Friday, May 31, 2013

Last blog post for a while

It's great that Google Plus now links comments back and forth between blogger and G+, but I have decided that for the month of June I am going to use G+ as my blog, to see how it changes things (or not) in terms of feedback and reader engagement. There are things that G+ doesn't have yet that blogger does (templates, more choice for customization, adding widgets and links, alternating text and photos, tabs), but it also has live video feeds (Hangouts) that I want to explore more. So if you read this blog, and you have a G+ profile set up, I ask you to follow me there for a month to help me explore the possibilities.

In the meantime, here is a box that I painted black in my studio:

And now here is the box after covering it with paper-litho transfers of maps from where I grew up:

Ultimately this will appear in the stop-motion video as a huge factory building, with pipes and chutes coming out if it.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Well, that went well

So I overprinted some of the lithographs derived from images of machines and buildings from the place where I grew up, onto the surface of the cardboard buildings that I painted in black yesterday. I've got to say, they came out even better than I had hoped. With the larger one, I decided to leave some gaps to make the effect more striking. When this technique works, there's nothing quite like it.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Preparing more machinery

So it's Memorial Day weekend in america, the traditional start to the summer season, and I am in my studio making buildings and machinery out of cardboard. I found some excellent boxes, which I covered in a thick layer of black paint to obscure their target/Amazon origins:

I plan to overprint these in the lithographs, but using white ink only, to get a white on black background effect.

Meanwhile, I'm coming to the end point for printing onto the boxes and stuff that were primed in white gesso. Here is a table laden with the haul from the last couple of studio visits:

One of the fun things was printing onto the cardboard tubes (which will be chimneys in the finished pieces). My method was to ink up the paper-litho transfer, roll the tube up in it, wrap it in a few layers of tissue paper, and transfer the inked image using a bone folder:

My current schedule is to finish all the props and sets by the third week of June, and then start the stop-motion animations in June week 4.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Tapies at the MCA Chicago

Antoni Tapies
Tapies at the MCA Chicago, a set on Flickr.
I went to the Chicago MCA last Friday for a press preview of the new show by Theaster Gates. After I'd finished there, I walked into the galleries devoted to the show Destroy the Picture, and a heavily textured, brooding painting caught my eye. Was it a painting by Antoni Tapies? Yes it was, and it was accompanied by four others, all of them from the late 1950s, when he was in the first headlong charge of his career (when his work, in other words, was at its peak.) I haven't seen this many paintings by the Catalan master since I lived in Barcelona, over 18 years ago. So I sat on the bench in the gallery, and lost myself for a while in the dense surfaces of these strange pieces of art.

Before I moved to Barcelona, I had only vaguely heard of Tapies, but once there it was difficult to avoid him. He is revered in Barcelona because of his opposition to the fascist regime of General Franco, and for his support of Catalan nationalism and identity, both of which were ruthlessly suppressed by the dictator. It's been said that the look of these paintings was derived from the walls of the buildings in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, which Tapies used as his own wall on which to scrawl his obscure marks and not-quite-words. I read a series of interviews with him once in which he said that his process is also influenced by asian philosophy, but for better or worse he is claimed in Catalonia as one of their own, an enemy of fascism and a friend of the common man. That's why you could walk into the shabbiest bar, with dirty floors and neon lights, and see a framed reproduction of a Tapies painting on the wall. You could also see his sculptures installed in public spaces, and if (like me) you wanted more, you could visit the Museu Tapies, on the Carrer d'Arago. As a student at the time, I obtained a visitor's card to the museum's library, in which I was very often alone among the stacks of giant art books, staring down through the glass wall that overlooked the museum at the larger-scale paintings from the 1980s and 1990s. I didn't like all of his work, but I was experimenting a lot in my studio when I was in Barcelona (that's where I did my Fine Art grad program), so it was easy to feel an affinity with Tapies' free handling of matter.

From the preceding paragraph it's obvious that my own biographical connection to Barcelona accounts in part for my fondness for Tapies. But I do love these paintings for themselves, as it were - for the surfaces that I find beautiful, and for the intimations of bodily presence and ghostly signs that emerge gradually, and only after prolonged looking. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Journal and Sketchbook Class, Final Projects

Marlo Koch, handmade marionettes
Yesterday was the final day of the Journal and Sketchbook class for the spring semester, taught by me and Patty in the Columbia College Chicago Fiction Writing department. Last week and this week, the students presented their final projects: reading aloud 4 pages from their final written movement, and showing and talking about a visual project that speaks to the writing in some way. The students in this class ranged from people early in their college careers, to about-to-be-graduates; people from different majors within the college; and people with widely different skill levels in terms of art and also writing.

Patty and I agree that the writing was very strong, and that the quality of all the visual pieces was equally high, and invariably took us by surprise in a positive way. There was lots of 2D work, comprising a variety of media, multiple panels, using text and image. There was a painting on a scroll. There was a canvas that had bits of mirror stuck to the surface. There were a number of three dimensional objects, too - probably the most we've seen for final presentations. Amy Crumbaugh's clay doll inside a cardboard coffin was amazing; Victoria Ross' dream-catcher metal hoop was great; and Marlo Koch made a set of marionettes, which she then used in a film that she made on her Iphone and projected in class. That pretty much brought the house down in class, and made the semester really end with a bang.

Full details of the students' names, and their pieces, are contained in the following slideshow:

If you want to try this combination of writing and drawing, too, you can join us at Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, for a weekend workshop in June.

Monday, May 13, 2013


A few weeks ago, I was considering breaking this big piece up into smaller units. But now I have decided actually to make it much bigger, by adding the cigar box prints that were left lying around during the last 10 years.  If I am never going to sell this piece, I might as well make it the most impressively unsellable thing that I have ever made.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Journal and Sketchbook Class, Columbia College Chicago, 2013 final days

Below is a slide show of pictures that I took in the Journal and Sketchbook class last week. The students are from Columbia College Chicago, and they include people majoring in fiction writing, art & media management, and art & design. Some of them have next to no art training, and some have quite a lot. All of them showed that in the last 14 weeks, their consideration of text and image close together in their sketch-journals has led to new ways to see their writing (mainly, as this is a writing class) and also their visual work. Thank you to the students who made this class a pleasure: Victoria Ross, Amy Crumbaugh, Lauren de Groot, Danielle Dissette, Aiden Weber, Alex Holly, Marlo Koch, Ashton Ball, John Davis, and Liz Major.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Six of the Best, Part 27

Interviewee number 27 in this series is painter Nancy Charak, who is one of my studio mates in the Cornelia Arts Building, Chicago, to which I moved two months ago. (Previous interviews: 123456789101112, 13, 141516171819202122232425, 26). Her work caught my eye because of its force and expressiveness. If you live in Chicago, you can see her work at an upcoming open studio -- after which she is moving out to the western United States. Last chance, Chicagoans!

"Orpheus & Eurydice_12," 8" x 8", watercolor on clayboard

Philip Hartigan: What medium/media do you chiefly use, and why?

Nancy Charak: For the last three years mostly watercolor on paper and on birchwood panels. I have worked in oils and acrylics on paper, panel and canvas and enjoyed the work I produced. But watercolor is my natural medium of late. I prefer to work on paper or panel, and I work much less often on canvas. I like to work into the watercolor while it is both wet and dry with pencils and other marking tools, the paper and panels display more details and sublety than rougher toothier canvas.

Philip Hartigan: What piece are you currently working on?

Nancy Charak: I am actually staring at a 36” x 36” canvas that I had set aside because I couldn’t decide if it was finished or not. Also there is a 30” x 22” watercolor on panel that is waiting to be worked on, but that one is not in the “don’t know if it’s finished” category, it definitely needs more. And, episodically, on sketchbooks.

"Snowmass," 48" x 48", watercolor, graphite, prismacolor on 140# Fabriano Artistico

Philip Hartigan: What creative surprises are happening in the current work?

Nancy Charak: My sketchbooks are a surprise to me. Even more surprising and delightful is how well they’ve been received. For the longest time I shied away from sketchbooks, thinking that each page had to be special and that notion got in the way. Then I saw how Darrell Roberts and Ruyell Ho go at their sketchbooks. They work unselfconsciously with elan and joy. I realized that was the same process I use on my other paintings, so I just eliminated that mental thing about fear of sketchbooks.

Let me add one another note about sketchbooks. I had a chance to go through a large number of Judith Roth’s sketchbooks, spanning her entire artistic endeavors. Judith, for all that she is totally a figurative artist who cannot work without a live model in front of her, is also unselfconscious with her sketchbooks. She avoids worry about proper fit or composition, she just dives in. Sometimes, there’s a sketch where the foot or some other body part falls off the page, that doesn’t bother her, she just flips and goes to the next page.

The sketchbook lesson or creative surprise is not only about being unselfconscious, but about quantity, about constantly being engaged in making art.

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

Nancy Charak: I read a lot, voraciously. At the age of seven my father taught me how to speed read. I have a passion for big stories, King Arthur going from Star Wars back to Geoffrey of Monmouth, Beowulf battling the monsters from the dark underworld, the new Battlestar Galactica which is quite simply the Aeneid on a giant space borne aircraft carrier, the buddy story in its migration from Gilgamesh and Enkidu through Sam and Frodo to Thelma and Louise. And of course, I’m now totally in thrall to Game of Thrones.

"Realization," 30" x 22", watercolor, graphite, prismacolor on 140# Fabriano Artistico

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

Nancy Charak: I honestly can’t answer that. My father was an artist, my mother had an artistic soul, my brothers and I grew up in a house that had music, paintings, photographs in it as a matter of course. No one ever demanded that we color in between the lines. We had paper, pencils, crayons always.

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

Nancy Charak: I suppose I could answer with one of those philosophical explanations about some sort of feedback loop. It took me a long time to actualize the difference between worrying about being an artist, and just making art. The latter is a much easier posture.

At some level and in some place in an artist’s psyche is the willingness to step into the unknown. This kind of courage is not necessarily a drive to produce something totally unique, but to see if that frontier can be approached. At times it seems like a quest, a search, a journey, and perhaps like Gilgamesh, we don’t find any answers, but just get to ask the questions.

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.

Related Posts

Related Posts with Thumbnails