Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Etching Revival

Penny Siopis
I'm Sorry, 2004. Etching, aquatint. Edition of 20. 17 3/5 x 14 4/5"
Printed by Randy Hemminghaus. Published by David Krut Fine Art

A Twenty-first Century Etching Revival
By Alexandra Anderson-Spivy
Summer 2005

What could be more old-fashioned, more traditional, or more uncool in our mad-for-digital, video-besotted early twenty-first century than etching? Today's salacious collector seems more likely to invite someone up to see his shark preserved in formaldehyde than to issue an invitation to "come up and see my etchings." Nevertheless, artists have enthusiastically embraced this process for some 500 years ever since German artist Urs Graf produced the earliest dated etching in 1513. As subsequent artists from Rembrandt and Piranesi to Whistler and Picasso have demonstrated, etching has long offered a remarkable emotional and tonal range of expression and innovation.

This versatile printmaking technique promotes, in fact requires, an intense connection between the hands-on proficiency of the artist and the delicate surfaces upon which he or she has chosen to work. It calls for painstaking plate preparation and adaptation, agility and patience. (1) It also demands fine-tuned, skilled collaborative efforts between artist and printer. (Contemporary artists often may print their own work.) In the modern world, etching has been adapted to the most arcane engineering processes; industry can routinely etch various metals, infinitely tiny computer chips, and other substances with lasers, or with chemicals or gases.

The current summer exhibition organized by International Print Center New York confirms the idea that right now there is a notable revival of interest in etching occurring among artists across the world. It's actually hardly the first time this has happened. During the latter half of the 19th century, the artists of the Barbizon School were the instigators of an earlier etching revival. Allied with the rise of interest in the sketch and in working from nature, this passionate interest in etching rapidly spread from France to England and the United States,(2) as the informality and spontaneity provided by the etching needle gained critical acceptance.

Another such revival is surely overdue. Perhaps today's artists have tired of the weightlessness of computer software, the seductions of Photoshop, the slick uniformity of the surfaces of digitally printed images. The physicality and subtleties of traditional etching processes continue to exert a powerful attraction on a surprising number of them-draftsmen and painters alike-as this exhibition demonstrates.

Diversity and experimentation are characteristics that define IPCNY's summer show. The fifty-eight works included in New Prints 2005/Summer represent work by forty-four artists and various presses across the country and from abroad. (International sources include Brazil, France, Germany, Italy and South Africa). Their work offers viewers a dazzling menu of techniques, expressive styles, and content that once again proves the relevance of etching's seductive powers.

The jury for the show examined a fascinating array of submissions. Some of the only consistent elements these works shared were a highly ambitious technical range plus an inclination to push the boundaries of the medium and a general inclination to experiment very freely with color, and scale and idiosyncratic content. It's interesting that no style or subject prevailed.

The sheer range represented by the geographical and stylistic diversity, celebrity and age of the artists who were finally selected is impressive and makes for juxtapositions on the wall that are stimulating and fresh. Veteran artists such as Polly Apfelbaum, Kiki Smith, Robert Kushner and John Walker appear here along with a panoply of artists who may be new to viewers. Apfelbaum's Love Flowers presents a cheerfully faux-naïve, intimate image of starry flowers tossed off in what could be a pattern sketched for a quilt. Kiki Smith contributes a delicate and entirely sinister rendering (Jewel) of the front feet and claws of a wolf or a very big dog against a stark white ground. Kushner in Cup of Gold prints his vibrant line drawing of a lily as direct gravure in white ink on black silk and embellishes the image with his signature squares of gold leaf. In Box Canyon, John Walker has translated the verve and scale of his abstract paintings into a waterfall of etched color and form that boils across and down across some 21 square feet (81 x 38 inches), making it the largest work in the show and one of the most powerful.

Space restrictions mean I can't discuss every artist included in the exhibition, but I will mention a few characteristic highlights. Sandow Birk's mordantly funny and cautionary image, Accidents, is from his series, Leading Causes of Death in America. Using a slyly social realist-film noir style, this artist depicts a modern woman courting danger, as she talks on her mobile while driving her car. Another sprightly image of disaster-a little cottage swept over a waterfall in black and white, appears in Dan Steeves' a hint of awe and reverence and wonder. Fernando Martí has made one of the relatively few political images in the show-his Amapolis/Poppies pairs kneeling prisoners with scarlet poppy fields. Yuji Hiratsuka's etching and aquatint images of fabulously accessorized modern Japanese women (Autumn Tints and Crops) not only update the traditions of the Japanese print with impressive skill but also combine deft social satire with ambitious technique, since Hiratsuka is both artist and printer of these works.

Several artists have used etching to create artists' books. Leslie Eliet's self-printed Sea of Dreams is a strikingly dramatic abstract narrative in accordion form. Nancy Powhida's black and white book, Cabin in the Woods has a sinister Henry Darger-like charm. Sarah Plimpton's pages for her book Doubling Back quietly harmonize poem and aquatint image.

The rising young South African artist, Penny Siopis, is represented by four searing images of a child's shame and pain from her striking suite of ten etchings. Annie Heckman's She Falls in the Tank series is memorable for its beautiful draftsmanship and unusually dynamic imagery of a cat falling into water.

Several more abstract etchings are also visually compelling, technically proficient, and often clever. Justin Quinn contributes a gloss on Moby Dick that represents a "transcription" of a chapter of the book into the letter "E" in his drypoint, Moby Dick Chapter 44 or 4,349 times E. Theresa Chong's Mapping Notations and Gestures based on Bach Suite Prelude Series poetically translates sound into a mysterious black and white galaxy of points of light. Jill Parisi has contributed what may be the most unusual work in the exhibition. Her piece Stellae transforms nature into wonderful hand-colored, hand-cut etchings-evanescent paper sculptures that float in space. In short, this show offers a look at a great variety of works as contemporary artists continue their exploration of the still seductive marvels of etching.

Alexandra Anderson-Spivy is an art critic and writer who lives in New York.

New Prints 2005/Summer-Etchings Selection Committee: Desirée Alvarez, artist; Alexandra Anderson-Spivy, writer; Judy Hecker, Assistant Curator, Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, the Museum of Modern Art; Jennifer Melby, Master Printer; Harris Schrank, print collector and IPCNY Trustee; and Michael Steinberg, Director, Michael Steinberg Fine Art.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

What is contemporary art?

"You need to be more contemporary" I was told.
"What is contemporary?" I asked.
Blank stares..humms. Why was I being told to become something if they didn't even know exactly what it was.
"You should look at contemporary artist" I was told.
I told them "I don't really like any contemporary artists, and I have no idea where to start." ...lots of frowns....bad, bad, bad girl I am.
"Read Art Forum."
So I read Art Forum, and was completely lost with the "art speak",jargon, buzz words and the assumption that the reader had been reading art forum for the last thirty years (Remember that awful shirt Greenburg had...remember that dude?). It didn't help.

My First critique at grad school: I put up a bunch of prints
"why are you printmaking..it's obvious you should be doing video."
"You're at grad school, it's time to experiment with new and exciting materials"
"this would translate well into a film, perhaps you could use your prints as a background"
TRANSLATION: Your work sucks

So, I spent the last year or so trying to find a place in the art world that I liked. I still do not know what the big deal was with artists taking photos of the insides of microwaves, and creating grids out of them, or artists socially interacting with people chewing gum and then afterwards, displaying the chewed gum (aren't those teeth marks beautiful?). Still confused, I found this article that was published a year ago. Now it makes better sense. It makes more sense of why I am so confused because the art world is nuts. It's like watching a parasite eat it's host from the inside out. The art world needs to be saved from the crazies.

But, what is this????
Feburary 3, 2005 - The New York Times

Ms. Heiss, director of the P.S. 1 Contemporary ArtCenter in Queens, and Klaus Biesenbach, a curator at P.S. 1 and its big-sister affiliate, the Museum of Modern Art has this to say. "As the world has changed since the last "Greater New York," so have the things artists are thinking about, the curators said. And "there's a lot more elaborate fantasy," Ms.Heiss said. "More storytelling, more science fiction." The projection and video work that so dominated the art scene five years ago has ebbed, she said, while drawing is far more common."

Below is the article on What is contemporary art?

Asking what's wrong with contemporary art begs a more basic question: what is it anyway? Angela Bennie canvasses opinion.

At the Sydney Writers' Festival last month art critic Peter Timms asked: what is wrong with contemporary art? He then attempted an answer. Contemporary art, for the most part, was mere product, made for the arts market - or in response to bureaucratic dogma (the Australia Council's, in particular) or, worse still, to critical theory (French, mostly, but latter-day postmodern theoreticians generally).

Most culpably, it was solipsistic, pursued its own agenda with little regard for or engagement with an audience's need for profound reflection and thought, let alone aesthetic pleasure.

In fact, contemporary art is deliberately "abstruse", Timms said, so that audiences will find it "difficult", and therefore think it clever and profound, when really it is just banal and facile. It achieves its impact and notoriety, not through profundity, but through the hype created by the industry's hangers-on, the "money-changers, hucksters and spruikers".

If the same audience had attended the first round of panel discussions, lectures and symposia accompanying the opening weekend of the 2004 Sydney Biennale they would have thought they were in another city, time and historical epoch. It surely could not be only four weeks later?

For here, the question "what is wrong with contemporary art?" would simply not compute. In this 21st century, in this moment of "contemporaneity" [the new buzz word, we were told], the urgent question was instead: "What is contemporary art?"

Given the extraordinary range of works labelled as contemporary art, it is indeed a fair question. Installations, videos, bodily excretions, ephemera, badly made beds, elephant poo and pigs in aspic join framed oil paintings, etchings, drawings, photographs and sculpture in what Professor Terry Smith of Pittsburgh University called, in his opening address, "the dialogue that is contemporary art".

The 2004 Biennale is buzzing with this chatter. Airplanes made out of clothing, photographs of a woman's glistening cervix, floors spattered with circles of fake hair and boulders smashing cars, all are participants in Smith's dialogue by virtue of the fact that they are "simultaneous to each other and the time they are in".

Biennales, said Smith, were important because they were not so much exhibitions of art works, but a new form of art criticism itself. "They grapple with issues that most traditional art criticism avoids; and they show what art looks like globally in the immediate present. Contemporary art practice is dialogue," said Smith.

Dirk Snawaert, the artistic director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Lyon, France, speaking in a panel discussion on the future of the museum of contemporary art, took it all a step further.

"Today, art is not the art work any more," he said. "Today art is art practice. It is art-in-process."

Hence a room full of cheeses covered in Band-Aids at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which will, as time goes by, crumble with great pungency into dust. Or the wanderings of Belgian artist Francis Alys and his band of pessimistic volunteers, doomed to travel the streets of Sydney, trying to find a home for one of Alys's sculptural figures. Both the Art Gallery of NSW and the MCA have refused to allow it into their collections: the refusal is integral to the process of Alys's art "work".

"Museums house the relics of the past," said Snawaert. "The future contemporary art museum will have no collections or relics. It will be a space that offers residencies to artists to produce art, rather than a space that houses artworks. The new museum will be a place of production, rather than presentation."

And what of these "producers" of contemporary art, the artists? Is "artist" still a legitimate word in this era of contemporaneity?

In a session which asked if artists could be "created" through education, Professor Su Baker of the Victorian College of the Arts said our art schools were geared to produce "graduates primed to produce works for the market and to create new markets".

Whether they were artists or not, however, only time - in some cases, a long period of time and dedicated work - would tell.

"We see our school as a kind of agency to help students achieve their goals," said Baker. "They do not come to study a particular discipline, but to participate in a culture."

That culture, she said, was not the old-fashioned, hierarchical structure of master/student. "The teacher/student relationship has shifted from hierarchical to a mutually engaging enterprise, where together teacher and student explore the cultural terrain with a spirit of curiosity.

"The model is an active one, not passive. Today the art school is a place that creates a milieu and context for exploration and creativity, not as a place that hands on a prescribed canon of knowledge."

Which brings us back to Peter Timms and his complaint. To ask what is wrong with contemporary art presumes a prior canon of knowledge about what is, and what is not art, and what is good art and what is not - contemporary, modern or any other kind.

In these days of "contemporaneity", it is clear, such a presumption crumbles, like the cheeses at the MCA, pungently and with irrelevancy onto the dust heap of history.

Yeah, baby...take that, and that.....ooooppss did I miss a spot....AND THAT!!!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

"In the hands of the artist printmaker, the intaglio plate,
the materials, and the techniques form a web of dynamic,
continuous patterns in which the artist is an active participant.
In this way, printmaking becomes a living art-a path of learning
and discovery through which to express oneself."

----Krishna Reddy

Otto Dix

Over a year ago, I was working on a farm in the mountains of Northern Italy, and the woman we were working for told me about a little art museum in the near by town in Revereto. It took us an hour to hike down the mountain and another hours drive to get to this town. We had been living for weeks without outside contact...hot water, heat, and electricity, so this was quite an adventure for us to be in society again. Of course I gourged myslef on 30cent chocolate bars from Lidl, 50cent wine cartons, 1Euro Brie, and 3Euro for the best gelato in the world. We headed for the art museum. I wasn't expecting much, and was happy to have gotten in under a student discount. (I look very young, so it was very easy to get discounts for under 18yrs of age in Europe....I even got into the Louvre for free!!!). The exhibition was on the Dolomites, so we spent room after room, hours, after hours....gazing at oil paintings of mountains. I thought I was going to die. I have very little appreciation for so many paintings of mountains. Finally we came across a print. It was a print made by Albrecht Durer, and aparently he had travelled on foot (possibly he had a horse) across the dolomites. It was his first time going to Italy for he was trying to get to Venice. Seeing his print made me so happy. I thought about him hiking through the mountains that I was staying in, and I thought how brave he was, and how scared he must have been. We were also both the same age at that time. As we continued, we saw more paintings of mountains, and I finally had enough, so we ran through the rest quickly. Suddenly, I saw very dark images on paper. I got closer and realized that I was seeing something amazing. I thought to myself "...no this cannot be Goya because it is too messy, but it looks so similar." I saw the artists name and it was Otto Dix. I thought to myself what an amazing discovery I have found in the middle of no mans land. I wrote his name down and had a huge grin on my face all day. After my trip was over I was able to do more research on him. Somehow in the back of my mind, I had already known about him, but only through his paintings. I find his etchings a whole lot more compelling.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Kip Deeds

Here is an article I enjoyed reading from fallon and rosof artblog. I can relate to a lot of the comments Kip mentions below. It makes me feel good to read about artists like him. I feel like my own artistic sense is becoming more clear to me, and I'm starting to feel more confident in my beliefs.

Vision in word and Deeds

Libby and I met Kip Deeds a while back when Spartaco Gallery existed and Deeds' friend Jason Urban was having a solo show there. Deeds and I had a short but intense chat and he was someone you'd remember -- sensitive, a little shy maybe. He said he was working on some autobiographical art. We had a Midwest connection -- he got his MFA from the University of Illinois and he taught in the summers at Interlocken, the music and art camp in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Since then I had seen his work here and there -- in the "Comix" show in City Hall. And he'd sent me a book he'd made, "Key Note" which had a nice silkscreened cover and inside a complex story in words and pictures having to do with building an ark, finding a key, slides on a projector, horses and Icarus. The book's illustrations are xeroxes of what look like woodcut prints. The style of illustration is rough hewn and muscular. The book is poetic.
"When the world is flooded we will need no rudder" is one sentence tossed in the mix.

"Possession proves illusive as the untold unfolds..." is how the book ends.
In spite of all these clues I still didn't get it. I didn't see that what Deeds is doing is visionary art.
It took my seeing his installation at the Fleisher Challenge 1 where the work grows into one long yarn, a kind of grand woven opus, that it clicked. This is an artist whose storytelling in words and pictures ("picture writing" is graphic novelist Art Spiegelman's word for it and it applies to Deeds' work even though what he's making is not comix.) is akin to that of Elijah Peirce. It's not made by an outsider but it comes from the outsider's state of mind and integrative way of thinking and making.

I had coffee with the artist last week and I'll try to do justice to our talk which travelled between Bucks County (where he lives and grew up) and Quakerism to ideas about art, naive art and distilling personal experience into words and images. What I learned is that the same way that you can take a girl out of the Midwest and she'll still be a midwesterner 20 years later, you can take a visionary and school him with a BFA and an MFA and he'll still be a visionary and make art that expresses that impulse.

Deeds, who had to stop and think a moment when I asked him how old he was (he's 32 and just had a birthday), told me about making his first word and image piece. It was about the Houston Astrodome. He'd found a book about it that told the ground-breaking sports arena's history including details about how the baseball team for which it was created laater moved out wanting to be in a smaller old fashioned ball park. The book told about how the windows let in so much light they blinded the fielders and so they "fixed' that problem by covering the windows and then the grass died. Thus was born "astroturf." The book told that Elvis played there; Evil Knievel played his tricks there. The history captivated Deeds and so he did a piece with words and images all over it.
"A woman came to my studio and she said, 'You're not this naive.' he said." Meaning the work looked like it was made by a naive artist and here he was in an MFA program.
He fulminated about that and still worries about it. How can I make it more my own, he asked himself, answering that if he made part of the piece out of prints (he was a print major as an undergrad) he would surely overcome the charge of "faux naive."
So he made prints and collaged the printed elements on to the works.

Deeds wanted to know if I saw the Bob Dylan biography on PBS and I told him I'd missed it. He not only saw it but he read Dylan's autobiography. In fact he's a Woody Guthrie fan, too and listens to folk music alot. He says there's a correlation between folk art and folk music. "What school did Woody Guthrie go to? What school did Bob Dylan go to?" he asked rhetorically meaning the way those artists learned their craft was to look and listen at works in their folk tradition.
Hicks and Fallsville

Deeds' artists statement says he was influenced by the work of Alice Neel, William T. Wiley and Roger Brown. What it doesn't say is that he's also influenced mightily by Edward Hicks and the experience of growing up in Newtown, Bucks County, with its heavy history of Quakerism sitting on the land and little towns.
His parents rented an apartment to Edna and Richard Pullinger. Richard was an architect who designment many of the Temple campus buildings. Edna was a Hicks scholar and wrote a book about Hicks. The couple never had children and when Deeds would come around and visit them as a child Edna was always delighted. "She was quiet but she'd get excited at what I was doing. She was an influence."

Deeds is clearly moved by life experiences and by large and small moments. The Astrodome intrigued him as a story. So did the happenstance of seeing a sign for Arkadelphia when he was travelling through Alabama. That triggered thoughts about Philadelphia and arks and the floating world that is history.
His father's death from cancer has left a big footprint.

"I'm not very good with theory," he said. I went to a shcool where the head of the program was very theoretical. (Buzz Spector). I read Art in the Age of mechanical Reproduction...yah, but so what? What does that mean for me?"
"The Author as Producer" influenced me more. It's about being influenced. I thought about that in relation to gallery culture and New York. In a way you're no longer the author (when you're producing things for the gallery culture)."

It made me aware. It's a subversive text.
Right now Deeds is living in his mom's house doing work in exchange for rent. He's worried about whether he'll get a teaching job or not. He's worried about finding a gallery that fits with his work.
Finally, here's what he wrote me in a follow-up email: There was one thing I also forgot to mention about Edward Hicks. Besides the the Peaceable Kingdom series of paintings the only other painting that Hicks made that directly illustrates a passage in the bible is his painting of Noah's Ark which is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the American art section. I was aware of Hicks' ark painting before I began making my own ark. This was an inspiration for me along with seeing the sign for the town of Arkadelphia. Hicks' ark painting is a favorite of mine but unlike the Kingdom paintings it was never followed up in a series by Hicks.

I'll leave it here. For more on Deeds, see his website. To see some of these images larger see my flickr site. The Fleisher Challenge 1 is up through Oct. 8. Check it out if you haven't already. Also showing work at Fleisher are Sarah Gamble and B. Ever Nalens.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Kurt Kemp

Kurt Kemp
Plate 5 from The Drunken Boat portfolio
Unique handcolored etching on Lana Grauvre paper
Paper Dimensions: 21.5" x 14.5"

The artist switches back and forth between drawing and printmaking and often mixes the two in his work. Kemp has been drawing since he was a child, but the demanding craft of printmaking caught his eye early in his college career.

More Work

Dasha Shishkin

Etching (click image to enlarge)

Ink on Napkin


The artist is Dasha Shiskin, and I just love her work. It makes me excited to create prints when I find a contemporary woman artist that I like!!! Dasha Shishkin's Bosch-like etchings mix recollections with Russian mythology. Imposing limitations for each print, she creates swooping, elegant illustrations that when examined closely, suggest sinister moments.

Shishkin was born in 1977 in Moscow. Her compositions, often a nod to the chaotic worlds of Hieronymous Bosch, are rendered in a precise and handsome linear quality. The vocabulary of recurring figures and forms allows Shishkin to discuss what she calls "a larger theme of violence on paper where the works serve as literal illustrations to the abstract struggle of forces within an individual".

Each plate in the group of eight etchings titled The 400 Series was made in under four hours.These etchings are an example of the artist confronting violence and aggression by allowing them to manifest on a copper plate and then ultimately on paper. A simian-like animal wearing a feathered hood hands a ball to a woman in Victorian dress while a bald, moustached man in spectacles holds her in space while looking malevolently at the viewer. The man sits on the shoulders of another who is held by another who seems to be transfiguring, shrinking and flying away. Below, a daisy chain of horses perform. A trapeze artist plummets while a lone hand waits impotently near the top of the sheet. A headless woman falls out of the grasp of the transfigured man, and so go the actions and reactions in these riotous and psychologically charged prints.

Shishkin suggests that "the pictures exist as processes, without narratives or main characters. Like a city street flowing with crowds lacks narrative until someone, an audience member, breaks the mundane into events and gives it meaning".

Her drawings and smaller etchings are more poignant. Quick and surreal, they ambulate between daydreams and nightmares. The line is reminiscent of a very young Lucian Freud and the images of figures bursting out of each other, transmutating and assuming animal-like characteristics convey a twisted cruelty that hides out in our subconscious.

Dasha Shishkin will receive her MFA from Columbia University in 2006. She lives and works in New York City.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Squeak Carnwath

Squeak Carnwath
Backwards Map (2002)
Color aquatint, spitbite,
sugarlift and soapground
etching with softground,
hardground, drypoint,
sanding and chine collé

Somerset white textured paper
Image size 30" x 20"
Paper size 40" x 29"
Edition of 30

Emerging in the early 1980s, painter Squeak Carnwath, a Professor in Residence at the University of California at Berkeley, has evolved a number of vocabularies with which she explores the dilemmas of the self in relation to a larger world. Carnwath combines luminous color with handwritten notations, hieroglyphic symbols and the delineation of everyday objects. Meaning is not read literally or narratively from her canvases, but is instead elliptical and open-ended.

Carnwath's canvases and prints evoke the loss, doubt and humility that are rooted in life's experience. Her compositions register, often whimsically but also viscerally, emotional pain, the questioning of truth, and the recovery of difficult family memory through therapy. The artist is committed to revealing something of herself in her work. Carnwath humorously tempers her expression of free-floating anxiety through the use of occasional tongue-in-cheek references to Freud, and the establishment of dotted, outlined areas, so-called safe spaces that she terms "Guilt Free Zones" (a reference to the residual guilt of her Catholic upbringing). The artist manages to effectively turn personal disquietude toward a larger expression of concern for what she calls the crisis of contemporary existence. Over the past few decades, Carnwath has attempted to conduct an extended conversation in her work about (pre-September 11th) social ills such as the environment, violence, crime, AIDS, and urban despair, as well as those that can be less easily identified. Indeed, this artist - a kind of poet-scribe putting down on her canvases the questioning inner conversations that we all experience - has become a voice for our day-to-day imaginings and conscience. Graphically, sensually, Carnwath weaves together a dizzying register of the daily minutiae that fill our heads, with subtle references to the larger social, political and economic issues that we confront.

Interview with Squeak Carnwath

More writings about her work