21 October 2014

Daughters of Bilitis (1955-1968)


ASSIMILATE (Daughters of Bilitis)
White line woodcut
Image size: 12" x 18" (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Paper size: 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm)
Paper: Mawata
Edition: 3 (variable)

Daughters of Bilitis (also called DOB) was the first lesbian social and political organization in the United States. Founded in 1955 in San Francisco by lesbian couple Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon (who were also the first couple to get married in San Francisco once same sex marriage became legal), the DOB began as a social club meant to be an alternative to lesbian bars, which were subject to frequent police raids. This may be hard to imagine today, but in 1955 it was illegal to dance with someone of the same gender in a public place.  The original eight members wanted to dance, but they also often discussed the self-hatred many lesbians suffered as a result of internalizing the society's attitudes and their desire to bring social change by providing support and education to lesbians. Within a year, the group had started a newsletter, The Ladder, which was the first nationally distributed lesbian publication in the U.S., and by 1959 there were DOB chapters in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

The Daughters of Bilitis was an assimilationist organization, advocating for women to "adopt a mode of behavior and dress acceptable to society" and urging women not to engage in butch/femme behavior. This may have been appropriate in 1955, a time characterized by police harassment and witch hunts against homosexuals and communists, but by the 1960s there were many lesbians and gays who felt that conformity was not working as a tactic and they began agitating for political activism and visibility. By 1970 the DOB had fallen apart and in 1972 The Ladder folded for lack of funds.

The print I've made to honor the Daughters of Bilitis mimics a traditional quilt pattern called the 'fairy ring.' I lightly blushed three small triangles on the right to suggest a larger triangle that easily disappears and assimilates back into the overall pattern.

20 October 2014

Back to 'God Is Our Witness'

Last year I started a series called God Is Our Witness (working title), which I envision as a four-part series of prints dealing with some of the history of the gay liberation movement in the last half of the 20th century. After finishing the first group of prints back in November, 2013, I took a break from the series. This was partly because I turned my attention in a different direction, towards Secret Codewords of the NSA which I finished in June. But it was also because I unnerved myself a little with the first Chapter of 'God Is Our Witness' (I'm calling each section a chapter). Titled "The Curse," Chapter One is a group of prints about exile and isolation. Emotional isolation was an experience I lived in for many years, now thankfully in my past, and it's been a large part of life for many LGBTQ people until very recent generations. Digging into it was painful, yet it felt like a necessary part of telling the story.

So after this long pause, I'm moving into the second Chapter, called "Counterspells," which I expect will be a celebration of some of the groups and organizations that helped move GLBT rights forward in the U.S. from the middle of the 20th century to the present day. The Chapter Opener is a somber beginning to this celebration, however.


In World War II Nazi concentration camps, a downward-pointing pink triangle was sewn on the uniforms of imprisoned gay men and other sexual offenders to identify them to the guards as well as to other prisoners. Sometime in the mid- to late-1970s, the gay community claimed the pink triangle as an international symbol of gay pride and it is still used today (although not as often as the rainbow flag). I used the faux pink fabric that I made a couple of weeks ago to make these triangles, which I sewed onto paper printed with stripes.

As I currently envision this chapter, it will consist of prints based on the shape of the triangle.

25 September 2014

Imitating Fabric

My house has been under construction for a number of weeks and, since I work in a home-based studio, my art making has been pretty severely disrupted. Today I waded back in a little bit and made some trompe l'oeil pink fabric with moku hanga and Nishinouchi washi.



The trick is to use lots of rice paste so the brush strokes show.

17 September 2014

Secret Codewords of the NSA: A Book on Blurb

As I often do when I finish a print series, I've made Secret Codewords of the NSA into a print-on-demand book available for purchase on Blurb.

Click here to see a full online preview of the book.

Click here to order the book ($27.95 plus shipping).

And click here to see all of the books I've published with Blurb.

16 September 2014

Portfolios for Secret Codewords


Shortly after my workshop at Anderson Ranch I was feeling anxious to use my newly acquired bookmaking skills, so I made portfolio cases for five full sets of Secret Codewords of the NSA. I used manila file folders for that special touch of authenticity and created string tie closures like those used on inter-office envelopes.


I printed out a label for each folder and stamped them 'classified' for a finishing touch. These full sets will sell for $1300.

14 September 2014

Sometimes I'm Married 2014


Every August (or thereabouts) on the anniversary of my legal Massachusetts marriage to my longtime partner Lynn, I update this slow reduction print series called Sometimes I'm Married (see the series here). I'm a few weeks late this year, but here's the 2014 installment. Four states have been added to the 'I am married' column: Oregon, New Mexico and Pennsylvania by court decision, Illinois by legislative vote. There are twelve states where marriage bans have been overturned but appeals are in progress, a situation which almost guarantees that higher courts will take up the issue. Supreme Court watchers believe that the court will accept a gay marriage case sooner rather than later. I could have labeled these state 'I might be married,' but with the situation so fluid right now I've decided to ignore that category, which I used in the past for states where there was no legal policy at all (neither a ban nor a legalization, and no policy on reciprocity with other states).

When I started this series in 2008 I wrote, "I plan to revisit this very gradual reduction print every year around our wedding anniversary until all the states are one color. Then we can frame the series and hang it on our nursing home wall." How wrong I was! This map will likely be all one color well before Lynn and I reach the nursing home, perhaps as soon as next year! Stay tuned.

02 September 2014

20th Century Japanese Prints in Denver, CO

A Spring by Koshiro Onchi
September 21, 2014, is the closing date for an exhibition of seventy 20th century Japanese prints called At the Mirror at Denver Art Museum. This article by Ronald Otsuka, curator of Asian art, points out the split that still somewhat persists between the shin hanga (new prints in the old style) and sosaku hanga ('creative' prints) movements in 20th century Japanese woodblock printing. The article also discusses the technical perfection of traditional style Japanese woodblock prints, suggesting that this perfection is a drawback in Japanese art.

I don't know if it's a drawback in Japanese art, but the technical perfection of the Japanese woodblock masters can certainly be a stumbling block for contemporary artists who are trying to work with the Japanese method. Unfortunately, that type of perfection is what many people think of when you say "Japanese woodblock," so it's often the silent standard in a viewer's mind. And in an artist's mind, how can one do a bokashi and not think of (and compare oneself to) the Ukiyo-e masters? Making a bokashi connects you to Japanese art; using washi connects you to Japanese art. The carving tools, the brushes, the process itself connect you to Japanese art. There's a challenge, and a bit of humor, in making contemporary American art using a traditional Japanese art form. For myself, I try to take the support of the beauty and elegance and history of the method without letting go of my own voice and identity, which places me firmly in the tradition of the 20th century sosaku hanga artists.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to see this show, but if you go and would like to share your reaction I'd love to hear about it (or publish it on this blog).