Monday, April 28, 2014

I am in the 2014 Whitney Biennial

A friend and fellow artist, Deborah Doering, just informed me that I am in the current Whitney Biennial -- the giant and prestigious show in New York that takes the temperature of contemporary American art every two years.

How did I only just find this out, when the Biennial was inaugurated three weeks ago? Artist Tony Tasset has created a piece called Artist Monument, which is a collection of dozens of acrylic panels etched with the names of thousands of contemporary artists. The panels are fixed to wood and steel, and exhibited in the Hudson River Park in New York City:


My name is included in the list. It appears a few lines from my more famous namesake and distant relative, Grace Hartigan:


My first response was to be tickled pink, as we British say, about the idea of my name being included. Then I realised that the point of the piece is to show the daftness of monuments that commemorate people by a plaque bearing their name, by just putting up the names of close to 400,000 artists, from Picasso to, well, people like me, thus making them all equal, and equally unimportant. Having all these names alphabetised, and possibly selected randomly using a Google search, makes the idea of the monument somewhat meaningless. And of course the person who really gets commemorated is Tony Tasset, for spending the time putting together the piece, and installing such a large object, whose size is negated by the art world irony of the concept inscribed within all those names, but which nevertheless is included and thus commemorated in this important survey of contemporary art.

But, hey, at least my name is in this year's Whitney Biennial! Drinks are on me!

Friday, April 25, 2014

Bits and pieces and stuff

I'm moving around in my studio between different projects, which is not a great way to work, as I like to keep up sustained progress over a length of time before moving on to the next thing. I'm trying to finish off some rewards for the Kickstarter Project Patty and I did at the beginning of the year. This set of rewards involves cutting up some 2" x 4"s into short lengths, to which I will glue some small prints. Here they are with a few coats of acrylic varnish on them, and then a layer of airbrush pigment:



I am also reusing old plates to make collagraphs, by coating them with layers of acrylic varnish:


Finally, I recently consolidated two studios into one (long story, but now everything is in one place in Chicago). I have dozens of etching plates, mainly copper, that have been wrapped and in storage for nearly a decade, so I am trying to clean up six or so at a time, to see which ones can still be used, and which ones can be recycled:


Note how the bubble wrap seems to have transferred a big dot pattern to the surface while the plate was busy oxidising. I will take a test proof from this plate next week and hope that this doesn't show up. Otherwise, there will be a lot of copper plates that will need to be resurfaced!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dreams in Art

I gave a talk today to a class of writing students about dreams in art. To be more precise, art that is either derived from dreams, such as Surrealism, or which has features in common with dreams as we experience them in our own lives or in writing. I talked about my own work, which uses dreams and relies on the unconscious as a working process. And then I projected some images for discussion. It was a good, engaged group of people. Here are some of the things we talked about:
The Egyptian god Anubis. Transformations from animal into human and vice versa are a common feature of dreams.

Australian artist Jean Burke, for its abstract qualities and its relation to the aboriginal state of Dreamtime.

A detail of Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, because religious visions often look like nightmares.


A painting and a print by Goya. Nuff said.

Fuseli's "The Nightmare." Funny how animals and monsters recur in art related to dreams, well before the Age of Freud.

De Chirico. Like that dream where you walk into a space that seems perfectly real and possible, but which doesn't seem quite right.

Andre Masson, an automatic drawing.

Magritte, for the occurrence of things in places where they shouldn't be, just as in, you know, dreams.

Dali, Surrealist dream maker par excellence.

Picasso's Blind Minotaur Being Led by a Girl. Created when Pabs was influenced by Surrealist ideas about the unconscious. A print I've spoken about several times on this blog, and one of the things that inspired me to take up printmaking.

Thanks to Tom Popp (himself a fine writer and some-time visual artist) for inviting me into his Dreams class.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Printmaking again

After I moved studios last year, I spent most of 2013 working on a stop-motion animation that combines printmaking, sculpture, and narrative. This year I've been making 2-d work again, using images derived from the film, or remembered from it. So there are layered fragments of maps, buildings, machinery, boxers (my grandfather was a bare knuckle boxer, and that is one of the themes of the film). I'm also trying the same material in printmaking, like these drypoints:



Technical note: I'm using extremely thin pieces of copper that I got from a building supplies shop, which means that you have to print with extreme pressure on the press. This probably means that the plates will wear out even more quickly than using thicker plates. That's the trade off between price and quality, of course.

Memories of the mining town where I grew up form the basis of the film, and hence this work. The image of the winding wheel comes up a lot -- that's the mechanism that lowers and raises the cages in the mine shafts. I've tried the wheelhouse image in a linocut, too, or to be more precise, an etched linoleum print:


This is a technique where you paint an image on the surface of the lino with stop-out, then coat the block in caustic soda. The caustic soda burns the exposed area of the lino and leaves a relief surface that looks very loose and free, in contrast to the direct blocky image that results from cutting the block. The print above was helped along by advice from a printmaker in Scotland called Aine Scannell. You can check out this link to her blog for a short introduction to the technique.

I like trying the same images out in different techniques as a way of seeing whether a different mark produces a better realization of the idea of traces that emerge from memory.

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