Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Anabasis: Text # 3

Text inspired by writer Patricia Ann McNair's daily journal prompt #3, And this is how they get you:

And this is how they get you: waiting for you to step off the bus after school, watching you from behind the fence that rings the potato fields, snowballs embedded with sharp stones in their hands, watching for the moment when the bus pulls away, and you walk a few yards along the grass next to the bus stop, looking for a break in the traffic (there isn’t much traffic at this hour on a dark winter afternoon), and as you cross the road, they appear over the top of the fence and start hurling the snowballs at you with pinpoint accuracy, the first one catching you on the back of the neck so hard that you feel the warm blood trickling out of the cut, the next few snowballs thudding against your coat as you duck, and stagger, and try to dodge the assault, managing to keep your head from being hit again, but only at the expense of your back, and your elbows, and your calves, which are bare because the Catholic school you attend forces boys to wear shorts, even in winter, and as you slip and nearly fall when you reach the other side of the road and the safety of the corner, you feel the stinging of stone and ice on the skin of your legs, and you begin to cry, cursing the local boys, and the school that makes you wear shorts even in winter.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Susan Shulman: Notes from Down Under, Part 2

Guest blogger Susan Shulman continues her tour of art sites during a recent trip to Melbourne, Australia. Part 1 here.

*   *   *

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Visiting the National Gallery was my first exposure to the depth and beauty of Aboriginal art. I went into rooms filled with mesmerizing iconography and colours. These spaces of beauty lured me into their dreamlike worlds. The first things that I noticed were the shields, symbolizing various aspects of the power of respected ancestors.

Photo: Susan Shulman.

In the beginning, the indigenous people adorned themselves, their shields, and the sand around them. They painted their “Dreamings.” The arc and circle shapes, designs, and tones of all the paintings evoke excitement on a very primal level of purity of expression. The dots are said to signify the sacred ceremonies of men. There were many great paintings, but taking photos was prohibited because of the sacredness of the imagery. These works were created instinctually, with minimal art supplies and paint colours. The artists created magnificent works full of symbolism and brilliance, each one with their own unique way of storytelling.

I also realized that even though I was looking at the Papunya Tula "dot art" paintings" hanging vertically on the walls, they were created while sitting on the ground with the canvas in front on the same plane.

Johnny Warangkula Tjupurrula was one of the artists whose use of white dotting created layers to soften areas and create dimensions of colours. Another great artist was Charlie Wartuma Tjungurrayi. There was a sign above Charlie’s work at the exhibition that said :”If I don't paint this story some whitefella might come and steal my country.” He was outspoken and quite aware of how his art was being exploited. My spirit resonated with the instinctual energy spewing out from these unique artists.

Next door at the National Gallery Studio, skateboards were displayed on the walls like the shields I had just seen. I felt like I crossed generations, yet was looking at the extension of more tribal art.

Photo: Susan Shulman.

Before me were decks with similar sizes and shapes evoking the modernity of a new warrior: the skateboarder. Art from over fifty of Australia’s best as well as upcoming artists were represented at the exhibition. Brilliant graphic designs and colours exploded off these wooden canvases, full of vibrant imagery. Encased in glass were a 1979 Powell Peralta “Ray Bones” Rodriguez with the iconic skull and sword,while boldly juxtaposed next to it stood the 1991 Mark Gonzales “Blind” deck parodying the imagery of the first board.

Sticky Institute and Zine Fair

I was told about a great gallery that specializes in zines and gingerly entered the Degraves Subway to find the most amazing gallery stocked full of zines of all kinds. I had just entered the underground world of the underground zines! It was a warm and welcoming place, full of people drawing and photocopying. Creation was everywhere. I gave them my Kalicorp Art Mysteries and was told about the annual zine fair, that takes place as part of Festival of the Photocopier at Melbourne Town Hall.

The fair must have had over 100 zine sellers of all kinds. There were so many ingenious zines at every table. I met so many gifted artists. The strangest part was I noticed some Fluxus art on a table and proceeded to get a better look. I said to the artist: “Are you a Fluxus artist, do I know you?” and then we realized I had friended him on Facebook before I left for Melbourne. It was so great to meet David Dellafiora, a really cool artist. What was even funnier was that we both had art at the Fluxfest in Chicago in February and here we both were in Melbourne. This surreal meeting was sort like my whole trip.

Next to him was an interesting artist named GJ Smith. I walked around the fair and then returned to chat with GJ. He had the most amazing book on his art called “No Frills Art.” I spent quite a lot of time being educated on the different aspects of graffiti and how Melbourne has gained notoriety in street art. In fact I had just been to Hosier Lane to see some of the street art and met some of the skilled artists earlier. Glen (aka No Frills) gave me a fast track into paste ups, stencils, straying, stickers, tees, badges, zines and books which of course he is a pro on. He said that he uses his art as a political platform and tries to bridge the gap between all art worlds. Glen writes in his book:
“No Frills Art is art at street level. However, one could argue that I am not totally submerged in the hardcore street art scene. I feel that my work crosses over into the realms and at times is heavily influenced by its aesthetics. Another common trait my work shares with Street Art is that the artwork is about being inclusive for the audience, while also being an integrated part of culture designed to create a dialogue or trigger a thought as opposed to simply selling art to decorate private walls.” 
A few days later, I found out via Glen’s blog that his mom had passed away a week earlier from cancer, and her last request to him was that he draw on her coffin. I cannot describe how that touched me. There he was, chatting with me, giving me all his time, discussing his thoughts on the art world, when this awful event had happened.

Photo: GJ Smith.

Inspired by Glen’s example, I got the courage to try my own hand at street art. So I went later and did my own paste up on Hosier lane with my Kali piece and felt liberated, like I had joined the underground community. There is a hierarchy in the lane so I carefully placed my piece where I hoped it would live a bit longer. (Ironically while I was doing it, tourists were taking photos of me thinking I was some street artist from Melbourne.) So a little piece of my art was left behind in Australia.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Susan Shulman: Notes from Down Under, Part 1

Susan Shulman is a Canadian artist who I have featured on this blog before in her collaborations with the Kalicorp Collective, and the Mount Analogue project. In the next few posts, Susan turns guest blogger with her impressions from a recent trip to Melbourne, Austriala. All photos were taken by Susan Shulman.

*   *   *

I spent three weeks combing the city’s galleries, museums and streets, eating and breathing art at every corner. What I thought would be an easy assignment has turned into an explosive overload of creativity. Melbourne is a city of inspiration, in a country of stunning beauty. It will take time to process all I have seen. These are the highlights.

State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

I went to the State Library of Victoria to meet Robert Heather, curator and manager of Collections Interpretations at the library. I had no idea about the size of the building I was about to enter. I was shocked to find myself at the “Hogwarts-like” domed library in Melbourne Australia. Inside I was in awe of the La Trobe Reading Room. It is a panopticon, designed to allow the head librarian to watch everyone from a raised mid-point without the attendees knowing they were being viewed. A similar design was used in prisons in the eighteenth century to monitor the inmates.

The reading room, State Library of Victoria, Melbourne. 

Robert graciously gave me a tour of the premises and the vast collection of priceless manuscripts on display, and explained their historical backgrounds. The library holds over 1.5 million books as well as collections of photos, artworks, and items of interest. So much caught my eye, from illuminated manuscripts to miniature books. Each bookcase and wall beckoned me on. I was excited to see a section on graphic novels. I had no idea that Australia had a long history of comic book publishing, and the library prides itself in holding a large selection of the finest comics, graphic novels and ‘zines. In front of me were the original sketches of “Sin City”, and “In the Shadow of No Towers” by Pulitzer Prize winning artist Art Spiegelman. Spiegelman created this comic based on his experiences after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attack on New York City.

Top: Susan Shulman and 'zines. Bottom: Detail of Art Spiegelman's work.

Kalicorp Down Under

I was really excited to hand out “Kalicorp Art Mysteries” ‘zines around Melbourne, and to find the Kali Edition a new home in Australia. I personally presented a copy of the limited edition to curators Des Crowley and Robert Heather at the State Library of Victoria.

Susan Shulman (centre) with curators Des Crowley and Robert Heathers.

The self titled "Kali" Edition was hand produced in a limited edition of 9 numbered copies with 3 additional Artist Proofs (AP). The edition contains six works each by me, William Evertson (USA), and Ria Vanden Eynde (Belgium). The clamshell case is also handmade and lettered in gold leaf.

The Kali Collective began in 2010 as an experiment in the use of social media to produce collaborative work without the need for a defined home base. We’ve used social media platforms and blogs to invite other artists into a virtual collaborative space, which has resulted in several international projects exhibited in different cities around the world. By bringing our work to the already vibrant Melbourne art scene, I hope I furthered our explorations in how artists can use social media collaboration.

Tomorrow: Susan Shulman sees some of the oldest and the newest art on the Australian continent.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Meditation on Elizabeth Catlett

Number 96 in the series is in honour of Black History Month in the USA. It's about a print by African-American artist Elizabeth Catlett, who was born in 1915 and is still alive. She was interviewed on NPR a few weeks ago, relating to an exhibition that contains her work and the work of people influenced by her, that opened in Brooklyn recently.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Anabasis: Journey to the Interior: Diary 2/24/12

Text inspired by writer Patricia Ann McNair's daily journal prompt #2: I always thought.
I always thought that my grandfather was a war hero, who had fought in World War II and killed German soldiers during a midnight raid on his unit, when they were cornered with their backs against a stone cliff and only dense trees in front of them, obscured by the thick darkness of night on the Italian mountains, their attackers blasting away at them from the natural cover, disposing of five men in my grandfather’s platoon in seconds, and presenting my grandfather with the certain prospect of meeting the same fate, until with a loud roar he charged forward at the wall of invisible attackers, the bullets pinging around him but missing him, as he let loose with his Sten machine gun, swinging the barrel from side to side like a fireman dousing a blaze from above, not knowing what he was hitting or where he was going, until he heard the click that told him his magazine was empty, and he realized he was standing in a clearing, many yards from where he started, surrounded by the bodies of ten Germans, six of them dead, four of them groaning from the wounds he had given them. I always thought this of my grandfather because that’s what he told me. Except it turned out that not a word of it was true. He had been too old to join up, and he was also a miner, which meant that he worked in an industry considered essential for the war effort. He had nothing to talk about from the war, except for the fact that he worked underground and hewed coal out of the earth, and got his back broken in 1943 from a roof collapse in the mine. He so much regretted missing the war -- his war, he called it --  that as soon as his grandchildren were old enough to talk, he told them stories like this. It was only many years later, when I was nearly a grown man, that I found out the truth: that my grandfather was not, in fact, a war hero.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Anabasis: Journey to the Interior: Diary 2/22/12

Neo-color pastel and pencil on panel

"It all started when the military police came at dawn to tell us about the accident."

Text inspired by writer Patricia Ann McNair's journal prompt #32.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Anabasis: Journey to the Interior: Diary 2/20/12

Neo-color pastel and pencil on paper
"On our block there were pieces of coal lying all over the street."

Text inspired by writer Patricia Ann McNair's daily journal prompt #39.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Me and Audrey Niffenegger ...

... are featured in an article in this magazine, Fictionary, produced by the talented student faculty of the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago. They interviewed me and Audrey about our artist's books--and I didn't know Audrey was going to be the co-featured artist, so I am flattered to be on the same page as she. I think they didn't exactly choose the best picture of me from the reel that they shot (I look stoned or half asleep, and I can assure you I was neither). But that aside, it's a good article (click on the image to enlarge it to a readable size):

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Four Minutes With Ellsworth Kelly

From Hyperallergic, the world's greatest New York-based art blog, comes a link to an interview with Ellsworth Kelly - still alive and still talking absorbingly about his art:

Four Minutes With Ellsworth Kelly:

'via Blog this'

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Anabasis: Journey to the Interior: Diary 2/11/2012

Neo-color pastels on handmade paper

"Here's how it all started". Text taken from writer Patricia Ann McNair's daily journal prompt #32.

Friday, February 10, 2012

"The Chicago Project" at The Co-Prosperity Sphere

The Co-Prosperity Sphere is a community-based organization and exhibition space on Chicago's south side. For a few weeks, until February 16th, it's showing work by painter and printmaker Watie White.

It was a little difficult to find information about what I was looking at while I was at the opening last week, but from what I can gather, the work on display consists of giant banners made from the artist's woodcuts, which are part of a proposed or actual mural. Each print is a portrait of a real person, with a phrase from that person printed in white letters over their face:

I actually met Watie at the Vermont Studio Center in 2000, and we both used the presses at the Chicago Printmaker's Collaborative for a time in the early 2000's, too, so I know his work pretty well. He has developed this very strong, direct style of woodcut, producing prints which are always interesting to look at for their high degree of technical skill and the stylistic trait of cutting lots of snaking lines into the faces. It's great to see such a venerable and beautiful medium being put to the service of public art, too.

Also on display was a room of smaller text and image pieces. The images are taken from the covers of pulp fiction magazines, so there's lots of strong-jawed men and swooning women caught in moments of drama. Over each image Watie painted sentences from his own personal journals, some of them going back to his teens:

The jarring juxtaposition between the image and the words produces a feeling of pathos which only heightens the toughness of some of the memories. Again, as someone who is involved in projects based on personal narrative, I appreciate the level of honesty about the self-revelation in these pictures.

If you live in Chicago, there's still time to see the show, at 3219 South Morgan Street, Chicago.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Meditation on Martin Creed

This is Meditation number 95 - closing in on 100 now. It's about the work of British artist Martin Creed, who is the artist in residence at Chicago's MCA during 2012 (see my post on Hyperallergic for more about that.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Anabasis: The Wall

In my studio yesterday, I put up a selection of works on paper that I completed in the last six weeks, related to the theme of "Anabasis: Journey to the Interior."

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Big, The Bold, The Beautiful

That's the title of a show that Patty and I went to see last Friday night, at a gallery a few blocks from our Chicago apartment. The venue is the Avram Eisen Gallery, owned and run by a friend of ours. We all met back in 2003, I think, when Avram attended one of Patty's aerobics classes.

(Yes, Patty used to teach aerobics. No, that is not why I married her.)

Anyway, Avram is a sterling chap, and we've been meaning to go to an opening at his gallery for a while. The occasion last Friday was the launch of a book called "Lather, Rinse, Repeat", by David Tabak, illustrated by Andy Finkle, who is one of Avram's artists. A lot of people crowded into the gallery to here Tabak read (click on any photo to display larger image):

Avram has kept his gallery and framing business going through the worst recession in 70 years. For that, and for his commitment to showing good quality art, he deserves every commendation.

I was particularly taken by the work of the other artist on display, Jimmy Wilnewic. The first notable fact is that the artist turned out to be taller even than Avram, in other words, somewhere north of 6 feet 5 inches. The paintings were these small  but dense collections of tiny shapes and forms, which reminded me of something like a cross between Surrealist art and cartoon imagery:

The show runs until the end of February, at 5204 North Damen Avenue, Chicago. If you're in the neighbourhood, it's worth stopping in to look.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Clearing the Decks, Part 2

So once again, instead of doing the work I "should" do, I added more to that painting I started yesterday. The main change is that it's now the other way up -- I work on paintings from all sides, turning them round and keeping the rhythm of the wrist going from each direction, which means that sometimes (often) the shapes make more sense in a new orientation:

I'm glad I'm not at art college any more, because if I had to show this in a studio critique, I would not be able to say exactly why I did this. Except to say that it seems to be about rhythm, and some sort of memory of organic form, and trying to surprise myself by discovering the shape and the marks, instead of deciding on them in advance. Oh, and I forgot to add yesterday that it's 36" x 48".

I started a new one today, on two 18" x 24 " panels:

The way I found the shapes is the same as for the bigger one: I paint the swirls and circle forms almost to the edges, then I take some opaque blue paint and cut back into the solid mass, until smaller shapes begin to emerge.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Clearing the Decks

This is what happens when I go into the studio after a long absence: instead of working on things that I have a definite end-point for (like the Urbana public art project), I expend a lot of pent up energy in something like this, a 5' x 4' canvas I've been adding to and changing for over a year. Lots of thin and thick lines, in liquid acrylic and airbrush pigment, drawn with thin and thick brushes, and a Chinese ink-drawing brush. No discernible narrative content, so not related to the "Anabasis" project I've quoted in the last month.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

"Tell me a Story" at the Center for Book & Paper Arts

In 2010, artist Rose Camastro-Pritchett spent a semester in China, introducing art students at a college in JiuJiang to a very unfamiliar idea: conceptual art.

Improvising materials and equipment, she set up a papermaking studio on the verandah of her apartment, and was soon showing her students how to make paper pulp, and then turn that into artist’s books and other paper-based art. The students were all competent in painting, but the idea of, well, starting with just an idea, or a memory, and then letting that dictate the form was something entirely alien to them.

In an exhibition that just closed at the Center for Book and Paper Arts in Chicago, Camastro-Pritchett exhibited some of the student work that she was able to bring back to the United States when the residency was over. Called “Tell Me a Story,” the show displayed a nice variety of pieces: dresses made from paper, the hems torn into strips on which were written a student’s personal memories:

Accordion books cut into the shape of the Chinese dragons, with bright colours to match:

Books with contrasting materials such as razor blades sewn in to the pages:

And my favourite, a piece called “Growth” that consisted of molds taken from rice bowls, filled with rice, and nestled in the rice an eggshell containing a little soil and a garlic plant. Apparently the region to which JiuJiang belongs is renowned for its garlic, which is grown and then sold on the streets in gigantic mountains of garlic (Rose Camastro-Pritchett is pictured standing next to "Growth"):

I liked that piece best because it seemed to contain a more extended thought process than the others, and had a definite originality to it. But that’s not to disparage the other work on display: just because the forms were familiar doesn’t mean that they were uninteresting. The fact that the work came from China, and an intercultural exchange between an American artist and the soon-to-be-dominant culture of the new century, accounts for some of the fascination, of course. It was a well-mounted exhibition, and it extended the Center for Book and Paper Arts’ track record of producing good, original shows. 

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