I would expose my unconscious self to the scrutiny and critiques of others. It’s good therapy!

Upon my request, George and I swapped wood engravings. My choice was a proof of the cover image, what I call “Man with Crossed Arms.”

What type of comments have you gotten on new Neo?

One comment was: “What a beautiful book—but George—your dreams are creepy!”

“Purely personal associations with dream imagery are less important than the archetypal associations shared as part of our cultural consciousness. That is, perhaps, part of what makes Images from the Neocerebellum so fascinating: the blending of sensations that seem uncannily familiar with imagery that is uniquely the artist’s own.” —Katherine R. Lieber

“We are all bothered by items from our subconscious, be they thoughts, desires or even actions that we question later. Dreams are a big part of our subconscious. And if we choose to think about our dreams or even talk about them, we find that we are finding truths about ourselves. But do our words–written or spoken–do enough to explain our dreams or does a visual record need to be done to describe the images we see in our sleep. That is the type of thought one gets when one looks at George A. Walker’s Images from the Neocerebellum.” — Steven Buechler

Did doing this change your thoughts about future projects?
Every project makes me consider my choice of materials, typography, design and structure. I ask myself: Did the concept communicate effectively? Was the work well crafted? Did the work have a narrative flow or was it disruptive?

ADDENDUM

When writing the introduction to this post, I didn’t know how to describe the bonus lenticular version of “Big Hands” that came with the book. So I asked George what it was and added:

What inspired you to add it? What a treat to find in the box. I hope all purchaser of your New Neo get to have one.

It’s a lenticular of one of my engravings. It’s made by using software to interlace the images and then attach a lens to create the effect. It can either be used to create an animation or 3D effect. Here’s the Wiki with the details: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenticular_printing

I learned to create lenticular images at Firefly Books. We were making a book on the work of Edward Muybridge and his motion studies. I made the lenticular proofs so that we could select the images that worked best.

I thought a lenticular would work well as a dream image because of the magical properties in the way the lens tricks our eyes into seeing motion or depth. The image I chose was based on a dream I had where my hands grew large and then shrunk down. I thought a dream about transformation would work well with a lenticular flip image (animation). I included one of two images in each book. You can see the other image here:

Bottom of the page:  http://www.george-walker.com/Neocerebellum_web/Neocerebellum.html

I used an animated gif to imitate the effect of the lenticular.

[Here’s a clumsy video of mine to show the “Big Hands” lenticular animation.]

LINKS

Here’s a link on George Walker’s website to a flip page version of the original book: http://www.george-walker.com/Neo_Page_Flip/neo2.html

And here’s a YouTube video on the original Neo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOedzo9YJj0

For those considering obtaining their own copy of the limited edition of Neo, please go to: http://www.george-walker.com/Neocerebellum_web/Neocerebellum.html

2016: marble pier table & high-back fancy chair

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INTRODUCTION

I made just one decorative art acquisition in 2016–a c. 1830 marble-top pier table–but I’d like also to write about a rare high-back fancy chair purchased in early 2014 because its twin was auctioned off this year.  The pier table in and of itself is interesting, but so is why I bought it, what research I did before purchase and what I learned after it came to live with us. Discussing the fancy chair allows me to admit how lucky I was to be  able to remove its dark surface grime and how lucky I was not to bid on its twin.

Pier table

The pier table is an interesting form. As its name attests its function is to sit in the space–the pier–between two windows.  Most often its top is marble. It usually has no drawers. The center of the back houses a mirror. The front often is composed of free-standing columns that rest on a shelf, which in turn rests on short legs. The form seems to appear in America around 1800 and continue, reflecting the current fashion, through the 19th century.

The piers in our 1850s Baltimore townhouse are rather narrow, too narrow for most pier tables.  So acquiring one was not high on our list. Yet I admired the form. In 2013 my interest grew during negotiations with an antiques dealer to make her a floorcloth for her federal house in exchange for furniture from her inventory. Two of her three pier tables–particularly a stenciled 1810 Philadelphia one–interested me, but she wouldn’t budge on either of them. I have no regrets, however, with the over-mantel mirror and card table I ended up with.  (See  the making of her floorcloth at: http://www.scottponemone.com/floorcloth-painted-canvas-for-1806-hallway/)

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We first saw our pier table on display at the Original Semi-Annual York Antiques Show and Sale in Sept. 2016.

Our search ended at an antiques show in York, PA, this September.  I immediately liked the strength of its broadly fluted tapered columns and pilasters as well as their simple Doric capitals.  The frieze under the marble top of pointed Gothic arches and acorn-shaped corbels was equally attractive. The top of what is usually referred to as Egyptian marble was stunning.

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Even the mirror plate with its severe flaking was a positive because it was original (and not to be seen at face height).  The other condition question was the repair to the marble. It had broken. The break followed the pale, rather straight vein visible near the left edge of the image above.  There had also been a few small repairs to the mahogany veneer.

The asking price seemed fair.  But other than taking a few photos and asking the dealer (from Kentucky, this being his first York show) for his card, I left the show without making a bid on the table. But negotiations had in fact begun.

The first task was to go home and look online for auction records for similar tables, maybe even finding the sale of the exact table.  I would also check books for similar tables.

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Corner of the frieze on my table.

Well, my reference library failed me, but the liveauctioneers.com site didn’t.  While I didn’t find “my” table, I did come across some variations, and the auction  prices suggested that the one I saw in York was fairly priced. The top example had much wider arches, nubby acorns and the frieze corners differently than “mine.” The frieze (shown above on the right) corners with a completed arch both on the front and on the side so that an acorn wraps around the corner.  On what would become my table (right) and on the example above, lower right, the frieze corners at the top of the arch both on the front and on the side.

So the example on the lower right is closer to mine.  It’s wider–by one arch across the front; its capitals are somewhat different. The height of its mirror plate–probably replaced–is the same.  (Note that in the example on the top, the mirror plate is taller.)  The top example also has a flat bead running below the acorns and at the base of the plinth.  There’s no bead anywhere on mine and on the lower right example.

I include the example on the lower left just to show a variation.  The column shafts are the same, but the capitals are Ionic.  The arch frieze is missing, but the flat bead is present. The mirror height matches the one on mine.

All three examples have black Egyptian marble.  Like my table, the marble tops on the top and lower right examples have been repaired.  Maybe the dramatic veinage of this marble makes it subject to breakage.

So we saw the table on Friday. I did my research on Saturday and tried to hold off calling the dealer until Sunday. But I couldn’t constrain myself.  Late Saturday I offered him 20 percent less by email.  He countered saying he couldn’t go below a 10 percent discount.  That’s as far as it went until Sunday morning, when I called him. We chatted a bit. He claimed he’s had a lot of interest in the table and so refused to drop the price further.  In short I yielded, but would he accept about three/eights now and two equal checks for the balance post-dated for late October and late November.  He agreed but wanted the initial payment in cash when he delivered the table. (Free delivery!)

One other point: Only my table had feet (left). The ones I saw online were in the French console style–without feet.  So when the dealer  arrived, I checked the bottom of the feet before he removed the table from his vehicle. Were the feet added? I figured that if they were, they would have to have been screwed in from the bottom.  But there were no screws. Rather each foot had three wire nails toenailed in (hammered in at an angle) near where the each foot met the plinth.  This was done, I suspected, because the tenons had become loose. (In the photo you can see the head of one of the nails. It’s the very small bright spot above the highest ring turning of the foot.)

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The arch-and-acorn frieze on my pier table.

With its very Greek columns my pier table fits nicely in with late neoclassical American furniture, maybe 1830s.  The frieze of pointed arches is called Gothic.  While pointed arches are associated with the short-lived American Gothic Revival style of around 1840 and the 1850s, American cabinetmakers were incorporating pointed arches much earlier.  Above is a desk and bookcase by John Shaw and his workshop in Annapolis (active 1770 to around 1825).  Shaw used pointed arches as early as 1790.  The above example is from around 1800.  (See more examples at: http://www.chipstone.org/images.php/564/American-Furniture-2006/) Baltimore cabinetmakers used pointed arches on cabinet doors–particularly on sideboards–as early as 1815.

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Guess what?  Another search, another result.  I think this time I might have written “Empire pier table” when searching sold items at Live Auctioneers. It certainly is my table: pre-repair to the marble, identical mirror flaking and little turned feet.  Being an inveterate bargainer, I admit I was a little taken aback with the $475 hammer price. That’s only $536.75 with 13% buyer’s premium. I wondered if the seller of my table was the winning bidder for it at the May 27, 2013, Mark Mattox auction. So I had to ask.

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The pier table in its pier in our dining room, where the curtains hide how narrow the pier is.

Taylor Thistlethwaite of Thistlethwaite Americana (that’s  www.thistleamerica.com) graciously agreed to answer some questions:

“I actually did not get that table from Mark Mattox. I purchased the piece in the late of 2015 from a well published art historian from Paris, Kentucky, who was moving to Brussels.  Yes, he did get a good deal on it, but I didn’t pay that amount. After purchasing the piece, I had the marble and some minor veneers repaired, which cost considerably more than the Mattox purchase price. The finish wasn’t touched with the exception of cleaning and waxing the piece.

“The size and quality of the piece made it rare. Also, in Kentucky classical pieces are not especially popular. Most antique collectors in this area prefer regional material or high-style English. Empire furniture of good scale I felt could do well in an urban environment or in the Deep South. I actually wasn’t going to put the pier table out at York, but rather save it for the Main Line show the following week. However, earlier that week I sold a PA chest that I was going to put in that spot. When I arrived at York, there was very little formal furniture and hardly anything Empire. Being my first time at the show, I felt that table might make me stand out from the rest of the dealers. Wouldn’t you know, it was the most popular thing in my booth. Actually, after I accepted your deal, I had two other people call me about the table.

“Formal furniture is a tough sale today unless it is the best of the best. Empire is especially tough. I felt that your table was special. Although it had a repair to the marble and some veneer repairs, it had a presence. The size and the black marble with the rich mahogany made a special package. In today’s antique market small and quality sells. I only represent pieces that I would want to live with and that piece tugged at my heart.”

RED CHAIR

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I’ve written a few times about painted furniture, a genre that was popular in federal America. Here are two posts: One features six mid-19th-century chairs by Lancaster, PA chairmaker John Swint (http://www.scottponemone.com/2015-recap-decorative-arts/), and one discusses learning to read painted furniture surfaces (http://www.scottponemone.com/painted-furniture-learning-about-original-surfaces/) Missing from those articles is something that’s quite uncommon: a high-back fancy chair. “Fancy” here indicates a piece of federal furniture had some combination of bright colors, faux graining (either simulating real wood grain or playfully referring to it), stenciling, gilding, and/or free-hand painting.

Baltimore was a mecca for fancy painted furniture, particularly chairs. But high-back ones are rare.  For years I’ve followed online one on the Stanley Weiss Collection website and watched its price fluctuate from $6,000 to currently $15,000. (http://stanleyweiss.com/item/sw00431) It’s a nice chair, definitely in the Baltimore mode, although the painting is quite crude.

So I was primed when I came across the red-painted one at the 2014 winter version of the Original Semi-Annual York Antiques Show.

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It sat in the booth of Kelly Kinzle.  It certainly resembled the Stanley Weiss one: very close to the same feet front and back, same tablet crest rail with rolled top, similar arms and very similar arm stumps.  The biggest difference was the back. The frame for the caning on the red chair’s back was identical to the back itself.  In the Weiss model there are two pairs of back stiles: a turned pair that the arms are attached to and a unturned pair that the caning is attached to.

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When I placed photos of the red chair on Facebook, one furniture expert thought it wasn’t a Baltimore product, but Gregory Weidman, author of Furniture in Maryland, 1740-1940 and currently curator of the Hampton National Historic Site, suggested the components were of Baltimore manufacture but that the painting was not, i.e. the pieces of wood were shipped to somewhere (probably southern Pennsylvania) and assembled and painted there. There was that unusual since painted chair making was often an assembly-line process.  For instance a turner down the street could make the legs for you, while the guys in your shop did the rest.

Anyway, the chair sure was grungy.  I had this stuff. I decline to name it other than saying it was a gel. I had bought it years ago to clean up other painted pieces.  But I had barely used it, fearing it could inflict non-reversible damage to original surfaces.  Yet I tested it with cotton swabs on an out-of-the-way part of a rear leg.  Swab it on, wait a few minutes, and the gunk started to wipe off, and the red base color started to glow.  So with my confidence growing, the area swabbed and cleaned grew and grew.  The last area was the most prominent: the tablet crest rail.

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The covered urn on the crest rail certainly seems appropriate for a neoclassical image choice c. 1830. True, the painting is crude, but it looks untouched.  Ditto for the pair of laurel or acanthus sprigs on either side.  And the base color–often called Pompeian Red–was a striking choice, totally showy and the height of fashion.

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(left) A partial view of the back and seat caning from the front and (right) a partial rear view of the lower back rail and caning. (P.S. I didn’t clean or shellac the back of the chair.)

As I cleaned it, I came to realize that the caning on the back was probably original. Since I strongly believed that chair had never been repainted or over-painted, I read the evidence of the red paint (see right image above) on the back of the caning and where the cane wraps between the holes on the rail to indicate that the caning had never been replaced. If you look closely (left image) on the caning of the back, you can pick out traces of yellow paint.  The show side of caned seats or backs were usually painted, yellow being the common choice.  The seat caning is clearly bright and new and unpainted.

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After cleaning, I did a light coat of white shellac and applied and buffed a layer of paste wax.

Kelly Kinzle thought the chair may have been used by a fraternal order, a grand master’s chair perhaps.  But the urn and sprigs didn’t point to any order I was familiar with. It certainly would enhance a private office as well as  some judicial or civic setting. How unique it was partially answered by this auction notice:

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It sold last July at Brunk Auctions for $350, or $441 with buyer’s premium.  It was exciting to see my chair’s twin, but I never considered buying it since the crest rail was in rather poor condition.

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Crest rails of the Brunk chair (top) and my chair (below).

When prepping the Brunk image for this post, a phrase caught my eye for the first time: “possible old loss to top of crest (unpainted).” So I created these images to see if I could confirm the “loss”:

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The Brunk chair in profile is on the left, mine on the right. The arrows show that the cress of the Brunk chair has a squared off top edge, while mine had what is called a rolled top. This is created by gluing a piece of wood with its curled back atop the larger flatter crest rail. (This lamination saves on wood and work.) On the lower image the pair of arrows point to a faint horizontal line where the two pieces were glued together on my chair. And if you look back on the pair of crest rail photos above, you can see that darkened urn and sprigs on the Brunk chair crest rail are lopped off because the rolled top is missing.

In short I’m even happier I didn’t bid on the Brink chair.  Now I wonder if there’s a third chair out there.

 

 

 

 

Fighting Fires: Step by Step

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Introduction

Last summer I set out to create an image data bank of photographs of policemen and firefighters holding aloft equipment of their respective trade. Then these photos would serve as sketches for more of my Up In Arms watercolors. (To see inventory from this series, please go to  http://www.scottponemone.com/portfolio/up-in-arms-2/)

I immediately ran into trouble getting cooperation from the Baltimore City Police Department.  I spoke to a district commander at a community meeting and was given a name and an email address to try.  But all I got was a terse reply: “Unfortunately, at this time we are not able to accommodate your request.”  That was not so surprising considering that just a year previous Baltimore was suffering through a spring of turmoil after the death of Freddy Gray at the hands of police. I decided I needed a new approach in order to address the use of firearms and the deaths that result. After a few false starts the answers came at the Sunday farmers’ market and an indoor shooting range in the burbs. But that’s a tangent I’ll tackle after the New Year.

Fortunately, the firehouse is a very friendly place. They keep the big doors open in the summer, for God’s sake.

Modeling for FF Paintings

In fact it was harder finding parking near the big firehouse on Lombard Street beside the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower than it was to enter the facility.  The middle door was wide open.  A mammoth truck stood silent just inside. Waiting on the cement floor on each side of the cab was a firefighter outfit–boots attached–arranged for speedy dressing.  But no one was in sight.  I shouted out “Hello” several times without response. I saw no one until I came upon a glass-enclosed office.  A woman–maybe an EMS unit member–was seated inside. When I explained my desire to have a firefighter model equipment for me to photograph, she gave a call upstairs.  A young man soon appeared, and once I showed him cellphone images of completed Up In Arms paintings, he agreed to help out.

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(Left) An oxygen tank and harness and (right) a Jaws of Life rescue metal cutter. (Since I didn’t ask him if I could make public the photos, I’ve blurred his face.)

First he modeled a hydraulic Jaws of Life cutter used to tear away crumpled car doors at accident scenes. Then he hoisted an oxygen tank with its harness that he would need in order to enter a burning building. Then he held up an ax and a manual metal cutter (an image I never used, not enough visual heft) and lastly a black helmet (an image I almost didn’t paint).

After printing out these images, I realized that there was at least one object sorely missing from my firefighter’s inventory: a hose. So I returned to the firehouse with prints of the Jaws of Life, the oxygen tank, the ax and the helmet images to give to my model.  This gesture was intended to give me the opportunity to ask him to lift a coil of hose.  Except he wasn’t at work that day.  I couldn’t convince either of the two black firefighters who greeted me to model.  (Too bad because it would have helped to illustrate the racial diversity of the department.)  Instead they called upon a young white guy whom they called the Hulk.  Good to his name, he did the macho thing an slid down a brass pole.

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I don’t know about “the day,” but he seized the hose.

Step by step

The following are series of photos to illustrate the progress I made in painting the FF Jaws, FF Tank and FF Helmet watercolors.  Always the object being held aloft is painted first.  You’ll see I tend to paint from top to bottom on an image, and I also tend to complete areas of a certain color. For instance in FF Tank I painted the tank first with its mottled blues then the mostly black harness.  In FF Helmet the yellow-green plastic inserts were painted before the rest of the mostly black helmet.

What I didn’t photograph was the simple penciled line drawing.  I use a #4 pencil, and it leaves a very light mark.  By itself it wouldn’t make a good photo. You can see some of the drawing in early images of each sequence.

FF Jaws

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Finally for online presentation’s sake, I white-out the unpainted paper.

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Scott Ponemone, FF Jaws, watercolor, 30 Sept. 2016, image 24 1/2″ x 21 1/2″

FF TANK

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Scott Ponemone, FF Tank, watercolor, 10 Nov. 2016, image 26 3/4″ x 18 1/2″

 

FF Helmet

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Scott Ponemone, FF Helmet, watercolor, 29 Nov. 2016, image 26 1/4″ x 15 1/2″

 

FF Hose

 

I forgot to record the steps in painting FF Hose.

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Scott Ponemone, FF Hose, watercolor, 31 Oct. 2016, image 23″ x 20 1/2″

 

FF CPR

Actually the first firefighter watercolor was painting last year after a visit to the 2015 Maryland State Fair in Timonium.  There I came across an ambulance with two EMS workers seated nearby. And on the ground beside them was an inflated dummy used to practice CPR.  I remember first walking past toward a row of carnies with their games of chance and plush toy prizes. But I couldn’t help myself.  The dummy was just too queer. (I can’t think of a better word.) Fortunately one of the EMS guys was a willing model.

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Scott Ponemone, FF CPR, watercolor, 11 Sept. 2015, image 29″ x 16 1/4″

 

The FF quintet

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Right click to view image larger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Wagener: Naturalist/Wood Engraver

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Introduction

My excitement about acquiring copies of Richard Wagener’s two books of wood engravings–California in Relief (The Book Club of California, 2009) and The Sierra Nevada Suite (The Book Club of California, 2013)–stemmed from thinking of them as natural successors to Paul Landacre’s much-heralded 1931 book California Hills and Other Wood Engravings. In fact, Victoria Dailey in her preface to Wagener’s California in Relief writes: “In the realm of California printmaking, Paul Landacre (1893-1963) has been the undisputed master of wood engraving, creating sumptuous landscape prints and several illustrated books including his masterpiece California Hills (1931). Not since Landacre has any California artist achieved prominence in this challenging medium until Richard Wagener (b. 1944) began to explore it in the 1980s.”

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Paul Landacre, California Hills and Other Wood Engravings (Bruce McCallister, Los Angeles, 1931), No. 150 from an edition of 500, signed.

So I immediately wanted to email him to ask if Landacre inspired his own California book.  If only I had read more of Dailey’s essay where she said: “Soon after he began to make wood engravings, Wagener became aware of Landacre, whose work he appreciated. Nevertheless, he says that Landacre had no direct influence upon him.” So that effectively killed that way to approach Wagener. (Although later he did comment: “Paul Landacre is someone I’ve always admired. There is a distinctive style and clarity in his cutting that I find amazing.”)

Instead I proposed that I send Richard images of five wood engravings from the late 19th century to mid 20th century and ask him to comment. He responded: “I’ve been thinking about your proposal and am not sure how I feel about it. I’m not a critic. Well I am privately, but feel uneasy about making my value judgements public. The curse of the artist/critic is living up in your own work to the standards applied to others.”

But I assured him that I would not send him images of artwork of living artists, and he agreed to share his thoughts on each.  I also included questions about his own work and working methods. Those responses turned out to be more enlightening than his comments to others’ work.  So I’m going to start with Richard Wagener on himself.

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Richard Wagener in his studio.

Interview

I began by asking Richard about his 1998 book Zebra Noise with a Flatted Seventh (Peter Koch, Berkeley, CA, edition of 70), which contained 26 short fictions by Wagener and 26 of his wood engravings each incorporating a letter of the alphabet. In particular I asked about one of his wood engravings of that period:

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Richard Wagner, Shadow of the Hawk, wood engraving, 1984, 6 7/8″ x 5″

Can you tell me what you were trying to achieve with Shadow of the Hawk and what you learned in the process?

Early in my explorations of ways of bringing together disparate aspects of my background, undergraduate studies in natural science and graduate studies in abstract painting, I juxtaposed flora or fauna against a flat grid. This was at a time when I was rethinking conversations I had some years before with a sculptor in San Diego about Matisse’s approach to composition–every part of the field deserves consideration. Splashes of ink entered the compositions and there was a lot of thinking about also incorporating letter forms.

One day I was in a bookstore in Little Tokyo (Los Angeles) and took in the beauty of the books filled with all the wonderful Japanese characters. And with the beauty of the type was the mystery of what any of the characters meant. In my engraving I didn’t want to get tied down to a specific word or thought so I started playing around with abstract calligraphic gestures. Shadow of the Hawk seemed to be the first engraving that fully embraced the ideas I had been thinking about.

Wood engraving has long been used to illustrate fauna, going back at least to Bewick. How did Shadow of the Hawk fit in with that genre? How did it break with it?

When I first discovered wood engraving as a medium with which one could create a vast range of marks and establish tonalities, I had no intention of becoming a wood engraver. I was only interested insofar as the use of these tools and the wood surface could be of use in exploring ideas. That is why I deliberately chose not to buy the David Sander book on how to do wood engraving. As he was the only known source of engraving materials, the wood engravings I saw were the ones he would print in his catalogs, including a Bewick print. Beyond that I was pretty clueless as to the history of the medium. There was no one actively engraving in Los Angeles and no one to talk with about engraving in wood. With the exception of seeing Barry Moser’s illustrations of Alice sometime in the mid 1980’s, it was not until David Sander offered Simon Brett’s 1992 book Engravers Two that I had a chance to see what many others were doing with this medium.

Being essentially unaware of the genre of wood engraved fauna, it was not something I stopped to consider during the early years of exploration. My efforts were focused on making something work for me. Part of this was naiveté and part of it was not wanting to be influenced while finding my way. It took many years to become comfortable with what I was doing. After I found a certain level of comfort with what I was achieving, it became easier to then look at the historical precedents in the medium and appreciate their achievements.

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Richard Wagener, California in Relief, The Book Club of California, San Francisco, 2009, No. 79 from an edition of 300, signed.

What attracted me to your California and Sierra suites of images–such as Outlook Tree–were the calm each radiated, the focus on silhouettes, and the picking out details in the shadows. Can you talk about each of these three properties?

My love of the California landscape was formed by all the time I spent during my childhood with my grandfather in the high desert and up in the Sierra, time that left an indelible mark. And yet, it was not until I hiked up around Shuteye Peak, south of Yosemite and overlooking the Ansel Adams Wilderness area, that I felt the need to bring my experiences to bear on what I was engraving. And I found that like John Masefield’s sea, the Sierra invokes feelings for me that then beg to be engraved. Since my formal art training was almost exclusively graduate studies in abstract painting, the Sierra imagery challenged my abilities as an engraver. The felt experience of hiking throughout this area was compelling and the question of whether this could be expressed in wood captivated me.

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Richard Wagener, Outlook Juniper, wood engraving, 5″ x 2 7/8″, from The Sierra Nevada Suite.

The Outlook Tree (or Outlook Juniper) is a survivor, emerging out of cracks in the glacier–polished granite–enduring over hundreds of years in an environment of scarce resources and harsh weather. I find a beautiful solitude on these rock outcroppings and sparse areas. My experiences up in the Patriarch Grove of Bristlecone Pine in the White Mountains with no one else around and walking among trees that are over 4,000 years old are beyond words. The idea is to try and convey the dignity of the tree as it stands against the wind and elements. I want to be very specific about the tree that haunted my recollection of the time and place. Here, as in many other engravings, I have pared away other elements that may interfere with the attention this tree deserves. So the context may be altered to enhance the appreciation. And there is much to be appreciated in the shadows. Unless there is a reason for a more dramatic effect, the shadows help round out the personality of the subject.

As I wrote in my notes for California in Relief, I have gone back and tried to find some of the trees I’ve engraved and I couldn’t find them. This has made me wonder if it was the particular day, or time of day, that brought my attention to certain things, things that at other times might have been missed.

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Richard Wagener, The Sierra Nevada Suite, The Book Club of California, San Francisco, 2013, No. 182 from an edition of 308, signed.

 

 

With your work for Vestige (Mixolydian Editions, 2015) you again appear to have sought out something meditative. Is there something common “thread” running in your work?  Yet how was making images for Vestige different from what preceded it? Did it break new ground for you either in process and/or open your eyes to possibilities for future work?

When I was developing the text that would appear in Zebra Noise with a Flatted Seventh, I began to learn how editing could pare down my stories to the essentials. The same thinking guided my writing for Cracked Sidewalks, where a main concern was how many words were needed to tell a story. This approach was also taken in one of the engravings where the question became “how many lines do I need to engrave to sell the image?”

wagener-vestige

Richard Wagener, wood engraving from Vestage.

While printing the images for The Sierra Nevada Suite, my thoughts drifted back to an idea from long ago, the idea of a loom and threads. The question then became, “how many threads does it take to make a weaving?” The three drawings exploring this idea were on my table as the remaining images were printed. The later engravings based on this thinking ultimately yielded a suite of sixteen conceptual prints printed along with a poetic response from Alan Loney, a New Zealand poet residing in Melbourne, Australia. With the exception of the first three drawings, all the subsequent engravings developed organically during the process of engraving and deviated from the loose markings initially made on the block. The last image in the series was started with only an idea in mind. There was no drawing or marking on the block to guide the engraving.

The resultant book was titled Loom (Nawakum Press & Mixolydian Editions, 2104). The deluxe edition, sixteen copies, came with one print from the book so that no two copies were the same. I decided to do a special print that was not from the book. If the print followed the same format as the images in the book it would seem to raise the question as to why it was not included in the series. The solution was to approach the idea of weaving from a different vantage point. Whereas the Loom series was dealing more with the threads coming together into a weaving, the second series was thinking more about the ultimate fate of this activity and the beauty in weathered and distressed textiles. The new drawings gave way to five engravings of this modified theme. Alan picked up on the new ideas and again wrote a poetic response. This became Vestige.

Is there a common thread running in my work? For me, a change of medium requires confronting three basic problems. The first is the very rudimentary problem of how to do it and getting comfortable with the tools and materials in order to understand the basics of the medium. This seems pretty simple. Putting in some time and effort one can achieve a reasonable level of familiarity and comfort. The more difficult and problematic questions concern what to do with this medium and why. These two questions have never gone away, and I am continually confronted with them. What to do was initially solved by the determination to bring together the disparate aspects of my background. It took a long time thinking to find out what that bringing them together might look like. And even then there was a gradual evolution of that solution as I continued to reflect on the question.

When the blocks for Zebra Noise were completed, 1993-94, I needed a sense of mental separation from the works of the last decade. A new answer had to be found. Flora replaced fauna and the representational element was freed from the specimen box and took on a more prominent role. In time another answer knocked on the door and asked to be considered. Then another. I believe in the idea that art comes from art. The more I work, the more ideas appear. As I think about what I am doing I am always trying to answer for myself why I am doing it. So it has been a meditation on who I am, what does it mean to be scratching the surface of a wood block, and what is the nature of this medium.

As requested, Richard later emailed me images to illustrate his working procedures.

I don’t do many finished drawings on paper. My best drawings are on the block.

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Richard Wagner, sketch for Behind the Lake (left) and image as it appears in The Sierra Nevada Suite (right). Wood engraving, 5″ x 4″.

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Richard Wagner, sketch for Sentinel (left) and image as it appears in The Sierra Nevada Suite (right). Wood engraving, 5 1/2″ x 3″.

[Richard then sent me a picture of a block in progress.]

IMG_3463 - Version 2

(Above) Partially cut block for (below) Richard Wagener’s Eastern Sierra Morning, wood engraving, 3″ x 5 15/16″

rw-eastern-sierra-print

On engraving a block

I don’t proof my blocks during the engraving. I put as much information on the block as I think I might need in order to not get lost. Then I mentally figure out how I want to approach the engraving and then go for it. That is not to say there is never some refinement at the end, but reworked blocks often just end up as reworked blocks and lack the freshness of a well engraved image.

With one of the prints in The Sierra Nevada Suite I sharpened the tools, took a sample of wood and checked to see how the tools were cutting, how I was cutting on this particular morning. Based upon that information, I figured out what I was going to do, which tool I would use for certain areas. When I felt comfortable with this preparation, I started engraving the good block. However, about five lines in I realized that this wood was cutting differently than my sample wood. At that point I was committed to those lines and had to rethink everything else to get me out of the mess. All wood cuts in its own way. Sometimes the best laid plans go awry.

Work in progress

The current project is a book: Exoticum, Twenty-five Desert Plants from The Huntington Gardens. I’ve printed all the images and now I’m printing the titles for the images and the text. A friend who writes for National Geographic and teaches at the Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, has written an essay for the book. The official publication date is January 2017 and will show at the Codex Book Fair & Symposium. Perhaps the binder can get me an advance copy to show at the APHA conference.

Wood Engraving critique

I sent Richard images of five wood engravings in my collection, presented in ascending chronological order.   I tried to seek his thoughts on prints that illustrate a progression of what wood engravers were trying to accomplish from the 1880s to the 1950s.

miller-inness

William “Willy” R. Miller (American,1850-1923), Sunset, wood engraving, c.1886, 4 5/8” x 7”, japan paper, After a painting by George Inness (American, 1825-1894)

This seems to be engraved from a photographic copy of the painting. The style at the time was to engrave the entire block, seemingly using few small tools, such that the value range is compressed and there are no areas of solid black or of pure white. This works well for a number of Inness paintings. I remember seeing an exhibition of Inness’ paintings in the mid 1970’s, and some scenes of evening deep in the trees were almost monochromatic. The use of small tools to create stippled tonalities seems to be a good way of translating painterly techniques into print. A highly linear rendering would lose some of the subtleties.

The point was to faithfully reproduce the original in a different medium and didn’t allow the engraver to explore their own personality. I’ve read about practices at the large engraving workshops such as Harper’s whereby a large engraving could be done by four different engravers, each working on one-quarter blocks that would then be bolted together and printed. The engraving style was so tightly established that the work of different engravers was interchangeable.

[I’ve made several posts on late 19th-century American wood engravers. Here’s a link to “Interpretive Wood-Engraving: Interview with its Author.”]

lee-wave

Sidney Lee (British,1866-1949), The Wave, wood engraving, 1914, 13 3/4” x 9 3/4”

This seems to be a departure from the prevailing approach to a subject using wood engraving that captures more of a woodcut appearance, invoking the Ukiyo-e sensibility. I like that it doesn’t conform to what a more mainstream wood engraving of the time might look like.

[Indeed The Wave was a departure for Sydney Lee at the time. But from 1904-10 he made a number of color woodcuts strongly influenced by Japanese printmaking.  To read more about Lee, please go to my blog post: “Sydney Lee, an Obscure British Printmaker.“]

WE-Albee

Grace Albee (American,1899-1985), Contrasts – Rockefeller Center R.C.A. Bldg,  wood engraving, 1934, 7” x 5 1/2”, 16/100

Despite being a dark scene, for me this is a very bright print that captures what it is like to walk around midtown Manhattan late at night when the ambient lighting hides the stars. The contrasts are plenty: the light and the dark, the old and the modern, the secular and the religious. The scan of this print looks like the print is on perhaps a thin gampi paper that has buckled. It is hard to tell what is creating the light reaching up into the sky. Even the rendering of the car at the corner contrasts with the engraving of Rockefeller Center. I would like to see the print in person to be able to fully appreciate the engraved marks.

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Two details from Grace Albee’s print Contrasts.

[After I sent him two detail images from the Albee print, he wrote:] The details from Contrasts seem to show a very sensitive printing of the block with the black of the building being so much denser than the black of the sky. Nice use of make-ready. I like this print very much.

delhez-scherzo

Victor Delhez (Belgian,1901-1985), Scherzo in Gold, wood engraving, 1948, 11 3/4” x 8 7/8”, inscribed “epreuve d’artiste,” small edition

Not sure what this about. Studies in Euclidian geometry or the occult? But nicely rendered. Perhaps this is the engraving that one wonders about the longest.

[This intriguing wood engraving was purchased from Bill Carl.  He devotes a page to Delhez on his website: http://www.williampcarlfineprints.com/artist/delhez/engraving/]

baskin-laureateLeonard Baskin (American,1922-2000), Death of the Laureate, wood engraving, 1957, 11 5/8″ diameter, a/p

Seems to be a hybrid of woodcut sensibility coupled with wood engraving. This is not to diminish black-line engraving, but it has the feel of many woodcut artists from the 50’s and 60’s. Baskin has no peers for this visceral approach, although Jacob Landau, a student of Baskin’s, mined similar territory very successfully. This certainly exploits a wide range of wood engraving possibilities. The tension between the two approaches enhances the effect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Walker’s Neo Neocerebellum

NW Neo feature

Introduction

Sometimes one can nag a friend.

And I remember beginning to nag in June 2015 when my husband Michael and I visited George and Michelle Walker in Toronto and all four of us became fast friends. That trip was the result of the January 2015 ART I SEE post I wrote on Book of Hours, George’s 2010 wordless narrative in wood engravings. (See http://www.scottponemone.com/george-walker-wordless-novelist/) My nagging was about something George hadn’t done: namely issued a limited printed-from-the-blocks edition of his 2007 book Images from the Neocerebellum. That required a good bit of chutspah on my part to nag a guy who has displayed the Herculanean physical and creative energy to author wordless narratives in 2010 (Books of Hours), 2011 (The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson), 2013 (Conrad Black) and 2014 (The Wordless Leonard Cohen Songbook). And when we visited, George was working on Trudeau: La Vie en Rose, published that fall.

But there was collector’s logic to my nagging.  I found something in the images for Neocerebellum that seemed largely missing in his other books.  First some illustrations:

GW New dance spread

George Walker, two-page spread from the prospectus for Images from the Neocerebellum, 2007.

GW black spread

George Walker, two-page spread from the prospectus for Conrad Black, 2012.

When I bought the Book of Hours from George, he included in his package four propectuses of three other novels in wood engravings plus one from Neocerebellum. Because the images like those for Conrad Black served an historical narrative, they tended to be rather literal and hint at a photographic antecedent. But those for Neocerebellum had a Surreal energy as if the swirls created with dremel power tool transmitted electrical force to the image.  This Surrealistic charge was fully intended since in Neocerebellum George’s images were inspired by his dreams. As you can see from the prospectus for Neocerebellum, across from the image is a verbal recall of his dream.

In short, beginning with our visit to Toronto I started nagging George to produce a limited edition of Neocerebellum. Then when George and Michelle visited Baltimore in the fall of 2015, I noodged again. And when we shared a spring week in New York in 2016, the topic came up again (not even by me).  The Walkers liked the idea from the start. The issue was finding all the blocks from 2007.

Then this summer, Michelle announced work had begun.

Work in Progress

On August 9 Michelle send this email: “George is working hard on Neocerebellum, I’m folding pages constantly! How would you like the in-progress photos sent to you for your blog?”  On August 24 Michelle started sending images one at a time until I had 27.  With this cache of images on hand, I though an in-progress blog was indeed appropriate.  So I asked George to do a quick email interview.

GW w:dark angel

George Walker measures a fold for Neocerebellum with the image called Dark Angel in the original book. (This and subsequent photos are by Michelle Walker.)

Despite the fact that I’ve been egging you on, why are you doing a limited edition of Images from the Neocerebellum?

I wanted to revisit this project and make some changes to the introduction and replace some images I wasn’t happy with. Many of the blocks I used in the original edition were modified or missing and I hadn’t had a chance to properly edit all the images to my satisfaction. Your push to get me to print the Neocerebellum in a limited edition was just the kick I needed to create the fine edition of this project.

GW cover final touches

George sets up the title page in lead type with his engraved block in the center. He’ll then use his Vandercook proofing press to print it.

Has this project provided you with an interregnum in the production of wordless narratives which has included Trudeau: La Vie en Rose,  2015; The Wordless Leonard Cohen Songbook, 2014, and Conrad Black, 2013?

Yes! I’ve been trying to get out of the habit of making biographies. I wanted to explore some other avenues such as mythologies and other forms of story that might work as a wordless narrative. This project gave me a chance to revisit an earlier work where I was headed in a different direction with my subject matter. Perhaps this will be the start of a new direction.

GW title pages

A title page setup (left) with an augmented page printed in two colors.

Will the limited edition of Neocerebellum include the dream texts? If not, why not?

It will have my introduction but not text to match each image. I rarely wrote in my dream diary when I started it in the 1980s. It was all about getting an impression of the dream in a single picture. I wanted to restore this project to the original intent, which was the visual impact of the dream without explanation.

GW Dark angle

Dark Angel ready to be printed on the Vandercook proofing press.

Did you find all of the blocks used for the original trade edition from 2007? If there were any missing blocks, did you recut them?  Did you add any new images?

No, some blocks we were unable to find. I did recut images I was still attached to and I added new images that I thought were better compositions and reflections of my dreams as I remember them.

GW block box with sleeping

Boxes of wood engraving blocks showing Timmy the Pierced Face Wonder (#49) above Sleeping. (Block names are from the original Neocerebellum.)

You’re quite number conscious in sizing your editions. How many will there be this time and how did you determine the number?

This edition is 28 copies. This number is half my age as of September 16th, 2016.  In May of 2017 the Porcupine’s Quill edition of the book will be a decade old. 2+8=10

GW Anima

Completed folds of Anima/Animus Circus are ready for binding.

When do you expect this version of Neocerebellum to be ready for sale?

December! I was trying for September—but I was side-tracked by other work.

GW signatures w:harvest

George sews signatures of Neocerebellum as a guide for the book binder. The image is of Evergreen Harvest.

Inquiries

If you are interested in reserving a copy, please contact Michelle at michelle.belle@sympatico.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portfolio Madness: A Diary

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INTRODUCTION

Enough is Enough!  I need to end this streak of five portfolio purchases that started in March when a catalog from Bromer Booksellers arrived in the mail.  Inside the back cover was this listing for an unpublished portfolio, Twelve Wood Engravings to The Psalms, by the German artist Gustav Wolf (1887-1947).

Bromers Wolf

Bromer Booksellers Catalogue 144, page 11

I’d become fascinated with Wolf ever since the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) purchased in 2015 his portfolio Welt (World) of 12 large and dramatic woodcuts. As often happens when I learn of artworks that excite me visually, I turned to the computer to find out more about the artist and where his artworks may be available.  I found a listing for individual signed prints from Welt on the website of a German gallery. But for a price one needed to make a request. I did twice but got no answer.

I also found an online listing for Gustav Wolf on the website for an American print dealer. When I clicked on the name, all I got was the phrase: “Coming soon.” So I called the dealer. He said he had a number of things, but he was swamped doing shows and dealing with family concerns. He hoped to get to the Wolf prints soon, but never did in 2015. So that put things on hold until the Bromer catalog arrived.

The folks at Bromer were very good in sending me jpegs of several plates plus a page of text that was a transcription of notes that Wolf left on the back of watercolors that served as his sketches for the wood engravings. Wolf, who suffered from diabetes, died before The Psalms could be published.  What Bromer was offering was a set of proofs. Nice, but at $2,500 I kept my finger off the trigger.

But their availability served as a catalyst for me to renew my Wolf quest.

Madness begin

Wolf welt #5

Gustav Wolf, Plate 5 from Welt, 1927-29, woodcut, image 15 1/2″ x 20 3/8″

First and foremost, I had some money to spend in mid-March, when I returned from a month’s artist residency in India. There’s nothing like having prepaid holiday to build up a discretionary nest egg. First I tried the folks at German gallery again. This time (April 1) I got prices on the nine individual Welt prints they had. Seven were 250; two were 400. Together the nine were offered at 1,700.  Then the proprietor said he had a complete set of Welt that wasn’t listed on the website. “I just got it,” he said. “Found it in my father’s estate.” He offered that at 3,000, or 4,200 if I bought the set plus all of the individual plates. You see how things mushroom? Yet, I wasn’t sure I wanted Welt, either whole of in pieces. Once the BMA has something, my interest flags–as if I’m competing with the museum’s pocketbook.

So I try the American dealer again a week later. This time the dealer has the time to search for Wolf items. Previously, he said, “I have been consumed by the job of settling my Dad’s estate and cleaning out a house and three-story barn of a lifetime accumulation. I need to sort through everything because they were also dealers in antiques, books and art. Being the only child makes this a monumental task.” Now he provides me with images from three Wolf portfolios. He says: “Provenance for all the Gustav Wolf material is Lola Wolf, the artist’s widow. I purchased them directly from her.”  And he starts to provide me with images for Die Blätter vom Lebendigen Sein (Plates of the Living Being), 7 plates, 1918-22; Zehn Holzschnitte (10 Woodcuts), 1910; and Zehn Worte Des Anfangs (10 Words of the Beginning), 1928-29.

Wolf triplet

Left to Right

Die Blätter vom Lebendigen Sein, 1918-22, Plate 1 Weltbild (World Image), hand-colored woodcut, 15 1/2″ x 12 1/4″ (portfolio price $2,500)

Zehn Worte Des Anfangs, 1928-29, Plate 11 Der Name, hand-colored woodcut, 7″ x 12 1/4″ (portfolio price $750)

Zehn Holzschnitte, 1910, plate V, color woodcut, 4 1/8″ x 3 5/8″ (portfolio price $1,000)

I like the scale and power of Die Blätter vom Lebendigen Sein, but I’m not sure of the color. The dealer says the portfolio was issued with 50 sets hand-colored and 200 sets without color.  All plates are signed in both sets. Again the $2,500 price makes me hesitate. But knowing the name of this Wolf portfolio is sufficient to set me off on a AbeBooks.com search. Sure enough a German dealer has an uncolored set, and the price is 400 with expedited shipping. So my first portfolio was bought 21 April 2016.

Wolf Sein #6

Gustav Wolf, Das Herrliche (The Beautiful), Tafel VI from Die Blätter vom Lebendigen Sein, 1918-22, woodcut, 21 1/2″ x 17 3/4″

 Second Portfolio

So flush from my first portfolio purchase that barely put a dent in my discretionary nest egg, I turn to a recently passed-up opportunity. At the Capital Print Fair, the first weekend in April, I came across Crucifixion, a powerful but very difficult wood engraving by the artist Fritz Eichenberg (German-born American, 1901-90).

eichenberg Crucifixion

Fritz Eichenberg, Crucifixion, 1980, wood engraving, artist proof, 15″ x 9″

I think the price is $575, which is a bit much for all-but-the-earliest Eichenbergs but a lot less than a current online offering at $1,800. So I show the print to the dealer, and he says I can’t buy it separate from the portfolio of 17 prints called Dance of Death. He asks $3,000 for the set, which is assembled, i.e. about half are numbered 2/50; the rest are artist proofs. But all images are present and signed.

Now fast forward to the day after I bought the Wolf portfolio. I phone this dealer and offer $2,500 for the Eichenbergs.  He grumbles for a moment or two but agrees to my offering and includes shipping. Once the negotiations pass, I mention to him how this acquisition comes a day after my Gustav Wolf purchase. Hearing this, the dealer that he has some Wolfs too. He can’t remember what, and he’s not sure where they are. But he’ll look for them and get back to me.

WOLF FEVER

Ecstatic over my two new portfolios, I invite a print curator from the BMA over to see them.  After I turn each huge plate of Die Blätter vom Lebendigen Sein over, I show on my laptop the nearly psychedelic hand-colored version. It makes for a nifty ooh-and-ah session. But we both agree that the black-and-white versions are more powerful.

A week or two later I visit the BMA to see their copy of Gustav Wolf: Das Druckgraphische Werk, the 1982 catalogue raisonné by Johann Eckart von Borries. It’s a bit underwhelming visually, but all the information is there albeit in German.  I don’t take notes, but I do go online and buy a copy.

The horizon is quiet for a month or so. Until the day I altered my search (I don’t remember what I did) and landed on the eArt.de website, which features mostly German art. Sure enough, there’s two portfolios by Gustave Wolf offered by the same dealer: a large one in woodcuts called Confessio, Worte und Zeichen (Confession, Words and Characters),  1908, and a more delicate one in lithographs called Am Anfang/Genesis (At the beginning/Genesis), 1913.

Wolf Conf.Genesis

Left to Right

Confessio, Worte und Zeichen, 1908, woodcuts, 11 plates, edition 250, portfolio size 25 5/8″ x 19 5/8″

Am Anfang/Genesis, 1913, edition 250 (the first 50 hand-colored), Der dritte Tag (The Third Day) and Der siebente Tag (The Seventh Day), portfolio size 20″ x 16″

Here was where having the catalogue raisonné was handy. I could see that only four of the eleven Confessio plates were text-free, while the Am Anfang/Genesis portfolio was a rare case of Wolf using lithography. It also was related to Die Blätter vom Lebendigen Sein in that both utilize seven plates to express a Genesis progression. While the dealer offered both for 700 with shipping instead of 440 and 360 individually, I chose to just buy Am Anfang/Genesis for 350 with shipping. That was 21 June 2016.

So you see, I wasn’t so crazed for Wolfs that I needed them all.

FINAL SPREE

I did suffer a little anxiety attack because Am Anfang/Genesis didn’t arrived until 30 June. At which time I casually asked whether the dealer was just selling of a few items from his collection or was he a full-time print dealer. He answered: “Art trading is my business.” So I asked him to keep an eye out for “a very early woodcut edition of Alfred Rethel’s Ein Todtentanz, also Max Thalmann’s Der Dom [The Cathedral] or signed plates from his Amerika im Holzschnitt. I have the book.”

What I wasn’t prepared for was this answer on 6 July: “I can offer Thalmann’s DOM portfolio (complete including envelop) as one of the 250 unsigned pieces (700 euros).”  I request photos and don’t hear from him immediately.

In the mean time I remember that I hadn’t heard from the American dealer who sold me the Eichenbergs. Did he find the Wolfs that he thought he had?  Two days later he calls with the news that he has a complete set of Gustav Wolf’s Twelve Wood Engravings to The Psalms individually matted. On 12 July he offers them for $900, a great discount from the Bromer set. Later that day he sends images of the title page and the 12 plates. I compare them to the catalogue raisonné and the Bromer-supplied images. They’re better than the Bromer ones, and each has a pencil inscription well below the image. It reads: “Last work by Gustav Wolf, printed posthumously by Mrs. Gustav Wolf.” (I wonder if she actually printed them or only authorized and supervised their printing.) I call back 13 July and he accepts my offer of $800 with shipping.

Wolf Psalms #5

Gustav Wolf, Twelve Wood Engravings to the Psalms, Plate 5, Psalm 139.7, wood engraving, 14″ x 11″

The very next day I get this email from the German dealer: “I was on a short trip, so sorry for the delay. Unfortunately I can’t find the portfolio in my storage loft, where it should be(?) but I can offer my personal one with the plates individually signed in pencil (initials), in very good+ condition (first two plates slightly foxed with folds upper right) and incl. the foreword by G.F. Hartlaub and the original brown wrappers (950 euros).”  And he sends images of several plates, the portfiolio cover, and a close-up of the initials. The latter I compare to the signatures on an online set of Der Dom plates.

Thalmann dom plate

Max Thalmann (German, 1890-1945), Der Dom, 1922, set #59 with 10 woodcuts, initialed, 19 1/2″ x 14 3/4″

I should note that like the published Wolf portfolios Thalmann’s Der Dom portfolio numbered 250 sets. Both Wolf and Thalmann divided the sets into the first 50 and the later 200. In Wolf’s case he often hand-colored the first 50 and issued the rest un-colored. But he signed all the plates in all 250 sets.  Thalmann, on the other hand, signed each plate only for the first 50 sets.

Naturally, I tried to drop the price, but he rebukes me: “Please note it’s an important work of art in fantastic state. Lets say 940 incl. shipping (and minus PayPal fees, taxes…). Hope this is OK with you!” It’s OK with me and pay on 21 July.

This portfolio splurge–five purchases in 4 1/2 months–better be over now, I tell myself.  So I dare not ask any dealer any time soon: “Do you happen to have….”

Aesthetics

Well, there’s no hiding the fact that I really get off on relief prints. I just love the energy artists like Gustav Wolf and Max Thalmann can create in the clash of blacks and the whites. What both artist share besides their German heritage is their evident strong religious feelings. Wolf was Jewish. (Fortunately he and his wife escaped Germany in 1938.)  His portfolios WeltDie Blätter vom Lebendigen Sein, and Am Anfang/Genesis are all Old Testament creation cycles. And Twelve Wood Engravings to the Psalms sings the praise of God again and again. Thalmann expressed the Christian beliefs in Der Dom and Passion portfolios. You can’t overlook his feelings of religious ecstasy in the plate above.

A year after Der Dom was published he made a trip to the United States and so taken with the skyscraper canyons of New York that he created two woodcut portfolios: Rhythmus der Neue Welt (Rhythms of the New World) with 10 plates and Amerika in Holzschnitt (America in Woodcuts) with 30 plates.  The woodcuts of Rhythmus are rather geometric with straight edges and right angles; while the Amerika woodcuts are cut more feverish and ragged in the best German Expressionist fashion.

Thalmann Amerika #6

Max Thalmann, Amerika in Holzschnitt, the book, Plate #6 Nord-Sud, Studentweit, reproduced woodcut, 6 5/8″ 5 1/2″

The plate above is from the 1927 book Amerika in Holzschnitt with 24 plates chosen from both portfolios. It shows Thalmann’s Expressionist fervor in cutting the block. I sense that Thalmann in the streets of Manhattan felt an ecstasy there similar to what he felt in Gothic German cathedral. Was Manhattan his new church?

A great amount of Thalmann material resides at the Loyola Marymount University, Department of Archives and Special Collections, William H. Hannon Library, Los Angeles, CA.  According to the Online Archive California page for the Max Thalmann Collection: “Upon his return to Europe, he left his collection with his brother with dreams of someday moving to the United States, but he never did.”

Fritz Eichenberg, however, was raised in a non-religious Jewish family in Germany. He and his family emigrated to the U.S. in 1933. He certainly recognizes the influence of religion, but in his art he usually kept it at an emotional distance. Crucifixion from his Dance of Death portfolio was a dramatic exemption. He appropriated the Christian symbol of the cross to stress how millions of Jews each became the new sacrificial lamb.

LINKS

Max Thalmann

The link to the OAC Thalmann page is: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8mw2mjf/entire_text/ Under “Additional collection guides” is a link to a PDF of the items in the collection.

Images to some of his Amerika woodcuts and all of his Dom woodcuts can be found at: http://socks-studio.com/2016/04/02/max-thalmanns-america-in-woodcuts-1925-and-the-cathedral-1922/

Gustav Wolf

There’s a museum devoted to Wolf in Östringen, Germany.  It has no separate website and certainly no gallery of Wolf artworks. Here’s the link to the Wolf page at the town’s website: http://www.oestringen.de/kultur_freizeit/detail.php?rubric=77&nr=1455 The Wolf page talks about how in the 1980s the town’s mayor reached out to Wolf’s widow Lola with the promise to create a museum devoted to her husband.

The Arts in Exile website has a page–http://kuenste-im-exil.de/KIE/Content/EN/Persons/wolf-gustav-en.html–on Wolf. Below the text is a thumbnail image from his 1941-42 etching portfolio Vision of Manhattan. Click on the image and you can see the complete portfolio. Above the thumbnails is a short bibliography on Wolf.

Fritz eichenberg

Useful information can be found on his Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fritz_Eichenberg

Eichenberg worked with Dorothy Day and contributed mightily to her publication The Catholic Worker.  To learn more about this collaboration, go to: http://sacredartpilgrim.com/collection/view/19

Many print dealers carry his work. So just google the name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donna Diamond: Imagined light

DD featureIntroduction

The chief perquisite of my ART I SEE blog is getting to meet some of the artists I’ve written about. Last year I totally enjoyed meeting George Walker in his hometown of Toronto after blogging about his wordless narratives in wood engravings. (See: http://www.scottponemone.com/george-walker-wordless-novelist/) Then in June I had the great pleasure to meet Donna Diamond, who was the subject of a January 2015 post on her magical linoleum cuts. (See: http://www.scottponemone.com/donna-diamond-imaginingimaging-mortality-dot-by-dot/) When I first proposed meeting Donna in New York, I sought to visit her Bronx studio. But she demured and suggested instead meeting where she printed her linoleum cuts, namely the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop at 323 West 39th Street, 2nd Floor in Manhattan. (Blackburn is a program of the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts.) This proved fortuitous because I got to meet the person she credits for the success of her Linoleum cut production, Justin Sanz, Blackburn’s workshop manager.

(I should note accomplanying me on this visit to Donna at Blackburn were my husband Michael Frommeyer and George Walker and his wife Michelle. We coordinated a week in New York with the Walkers and enjoyed a number of behind the scenes museum visits and general good fun.)

This post allows me both to share the new works that Donna showed us at Blackburn–ink drawings and petite mezzotints–and to revisit to her linoleum cuts by talking with Justin.

DD smokers

Donna Diamond, Clay and Smoke I, (left), Clay and Smoke II, (right), each linoleum cuts, 22″ x 16″, edition 20

 

Justin Sanz

Donna is effusive in her praise for Justin Sanz. Without him she knows her Clay and Smoke linocuts would not have been so beautifully printed.  During our visit to Blackburn Donna showed us her latest linoleum block–a portrait of her daughter Alex–which hadn’t been editioned yet. Justin didn’t hesitate to examine it as well, knowing that he’ll be called when it was time to print it.

Because he has been so instrumental in printing her linoleum blocks, I decided to get Justin’s perspective on their work together. Via email, we created the following Q&A:

Donna & Justin copy

Justin Sanz and Donna Diamond examining her latest linoleum block. (Photo by scott Ponemone)

First off, what is your position at Blackburn, when did that initiate, and what are your duties there?

I am the Workshop Manager at the Blackburn. I have held this position of three of the past five years (a two-year break in between) and have been a part of the workshop since 2005. My duties are very vast and include but are not limited to the following:

Master printer: providing technical expertise to all community members and volunteers, printing and delegating contract print projects, and collaborating with artists to create editions of prints to be sold by the workshop

Educator: developing, organizing and coordinating of printmaking classes and demonstrations; teaching formal classes to members and informally educating 40+ volunteers on printmaking processes

Facilities manager: maintaining the printshop; tracking inventory and stocking Materials; organizing, selecting and providing residencies to eight artists per year; fostering a diverse workshop and continuing Bob Blackburn’s legacy of providing affordable, professional quality printmaking facilities to all.

Gallery director: curating and hanging exhibitions, selling published artwork, and seeking and applying for grants.

When did your first start working with Donna on her linocuts?

I believe it was 2012 or 13.

What type of assistance did she seek from you?  What problems had to be solved and how were they solved?

She had done some linocuts and needed them printed. Her cuts are very difficult to print so I had to wet the paper in order to use the most minimal amount of ink possible while achieving large black fields and fine hair line cuts.

How did you manage to get so much detail out of her images?

Practice and 14 years of primarily relief printing. Finding just the right balance of ink to maintain detail and print a dense black. Attentiveness to amount of ink being applied and ability to reproduce the same results through an edition.

In what way was this a collaborative effort?

Donna was unsure of the translation of carving to the way it would print. I showed her what was possible to print. We achieved her desired printed results through careful back and forth of me proofing the plate, adjusting ink levels, and Donna re-carving which sometimes had months in between [printing sessions] for a single image.

Donna at Blackburn copy

Donna Diamond with Justin Sanz and Michelle Walker . (Photo by Scott Ponemone)

 

Donna Diamond

After showing us the linoleum block of Alex, Donna completely surprised me. Her newest work was not the delicate realist image of Alex nor the magical realism of the Clay and Smoke prints. But pure investigations of light.  First she presented brushed-on ink drawings as large as 28″ x 20″ and then showed five tiny mezzotints, three 2″ x 3″ and two 4″ x 3″.  Yet as different as her latest work from the linoleum prints I was familiar with, all of her work exhibited strong contrasts and a fascination with light. This focus on light became the subject of the first questions I posed to her via email.

Mezzotint, I should say, is an intaglio printmaking process in which a metal plate, usually copper, is first given a uniform roughened surface, which if printed would yield a velvety black. The image is then created by burnishing (smoothing out) parts of the plate to various degrees, with the completely burnished areas printing paper white. Of the YouTube videos I scanned perhaps this one, while chatty, by David Crown is the clearest on mezzotints: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0whYoJ4_CtE

04_Unanswered Questions XIV

Donna Diamond, Unanswered Questions XIV, 2014, brush and black ink on paper, image: 16″ x 24”

What led you to do your light paintings? In what ways does light fascinate you?

The play of light and shadow has fascinated me as long as I can remember. I was classically trained to render forms in space, but from early on what compelled me was light in space.

As a representational artist, I have explored light as an emotive language that can reveal forms or evaporate them. I have worked with light to assemble and organize space or deconstruct it, convey ambiance and character or render emptiness, develop moments of clarity as well as ambiguity.

About three years ago, I was in my studio at daybreak. A ray of early morning sunlight was reflecting off a plastic print protector onto my wall. I began to flex and bend the plastic and discovered I could manipulate the reflections on my wall and virtually draw with reflected sunlight. The sunlight reflections I created on my studio wall were ephemeral and fleeting. Thinking of these reflections as a basic vocabulary, I began to imagine and create drawings on paper of light in space.

The specific content of my light drawings is deliberately ambiguous, yet the drawings seem to suggest something that might exist in the world. I am intrigued by the idea that these drawings of imagined light in an ambiguous space appear to hover between representational and nonrepresentational work. I am now creating preparatory drawings that explore this duality.

Did your Clay and Smoke linocuts–particularly how the “smoke” is captured by the light–influence your current interest in light?

When creating the mummy image in linoleum (Clay and Smoke I & II) I was exploring the value range possible with small marks in the dark. I wanted to evaporate misty light across a rendered form and smoldering light into darkness. It was exciting to see the illusion of smoke become visible on the block, weaving around and across the mummy.

At the time, my value range in linoleum did not allow me to articulate my new thoughts about light. Turning to brush and ink on paper offered me the chance to focus on creating the illusion of radiant light as well as smokey mists.

DD mezzos

Did the light paintings come before the mezzotints?

Yes, they did. I had been making light drawings for over a year and wanted to create prints very much. I had the opportunity to study mezzotint with Fred Mershimer. Fred is a master of mezzotint and introduced me to this complicated intaglio technique.

In the paintings you start from paper white and work to preserve that white to various degrees in certain places. How do you figure out what whites to preserve? How do you go about it? What materials and implements do you use?

The light images begin by observing, shaping, and manipulating reflected sunlight onto my studio wall.

The process of creating the drawings on paper starts with visualizing the two-dimensional reflected light I’ve observed as three dimensional. I make many small, rough, and very fast compositional sketches with pencil on paper.

Working on my computer in Photoshop, I begin to develop the theme of a given pencil sketch. I establish the shapes, rhythms, and movements of the light in space, and consider introducing ambiguous shadows of unseen objects.  As the image develops, I am mindful of the space the light lives in, and think about how the light will effect the space it inhabits.

I print out the preliminary computer sketch and draw the basic image with extremely light pencil lines on a piece of Fabriano Artistico paper. Using a brush and waterproof ink (Black or Sepia FW Acrylic Ink), I slowly render the image on the paper with thin ink glazes. As I work on the drawing, the image develops gradually. It changes, evolves, and matures. I work very slowly and carefully. Little by little, the illusion of glowing light appears as if coming from behind the paper.

06_Unanswered Questions X -Process

(Right) Donna Diamond, Unanswered Question X, black ink on paper, 2014, 24″ x 18″, with partially completed drawing (left).

Have you done mezzotints previous to the light series?

The light prints are my first mezzotints. I have been working on a small etching press in my home studio and plan to keep going. These first mezzotints are little, but I would like to go much larger.

Why choose the mezzotint medium for your light series?

I was attracted to mezzotint because of the tonal qualities. Mezzotint offers the chance to create whispering light, fragile edges that can dissolve, intense darks, as well as radiant moments. Mezzotint prints also have a mysterious quality that I am drawn to.

As I develop my mezzotints I have been looking at the work of printmakers I admire. I have been spending time with the masterful prints of Fred Mershimer, the elegant work of Mikio Watanabi, Judith Rothschild’s still lifes, and the recent mezzotints of Kirsten Flaherty.

How does your thinking change going from black to white? Is black and white sequence a more intuitive way to discover light in your imagery?

When burnishing an image onto a rocked copper mezzotint plate, the image can look either black or light. The burnished image will appear black if you lean over it wearing a black t-shirt. The burnished copper will reflect the color of your t-shirt. When you look at the burnished image under a light bulb (muted by tracing paper to avoid glare) it will appear light. So I can view an image I’m burnishing as either light or  black.

When creating drawings, the tones are glazed in layers. The transition from the white paper to grey tones is done slowly and gradually. This allows me a great deal of control over the values from paper white to ink black.

08_Whisper

Donna Diamond, Whisper, mezzotint, 2015, plate size: 3” x 2”

Your mezzotints are quite petite. Why? Will They get bigger?

Working on small prints has allowed me to build my experiences with the complicated and challenging mezzotint technique. My suite of little mezzotints describes small and fragile moments of light. There is an intimacy about small prints that appeals to me – they are most often viewed at a close distance by one person at a time.

I am now creating sketches for larger mezzotints. Working with a larger format will allow me to elaborate and expand my thoughts about light and explore more complex ideas.

How does the color of your ink affect your results? Do you have a preference?

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. I think in dark and light and my first mezzotints were printed with black ink. I began to experiment with tinted ink, a la poupee, and enjoyed the look of warmth in the tones. I do not know how this will evolve or where this will lead me.

How has your light series been received?

I am delighted to share that I just received the 2016 BRIO Award from the Bronx Council on the Arts for my recent light drawings. My earlier light drawings received the BRIO Award in 2013. In that year my drawings were chosen for exhibition by Curate NYC, a citywide festival of art exhibitions and an online showcase.
Additionally, in the past three years, my light drawings have been in gallery exhibits in and around New York City and at The Bronx Museum.

I have recently been editioning my mezzotints and they have been in a number of exhibits in the past few months, both in New York City and in Great Britain.

What’s next in the series?

I am now developing preliminary drawings for a new series of mezzotints. These mezzotints will be larger and more complex. The current preliminary drawings reflect the work that I’ve been doing with light and extend these ideas.

I am also working on preliminary drawings for a new series of linoleum cuts that echo the concepts and tonalities in my light drawings. The linoleum cut that I’m completing now explores a very wide range of values. I’m looking forward to working with artist and collaborative printer Justin Sanz printing the block this summer at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop.

Back to Justin

Finally two last questions to Juston on Donna’s mezzotints:

As to her tiny mezzotints, did she seek your assistance with these?  If so, what were the issues with plate-making or printing of these?

None other than she showing them to me and me being in awe of her abilities. She printed those on her own.

She’s planning much larger mezzotints in her light series. Has she discussed her plans with you? If so, what type of advice have you offered?

I believe she plans to embody the essence of life force and energy. My advice has mostly been encouraging her to follow the path she has chosen and to mention which of her numerous variations of color proofs I prefer.

01_Botanical Light

(Above) Donna Diamond, Botanical Light I, 2014, brush and sepia Ink on paper, 28” x 20” (Below) Donna Diamond, Event Horizon, 2015, brush and sepia Ink on paper, 28” x 20”

03_Event Horizon

Making Sky Aipens Go Big

Introduction

One of the things I wanted to discover after returning to Baltimore last winter from a month in India was how my lessons in the traditional Uttarakhand painting style called aipen would affect my Planets series of watercolors. (To see a portfolio of the Planets, go to: http://www.scottponemone.com/portfolio/planets/)

Aipan 2 planets

(left) Scott Ponemone, Planet VIII, watercolor, 7 Sept. 2015, 20″ diameter, (right) Scott Ponemone, Planet IX, watercolor, 22 Jan. 2016, 20″ diameter

Here are two from the Planet series. Each has a border 2.5″ wide.  Oddly enough the two here share a motif of anthemions. The ones on the right are from an ancient Greek vase at the Walters Art Museum; those on the left from frescoes in a 14th-century Eastern Orthodox church in Metéora, Greece.

In both cases the border was carefully drawn in pencil. The lighter colors were painted first; while the black was painstakenly painted second.

Apin planet X

Above (left) shows my planning for the border to Planet X. My first attempt (the pair to the top) I decided was too wide.  So I reduced the width a few degrees (of the circle) and decided it looked closer to the original, which was a  mosaic from Ostia Antica, the ancient port of Rome. Then I drew this pattern all the way around the border.

Aipen borders required a whole new procedure simply because there could be no drawing of the border on the watercolor paper. My previous ART I MAKE post describes aipan, its tradition, and the process in detail: http://www.scottponemone.com/lessons-in-aipan/

Aipan working

(left) Photo by Isabel Moreno Cortez, a PECAH artist from Mexico. (right) Detail of Aipen II, watercolor and gouache, 4 March 2016, 12″ diameter.

Here is a photo of me taken during PECAH 2015, an artist residency near Manila, a village in the Himalayan foothills. I was working on a traditional aipen grid pattern (Chowki) on top of an opaque ground of Indian red pigment.  Except for a few reference points and a penciled circle, I worked freehand. Needless to say, this took a great deal of patience and persistence and a steadier hand than I have now. Hence my right hand assisted the left.

The fun part of painting that aipen was that, once the grid pattern of straight lines and pointed arches was complete, I had many options on finishing up. For instance, what meander pattern should run around the outermost band; what to fill in the squares with (I chose a traditional Sun and pinwheels); and how many of the arches to fill in.

Aipens 3X

(from left) Sky Aipen I, watercolor and gouache, 5 March 2016, 12″ diameter; Sky Aipen II, watercolor, 6 March 2016, 12″ diameter; Sky Aipen III, watercolor, 7 March 2016, 12″ diameter

I scrambled during the last few days of the PECAH residency to make roundels of skies with aipen-inspired borders. At only 12 inches across they are like miniature Planet paintings. Sky Aipen I used the traditional Indian Red gouache for the border background; the other two had watercolor backgrounds.  It was an intense workout, and I thought the results were pretty exciting. But what would happen when I made Sky Aipens as big as the Planets with their 20″ diameter?

BIG Sky aipens: step by step

I decided to record the steps I would take to paint big Sky Aipens. Except for the first one (of three), I even photographed the steps in painting the skies.  Recording the steps was useful not only for making this presentation possible but for slowing me down and allowing me to thoughtfully consider what would come next.

For the big Sky Aipens I decided to make my own gouache Indian red paint.  As it turned out I had all of the ingredients because I had regrained all of the doors on the parlor floor of my house.  They had been stripped of their graining by the previous owners.  Then the doors were stained black walnut. Fortunately the two pairs of pocket doors separating the three parlors retained almost all of their 1850s graining. And black walnut was the fashionable wood at the time.  But the look of the black walnut graining of the pocket doors and that of the black walnut staining on the other doors was night and day.  So I taught myself how to grain paint.

Aipan paint labeled copy

The ingredients: A apple cider vinegar; B powdered gum arabic; C gum arabic dissolved in E distilled water; D powdered Indian red pigment; and F the finished paint.  Formula: Stir 1 part pigment into 1 to 2 parts vinegar, then add half part dissolved gum arabic. Source: Ina Brosseau Marx, Allen Marx and Robert Marx, Professional Painted Finishes, Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 1991.  See “Country Graining” on page 233. (Note: You can purchase gum arabic pre-dissolved with a preservative. My mixture will mold if not refrigerated.)

SKY AIPEN IV

SA border sketch

As with the Planets, the big Sky Aipens begin with a full-scale sketch of the border. It appears that I first thought of making the border 3″ wide instead of the 2.5″ width I used on the Planets. You can see that I scaled back the scalloped outer edge a half inch. So I started intending to alternate large scallops with smaller ones peaking out between the larger ones. But it didn’t turn out that way, and I’m pleased that it didn’t.

Aipan 1 steps

In the topmost pair I followed the initial plan. Then I thought better of it. Why not connect the small scallops to create a wave pattern?  And so I did as seen in middle row left.  Then I filled in the lower band pretty much as intended. Finally I added the sun in the smaller scallops. The sun appeared in the initial plan but only when the border was 3″ wide.  And I left out the wavy plant-like device that was in the 3″ border.

Aipan 1 whole

Here are four stages of Sky Aipen IV, starting with a finished sky and only a penciled-in scalloped edge.

SA finished

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen IV, watercolor and gouache, 4 April 2016, 20″ diameter. NOTE: the painting is positioned on Arches cold-press watercolor paper so that the framed piece would be a diamond.

 

Sky Aipen V

PECAH Aipan 4

The source for parts of the borders on Sky Aipens V and VI is a aipen painted on cotton at the home of author Jugal Kishor Paithshali, near Almora, Uttarakhand. For Sky Aipen V it’s the wavy, plant-like device repeated three times under the arches.  For Sky Aipen VI it’s the white inverted teardrop with a hook at the bottom.

Aipan 2 skies

First, here’s the stages of Sky Aipen V’s sky.

SA2 sketch

Sketch with three variations on how to fill the spaces between the arches, and practice painting the wavy, plant-like device under the arches.

Aipan 2 borders

Details of the five steps of painting Sky Aipen V’s border.

Aipen 2 whole

Four views of Sky Aipen V in production.

Sky Aipen V

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen V, watercolor and gouache, 21 April 2016, 20″ diameter.

Sky Aipen VI

JP aipen 1 full

For Sky Aipen VI I broke away from the regular boarder shape by adding ears inspired by another aipen at Jugal Kishor Paithshali’s house.

SA3 sketch

I modified the ears, as seen in this sketch, to resemble elephant profiles. I inadvertently first drew the teardrop shape (upper right) upside down.  The other six have the correct orientation (the hook toward the center).

Aipen 3 sky

Sky Aipen VI’s sky, step by step.

Aipen 3 border

The border, step by step.  Unlike the source material, I didn’t white-in the teardrops.

Aipen 3 whole

Six views of Sky Aipen VI’s production.

Sky Aipen VI

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen VI, watercolor and gouache, 11 May 2016, 22 7/8″ x 22 7/8″.

The sun (top), moon (below), bell and conch are auspicious Hindu symbols that are often used in Aipan.

 

Facades of Almora: Carved Survivors

AL nainital

Typical domestic construction in Nainital, Uttarakhand. (All photos by Scott Ponemone)

 

Introduction

I have to admit that my first week in India was disappointing regarding the architecture I saw. I came with visions of exotic forms, but what I saw was rebar, cement and brick structures. I was losing hope of recording Indian architectural details to add to my glossary of patterns that so stimulate much of my own art making. While not particularly inspiring, I photographed the railings (above) in Nainital because that was about the best I could find up to then.

Maybe preserving historic domestic buildings hadn’t risen to a public priority in a developing country like India. Think how many wonderful buildings were lost in the U.S. well into the 1970s.  Think of Robert Mill’s designed 1817-19 Waterloo Row in Baltimore. Those 12 houses were bulldozed in 1967.

AL Mathpal 3

Yashodhar Mathpal showing one of his watercolors.

 

Fortunately I got to meet a gentleman who has been greatly interested in preserving India’s artistic heritage.  Dr. Yashodhar Mathpal (born 1939) is a watercolor artist and a recognized expert in prehistoric rock paintings.  (Here’s a link a short Times of India article: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/past-prism/museum-men-of-bhimtal-part-i/ and a link to one of his books: https://books.google.com/books/about/Prehistoric_Painting_Of_Bhimbetka.html?id=GG7-CpvlU30C)

AL Mathpal painting

Yashodhar Mathpal, Full Moon in the Heaven, watercolor, 2014, 37 x 24 cms

While we had a lengthy discussion about artistic inspiration (that I wish I had recorded), what left a lasting impression was found in his private museum at his home in Bhimtal, not far from Nainital.  It was a two-story affair. The top level was devoted to his own art. While many of his paintings are of the illustrative nature–almost social realism in style–of rituals and daily life of the Kumaoni people of Uttarakhand, I found his small abstract watercolors that imagine Hindu gods becoming one with the Himalayas to be his most personal and affecting work.

The floor below was devoted to Mathpal’s efforts to preserve Kumaoni crafts traditions. For the most part by contemporary museum standards it was a disheartening affair. Dusty, poor lit, barely labeled, the objects he collected are nearly bereft of historical/socialogical context.  Yet, this was the first place is saw aipan designed objects. (I devoted a recent blog post to aipan and how I tried to incorporate it into my own art: http://www.scottponemone.com/lessons-in-aipan/)  Moreover, here is where I first saw pieces of carved wood that once were part of decorations for doorways and windows of the region.

AL Mathpal carvings A

Pieces of carved and painted wood on display in the Mathpal museum.

AL Mathpal carvings 2

These pieces are terrific, particularly the running repeats, so reminiscent of Greek and Roman art.  While I photographed what was there, for me it didn’t really count until I could witness this tradition in situ. But where?

Online, there’s not much on Uttarakhand wood carving. The Crafts and Artisans of India website (http://www.craftandartisans.com/) has this say on the subject:

The artists from the hills are skilled in encapturing the natural beauty of Kumaon and Garwhal through the craft of wood carving. The craft has declined over the current. However, in the olden days, carving on the main entrance door was considered a status symbol. The family which had more carving over the doors was considered to be wealthier or the family had high status in the society. With the increase in expenses and cost of living there are very few houses which now have the carved wooden doors. The existing designs today are of birds, floral and fauna, water mammals etc. In the hills today also many old houses display the beautiful art of carving over the window panels. These artists highlight natural beauty in their carvings. The designs have carvings of birds, flowers, mountains, fruits and even the human figures. The people of hills are very god fearing and this can be witnessed in their art as many images of god and goddesses can also be seen accompanying the craft. The ornamental wood carving on the front doors are known as Kholi in the local language.

The following weekend, I was in Almora, an important small city in the heart of the Kumoan region. (For my travels I was dependent on the itinerary of the directors of the PECAH residency program, in which I was one of six participating international artists.) On arriving, our PECAH hosts recommended exploring the bazaar that ran for blocks parallel to the principal vehicular roadway. It was quite a colorful and lively affair. The women artists in our group were fascinated by the fabric shops, where a rainbow of materials could be turned into saris overnight by the tailors in the next stall. However, what I wanted to see was along the quieter, more residential part of the lane.  There, I was told, were many houses adorned with the carvings I sought.

It was nearly dark by the time we walked along this part of the bazaar, but, emphatically yes, here was a veritable museum of Uttarakhand facade carvings. Without a doubt, I would return with camera in hand the next morning.

GALLERY

Alm rhesus

Alm window dog

At dawn, the bazaar’s street was nearly quiet.  The previous day’s litter and filth had been swept into neat piles.  A few cattle grazed on garbage. A couple of shopkeepers even left them handouts. Dogs lazily scratched themselves. Rhesus monkeys observed it all from their perches. In fact at least one dog watched me progress up and down the lane. Thank goodness, my camera, which I failed to notice the night before was low on batteries, kept working as long as I put the focus on manual.

In this gallery I’ll start with street views, followed by views across the facades of individual buildings, ending with closeup shots.

Alm * alley view

Alm * alley S curve

Note the open gate at the top of the alley’s curve. During shopping hours it’s closed to traffic.

Alm * facades boy

Despite the tradition of competitively carved doorways that I read about, in Almora the ground-level woodwork was plain and the doors themselves exhibited only raised panels. All of the fancy carvings was on the second- and third-floor facades.

Alm upper stories

alm * 3 brown windows

Alm * 3 green windows

 

Alm green facade

 

AL window pairing

alm failing window

Unfortunately, this facade was cut in half, and the half that remained was left to decay.

 
Alm * 3 vertical panels
AL shallow brown carvings

AL small elements B

AL flat patterns

AL carved panels

alm pattern green

AL dieties

Alm carved fragment

I was sorely tempted to work this fragment free and take it as a souvenir.

Addendum

While in Delhi at the end of my India journey, I visited the National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum, known generally as the National Crafts Museum.  Besides extensive holdings of amazing textiles, it’s grounds are composed of compounds of indigenous domestic architecture with appropriate paintings and/or carvings.  Unfortunately labeling was scant at best.  But it did offer one elaborately carved wooden doorway, perhaps the type that once would have been found in Almora.

AL crafts museum doorway

After lunch at the museum’s fine restaurant Cafe Lota, I explored the grounds further and came upon artists exhibiting their Pattachitra and Warli paintings.  I was familiar with Pattachitra because I took a brief class in this colorful depiction of Hindu dieties during my PECAH residency.  But Warli work from the Western Indian state of Maharashtra was new to me. It’s strikingly similar to Aipan in that the dark ground–often red ochre or black–is laid down first. Then the design–of stick figures engages in every-day, ceremonial or mythic activities in Warli work–is applied on top with opaque white paint made with a paste of rice and water. It was closing time, but guards allowed me to bargain for one of the smaller Warli paintings of a river scene below and a peacock as big as a tree above.

PECAH Warli

Dhaku Vittah Kadu and Mangesh Dhaku Kadu, untitled, Warli painting on cotton cloth, 2015, 40 x 43 cms.

 

Julie’s & Nicole’s Paper Aipan

Manila hotel closeup copy

This half-built hotel was home base for PECAH 2016. (Except where indicated, all photos are by Scott Ponemone)

 

INTRODUCTION

On my last morning near the Uttarakhand (India) village of Manila I was ready to leave my half-built hotel as usual at 6:30 to take my daily hour’s walk.  But I didn’t immediately set out because I heard women’s voices coming from the dining area (inside the open steel roll-up door in the photo).  That was odd since only men worked at the hotel, located in the Himalayan foothills, about 6,000 feet up. So I peeked in to find Nicole Schlosser and Julie Parenteau busy at work making cuts to large sheets of white paper that they had taped together and drawn a design in the aipan tradition.  The best way to explain that tradition is to link you to ART I MAKE blog post of mine that describes my attempt to adapt aipan to my own art-making: http://www.scottponemone.com/lessons-in-aipan/.

N & J full copy

Nicole Schlosser (L) and Julie Parenteau.

Like myself, artists Nicole and Julie–both Canadians–had come to Manila to participate in PECAH (Programme of Exchange in Culture and Art of Himalayas), a month’s long residency that introduces visiting artists to Indian art and craft traditions.  (I got instruction in yoga, helped prepare meals for a week, and worked in two regional art traditions: pattachitra and, of course, aipan.) The three other international participants came from Mexico, France and Australia.  Our India hosts all lived in the small city of Ramnagar, far below Manila, about 3.5 hours by bus along a twisty, narrow, partially-under-construction road.  PECAH is one of the programs operated by the BHOR Society and it’s director Sanjay Rikhari.  Details about BHOR can be found at: http://bhor.org/, while PECAH info is at: http://bhor.org/articles-2/pecah/.

Both Julie and Nicole were a bit giddy that morning.  They had spent all night on the paper aipan project.  I was instantly fascinated by the inspiration and ambition that their project exhibited. So when the PECAH residency ended in Ramnagar for a two-day festival of dance, music and art, I photographed the installation of their paper aipan.  Before they suspended their aipan with thread from an overhead beam, they surprised me again.  Nicole and Julie laid it on the floor and did a tracing of their aipan in pencil. This they would paint in the traditional aipan background color of burnt siena (called “terracotta” by the locals).  So their finished project consisted of the hung paper aipan, the negative of it painted on the floor in front of it, and the shadow of the paper aipan project on the wall behind it.

Happily both artists agreed to answer some questions about their project once they finished with their travels. (Short bios of the artists follow this interview.)

INTERVIEWS

I asked the same set of questions to both artists.  Instead of trying to interweave their responses, I kept them separate.

What did you think about the Aipan tradition?

Nicole Schlosser: I think it’s one of the most beautiful art forms I have ever encountered. I like how detailed it can be, and yet at the same time it’s very simple. I like how almost everything in the design holds meaning. I like how the materials used are not harmful for the environment (terracotta and rice). I like that it’s an art form that is used to celebrate special occasions and the everyday. I like that the work is so temporal.

PECAH aipan making copy 2

During the first day of aipan class we followed traditional aipan techniques. After making a circle in terracotta-colored paint, Julie drew her design with her fingers with white paint made from ground rice and water.

Julie Parenteau: For me, making the aipan was a very soothing process. The repetition of the patterns and the small details felt almost like a form of meditation. I like the fact that every line and dot have a significance and a purpose in the whole. I especially enjoyed taking part in the making of the paint itself with the grinding of the rice and the mixing of red pigment with water.

What intrigued you about it?

Nicole: I think for me the thing that made it most intriguing was also the thing that almost made me not want to take the workshop. Traditionally aipan is done on the floor and will be either trampled or washed away. It’s meant to be temporal; the destruction of each piece is inevitable. Because there is so much work that goes into it, the idea of it being destroyed is a bit of a barrier to getting started.

Julie: I think that what intrigued me the most in this tradition was its dual purpose, both aesthetic and also a ritual of protection and blessing. In this sense, I liked working directly on the floor and the idea that the piece will just naturally disappear over time.

You both did rather complicated copies of aipans in miniature.  What effect did doing that have on you?

PA Nicole's small aipan

A work in progress: Nicole’s small aipan on plywood. (Photo by Nicole Schlosser)

Nicole: I really love working small and with lots of detail like that. I lose myself in that sort of work, where the process is tedious and repetitive. I wouldn’t say it has a calming effect, but something along those lines.

What were the origins of the idea for the paper aipan?

Nicole: Julie said something about the aipans looking like lace and wanting to do an installation for the exhibition. I thought we should use terracotta in the installation. That’s the only thing I remember feeling strongly about. To be honest, I don’t really remember exactly, but Julie was the brains behind this project.

Julie: The very delicate and complex patterns painted in white and attached to each other reminded me of lace. I wanted to lift them in the air like a fine embroidery.

When did this idea materialize?

Nicole: A few days before the exhibition Julie said she wanted to do an installation and asked if I would collaborate. I was game and started looking into supplies before we even knew exactly what we were going to do. We had a plan and started working two nights before the exhibition.

Julie: We had talked about the idea for a day or two, then we decided to do it. All we required was a knife and paper. Luckily Nicole had brought a paper cutter with her. We went to the village of Manila to purchase the paper. We were able to find some that was both resistant and thin enough for the project. Because the store did not carry large format, we took about 20 smaller sheets and attach them together. Later Himanshu Sharma provided us with a second much needed X-Acto knife that allowed us to finish on time.

Why did you want to make it so big?

Nicole: Because it’s more impressive. I think aipans can be a range of sizes traditionally. For this exhibition specifically it needed to be big in order to not get lost in the space with all the other things going on.

Julie: As for the size, I thought it needed to have a certain presence, with some lightness but to be felt in the room.

How did you translate a small aipan pattern into your paper aipan? How did you divide your labor in producing the paper aipan? What problems did you run into and how did you solve them?

Nicole: Honestly time had a lot to do with it. We picked an Aipan design that was intricate and “dumbed it down” so that we could draw just one quarter and then trace it. We only had one paper cutter with a few replacement blades … so one person would draw or trace while the other person cut and then we would switch. I don’t think there were any unusual problems. Because time was an issue, sleep was an issue. We listened to oldies and were constantly rewarded by our progress.

Julie: We chose an aipan model that we both liked but had not worked on before. We started the drawing and slightly modified the model to fit better. The division of the task came naturally and flowed.
I don’t recall that we ran into any problems in the making of the paper creation. Except that when we started we had only one paper cutter. So we took turns on drawing and cutting.

PA partially cut

The last cuts on the paper aipan were done on the floor of the exhibition hall. (Photo by Nicole Schlosser)

I saw you around 6:30 a.m. You said you pulled an all-nighter. When did you start and when did you finish? How did you manage to keep going? Just how tired were you when you finished?

Nicole: We started two nights before the exhibition around 9 p.m. and finished within the hour of the opening! Like I said before, it was a really rewarding process. Each part that was completed just made us more excited to get it done. Also everyone who would see us working on it was encouraging, and we had people stepping in all along the way to help. Himanshu was a life saver. When we finished, I think I was too proud to be tired, but once the exhibition space started to clear out the opening night, sleep swooped in like the rising tide.

Julie: We started after dinner I would say around 9:30 p.m. We worked until morning and took a break for breakfast. Then we continued until it was time to pack and get ready to leave to Ramnagar.
Later that night we worked again for several hours and finally finished the piece the morning after. Surprisingly in the night we were not tired. I think we were so involved into the process that it kept us awake and enthusiastic. The beauty of working during the night is that everyone is sleeping and so there are no distractions. Time is still somehow. It is easier to be completely focused.

aipen hanging small

Himanshu Sharma on the ladder was tireless in his efforts to get the paper aipan to hang right.

What complications did you run into hanging it?

Nicole: So many haha! First all the nails kept falling out of the cement wall. People were trying to keep the exhibition space neat and tidy. So things would be put away and forgotten about, and we lost a lot of materials. To hang the piece we ended up having to use thread, which was both fragile and was cutting up the paper. Getting the angles right so that it would hang straight would have been a nightmare due to our sleep deprived minds, but Himanshu had limitless patience and know-how.

Julie: We did not have the right kind of nails for the wall. They were falling off. The piece required several lengths of threads to hang straight down. There were a lot of adjustments, and with the nails that kept falling it was not ideal. Overall I would say that the main complication was that we were running out of time. Again, luckily we had Himanshu to the rescue!

Aipen tracing

Maëlle Maisonneuve (top) helps Nicole (left) and Julie (right) trace the aipan on the floor.

Did you always intend to trace it on the floor before hanging it?  
When and how did that idea germinate?

Julie trace

Julie tracing the paper aipan.

Nicole: Tracing and painting was always part of the plan. It was all decided before we got to work.

Julie: Yes, we had this in mind since the beginning. When we developed the idea originally, we knew we wanted to play with the negative space. This was our way to incorporate it in the composition. By tracing it directly from our piece, we knew it would be accurate.

How did you have the energy to paint the floor version? Could you have painted the floor aipan without help?

Nicole: For me the piece was not complete without the painting on the floor. We had already gone so far, how could we have stopped? Plus I think at this point we were so elated that tiredness was a vague idea. We would not have been able to get it done in time without the help of everyone who joined us. Granted some of the help came in the form of children and was actually more time consuming because we had to redo their parts, but there was something really amazing with all these people joining us.

Julie: Since we had invested time and effort into the art piece, we were just very excited to get to see the final result. We were satisfied with the piece, and doing the painting on the floor was a reward not a chore. Many people came to help us. They sat and naturally they grabbed a paint brush and started to paint. It was great. The art became a collaborative piece. In the aipan tradition, the diagrams are made, they become a blessing for prosperity to the place as well as for people who created them. We were sharing this all together.

aipen group paint

Painting the traced aipan.

I like how the floor version was the negative of the paper one (except to the outside perimeter dots). Whose idea was it to paint the outside dots?

Nicole: Julie and I were not sure how to finish it off and then Manav [Joshi] came and started doing the perimeter dots like that, and we were like: “OK, I guess that’s perfect.”

Julie: It was our beloved Manav, our aipan instructor, who suggested it!

aipen finished

Completed installation. Note the cast shadow.

Did you always intend to cast a shadow behind the hanging aipan? Did the lighting work out for you?

Nicole: Yes,the lighting was funny. Originally they gave us a sort of rave light that changed colors, and I remember feeling this sense of panic. Once we got a white light, it was hard to get the shadow crisp enough. And of course every time you turned your back someone would move the spotlight. I think a lot of people felt ownership in a way and wanted it to look it’s best. So the spotlight was forever moving.

Julie: Yes we were hoping that the shadow would project on the wall the image and patterns. It worked OK, but not as much as I would have liked. I was hoping for a more crisp shadow. I think we hung the piece a bit too far from the wall for that. Although the lighting was not ideal, overall it works.

How did spectators respond to your project?

Nicole: They loved it.

Julie: I think we got a good response. Himanshu told me that they kept the piece and used it for the Baithiki celebration, another event of the BHOR Society. So I guess this is a good sign!

In what way did your project meet your expectations?  
What did you learn from it? How do you think your collaboration went?

Nicole: I was really happy with final project. I think I learned mostly the benefits of working in collaboration. I really enjoyed working with Julie and hope we can work together again in the future.

Julie: In my opinion our collaboration went very well. We were a good team! I did not have any particular expectation. We had an idea, and we materialized it. I am happy with the result.

N & J aipen project

Nicole and Julie in festival dress. (This is the first time I noticed that they placed a 6-pointed star in the middle instead of the traditional swastik.)

Do you think your translation of the aipan tradition change the tradition or change how you look at aipan?

Nicole: I think it changed how I look at Aipan. As a foreigner I’m not sure how much of a right I have to change a tradition that doesn’t belong to me, but I think people appreciated that Julie and I started to explore this art form and give it a place in contemporary art. The BHOR Society exists to promote arts and culture of the Uttarakhand region, and PECAH exists specifically to share these traditional art forms with foreigners. Realistically we didn’t change very much because Aipan exists to celebrate special moments. Even though the aipan manifested in a different form in our work, it still served the same purpose.

Julie: This is a difficult question. I think doing the actual aipan made me reflect on the process in a deeper way by considering the meaning behind it. Doing the project made me look at aipan in a more formal matter, appreciating its design and the aesthetic beauty of it.

How do you think the project will influence your own art making?  Has it already?

Nicole: I am more keen on working in collaboration that I was before, and I am less afraid of projects that are sure to meet with a sure death. I think this project has given me a boost of confidence. It was more successful than I imagined it could be, and we had such a short time frame to work within and so few materials to work with.

Julie: I had mentioned before I liked making the paint by mixing the red pigment with water. This process really made me think about painting in a different way. Same goes for the act of painting directly on the wall or on the floor without the support of a panel or a canvas. There is something extremely beautiful in the idea of making art with almost nothing and let it live and disappear simply with life happening around it. Aipan inspired me to do this, use natural pigment and go paint everywhere! I think it changed my art practice by making me want to do art in a simpler way, perhaps closer to the earth.

N & J behind aipen

SHORT BIOS

Julie Parenteau

Julie is an artist and art educator who graduated from the École des arts visuels et mediatique de l’Universite du Quebec a Montreal UQAM. Her work is always closely linked to notions of landscape. Julie says, “I love art for its gathering power. My research interests focus on the possible influence of the environment of an individual on his creativity.”

She is a member of Collectif Escargo, which, she says, “combines visual arts, design and landscape architecture to create public arts installations. We do every part of a project as a team, from conception to realization. This allows us to undertake bigger ventures and to share the fun of creation. For me, it is a good balance to have both, personal projects that I present in galleries and collective works presented in a public art context.” The collective’s website is: collectifescargo.com

Her own website is: jparenteau.com

Nicole Schlosser

Nicole grew up in Hamilton, Ontario and now lives and practices in Trois-Rivières, Québec. She belongs to the collective L’Atelier Presse Papier:  http://www.pressepapier.ca/Atelier
Her work has been featured in many exhibitions and festivals including 2010 Arts FEST in Mississauga, Ontario, where she received Best Video Work. She has exhibited in many galleries and cultural centers throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Her work is part of numerous private and public collections including that of the Juravinski Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario, and that of Glasgow University in Scotland.

 Her website is: https://blankspacesemptyplaces.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EVAN LINDQUIST: An engraver’s Engraver

 

EL feature

PREFACE

In shortened form, this post first appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of the Newsletter, a semiannual journal of the Print, Drawing & Photograph Society (a friends group of the Baltimore Museum of Art).  New to this article is the artist’s comments about his engravings devoted to labyrinths and string theory. Also this online version makes checking out the links so much easier. Don’t miss viewing the YouTube video “Evan Lindquist Engraves Martin Schöngauer.” It’s very instructive to hear the artist describe his craft.

INTRODUCTION

While scanning the horizon for all things Hayter—that’s printmaker and Atelier 17 founder Stanley William Hayter (1901-1988)—Ann Shafer’s radar locked on Evan Lindquist. What attracted Shafer, BMA Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings & Photographs, was not so much Lindquist’s 40-year tenure as an art, printmaking, and drawing professor at Arkansas State University nor his appointment as Arkansas’s first Artist Laureate (2013-17).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I can’t recall the context in which I first saw his work,” Shafer said via email, “but I remember posting his engraving Knight, Bird & Burin to my Tumblr a few years back. Then after I friended him on Facebook earlier this year, I saw his post of an image of the Hayter portrait. That’s when I first contacted him directly. …”

Yes, what attracted Shafer to Lindquist was his engraved portrait of Hayter, the subject of her planned 2018 BMA exhibition and catalogue—a quest that started to take shape after the BMA acquired an Atelier 17 print in 2007. His 2015 engraving of Hayter is part of his continuing series of engravings of engravers that began in 2006 and now numbers, by my count, 17 images.

Evan Lindquist (Photo: Sharon Lindquist, 2015) ►

Thanks to Shafer’s online monitoring of Lindquist’s series of portraits, the Museum purchased his SW Hayter Engraves War last year. Asked why she would want to include a portrait of Hayter in the BMA collection, Shafer said, “I am pleased to be able to show the extension of Hayter’s legacy all the way up to the present day.”

As a thank-you for the BMA purchase, Lindquist made a gift of his 2009 engraving Gabor Peterdi Engraves a Still Life. His generosity inspired me to contact him and seek out an email interview, to which he quickly agreed.

INTERVIEW

Evan Lindquist certainly didn’t retire from printmaking when he retired from ASU in 2003. His series of engraver portraits is a testament to that. Over his career he has had more than 60 solo exhibitions and has received more than 80 awards in about 300 competitive exhibitions. His prints can be found in over 70 public institutions.

In my November 2015 email interview, I worked chronologically from his early influences to his philosophy about engraving, to his schooling, and to his current series of engraved portraits.

How important was your father’s interest in calligraphy to your attachment to engraving?

He had wanted to be an artist, but the Great Depression and World War II restrained his passion. … His penmanship often consisted of calligraphic lines, flowing curves, and bold shades. Before I could read or write, I would lie on the floor and emulate those lines, but mine were just childish scrawls in crayon which I tried to perfect. Later I moved on to making those lines with ink pens. Years later, copperplate engraving was the answer to creating elegant lines. …

Calligraphy appears to be a dance of arm movement and hand pressure, while engraving requires the burin-holding hand to remain all but motionless. What type of struggle was it for you to bring the elegance of calligraphy to the copper plate? What mental adaptation was required to go from one medium to the other?

There are many expert engravers whose creative work results in beautiful calligraphy. I am not one of them. Engraving is my way of creating a new “vista”—an environment that appears and surrounds me as I create it.

In the act of engraving, my eyes are close to the copperplate. My entire field of vision is a vista. I play within that environment. A struggle ensues between what I want to do as an artist and what I can do through burin-handling skill. If I were to rely on skill alone, the vista would appear cold and dead or in chaos. It is an important balance to maintain. I tried to present that feeling of adventure in my YouTube video “Evan Lindquist Engraves Martin Schöngauer.” [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRFq5Y74TwY]

EL utube grab copy

Frame-grab from the YouTube video “Evan Lindquist Engraves Martin Schöngauer.”

ELschongauer-300dpi

Evan Lindquist, Martin Schöngauer Engraves St. Anthony, 2010, ed. 35, burin engraving, image 8.3″ x 10.5″, paper Rives BFK. (© Evan Lindquist/VAGA NY)

The burin is a natural tool for making calligraphic lines, and I use it in a way that emphasizes its natural characteristics. Thus, my images make use of calligraphic qualities that would be impossible to duplicate through any other medium or technique.

What made you even interested in printmaking? Who introduced you to engraving?

During my earliest years my father would bring home drawing materials, scraps, from his lumber yard, for example, old wallpaper sample books and lumber crayons. I made prints with dozens of castoff rubber stamps and a stamp pad. When I reached the fourth grade in Emporia, Kansas, our art teacher introduced us to linoleum block prints, and I was in love with printmaking. In college [Emporia State University, Emporia, KS], Norman R. Eppink and J. Warren Brinkman encouraged my interest in printmaking and introduced me to engraving. I read two books on the subject, S.W. Hayter’s New Ways of Gravure, and Jules Heller’s Printmaking Today.

I understand one of your teachers was the engraver Mauricio Lasansky. Tell me about learning from him. What technical lessons did he provide? What mental lessons—apropos to engraving—did he offer?

Sharon [Lindquist’s wife] and I moved to Iowa City in July 1960. She had taken an art teaching position in the public schools. I bought a copper plate, studied the Hayter and Heller books, and began cutting a surrealist image into the plate. After a month of cutting, I walked into Lasansky’s first day of class [at the University of Iowa] and showed him my plate. He ran his fingers over the cuts and studied them closely. He asked some questions, now forgotten in the excitement of meeting the maestro. He turned and called out: “Jack, Virginia!” Two teaching assistants appeared. He pointed to me and told them in his soft, heavily-accented voice: “Make this boy a printer.” That was my personal invitation into the Iowa Print Group, and I was officially a printmaking major. …

Every student was different, and the Maestro dealt with each of us through private critiques. He might suggest that one student should try something, but recommend completely different ideas to the next student. There were also a few full-class critiques for anyone who wanted to sit in. During my years at Iowa it was an open classroom for students of all levels, and we learned from everyone.

The Maestro would choose prints to send to various national exhibitions, and an assistant would cut the mats and package everything for entering the competitions. This routine provided a few lines on our individual résumés and helped establish professional practices among the students.

Tell me about your set of rules for making an engraving.

My “rules” are a combination of instinct and experience—perhaps meaningful only to myself. My goal is to keep from getting into a rut. I know what has worked for me in the past, and lots of things didn’t work. But rules should be broken. Break any rule and it may provide variety to the work process and remind me that I should consider alternatives to the rule. The most important rule is that I must embrace failure as part of a creative process. In other words, try something that might not work, and then enjoy figuring out how to use any unintended result.

SL trees

Evan Lindquist, Tree (left: state I; right: state IV & final), 2014, ed. 25, burin engraving, image 10″ x 6.1″, paper Rives BFK.  (© Evan Lindquist/VAGA NY)

In your rules (in the 2010 Charles Kaufman article for the Society of American Graphic Artists) you say: “Only a few lines should call attention to themselves and be recognizable as ‘calligraphic lines.’ ” Yet some of your images emphasize calligraphic lines—like the recent tree prints. Why is that?

My personal definition of a calligraphic line is any line that stands out and shouts: “Look at me. I’m beautiful!” But how many “beautiful” lines would it take to throw a composition into chaos? A few calligraphic lines might strengthen and support each other, but too many of these lines would fight each other for your attention, becoming ridiculous or chaotic.

An example that illustrates this is my engraving, Tree (2014). A Japanese maple tree in front of my studio was the inspiration. In the first state of the print, every line has strong calligraphic qualities. The lines in the trunk are closely related, working together as a unit, forming a unique linear shape. In contrast, the foliage is a chaotic mess—too many lines, each begging for attention.

The finished state of Tree shows hundreds of new lines—straight lines, not calligraphic—that work in groups. Collectively, they describe shape, value, and space, organizing the earlier chaos into forms that suggest foliage. Each clump is enriched by a bold calligraphic line lending rhythmic character to the composition.

This example demonstrates that engraving a plate is a continuum. I begin each project with simple steps, then climb upward as the next step pops into my mind.

Describe your interest in labyrinths and string theory?  What are you trying to say by producing those images?  

Labyrinths and String Theories are two of my early series of engravings which continue today. The two series are closely related and overlap.

A labyrinth is a path that is complicated or difficult to follow. Labyrinths are mysterious. If you’re outside, you wonder what could be inside. Or what’s around the next curve? A labyrinth may conceal something. Mysterious thoughts from a viewer’s curiosity energize the labyrinth engravings.

EL Dreams

Evan Lindquist, Dream III, 1994, ed. 50, burin engraving, image 10″ x 7.8″, paper Rives BFK/Lana.  (© Evan Lindquist/VAGA NY)

Dream III, 1994, contains a labyrinth that tells a story. I might describe it in this way. “An ancient hero has been decapitated by destructive forces unleashed upon a troubled world. Frightened people hide from the terror in a labyrinth that leads deeper into flames and smoke. One man climbs alone to confront the foul and terrifying thoughts that pollute the air.” Many questions are left unanswered to heighten the sense of mystery.

EL contemplation twist fate

Evan Lindquist, Contemplation: Twist of Fate, 1994, ed. 50, burin engraving, image 18.7″ x 18.7″, paper Rives BFK Lavis a Grains.  (© Evan Lindquist/VAGA NY)

Contemplation: Twist of Fate, 1994, is from a series of four prints bearing the title “Contemplation” to represent knowledge and the act of learning through contemplation of the world around us. The twisting strings are composed of calligraphic lines, thick and thin. No beginnings or ends are visible. The three strings symbolize the Three Fates in Greek mythology. They intertwine with the Future, which overlaps and twists around them. Because of a simple twist of fate, the best-laid plans may change for better or worse.

Other mysteries are found in the String Theories, which are are also examples of labyrinths. The String Theories are my attempts to give give physical form to invisible realities, such as Perception, Identity, Gravity, Id, Ego, Consciousness, Superego, to name a few.

EL thought

Evan Lindquist, Thought, 1970, ed. 100, burin engraving, image 12″ x 12″, paper Rives BFK Lavis a Grains.  (© Evan Lindquist/VAGA NY)

Somebody once told me that every piece of string, must have two ends. Thought, 1970, was done to demonstrate that acceptance of such a rule places limits on what we are capable of perceiving. To counter that notion, I created an image of “one-ended” strings. Thought describes a succession of turns, like a string twisting through space, picking up new twists and turns as it descends from above. It is a labyrinth with no way out. It shows only one end, concealing the other, while retracing its path endlessly. It represents a thought that turns over in the mind endlessly without forming a conclusion.

Tell me about your series of engravings on engravers: why, when and how it began, who was chosen and why?

When I became interested in engraving in the 1950s, I was not yet aware that the history of engraving consisted of life stories of some old master engravers. I discovered that much of the information about them had been forgotten. Indeed, by mid-20th century, the entire medium of engraving was often dismissed as a “lost art.” I was determined to “find” it for myself.

Rather than considering engraving to be a “lost art,” I considered it to be a “forgotten art.” The postwar crop of printmaking teachers simply “forgot” how to teach engraving to younger generations. Even worse, the entire concept of printmaking was being regarded as an inferior form of art. Few contemporaries seemed to understand complex creative processes. Newer and faster processes took the place of engraving in art studios and classrooms.

S.W. Hayter attempted to revitalize engraving by teaching it to many important “new masters,” such as Gabor Peterdi, Mauricio Lasansky, and others, at his Atelier 17 in Paris and New York.

About 1980, I complimented Warrington Colescott on his series of prints called “The History of Printmaking.” Warrington said, “Why don’t you do the same thing for engraving?” Yes! That’s what I wanted to do!

But it took many years before I could settle on a plan that would have continuity. A tentative step into the series was Knight, Bird & Burin (2006). This led to Albrecht Dürer Engraves His Initials (2008), which seemed to be a good entry into a new series. Dürer was followed by Claude Mellan Engraves a Self-Portrait (2008). I saw potential for more old masters.

EL Hayter

Evan Lindquist, SW Hayter Engraves War, 2015, ed. 25, burin engraving, image 10.9″ x 8.3″, paper Rives BFK.  (© Evan Lindquist/VAGA NY)

A recent print in the series is SW Hayter Engraves War (2015). Hayter had been taught to engrave copper plates by Jozef Hecht, a Polish engraver. During the Spanish Civil War, Hayter produced prints to raise funds for the Republican war effort opposing the Nationalists, but after the bombing of Guérnica in 1939, the forces of Francisco Franco, supported by Hitler, took over the government of Spain. Nazis took control of France. In 1939, Hayter moved his Atelier 17 to New York City and taught many contemporary artists to engrave. Hayter is best known for many technical print innovations, but my engraving is focused upon his humanitarian war effort on behalf of the people of Spain.

EL PETERDI

Evan Lindquist, Gabor Peterdi Engraves a Still Life, 2009, ed. 35, burin engraving, image 10.6″ x 7.8″, paper Rives BFK Lavis a Grains.  (© Evan Lindquist/VAGA NY)

A print closely related is Gabor Peterdi Engraves a Still Life (2009). This great Hungarian printmaker fled to America, became an American soldier and returned to Europe with U.S. forces. Peterdi was influenced by the horrors of Nazi atrocities when he engraved his biting satire, Still Life in Germany (1946). In the depressingly chaotic lines of the dark background in my engraving, I’ve woven “1938” and “1946”, referring to Peterdi’s years of despair and horror.

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Evan Lindquist, Mauricio Lasansky Teaches Me to Engrave, 2015, ed. 25, burin engraving, image 13″ x 11.3″, paper Rives BFK.  (© Evan Lindquist/VAGA NY)

The most recent print in the series is Mauricio Lasansky Teaches Me to Engrave (2015), a composite of memories. At this point it is the only one in the series that includes a medium other than burin engraving. In this print I’ve incorporated some small areas of drypoint—scratching into the surface with the point of a needle. The Maestro encouraged experimenting with a variety of processes to find new approaches to technical or aesthetic problems. I show him as he describes to me the importance of both the scraper and burin in the process of engraving—try anything with burin and scraper.

He had a love for fine, traditional, old presses, and every discussion of print aesthetics always included “print quality,” how well the plate was printed, how the press was used, how the paper was prepared, how the ink was ground and applied. Yes, we ground our own ink from dry pigments. I’ve alluded to all of these memories in my print by showing the presses.

Every critique with Lasansky would relate to the Old Master printmakers. The two bulls are reminiscent of Goya, whose legacy was nearly always brought into a critique and seemed always appropriate as an exemplar. There were framed Goya prints in the studio. Goya was never forgotten, but conversations also included Rembrandt, Picasso, Tiepolo, and other masters.

It is significant that the bulls are on the left side of the Maestro’s head. He often said that, no matter what he might be doing, the upper left side of his brain was always thinking about his current project.

What are your current print projects?

For my next engraving I agreed to begin a self-portrait for a museum exhibition next year. Early in the year I’ll also begin background research on my next Old Master engraver. I always seek new ideas.

What has been the advantage of concentrating on one particular medium over so many years? Why are you still in love with engraving?

This is what I was meant to do. It is what I do best. While engraving I find myself within the copper plate.

Each time I work with the burin, it is a new adventure.

LINKS

Lindquist website: 
http://evanlindquist.com

Evan Lindquist article by Charles Kaufman: 
http://evanlindquist.com/about/article-kaufman.html

Engraving links including YouTube videos on Lindquist website: http://evanlindquist.com/about/burin.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons in AIPAN

PECAH aipan feature

INTRODUCTION

Despite having two blog categories–Art I See and Art I Make–I could use a third called Art I Synthesize.  Last week I returned from a month in India, mostly in the northern province of Uttrakhand, as one of six international artists learning local arts traditions as part of the PECAH (Program of Exchange in Culture and Art of Himalayas).  I want to extend a hearty thank-you to director Sanjayy Rikhari and coordinator Val Jaune-Bleu for inviting me to participate.

When you apply for PECAH, you’re asked to select four activities.  My first choice was a painting style called aipan or aipen.  The image above is in the aipan tradition–mostly opaque white-line/white-dot design on a terra cotta colored ground. Aipan designs are often round with a central medallion surrounded with multiple borders. For an artist who spent much of last year working on watercolor tondos that I call Planets–which juxtapose the unfathomable in the form of daytime skies with borders of patterns that reference man’s constant need to make order out of chaos–aipan seemed a perfect match.

PECAH planet III

TOP Scott Ponemone, Planet III, watercolor, 20″ across, 29 May 2015 (with detail left)

BOTTOM Scott Ponemone, Planet VI, watercolor, 20″ across, 12 Aug. 2015 (with detail right)

PECAH planet VI

My other painting choice was pattachitra, which focuses on painting Hindu dieties colorfully on cloth. Then I chose to learn how to cook Northern Indian vegetarian cuisine. And finally a week of yoga and meditation. As it happens, these activities were offered in reverse order, i.e. aipen was last.

AIPAN

This folk art is associated with the Kumaoni-speaking people of Uttrakhand. According to the D’source website (http://www.idc.iitb.ac.in/dsource/gallery/aipan-uttarakhand-part-1):

Aipan is a traditional folk art specifically made by women of Uttarakhand. This art is done on floor over brick red background with white paste made out of rice flour. The typical art is done on all special occasions and household ceremonies and rituals. It is believed that these motifs evoke divine power which brings good fortune and wards off evil.

Uttarakhand Aipan painting has its unique identity which is always done on the empty walls and on the ground which is a symbol of fortune and fertility. The art form is used to decorate floors and walls at the Puja room (place of worship) and entrance of homes and practiced by many other communities of different regions.

I found this YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JW9f20VQOOI which provides an excellent illustration of how a accomplished aipan artist paints with her fingers.

I first saw aipan paintings when the PECAH crew visited the home and private museum of Jugal Kishor Paithshali, a well respected compiler of Indian folk tales. He had four that were done on cloth, then stretched over frames.

JP aipen group copy

Himanshu Sharma (from left), Nicole Schlosser (Canada) and Julie Parenteau (Canada) admire aipan paintings at the house of Jugal Kishor Paithshali. (Photos by Scott Ponemone)

Here are the four paintings, each with details.

PECAH Aipan 1

D’source says the central motif is a Chowki design, normally used for seating the idols of gods and goddesses.

PECAH Aipan 2

PECAH Aipan 4

PECAH Aipan 3

When I asked Paithshali about the significance of the aipan dots (done with the touch of a finger tip), he simply said and emphasized that it all begins with the point. From Project Aipan website (https://projectaipan.wordpress.com/category/aipan-art/):

To understand the Aipan art better, it is very important to know the significance of ‘Dots’ in the Aipan designs.  A ‘dot’ signifies completeness and life.  According to natural science, a dot is like the seed through which the world has originated.  Mathematical science also has a special emphasis on the dots. While meditating too, the axis of concentration is none other than a point or ‘dot’.  It is thus that a dot is included as an important part of the Aipan art. …

An Aipan without dots is considered inauspicious. On the death of a person, the Aipan is drawn without dots.

The central motif shown of the aipan immediately above is made from a pattern of nine dots square. It’s called a bhadra and is drawn at a place of worship.  The number of dots in a bhadra can vary. I practiced making a bhadra like the one above.

PECAH grids

After making the grid, the first step is the central swastik.  Now as a Jew, making a swastik requires overcoming great resistance. I need not explain. But it’s impossible to practice aipan without making swastiks. The Uttarakhand Worldwide webstite (http://www.uttaranchal.org.uk/aipan.php ) explains:

Swastik has great significance in Aipan. It is drawn in some form or other during most of the religious rituals as swastik in Hindu mythology represents all Gods and Goddesses, known or unknown. … Swastik represents the creation and progress. All four arms of swastik inspire to move forward. Thus swastik is the symbol of marching ahead for success, towards success with success.

When I first tried to connect the dots in a bhadra, I reproduced a pattern of Christian-like crosses in black defined be white lines.  Then I realized that the swastik is formed by two branches. One branch connects three dots horizontally with two legs, going either one dot up or one dot down; the other branch connects three dots vertically with two legs, going either one dot left or one dot right.

The top row, right image shows the horizontal branch extended out. The second row, left adds the vertical branch extended out.  The second row, middle image adds two other horizontal branches. As a result two more swastiks are created. The last image adds two vertical branches, and as a consequence six more swastiks.

PECAH grids compare

Finally, I connected the last of the dots, leaving the corner dots free. Compare this to the central bhadra of the large aipan at Paithshali’s house.

PRACTICING AIPAN

Before PECAH’s aipan classes begin, I borrow the aipan book from instructor Manav Joshi and make up a circular aipan-like design in watercolor.

Aipen I black

Scott Ponemone, Aipen I, watercolor, 9 3/4″ across, 26 Feb. 2016.

While it mimics the red-brown ground, the triple lines, the paired feet and the use of dots of aipan, this looks more like an East/West amalgam. Note the anthemions from Greek tradition around the rim. Then I get serious.

Aipen II black

Scott Ponemone, Aipen II, watercolor, 12″ across, 4 March 2016.

PECAH me at work

Fellow visiting artist Isabel Moreno Cortez (Mexico) photographed me at work.

This took work and concentration. Besides the swastik, I included the sun, moon, bell and shell of aipen tradition. The central motif and all of the pointed arches conform to the Chowki design seen in one of the large aipans at Paithshali’s house, except that I painted four parallel lines instead of five. In internet searches, I now learn that (from Project Aipan website):

Lines also have a special significance. They signify continuity. Odd number of lines is used in Aipan designs.  It is believed that even numbers are complete in themselves, but odd numbers are incomplete and seem open-ended. It is suggestive of the wonderful message of continuity and eternity.

 

MannuFinally, Manav Joshi starts classes. Part of me thinks: “I’ve done that.”  Yet another part of me wants not to be so aloof.  What convinces me to join in is that Manav has us connect with the folk tradition of aipan by grinding presoaked rice between two stones (which looked like limestone, perhaps with a history in a cemetery) to make aipan paint.

PECAH aipan rice milling
With Manav Joshi’s (above) guidance, a PECAH artist grinds rice to make aipan paint. (Photos by Scott Ponemone)

Each aipen student painted a circle with a water-based red-brown paint on the deck of the PECAH hotel near the village of Manila. Then we literally tried our hand at aipen painting. I for one did a pretty miserable job of dipping my fingers in rice paint and attempting to make lines with the tip of my middle finger.

PECAH aipan making copy

Isabel Moreno Cortez (top) and Julie Parteneau work on their aipens.

PECAH aipan fingered

My effort.  Pretty rough, no?

AIPAN/PLANETS SYNTHESIS

So much for finger painting.  I return to brushes and watercolors to see how I’d do adapting aipan motifs to borders for my sky paintings. I was limited to a 20″ x 14″ Arches watercolor block that fit into my suitcase.

Sky Aipen I black

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen I, watercolor, 12″ across, 5 March 2016.

After many days without any clouds, a few formed over the Himalayas, which were usually hidden in an inversion of smoke and dust. These became my sky. The aipan border is quite traditional.  The problem was that the border overwhelmed the sky. But it was a good start.

Sky Aipen II black

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen II, watercolor, 12″ across, 6 March 2016.

An interesting sunrise propelled my second effort.  I reduced the border width and changed the background color to indigo.  The alternating feet and suns are in the aipan tradition.  This, I feel, is a real success.

Sky Aipen III black

Scott Ponemone, Sky Aipen III, watercolor, 12″ across, 7 March 2016.

Finally a dramatic, thundery sky.  I made the ground magenta. This too is super.  Note that these three Sky Aipens were painted on consecutive days, with the third  completed on my very last day at the PECAH hotel.  I was on a roll, then I suddenly stopped. It was time for the two-day PECAH festival in Ramnagar, the hometown of most of the PECAH instructors. Afterwards, I would take a train to Delhi to deal with my visa problems.  But that’s another story.

ADDENDUM

I did attempt a pattachitra painting, using fabric pigments on cotton. The central figures are really just a copy of a line drawing from a book, which also provided the border pattern. But it’s pretty successful in its own right.

Pattachitra

 

Scott Ponemone, Gaja Singha Bidala, pattachitra with fabric paints on cotton, 16″ x 8 3/4″, February 2016.

Himanshu Fortunately, Himanchu Sharma, who instructed us on pattachitra, has emailed me with a description of what I depicted:

“Gaja means elephant, and Shingha Bidala means lion cat. They represent body and soul: Lion represents our body, and elephant represents our soul.  The paintings says that our body controls us in general, where as it should be our body must be controlled by our soul.  That is an ideal condition that never comes about. So the artist depicts the practical world instead.”

Himanshu Sharma (Photo by Scott Ponemone) ►

 

 

 

 

 

2015 in Relief: Thom & Tom

 Huck shaw feature

Introduction

Sorry to be posting this final leg of my 2015 recap in late January, but Thom and Tom just got hung.  Both are oversize woodcuts and required an assist from Trudi Ludwig Johnson to hang them in my office, where her Prima Veritas woodcut presides above a row of skeletal prints.  (To see her print and its hanging, please go to my blog post: http://www.scottponemone.com/trudi-ludwig-johnson-mission-accomplished/) Thom Shaw, a Cincinnati artist who passed away in 2010, created one of the mammoth woodcuts, and Tom Huck, a St. Louis artist who’s actively turning out woodcuts at his Evil Prints press, made the other.

This recap is devoted to relief prints, starting with Thom and Tom, then two wordless narrative books, and finally three small prints.

The other two 2015 recap posts at my ART I SEE blog are:

● An in-depth look at a Joseph Leboit etching and aquatint: http://www.scottponemone.com/joseph-leboit-before-tranquility/

● A discussion of decorative arts accessions focusing on six John Swint-signed chairs: http://www.scottponemone.com/2015-recap-decorative-arts/

THOM SHAW

I was completely unaware of Thom Shaw until Main Auction Galleries held a sale of the entire Shaw estate–drawings, paintings, relief prints and their blocks–on Sunday, May 17, 2015.  If the article in City Beat, an online journal, reflects the importance of Shaw’s work and the affection his hometown had for him, then it’s a great shame his life was cut short from complications from diabetes. (See: http://citybeat.com/cincinnati/article-21305-life_as_art_thom_shaw.html) A more intimate view of Shaw appeared in a 2009 issue of Cincinnati Magazine: http://www.cincinnatimagazine.com/citywiseblog/dead-man-working1/

I certainly was smitten by his powerful relief prints that often addressed his feelings about how African Americans are mistreated by the white culture (with Malcolm X often as a stand-in for all black males) as well as about cruelty and abuse within the African American community. The scale–about 50″ x 36″–of many of his prints added to their power.

Shaw nails

Thom Shaw (American, 1947-2010), untitled, woodcut,  1997, 51.5″ x 35″, 1997, a/p 1.

When I first saw this image online, I immediately thought of Rosemary Feit Covey’s wood engraving Ndonke, which I obtained in trade with Rosemary. (See my ART I SEE post: http://www.scottponemone.com/rosemary-feit-covey-printmakers-journey/)

Hhaw Covey

(left) Rosemary Feit Covey (South African), Nkonde, wood engraving, 1996, 14″ x 10″, 45/60.

It’s all the nails, obviously, that linked the two in my mind.  Whether Shaw had in mind the nail-studded African wood effigies that Covey referenced in her danse macabre, I cannot say. Or was Shaw imagining a St. Sebastian of self-abuse?

Shaw Uncle Sam X

Thom Shaw, Malcolm X, woodcut, 1995, 52″ x 36, a/p (with artist chop, lower left)

I also won the bidding on this emotionally charged image (try reading the text), but I had no intention on keeping it.  I bought it as a gift to the Baltimore Museum of Art.  I wanted to challenge the curators to accept this print just a few weeks after Baltimore’s raw spring. Fortunately I can report the BMA met the challenge.

TOM HUCK

If it wasn’t for eBay, I’d have none of Tom Huck’s audacious (might I say, outrageous) prints.  I recently described them as “silly gross.”  Better yet, here’s how David Lancaster described Huck’s work last spring: “Huck calls his imagery ‘rural satire,’ a rather tame spin on the violent, scatological, sexual, grotesque, fantastic, funny and sensationally compelling visions he carves into giant slabs of plywood. …” (http://www.wheretraveler.com/st-louis/st-louis-tom-hucks-evil-prints-are-good-good-good)

Huck hedgeapple

Tom Huck (American, born 1971), Hedgeapple Warfare, woodcut, 2005, 12 1/4” x 40”, a/p

The first Huck was a 2007 benefit sale on eBay for a nonprofit called Space 1026 in Philadelphia. It’s All-American mayhem, like a tailgate party gone bonkers. While keeping with my strong interest in relief printing, it’s so different in tone to the heart-felt social realism expressed in many of the prints in my collection from the Great Depression.

Huck crack shack

Tom Huck (American, born 1971), Anatomy of a Crack Shack, woodcut, 2004, 52″ x 38” (paper size, 2″ borders), 23/25.

Last December two huge Huck prints appeared on eBay. One of the prints was as densely populated as Hedgeapple Warfare, and the other was bold and obvious.  In fact the relationship between the two human figures in it was–to put it mildly–similar to that in Shaw’s Malcolm X.  (Imagine me offering two butt-fuck prints to the BMA?)  Anatomy of a Crack Shack is from his Bloody Bucket series. (See http://evilprints.com/site/?page_id=168) Since I was planning to hang any new Huck high on my office wall, an in-your-face image was preferable.

Actually I attempted to purchased the other as a BMA gift. I even sent the curators an image to see if it would be accepted. And they did. But financially I couldn’t swing it, not with semi-annual property taxes due December 31.

Tom & thom Hang ups

The sizes of the Shaw and Huck prints would have been off-putting had I not had the history of hanging Trudi’s skeletal woodcuts early last year. Using magnetic tape and neodymium disc magnets, we hung her wonderful Prima Veritas and The Exposure of Luxury woodcuts without frames or glazing.  So guess whom I called upon this month to help hang the Shaw and new Huck?

Huck pin up

First we hung the Huck above my desk.  Its heavy paper was too muscular for the magnets alone. So (in the photo right) I tapped in a few brads before I placed the magnets. (Photos by Michael Frommeyer)

Huck shaw

Then Trudi unwrapped the Shaw. Its more delicate paper received the magnets without an assist from nails.

Hung up

And there we are. Project complete.

2015 recap: BOOKS

It was an important year for adding to my small book collection that features wordless books, particularly those that tell stories in relief prints. Previous ART I SEE posts described the 2015 purchases of a limited edition of Lynd Ward’s Gods’ Man (http://www.scottponemone.com/letter-from-lynd-ward/), George Walker’s Book of Hours ( http://www.scottponemone.com/walker-berg-updates-on-wordless-novelists/), Paul Landacre’s California Hills and Other Wood Engravings and a very rare copy of Leon Underwood’s Animalia (http://www.scottponemone.com/picture-books-landacre-underwood-more-rossing/).

Walker Cohen book

George Walkers, The Wordless Leonard Cohen Songbook, 2014, No. 24 in an edition of 80. 

Wlker cohens plates

Here are three plates from Cohen, in no particular order. Is that Andy Warhol in the middle frame?
When I wrote about my visit to George Walker in Toronto, I failed to mention the purchase of his silk-bound edition of The Wordless Leonard Cohen Songbook. In keeping with Walker’s seeking out appropriate numbers, he commemorated Cohen’s 8oth birthday (Sept. 21, 2014) with a biography of 80 wood engravings and a limited edition on 80. Walker’s “tribute to his novels, poetry and music” is presented chronologically but in “a coded narrative.” Walker explains: “There is no single key to the reading of this book. Knowledge of people, places, and relationships in Leonard Cohen’s life will help readers recognize the images and show their significance, and I encourage you to bring to the narrative your own associations and recognition of the players and scenes.” Walker then gives a few hints involving the number 8. Otherwise it’s up to the reader–so unlike a Lynd Ward novel and its easily readable narrative.

Bousfield cycle pair

Thanks to George Walker and our visit to him in Toronto, I was introduced to Englishman Neil Bousfield’s marvelous 2007 wordless novel The Cycle. George had a signed copy of the second edition printed from the blocks.  On first viewing it immediately was a must-have. I purposely didn’t attempt to read it, saving that pleasure until I could secure a copy for myself. When I went to Bousfield’s website (http://www.inkyfingerspress.com/), I read that “the The Cycle took me 2 years to complete and I made only 12 copies, hand printed and bound by myself, for the first edition.” So I emailed him and learned from Clair, his partner, that the second edition had sold out. “However,” she wrote, “Neil collaborated with a printer who published a 3rd edition of 150 [actually 129], hard-backed, professionally bound, and this edition has also been printed from the original blocks.” The price was right, but the transaction took nearly six months as I tried and tried to circumvent fees for currency exchange.  Finally I convince the Bousfield to set up a PayPal account, and the deed was done.

Cycle plate

Like a Lynd Ward novel, The Cycle is a readable sequence of images.  In his preface, Bousfield says this novel harkens back to his days as an animated film maker. “Once again,” he writes, “I am working with a sequence of images, only this time the images are contained within a book rather than on a screen.”  The title refers to how one generation can repeat the mistakes of the preceding one. The book follows two brothers being raised by “a couple stuck in low-paying, soul-destroying work” where “feelings of failure and resentment turn to a need to escape through drink, drugs, gambling or shopping.”  As young adults “they repeat their father’s example for their own escape and thrills.”  Can either brother escape the cycle?  You read the book to find out.

Regardless of how the tale enfolds, one thing you notice immediately is how much work it took to create each block, measuring  5 13/16″ 4 11/16″ (14.8 cm x 12 cm).  There are 200 plates including chapter headings. No wonder Bousfield writes: “The book took two and a half years to make and six months was spent planning, storyboarding, making a mock up and drawing the images.”  In the colophon, Bousfield notes that the images were engraved on vinyl. Of the wordless novels I’ve come to own only the plates (linoleum) in Giacomo Patri’s White Collar approaches The Cycle for scale and complexity of design.

2015 recap: Small PRINTS

Jordan home

Jack Jordan (American, 1925-1999), Going Home, Woodcut, edition unknown, maybe late 1940s, 12″ x 9″

Illustrated in my post on Ruth Starr Rose (http://www.scottponemone.com/barbara-paca-rescuing-ruth-starr-rose/), this print came my way via eBay.  The askART website listing says:  “An African-American sculptor, painter, graphic artist and art educator, Jack Jordan was Professor of Art at Southern University in New Orleans. He also served on the State of Louisiana Commission of Creative and Performing Arts. Jordan received a B.A. degree in 1948 from Langston University in Langston, Oklahoma; an M.A. in 1949 from Iowa State University, and an M.F.A. degree in 1953 from the University of Iowa.”

I hadn’t seen this image for many years since at an print fair I advised a curator for the Baltimore Museum of Art to purchase that copy for the Museum. I thought the BMA copy had a second color (perhaps red) in the sky, but when an assistant for the Print, Drawing & Photograph Department emailed me an image of its copy, it looked like mine.

Georgetti take thatGuido “Wedo” Georgetti (Italian-born American, 1911-2005), Take That!!, relief print, edition unknown, 6 1/4″ x 9 3/4″

Here’s another eBay purchase and an even more obscure printmaker. From askART: “Born in Marche, Italy on May 19, 1911, ‘Wedo’ Georgetti came to America at age one.  After a brief period in St Paul, the family settled in Tacoma, Washington. He grew up, attended high school, and began to study art there.  After moving to California in 1934, he shipped out of San Francisco as a merchant seaman for many years. Visiting the ports of the world, Georgetti obtained much of his subject matter from his travels. Working in oil and watercolor, he painted many nudes and street scenes. He lived in Sausalito on San Francisco Bay until his death on December 12, 2005.”

It seemed somehow propitious that this print was offered on eBay soon after the Baltimore unrest.

Baskin envy

Lastly, another inexpensive eBay purchase.  Well-known artist and printmaker Leonard Baskin (American, 1922-2000) did a book of the Seven Deadly Sins for Gehenna Press in 1958. I bought three signed proofs from the set as a birthday gift for my partner (now spouse) Michael Frommeyer in 2002. Now joining Pride, Gluttony and Lust is Envy, wood engraving, 3 1/4″ round.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ADDENDUM

I never thought there’d be a price to pay for blogging. Now I know there is.

While writing about the purchase of the Tom Huck print (in Jan. 2016), I decided it seemed appropriate to recontact the seller and see if he would honor that price he had offered in December for the second huge Huck woodcut–Pork Chop Suey – Oinktoberfest–that was printed at Landfall Press in Santa Fe, NM, in 2007.  He would.  And PayPal made for a quick, decisive decision.  Within a few days I couldn’t hold back my excitement. In a P.S. to an email to a Baltimore Museum of Art curator, I wrote, “The Huck in on its way.”

Huck suey copy

Tom Huck (American, born 1971), Pork Chop Suey – Oinktoberfest, woodcut, 2007, 52″ x 39 1/2″, AP 3/3 (Landfall Press printed an edition of 20)

It arrived as requested rolled up in a sturdy cardboard tube.  I  laid it out on a homasote board, thumbtacks around its perimeter.   I got to enjoy it for a week before a museum courier rolled it back up and took it away.

It turns out I can be a bit generous with artwork that I never intend to add to my collection. Plus I have a tax write-off for year 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joseph Leboit: Before “Tranquility”

 

INTRODUCTION

I was going to include a print by Joseph Leboit (American, 1907-2002) in a recap of print and book acquisitions during 2015. But this print has a bit of a story to tell because of all the clues found on the paper away from the image. At the same time I was seriously considering blurring that story because of a short article in January’s Maine Antique Digest. But now I’m forging ahead with the Leboit as a separate blog post.

Plastic Values

Leboit Tranquility sheet small

Joseph Leboit, Plastic Values, etching & aquatint, 1936, image 14″ x 10 7/8″ (All photographs by Scott Ponemone)

When I first viewed this print offered by Rachel Davis Fine Arts for its 12/12/15 auction I was struck by three anomalies: 1) the image was not centered on the paper; 2) the title Plastic Values did not match the published title Tranquility; and 3) the pair of OKs with signatures in ink well below the image. The clue to all of this, I believe, would be the Federal Art Project/WPA NYC stamp on the left below the image.  But the stamp represented both a clue and a dilemma.

The dilemma arose because of an article on pg. 11-A of the January 2016 issue of Maine Antique Digest. Entitled “WPA Artwork Recovered from an Antiques Store and an Auction House,” the article related that agents of the U.S. Office of Inspector General seized a print listed on eBay and a painting from a California auction house. The print had a WPA stamp on front and a WPA label on back; the painting had a WPA stamp on the back. The article states, “Artwork produced under the federal Work Progress Administration during the New Deal era still belongs to the U.S. government.” Confiscated work, the article says, would be transferred to the General Services Administration’s Fine Art Program for placement in “a suitable public location.”

So I’m in very real danger of having the Leboit print seized by blogging about it.  I considered telling its story without acknowledging the WPA stamp. I even Photoshopped out the stamp on a version of the image above.  Yet many dealers of prints from this period clearly state which prints for sale have the WPA stamp.  So I contacted one (whom I won’t name) and asked: “What is your understanding about ownership of prints bearing the WPA stamp? Has the GSA ever tried to seize a WPA-stamped print from you?”  The response: “Hopefully the issue is dead and buried.  The last I heard of anything was more than ten years ago and the issue disappeared.  I prefer not to be quoted and would hope that you not do an article that might create additional problems.” Well that was off-putting.  Then I talked to Rachel Davis on the phone. Her auction listing for the Leboit included mention of the WPA stamp.  She said that she always indicates the presence of the stamp in her listings and has never had a problem. Her remarks boosted my confidence. So here I go ….

Leboit OKs
Peck print & Sig

First I wanted to find out who OKed the print.  Clearly the second OK reads Leboit; but who signed the first OK.  Was the name Peele or Pede or something else?  So I sought out information online about the New York WPA office and came across an article in the Massachusetts Review Spring, 1998 issue, written by fellow WPA printmaker Fred Becker. Unfortunately I could only see the first page of “The WPA Federal Art Project, New York City: A Reminiscence.”  Then I called the Maryland Institute College of Art library to see if I could get access to their system online.  But not being a student or faculty member, I couldn’t. Why can’t alumni have access, I wondered. Then the librarian did a great favor.  He found the article and emailed me a PDF.

Becker wrote: “Lynd Ward resigned as supervisor, and sometime in 1936 Gustave Von Groschwitz succeeded him. … His assistant was Augustus Peck, a painter/lithographer, who was to become the first Director of the Brooklyn Museum Art School.” So the signature after the first OK was most likely Peck, not Peele or Pede.

To double check, I searched online for a Peck signature and found the print on the right. This image of a woman is a lithograph in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. It’s by Augustus Peck (American 1906-1975), called Draped Head. It bears the NYC WPA stamp. I’ve enlarged the signature. Even in it’s pixalated form, you can tell it matches the signature on the Leboit print.

For me, these OKs and the casual positioning of the paper when this impression was pulled indicate that my copy of this print was the bon à tirer (B.A.T.) for this edition. The glossary kept by the International Fine Print Dealers Association states: “Literally ‘ready to pull,’ the B.A.T. is the final trial proof-approved by the artist-which tells the printer exactly how the edition should look. Each impression in the edition is matched to or modeled after the B.A.T. This proof is used principally when someone other than the artist is printing the series. There is only one of these proofs for an edition.”

Leboit Tranquility small

If indeed that my impression was the B.A.T. for the edition, it’s not surprising that the title Leboit gave at the time–Plastic Values–was not the one he used for the edition–Tranquility. As an artist I know that sometimes first stabs at a title aren’t the ones you keep.

And that about settles all three anomalies: 1) the image was not centered because that impression was not part of the edition and was not intended for distribution; 2) the title was just an initial attempt; and 3) the OKs are expected and needed for a B.A.T.

tranquility

Leboit books

Two of my reference books on American printmaking feature Leboit’s Tranquility. They are Helen Langa’s Radical Art: Printmaking and the Left in 1930’s New York, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2004  (top and bottom left) and Stephen Coppel’s American Prints: From Hopper to Pollock, Lund Humphries, Burlington, VT, 2008 (top and bottom right).  Both authors comment on the print based on the Tranquility name. Coppel, Curator of the Modern Collection, Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, first mentions the artistic debate that raged “between those artists who advocated a politically engaged Social Realism and those who espoused a modernist abstraction independent of politics.” Coppell says that in this print Leboit “satirizes the abstract painter, protected by his gas mask, as he quietly works at his easel on an abstract canvas while outside the studio warplanes fly over ruined buildings.”  I emailed Coppel to see if his interpretation would change given that Leboit originally entitled in Plastic Values. He did respond but didn’t wish for his comments to be made public.

But Helen Langa, Associate Professor of Art History at American University, did. In her book she writes: “Indeed, in a lithograph [sic] sardonically titled Tranquility, Joe Leboit mocked artists who painted abstract works during a time of political crisis. … Although abstraction might convey revolutionary ideals through formal innovation, at a time of outright military aggression Leboit seems to ask, ‘Is that enough?’ ” In her response to my questions about the Plastic Values title, she said via email: “I do think the original title is very interesting. I suspect that Leboit, like Joe Vogel, had an ironic sense of humor along with their shared political interests. By calling that image Plastic Values, it seems to me that he may have wanted to suggest the ‘plasticity’ of moral responsibilities, to point out that some of his artist peers’ sense of honor, decency, and moral outrage were too easily co-opted by the call of abstractions painted in a studio walled off from the knowledge of what was actually going on in the world. However the larger audience of viewers might not so easily have understood the dual meaning of ‘plastic’ as used by art critics and artists, and perhaps he changed the title to one that made the same point in a less coded way. It certainly resonates for me today at the end of 2015 in even greater poignancy. What do you think?”

REader’s Comments

The first comment below is from Quentin Moseley, Professor of Printmaking at the Maryland Institute College or Art.  Since he’s a printmaker, his comments are particularly cogent.