Monday, October 29, 2007

Printmaking Class

My friend Les requested some more original art, and I had been thinking about doing this anyway, so here goes...

In 2001, after twenty years of working as an illustrator in Detroit, I got a job teaching two-dimensional art at a new charter high school for students with an interest in the fine and performing arts: Arts Academy in the Woods, located in suburban Detroit. Part of the deal was that I had to get my teaching certification, so I enrolled in the art education program at Wayne State University.

One of the classes I took was a printmaking "methods" class. The purpose of methods classes is to teach different techniques within a given medium, and how to structure appropriate lesson plans for your students. The printmaking methods class was taught by Dr. Lorraine Ross, who was also chair of the art ed department at that time. Dr. Ross is an excellent and inspiring teacher, and I thoroughly enjoyed the class. I had done some linocuts back when I was very young, but had not done any printmaking since then, so this was a very nice change of pace for me.

We did a number of different types of prints, but I had the best results with relief printing. We also did some intaglio prints, but I was not 100% happy with how they came out so you will not be seeing them here!

(You can click on the images below to zoom in.)

This first print is a "glue print"-- you draw on a piece of cardboard, using white glue. Once it is fully dried, you roll ink on it and print it. This is a great project for younger students, but I have also used it as an "activity" for a 2D Art unit in a humanities class that I teach. Actually, I think that this is just a pretty cool way to make a print! (My good friend Joe M. was the model for this piece.)

Little Joe, 8" x 10"

This next piece is a "reduction" print. In a reduction print, you print multiple colors using the same template from which more material is cut away (reduced) for each successive color, revealing the colors underneath. (A template is the surface you are printing from, such as a piece of wood, linoleum, metal, or in this case, a piece of Styrofoam cut from a tray that some meat was packaged in.)

Untitled self-portrait, 6" x 8"

This print was made from a material called E-Z Cut (a.k.a. Soft-Kut, etc.) This is a good material for students to use for their first block print-- a lot easier to cut than linoleum. This piece was based on a short story I read a number of years ago in a horror anthology about a succubus that took over a small town. Unfortunately, I can't remember the author or the name of the story.

Succubus, 4" x 4.5"

This linocut was selected for the postcard that was sent out for the Art Education Spring Show at Wayne State University (2002).

The Dream, 8" x 10", linocut

The last print I would like to show you is a collagraph. Collagraph comes from the French la colle, which means glue. In a collagraph print, materials are glued to the surface of the template-- cardboard, string, whatever-- and then it is inked and printed. For this piece I am also showing a photo of the template (prior to inking it), as well as the reference photo that I used.

486, 8" x 10"

Finally, here are a couple of sketches that I made (some time after the class was over), intending to make linocuts from them. To date, these pieces have not been cut or printed, but hopefully one of these days, I will get around to it. These are portraits of my parents; they were drawn with digital pastel using Painter (similar to Photoshop) and a Wacom tablet.

Roger, 8" x 10"

Mary Jane, 8" x 10"

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Will the real Richard Jacobi please stand up.

I just discovered that there is a novel titled San Remo Drive, by Leslie Epstein, that features a character named Richard Jacobi, who is an artist. Weird!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Randy & the Pre-Raphaelites

I would like to give a shout out to my good friend Randy for introducing me to the Pre-Raphaelites (shortly after I first met him, back in the late 1970s). In addition to being a great musician and shining light in the world of literary criticism, he has a broad awareness and knowledge of visual art.

Like many other worthwhile art movements, the Pre-Raphaelites are pretty much ignored by the mainstream of art history. I took several art history courses, and never once heard mention of them.

The Pre-Raphaelites Brotherhood was founded by in 1848 by a group of young English painters including John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, and William Holman Hunt. Their art was a reaction against the academic painting of that time, which they considered to be unimaginative and pompous. They believed that the Renaissance painter Raphael had had a negative impact on the tradition of academic painting, and looked to artwork prior to the time of Raphel for their inspiration-- hence the name Pre-Raphaelite.

Oftentimes dealing with mythological and moralistic subject matter, the Pre-Raphaelites are largely overlooked by art historians in favor of other mid-nineteenth century artists that are seen as leading towards modernism-- artists such as Courbet and Millet, whose paintings featured common, everyday people, and Turner, whose work is seen as heading towards abstraction.

Over the next few decades, a number of other artists continued to paint in the Pre-Raphaelite tradition. Two of the more notable of these are John William Waterhouse and John Collier.

Like them or not (and I most certainly do), the Pre-Raphaelites are an important group of painters who deserve wider recognition.

Hunt, The Hireling Shepherd, 1851

Hunt, The Awakening Conscience, 1853

Millais, Ophelia, 1852

Rosetti, Helen of Troy, 1863

Rosetti, Venus, 1868

Rosetti, Lilith, 1873

Waterhouse, Lady of Shallot, 1888

Waterhouse, Hylas and the Nymphs, 1896

Collier, Lilith, 1892

Collier, Lady Godiva, 1897

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Willem de Kooning

In my last post, I compared the work of a four-year-old artist to that of the great abstract expressionist painter Willem de Kooning. Please note that I just used the word great. It just struck me that for those who hold up little Marla Olmstead as a genius, how, and on what basis would they evaluate and assess abstract and/or non-objective art? Now if this young girl could paint like oh, say Rembrandt, for example, AND if it could be proven that she actually did the work all by herself, THEN okay, it's a no-brainer: genius.

I have, over the last number of years, been going through a bit of a process of re-evaluating modern art. Why do lovers of modern art well, love modern art? Tom Wolfe provides some excellent insight on this question in his book The Painted Word. I think that oftentimes, people like modern art largely because they have been told (in art history classes, etc.) how great it is, or because they want to be seen as hip. Then again, it seems to me that some of it is pretty damn great.

Although I have been looking at modern art with a more critical eye lately, and finding some of it pretty hard to swallow, there is a lot of it that I still really like. I have been looking at and thinking about de Kooning quite a bit over the last couple of years, and am increasingly fascinated by his work. No, I'm not going to cut loose with a bunch of art-speak about how great de Kooning is; I've just been wanting to show a bit of his work and give him some props, especially after my most recent post.

By the way-- I have been hearing that the recent de Kooning biography (by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan) is really great-- I think I'm going to have to pick up a copy.

Here is my current favorite painting by de Kooning, Excavation. This piece is generally considered to be the culmination of the abstract paintings that he had been working on since the mid-forties. Something is buried under the surface of this painting-- what is it?

Excavation, 1950, 102" x 82" (click on painting to zoom in)

Here is the first of his Woman series. Goddess/bitch/lover/tormenter. Conservative critics derided this painting as grotesque, while the more avant garde critics bemoaned his return to figurative painting and abandonment of pure abstraction.

Woman I, 1952, 58" x 75" (click on painting to zoom in)

I'll admit that I struggle with some of his work...

A Tree in Naples, 1960, 70' x 80"

One of his later works that I especially like...

Untitled V, 1980

Modern art can be challenging and problematic to evaluate, but I find myself to be really drawn to de Kooning's paintings, and I would have to say that yes, he is one of the great artists of the 20th century.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

"My Kid Could Paint That"

My Kid Could Paint That is a documentary about Marla Olmstead, a supposed four-year-old prodigy. From what I have been able to discern, it seems that there is no consensus as to whether or not Marla is actually the sole painter of these pictures. It has been suggested that her father has painted them himself; at the very least, he has been shown to be assisting her in some respects.

This film not only raises suspicion on the subject of whether or not Marla created the paintings, but it also has a lot to do with the nature of modern art in general-- is modern art (particularly non-objective and conceptual art) even valid as art, or is it just a scam? What separates her work from that of Willem de Kooning, for example? Is she as good as he is? Are deKooning and other well-known abstract/non-objective painters as great as they are supposed to be?

Olmstead, Darlene's Bikini, 48" x 48", 2004

de Kooning, Woman VI, 36" x 46", 1953

Marla being assisted (coached?) by her father

Click here to go to the film's website
Click here for the article New Questions About Child Prodigy

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Non-Art", "artspeak"

Art critic Donald Kuspit has written a number of excellent articles and a book (The End of Art) about what he refers to as "post-art" (sometimes also referred to as "non-art"). I have recently come across a couple examples of non-art that I found to be particularly notable. "Art" of this sort is generally accompanied by "artspeak"-- a largely meaningless jargon that is used by art critics, art historians, gallery owners, museum directors, and artists. You will be likely to run into artspeak in things like the "artist's statement" and in art reviews written by art critics; also at art galleries, art museums, and in art history classes. I would like to present a couple examples of non-art, both of which are accompanied by artspeak.

First, a piece I found in New American Paintings, a periodical that I regularly look at. It is really more of a book than a magazine. I find a lot of work in NAP that I really like; I also find a lot of work that is apallingly bad. Oftentimes, the work that I like is from artists with a BFA or even no degree at all; the work I like the least is often coming from people with a MFA. It seems to me that the main goal of a great many MFA programs is for students to achieve a mastery of artspeak. (That being said, of course some artists with a MFA do produce some really excellent work.)

(Unnamed artist), Phlag, 2006, oil stick on paper, 27" x 22"

This piece is by a woman who, to save her any embarrassment, I am not going to name. She is probably a very nice person. This woman has... you guessed it, a MFA degree. This means that she probably spent at least six years and many thousands of dollars to be able to produce work of such high quality. I hope she (or her parents) feels that she (they) got her (or their) money's worth. Here is her artist's statement-- a lukewarm example of artspeak:

In these drawings, I am exploring ideas about place, working from memories of nature. I'm interested in how place is also form. An image begins as a reconstruction of an imagined place using limited formal and material choices--in this case oil sticks. As the structure develops, the place often becomes a kind of self-contained object, cluster, or character, like the bundling up of a memory.
Art: F
Artspeak: C+

Next up is a piece I found in the current issue of that bastion of cutting edge contemporary art, Art in America. This is a piece of "land art", a relative of installation art and "found" art. If you want to read a bunch of artpeak, Art in America is the place to go.

Pawel Althamer, Path, dirt path, 1km

The review, part of a longer article by Gregory Volk:

The best new work at the Aasee, and possibly the best work in the exhibition, was a modest, unmarked dirt footpath, a little over half a mile long, by Polish artist Pawel Althamer. It started near a paved walkway and then veered off at an angle through the park, across meadows and a road, and out into a farmer's fields, where it eventually came to an end. Althamer's work was so unobtrusive and seemingly mundane that it could have easily been mistaken for a short-cut, though starting nowhere in particular and leading to no discernible destination. As you walked along this footpath (a muddy affair, when I visited) it became surprisingly meaningful and complex. In a place where pedestrians and bicycle riders largely stick to pavement, Althamer's Path posited a flight from orderliness, rules and routines. Waling felt different on it. You notice vegetation and the contours of the land, you were curious and also uncertain about where you were headed, and you also felt far more solitary than you would have on the usual routes. Negotiating its way between a manicured urban park and adjacent farmlands, society and solitude, public lands and private property, Althamer's path suggested an escape from the city, eve a kind of restorative pilgrimage--into nature, into the self, into freedom.
To anyone with anyone with an ounce of common sense, this is merely a path through a field. To Mr. Volk, however, this is an artwork of the highest quality--"possibly the best work in the exhibition."

Art: F
Artspeak: A+!!!

Not surprisingly, Mr. Volk is an instructor of art at a University college of art. Thank God we have visionaries like Mr. Volk teaching students how to be real artists!