Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Bulgarian Connection

I've recently started looking at the web/blog/Facebook pages devoted to a small gallery in Bulgaria. Through the weird, magical connections that come about in this emerging new world of social media, it turned out that an artist connected with the gallery is also based here in Chicago. I will be posting an interview with him next week.

The artist is called Konstantin Ray. The gallery is called Artray Gallery. The gallery used to be the studio of an artist called Georgi Raychev (1936-2004), and it is situated on the bend of a river in the old town of Velike Tarnovo, in the middle of Bulgaria. Looking at the pictures of the town, it reminds me of places I visited in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland during summers of teaching in Prague:


Maybe if you follow the above link to the Artray pages, you'll become fascinated, too, by the images of this beautiful little studio/gallery space in a town that you've never heard of before, right in the heart of the home country of Christo.

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Another One Thousandth Anniversary

Another of the YouTube videos on art that I call Meditations has just passed its one thousandth view. This is no big deal given that when I typed 'kittens' in the YouTube machine, the first results had 707,000, 13 million, and 49 million hits respectively. But in my little world, I'm pleased that it did -- and surprised that it's the one I did on painter Cecily Brown:



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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hamish Fulton's SloWalk



This is a little late, but I thought I'd link to it anyway: film of a recent event at the Tate Modern, London (courtesy of the excellent Tate Channel) in support of Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei during his imprisonment by the Chinese authorities.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Kitchen Printmaking

We drove straight from Interlochen last Friday to our weekend house near the Mississippi. There's no TV, phone or wi-fi here (actually, we don't have TV in Chicago, either). All we have to do is tidy up a few dead insects and cobwebs here and there, tidy up after the cats, who have been looked after here while we were gone -- and then we can spend a few days doing a bit of R & R before the rest of a busy summer gets into gear.

For most of the weekend, that just meant sleeping, walking around the tiny downtown area (Mt Carroll, pop. 1500), cooking a meal for some friends on Sunday night. Patty is continuing to work on her novel, while also trying to fix up more readings to tie in with the release of her short story collection in September. I commandeered the kitchen for a day to do another reduction linocut:


It's a commissioned image of the Mallory-Towsley building at Interlochen, home of the Center for the Creative Arts. I did a five colour reduction linocut in four stages:



Here's what the block looked like inked up with the final colour:


This technique works best by hand-printing, so it's easy enough to do this on the kitchen table. The only things to watch out for are: a) the cats, who might jump up and take some inky paws into the rest of the house; b) the kitchen table, which is part of a classic 1950s American kitchen set. Getting ink on that would incur the famous Wrath of Patty -- and believe me, you don't want to see that too often ...


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Monday, June 27, 2011

Interview with multi-media artist Lauren Targ


Lauren Targ's extensive artistic resume includes acting with Steppenwolf Theater, improv at Chicago's Second City, film work, and multi-media projects including collaborations with Jaume Plensa on the Crown Fountain in Chicago, and The Crush Project with Mary Rachel Fanning. She currently teaches in the Television Department of Columbia College Chicago. After I spoke to Lauren at the One State conference last month, she agreed to an interview for this blog.

Philip: Take us right back to the beginning, and tell us how your artistic life began.

Lauren: I can’t begin to talk about my artistic development without talking about my childhood and the influence of my parents. As a child I was always creating adventures.  I liked imaginary games where one played a part in the story. If I were playing with others I would tell them what part they would be playing and what their motivation was. It sounds like I was bossy but I just had good ideas for play. When I would play outside in the yard by myself it may have looked like I was making mud pies but in my mind I was a chef, and each muddy hole was a different ingredient. Games of cowboys, cowgirls and Indians were very realistic.  Greek Mythology, fairy tales and politics influenced me. (My parents were very active in the anti war movement). There were elaborate productions in the backyard for neighbors, and at every family event the cousins were coaxed into some sort of performance. My mother had been an actress before she married and I am sure that influenced me. (As a child she was in several radio soap operas, she performed in Chicago and directed a children’s theater in my hometown before I was born. She gave up acting when she got older because she was told she was “too tall” to pursue it further.) When she read a story to me and my older sisters all the characters came to life. Bath time was a portal into the land of mermaids; each member of the family had a mermaid name, including my father, whose mermaid name was King Neptune. When I was little my home seemed like a magical, safe haven. I was definitely an outsider at school. 


Philip: How did you get involved in theater and film?

Lauren: I was in my first touring company at the age of nine. It was called “Playmakers” under the tutelage of Eunice Joffey. I was the youngest one in the company. We created the stories and performed them at schools and old folks’ homes. In high school I was in Steppenwolf Theater’s young peoples’ company. It was an amazing experience to watch that company grow. When our troupe was not taking class or performing we were working in the theater, whether it was helping paint sets or handing out programs. The company members were young and they were what I believed an ensemble should be. Steppenwolf was a great lesson in everyone pitching in to make a show happen. I had teachers I loved and respected. I went to school for theater in New York and came back to study improv and writing in Chicago. I took some fiction courses at Columbia College Chicago and began studying improv at The Players Workshop of Second City, studying with Josephine Forsberg and then moving into the top level of the Second City classes, studying under many teachers including Martin DeMaat. Martin encouraged me to begin directing and I had several well-reviewed shows produced at The Players Workshop. I wrote a play that was produced at the Alan Carr Theater at Lake Forest College.  I performed in improv troupes and in plays around the city.

I eventually wound up with an internship on a movie of the week where they looked at me and said’ “Art Department.”  I was too shy to ask to do something else and remained in the “Art Department” working on commercials and film as an art director for more than a decade. I had an opportunity to work with some wonderful people, but it was always kind of a “happy accident” that I ended up in the art department on a film set. The closest I came to the theater for many years was talking with actors on the set. I was offered some casting opportunities, and that was exciting and more in line with my background. A friend who knew my love of theater called me from Gallery 37 (a Chicago student arts program) and suggested I interview for a position with them. I started out teaching in the youth prison and spent over a decade working with Gallery 37, After School Matters and other youth programming, receiving an Illinois Arts Council grant and an Annenberg grant to work with students at the Washington Irving School. Teaching helped me transition out of the film business. 

Philip: How did you find your way to Interdisciplinary Arts at college?

Lauren: Ah, the elusive masters degree. True confession time: I have been to three programs, the first for psychology, where I decided I didn’t want to sit in a room and listen to people’s problems (anyone who knows me will realize how ironic and funny that is). The second masters program was for theater directing.  The program was not challenging to me, and even though they kept throwing money at me, I quit. When I started the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts at Columbia College they were just beginning the MFA in media.  I knew it was important for me to get my masters if I wanted to continue to teach. I assumed that the interdisciplinary degree would allow me to incorporate my love of storytelling, acting, and film into one program. It also brought in art and dance. There was a lot of freedom and a lot of choices. There were things that were appealing and baffling in the program. I explored multi-media, character development through storytelling and internal and external politics. The influence from my art direction days was that my installations were always tactile and physically interactive. There could be a giant puzzle for people to put together while they moved through the video and sound installation. I created a 9-foot tall video comic book where my character went from frame to frame talking about politics and war, all tented in a sandbagged bunker. I like the idea of the audience being able to be in the environment of the piece. I always liked to sit close to the screen in the movie theater when I was younger so that I couldn’t see the edges of the screen. I would feel like I was in the movie.


Philip: What was your greatest discovery from that program?

Lauren: I think it was that my first loves, writing and acting, are still my first loves. Collaboration is key for me, and one of the most frustrating parts of the program was that most of the people were visual, solo artists who did not want to work with others. Strange for me. I have been able to continue teaching since getting my degree. One of the most rewarding experiences that came out of my MFA program was the opportunity to work with Jamie Plensa and John Manning on the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park, Chicago. I directed the video for the fountain and I loved working with all the diverse people in the community. It was one of the best work experiences I ever had. Seeing the fountain and the community interaction now it is everything Jamie Plensa intended it to be. A few years ago a wonderful playwright, Barry Cole, wrote a play with a delicious part in it for me. It was amazing to perform again and that is what I am longing for at this point in time.

Philip: How did the Crush project come about?

Lauren: The Crush Project is my life long coming to terms with a fatalistic crush. A crush that formed my self-image. I have made so much “work” about it and this was another piece. The crush project collaboration with Mary Rachel Fanning started with a conversation about the universal experience of a crush. Every one has had at least one. Even if they decided that that one was enough, and they never wanted to feel that way again.  (Yes, someone told that story as well.) They are not gender specific: they range from the boy next door to coming out stories, from joyful stories to incredibly painful ones. 

Click here to hear some of the recordings.
What I love about the crush project is the variety of responses: from people who spoke for 30 seconds about a name and a giggle, to a two-hour long discussion with a woman in Amsterdam about a crush that turned into a horror story of molestation. People have recorded their crushes on paper, tape and in art for the project. The Crush project was a healing experience for me. My childhood crush comes in and out of my life, weddings, funerals and walks on the beach, and only the feeling of Agape remains. We still have a lot of archived tape that has not been put out to the public from Crush recordings. I don’t know if we ever will, but I love those stories and I hope to see them posted or transformed into something more. 

Philip: How would you describe your creative process?

Lauren: My process is like a volcano -- a dormant volcano these days! I spend a lot of time with ideas tickling the back of my mind before they either erupt or flow, or erupt and flow. I love collaboration. I am sure that that comes from my theater and film background. Currently, I am not working with anyone. I have some adolescent memories (mostly painful) playing with me. The music and images from high school are teasing me.  By the way, my perpetual crush is not featured at all in these particular memories. I think I have to start playing with those scenes and images.  

As part of my thesis paper I made a board game that was truly abstract. The places on the board were made up of fingerprints, and there was a lot of open, magic making space.  It’s all a game, or a musical or a gaming musical. I am feeling my way to what is next.  I hope my voice will be raised in song.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

A discovery in northern Michigan

Well, a discovery for me, at least. Someone introduced me to the work of Gwen Frostic when I was teaching at Interlochen, in northern Michigan. Her studio is only about 30 minutes' drive from Interlochen, in fact. I'd seen postcards of her relief prints for sale in frou-frou gift-shops around the area, but I tended to skirt past them, surrounded as they normally are by the usual floral-style paraphernalia of provincial tourism. The way she's marketed, as a kind of 'hullo clouds hullo sky isn't nature wonderful' pantheist, also put me off.

Relief print by Gwen Frostic

Then our friend Anne-Marie Oomen, writer and host of the Writers' Retreat we were teaching at last week, told us that she was collaborating with a dancer on a project drawing on material from Gwen Frostic's oeuvre. When we had dinner at Anne-Marie's beautiful house deep in the woods near Empire, Michigan, she brought out a stack of Frostic's printed books. Looking through them, I saw affinities with Japanese printmaking that I hadn't seen before - and which would be difficult to surmise by glancing at a postcard. In fact, her visual style is very fine, with just the right balance of simple shapes, detailed linework, and light-toned colours that work best with relief prints (linocut and woodcut).

Double page from a Frostic book

Much of her writing is not to my taste (to use a polite phrase). But leafing through her books, most of which I believe she only started creating when she was in middle age, was a great pleasure -- particularly in a week when I was working on reduction linocuts for the ICCA printmaking class:

'Green Bench', 8-colour reduction linocut, Philip Hartigan
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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Video from the Journal & Sketchbook class, Interlochen 2011



This is a short video of participants from the Journal & Sketechbook class at the June 2011 Interlochen Writers' Retreat. Every day, we used a variety of drawing and writing activities to explore how to visualise scene in a piece of writing, and then to carry over the visual discoveries into the writing. It's a 'generative' class, as opposed to the traditional 'hand out ten copies of your work and let the dogs rip it to shreds' approach of the traditional writing workshop. In other words, the idea is always to move at a certain point to your writing, whether that's fiction, memoir, personal essay, or other prose forms (not poetry).

In the video above, people are in the process of drawing three moments of scene from their writing, related in subject but with some time between them. They then go to the writing, read back from what they've written, and perhaps show some of their drawing. In this class at Interlochen, as in the other times we've taught Journal and Sketchbook, it is remarkable what people manage to see in their scene, and tell to the page, after they have tried drawing it for a while. It should go without saying that you don't need to make a polished representational drawing in order to do this: I coach people in basic drawing, shapes, gestures, and so on, but mainly I try and get them past the inhibitions, the barriers, and just to fill the page as much as they can. Whether that's with stick figures or perfectly rendered volumes is irrelevant. Everyone in this class certainly loosened up pretty quickly, and every one of the six people, without exceptions, produced what I would call beautiful drawings, and made huge strides in their writing.

Basically, you can't ask for more than that.

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Interlochen Writers' Retreat: Slideshow

Here is a slideshow of images from the final class activity in the Journal and Sketchbook class -- a three-stage drawing of moments of scene from ongoing written material:


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Friday, June 24, 2011

Interlochen Writer's Retreat: Day 4


Yesterday was the last day of the Writer's Retreat at Interlochen. In the Journal & Sketchbook class, we did final read backs, discussion of which pieces to read at the afternoon students' reading, and then one last activity -- the three-stage drawing, shown in process above.

It was also Lynn's birthday today, so Patty and I brought in cup cakes, one with a birthday candle on top. The cup cakes were also adorned with big, coloured plastic rings, which all the girls (including Patty) wore for a final group photo:


I will post more pictures and even video from this class. Until next time, here is one of the three-stage drawings created by Jo-Anne:


It was another great week, and the work was at least as good as if not better than what came out of the class here last year. Better not just to my eye, but to the participants, each of whom got a lot out of this intensive four days of thinking about their writing in a slightly different way.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Interlochen Writer's Retreat: Day 3


On day three, we went into the blind contour drawing, using giant wax crayons on big sheets of newsprint. After doing that, we lead the participants straight into 'blind writing', where they move a sheet of paper down as they write in their journals to cover up what they've written as soon as they move to a new line, the idea being that they don't stop to look back at what they've written, but keep moving forward in the moment. The discussion about the process, together with a short read-back from their writing afterwards, made it clear that everyone got a huge amount out of today's class, and were seeing the parallels between the blind contour drawing and their writing. Even on an abbreviated schedule like this, we can see and hear break-throughs beginning to happen in the writing.

It would be nice to excerpt from the journal writing, but in lieu of that, here is a blind contour drawing from each person:

Joan

Lynn

Lindsey

Viki

Linda

Jo-Anne

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Interlochen Writer's Retreat: Day 2


On the second day, we did the cluster drawing/written list activity. Participants make word lists, and then they draw separate or matched drawings of objects that they either see or just want to group together. The idea is that these can be mined for story. (A classic 'list' story would be Tim O'Brien's 'The Things They Carried'.)

Here are some of the pages from the journal/sketchbooks, showing lists, cluster drawings, and some combined writing/drawing:






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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reading at the Interlochen Writer's Retreat



Here are a couple of pictures of me reading at the Interlochen Writer's Retreat on Monday evening. I projected a slideshow of images from the Lucerne Project, and I read about five pages from the imaginary Lucerne travel diary that I've been writing and posting to that blog. It was the first time that I've really read anything like fiction, which is what those small pieces are, in the setting of a reading before a live audience -- and of real writers, no less. The pieces, and the images from the 100-page accordion book, were quite well received.

I was preceded by Anne-Marie Oomen, who read from her published volume of memoir:


And I was followed by Patricia Ann McNair (my wife), who read from her forthcoming collection of short stories (available in September from Elephant Rock Books). As usual, Patty brought the house down:


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Interlochen Writer's Retreat: Day 1

On day 1 of the Journal & Sketchbook class here at the Interlochen Writer's Retreat, we had people out and drawing within 20 minutes of the first class starting:


There are lots of flowers around here, by the way:


We have 6 participants for this class, which is a nice number. At least 3 have either passed through Columbia College, teach at Columbia College, or both. But the three other participants brought their own experience, professional and personal, to the class, too. Everyone jumped right in when we did the quick drawing activity. Here's a selection of some drawings:




Click on any image to embiggen it.

Once again, the range of gestural mark-making that comes out of people who say they cannot draw is pretty amazing. We turned immediately from the drawing to the writing, and it was also striking during a short read-back afterwards to hear how the writing was filled with a heightened visual sense.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Journal and Sketchbook: Past and Future

Today, Patty and I welcome a group of people to a four day Journal and Sketchbook class at the Interlochen Writer's Retreat, organized by the Interlochen College of Creative Arts in Collaboration with Michigan Writers. As this group of talented and eager adults begins to make work, I will post images on this blog.

Meanwhile, here are some images of the final projects produced by students at Columbia College Chicago, from the J&S class that ended in the middle of May. All of the work related in some way to the 35 pages of their final written piece.

First, Ashley Lyons, who brought in this five feet by six feet canvas. Medium: acrylic, embroidery:


Aviva Einhorn: ink, paint, and collaged text on wood:


Amanda Koester: ink and watercolour on paper:


Jeremy Zitnik: acrylic paint on paper:


Hattie Parmeter: hand-made jewellery, each piece embedded with a word or object relating to a character in her story:

Lauren Niemiec: acrylic. pastel, collage on paper:


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