Sunday, May 30, 2010

On Art and NASCAR (Indy 500 edition)


'The Automobile Clothed', Salvador Dali, 1941

Where the Futurists celebrated automobiles for their speed and mechanical perfection, succeeding generations of artists depicted cars less positively. By the time that the Surrealist movement developed in the 1930s, the car was just another object that the artist could show next to other completely unrelated things in order to produce that famed Surrealist effect of things-in-the-wrong-context. For this effect to work (think of the steam train emerging from the fireplace), the objects must be very familiar, so that their placement in an unfamiliar setting registers as somehow ‘wrong.’ This was what had happened to cars thirty years after they first appeared: they had become so ubiquitous that they were taken for granted. 

It came as a surprise to me to learn how often Salvador Dali, the most famous of the Surrealists, portrayed cars in his pictures. As early as 1924, a car features in a portrait of a friend called ‘Bather’. A fossilized car appears in ‘Imperial Monument to the Woman-Girl’ (1929). A painting from 1938 has one of the best titles in the history of art: ‘Debris of an Automobile Giving Birth to a Blind Horse Biting a Telephone.’ It doesn’t really add much to show the picture itself, except to illustrate Dali’s absurd transitions between contradictory physical objects and spaces. In 1941, he painted ‘Clothed Automobiles’, in which some majestic Cadillacs are shown covered in drapes, like booths in a night-club or a fashion boutique.


'The Rainy Taxi", Salvador Dali, 1938

The strangest use of a car in Dali’s work was at the 1938 International Surrealist Exhibition in Paris. He created a work called ‘The Rainy Taxi’, which was described by a contemporary observer thus: “Dali required an old taxi to be extracted from a breaker’s yard . . . it should rain inside the car, and on the rear seat there should be a dripping apparition, clothed by Dali and covered with the celebrated snails of Burgundy . . . The taxi having been found and transported to the middle of the courtyard, a plumber, under Dali’s orders, fitted a trough on the roof of the car, suitably perforated to supply a continuous rain. It remained only for Dali to carpet the interior with lichen and moss and to wait for the ensemble to settle down and take root. A chauffeur was put at the wheel, then into the humid interior were let loose two hundred Burgundy snails . . .”

Several things strike me about this piece. The first is that it was one of the earliest antecedents of what we now call Installation Art. The second is that it reminds me of the scene in Luis Bunuel’s ‘L’Age d’Or’ of the religious procession across some gnarled Oceanside rocks. Like Bunuel, Dali juxtaposes characters from bourgeois society (with Bunuel, priests and parishioners; with Dali, a society lady and her chauffeur) with a merciless organic world that threatens to overwhelm them. There is also the misogyny of artists of the time, who reflexively degraded an image of a women when they wanted to attack society as a whole.

But to return to the theme of the car in art: in Dali’s work, the car moved from being an admired symbol of modernity to a vehicle (pun intended) of absurdist humour. To Dali, the car was the biggest symbol of twentieth-century materialism (and he owned lots of expensive cars), but also just another object to be exploited in his so-called paranoiac-critical view of the world.

Ironically, Salvador Dali never learned to drive, which means he wouldn't have been able to compete in the Indianapolis 500 this weekend.

On Art and NASCAR (2)
On Art and NASCAR (1)

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Friday, May 28, 2010

Interview with artist Allison Svoboda

'Fauna No. 4', ink on rice paper collage, 40" x 30"

Following on from the interview yesterday with Diane Huff, here is an interview with the other artist in the current two-person show at the Chicago Artists' Coalition gallery. Allison Svoboda is exhibiting stunning black-and-white collaged ink drawings, that look part Chinese ink-brush painting and part science-fiction alien being.

Philip: How did you arrive at Sumi ink and Japanese paper as your current materials of choice?

Allison: My previous series of work was 'Carbon', consisting of charcoal drawings on paper. It's a wonderful medium where you can make mark upon mark and continuously layer and remove the charcoal.  I then started working with ink, which is really made out of the same material—charcoal compressed into a block, which I grind down using a grinding stone, and then I mix it into ink. I enjoy the meditative process of grinding the ink and the immediacy of the ink flowing onto the silk or paper. Once the ink fills the brush and you lay it on the paper, each movement is permanent yet ethereal. After working this way for a while, I soon found that I preferred the sketches on rice paper to more finished pieces. I then started my latest body of work where I collage hundreds of smaller ink paintings into a composition. I find this practice to be a perfect marriage of the immediacy of ink on paper and the slower process of working into a composition through collage. 

Philip: The repeated shapes in your work are derived from fractal geometry. For the less scientific-minded of us, can you explain that term a little? 

Allison: Fractals are all around us from pine cones to the branching of a tree or river.  The infinite layers of self-similar forms that are repeated in all living things are really what I find to be the very nature of beauty. 

Philip: There's something both very beautiful and a little unsettling about the arrangement of shapes in your work. Sometimes they look like flowers, but others look aggressive and skeletal. 

Allison: I'm glad you see that unsettling beauty in my work. I think it leads back to this theory of fractal geometry.  Fractals are found in everything from the microscopic to topography. These patterns found in nature lure the viewer into the composition, and once there, the viewer might start to question this attraction to the unconventional. 


'Ubiquitous Fecundity Series No. 2', ink on rice paper collage, 72" x 40"

Philip: How much do you guide the process once you start it?

Allison: What I like most about the medium of ink on paper is the intuitive aspect where the ink almost finds its own path on the paper. Unlike the charcoal on paper, once the ink is on the paper you can't remove it. It’s very Zen: being in the moment where each brushstroke speaks. I then take time to look at the intuitive paintings, digesting the composition and working slowly through the process of collage. I find this to be an exciting balance between accident and choice.

Philip: How do you arrive at the decision on the size of a piece? Many of them seem like they could keep on going. 

Allison: They just grow almost on their own!

Philip: What are you working on right now? 

Allison: I'm doing two large symmetrical pieces that use color. These pieces will be installed in the lobby of Prudential Plaza in January 2011.

The show at the Chicago Artists' Coalition gallery at 2010 W. Pierce Street, Chicago, runs through June 24th. You can see more of Allison Svoboda's work at www.allisonsvoboda.com.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Interview with artist Diane Huff

'Beaded', clay monoprint, 25" x 35"

Diane Huff is currently exhibiting work on paper in a two-person show (with Allison Svoboda) at the Chicago Artists' Coalition gallery. The exhibition is part of a year-long series of work by CAC members, curated by Susan Aurinko (photographer and owner of the recently-closed Flatfile Gallery). I was intrigued by how Diane made her subtly-textured yet brightly-colored monoprints, so I began this short interview by asking her to describe how she made the prints.

Philip: You make prints using a technique called 'clay monoprint'. Could you described the materials and process?

Diane: The process uses liquid clay, colored with powdered pigment such as you would use for oil painting. I also use Akua water-based printing inks. I work on a leather-hard clay slab. I apply a single layer of color or many layers. Each color that I apply becomes embedded in the slab. When I'm satisfied or ready to see what happens (sometimes my work is very serendipitous), I spray the slab with a light spritz of water, and do the same to the paper, which is a special paper called Remay. Then I mask off the borders and pull a print by rubbing the back of the paper.

Philip: The prints have vibrant colours and striking contrasts of forms. Where do you think that sense of design comes from?

Diane: I'm not sure where the "design" comes from. Very often I arrive at the image by pure chance. Sometimes I will see something I want to emphasise, and then I mask off an area to bring that image to the fore.

'Reach for the Sun', clay monoprint, 21" x 22"

Philip: Could you say something about how you arrive at titles for the prints?

Diane: Titles are the hardest thing to come up with. Sometimes the prints go untitled for weeks after I've made them. This can cause problems sometimes when I need to find a print again! Because I work in series, I try to find a related theme. For example, I did a series based on visits to Santa Fe, while another series was mainly based around the color blue. 

Philip: Are there any recurring themes or patterns that you recognize in your own work?

Diane: Circles seem to be a recurring theme in my work, and things that relate to the organic world -- leaves, flower forms, bones, and so on. However, I must say that when I let my mind wander, with no set idea in mind, I tend to be happiest with the results.  

The show at the Chicago Artists' Coalition gallery at 2010 W. Pierce Street, Chicago, runs through June 24th. You can see more of Diane's work at www.dianehuff.com.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On the Journal+Sketchbook class 2010 - final projects


Click on any image to see larger version

The last class in the Journal+Sketchbook class at Columbia College Chicago took place ten days ago. Each of the 12 students was required to read three pages from their final written piece, and present and talk about a final visual piece. Patty and I have been teaching this class since 2005, and nearly all of the visual pieces were the best ever presented for final projects. I'm starting with this star book (above), by Katy, who had no art-making experience at all before this class. I demonstrated how to make smaller versions of these, but Katy took pieces of paper about 16 inches square, and made this superb star-book that unfolded to about three feet in length. Inside she had collaged all kinds of drawings and images relating to her final story.

Next, a student called Jamie did the following:


As he explained it, he called up images on the internet relating to water and sky, shone different coloured lights at the screen, then took photos of the laptop screen-image-plus-reflections. After collaging these together on a large piece of construction paper, he glued on bits of broken glass and dental floss. Again, a pretty imaginative use of materials for someone who isn't an art major.

Sophia (another fiction writing student who has no prior art experience) did this acrylic painting of a character from a fantasy story she was writing:


It was fairly large, and in free-flowing colours, all of which represented a big advance for her as she had previously done very small black and white drawings.

Finally, Teresa made this big collage:


She said that she was too broke to buy many art materials, so she took a piece of formica tabletop from her apartment, then wrapped coloured strings around it. Inside the vectors created by the string, she stuck all kinds of stuff - bits of paper, magazine images, drawings, tin foil, even tea bags. She brought it all together by drawing over the assemblage with coloured pastels. Teresa is the only one of the four I've shown here who had taken college-level art classes before. But altogether, the other work easily held its own with Teresa's, and I was astounded by, impressed with, and proud of this student work.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On looking through old sketchbooks: 7

On the road into Granada, Spain, 1991

“As in the fourteen likes of a sonnet, a few strokes of the pencil can hold immensity.”—Laura Knight.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

On The House of the Vettii


Meditation on the House of the Vettii, Pompeii from Philip Hartigan on Vimeo.


This week's Meditation is on the remarkable House of the Vettii in Pompeii. I spent a day there in 1998, and I'll never forget how beautiful these 2,000 year-old paintings were.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

On Renzo Piano's Modern Wing for the Art Institute


I visited the new wing of the Art Institute of Chicago recently. Renzo Piano’s building for the AIC is everything that Libeskind’s Denver Art Museum is not: light, airy, elegant, despite its size; striking without being overwhelming; and it serves the art extremely well. Every space in Piano’s design seems to be filled with natural light, presumably a combination of all the walls of glass and the innovative tile system of the roof. The materials, both inside and out, are beautiful: smooth wood, stone, glass. I know that architects can’t be expected to be the same, or to produce the same kinds of designs, but the difference in the Chicago and the Denver buildings shows a difference of attitude towards human beings. Libeskind clearly doesn’t care one bit about the effect of his buildings on people (except to be pleased when they are provoked), while Piano clearly thinks about how people will use the spaces that he creates.


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Friday, May 21, 2010

On why you should think of taking the Interlochen printmaking class



Because printmaking is one of the most hands-on, direct, and satisfying ways of making art. You can be an absolute beginner, and within a couple of hours you can create a print, and join a tradition that goes back centuries.

You can have some previous experience of art or printmaking, or you can have NO prior experience. How is this possible? The techniques that I teach in the class can be learned by everyone and applied to whatever your level. When I taught this class in rural Illinois, more than half of the people were absolute beginners. If you see the prints that they eventually created, I can guarantee that you will produce something similarly satisfying.


You can make a print of whatever you want: trees, lakes, people, objects, images from magazines. I will encourage you to try at least one image that you develop from your own imagination, but I don’t impose subject-matter.

We will have four days to try some techniques, work on getting some quick prints done, and then working on creating at least one more developed print. At the end of the session, you will have printed a small edition of at least one of your images.

You will have access to a table-top printing press, and it’s a great feeling to put your inked plate on the bed of the press, place paper over it, and then turn the wheel of the press to make your very first print. And the techniques that you learn – contact monoprint, direct monoprint, linocut – are all things you can do later at home, on your kitchen table, without a printing press.

The costs of the course ($450 tuition, with housing and meals on top of that), might look high, but in addition to learning such great stuff, you also get to learn it in one of the most beautiful places in northern Michigan. Interlochen sits in the middle of thick woods, right next to a lake. It is surrounded by trees, water, trails for running and hiking. Patty and I have spent many days and nights there, and it is simply one of the most beautiful places you will ever visit. And I’ve been to a few places in the world, let me tell you.





Have another look at the slideshow above, showing the beginner’s class from 2009. Think about what fun it could be to try this out for yourself. Feeing tempted yet? Then go to the Interlochen College of Creative Arts page and consider signing up. The deadline for the Introduction to Printmaking class is June 1st. If you come, you won’t regret it.

On the Interlochen Printmaking Class: Chine Colle


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Thursday, May 20, 2010

On blind contour drawing


Drawn completely blind this time.

"By drawing, man has extended his ability to see and comprehend what he sees." -- Frederick Gore.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On a new painting


I started a new painting today. The central form is from a picture of a big iron bridge near the mining town where I grew up. I painted a few layers of gesso over it, then pressed kitchen roll into the wet gesso and pulled it away to leave all kinds of interesting marks and textures. The last thing I did was to rub thin red acrylic paint over the surface, taking care to leave the preceding layers visible. Next time I'm in the studio I will start adding other shapes in transparent layers of paint.

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On transporting myself to another time in art history


Le bateau lavoir, c. 1905

Are there events in the lives of artists that you read about and wish you’d been around to see? I’ve read a lot of biographies, and the one that stands out for me is John Richardson’s Life of Picasso, Volume I. It covers Picasso’s life from his birth in 1882 to the middle of 1907, just before he started work on ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.’ Richardson discovered a wealth of new material about Picasso’s early years in Paris, and his descriptions of the bohemian life of Montmartre just teem with vivid detail.

I wish I’d had a studio in the Bateau Lavoir round about 1905. This was an old laundry building on a small square in Montmartre, the Place Emile Goudeau. The entry was on the square, and once you were inside, the building descended sharply through several levels because it was built on the side of a hill. The building is no longer there, but if you go to the square you can still see quite clearly what this would have looked like. My studio would have had no heating or water, but might have had one wall entirely of small glass panes—which would make it freezing in winter and boiling hot in summer. I would of course have had a round metal stove, with its thin chimney snaking out through a hole cut illegally in the ceiling or the side wall, where the smoke from the logs would have belched out and joined the smoke from the hundreds of other chimneys in the district. For lunch and dinner, I would probably go to Le Lapin Agile, a dive on the square where the local artists would gather to eat and drink. The locals—the non-artists, the civilians, the barrow-wheelers and draymen, the small store owners, the bank clerks—were known to refer to this tribe of artists as ‘the apaches’. And some of us would live up to this reputation by carrying a revolver, which we would occasionally fire out of one of the Bateau Lavoir’s windows at night to let everyone know that ‘the apaches’ were on the war path.

If I was lucky, maybe I would get invited up to one of the late night sessions in the studio of that Spanish artist, the small guy with the build of a wrestler who had that tall, regal-looking mistress with the Egyptian eyes. The party would start at eleven or so. Those two poets would be there—Apollinaire, with his incessant puns and his bumptiousness; Max Jacob, moody and serious, always glancing at Picasso to see if Apollinaire was getting too much of his attention. Picasso would smile more than he would talk, because he was self-conscious about his Spanish accent when he spoke French, particularly around Braque, who also had a studio in the building, and who was probably the only person Picasso was slightly in awe of. There would be anis, and absinthe, and as the night wore on, the hashish pipe would get passed around, which Picasso wouldn’t touch because he once had a bad trip. The talk would go non-stop. There would be shouting, laughter, voices talking back and forth and over each other. There would be merciless mockery of people who were present and absent. The future of art and poetry would be drunkenly argued to death. Eventually some would start to fall asleep, some would want to go back to their work, some would leave the building to continue the party somewhere else. And in the morning life would begin all over again.

Yes, the Bateau Lavoir, June 1905. That’s where I would like to be.

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On looking through old sketchbooks: 6

1991: Looking out over the plain from Ronda, Andalucia

“Drawing is like making an expressive gesture with the advantage of permanence.”—Henri Matisse.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

On my new website


A new version of my website is now live:

 www.philiphartigan.com

Featuring my new work, lots of video, social networking links, studio shots: it's a whole cornucopia of goodness and newness. May it bring you all joy and beauty.

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On Renoir's 'Le Moulin de la Galette'


Meditation on 'Le Moulin de la Galette' by Renoir from Philip Hartigan on Vimeo.

This week's Meditation is a rant about and a reconsideration of a painting by Renoir.

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

On 10 huge personal influences on my art

Because it's always time to show a picture of Patty


Mrs. Brown: my Miss Jean Brody-ish high school art teacher, who told me it was time to stop drawing comic books and to start ‘expressing yourself through REAL drawing.’ She was right.

Barry Lewis: my high school friend, whom I met when we were 11 years old. We both applied for and got into Cambridge University at the same time, so our conversations and arguments about everything and anything started in pre-adolescence, continued through our teenage years, and went on through innumerable alcohol-fuelled all-night discussions at university.

Katayoun Dowlatshahi: one of my peers when I studied for my art MA in Barcelona. She was the real thing (and her post-MA career has borne this out): an extremely talented person who provided an example of how to become completely immersed in materials and ideas.

Richard Wentworth: celebrated conceptual artist who was one of the visiting tutors on my MA. He turned out to be extremely open-minded about art (I was a painter at the time) and very generous in his opinions.

Christian Boltanski: I only had one brief conversation with him, and it was only years later that I started to like his work. But I now count him as one of the keystones of my own current work.

Thomas Gosebruch: a German artist living in London with whom I studied printmaking. He had an old school teaching method, which meant 90% belittling criticism to 10% praise, but I learned so much about printmaking from him that I can’t even begin to summarise it all.

Stephen Westfall: New York-based abstract painter who I met at the Vermont Studio Center in 2000. We hit it off straight away, and ended up swapping guitar arrangements of Beatles songs while sitting on the steps of an old wooden church in Johnson, Vermont.

Carrie Iverson: a printmaker who I met while working at the Chicago Printmakers’ Collaborative, and with whom I had a two-person show in 2003. We sort of fell out after that, but I still acknowledge the benefit of working closely with someone of her talent and dedication.

Deborah Doering: artist and owner of the Finestra Art Space in Chicago’s Fine Arts Building. I’ve had two shows in her space, but it’s been equally beneficial to me in the last few years to discuss the state of art and the art world with someone of her rigorous conceptual frame of mind (something which I lack these days).

Patricia Ann McNair: finally, and most of all, this writer of short stories, and creative non-fiction, who happens also to be my wife of the past eight years. Being with Patty, and having her as my sounding board and first pair of eyes, has dramatically transformed the way I make art. She’s changed so many things for me: because of her, I’ve read more contemporary American literature than ever before; I’ve personally met many writers of all stripes (Hubert Selby, Richard Ford, Irvine Welsh, for example); I’ve seen what it is to teach students in a way that draws them out rather than tears them down or lectures at them; and in 2006, it was Patty who urged me to turn more towards the personal narrative as a subject of art, material that I am still working with today. If I think back ten years, to the time just before I met her, I’m amazed at how different I was, and how different the art I make would have been if hadn’t met her.

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Friday, May 14, 2010

On Old Sketchbooks: 5



“Drawing is the discipline by which I constantly discover the world.”—Frederick Franck.

I've skipped forward from 1986 to a sketchbook from 1991 here. The pages are 11" x 8.5", and it's a hardbound sketchbook that I took around Andalucia, Spain, when I spent a couple of weeks touring around by bus and train. I used this loose-wristed style to register the fact I was moving around a lot. The above sketch was done on a street in Jerez de la Frontera.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

On Shake Rag Alley, Wisconsin: Interview with Judith Sutcliffe (2)

Hammered jewelry made by a student in Judy's class

In part 1 of this interview with Judith Sutcliffe, we talked about how she got involved with Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. The interview continues below with a discussion of Judith's own artistic biography.

Philip:
We’ve spoken a lot about Mineral Point. Now I’d like to find out about your own artistic history.

Judith: Before I absconded to Santa Barbara in 1978, I had a pottery in my small Iowa home town, Audubon, and I experimented with a lot of things. I'm kinda entrepreneurial. Someone gave me a necklace made of beads and hammered copper wire, and I just started doing wire jewelry on the side. I also sculpted dolls, culminating in doing all the Iowa First Lady Dolls still in their big glass case in the Des Moines capitol building. But once I was in California, I concentrated on tile murals for homes, business, and signage. It was a full time business for 17 years. On the side I designed computer fonts, starting in 1985. My Electric Typographer fonts are still sold by FontShop, Monotype, and Daniel Will-Harris. I also scrounged a couple of small presses and taught myself letterpress printing. And I designed a few books for Capra Press and wrote, designed, and published a book about my mother's family experience with tuberculosis. It's called Grandma Cherry's Spoon. When I moved back to the midwest in 1996 I wrote, illustrated, and published a collection of short poems called Iowa Lyric. And this year I designed and published a book of lyrical essays I wrote, called A Collection of Old Men. And I'm working on another book of poetry and a book about our old house in Galena.


Philip: When did you start making jewelry?

Judith: I didn't think about making jewelry again until I was teaching at Shake Rag Alley. There are several board members who enjoy teaching, and they’re all very versatile. Sharon Stauffer, for instance, was an accountant during her working life, but she happens to be a very good artist in portraiture and in collage and mixed media, classes that she now enjoys teaching. I have been teaching concrete sculpture and mosaic work, often team teaching with Heidi Dyas-McBeth, a young Platteville artist. Looking around for something else to teach, I remembered the wire jewelry work I'd done in the past. I ordered copper and brass wire, ball peen hammers, and so forth, and started teaching a basic, fun, beginners’ class in hammering wire into a wide assortment of jewelry. Along the way I came up with a neck ring design and started selling them in our gallery, along with a typecase full of one-of-a-kind hammered wire and bead dangles to string onto the neck rings. I got a very nice check from our gallery after last year's Fall Art Tour! (I was demonstrating both tile painting and jewelry hammering in my studio during that weekend as one of the artists on the tour.)

Philip: How do you balance the time between being an artist, running a gallery, and being involved in the day-to-day running of SRA?

Judith: Well, my partner, Sandy, runs Longbranch Gallery in cahoots with artist Ben Brummerhop. I help, but they're the ones in charge. Sandy is board president of Shake Rag Alley and I'm also on the board. She's involved in marketing, promotion, fund raising, and she hosts the Woodlanders Gathering and Stage & Screen, an exciting week with professional theater and film teachers. She gave up sleeping long ago!

Besides teaching cement sculpture and jewelry at Shake Rag, I work on the curriculum committee, coming up with teachers and classes, writing for the catalog/web. And I help set up the blacksmithing program. I'm on the grounds and buildings committee, also. A lot of roofs have been repaired since the school started. There's still a lot of maintenance and repair we'd like to do on buildings, but funds are hard to come by. Most everyone on our working board at Shake Rag is heavily involved in many aspects of keeping that place alive and cooking. As I said before, we have an excellent full-time and part-time staff. And Al Felly, who put Shake Rag Alley on the map in the 1970s, still lives across the street in the summertime, still a fountain of information.

Dragon, from Judy's cement mosaic sculpture class

Philip: 
What do you see happening at Shake Rag Alley in the next five years?

Judith: Survival through these difficult economic times is first, and we'll just keep hanging in there. It's a challenge to promote and market our workshops, lodging, and Alley Stage on very tight budgets, but getting the word out is the main thing we try to do. We know we have good workshops that people really enjoy, and we know that people love the valley itself. It's got its own special magic with the lovely little spring, tall shade trees, lots of gardens, rustic brick paths, old buildings with character, and with our summer theater hidden away in the old quarry. It's an oasis of creative fun just around the corner from downtown Mineral Point. We'd like to keep strengthening the class offerings we have. For example, we'd like to see Dean Bakopoulos' vision of Shake Rag as a major Midwest non-academic writing center gradually take form. And our jewelry making, metalsmithing, and blacksmithing program is coalescing nicely. Our cement sculpture and mosaic classes are unique. And mixed media is coming along strong as well. Alley Stage is making a fine place for itself in regional theater, while developing quite an ensemble of area actors, directors, designers, and playwrights. It just all gets better. And we'll only be six years old come October.

You can order "Grandma's Cherry Spoon" from Amazon. Click the following link for more information about the Shake Rag Alley Center for Arts and Crafts, including upcoming classes.


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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On Shake Rag Alley, Wisconsin: Interview with artist Judith Sutcliffe

Entrance to Shake Rag Alley

Judith Sutcliffe is an artist and writer, and a co-founder of the Shake Rag Alley Center for Arts and Crafts in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. I recently had the opportunity to visit Shake Rag Alley, and see how Judith and her partner Sandra  have transformed it into a thriving arts center. The interview is divided into two parts. In part 1, below, we discuss the history of Shake Rag Alley and the artistic community in Mineral Point. In part 2, published tomorrow, we will talk about Judith's own art, past and present.


Philip: Could you tell us a little about the history of Shake Rag Alley?

Judith: It's in Mineral Point, an artists’ community in southwest Wisconsin known for its 1840s limestone buildings made by Cornish lead miners. Early miners clustered their cabins around Federal Spring in a small valley known as Shake Rag Under the Hill or Shake Rag Alley. Some of the cabins are still there, and the spring is still flowing, winter and summer. It's rather picturesque.

Philip: How did you originally get involved with Shake Rag Alley?

Judith: In July of 2004 we discovered during the Woodlanders Gathering that Shake Rag Alley was for sale by then-owners the Ridnours. The folks at the Gathering were pretty upset that Shake Rag would be sold, and Glen Ridnour told us that he had a serious offer from someone from Madison who would turn it into a private estate. Earlier that summer we had talked with Jim Kackley, retired CFO of Arthur Anderson, and a quiet power behind the renovation of several historic properties in Mineral Point. He felt that what was missing in this town with so many artists and art studio galleries was an art school.

Once we decided to make that idea a reality, everything moved very fast. Glen Ridnour called up a realtor and we sat down in his living room and signed papers. We put as contingencies that we had three months to raise $100,000 for the down payment, and that we were to start the process of creating a nonprofit corporation to be the owner of the art school. Glen signed the papers with us. What Glen knew but Sandy and I didn't know was that the other person interested in buying the property was sitting in the little cafe that was part of the property, holding a check. We all took a giant leap of faith right there.



One of the nineteenth century log cabins

Philip: How soon were you able to get the arts program up and running?

Judith: Sandy, Jim Kackley and I signed the final purchase papers as founding board members on October 14, 2004. We opened the art school November 1, 2004, with after school classes for local children, and workshops for adults following in early spring. After our nonprofit corporation status was verified in February, 2005, we’ve just steamed onward. We have a working board of 9 local people now, with a small, skilled, and efficient full-time and part-time staff.  In addition to hundreds of arts workshops, we have developed a range of overnight lodging that we can offer our students, instructors, and the general public, and that helps our bottom line. We also now have Alley Stage, our summer theater that offers premier performance for original plays, with Coleman as artistic director.

Philip: What sort of workshops are offered at Shake Rag Alley, and who are the instructors?

Judith: We offer just about any kind of arts workshops anybody can think of, except pottery. We don't want to compete with the potters in the area or the Bethel Horizon pottery school not far away. Anything else is fair game. So in our catalogs and in our extensive website listings you will find workshops in batik, blacksmithing, creative writing, pewter casting, making trellises, mosaic sculptures, mixed media and digital arts—whatever our curriculum committee and area instructors can come up with.

Our instructors come from the Tri-State area and occasionally far beyond. A couple of years ago, novelist (and Guggenheim fellow!) Dean Bakopoulos taught some well-attended writing classes at Shake Rag. Some of our instructors are academically fortified, some not. Our basic premise is that if you know how to do something and love to teach it, we'll give you a try. We're very open to new ideas and new teachers. Most of our classes are half day, full day, weekends, or occasionally longer.

Drying work in a batik class

Philip: How would you describe the artistic atmosphere of Mineral Point?

Judith: The artist community of Mineral Point is wonderful, and we really feel part of it now. It has a long history, going back to artists Ava and Max Ferneke who were there in the 1930s, and it includes  Bob Neal and Edgar Hellum, who rescued several miners' stone and log cottages from ruin and turned them into Pendarvis, now a state historic site. In the 1960s Ken Colwell owned the big old stone brewery and ran a business teaching spinning and weaving. Several people who took fiber classes there liked the town so much that they stayed. One of them was leather artist Cheryl Smeja, who is one of our board members, an instructor, and the wizard of our website. There are many artists, many artist studios and galleries in Mineral Point today, and they are all fun and friendly and helpful. The artist community includes actors and directors, trades artisans, collectors, historians, writers, well-wishers, musicians, folks who sell at the farmers market, besides the active artists. It's a large community, generally pretty liberal, and there are no status levels. Everybody's in it together and everybody works together. Oh, and we also have a Film Society. It's just starting up again after a year's hiatus waiting for the marvelous renovation of the Mineral Point Opera House to finish.

The main problem Mineral Point now faces is the gray hair on most of its artists' heads. We need new young ones, and we know it's not easy for young artists to find a toe hold, with property not being as inexpensive as it used to be. A pair of dedicated young potters showed up a couple years ago and tried to find a place to do pottery. It was tough. But they are currently potting and teaching at Bethel Horizons, working odd jobs in winter to keep going, with real perseverance. Green Lantern Gallery gave them a show during the initial Clay in May potters' promotion May 1. The Mineral Point Chamber of Commerce each year designs, prints, and distributes by the thousands a full color book about all the artists and shops and everything a tourist and art buyer would want to know about Mineral Point. It's very impressive, and seeing it was one of the reasons we bought our gallery building there.

Tomorrow in part 2: Judith discusses her own work, and the future of Shake Rag Alley.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On more contour drawings


These contour drawings are addictive. This one was done with more glancing at the page, but the emphasis was still on the contours of things.

“What do drawings mean to me? I really don't know. The activity absorbs me. I forget everything else in a way that I don't think happens with any other activity.”—John Berger.


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Monday, May 10, 2010

Saturday, May 8, 2010

On the Interlochen printmaking class: Chine-collé


Following on from previous posts about the techniques I propose to teach at the Introduction to Printmaking class at Interlochen in June, here's an especially delicious process. Called chine-collé, it involves placing a piece of thin coloured paper, coated on one side with wheat paste, on the inked up linoleum block. The two are then printed onto a thicker piece of paper, with the result seen in the print above, where the student used a strip of ochre-coloured Japanese paper to represent the sky. From the same class, another student did the following print:



Here, the yellow circle and the two red circles are the 
chine-collé. As you can see, it's a beautiful and simple way of combining colour and a different texture with a black and white linocut. And of course, you could ink the linocut with coloured inks, too.  If you want to learn how to do this in the beautiful setting of the Interlochen Arts Academy in northern Michigan, sign up for the class now.


See also:

On the Interlochen Printmaking Class: Rainbow Roll
On Interlochen, Summer 2010, Printmaking Class

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