29 March 2008

SGC Friday - Daniel Heyman and Sandow Birk

This Friday morning panel was one I had been looking forward to since I first read about it in the conference materials, a panel with Daniel Heyman and Sandow Birk titled "The Printmaker In Wartime."

Daniel Heyman

I first discovered the work of Daniel Heyman in 2005 when I was searching for other artists who work with moku hanga. Daniel's woodblock prints can be seen here. His recent work has involved making images (watercolors and drypoint prints) about the abuse and torture of innocent Iraqis at Abu Ghraib and other prisons. For this work, Heyman sat in on interviews with over 25 former detainees, painting their portraits and taking down their own versions of what happened to them at the hands of the American captors. Three of these detainees have since been killed in the war.

There are a lot of remarkable things about Heyman's Iraq work, but one of the most striking things is that he sits in the interviews drawing on copper plates with an etching needle. Since the words that are being said are so intense and affecting, Heyman knew immediately that he wanted to include the stories in his portraits. This means that, since he's making a printing matrix, Heyman is writing backwards on the copper.

Jacques Callot 1633

Sandow Birk 2007

Sandow Birk is a Los Angeles based painter, who in 2007 was invited to Hui Press on the island of Maui where he created 15 large-scale (48 x 96 inches) woodcut prints that follow the course of the Iraq war. The prints are closely based on a series of prints from 1633 by Jacques Callot called "The Miseries of War." Two hundred years later, the Callot prints were referenced by Goya for his aquatints, "The Disasters of War." Hoping to have a similar impact, Birk is now referencing Callot again 200 years after Goya.

Most impressive to me was hearing something about the process from master printer Paul Mullowney. The project took over a year and, given the size of the 4' x 8' birch plywood blocks, power tools were used. Birk would make drawings on 11 x 17 inch paper and then the drawings were blown up and pasted on the boards to be cut. The Japanese paper was smaller than the board, so several sheets were joined and then the prints were hand burnished with ball-bearing barens. Most surprising to me, the prints were made in a tiny edition of two, so unlike most woodcut prints they are extremely expensive and extremely unavailable. There is a catalog/book, however, for those who want a replica to look at.

I found both projects really interesting, but I have to say that Heyman's project touched my heart deeply, which is something I value a lot in art. The intimacy of the portraits, the depth and suffering and strength expressed in the stories, and Daniel's clear respect for his subjects as well as the longing for justice he communicated were beautiful. Daniel Heyman is definitely my new crush.

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