Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Left Front

"Severe economic downturn. a dysfunctional government. Wall Street bailouts. Public protests and police clashes. A president accused of "socialism." Struggles for immigrant and minority rights. The threat of military conflict abroad and social turmoil at home:
                                                       The United States in the 1930's
(Quoted from John Paul Murphy's exhibition essay)

Art catnip for the printmaker and a timely premise for an exhibit. The Grey Art Gallery (100 Washington Square East, NYC) has this thought provoking exhibit up until April 4th.  Any similarities to our current political climate is entirely intentional I'm sure. This fresh look at the work of artist activists during the 30's gives an interesting backdrop for examining the canon of political art.

Mitchell Siporin, woodcut, Workers Family 1937

As Lisa Corrin, director of the Block Museum points out, many of the artists featured in this exhibit paid for their political beliefs by being blackballed or otherwise shunned by the art world.  Probably because of the non-commercial nature and political charged content many of the the works represented here were powerful images yet many of the artists name were unfamiliar to me.

Bernece Berkman, woodcut, Toward a Newer Life, 1937

Many of the works are by artists affiliated with either The John Reed Clubs or the American Artists' Congress. Referred to as the "Red Decade" the 1930's saw increased agitation for progressive social change among intellectuals, writers and visual artists. By the decades' end many artists had become disillusioned with their support of Communism under Stalin.

Aleksei Ilyich Kravchenko, wood engraving, On the Barricades, 1925

As co-curator Jill Bugajski points out in her essay; "...the budding USSR became an inadvertent role model for groups the world over seeking to elevate the working class and combat exploitative old-world monarchies or new-world industrial oligarchies."

The worst recession since the Great Depression led to the creation of the Occupy protest movements and a resurrection of our interest in how artists react to social climates of economic disparity, social injustice and corruptions of the political system.

The print as a mode political statement derives from their reproducibility and ease of dissemination into "public" hands. The art on display at the Grey Art Gallery is both sobering and yet full of optimism that it has the power to change society.

The Left Front: Radical Art in the "Red Decade," 1929-1940 in on view through April 4, 2015 at the Grey Art Gallery/New York University, 100 Washington Square East, NYC.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


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

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

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.