Monday, August 29, 2005

Printmaking Methods Old and New: Gabor Peterdi

Check out my new Book!!! I checked this book out so many times to use as a reference that nobody could have possibly read it in the last year. Now I finally own it, and my one is in much better condition than the one at my school.
Happy, happy, happy!!!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Amy Cutler

I first saw Amy Cutlers work when I went to the Walker Art Museum a few years ago. I remember stopping and staring at her work for a long time. After seeing large scale paintings, crushed painted cars, and video intallations, her work was a breath of fresh air to me. It was so simple, yet it impacted me more than any fancy computer work that I had seen in the museum. The work was quiet and witty. I was happy to find out that Amy Cutler was coming to our school. It was the first time when I realized that there was a contemporary young female artist out there that I could feel connected to. Her lecture was so down to earth and insightful. I felt like she could have been a friend that I grew up with. Below is a descripion of the concepts behind her work.

Telling Tales
by Ana Finel Honigman

Before children become old and blasé enough to work at making sense of life’s ethically grey areas, fairy-tales offer a world filled with moral paradoxes, beautiful colors and high-key imagery. In fairy-tales, childhood’s fears, aspirations and desires are transformed into lush metaphors and images children can digest. But once children grow into adults, fairy-tale logic, the kind where combs become forests and wolves can speak, looses its immediacy and meaning.

Brooklyn-based Amy Cutler paints grown-up myths. She uses insight and skill to present original parables of women who are tethered to Cosmo Girl-induced insecurities, desperate for transformation and haunted by traditional definitions of femininity.

Interview with Amy Culter

Ana Finel Honigman: Do you have a full narrative in mind when you first conceive of your paintings' iconography?

Amy Cutler: No not really and there are always elements in them that I don’t fully understand fully myself. I'll pick up on odd references and inject them into the narrative without necessarily interpreting them first.

AFH: From where do you cull your references?

AC: Often things I read about in the news inspire me.

AFH: Your paintings are not very journalistic. Do you think the term magic realism could apply?

AC:That sounds about right. While I absorb references through the media there are always underlying personal meanings in my paintings. Often it will be a year or more before I feel like I fully understand why I selected certain images and painted them the way I did.

AFH: Are you ever unnerved by how your work illustrates your personal life?

AC: Well, the painting in the Whitney of the women with the fans under their skirts actually had some surprising symbolism for me. I was thinking that putting electrical appliances in my images was a departure from what I usually do but I didn’t feel it was really that remarkably different since I was not entirely abandoning the element of nostalgia. So, the women are still in the forest doing their laundry but all of a sudden they have an electrical fan to help them.

AFH: But where do they plug in the cords?

AC: That’s the surprise! At the time I could not understand why I had chosen this imagery but now I see that it relates to this particular time in my life when I am undergoing some intense personal transitions. So, the fans refer to a need to liberate oneself with, and I know this sounds corny, internal resources. As a woman, the lower half is conceptually so weighty that the fans offer the women the possibility of elevating themselves above that gravitas. It is really cheesy but because they have electrical fans and no source of external energy, I am realize that the source of their power is within themselves.

AFH: It does sound a little Oprah-like when you say it. Painting it is definitely much better.

AC: And it is important for it to be open-ended.

AFH: Are you skeptical of critical interpretation of your imagery?

AC: I usually find it very interesting. Sometimes I learn from critics’ interpretation.

AFH: Do you consider yourself as just one reader of your imagery and not the final authority?

AC: If a particular reading of my imagery is repeated by a lot of people than I often start to wonder whether I wasn't being as articulate as I had hoped or whether, perhaps, there were things in the image I just could not see for myself.

AFH: Do you think there a possible “correct” reading?

AC: Because my work is so illustrative, if something is misinterpreted too often then I just worry about the clarity. A couple of men reviewing the show kept talking about the painting Progeny as "women giving birth through their months." That was absolutely not my intention. I was looking at the image from a women’s perspective and thinking about friends of mine who are starting to have children and are losing their own identity because they are subsuming themselves entirely into the maternal role and the needs of the child. They start to wear cute little garments and direct all their attention towards their amazing little miracle. All they talk about are baby-related topics and a lot of women my age are deciding to give up their careers and lives as individuals.

AFH: Have you noticed that men tend to have different interpretations of your imagery than women?

AC: Yes, men and women typically do see my work very differently though there is always that sensitive guy who can really get it.

AFH: Do critics’ interpretations interest you more than those of an average viewer?

AC: It all interests me. I get a lot of one-on-one criticism including from people who want to tell me their personal stories. And because I put a lot of my own life into my images, though the particulars are coded, I think there is enough of a sense of intimacy in my work that people are inspired to share their stories with me but oddly, critics’ tend to be a little shy in their interpretation. I think people are timid about revealing their personal interpretation of my work on record because it can be as ultimately revealing of the critic as of my work or me.

AFH: Are there particular themes you return to often, such as exploitation, as in Sugar Foot, your painting of women eating the sugar drained from other women’s flattened bodies....

AC: Oh, I don’t see that painting like that at all. That is great! Actually, that painting is related to another painting I’d done titled Ironing. In that image, two women are ironing other women until they are completely flat and then they roll each other up and push each other to the side. That image was partially inspired by reality nip-and-tuck shows like The Swan but on a deeper level, it also relates to women’s criticism of each other and their obsession with a super thin one-dimensional self-image.

AFH: And what about the iconography in Sugar Foot?

AC: Sugar Foot was related to our contemporary fascination with our diet and micro-managing what we eat. I recently read a book titled Our Own Devices: The Past and Future of Body Technology by Edward Tenner in which there was a passage where he describes how sugar was considered a health food throughout much of this century. Sugar was thought of as a great source of nutrients and sustence. Apparently, this belief was so firmly held by doctors that in Mozart’s day, they would substitute mother’s milk with sugar water.

AFH: That sounds repulsive.

AC: Well, when I was a kid, I ate sugary cereal every morning and thought it was healthy. But in Sugar Foot the women are all pale, malnourished and miserable despite, or because, of the fact that they are gorging on cakes and mountains of sugar.

AFH: It is odd to think that Woody Allen prophesized the Atkins diet in Bananas, his satire of weird LA- food fads, with massive, genetically processed vegetables and other food-monstrosities.

AC: Contemporary culture is entirely rife with magic and folklore. When I read the New York Times, I tend to latch on to random stories and the imagery. Recent scientific experiments, like the one where they grew a human ear off of a pig’s back or genetically crafted hybrid mice really inspire me. I am full of those stories. I could be the town freak with all her creepy tales but instead I paint.

ANA FINEL HONIGMAN is assistant editor at Artnet Magazine.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Louise Bourgeois

Louise Bourgeois is another artist/printmaker that I admire. Her work has often been recommended to me along with Kiki Smith and Nancy Spero.

db artmage
The artist Jenny Holzer said: "When I review the testimony about what is wrong with women, Louise Bourgeois’ work is the perfect rebuttal." At nearly 93, Bourgeois, who hasn’t left her house in ten years, is hard at work making sculptures and installations from stitched fabric, wood, steel, latex and marble as well as drawings and prints. She still holds her famous "Sunday Salons" where artists are invited to bring work at their own risk. Bourgeois often includes text in her visual work and has kept a copious diary from a very young age. Bourgeois’ sculptures and installations use hooks, guillotines and sculptural incisions as flaying devices related to a disruptive past. Bourgeois uses events she saw as a young girl during and after WWI when large numbers of men returned from battle as amputees. Body parts are frequently the subject of her work. As the feminist artist Adrian Piper has said: Louise Bourgeois’ "work draws us into a space where the dynamics of power and surrender, of gender identity, the circumspection of the body, and relation to the mother are unavoidable. It forces us to become aware of our own status as incomplete adults." Bourgeois’ relationship to feminism is best epitomized by events of the late 70s.

Here is an interview between Cheryl Kaplan and Louise Bourgeois

Cheryl Kaplan: The Reticent Child features a suite of 18 drawings titled Almost A Nobody. The title recalls Emily Dickinson’s poem: "I’m nobody, who are you?" You’ve said: "Life is organized around what is hollow."

Louise Bourgeois: Almost A Nobody refers to stairs and the idea of climbing to success. I'm interested in people's ambition, their enormous desire to exist in the world, to be somebody, and to succeed — sometimes at any cost.

CK: I first saw your Cells in the Venice Biennale in 1993 and then in Oxford at the Museum of Modern Art. They made me think of Ezra Pound detained in an open cage for 25 days having been accused of treason at the end of WWII. In your work, a highly internal moment is exposed publicly and then kept private. How did your Cells transform from the earlier ones in the 80s to the later ones, especially in relation to issues of public and private observation?

LB: My use of the word 'cell' has to do with the fact that I am a prisoner of my memories. The original suite of the Cells had to do with the five senses and memory and had nothing to do with the issues of humiliation and internment. The sense of containment in the Cells has also to do with the idea of isolating problems in order to solve them. I also like to know my limits and that's why I prefer claustrophobic spaces. The Cells also express the notion that people are isolated from one another and unable to communicate. This is the human condition.

I needed to create architecture to house and protect and set the scale for these objects. The objects in the Cells are fragile. The fact that you cannot enter them in most cases had to do with the fragility of the interior. This is a problem when they are shown publicly. I would like people to enter the Cells.

LB: The guillotine, like all my images, is not realistic. It is a metaphor for how the present kills the past. In the Cell Choisy, I recreated the house where I had lived because it no longer existed. There is no real victim in this work because we have to accept the fact that the present destroys the past and there is nothing we can do.

CK: Femmes Maison, is both a series of drawings and sculptures that literally refer to a "wife-house". In Cells, the architecture is transparent, while Femmes Maison is about hiding.

LB: As a sculptor, I am interested in space – whether it is real or imagined. Sometimes I want to hide, and sometimes I want to go out and seduce.

CK: What are your feelings now about feminism? In 1988 you told art critic Donald Kuspit that "Feminism is important to me." Later, you had mixed feelings, associating feminism with victimization. In speaking with Robert Storr you said: "There is no feminist aesthetic (…) The women got together not because they had things in common, but because they lacked things." But you’ve also written: "My feminism expresses itself in an intense interest in what women do."

LB: I don't believe there is a feminist aesthetic. A lot of the emotions that I am expressing in my work are pre-gender. I am lucky to have been brought up by my mother who was a feminist, and fortunate enough to have married a husband who was a feminist, and I have raised sons who are feminists.

CK: Lucas Cranach, a favorite artist of yours, painted Lucretia as she’s about to commit suicide, having been raped. Like most of Cranach’s females, Lucretia is strangely demure, yet extremely violent. I’m reminded of the piece you did in Artforum in December 1982 called Child Abuse that focuses on your father’s relationship with Sadie.

LB: The piece entitled Child Abuse in Artforum was done to coincide with the opening of my first large exhibition in New York. This work was my attempt to explain the person behind these objects.

CK: The Destruction of the Father, done in 1974 is an incredibly visceral piece, cast from lamb and chicken bones. The sculpture is overrun with tumorous protrusions. It’s scary, yet strangely natural. Destruction is about getting rid of someone but also keeping them around. The sculpture’s support resembles a field hospital stretcher. In what way were your childhood visits to see your wounded father in army hospitals during WWI part of this piece?

LB: I accompanied my mother during the War when she went from camp to camp to stay close to my father. I felt my mother's hysteria. The images of the soldiers on the trains and in the hospital have stayed in my mind. The fear of abandonment is very strong within me and relates to that time.

CK: As a registered Democrat, what do you think of the recent re-election of George Bush especially concerning women’s rights? I’m thinking of his potential to appoint ultra-conservative judges on the Supreme Court.

LB: Bush's re-election is unfortunate not only for America but for the entire world. Life is being reduced to economics. Values and the quality of life are at risk. As the disparity between the rich and poor grows, religious fanaticism grows. I believe in the separation of church and state. I'm particularly concerned with the environment; mankind is destroying the planet and seems to be oblivious.

CK: Can you talk about your series of nine engravings He Disappeared into Complete Silence done in 1947?

LB: He Disappeared Into Complete Silence was completed in 1947, and uses architecture as a metaphor for human relationships. These structures are related to the Personages that I was carving at the same time.

CK: The suspended figures, from the Spiral Woman , 1984 through Janus Fleuri, 1968 and Filette (Sweeter Version) , 1968-99 as well as the Arched Figure, 2004 in your current exhibition at Cheim & Read dangle between a moment of danger and beauty. The Arched Figure hangs on by a thread, bobbing up and down. In referring to your suspended figures, you said: "[So] this little figure is supposed to hang (…) She turns around and she doesn’t know her left from her right. Who do you think it represents? It represents Louise. (…) It just means that she is herself, hanging, waiting for nobody knows what." How do you feel about the dangling now?

LB: To hang from a single point is to exist in a state of fragility. It is still how I feel today.

Thursday, August 18, 2005


I like to do these little pen sketches. Using a pen instead of a pecil allows me to be more creative with my line and more confident in my mistakes.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Garden of Earthly Delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights
Irish Arts Review (Dublin, Ireland)

When Hieronymous Bosch created his vision of The Garden of Earthly Delights c.1500, he sought to depict a world in resolute pursuit of sinful pleasures. The triptych charts the history of creation and the pervasiveness of sin. It is a cautionary tale in a surreal setting, calculated to induce an awareness of the drastic consequences of worldly indulgence and the urgent necessity for repentance -- a grand narrative whose tone is zealous and didactic both in intent and effect. Happily the current exhibition by Graphic Studio artists, also called The Garden of Earthly Delights, at the Chester Beatty Library, is a lot more life-affirmative and a lot less life-prescriptive.
Historically we are familiar with the idea of the garden as a metaphor. The physical will-to-form not only reflects our ability to subdue, shape and cultivate the natural world, it also demonstrates and enables the desire to contemplate a spiritual inner space. Hence Japanese and Chinese gardens are noted for restraint, Islamic gardens espouse symmetry and Christians attempted to celebrate romantically the Creation itself. In all instances, aside from physicality, the true spaces created were interior, contemplative and philosophical.
This is the context in which the Graphic Studio formulated a brief for its members and invited guests to each produce a limited edition print using traditional printmaking techniques in response to garden spaces and related imagery as they are represented throughout the collection of the Chester Beatty Library. Each participating artist was encouraged to use the collection as a resource and point of inspiration in the creation of their own Garden of Earthly Delights.
Initiated by the Graphic Studio, the show is a collaborative project with the Chester Beatty library. It follows on from another successful venture with the library the Holy Show in 2002 in which artists were invited to give a visual response to biblical texts using sources and references from part of the considerable print collection held in the library. A similar successful joint venture with the National Gallery entitled Art/Art in 1998 was based on responses to the gallery collection. In all cases there was a desire on the part of the Graphic Studio not only to initiate a dialogue between the old and the new and to unite a disparate group of artists behind a common theme, but also there was a recognition of the need to foster collaboration with other significant cultural institutions. The effects are, one feels, inevitably mutually beneficial. The dialogue between old and new, results in renewed interrogation of the value of national collections. It reinvigorates and reinforms the imperatives of curatorship itself and it creates a wholly new stream of work with the process of each engagement.
These collaborations are indicative of an inherent dynamism within both participating institutions. The Chester Beatty library has a substantial European print collection numbering . over 35,000 items. This is the largest collection of Old Master prints in Ireland. Chronologically the collection extends from the 15th century with early woodcuts to the 1960s and it includes some works from the Graphic Studio which Beatty purchased when he lived in Ireland. The library also has a policy of constantly evaluating and re-presenting its collection along with promoting greater accessibility in an innovative manner. This was evidenced recently in Irish writer Colm Toibin's curatorship of selected blue artefacts from the collection.
Within this sympathetic ambience thirty-nine artists, have attempted to pursue a common theme of the garden as earthly paradise, refuge or place of spiritual solace. These include Brian Bourke, Hughie O'Donoghue, Mick Cullen, William Crozier (Fig 6) and Gwen O'Dowd (Fig 3), all of whom enjoy the status of visiting artists in the studio. Inevitably some have chosen to interpret the original brief very liberally, others prefer a more literal approach and more work through the constraints of illustration, opting for somewhat literary and anecdotal interpretations. A good deal of the work created reflects highly individualised stylistic concerns.
Brian Bourke's etching entitled Leopold Bloom's Earthly Delights is uncharacteristically nostalgic (Fig 7). Rendered in his essential pared-down drawing style it refers to a music hall song going through Bloom's mind. The image is based on an old photograph taken in 1915 of Bourke's mother and her sisters disporting themselves on the beach at Bray. Hughie O'Donoghue's carborundum print reveals a characteristic dark brooding landscape portentous and hinting of menace. Entitled Where is your Garden? it is more evocative of an interior space, and suggests a place of sombre introspection unencumbered by extraneous colour (Fig 9). In contrast Mick Cullen's customary exuberance shines through in his submission which he calls Bongo jungle. Colourful, gestural and bordering on the chaotic the image advances and recedes, conceals and reveals at the same time (Fig 5). Dimensions are vague and movement is constant in this garden. Space is undefined. Sensuality is all.
Among the studio artists themselves one senses a more specific engagement with the terms of the overall brief. The originators of the project, Jean Bardon, Grainne Cuffe and Cliona Doyle have each demonstrated their predelictions without ambiguity. Preferring to approach the subject directly, their strengths are underpinned by masterful technique.
Jean Bardon's etching reflects her interest in the Asiatic handscrolls bordered with silk brocade which form part of the Beatty collection (Fig 10). Entitled Flora Japonica the work depicts flowers which have symbolic significance or associations with different times of the year. Plum blossom is associated with winter in Asia and Chrysanthemum refers to longevity. It is a subtle exercise in control and delicacy.
Grainne Cuffe has opted to select types of flowers which best suit her formal pictorial requirements. Her etching, which depicts Bells of Ireland, Seeds and Lillies, expresses her fascination with purely formal complexities (Fig 4). The seeds are convex tetrahedrons. The Bells which stretch across the picture plane evoke a DNA helix -- another reference to structure and the lillies exist in a space that allows for quiet appreciation of their moment of perfection.
Cliona Doyle displays comparable formal concerns in her depiction of a Black Headed Conure. She has produced an arresting image of a parrot sitting on an apple bough (Fig 1). Her composition is bold and assured, using negative space to good effect. She achieves a depth of colour and texture which is remarkable for an etching. It is one of the most tactile prints in the show.
Chinese scroll paintings provided the stimulus for Janet Pierce's aquatint. Gerwhali Raga is an evocation of a landscape remembered from a trip to the foothills of the Himalayas (Fig 8). It is a tranquil compelling study in blue melodic recollection -romantic in the true sense of the term.
Ruth O'Donnell found her inspiration in the pages of a late medieval French book of hours. The title of the etching, Vignette suggests a pun on the practice of enclosing small manuscript imagery in a clecorative border of vines. The depiction is of a couple sharing a meal (Fig 2). The alfresco connotations are of garden tables, summer and childhood happiness.
These images best exemplify the unity within diversity which characterises the overall studio engagement with the library artefacts. They are strongly traditional in their execution and taken together they constitute a unique and substantial body of work. It is also most encouraging to note that there is no such thing as a house style within the Graphic Studio. Individuality prevails and one is left with the sense that a healthy internal dynamic exists which is further sustained and developed by external encounters.
This is plainly evidenced in the work of James McCreary. His distinctive mezzotint entitled A Visit by a Japanese Emperor is a gentle essay on whimsy. He obviously subscribes to the view that butterflies are harbingers of pleasure, joy and hope -- a welcome visitor to any garden. McCreary's confidence and formal acuity, particularly in spatial arrangement are grounded in his early experience of working at the Harry Clarke studio in the 1960s and his long time interest in Japan. Both of these great institutions have been enriched by this endeavour.
The Chester Beatty library showcases the artistic treasures of the major civilisations and religions of the world. The global collection of manuscripts, prints, miniatures, icons and early printed books is a rich national resource. By encouraging interactions such as the Gardens of Earthly Delights, thereby allowing for constant reappraisal of the concepts of museums, collections and curatorship itself, artefacts are redefined yet again, revivication is achieved and contemporary relevance is sustained. For the Graphic Studio the benefits are equally significant. Encounters with historical works reinform traditional values and techniques -- something the studio espouses. This leads to a widening of perspectives, a positive fusion of the past and the present and an increase in incremental learning for all involved. Since its establishment in 1961 the studio has provided facilities annually for etching, woodblock, lithography and carborudum printing for its members and sundry visiting artists. It is the oldest and largest fine art print studio in Ireland. Based in Dublin's docklands, it is a charitable, educational organisation and in other cultural jurisdictions it would be regarded as a national treasure. Now it faces uncertainty about its future given the pressures for redevelopment in the docklands area. Relocation may be an inevitability. Not unnaturally this causes concerns and deflects energy away from the proper concerns of the studio -- the maintenance of standards of excellence for which it has become famous. Prints from the exhibition are on sale from the Chester Beatty Library bookshop as are handmade box portfolios containing a single print from each of the thirty-nine artists.
GERRY WALKER is Course Co-ordinator for Complementary Studies at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin.
1 CUONA DOYLE Black Headed Conjure 2005 etching 65 × 50cm
2 RUTH O'DONNELL Vignette Arum etching 50 × 20cm
3 GWEN O'DOWO Dracunculus carborundum 65 × 50cm
4 GRAINNE CUFFE Bells of Ireland, Seeds and Lillies 2005 etching 50 × 65cm
5 MICK CULLEN Bongo Jungle 2005 carborundum 65 × 50cm
6 WILLIAM CROZIER The Pool 2005 carborundum 37 × 44cm
7 BRIAN BOURKE Leopold Bloom's Earthly Delights 2005 etching 50 × 65cm
8 JANET PIERCE Gerwhali Raga 2005 aqua tint 31 × 25cm
9 HUGHIE O'DONOGHUE Where is your Garden 2005 carborundum 65 × 50cm
10 JEAN BARDON Flora Japonica 2005 etching and aquatint 20 × 47cm
The Garden of Earthly Delights at the Chester Beatty Library, 27 May - 2 October.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Prisons to Printmaking

Sorry, I've been M.I.A for a while. So much is going on in my life right now. I'm trying to get a few hours of volunteer work at the nearest printshop that I like. Also, I'm trying ot find other volunteer work with an art therapist, and a local art community program for kids. Also, I've been out and about enjoying the sun.

One subject that often interests me are stories of how recent printmaking shops come about. I find it fascinating what people end up renovating into printshops. Printshops often preserve history of some interesting buildings.

The evolution of Norwalk's Center for Contemporary Printmaking
by Brita Brundage - April 8, 2004

The stone building in Mathews Park in Norwalk that houses the non-profit Center for Contemporary Printmaking must have stories coursing through its walls, from the former stable areas where artists roll pages through printing presses to the upstairs hay lofts where a class undertakes lessons in monotypes. Where a gallery exhibits a celebration of the "solarplate revolution," female prisoners from the 1930s to 1950s once huddled against the wall awaiting bail. Former prison or no, the 19th-century building which sheltered horses for the Lockwoods Mathews Mansion Museum has all the traditional charm of large windows, low ceilings and wooden floors.

The police station across the driveway is another story. That squat, brick, charmless structure, which will be replaced by a new state-of-the-art police headquarters in South Norwalk in March of 2005, is awaiting some sort of judgment regarding its fate. The adopted plan for Mathews Park called for the demolition of the police station when the officers relocate. In February, Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp announced that he was considering turning the former station into an arts center for performance and exhibition instead.

"In my view, Norwalk needs an arts center," says Knopp, "and it's always seemed to me the Mathews Park would be ideal. ... Instead of spending $400,000 to demolish the police station and then $350,000 to construct a landscaped parking area, let's use that [money] to be part of the financing of renovating the old police station into a Norwalk arts center." Structurally, the 1950s era police station may not be easy to convert. As Anthony Kirk, a Scottish master printer and CCP's artistic director says, "There's a lot of concrete and cells, and the basement was the firing range for the police department. There's [possibly] a lot of lead contamination in there."

Though the Norwalk planning commission removed money for a feasibility study, Mayor Knopp says he is having an engineering audit done on the existing building, using in-house staff and Grubb & Ellis, who manage many of the city's buildings.

Right now, says the mayor, "it's still in the conceptual stage. ... This really doesn't become an issue that's ripe for decision until quite some time away."

Kirk is ready to welcome any additional arts development to the patch of pavement he shares with Lockwoods, Stepping Stones Children's Museum and the YMCA across the street. "It's not competition," he said. "The development planned between Wall Street and the Maritime Center for business and residential will offer more to do locally for families who want to walk around."

With its historical presence, CCP already has something no new building can capture. And Kirk and crew could not have put it to more appropriate use. The old printing presses, the etched plates and inks are ancient art tools. "If Rembrandt were here, he'd know what I'm doing," Kirk said, peering over his glasses at a mezzotint, his hands stained with black ink. While the center does include a digital production room upstairs for manipulating images in photoshop, as local inner city kids are being taught to do through a program called Arts Task Force, it's the classic papermaking and printmaking techniques that are the center's pride.

"People say there is a lessened interest in traditional printmaking," said Kirk, "But I can't believe all that knowledge will disappear. Can you imagine in 50 years people saying, 'What is a dark room'?"

While CCP has had no trouble attracting wealthier Fairfield County women to its classes and lectures, it's had to work a bit more concertedly to find diversity. Last year they scored a few points shy of the total necessary to garner a grant from the Connecticut Commission on the Arts because of a lack of racial diversity. Kirk has since made it his mission to expand the CCP's racial reach. The next exhibit, works from students representing 21 area high schools, will showcase the fruits of CCP's labor. From George Washington Carver Center in Norwalk to Darien High School, the resulting self-portraits from two courses taught by artist Benny Andrews should tell an interesting story about CCP's ongoing evolution. Upstairs, where Ronnie Maher of Briggs High School teaches photography to after-school students, kids are given digital cameras to snap shots of their home environments, often brick-bound projects bordered by fencing. One picture shows the back of a police officer, another shows kids in a desolate playground. All photos are black and white and give an honest portrayal of the forlorn places these students return to every afternoon.

A few steps from CCP's back door, another story is unfolding in a cottage that was renovated and opened last year at the cost of $250,000. The project was funded half by the city and state and half by private donations. There, in a cozy two-bedroom-one-bath house with two large printing presses and a small kitchen, artists receive a stipend to take up residence and complete a series of work in private. The first artist the center welcomed to stay was Scotland-based artist Paul Furneaux, an award-winning 40-year-old painter and printer who lost nearly all of 15 years' worth of work as well as his tools and supplies in the raging "Old Town blaze" in Edinburgh in 2002. Having lost his woodblocks, his prints and nearly all of his possessions, the trip to Norwalk afforded Furneaux and his family a chance to rebuild.

Currently, prints depicting Manhattan on the back of a whale in bright red and blue line the cottage's walls. They are the work of famed Czechoslovakian children's book author, illustrator and filmmaker Peter Sis, who collaborated with Bob Dylan on the film You've Got to Serve Somebody in 1983 and won a McArthur Fellowship for his pictorial children's books. Now living in Tarrytown, N.Y., Sis is using the solitude of the cottage to make etchings and reproduce prints of a poster he made for the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

"This place frees an artist from the cares of the world for a while," said Kirk.

Fifteen years ago, the cottage was derelict, full of debris. One can only hope the old police station willget razed or refurbished long before the same neglect sets in.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Printmaking as a Craft

Printmaking as a Craft
SOURCE: Artichoke 17 no1 38-40 Spr 2005

Misa Nikolic
"The creation of a work requires craftsmanship. Great artists prize craftsmanship most highly. They are the first to call for its painstaking cultivation, based on complete mastery. They above all others constantly strive to educate themselves anew in thorough craftsmanship. It has often enough been pointed out that the Greeks, who knew quite a bit about works of art, use the same word techne for craft and art and call the craftsman and the artist by the same name: technites."(FN1) One wonders what sort of work Martin Heidegger was thinking of when he wrote these lines in the 1960s, a time when the mainstream art world appeared to have abandoned craftsmanship altogether, first in favour of abstraction, and later in favour of appropriation, industrial production, and mass reproduction. However, one need only question the definition of craft -- that is, what sort of things craftsmanship may be applied to -- to see his true meaning, which is that techne denotes "a mode of knowing" and not art or craft per se. Put another way, techne is neither the work of art itself nor the process of its creation; it is, he explains, the bringing forth of truth from its concealedness, or what the Greeks called aletheia.
Today we understand craft differently, by opposing it to mass production on one hand, and to fine art on the other. The German critic Walter Benjamin tells us that "the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition,"(FN2) thereby diminishing its "aura;" a term he uses to encompass the work of art's authenticity and autonomy. Benjamin seems at first to be arguing that art loses its uniqueness when it is thus separated from the "fabric of tradition," but instead he claims that "mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual,"(FN3) thus freeing it to become politically engaged.
What this means for the artist today is not simply that all technologies and media are now available for art-making, but that a balance must be found between traditional methods and materials (which can still carry the aura of art) and political currency (socially relevant meaning). This is where we may find techne today, and it is especially manifest in printmaking, the field which first felt the impact of technical reproducibility.
In the past, printmakers were in the enviable position of having their work available in more than one place. They could now reach the masses; however, their practice was still undeniably a craft requiring technical skill. Even the typesetters of the nineteenth century were craftsmen. Contemporary printmakers find themselves walking a fine line between this fabric of tradition and the political realm. Printmaking encompasses centuries-old media, such as woodcut and stone lithography, as well as newer technologies like etching, silkscreen, and photolithography. But does it also include digital art? Does experimenting with new forms of reproduction mean abandoning the umbrella of traditional printmaking? And how does the size of the edition affect our determination of what is a print? An offset press may produce two thousand copies per hour, but would we consider them to be as valuable as a dozen hand-pulled prints? Would we still consider them to be art? Clearly, printmaking as an art form relies on some notion of the indexical trace, the touch of the artist's hand, despite the intervention of reproductive technology. Printmaking as a craft, meanwhile, is still hindered by notions of mechanization and the removal of the artist's hand. This paradox has resulted in the virtual exclusion of printmaking from both academic discourse, which is greatly concerned with politics, as well as from other craft practices, which traditionally focus on the unique handmade object.
Nevertheless, a new term -- fine craft -- has evolved in recent years to encompass craft-based media with political content. Fine craft endeavours to account for the gray area between fine art and decorative or functional craft. This definition has been incorporated in the Canada Council's granting categories and is slowly being adopted by other agencies as well. The Saskatchewan Craft Council recently adopted a new definition of fine craft as "an artistic endeavour characterized by the creation, with skill and by hand, of three dimensional work that is rooted in, but may transform, transcend or maintain the traditions, techniques, and materials of the utilitarian object."(FN4) Only painting and drawing are excluded due to their adequate representation elsewhere.
Leslie Potter, one of the scc's exhibitions and education co-ordinators, suggests that defining craft is no longer necessary. "Fine art and fine craft have been crossing boundaries and converging for so long now, it only places limitations where we don't need them."(FN5) While there is still a latent theme of craft as specific handmade object-based media without overt political content, there is also a growing recognition of craft as an evolutionary field, one which encompasses techne.
In 1996, Lee McKay was one of the first print-makers to be included in the scc's annual Dimensions exhibition. McKay is known for his refined woodcut reduction technique, as well as collographs and etchings; however, his real interest lies in colour. His woodcuts commonly use eight to twelve colours, and are often printed on delicate rice paper -- an especially difficult ground due to the paper stretching during impressions, making registration difficult. Lately he has begun to experiment with transparent inks and varnishes, an approach that developed from his experience in graphic design and offset printing. A visit to McKay's studio reveals a continuous flow of ideas from the sketchbook to the computer to the woodblock. Mckay's own take on craft, on techne, seems to lie in the very practice of art, where ideas grow from hard work and discipline; a far cry from contemporary conceptual art and its approach of "applied philosophy."
If we return to Heidegger and accept techne as neither the product nor the process but rather as a mode of knowing, of uncovering truth, we may conclude that art is intended for reflection rather than consumption; that it is a process of thinking that extends from intention to interpretation. Hegel, who foreshadowed both Benjamin and Heidegger, saw this clearly: "The work of art has not such a naive self-centered being, but is essentially a question, an address to the responsive heart, an appeal to affections and to minds."(FN6) What better definition can there be of political currency, of meaning in art?
Misa Nikolic is a Vancouver artist.
Lee McKay's prints will be Featured at the Saskatchewan Craft Council Gallery in Saskatoon, June 24 - August 14, 2005.
Luminate - 1, reduction woodcut, 29×40 cm, Lee McKay, 2004 photo courtesy of the artist

1. Martin Heidegger, "The Origin of the Work of Art" in Poetry, Language, Thought, New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1971, p. 59.
2. Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" in Illuminations, New York: Shocken, 1968, p. 221.
3. Ibid., p. 224.
4. Interview with Leslie Potter, September 2004.
5. Ibid.
6. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics, New York: Penguin, 1993, p. 78.