Monday, April 29, 2013

From the Studio

I was at the Art Institute of Chicago last Thursday, taking students around a few exhibitions, including the great Picasso show. The centerpiece of the Picasso exhibition, at least for me, is the section devoted to complete sets of his prints from the twenties and thirties -- the Vollard Suite, the etchings based on Ovid's "Metamorphoses," and Balzac's "Le Chef d'Ouevre Inconnu." There's nothing like intaglio printmaking for the variety of lines and marks and the range of tones you can make. So over the weeked I got together some materials in my studio and did something I haven't done in ten years: an etching and aquatint intaglio print.

I started with a steel plate, upon which I painted a 'coal circle' (see previous posts) design using a sugarlift solution. My recipe for sugarlift, by the way: 2 parts corn syrup, 2 parts washing up liquid, one part india ink. The washing up liquid causes the line to smear and break up, and it also captures the brush marks very well:

When the drawing was dry, I covered the whole plate with a thin layer of hard ground. After that was dry, I immersed the plate in a tray of warm water. The sugar lift solution then starts to dissolve, helped along by gently brushing the marks.

I drew some smaller shapes into the hardground on the edges of the plate, using a sharp etching needle. And I drew over the circles in oil pastel, another form of resist that will break down in varying stages when it's etched, in order to produce a variety of tones:

For good measure, I aquatinted the entire plate using an acrylic based resist and a spray bottle (normally I would use an airbrush, but this isn't currently available to me). The spray leaves a dot pattern over the exposed areas, which ensures even, dark tones once the plate is etched:

I placed the steel plate in a tray of ferric chloride, a slow-biting mordant (it's not an acid, really), for about thirty minutes. I washed the ferric chloride off under the tap, cleaned off the various resists, and this is how the plate looked:

It's actually not the result I expected, but it's still good. I thought that the circles would print much darker, or that the spaces between the etched and unetched areas might be smaller. I think that it came out like it did for a few reasons: I could have etched it for longer in the ferric chloride; the spray from the bottle produced drops that were a little too big; and despite my fears that the acrylic and oil pastel resists would break down too quickly, they in fact worked too well. All information that a printmaker stores up for future prints.

I took two proofs from this plate, one of which came out in a very satisfactory way. I might do another round of sugarlift and aquatint on it, and some drypoint. Final note: I forgot how much time this all takes! Including all the drying and waiting time (during which I worked on other things), this plate took ten hours to get to the stage where I could take a print from it. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

At the Chicago Art Institute today

So today I took 10 students to the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the Journal and Sketchbook class. I asked them to look at work in the American art galleries from the nineteenth century to the middle of the last century. The main reason for this is that these pictures are mainly concerned with stories containing narrative content, which are relevant to this class. The following are some of the paintings the students picked to talk about. Two of them, I can't remember the names of the artists, but they include work by Sargent, Cassatt, Whistler, and Ivan Allbright.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Today in the studio, I'm starting  by making a 12 page folded book from a single large etching that I made maybe 10 years ago. The actual medium was sugar lift aquatint on a steel plate. Trim, cut, and fold, and voila.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Six of the Best, Part 26

Part 26 of an interview series in which I pose the same six questions to artists of all types, to find out their individual mechanisms of creativity (previous interviews: 123456789101112, 13, 1415161718192021222324, 25). This interview is with Seth Friedman, a sculptor living in the Pacific northwestern United States. I first encountered him via Twitter, a sort of throw-away social medium that led me in fact to a website full of work that combines hefty materials like stone with real wit.

"I Like Arabia and Arabia Likes Me," 2011, Persian travertine, 14" x 22" x 17"

PH: What medium/media do you chiefly use, and why? 
SF: I feel like Richard Simmons’ to rocks: pretty much any kind will do. My special affection is saved for marble (Italian Carrara/Iranian red Travertine, if possible) and granite found in rivers, people’s side yards close-to-the-street, and highway rest stops. I occasionally cast the carved forms in brass or bronze to explore the potentials of hollowness and/or raccoon-envy (shininess). There is nothing I’d rather be doing than carving. That said, I have almost no access to where the forms come from, a consideration that leaves me constantly stupefied, grateful, and desirous for more.

PH:What piece are you currently working on?

SF: I just started on an 800lb block of Yule marble (used for the Lincoln Memorial). I am somewhere between easy joy (in hammer swinging I could be mistaken for a smaller, scrawnier, Jewish John Henry) and freakish doubt (at whether it will go anywhere). It is the same story every time.

"Hi Shit Her," 2012, Calcite, 9" x 12" 5"

PH: What creative surprises are happening in the current work?

SF: I have been carving white marble for the last two years. I hate white marble now. This has led me to think a lot about how to deface, or leave defaced (usually the stone has writing/surface markings on it from the quarry/transport) the end-result. 

PH: What other artistic medium (or non-artistic activity) feeds your creative process?

SF: I guess I should confess to being a book polygamist (right now: Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island; Sue Coe, Malcolm X; Mark Strand, Reasons for Moving; Henry Miller, Selected Essays; and J.Crew (only partially kidding)). Dissecting how I read, and trying out new word forms and letter spacing to violate the process, fills many of my quiet moments.

"Oh Charlie Brown Charlie," 2013, Carrara, 10" x 28" x 16"

PH: What's the first ever piece of art you remember making? 

SF: Until I was 38, I never tried making anything that might be called art.  In 2008, thanks to severe malaise and my wife's constant prodding, I carved a rock from our backyard. I am still amazed that (a) the result did not suck, and (b) the waking door to my recurring dream (a house under the house under a house) was accessible. Since then my family/dear neighbors have tolerated the noise, debris, occasional cursing, and my confusion/elation. Blessings.  

PH: Finally, and you can answer this in any way that's meaningful to you: why are you an artist?

SF: When I was a little kid, I sat in the classroom and heard adults talk about their jobs/life. I thought that being a fireman/policeman/doctor/adult would feel like I imagined it, embodied. Then I got to adulthood and wondered where the magic went. I found it again in making art. 

If you liked this interview, and you'd like to keep up to date with the series, why not Subscribe, or sign-up via Google Connect, using one of the options over on the right? Thanks, and keep creating.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Handmade books with students

Last week in the Journal and Sketchbook class that I teach at Columbia College Chicago, I showed the students how to make four different kinds of artist's book: the accordion fold, the start fold, a folio from a single sheet of paper, and simple pamphlet stitch in a paper signature.

Click to embiggen
I also loaded the table with sheets of handmade paper from my studio -- Japanese papers, Indonesian papers, Thai papers -- plus glue sticks, cardboard, needle and thread, and lots of crayons and watercolours to add images to the books that they created. This is the third year that my co-teacher and I have devoted an afternoon to this activity, and it always gives the students new thoughts about their final written and visual projects, which are due in four weeks.

Monday, April 15, 2013

From My First Ceramics Class

Fired terracotta tiles. Made in 2011. Rediscovered 2013.

Print Installation by Allison Hyde

I was in Chico, California, a few weeks ago, accompanying my wife to a reading she was going to give at the CSU campus there. We took the time to visit the Janet Turner Print Museum, which houses a good collection of prints and has regular exhibitions of prints and related material. The show that we saw was by Allison Hyde, winner of the museum's national print competition last year.

Hyde works with objects that she collects or finds, often things that bear traces of a long association with people's lives, such as furniture and luggage. She makes serigraphs (a posh word for screenprint) on transparent fabric, which were hung on wires across the gallery and lit from behind a la Christian Boltanski. First of all, I liked the courage it took to take something that is so instantly associated with a well-known artist (the lightbulbs and the hazy monotone images being a signature of Boltanski's style) and using them in a way that fulfilled the purpose of her own work. That purpose, it seemed to me, was to illuminate fragments of the past without them revealing all their meaning at once.

She also included a dresser retrieved from a house after a fire:

Given that she adds carbon-related matter to the surface of some of her prints, this added to the haunting feeling of the show, and the sensation that we had stumbled upon the soberly preserved wreckage of past lives.

In another part of town, Hyde was also showing a piece in a joint exhibition at 1078 Gallery. It was a single monoprint, created by inking up the floor of an abandoned house, and later piecing together the giant rubbings that resulted.

It dangled from the wall like a piece of old wallpaper, and once you looked at it closely, you saw all the traces and marks of life that had been picked up by the print. The difference in scale between this and the work at the museum doesn't obscure the fact that Hyde seems to create work that is consistent in its concerns.

The space is a beautiful old commercial building in Chico, and like the Turner Print Museum, it's worth looking into if by any chance you ever pass through this part of northern California.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Older work still works

I showed this piece at the Open Studio recently. Its from 2007 but I still like it enough to show from my studio.  I even managed to sell a similar one which is always good when it happens

Looking at them again made me realize that thankfully there is a connection between my new work and the old pieces.  The content may be different but the preoccupation is the same. I mean the manipulation  of the source imagery and the desire to explore the effects of memory in printmaking.

Sometimes that connection between different periods of work becomes lost during the process of making. Putting up these older works enabled me to see the thread.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A New Print

I'm currently working on a print that I'm getting ready to send to the Global Print Exhibition in Portugal. The exhibition is in August, but the deadline for getting it to the museum is the end of April (get yer skates on, Hartigan!).

I'm working on something that's an extension of the Lucerne Project idea -- people I've never met in a place I've never been. In this case, I've been to Portugal, but not to the north where Douro is. Rambling a bit here, but the point is that I've decided to juxtapose images of luxury hotels in Douro, which is a touristy region of Portugal, with images from the anti-austerity demonstrations there last year.

Here are the first prints coming off the press, showing the interior of a hotel room, much altered via digital printing and xerox enlargement first:

Medium: paper-litho transfers. The overprints will be etchings.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Where were you when Picasso was shot?

Of course, Picasso wasn't shot. But he died forty years ago today (April 8th), and although I was very young at the time, I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news. I was eleven, I had returned home from school and was watching a British early evening kids' programme called "Blue Peter", and they announced that this very famous artist called Pablo Picasso had just died. They showed one of his paintings, and tried to talk about the picture and the whole event in a way that eleven year olds could understand. I don't remember what the picture was, but I think it was a Cubist painting, so the presenters did something right. I think this may have been the first time I ever encountered the name and the work of Picasso.

In honour of the great man, here's the Picasso painting that will always be the one I return to:
"Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," oil on canvas, 1907

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