Thursday, February 12, 2015

Icarus

Icarus - woodcut - 48" x 32" ©2015 William Evertson


I have several inspirations for my interpretation of the Icarus story.  The first is the painting by Pieter Bruegal, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. (attribution is regarded as doubtful by some)


In Greek mythology, Icarus succeeded in flying, with wings made by his father Daedalus, using feathers secured with wax. Ignoring his father's warnings, Icarus chose to fly too close to the sun, melting the wax, and fell into the sea and drowned. In this painting his legs can be seen in the water just below the ship. There is also a Flemish proverb (of the sort imaged in other works by Bruegel): "And the farmer continued to plough..." (En de boer ... hij ploegde voort") pointing out the ignorance of people to fellow men's suffering.[


Detail from painting above. The fisherman as well as the shepherd and plowman continue to work oblivious to the plight of Icarus.

My second inspiration is the poem by William Carlos Williams also entitled Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
near

the edge of the sea
concerned 
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

This piece is a first for me as the image was worked out as I carved. I began by direct sketching on the cherry plywood instead of my usual method of transferring a drawing on paper that I carve through. Perhaps this is my instance of trying to fly close to the sun but it was my attempt at a looser and more direct relationship to the wood. This image below show a preliminary position for the figure of Icarus in his relation to the wings, sun and waves.

First sketch and beginning the carving of the feathers.

Detail of the feathers

The only detail that kept changing over the course of the two to three weeks of carving was the figure of Icarus and the position of the sun. 


Eventually, the head and hand position became more obvious during the carving of the waves. 

Finished carving

Copies of the edition drying in the studio.

Monday, October 13, 2014

International Mokuhanga Conference 2014


The International Mokuhanga Conference 2014 became the start of a memorable trip to Japan. I was honored that one of my works was selected for the International Open Exhibition. A reward that became much more valuable as I saw the quality of printmaking on display in Tokyo.

Mokuhanga is simply relief prints made by hand using a baren and water-based pigments; a technique greatly admired and arguably perfected in Japan. I learned the basics of this technique from traditionally trained Keiji Shinohara almost a decade ago and am still finding new ways of expression. A rare but exciting medium and as such fosters a supportive community.

This (second) conference was a valuable venue for artists, curators, academics and the manufacturers of paper, brushes, blocks and barens to connect.

My Photobooth Kabuki piece on display


In this wonderful venue; the Chinretsukan Gallery, Geidai Art Plaza, Tokyo

I especially enjoyed the demonstrations; 


Makaoto Nakayama demonstrated gold skills


I'm not sure when I'll be printing over gold leaf but now I know the basics, so who knows! Very difficult art technique from the Kyoto master.


I also had the opportunity for a short lesson from master printer Takuya Okada. 


Takuya Okada holds one of the blocks he will be printing from.


A finished print. This was a demonstration of how a contemporary print is made using traditional methods. In this case the publisher, Takahashi Kobo, selected the artist, Meo Saito who produced a sketch, the carving was completed over the summer by Tsunehisa Sato and finally printed at the demonstration by Takuya Okada.



An exciting demonstration by Seiichiro Miida using his handmade "crazy barens"


Otherwise our days were filled with lectures and presentations on every topic ranging from the history of mukuhanga to the most contemporary aspects.  Many residency programs presented details on their offerings. Tool makers, papermakers also put on a trade fair 

Overall the conference ran smoothly, attesting to three years of what I imagine was extraordinary effort on behalf of the organizing committee. Tokyo University of the Arts in the  Ueno District of Tokyo was a generous and inspired host for the the event.



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!

Links:
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.

Links:
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.