Monday, June 16, 2014

Big Ink

© William Evertson 2014 - As printed during BIG INK

Back in March of this year I sketched out a piece in pastels that became the basis for the large woodcut I recently completed for BIG INK.  BIG INK was a two day printing event for invited artists organized by Lyell Castonguay at Zea Mays Printmaking in Florence, MA. (see links for Zea Mays and Lyell at the bottom)

Twelve artists who work with large scale woodcuts were invited to use the 42″ x 70″ Takach etching press in the Annex Studio. Each artist would make three prints, two for their portfolios and one for future BIG INK exhibits.

"Protect Yourself" Sketch from March 2014 - © William Evertson

This piece developed from the phrase "Life is a Bowl of Cherries" which I discussed in an earlier post concerning another version of this work HERE.  I'll speak more to the inspiration at the end of this post.

Detail of the block for Bird on a Wire

The planning for the BIG INK piece which is 32" x 44" began with a small 11" x 17" study block since I rarely print only in one color and the event was for single black ink pieces only. I carved this small block in about a day and it gave me an idea how long the larger more detailed piece would take. (about three weeks)

Finished print, Bird on a Wire - © William Evertson 2014

The original pastel was 16" x 22" so I created a  full size ink drawing on a thin paper to be glued to the cherry plywood. The drawing is pasted face down and I carve right through the paper. You will see from the finished block and print that the drawing is only a guide. Over the course of three weeks the process of carving resulted in some changes and additions.  

Black ink and wash drawing before gluing to the block

Early progress on the block

Similar detail to the Bird on a Wire trial piece

The storm clouds in the upper portion inspired the waves for the lower portion

The title is carved into the block "Life is a Bowl of Cherries. Protect Yourself with Essential Geometries

Finished block before inking

BIG Ink printing day at Zea Mays began on Sunday, June 15th with five of the selected artists working together to pull the oversize prints.  

The artist, the print and the block

The genesis of the work occurred to me as I watched one of the morning news shows, or what passes for news since we seem to have disasters, political opinion formation, the lives of celebrities vying with the the feel good antics of the hosts to start our days. The jumps from the latest school shooting to puff pieces on Kim Kardashian setting her wedding date; from banks once again making record profits to celebrity chief making a lo-cal dishes to get their celebrity client ready for the red carpet made me wish for a magic circle of protection. A mandala to ward off our contemporary barrage of bedevilments. A second meaning also crept in with my wife in the midst of chemotherapy and well wishers advising the power of positive thinking. Thanks, but there's also something to be said for screaming, "life isn't fair" every once in a while.

Many thanks to Lyell Castonguay for organizing the event and artists and to Zea Mays Printmaking for providing the facilities!

Zea Mays Printmaking
Lyell Castonguay
Flicker Photo set of print day

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Machine #15

Machine #15, Woodblock print, © William Evertson 2014

This latest print, titled Machine #15 after the "magic square" in the bottom center began as a tribute to the seals used to annotate traditional moku hanga prints. The seals we often see on woodcuts are used as an artists or publishers signature; they can also indicate titles dates, the printer, carver, poems or other declarations.

Seals_© William Evertson

The idea of the declaration, annotation or poem as a footnote to a piece has intrigued me. The tiny but beautifully carved and thoughtfully placed seals often help add balance to a work. Over the years I've carved many seals as a tangential thought or an addition to a signature on a piece and I thought it would be interesting to carve a piece where they were the focus.

Detail of seal stamps

The keys on the machine/ typewriter have my previously carved image seals individually applied. I made small woodblock enlargements of several to use in the upper areas of the piece.

Overall the piece has a slightly different look than some of my recent work. A bit simpler design; more graphic and less dense as the emphasis is on the smaller elements. The small pictographs have their basis in the mythologies and folklore that I often mine for elements of intersections among differing cultures and our contemporary globalized and internet connected world.

A carved woodblock and the beginning of building a gradient. 

Machine #15 is printed in an edition of 15 with 3 AP.  The carving was completed in April of this year and printed in early May. The print is 15.5" x 29.5" on washi. Seven large blocks are used along with eight smaller pictograph blocks. Fifteen of my small one inch diameter seal stamps were added after the the main printing of the blocks.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sigmar Polke: Alibis

Seeing Rays, Polke 2007

The much anticipated Sigmar Polke exhibition is currently at MoMA in NYC. This is an extensive retrospective of the artist's work and the largest single artist exhibition mounted at MoMA. This will probably be the most discussed topic this spring. (at least until the spring art fairs return our attention to money and art) I'll leave the heavy critical lifting to the critics and will add links to various sources as they are written.

Shirts, Polke,1964

I do have several observations to share. Polke doesn't have a signature style that allows one to walk into a room and instantly know who the artist is; indeed one could wander through this exhibit and be fooled into thinking it is a group exhibition. Polke (1941-2010) worked in a variety of mediums; painting, photography, film, sculpture, performance, collage, print and often combining these to form hybrids.
Potato House, Polke 1967

I found that particularly refreshing and actually affirming in my approach to art making. In fact after seeing the creative explosion of ideas and experimentation that Polke explored I realize the half dozen or so phases I've gone through seem like minor diversions in comparison. I think we'll recognize in the aftermath of this exhibit that many contemporary artists have built careers mining single facets that Polke has touched on.

My second observation concerns how liberating the absence of wall tags felt. Each room has an overall description that touches on the period it the work references otherwise we are left to our own eyes to decide what it is we're seeing. (there is a handout available with the title dates and material) The titile of the exhibition, Alibis in part refers to the deflection of responsibility which shaped German behavior during the Nazi period during Polke's childhood as well as an absorbing interest in deflating absolutes as an artist.
Polke is at once a master of illusion, slight of hand and a dedicated alchemist recombining artistic elements not for gold but for the thrill alone.

                                               Seeing Things as They Are, Polke 1991

Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010 opens to the public on April 19th and runs through August 3rd at MoMA in NYC.

MoMA -Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010
James Kalm videos - Part 1 - Part 2
Jerry Saltz from New York Magazine - Saltz on MoMA’s Frustratingly Near-Great Sigmar Polke Retrospective
Walter Robinson from Artspace - Sigmar Polke, Bad Ass of German Pop, Rocks MoMA Senseless
Holland Cotter from NY Times - Found Everything, Tried Everything, All His Own Way

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Very Big Dragon!

Soga Shōhaku, Dragon and Clouds (Un ryu- zu), Japanese, Edo period, 1763.

Unveiled last week at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, Shōhaku's dragon had long been under wraps as it received extensive conservation and repair, including custom-made wooden lattice cores with multiple layers of paper on each side.

Extraordinary in person, the panels extend to a full 35' length despite two missing and long lost to history. The missing panels would have been just to the right of the dragons face in the picture above. 

The dragon's face panel.

The piece dominates its room at the MFA; the lights low. All the better to imagine that it originally was inside a temple. Painted with ink, the piece while looking very graphic, is actually very nuanced with greys, giving the work a three dimensional feel.

 A dragon's claw

Interestingly, the curators descriptions include mention of Soga Shōhaku's penchant for painting in a wild style fueled by copious amounts of alcohol. They point to areas such in the claw area above where it seems that large rags have been used to smear background. I'm not sure how much is lore or exaggeration, but much of the power does come from the tension of tightly controlled areas playing off of deft but loose handling of the ink. Indeed there is much splattering in the composition.

Panel with clouds.

The end panel above is typical of the wet on wet, very abstract handling of the clouds. Take away that claw and it's a close step to imaging a Pat Steir painting.  Two scrolls and a powerful two panel ink drawing of a hawk round out this outstanding look into Soga Shōhaku's work.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Life is a Bowl of Cherries

Bowl of Cherries_ woodcut_©William Evertson 2014

The latest piece to be completed in the studio is my woodblock, "Bowl of Cherries". The work evolved over several weeks and preliminary sketches and pastels.  Overall the piece evolved from the phrase Life is a bowl of cherries, which obviously is often used to mean the opposite. "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries" was the title of a song by Lew Brown and Ray Henderson, sung by Ethel Merman in Scandals (1931).
Life is just a bowl of cherries; 
Don't make it serious; 
Life's too mysterious. 
You work, you save, you worry so, 
But you can't take your dough when you go, go, go. 
So keep repeating it's the berries; 
The strongest oak must fall. 
The sweet things in life 
To you were just loaned, 
So how can you lose what you've never owned? 
Life is just a bowl of cherries, 
So live and laugh at it all.   

My particular gripe lately has been the dismal state of our broadcast news. Currently our news seems to be all gloss and no substance, or sensationalized, or false equivalents, or formatted with agenda.....and heavily seasoned with bowl of cherry thoughts.

Life is a Bowl of Cherries. Protect Yourself with Essential Geometries  ©William Evertson 2014

My first work on this topic was a pastel. I gave it the slightly longer title of "Life is a Bowl of Cherries. Protect Yourself with Essential Geometries." Essential geometries and what they would mean is deliberately left to the viewer because I have no answers what will finally push us to more compassion.

When I decided to move this idea to the woodcut format I also wanted to simplify and refine the visual.  My pastel was a nice complex piece and a stand alone work. For the graphic version I wanted to further distill elements that made up the idea.

Pencil sketch with watercolor overlay

  Inking the sketch

Carving the key block

First print pulled from key block

Originating from the same place as the pastel but very different look.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kali Print Edition in Belgium

I am happy to announce that through the persistence of artist and collaborator Ria Vanden Eynde the Kali Print Edition has been accepted into the collection of KADOC.  KADOC is the abbreviation for The Documentation and Research Center for Religion, Culture and Society; part of prestigious KU Leuven, (University of Leuven, located in Leuven, Belgium).  The University, established in 1465, is considered the oldest University in Belgium and one of the top universities in Europe.

The Kali Edition was created as a collaboration between artists Ria Vanden Eynde (Belgium), Susan Shulman (Canada) and myself.  The edition takes on the subject of the Hindu goddess Kali with each artist contributing six double sided prints that are housed in a presentation folio case.

A unique aspect of the collaboration is that none of us met in real life until the signing of the edition in NYC in the fall of 2011. For an entire year we communicated almost daily with the help of Skype video conference calls and sharing thoughts and images in our private Facebook group.

In fact the idea for a collaboration was born out of a Facebook thread of comments concerning goddess iconography and cultural differences.  As a compliment to the work we were doing as a collective team we also hosted an international online artist call for works exploring the concept of the goddess Kali.

While travel and the Internet has brought the world closer, in many cases Kali became a mere broker in the West of commodities and services. At times she has been a New Age movie distortion or a symbol of feminist rage. Many times this cross cultural borrowing seems far removed from the mystery and paradox present in an archetype that is mother and goddess, yet also a symbol of destruction.

This successful call resulted in over 80 international artists contributing art in all media, sharing concepts and creative approaches to archetypes.  A blog was launched to host the artist submissions. A compilation of the contributions were assembled into a DVD which has been shown in galleries worldwide. An archival copy of the Kali DVD is also with KADOC.

The Seeking Kali blog has become a forum for artists world wide and features work with archetype and myth based on their personal and cultural narratives.  A second artist call examined cross cultural references to the Medusa myth.

Link to Kali Edition prints (scroll to bottom for a slideshow of each artist's prints)

Link to the Seeking Kali blog

The edition is also in the collection of The State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.
Link to blog post on Susan Shulman's presentation to the library.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Hello Minnesota

Play Money - ©William Evertson 2010 - collage game box

I have several pieces in the Minnesota Center for Book Arts exhibit Fluxjob: Purging the World of Bourgeoisie Sickness Since 1963 which opened Friday, February 7th in Minneapolis, MN. The show which runs through July 6th is described on the MCBA website; 
"In the 1960s, George Maciunas urged a small group of artists to purge the world of bourgeois sickness and dead art. The result was Fluxus, a non-movement that expanded the definitions of what art can be. Fluxjob is an exploration of contemporary artists who continue to create interdisciplinary anti-art that is ephemeral, inexpensive, and interactive. The exhibition is co-curated by MCBA Executive Director Jeff Rathermel and noted Fluxus artist, publisher and performer Keith Buchholz."
I created a series of game boxes in 2009 and 2010 based on tic tac toe. Tic-tac-toe is most often played by young children. Players soon discover that best play from both parties leads to a draw.  In my version the boxes refer to unequal opponents, or advantaged and disadvantaged player. The boxed set, aside from having prints and an "instruction book" also contain small stamping tools in the shape of hands that are used to mark the tic-tac-toe grid. In Play Money the instructions are a poem referring to our bankers, the men of great appetites. The carved images used for stamping are a child at play and Mr. Monopoly.  Link to more on Play Money.

Power Play - ©William Evertson 2010 - collage game box

The second game box, Power Play is a similar format. Prints line and collage the boxes interior while an instruction manual and game pieces complete the piece.  Power Play instructions references and contrasts the innocent non-structure of the play ground with institutional violence. Link to more on Power Play.

Three Little Kittens Re-Kindled - ©William Evertson 2013 - artist book

Also included is my analogue version of the Kindle.  The interior contains digital pigment prints of the kindle version of the popular children's story scanned from a Kindle.  A previous blog post contains information concerning the various copyright issues at work in this piece.

Kalicorp Art Mysteries, Issues #1-8, Collaboration - William Evertson, Susan Shulman (and Ria Vanden Eynde on issues #1-5)  Ongoing comic book series

Finally, the collaborative series of comics lately produced by Susan Shulman of Montreal and myself is on display.  The comic, which was funded by a successful Kickstarter, is a satirical look at the process of making art.  The comic is set in the fictional ArtWorld, which closely resembles todays art market. It often features cameo appearances by artist friends and the endless series of controversies surrounding market conditions form the backstory of each issue.  Art Mysteries Blog link.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Art Spiegelman’s Co-Mix

Art Spiegelman

True confession; if not for comics I probably wouldn't be an artist.  As a kid from a small town with blue collar parents, museums and cultural opportunities might as well have been on the moon.  Culture was spending an hour at Signor's Cigar Store looking through the comic rack until getting getting the word to buy something or get booted out.
It wasn't until college that I got to see the great underground of the comic world and Art Spiegelman.

The Jewish Museum's Spiegelman retrospective is a chance to see a cohesive body of work that features both his Pulitzer winning Maus and a substantial body of early work. 

 Art Spiegelman

The exhibition includes some great early works like Ace Hole, Midget Detective and The Viper Vicar of Vice, Villainy and Vickedness as well as his Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packages.  

Art Spiegelman 'Garbage Pail Kids'

I was struck by the thought while looking over the material how different it looks on the wall as opposed to the book format I'm used to.  Comics and graphic novels have an ability to retain an air of transgressive nature by their format in book form that eludes most 'high' art or 'fine' art.  These are works that by their nature are resistant to becoming a commodity in the current high stakes art world poker game.  While there is a collectible market for early comics, for the most part Spiegelman's work remains available for view or for purchase insuring that its importance lies in the art not in scarcity. 

Wall viewing also provides us with an opportunity to see the artist at work.  More than a few panels are unpacked with the addition of preliminary sketches that show how the images build up to final compositions.

  Art Spiegelman - from In the Shadow of No Towers

In the years since Maus, Spiegelman has referred to the work as the 5000 pound rodent on his back; although from my viewpoint he remains vital, evidenced from the works at the end of the exhibit including his In the Shadow of No Towers and collaboration with Pilobolus on a dance and theatrical work.

Art Spiegelman's Co-Mix is at the Jewish Museum through March 23. 
(5th Ave at 92nd. st. NYC)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Tempest

The Tempest - © William Evertson - Woodcut 20" x 60"

"Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell."
Ariel's song from The Tempest by William Shakespeare 

Two months ago (mid November) I began another large format woodcut based on digital images first presented in Atlanta as part of the Billboard Project.  Three trial proofs gave me the correct color combinations and my first AP is pictured above .

The piece is loosely inspired by a scene from Shakespeare's play of the same name. Ariel, the spirit helper of Prospero summons the tempest.  Music, magic and water complete my imagery.  

Six blocks are used to construct this piece. One background block, two for water, two for Ariel and one for the linear sweep of the music.

Six panels from The Tempest

Bokashi (gradations) are used extensively on all panels.  The background panel alone required 12 inkings to build the sky.  These prints are too large for the use of a kento registration system.  Instead I trap the upper edge of the paper and flip the paper on and off the blocks as they are inked.

Building the background colors.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Clock

Clock...I wrote clock, I meant Block!
Stop...reevaluate...a small typing slip, yet telling in a way I had not intended when beginning this post.

I have a reoccurring thought each time I begin a block for a woodcut.  Perhaps it's more of an unanswered question that resides deep inside the process at the root of all my art making. "Why is this going to be a woodcut?"  This particular image.... why is the drawing, pastel or paint not sufficient....why of all things does this have to funnel itself through the long and often convoluted process that carving a woodblock entails.

I never make many impressions of an image no matter the size, complexity or length of time devoted to the creation of the clocks....blocks.  It's not particularly any fascination with affordability or the idea of multiple original.

Clocks mark time, they are a reminder of passing... each tick a small increment on the way to the future.

On blocks I make marks and then over the course of time compile cut upon cut until something emerges.  Then another block is begun and more marks and cuts are made, someday to be married to the first block.  So it goes until enough blocks are made and enough layers exist to interlace.


Each block insufficient to create the whole; each an abstraction and incomplete.  Yet each block is a complete present moment of its own; some having much detail, some only left with a small island awaiting a stray but necessary color.

Perhaps certain work organizes itself so there is a record of its creation.  a scrapbook of its birth and a possibility that a time may be relived.