Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2017

Inspired by Matisse

For more than ten years, off an on, I have taught a class called Journal and Sketchbook. The class alternates between writing and visual-art activities in order to heighten a writer's "seeing in the mind" and sense of story-telling. I co-taught it with Patty McNair until recently, when I have taught it solo, to small classes of between three and eight people. Even during a one-day class, there is a noticeable difference in people's writing by the end of the day: more sensory detail, more sense of scene, more fully told moments.

In the most recent session of teaching this class, I have increased the level of visual art stuff. Each week, I took as inspiration a book by an artist that combines text and image. So we had Frida Kahlo week (using her Diary as inspiration), Paul Gauguin week (Noa-Noa), and then Matisse week (Jazz).

First, I read a piece by writer Maija Rothenberg that uses the format of an alphabetized list to tell the story of a life:


Stage 2: invite the p…

The Brant Hardware and Implement Company, by Jeanne Locke Johnson

I taught a day long journal and sketchbook class recently, at the Interlochen College of Creative Arts in northern Michigan. One of the activities was called Writing in Place, devised by my writerwife Patricia Ann McNair. A participant in the class, Jeanne, wrote the piece I'm reprinting below. As soon as she began reading it back in the class, I knew straight away I was hearing a really good piece of writing. The image was also by Jeanne, made in the collage class the day before the journal and sketchbook class.



I

I remember going to the Hardware after school. The bus dropped us off at the house. If I was feeling the need to make money, or Dad needed work done, I walked to the store. If Mom or Dad were in sight, I checked in while clocking in on the old time clock punch card. Usually, I needed to dust displays or clean the bathrooms, or wash windows. My favorite was filling the old pop machine. I had to get the keys, check inventory for flavors, empty the change bucket, clean the…

Original and Imitation (Inc. Tips for Good Collage)

Teaching a class in Mixed Media Collage last weekend, I used the digital projector in the room to show some examples of collage going back to the Cubists. Here is one by Georges Braque from about 1913:


One of the participants was inspired to produce this:


That is really pretty good! She tried out the pencil shading at the right and left, though not the quotations of parts of instruments that Braque drew. But the choice of papers, the cutting, and the placement, are all excellent.

The day also produced these collages from different participants (all are 10" x 15"):




Some tips that I've found useful for making collages:
Use acrylic matte medium to glue down magazine pages and newspaper, thin decorative papers, etc.Use acrylic gel medium  to glue down thicker materials such as fabric, and to embed three dimensional materials such as buttons.When everything is dry, coat the collage front and back with acrylic matter medium. This seals the front, and counteracts any warping th…

From the Archives

I've taught a lot of classes in the past two years showing people how to make different kinds of artist's books. Two of my own small handmade books recently made their way into the Joan Flasch Collection at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago. For me, this all started in 2010-2011, when I embarked on an extensive project: a 100 page accordion book of lithographic prints, each page printed in up to 5 colours.

Closed and stacked, the book measured 6 x 5 x 4 inches:

Extended to its full length, it was about fifty feet long:


To store it securely, I made a clamshell box for it:


And so it sits on a shelf in my studio, occasionally unwrapped to show to visitors, waiting for the time when it can be added to another collection. It's still the best artist's book I've made.

He Killed Her Father

He killed her father, right there in the street outside her house, at night. She was inside at the moment that it happened. No-one knew for sure who the murderer was because he was wearing a mask, and besides it was pitch dark.

When she found out, the grief erupted from her body in wild cries. It was too much to bear, and she fainted. Later, she vowed she would take revenge on whoever had committed the terrible act.

Now, some days or weeks later, she knows who did it, who it was that took a knife and cut him down without a second thought. With the help of two friends, she is going to a public event where she is sure she will be able to confront the murderer, unmask him before all the world for the ruthless man that he is.

And then, just before they enter the building and embark on the final mile of their struggle for justice, they pause, suddenly hesitant, filled with doubt and a little afraid, and ask the heavens to protect them and to avenge them:



If you haven't guessed already…

Soft Ground Etching with Baldwin Intaglio Ground

This is another post where I talk about my own research into how to obtain the best results from non-toxic etching materials -- specifically, the Baldwin Intaglio Ground. This is a form of etching resist developed by printmaker Andrew Baldwin, from the UK, as a non-toxic alternative to the nasty chemicals contained in traditional hard ground and soft ground resists. It comes in a tube, and when you squeeze some out onto an inking slab it looks like etching ink. You roll it onto the copper plate with a brayer, as if you were inking a relief block, in contrast to the traditional hard grounds, which are either melted onto the plate or poured on as a liquid hard ground. Applying the BIG to make a hard ground is relatively easy. Using it as a soft ground can be quite tricky, and it has taken me many tries and many failures to achieve a satisfactory etch.

The main problem, unfortunately, is the lack of specific instructions in preparing the BIG soft ground. Andrew Baldwin has some excellen…

Me Talking About Alexander Calder

In the first years of this blog, in 2010-2011, I created a series of 100 short illustrated talks on art that I called Meditations on Art. There is a page on this blog linking to a complete playlist. I remember, about a year after I completed the series, checking in via YouTube and seeing that one of them had passed 1,000 views. An insignificant number compared to your average viral cat video, of course, but considering I made these little videos mostly for my own amusement, it still amazed me that one of them would get 1,000 clicks (whether they were purposeful or accidental).

Well, I just looked at the stats again, and I am amazed to find that one of these videos, the Meditation on Alexander Calder, has now surpassed 18,000 views. Here it is:


Student Work

I've been busy teaching recently, with four classes a week keeping me occupied. Here are some images by participants in the classes: linocuts, etchings, handmade books, and drawings.





Gauguin the Alchemist

When I read a biography of Paul Gauguin a few years ago, one of the many stories that stayed with me was from his time in Tahiti in the late 1890s. A legend has grown up that Gauguin was a sympathetic traveller to the Pacific islands, paying respect to the cultural traditions of the people who lived there even as he borrowed their iconography and symbols for his paintings. The biography related that he shacked up with a teenage girl, in a relationship that looks uncomfortably like a modern-day sex tourist's in places like Thailand and Cambodia. And in terms of his art, this is the kicker: apparently there was a celebrated old indigenous artist living quite close to Gauguin, but the Frenchman never once visited him or showed the slightest interest in seeing what the art produced by real "natives" might actually look like.

I'm not one to hold an artist's biography against him/her when I consider their work (see my last blog post), and I don't really dislike Ga…

Georg Baselitz: Hero or Goat?

Baselitz is a German artist who is in his seventies. I got to know his work about twenty years ago, and the photo above is from a book about his work that I bought back then. He began painting images upside down in the 1980s or thereabouts, and that's been the well he's gone back to ever since. Whether he's painting/sculpting/printmaking the right way up or the wrong way up, his style is derived from German Expressionism, all violent, crude brushmarks and clashing colour harmonies. His reasoning for painting things upside down, he has said, is that it forces him to think harder about what he's looking at it and how to render it. A few years ago, he gave an interview in which he said that there are no good women artists, and that women could never be great artists. Quite rightly, this caused a furor in the art world, with calls for his work to be boycotted because of his sexism. I have to say, I'm not entirely convinced that that's the right move. I mean, I pul…

New Blog Devoted to the Graphic Novel

A few weeks ago, I taught a weekend workshop in how to set up a blog, and then how to refine or reinvigorate it. One of the participants in that class, Jessica Baldanzi, has sent me a link to her new blog (actually a revival of an older blog). I'm recommending it both because the design is really nice, and it's also on a subject (the graphic novel) that has a wide appeal.



Here is a link to Jessica's blog, Commons Comics.

ArtSpace8 Exhibition at The Art Center, Highland Park

I went to the Highland Park art center last week to speak with the director about the new position I am taking there, as Master Instructor in Printmaking. The center is a handsome building near the center of this affluent north shore town, with classrooms in the lower ground floor, and two exhibition spaces on the main floor. Currently there is an exhibition of high quality paintings in the bigger of the two spaces:


My favourite one was by Krista Harris. Tight organization of space, balance between drawing and colours:

I also like this one by Erick Sanchez. It's like an Anselm Kiefer extravaganza but with birds rather than snakes:

And this painting, by Shar Coulson. The different kinds of brushmarks and textures don't come across well in my photo, though you get the sense of her feeling for colour harmony:


Artists Collecting Artists

We're moving apartments in Chicago at the moment, and so we've spent weeks sorting through all our worldly possessions and deciding which ones to keep and which ones to turn into other-worldly non-possessions. Patty thinks that we have thrown out, recycled, or found other homes for about 100 boxes of stuff -- clothes, furniture, kitchenware, air conditioners, books, CDs, DVDs, old documents, and above all, photos.

So many photos. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Many of them duplicates from our wedding in 2002. You might be horrified at the idea of someone throwing even copies of their wedding photos,but really, how many shots of people standing around in a garden looking at the bride and groom do you need? The whole process of discarding so much accumulated stuff made us marvel at how much junk seems to accrue to you in a short space of time, and how much you really can live without if you just let it go.

Simultaneously I carried out the same kind of ruthless culling of the he…

5 Books from the Joan Flasch Collection

Two of my artist's books were recently acquired by the Joan Flasch Collection at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Here are five really good books by other artists that I saw on display when I went there to deliver my little pieces.






All That Glitters

Here I am again in Interlochen, northern Michigan, where I have been teaching a handmade books class to a group of eager adults. Above is one of the Japanese stab bindings books created during the class.

One drawback about that beautiful decorative paper you see on the cover: I didn't realise when I bought the papers that they were covered in glitter, which slipped off the paper as we were using it and covered everything in the room, including faces and arms.

So people left the class with lots of beautiful handmade books, while looking they had spent the day at a rave.

James Joyce, Rembrandt, Picasso, Fellini, and Me

June 16th was Bloomsday, the annual celebration of James Joyce's novel Ulysses, the action of which takes place on one day in Dublin in 1906. I've written before about the set of etchings I made back in the late 1990s, based on the Nighttown chapter of Ulysses. But after posting images of these etchings via social media during the most recent Bloomsday, I realised I could still say something about the various things that influenced my particular interpretation of Joyce's text.
When I started planning the project in 1997, I was aware of a few other artists' visual responses to the book, such as Robert Motherwell's attractive and entirely abstract etchings, some hasty and uninspired lithographs by Matisse, and (the best ones, in my opinion) semi-abstract etchings by Mimmo Paladino:

I started by narrowing down to one chapter: the Nighttown chapter, which takes place in the red light district of Dublin, and parallels the Circe episode in Homer's Odyssey. Odysseus …