Monday, May 27, 2013

Is It All About the Frame?

Success that is; art world success.  Not that I can define it because each artist seems to have a different dictionary that they're working from.  I spent the weekend in NYC seeing everything from sketchbooks, artist's works in progress in their studio, quiet powerful shows and art star work.

Viewing Matthew Barney at the Morgan Library got me thinking about frames because he has some unusual frames.  The little title cards always mention the frames....self lubricating frames, polyethylene frames and cast out of prosthetic limb material frames.

The exhibition, Subliming Vessel, focuses on Barney's drawings from the 1980's though works that storyboard his Cremaster Cycle film and his latest River of Fundament.

Generally I found the delicate light line of the drawings buried by the quirky artistry of the frames.  Barney's drawings seem studied and a bit tentative; something I found at odds with the exuberance of the frames.  Although for Barney, who is concerned with creating mythologies from obscure references perhaps this topsy turvy relationship of overpowering frame to pale, underwhelming drawing  is a devise in the overall fable.

Maybe the frame is everything.

The rest of the show happens in the vitrines, which are another framing device.  These contain the storyboards, which in this case contain a variety of photos, magazine clippings, diagrams that form a type of "connect the dots" insight into the artist's work on his Cremaster Cycle Films.   Selections from the Morgan collection are also in the vitrines, providing the additional [frame] of gravatas, plus additional references to the elaboration of the complex fable that Barney is weaving.

Not quite a fan yet, but Barney has enough of them and plenty of them screaming genius. I'm looking forward to his new work, River of Fundament. I went for the drawings and was disappointed, but I was enlightened by the overall effect that the layering of obscure connections the artist evolves. In effect, Subliming Vessel works well as a frame for insight into the artist's reference points.

Matthew Barney - Subliming Vessel at the Morgan Library through Sept. 2.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

How I Got My Beak

I know the world wants to know and I suppose I owe the world an explanation.  That's actually far from the truth because I just started to think of this as I was putting together one of the many proposals I submit every month to various venues or opportunities for exhibition.  The picture above is a PR shot for my Kali Shadow Theater, a thirteen minute performance involving puppets, drawings, music and two live actors.   My wife and I have had two opportunities to perform this since developing it in 2010. I was hoping to make an expanded version for the Dumbo Arts Festival this fall but didn't make the cut.    So, I'll postpone work on that until either an opportunity presents itself or I have more time...grrrr.

But meanwhile in the time between the proposal and rejection I did have time to ponder the role of the villain and where he came from and how to elaborate that role. I discovered one interesting juxtaposition that I missed in 2010.  First.

The villain in my shadow theater, The Birdman, actually comes from Zen and the Birds of Appetite by Thomas Merton.

In the opening authors notes, Merton begins,
 "Where there is carrion lying, meat-eating birds circle and descend. Life and death are two.  The living attack the dead, to their own profit.  The dead lose nothing by it.  They gain too, by being disposed of.  Or they seem to, if you think in terms of gain and loss."  (emphasis of duality mine)

Merton is actually observing that in the body of Zen there is nothing for the vultures to feast on, there is no body.

As I started to ponder the birds of appetite, what came to mind in relating the story of Kali to our contemporary situation was the notion of "birds" that consume the Commons.  (Perhaps the best description of this is Naomi Kleins' The Shock Doctrine, in which the corporatization of that which we once considered held in common is outlined)
My play has a character that both builds and consumes with no thought to consequence.

 Almost as a precursor to Klein, in Merton's closing remarks he writes this:
"Western industrial culture is in the curious position of having simultaneously reached the climax of an entire totalitarian rationality of organization and of complex absurdity and self-contradiction.  Existentialists and a few others have noticed this absurdity.  But the majority persist in seeing only the rational machinery against which no protest avails: because, after all. it is "rational." and it is "a fact." So, too, is the internal contradiction."

So as I began to seek a personification of the animal instinct for profit and consumption at all cost; that acts in opposition to the natural cycle of birth and death in my production, I needed a simple mask., something that would play well as a shadow.

Plaster carving, 2010 © William Evertson

My first step was to carve a plaster form, a form over which I could shape flexible masks.

Copper mesh mask with acrylic and gold leaf, 2010 © William Evertson

Next, copper mesh screening was folded and pressed onto the mold to form the mask to be used during the shadow theater.  (paint and gold leaf added later for exhibition purposes)

Some rehearsal excerpts showing the mask (ca.2010)

Fast forward to 2013 and I am in the opening pages of Dan Brown's new book, Inferno and there is mention of plague masks.  Which I immediately google and find....

Paulus Furst’s 1656 engraving of Dr. Schnabel ("Beak") of Rome 
wearing protective clothing typical of the plague doctors of Rome at the time.

So, as I ponder my beak and the artist's role in society, I have another theme to pursue as I await the right opportunity to amplify and expand my shadow theater repertoire. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

When We Get To The End..

...He wants to start all over again.   The first of four planned woodcuts combining the themes of Photo booth pictures and Kabuki finished with a small edition of 10 yesterday.  The black line carved key block combined with five color blocks and a solarplate photogravure to make this image.

The piece started here.

I mentioned in a previous post how this idea originated. Expanding on the premise; in a photobooth we change our pose a bit and mug for the camera a bit to get our moneys worth in four poses; by doing so we expose different ideas of ourselves.  We evolve a small play about our personality; a little action sequence that if the camera shot video it might make a GIF or a Vine.

Over the course of making the first print I thought of how it relates to our constructed identities on social media platforms.  Facebook and Tumblr are image gardens where we curate what others see of us while simultaneously 'others' have become the entire connected world. In the days before the camera we depended on the artist to construct those images and personas and in Japan ukiyo-e provided images of the pop cultural icons of their day, the Kabuki actors.

I have three images left on my photobooth strip and have to decide where to start on the second in this series.

Looking at both my expressions and some of my favorate portrayals of theater, I try to match the expression with some theatrical elements of Kabuki found in master prints.

The top image seems to be satisfied or content, perhaps the expression of a scribe or scholar pleased with his lesson, or if I'm being grandose,  the look of Wo Yong from the 14th century Chinese novel, Water Margin pictured below.

In the middle is perhaps the stage stare of Nakazō Nakamura II, an actor who made an exaggerated frozen stare his signature.
Wu Yong

The top most picture was inspired by some really wild hair that characterizes prints by one of my favorite artists of ukiyo-e,  Kuniyoshi.  I can imagine a whole tradition of hair carving specialists evolving from his work.  It demanded a well honed knife and two days of patience for my attempt.

Now that I'm in practice I'll start with the bottom image because another set of hair has caught my eye.  Kuniyoshi's ambitious sounding One Hundred Heroic Generals in Battle at Kawanakajima, Shinano Province (of which there are perhaps only 12 actual works) contains one called Sixteen Year-old Warrior Sanada Masayuki.  

While it's not technically a kabuki performance I'll take some liberties as Kuniyoshi did.  I like the tilt of the head and facial expression.  I also like the feeling of the piece; the slightly apprehensive yet determined look of a young man with a challenge before him. 

That 1000 yard stare that I have in the bottom photo seems like a good place to start constructing my "behind the closed curtains of a photobooth" identity for image number two in the series.  I'll begin by seeing if I can translate some of that great hair, bulging eyes and the droopy grimace and finish with some theatrical props from the personal kabuki I call my life.

Sixteen Year-old Warrior Sanada Masayuki.  Kuniyoshi  c1845-6

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Printmakers Kabuki

The Key Block after proofing.

Among the pieces in progress in my studio is Photobooth Kabuki, first in a series of four that I'm producing based on combining a photobooth strip of self portraits and kabuki costumes. The picture above is the first carved block; the black ink block that forms the basis for the layout of my subsequent color blocks that infill the dark outlines.

Key Block is printed over the Solarpate photogravure made from original photobooth portrait.

From my original design it looks like I'll need six color blocks so to be safe I've printed nine of these Key Block prints (plus the photogravure) that will be glued in place on the blank woodblocks to act as guides for laying out the caving of the colors.

Here's a proof glued in place with a thin rice paste.  I'm using a thin washi paper and I gently rub away the fibers leaving an extremely thin layer with the image very visible.  In the photo above I am preparing  to carve a block with red and a bit of blue on the staff.  There's just enough space between the colors that I can get both of these on one face of the block.

This detail shows the layers of the washi separating. The closeup also shows me I can refine the carving a bit to better mesh the hairline of the photogravure and the Key Block. (a bit of eye brow shaping too)

Two of the color blocks. On the left, the red and blue mentioned above and the right block is for some color behind the black hair of the Key Block.  Another four color blocks to carve this coming week before I can begin  to proof for the right colors.

A final thought for this post is inspired by this demonstration of concentration by Miyoko Shida.

As I watched this performance I thought of the feather as art and the incredible amount of details that must be in balance for that art to manifest.  Not only the alignment of our talents with our material but the balance of our time and circumstance with that gift and the will to make it happen.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

FInding Art Off the Beaten Path

© CJ Nye - All the Little Cashews - oil on unprimed canvas

Caution, road trips are sometimes required to find what you're looking for.  I found some some very nice works by Caroline J. Nye and Bernard Klevickas on Long Island.  Exhibiting at a precious little gallery in Bay Shore called the Second Avenue Fire House Gallery, these two NYC based artists have presented a very elegant installation of their works.  The exhibition's title, "Source" refers to materials as opposed to an artist's influences.

Caroline (CJ) is a painter and presents several works that delve into not only the material of paint but into the nature of the support.  All the Little Cashews, (above) works very delicately with the often unpredictable nature of raw canvas.  CJ creates a variety of symbols and shapes referencing both art history, signal flags and to my eye the nature of a group conversation.

© CJ Nye - Mr. Alexander Pablo Androver - oil on canvas (photo from the artist's website)

Another of CJ's works, Mr. Alexander Pablo Androver, successfully explores the nature of canvas as a support for paint by returning to its draping nature as essentially a fabric.   Here, her playful title, a mashup of Alexander Calder, Pablo Picasso and Miguel Androver gives us clues that the piece enjoys a rich inner life at the intersection of movement and deconstructed space with a flair for fashion.

© Bernard Klevickas - Untitled (six pack) - Powder coating and automotive paint 
on pressed stainless steel with polished areas and aluminum base

Bernard Klevickas' metal sculptures also deal with the idea of "source".  From his time as an arts fabricator Bernard has collected discards and sought to repurpose fragments.  Also involved is a reflection on the nature of the steel and it's reaction to pressure as it is pressed into the wave forms that make up many of the pieces in this exhibit.

© Bernard Klevickas - Untitled (Roswell) - Pressed, welded and polished stainless steel
(Photo from artist's website)

Another of Bernard's pieces on exhibit, Roswell, shows his sensitivity to the material through the use of curves formed by hydraulic press to obtain strength for the upper part of this slightly anthropomorphic piece contrasted with the slightly springy nature of its "legs". 

Source is at the Second Avenue Firehouse Gallery through June 15 (Regular hours Saturdays from 10:30-6:30 And by appointment.  Contact: Steven Ceraso  (516) 643-2179)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Photobooth Kabuki

Photobooth pix

Sometimes ideas for a  print is just buried there on a desk.  For a couple of years now this stip of photobooth pix has been floating around the studio; a souvenir from an opening to a group show I was in at Mobius in Boston. Shortly after that opening I played with the strip in Photoshop a bit and threw together a digital print for an artists exchange. 

  ©William Evertson - Self Portraits 2010, digital collage, pigment print 8.5 x 11

Recently I heard about Purikura, short for Purinto Kurabu (Print Club), which are Japanese photo booths that let you take digital pictures with your friends and then decorate and edit them using a touch screen and stylus.  You can add effects, draw, change backgrounds, even give your eyes the manga treatment.  See some examples HERE.  You'll probably notice that the marketing emphasis is on teenage girls and making "cute" pictures.

I thought back to my earlier self produced manipulation of a photobooth picture and decided to revisit that image at the source of manga, early ukiyo-e prints.  I'm taking one of the small small photobooth images and enlarging it and printing it as a solarplate image.  Over the top of this I'll print several woodblocks with traditional moku hanga techniques.


Beginning the carving of the hair.  
The image outline is drawn on thin paper in ink and pasted to the block.  

Mockup of piece from Photoshop.  I use this as a guide for separating 
the lines for the key block and the color areas for the color blocks.

Cartouche with title "Photobooth Kabuki"

Some trial proofs from the Solarplates, the mockup and key block in progress.

The working title, Photoshop Kabuki, comes from my feeling of being in a performance when using a photobooth which also was the inspiration for kabuki costuming ideas from one of my favorite artists, Kuniyoshi (1797 -1862).  Kubuki, or kubuki theater dates from the 17th century as a series of comic plays in which women played all roles.  Still popular, kubuki has the sense of a stylized surreal world.

This piece, although it's a small, A4 size (21 x 29.7 cm), it will probably keep me busy over the next couple of weeks, especially since this will be an experiment in registration with the combined techniques of solarplate etching and moku hanga printing.