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.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Refusal of Time

I heard William Kentridge's Refusal of Time long before I found Gallery 919 at the Metropolitan Museum. The soundscape created by collaborator Philip Miller with some tuba heavy base lines was accompanying the procession portion of the finale to the 30 minute 5 channel video piece. Those who are familiar with Kentridge's work will find many familiar elements such as his shadow procession with all the ponderous hauling, carrying and trudging still at work in Refusal.

As the piece comes to an end and the crowd shifts I sit in one of the chaotically placed (and bolted to the floor to protect against any OCD attempt to align them) chairs.  I find that I'm not alone in taking to a chair and attempting to adjust the angle a bit in a futile attempt to take in everything that is projected onto the walls. This is the artist's first reminder to us that time depends on our point of view.

In dealing with Time, Kentridge revels in the understanding of its inherently chaotic nature.  That chaos is the elephant in the room and indeed the artist has placed an elephant in the gallery. At least a kinetic "machine" by additional collaborators Jonas Lundquist and Sabine Theunissen is referred to as the "elephant".  Comprised of various pulleys, struts, open bellows it "breaths" with a regularity and mechanical certainty that provides a semblance of order to the otherwise disjointed nature of the projections.

Conversations with Peter Galison, Harvard science historian and author of "Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps: Empires of Time" form the background from which Kentridge explores philosophies of standardization, physics and power structures.
The work is dense with the artist's overlapping themes and imagery; much of which recalls and expands his rich tradition of stop motion, reversed motion and self reflection on dual natures. At times it recalls early cinema and vaudeville and contained in that whimsy is a entirely fallible human nature at odds with the hubris of the synchronization of time.

William Kentridge: The Refusal of Time: Five-channel projected video installation with sound and kinetic sculpture. Through May 11. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Met link for exhibition

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Annie Bissett's Welcome to Nonotuck

They Looked Behind - ©Annie Bissett

Artist and printmaker Annie Bissett's exhibit at the Historic Northhampton Museum presents an intimate look into the distant past of New England.  Drawn from her We Are Pilgrims series of woodblock prints Annie looks back through the eyes of her Mayflower ancestors to revisit the lives of early immigrants.

The stage begins to be set by the museum's displays of artifacts from the indigenous peoples and early settlers in the central Massachusetts region.  We are welcomed into the exhibit by a hand painted map of depicting the early colonial settlement.

Welcome to Nonotuck -Hand painted map on canvas - © Annie Bissett

That we are in Nonotuck and not Northhampton, MA serves as the artist's reminder to us that the earliest settlers arrived as immigrants to an already populated area.  Elsewhere in the exhibit Annie reinforces the linguistic reminder that many place names are still in use after 300 years.

Vast Unpeopled Lands - ©Annie Bissett

Annie's work is both elegant and thought provoking.  Vast Unpeopled Lands with its patterned landscape and unique constellations is a wry reminder of occupation and land usage long before "discovery" and settlement by Europeans.

Although a modest number of prints are used to tell the complex story of two disparate cultures the artist is equally able to recognize the struggles of each.

The print Dorothy Bradford Comes to America depicts the drowning of a young woman, the first wife of Plymouth Colony leader William Bradford.

Technically, Annie Bissett's use of japanese mokuhanga printmaking methods seem well suited to this tightly focused exhibition.  The use of lettering carved in the blocks adds a slightly anachronistic touch that brings the viewer back to a time when woodcuts were used to disseminate information and document events.

Her mastery of color gradation or bokashi combined with flattened areas of color and pattern give the print surfaces a unique and lyrical feel.


The artist digs deep into correspondence, diaries and histories of the era to unearth ties to the complexities of the quest for religious freedoms, definitions of morality and the yearning for individual freedoms.

In the piece God Bless John Alexander and Thomas Roberts, 1637 Annie examines the punishment of two men convicted of "performing ongoing homosexual acts with each other".  Their punishments included whipping, branding and  banishment.

Annie Bissett's work will be at the Historic Northhampton Museum - November 8 - December 6.

Link to Annie Bissett website

Link to Annie Bissett's blog Woodblock Dreams

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

2013 North American Print Biennial

The 2013 North American Print Biennial runs through Dec. 20th.
808 Gallery, 808 Commonwealth Ave, Boston

Juror Denis Michael Jon, Associate Curator of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts selected prints from a rather large pool of 900 contemporary artists and considered over 2400 works for inclusion into this edition of the Biennial.  As an artist under consideration when we are not included we tend to shrug off rejection and move on with our work but when our work is selected we tend to think of the curator as possessing a keen eye indeed to recognize our genius.

Since a good deal of my time is spent on proposals, residency applications and grants I receive rejection emails often enough that I almost overlooked the one notifying me of inclusion in this years Biennial. I think it was only after hearing Jon's lecture prior to the opening of the Biennial that I realized the daunting task of coming up with 135 works representative of contemporary printmaking.

Additionally, Jon's lecture helped solidify some of the problems I have with identifying with the description "Printmaker". I've always thought of myself of artist first and at any one time may have works in progress that span a variety of media. Interestingly enough Jons' spoke of selecting works that not only were representative of the various techniques of printmaking but also looked for pieces that help expand the definitions.  If I'm gleaning his context, it is one of recognizing some push back of artists against print based works being considered a secondary or lesser discipline due to their nature as multiple originals, smaller and generally grounded on paper.

The same qualities that may make a work appeal to young collectors or a wider audience acts as a double edge sword as a marginalizing factor in an art market driven by the unique, very large and very expensive.  Boston Universities 808 Gallery was a large venue that provided space for artists who were pushing scale and working with more sculptural forms.

First view of the Biennial

Jon's selections for the 2013 Biennial included both examples of technical mastery and experimental.

Stephen McMillan - Misty Morning - aquatint

Philip Laber - House of Cards - intaglio and inkjet

If the crowds at the opening were any indication, works on paper and the continuing evolution of printmaking is still prized.  As pointed out by Jons' in his opening remarks; innovation, risk taking and the ability of non specialized artists making use of new technologies to make surprising strides in re-defining the print is evident in this years Biennial. 

Denis Michael Jon - Curator Profile link

Biennial Link - gallery directions, hours 

Photobooth Kabuki at the 2013 North American Print Biennial

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fantastic Garden

Fantastic Garden - Project Director and Master Printer Maria Arango Diener

One of the nicest Kickstarter rewards I ever received arrived yesterday from printmaker Maria Arango Diener. Back in August my blog post "Carving Little Things" mentioned her Fantastic Garden project and the small woodblock I contributed. My reward for carving the small block plus a small Kickstarter contribution are four exquisitely printed panels that make up this monumental collaborative puzzle print.

Maria has co-ordinated 92 artists (no small feat) in the creation of these four panels, each 22" x 30' that make up the garden.

From Maria's project description:
"Briefly, a Monumental Puzzle Print is a large design composed of 'puzzle pieces", each of which is designed and carved by a unique artist under a common theme.  The project director designs, cuts the wood into puzzle-like pieces, then sends the pieces to participant artists; they carve their own little design and send the tiny piece back.  Then the director assembles the carved pieces.  The entire design, is printed as a woodcut print after the puzzle is reassembled and finally each participant receives a huge print encompassing the entire design."
Overall the resulting print looks meticulously planned in every detail belying the fact that none of the artists knew where in the overall design their piece would rest nor what their neighbors would create. Maria's work on the background and areas surrounding each piece boldly unites the garden theme carved by the individual artists.

My Carp block is the top right piece.

Maria has also provided delightful supporting material with the print complete with edition information for collectors and maps for locating the various artists.  A project catalogue with the print and additional artist information is due shortly.

For more on the Fantastic Garden Monumental Puzzle Print and printmaker Maria Arango Diener please visit her (fantastic) website - 1000 Woodcuts

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chelsea Wrap Up

Photo of Tipping Point in Chelsea, NYC during the High Line Open Studios
Woodblock print- 24" x 80"

It's bigger, it's looser, it got a great reception during the High Line Open Studios Chelsea.  It was great to see Tipping Point framed and on a wall with some breathing space.

High Line Open Studios ran last weekend Oct. 18th, 19th and 20th in the Chelsea gallery district of NYC with 50 plus artists opening their studios and project spaces to the public.

My project space is a small subdivision of Ayn Choi's Gallery 304/ASC Projects in the Chelsea Arts Building at 526 W. 26th St. in NYC.  In the picture above I've got both sides of that partition wall plus the rest of the alcove I'm standing in to the left.

Directly behind me is an older (c 2004) digital collage Stamp Collector.  The space is large enough that I was able to exhibit many of my latest works plus several older pieces that show the transition of my interest in transparency, imagery overlap and layering from digital pigment prints to a more physically robust woodblock technique. 

Turn out was fantastic with several hundred visitors each day.  Most I was able to introduce to my art for the first time and some contacts via social media I was able to meet in real life for the first time. 

Artist George Rodart looking at Moses; another of my earlier digital collages on view.  Most of my digital collage pieces were created ten years earlier when Photoshop was a much newer tool for artists. Although I began the process of learning woodblock techniques around the same time, it's only been in the last couple of years that it's become a focal point of my art.  Although my concerns with layering of imagery remains the same in woodblock, I have an increased interest with the physicality of the surface of the paper.  

The Photobooth Kabuki series received a lot of positive attention; including this one I'm posing with that is included in the North American Print Biennial.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tipping Point

Tipping Point - woodblock print - 22" x 80" - © William Evertson 2013

A confusion of watery abstractions, gyotaku style fish, melting globes, music from sea shanties, a reference to an incised bone from Tikal and a character from my shadow theater combined to form my latest woodblock print.

As I shared the progress of the piece with other artists several mentioned that it seemed to be a breakout work. Often we don't realize in mid work what is progress and what is place-holder.  In this work I was busy exploring the details of layering that I found compelling when Photoshop was in its infancy. 

Bringing that kind of digital play, where overlaps produce interesting chance encounters of color or shape into my woodcut work required a certain amount of unlearning. Too often registration issues when working large on multiple blocks and the need for clearly blocked color areas kept me from trying for a "looser hand". 

Detail of Tipping Point - lower left

This piece along with other recent woodcuts, an artist book and several of my earlier digital pieces are on view this weekend during the Hi Line Open Studios Chelsea in NYC.  

I'll be in my project space at 526 W. 26th St. Room 304, NYC on Fri. Oct. 18 from 6-8pm and again on Sat. the 19th and Sun. the 20th from 12 - 6pm.  A downloadable map of the artists participating in open studios is up on the Hi Line link above.  Please stop by if you're in NYC.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

October is Exhibition Month

Tipping Point, my latest woodblock print is shown here in the trial proofing stage; right edge folded and clamped in place to aid with registration.  This large format print (24" x 80") should be ready to exhibit during the open studio weekend in Chelsea.  I'll be at my NYC project space with this and other prints October 18, 19 and 20.

High Line Open Studios Chelsea - Gallery 304, 526 W 26th St. NYC - Oct. 18, 6:00-8:00pm, Oct. 19-20, 12:00-6:00pm  New Works/Works in Progress.

One of my Photobooth Kabuki pieces has been selected for inclusion in the North American Print Biennial.

Boston University - 808 Gallery, 808 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA.  October 27th - Dec. 20th.  The opening is Oct. 27 3:00 - 5:00pm (I'll be in Boston for the reception)

Meanwhile in Japan this Photobooth Kabuki (in addition to the one above is on exhibit for the Awagami International Miniature Print Exhibition ('A.I.M.P.E') 2013, October 12 - Nov. 10th. Venue: Inbe Art Space
 (Tateishi 116, Yamakawa-cho,Yoshinogawa City, Tokushima)

Fog of War is among the pieces included in Book About Death Australia - Tweed River Art Gallery, NSW, Australia, Oct. 18 - Nov. 24

Rusi and the Axman is included in A Book About Death bound and submitted by curator/ artist LuAnn Palazzo for the Islip Art Museum: New York Bound - Sept.22 - Dec. 29

Page on left showing my signature glyphs from the back of Rusi and the Axman.

From NYC to Long Island to Boston to Japan to Australia; covering the globe one print at a time!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Perfections and Imperfections

As work on my large print continues I begin to reflect on art making and techniques.  The work on the tentatively titled Tipping Point began in ernest in August.  Its size, 24" x 80" and the twelve carved panels required combine to make this my most ambitious woodcut to date.

Trial proofing

Each day in the studio I fight the same reoccurring themes.  First is the idea of scale.  Prints aren't meant to be this large, although some printmakers work at this scale or larger.   I'm attracted to printmaking partly by the process but also by the notion that they are human scale; they can be picked up and held in your hands. Paintings are large, sculptures are large; prints need to be scaled so they can fit onto a press, or fit onto drying racks and into flat files.  Besides, there are so many variables that keeping something this size in registration is next to impossible.

But I find myself seduced by both the challenge and my evolving thoughts on process.  In the world of mokuhanga printmaking we traditionally begin by making a key block.  The key block is most often the black outlines of the image, much like the outlines in a coloring book.  Additional blocks containing the colors of the print are carved and printed based on the position of that key block image.

Digital version of Tipping Point

The image I'm working with has none of the black outlining common to the traditional method as I learned it from my mentor, Keiji Shinohara.   After much experimentation, I've settled on a method of carving a color block, proofing that block and pasting it to the next block; in some ways similar yet more challenging than the outline method.

This is a small section that has been printed lightly with yellow, blue, green and a bit of red.  When I'm done brushing in black ink I'll paste this to another panel and begin carving away everything that isn't black. I'll be left with a block that registers with the previous colors without depending on outlines.

I think a great deal about technique and have struggled to learn best practices. Without regret they seem to be slipping away in this piece.

The scale, combined with the absence of black outlines to disguise minor registration  misalignments seem to free my mind to concentrate on the overlap of shape, color and tool mark.

I'm finally at the point where either lack of technique or overemphasis on technique are standing in the way of the art.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Tool Marks

Full scale mock up of center section of Tipping Point 

I'm currently working on a woodblock with many abstract elements.  Assuming that the abstract parts would be easier to carve is simply not the case.

Tentatively titled Tipping Point, the piece is a composition of watery imagery; coral, sponge, musical notation from sea chanties and fish combined with maps of coast lines and a depiction of an incised bone from 8th century Tikal showing a long sinking canoe containing various deities. This is a picture of the night sky and the canoe is the Milky Way, sinking below the horizon as the night progresses.

In fact this rather large (2' x 7') work in progress is a bit of a bear to carve. My progress in the arcane discipline of woodblock printing has been full of starts, stops and diversions.  It's taken the better part of ten years to get to the point where I'm disciplined enough to see the possibilities beyond creating in a keyblock style where I create an outline and fill in the colors.

Typically in the collages I create the subject of a piece is a combination of drawn, painted and scanned imagery.

In this small piece the original ink drawing is simply glued to the block and the white (non-image) area is carved away.  Larger and more complex pieces like my current work in progress requires more steps but are handled in similar fashion with paper layers pasted to the block and carved.

Without the keyblock as a guide I started with a block containing several main elements and proceeded to use it in the manner of a key block to determine the position and registration of future overlapping elements.

This photo corresponds to the black area in the center area of the top photo.  Currently I'm working on the yellow area that wraps around this dark detail.  The source for this portion of the piece involves map imagery morphing into fish imagery, both positive and negative.

Compared to more realistic areas (those areas requiring more recognizable or specific imagery) this section allows a certain freedom in making tools marks and their characteristic shapes.

Almost complete; with some clean up required and the paper guide still attached.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fog of War

Fog of War, woodcut, 4 x 6" ©William Evertson 2013

Keeping with the idea of making small travel pieces this summer, this latest piece, inspired by the horrific gas attacks on civilians in the Syrian Civil War, was completed this past weekend on a trip to Ithaca, NY.

Early, day one, progress on Fog of War

Although the image arose from a current event, the title Fog of War comes from a military phrase that describes the difficulties of decision making in the midst of war.  The phrase came into my vocabulary following the 2003 documentary, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. The film, while not an exercise in rehabilitation or a revisionist version of the role of this Secretary of Defense during Viet Nam, does shed light on governments seeing what they want to believe.

As I worked on this small piece the debate on the US course of action was reaching fever pitch although the particulars of the attack (at present) are still unknown.  Since Viet Nam the approach to selling the American people on a particular war has become a nuanced and accepted ritual little dependent on actual security needs.

Clean block ready to print

When I posted the work in progress to Facebook one cryptic comment caught my attention; "how would u have helped the jews, gypsies & gays in WW 2 . . .?"  I didn't believe the piece had a particular political stance, although personally I think the idea of our intervention via more violence is ill advised. 

My answer (...and I hate hypotheticals): "Art has very little effect on the great evils that infect the world. Although concerning ww2, the nazi's certainly thought it was valuable to loot and important to suppress."  
Art may be political, it may be unsettling and may be a part of conversations concerning political or social justice issues but by itself my feeling is that when we as artists venture into topical concerns it is as witness rather than forcing change.

Fog of War, Edition of 75 

The piece has been created for the exhibit, A Book About Death, Australia.  The exhibit will open October 18th and run through November 24 at the Tweed River Art Gallery, New South Wales, Australia.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Carving Little Things

The title could have been carving little things over a cup of coffee. I've been traveling a lot over the course of the summer; always leaving the carving of woodcuts behind in my studio in favor of a sketch pad.  But for the last couple of weekends I decided that a weekend might be just the right amount of time to do some small pieces over morning coffee.  

This little piece started as an ink drawing after a portion of Hiroshige's The Mannenbashi Bridge in Fukagawa.

I pasted the drawing to a small (3" x 4") block, threw a knife and a small U gouge into a travel kit and was ready to carve when there were free moments.

I made a proof with a scrap of (dry) Kizuki Hanga this morning and was quite pleased.  I've always admired how Hiroshige places us in the composition by often incorporating foreground elements.  The turtle, a long established symbol of longevity stares longingly at the leaves, river and Mount Fuji.  

According to notes on this image, on the 15th day of the Eighth Month during the observation of Hojoe, birds, fish and turtles are released from captivity during the festival. 

While carving this one I started imagining the turtle on a journey after his captivity as a subject for a future piece.  Perhaps this small piece can be part of it as a cartouche. 

The previous week-end I completed a small piece that is to become part of Maria Arango-Diener's Puzzle Print.  Eighty-five artists are contributing blocks loosely based on the theme of a "Fantastic Garden"  Maria cut the puzzle blanks and mailed them out.

None of us know what the neighboring pieces will look like until Maria assembles and prints the piece. Link to more about the Puzzle Print on Maria's blog.

Occasionally I carve even smaller.  These are part of my series of hand carved signature seals.  I have about 60 of these.  I often include one as part of signing a finished piece.  Each oval image impression is about an inch and a half.   From left to right - Ganesha, Man with Umbrella, Diego, Frieda and the Footprints of the Buddha.