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.