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Showing posts from February, 2010

On artists who write and writers who art: Part 2

As I said in my first post on the subject, Patty and I started this class after seeing how certain artists and writers used another medium – a writer who drew, or an artist who wrote. There are some writers whose drawings and paintings are well known – the nineteenth century English writer of nonsense verse, Edward Lear; Winston Churchill; D. H. Lawrence. After doing further research, we turned up some names that really surprised us.
A lot of authors from the nineteenth century left behind paintings and drawings in their notebooks and archives. Some of them, like a competent watercolour by Charlotte Bronte, probably came about because middle class women of the time were expected to be able to paint a little, play music a little, sew a little, instead of getting a formal education. Now that time has raised Bronte far beyond the intellectual level of her male peers, we can look at the painting not as a genteel diversion for a Sunday afternoon, but as a form of expression that was related…

On love spoons (more Welsh stuff)

What do you mean, you don’t know what a love spoon is?
A love spoon is a gift given between lovers that originates in the middle ages in Wales. Patty and I found about this during our research for a travel article in Wales (see previous post). Designs representing love, such as intertwined braids, are carved into the handle. The couple is supposed to hang it from a nail to bring them future happiness. They come in many different designs:

And many different sizes. While we were in Cardiff at Christmas 2007, a chap was just finishing the largest carved love spoon in the world. He was doing it with a chainsaw on the grass in front of Cardiff Castle:

I think he was responsible for carving the previous ‘largest love spoon in the world.’ I recalled this because of the Richard Burton anecdote that came back to me last weekend. But also because it shows how the loony obsessiveness of art-making is not confined to addicts of gigantism such as Richard Serra or Anselm Kiefer.
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On 10 Welsh connections in my life

People at eisteddfod, isn't it?
Thinking again about Wales made me try to recall all the things in life that connect me to the land of sheep and nice singing: My father’s mother was born of Welsh parents, which makes me, er, one eighth Welsh?Because my father’s family all lived in Liverpool, we often took day trips across the border into north Wales whenever we visited our Scouse ‘rellies’.When I was about fourteen, we spent a summer holiday in Llangollen. I remember visiting an eisteddfod, and thinking how weird and beautiful it was.I once learned to say (with a bad accent), the longest place name in the UK (it’s in Anglesey): Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.At a wedding party in the 1980s, I nearly got into a fight with a red-headed Welshman after we had argued all afternoon about Mrs. Thatcher and I had ended up calling him ‘boyo’.One of my fellow students at art college was the lead singer of the Supe…

On a follow-up to Albee and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Thinking about my post the other day about Albee et al, I dug out this information which is closer to the usual subjects of this blog:
Q: What do these ten artists have in common?
Rembrandt van Rijn.
Frans Hals.
Edgar Degas.
Claude Monet.
Auguste Renoir.
Vincent Van Gogh.
Paul Cezanne.
Henri Matisse.
Pablo Picasso.
Amadeo Modigliani.
A: Paintings by these artists are owned or have been owned by Elizabeth Taylor.

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On ‘Notes to Nonself’ at the Hyde Park Art Center

'Notes to Nonself', multimedia installation by Diane Christiansen + Shoshanna Utchenik, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago
You enter a long, high-ceilinged gallery filled with six-foot high fir trees, their outlines cut from plywood in the simple zig-zag shapes of a child’s drawing. Stuck to the surface of the trees are hand-written phrases, drawings, and linocuts representing people, skulls, prayer flags, organic shapes. Overhead float clouds cut out from paper, hand-painted, and suspended in the air by monofilament. You pick your way through the slightly menacing forest and come upon a life-size pink octopus occupying the centre of the gallery. At the back of the room is a clubhouse, about five feet in each dimension, raised up nearly six feet from the ground, with a ramp leading from ground level up to the entrance. Dominating the space is an animation, projected on the mezzanine wall and running the entire thirty feet length of the room.
Welcome to ‘Notes to Nonself’, a multimedi…

On Colleen Wallace Nungari's 'Wild Bush Yam Dreaming'

This weeks' meditation is on a painting by an indigenous Australian artist Colleen Wallace Nungari:



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On Albee, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Burton

Today being a day of honor for Edward Albee reminds me of when I was in Cardiff a few years ago to do a travel article. Bear with me here: my wife and I were guided round the city by an ex-copper called John Wake, who told us about being assigned to guide Richard Burton and Liz Taylor around the city in the 1960s, about the time they starred in that terrific film version of Albee's play. Burton liked to go to Cardiff Arms Park to watch the rugby, like a good Welshman. Ward told us how bemused Liz was, as she was forced to spend time in the grimy pub in the shadow of the stadium, retreating behind her huge fur coat and giant sun glasses as Burton lived it large with his cronies. I wonder if it was like this:



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On summer classes at Interlochen

Registration is now open for two classes that I will be teaching at the Interlochen Arts Academy in summer 2010: Journal and Sketchbook: The Artist as Witness (co-taught with Patricia Ann McNair); and Introduction to Printmaking. They take place at the College of Creative Arts, which is Interlochen's program of summer classes for adults. Each class welcomes people of all skill levels.

In addition to the links here, you can see examples of past work from students in the Journal and Sketchbook class here.

Interlochen is in an incredibly beautiful part of the world, right in the land of Michigan lakes and woods, and close to the Leelenau peninsula. It's a great place to take a class, and I highly recommend looking at the summer schedule.

Details will remain available on a separate page of this blog until registration closes (Journal and Sketchbook registration until May 1, Introduction to Printmaking registration until June 1).

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On how to make extremely inexpensive drypoints & collagraphs

Definition of a drypoint: intaglio printmaking method where you scratch lines directly into the surface of a metal/plexiglass plate. So no need to cover the plate with an acid-resistant ground, draw into the ground, then etch the plate in acid. You just scratch, ink, wipe away excess ink, then print.

Definition of a collagraph: materials glued to a surface (metal, plexiglass, matboard), sealed with acrylic medium, then inked and printed.


In teaching a printmaking class at the end of last year in rural Illinois, I had to get creative in finding inexpensive materials. I stumbled upon aluminum (=aluminium where I come from) flashing tiles at Home Depot. They are 5” x 7”, and you can get a hundred of them for around $20. There are several advantages to this:

1. The aluminum tiles are a lot cheaper than copper, zinc, and steel, which are the traditional metals used for drypoint. For example: a 5” x 7” economy copper plate goes for around $5 per plate (so $500 for a hundred of those).

2. It’s e…

On the cover of the new F magazine

That's John Schultz, founder of F magazine and the Story Workshop method, holding up the latest issue of F at the launch party. The picture on the cover is from my series of James Joyce etchings. F magazine is probably unique in the world of literary magazines in that it publishes long extracts from novels in progress. I am extremely proud to have my print on the cover, and equally proud to call John (and managing editor Tom Popp) a friend.

Do look at their website or Facebook page, but more importantly, go out and buy a copy of the magazine.

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On artists who write, and writers who art: Part 1

Iam currently in week 4 of teaching a 15-week class called Journal + Sketchbook: Ways of Seeing. It’s a specialty class offered to students in the Fiction Writing program of Columbia College Chicago, where my wife and co-teacher Patty is an Associate Professor. They are encouraged to use their journals in all fiction writing classes; in this class, I offer the students ways to use drawing to further their writing process.
Patty had the initial idea for this class in 2005. She’s a writer, I’m an artist. A lot of our friends fall into these categories. We then started to notice how closely the two arts were linked in the work of many past artists and writers. Our initial digging around turned up about ten writer/artists and artist/writers who had dipped a toe into, or fully immersed themselves in the other medium as a means of taking a break from their usual practice, and also as a means of expressing similar things in that other medium.

Writer Number 1: Franz Kafka. When he wasn’t workin…

On 10 things people have said to me at opening nights

"It's him! It's him!""Where's the pizza?""You've made me look like Kevin Bacon.""I only came to see Prince Charles" (when paintings by me and HRH Chas were exhibited inside a British prison)."Please to explain your mentality.""Oh no, this won't do at all.""Prick.""Are Cubans really that fat?" (when I exhibited prints based on a month-long trip to Cuba)."Please look at my website.""I'll buy it, but if it falls off the wall I will sue you."Subscribe in a reader

On 10 blog/websites you should know about

Now there's a real artist

I know that so far most of the people who are reading this infant blog are writers and artists. I thought I would post links to 10 blogs and websites relating to writing or art that are worth having a look at. Click, read, and spread the blog love:

Chicago Fine Art - http://chicagofineart.blogspot.com/ - is a fine blog run by Chuck Gniech of the Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago.

Chicago Writer - http://chicagowriter.blogspot.com/ - has regular literary posts by playwright and all round good egg Michael Burke.

The Art Blog - http://theartblog.org/ - is based in Philadelphia, but should interest artists anywhere.

Modern Art Notes - http://www.artsjournal.com/man/ - is essential reading from Tyler Green.

Two Coats of Paint - http://www.twocoatsofpaint.com/ - is another fine blog/site, this time by Sharon Butler, east coast artist and teacher.

Watie White - http://watiewhite.com/ - is an artist I met at the Vermont Stud…

On Troy Richards at Thomas Robertello Gallery

Troy Richards, 'The Perfect View (interior 1)', 24" x 72", Laser-cut vinyl on plexi, 2009

Imagine a stylish home or apartment from the early 1960s. You're looking at something from the set of Mad Men, perhaps: a Mies van der Rohe modernist pavilion of glass and slender steel, furnished with low chairs of Nordic design, op-art paintings on the walls, globe lamps hanging from the ceiling. Now picture what this home would look like if an airplane crashed into the garden. This is the world depicted in Troy Richards' exhibition 'The Perfect View' at Thomas Robertello Gallery in Chicago.

Three of the pieces are two feet high and six feet wide, and two more pieces, though smaller, still retain the landscape format. The landscape on view is of course far from perfect, as the intrusion of chaotic lines and shapes from the tangled wreckage disrupts the neatly ordered patterns of the interior design. Richards achieves his effects by novel methods: creating small…

On slowing down

My wife, Patty, teaches in the fiction writing department at Columbia College Chicago. I am co-teaching a specialty class with her called Journal + Sketchbook: Ways of Seeing, and quite often in the classes Patty tells the students to slow down. The students are required regularly to read aloud from their journals, and if they are reading too fast, Patty says: "S-l-o-o-o-o-o-w, down!" If they ask whether they can use their laptops to produce work, Patty tells them that it's better if they write longhand, in their journals. Why? Because this forces them to s-l-o-o-o-o-w down, to think more about what they are writing, to feel more connected to their process.

In the drawing and sketchbook part of the class, I generally start the students off with quick, gestural drawing, beginning with 10-second drawings and only gradually working towards giving them more time. But I agree with the order to s-l-o-o-o-o-w down. Making visual art can be about the quick, spontaneous gesture,…

On 10 cool things about being an artist

1. You can go to art school and hang around with very beautiful, talented (mostly), and talkative people.

2. You can very quickly dispense with the whole notion of success based on money and status.

3. You get to make beautiful objects that nobody understands, nobody wants, but which everyone at some point needs.

4. When someone asks you at a party 'What do you do?', you can say 'I am an artist/sculptor/writer/musician', while they have to say 'I am an accountant/trader/waiter/government employee'.

5. Instead of going to an office, you can go to your studio, which is a cross between a bear pit and a magic cave.

6. Instead of worrying about mundane things like mortgages and retirement portfolios, you have lofty thoughts about the role of art in an age of unreason, or the ontological basis of Duchampian claims for the verisimilitude (or lack thereof) of the found object.

7. Occasionally you get to display your work in a public setting, and people come up to…

On the public art project, stage one

Last week I completed the first important stage of the community memoir/public art project for Carroll County, IL: presenting an outline of the project to the board of the Carroll County Historical Society. I told them about the project, and passed around mock-up photos (do they still call it that these days?) of the outside installation part. Here's another photo that I showed to the board:

Patty and I will gather the material from the participants by asking them to supply photos showing at least two generations of the same family. Patty will then run writing workshops so that the participants can generate short instances of personal narrative -- not full oral histories, but moments. Selections from the photos and the written memories will then be printed onto light boxes, as shown above -- light boxes that will be arranged like a small banner sign.
After the presentation, the board voted on whether or not to sponsor the project, and thankfully they voted 'Yes'. This means …

On marketing one's own art

I've been heavily involved in increasing my presence on the web since the beginning of the year - working on revamping the website, starting this blog, going back onto Facebook, uploading videos all over the place.

Every week I have to remind myself to go back to the studio to make new work - which is the only reason I'm doing all the other stuff in the first place.

On degrees of separation

I've been teaching printmaking classes in the past year, and people have asked me where I studied. I tell them that I learned intaglio etching with a German artist called Thomas Gosebruch, when I was living in London. Thomas told me that he had worked for a while in the workshop of Aldo Crommelynck, who was one of the great master printers of the twentieth century. Crommelynck worked side by side with some of the greatest artists of the School of Paris - Arp, Giacommetti, Miro, Braque - helping them prepare their etching plates, making technical suggestions, etching the plates, then proofing the prints and printing the editions. In the 1960s, Crommelynck helped Picasso produce as many as 750 etchings, including the notorious 347 series, in a final masterful statement in a medium that Picasso had always loved.

One of the reasons that I had decided to study printmaking was because of prints such as Picasso's. One in particular, Blind Minotaur Being Led by a Girl, I had known lon…

On the wonder of Google

Thinking of things past: back in the 1980s, I was one of the early users of the PC. It had two discs, one containing the operating system, the other MS-Word Version 1.0, and you swapped the discs in and out of the disc drive to load the operating system into memory, then the word processor, and finally you put in another disc to store what you'd written. And I thought it was fantastic!

Now I'm writing a post on a widget that's installed on my IGoogle Home Page, which will be automatically cross posted to my blog and my Facebook page. The IGoogle page also has widgets that display a feed from other blogs, a live broadcast of NPR, my gmail account, the weather, and so on. I know that there's some fear that Google is doing too much and taking over the world, but it's hard not to be impressed at the things they're making available. And so far, all of this is free. Think about that.

On Picasso's etchings

Next week I'm going to upload my latest video meditation, which will talk about an etching by Picasso called 'Blind Minotaur Being Led by a Girl'. This is one of the works that led me into printmaking. The drawing is so beautiful, so free and yet tenderly careful at the same time. And those deep, velvety black tones were something I wanted to try and make too.


I later learned the way that Picasso created this print. He first aquatinted the whole plate, which involves dissolving rosin dust over the whole plate to create a pattern of thousands of dots. When the plate is placed in the etchant, the etching acid eats around the dots. When you clean the plate and then ink it, the combination of ink in all those tiny etched holes gives the appearance of a dense dark black tone. Picasso then scraped back into that black background to create the grey and bright white lines that define the broad shapes. He then did a little bit of line etching here and there, and finally used a dryp…

On a January Salon for writers, artists, and musicians

Patty and I held our latest Salon yesterday. 25 people - writers, artists, musicians, friends - came along to read from their fiction and non-fiction, play guitar and sing, and show pieces of art.



A description of Gertrude and Leo Stein's salon in early twentieth century Paris:

"On a typical Saturday evening, 60 years ago, one would have found Gertrude Stein at her post in the atelier, garbed in brown corduroy, sitting in a high-backed Renaissance chair, her legs dangling, next to the big cast-iron stove that heated the chilly room. A few feet away, one could hear Leo expounding to a group of visitors, his views on modern art. Among the crowd of Hungarian painters, French intellectuals, English aristocrats and German students, one might pick out the figures of Picasso and his mistress, Fernande Olivier (Picasso looking like an intense young bootblack; Fernande, almond-eyed and attractive). The man with the reddish beard and spectacles, looking like a German professor, would b…