Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Josh Garber Goes Out on a Limb

"in their clothes", branches, shrink wrap, tape, 12' x 18' x 14', 2015
Oak Park, famous as the home of the young Ernest Hemingway and the slightly less young Frank Lloyd Wright, is a separate township about ten miles due west of downtown Chicago, though it merges almost seamlessly with the city in a way that makes you feel you’re visiting a leafy Chicago neighborhood. Speaking of leafy, Josh Garber’s installation at Terrain, Oak Park, consists of tree branches and limbs connected by shrink wrap and tape that clamber up off the ground and claw spikily at the air, denuded of foliage but seemingly revivified into a new stage of growth.

Titled “in their clothes,” the sculpture is 12 feet x 18 feet x 14 feet, and is placed like all of the exhibitions at Terrain on the streetside lawn between two houses, opposite a local school and open to all weather which on the day I visited was warm, but not enough to melt the piles of surrounding snow. The whiteness of the snow provided a blank backdrop that accidentally emphasized the outlines of the piece, and focused the eye on the way the shapes struggled to achieve an airborne lightness. The artist spoke about hunting for trees on railway embankments and in the streets around his studio, of how he wanted to avoid the obvious interpretation of “nature strangled by plastic refuse,” and how he was more inspired by the Japanese practice of repairing damaged trees by binding them with plastic cord ties, like a sling for a person’s damaged arm. 
Is the piece also, as Garber put it, a precursor of a time when there will be creatures, humans possibly, that are a combination of organic and artificial material like plastics? That statement seemed as opaque as the title of the piece (whose clothes, exactly?). Looked at from the streetside, the piece starts to look like an animal, its long neck rearing up into the sky. Interpretations are fluid and open with most works of art, of course, so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have been reminded of some words by Robert Frost, from a poem called  The Sound of Trees:
My feet tug at the floor
And my head sways to my shoulder
Sometimes when I watch trees sway,
From the window or the door.
I shall set forth for somewhere,
I shall make the reckless choice
Some day when they are in voice
And tossing so as to scare
The white clouds over them on.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Etching with old copper plates

Since I merged two studios into one last year, I've gradually been going through crates of etched steel and copper plates that I've amassed over the years, unwrapping them from their protective layers, cleaning the rust-proof gel off them, and seeing if any of them can be reused. (When I first started to learn intaglio processes in the 90s, large sized copper plates could be had for about $10 each. Now they cost more than $50, because of the rapacious demand of the smartphone industry.)

The plate in the photo above is 12" x 14". I covered it with an acrylic resist called Z*Acryl, and drew the image with a drypoint needle. As I was drawing, I noticed that the line wasn't clean and straight, but slightly fuzzy. When I etched the plate in a tray of ferric chloride, I could tell that the lines were not going to be narrow and thin, which holds the ink in a more uniform way. My first proof of the plate after I'd cleaned off the resist, inked it, and printed it, looked like this:

Those white spots you can see, that seem to sit on top of the drawing, are caused by the etched lines being a little wider than they should, so that the ink spreads under the pressure of the press and fails to register a true, uniformly black impression. Thanks to many years of experience, I was able to make several adjustments and try again. I inked the plate, wiped it less than the first time, increased the pressure of the press, and padded the plate with lots more paper on top so that it would withstand the extra pressure. The next print looked like this:

Not bad. But the way the plate etched can be traced back to the acrylic resist (a problem that I've documented several times in the past). If I use the same resist again, I'll probably shorten the etching time, and add drypoint to beef up the drawing later.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Weekend of Good Art

From last Thursday through yesterday, Sunday, I had a weekend that was filled with lots of good art, and a feeling of advancing significantly with my own work. The fact that the clocks went forward in the USA and that the temperatures rose after a horrible February helped, too.

First was the A+D gallery, for a group show called Scaped that included an artist whose work I know, and whom I am acquainted with personally: Neha Vedpathak. I met her via the Paul Klein art advisory seminars, and her stunning work is in good company in this show organized by curator MK Meador. Neha is an artist who is clearly going somewhere big, so make note of her name now.



Next, on Saturday, I had a great studio visit with curator Teresa Silva, who is writing a catalogue essay for my upcoming show at Corner. It's not just that she's a great person to talk to: she says things that reflect your work back to you in a way that makes you subtly improve it. 

On Sunday, I met someone who can assemble little motors that will make the models you see in the following photo move in a diorama I'm creating for my Corner show:


Then later that same afternoon, Patty and I finally made it to an opening at Terrain, an outdoor project space that the phenomenal Sabina Ott has been operating from her home in Oak Park for nearly four years. The piece on display was by another friend and studio mate, Josh Garber:


I'm not saying much in detail about this piece or the A+D gallery show, as I am working on reviews for each one for Hyperallergic (the world's greatest online art magazine). Suffice to say it was a good way to end the weekend on a high note of brilliant creative energy.

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