27 November 2017

Gaslight


GASLIGHT
Watercolor woodblock (moku hanga)
11 x 17 inches (28 x 43 cm)
Made from 5 blocks, 16 hand-rubbed applications of color
Edition of 8 on Yukimi paper
Shapes derived from four video stills of fracking flares.
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Gas•light [gas-lahyt] verb
To cause (a person) to doubt his or her sanity through the use of psychological manipulation:
How do you know if your president is gaslighting you?

Gas•flare [gas-flair] noun
A gas combustion device used in industrial plants such as petroleum refineries, chemical plants, natural gas processing plants as well as at oil or gas production sites such as hydrofracking operations:
The gas flares, which are bright enough to be seen from space, turned a peaceful little life into a nightmare.

The shapes in this print are derived from a video of gas flares from a fracking well, but I couldn't resist the double-entendre with the psychological term "gaslighting," which is being used often this year as people discuss the condition called narcissistic personality disorder and whether or not the president of the United States suffers from it. Gaslighting is one of the things that narcissists do.

Here are some process photos.


16 November 2017

Dumpster Fire



DUMPSTER FIRE
Watercolor woodblock (moku hanga)
11 x 17 inches (28 x 43 cm)
Made from 5 blocks, 11 hand-rubbed applications of color
Edition of 8 on Yukimi paper
Shapes derived from five video stills of a fire in a dumpster.
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Dumpster fire. Because it is.

The challenge on this print was getting a dirty look. I had a few hair-raising moments getting to the end, so I don't have very many process photos, but here are three.


08 November 2017

Molotov


MOLOTOV
Watercolor woodblock (moku hanga)
11 x 17 inches (28 x 43 cm)
Made from 5 blocks, 8 hand-rubbed applications of color
Edition of 8 on Yukimi paper
Shapes derived from seven video stills of a molotov cocktail being thrown at a wall.
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About a week ago, just as I was finalizing this print, I visited the Rubin Museum of Art which specializes in art from the Himalayas and I noticed this descriptive text about a class of Tantric Buddhist deities who are shown as wrathful:
One of these kinds [of deities] includes enlightened beings that assume fierce appearances to remove obstacles or perform other protective functions. Though they may look like demons, these deities are said to be wrathful manifestations of wisdom and method.
When I first proofed the shapes that resulted from superimposing seven stills from a video of a molotov cocktail exploding against a wall, I noticed that they resembled some kind of a cartoon monster. That monster likeness plus my musings on fire and anger combined in my mind with this text and so I decided to mimic the flaming hair and "aura" that I had seen on the wrathful deities at the museum for one last layer.

 
Detail of the Tantric Buddhist inspired flames.
Black Hayagriva from the Rubin Museum

06 November 2017

Anger

In my experience, anger is one of the best reasons to do spiritual practices. By spiritual practices, I mean meditation, contemplation, attention to the present moment, lovingkindness, mantra repetition, prayer, and other techniques and tools for focusing the mind and emotions. Last week, Uma Thurmond was asked about recent allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by Harvey Weinstein and others in Hollywood, and her answer was a brilliant display of working with active anger.



I started this series of images about fire in light of my own anger after the election of Donald Trump almost one year ago today. Anger is compared to fire in our language for good reason—although useful, both anger and fire can easily grow out of control and become overwhelmingly destructive. Anger also spreads like wildfire. I believe that anger is the most contagious of all the emotions. Observe what happens in a room when an angry person walks in, or how quickly a small incident on the road can escalate into a full-blown physical confrontation. If you want to offer something of service to the world, learning to manage your own anger is a great beginning.

I’ve spent a lot of this year learning to be responsible about my anger. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this much intense and sustained anger before. Yes, I’ve felt bursts of anger, and even simmering resentments that have lasted for long-ish periods, but never sustained white-hot undiminishing rage like I’ve felt this year. It’s nasty and I don’t like it, but it’s here so I’m trying to learn to handle it and to use the energy for something creative rather than destructive. As we’ve seen this year, watching the white house wrecking crew, it’s much easier to destroy than to create.

This next print is based on eight still frames from a video of someone throwing a molotov cocktail at a wall. Here are the first few color passes.

Two passes here. First a full uncarved block printed with yellow, with a patch wiped away to show the white of the paper, and then an orange on top, with a bit of blotting in the hopes that it will soften the flow of one color to another in the final result.
A third layer, a more orange red. Again you can see the blotting I'm doing before I print so that the sharp carved lines between the colors will be less distinct.
Layer four, with a wash of what is actually a red oxide tone. The blotting is doing what I wanted it to do—hooray!

27 October 2017

Bonfire


BONFIRE
Watercolor woodblock (moku hanga)
17 x 11 inches (43 x 28 cm)
Made from 5 blocks, 7 hand-rubbed applications of color
Edition of 10 on Yukimi paper
Shapes derived from four video stills of a bonfire.
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I've been working on these prints for almost a year now. After the 2016 election I was so upset and thrown off my game that I could barely tear myself away from the news cycle and drag myself into the studio. When I finally got going again, it was images of fire that matched my inner felt sense* (see below for definition).

My usual way is to just dive in and go once I choose a direction, but for reasons unknown to me I spent most of the spring and summer test printing the blocks for this series. For the past two months, and probably for another couple of months ahead, I'm editioning the prints, probably 10 or 11 different designs in total. So today, I give you "Bonfire."

Less intimate than a hearth, a bonfire conjures up a larger gathering, in a park or on a beach or in a back yard — like a campfire, but bigger. On a darker note, the image of a bonfire can also suggest a ritual burning of objects deemed immoral, a "bonfire of the vanities" such as book burning or burning of art as conducted by iconoclastic religionists or authoritarians. Bonfires can also be included as part of a protest or riot.

As with all of these prints, I'm depicting the flames, not the fuel.

Below are the blocks showing the four different shapes derived from a video that make up the print.


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* Felt Sense*
This is a term from a psychotherapeutic technique called Focusing. A felt sense is a body sensation that is meaningful and that points to and somehow matches a vague, elusive and often pre-verbal inner experience. I think that locating the felt sense of any particular experience or situation is useful for artists and is in fact often used by artists intuitively — that moment of aha, when an image just feels right.

20 October 2017

Hearth


HEARTH
Watercolor woodblock (moku hanga)
11 x 17 inches (28 x 43 cm)
Made from 6 blocks, 9 hand-rubbed applications of color
Edition of 10 on Yukimi paper
Based on five video stills of a fire burning in a fireplace.

Hearth has the word heart in it, and for many centuries (or maybe even forever) the cooking fire has been the heart of human life. It wasn't until 200 years ago that the open hearth was replaced by a fire in a "box," with a flat top and oven, and it was another 100 or so years before modern ranges, gas and then electric, became common. My own grandmother's electric range had a small attached wood stove that she used for heat and for warming food as late as the 1970s.

Lynn and I heated with wood for three years when we lived in Taos, New Mexico. It was messy and a lot of work, but I loved it. Chopping wood, hauling it into the house as needed, banking the coals overnight and then firing the stove back up in the morning — those rituals became embedded in our days and connected us to natural rhythms that you just don't experience when your "home fires" are unseen in the basement and you simply turn a dial to make heat. I recently read that watching a fire in a fireplace or fire pit lowers blood pressure, and the longer you watch the lower it goes, so who knows, maybe our love of hearth is biological.

If you've never seen Michael Pollan's series, "Cooked," it's pretty interesting. The first episode is about fire.




11 October 2017

I Love a Fireplace

I grew up with a fireplace. My dad loved making fires, and he showed me how to open the flue, how to warm the chimney and get the draw going, how to bank coals, and how to add wood so that it wouldn't smother the embers. When Lynn and I bought our first house, having a fireplace was high on our list of must-haves and we used it a lot. Now we have a gas hearth, which is nice and easy and not at all messy or smelly, but I miss the rituals involved in tending a wood fire.

So the fourth print in this "Playing With Fire" series is a hearth.

Here are some in-progress photos.

Two colors with some yellow wiped away to reveal the white of the paper.
Another block printed. This block had a fairly strong grain pattern.
Six colors shown here.

Next I'll be darkening the background and adding some bokashi (gradation).