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I Talk On Video

Here is a short video of me in my studio, talking about me, my art, and my influences.
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My Work Acquired by Important Collection

When so much of making work as an artist involves slogging away in a room with no idea if it's ever going to be seen by the world outside, it's satisfying when a little success comes your way. I am very proud that two of my handmade books were acquired recently by the Joan Flasch Artist's Book Collection at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago. This collection is one of the most renowned collections of books made by artists in the United States, so it's a huge honour to be included.

Here is one of the pieces, an interleaved slit accordion fold of two etchings:


And here is the other, a heavily collaged accordion book bound together by sisal:


Each piece is now being catalogued and digitized, and at some point in the future they will be on display at the library, possibly in the company of books by artists such as Joseph Beuys:

And Christo:


And Richard Tuttle:

I have paintings in my studio that are six feet square, yet it's these two small books that have given m…

Teaching at Interlochen, northern Michigan

Last weekend, my wife Patricia Ann McNair and I taught a one-day journal and sketchbook class at the Interlochen College of Creative Arts. The ICCA runs classes for adults in a purpose-built space on the campus of the internationally renowned Interlochen Center for the Arts. The photo above shows one of the participants in the act of making a 10-second drawing, the first activity of the day.

The Part and the Whole

In a seminar with the painter John Walker, I heard him say that with a painting, you should be able to see it all in one go and then also be able to lose yourself in the details. When I was at the Milwaukee Art Museum recently, I saw a painting by Pierre Bonnard -- one of his later ones from the 1930s -- and I thought this statement is truer of no artist more than him.


The painting is from a series that Bonnard produced based on his morning walks around his house in the south of France. It shows a view looking down across olive groves and gardens, with a few figures working in the rows, and a line of tress like a curtain across the background. When you step back from the painting, you see the large, loosely indicated shapes of field, a small house, the bent figure of a man, a woman to the right, an explosion of sky behind the trees. The foreground is tilted and flattened out in a way that reads as an abstract and not a naturalistic space.


We accept this, because it's once you mov…

R.I.P. John Schultz (1932-2017)

Teacher and writer John Schultz has died at the age of 84. He had a long association with Columbia College Chicago, where he helped found a fiction writing program that used a unique pedagogy: the Story Workshop method, which he began using in the classroom starting in the 1960s. John probably taught thousands of students over the course of a long career, and he was mentor and friend to many who went on to become teachers themselves. Most of the people who knew him, including my wife Patricia Ann McNair, spoke about him with reverence and immense gratitude for how he taught them to become writers.

Compared to her, and her colleagues at Columbia College Chicago, and his innumerable former students, I only had a passing acquaintance with John. Yet my first meetings with him came around the time that I first met Patty, during my first visits to Chicago, and for that reason this has claimed a special home in my memory.

I remember a party that Patty held at her apartment at the end of 200…

Trying Something New: Cyanotype

For the past few months, I've been working on a project with a student from Columbia College Chicago, comprising images and text relating to a travel narrative (he's an Englishman visiting the USA for this academic year). After casting around for a suitable visual vehicle for his photos, I settled on cyanotype:


This is one of the oldest of photographic techniques, dating back to the middle of the 1800s. In a nutshell: you brush a photosensitive emulsion onto paper (or fabric, etc), consisting of a mixture of ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide; place either thin objects or a negative against the paper and expose it to UV light for a while; wash off the emulsion and the image develops before your eyes; dip the print into a solution of water and hydrogen peroxide to turn the print that deep, dark blue cyan colour.

As you can see from the above photo, when you get the balance of light and dark right on the negative, the result is a gorgeously rich print, with a tona…

Truly I Live in Dark Times!

On November 9th, the day after the US presidential election, I had just arrived in England to attend a conference, and I spent the first few hours wandering around in a daze at the unexpected result. "These are dark times, these are the dark times" was a phrase I kept repeating in my head. They are from a poem by Bertholdt Brecht that seemed appropriate for the occasion:
Truly I live in dark times!
An artless word is foolish. A smooth forehead
Points to insensitivity. He who laughs
Has not yet received
The terrible news. The translation is by Scott Horton, from 2008, and his discussion of the meaning and context of the poem is unsurpassable, so I recommend you follow this link and read what he had to say. My personal knowledge of this poem ('To Those Who Follow in Our Wake,' from 1939) goes back to a long phase of devouring Brecht's plays and poems when I was in my twenties. This poem, from his Svendborg poems, was one of the only German poems that I could parti…