27 September 2010

Kindred Artists: Ruth Cuthand

Back in January of this year I completed a print called Ten Little Nine Little Indians that addressed the small pox plague that wiped out an estimated 90% of the native population of New England in the early 17th century. The print features a large red representation of the small pox virus in the center. A few weeks ago artist Andrea Pratt, who blogs at Coloring Outside the Lines, left a comment alerting me to the work of Canadian artist Ruth Cuthand. I did some Googling and sure enough I found another kindred artist working with some of the same material I've been mining.

A Plains Cree (the largest group of First Nations in Canada) and Scots/Irish artist, Cuthand initially studied printmaking, but due to chemical sensitivities she turned to painting and multimedia. The image shown here is from Cuthand's recent "Trading Series" in which the artist uses finely crafted bead work to render microscopic views of the viruses that were brought to North America by colonization.

In a review of "Trading Series" by Patricia Dawn Robertson, Cuthand is quoted as saying, “I did an Internet search for the viruses, and they were just gorgeous to look at." I resonated with this observation and it made me think about the delicate line I often find myself attempting to walk when depicting harsh and difficult topics. It's easy to bash a viewer between the eyes with violent or shocking images, but I think that work which does so ends up appealing only to those who agree with the point of view. I think it's much more profound and powerful to find the beauty even in the horrific, to draw a viewer in with beauty and care and thoughtfulness and invite a more subtle exchange between the work and the viewer to occur. This is a difficult thing to achieve, but Ruth Cuthand has done it with this series. The full quandry of colonization is expressed here so simply: European trade brought new items that revolutionized Aboriginal life (like glass beads), yet was the cause of the decimation of many native peoples .

You can click this link to read more about Cuthand and see videos of her speaking about her work.

Thanks for the tip, Andrea!

23 September 2010

A New Web Site. Again.

Last Friday, after about a week and a half of work, I put the finishing touches on a new web site. The whole process made me think about the history of my site and how much things have changed since I first launched anniebissett.com.

My first site was built in the late 1990s, and it looks very 1990s. Here's a screen shot of the opening page:


It had rollovers in each of the four corners that would take you to four different areas of the site, and images would appear in the center white area. I designed it, but since there was no drag-and-drop type web software at the time, I paid about $2,000 to have a local tech company called Gravity Switch code it for me. I used that site for a number of years.

Then in 2004 I decided to take the plunge and make my own site with Dreamweaver so that I could update it more easily. I learned just enough of the program to make a very simple site that looked like this:


Nothing fancy, but I could add sections as I needed them and image sizes were flexible. I used this site until sometime in 2008, when I noticed that a lot of fine artists were using template hosting sites like Foliosnap, ArtCat, and Other People's Pixels. The sites all looked good and professional, and the idea of not having to mess around with Dreamweaver was very attractive to me.

So I set up this site using Foliosnap:


It's pretty elegant and simple. I liked Foliosnap a lot. The interface is easy to use, you can customize it quite a bit, and it's non-flash. I would still be using it, but I ran into a limitation once I published the "We are Pilgrims" book. The Foliosnap template wouldn't allow me to put any HTML links in the image descriptions, so I couldn't have a page for the book that would link to the Blurb site to purchase it. That was a deal breaker for me, so I looked around for an alternative. I settled on Other People's Pixels (OPP), which is cheaper than Foliosnap and almost as easy to use. OPP also allows for more text on each page and, since I'm a little long-winded, that works great for me.

Here's the front page of the new site, and here's a link to it.


We'll see how long this one lasts!

19 September 2010

Printmaking in a Cornfield


This weekend I took a drive through the pumpkin patches and apple orchards of Hatfield and Whately to Sunderland MA to see Mike's Maze at Warner Farm. Designed and cut by artist William Sillin, these huge cornfield mazes have been an annual tradition at Warner Farm since 2000. I was excited to hear that this year's maze was an homage to Andy Warhol the printmaker!


Here's the view from inside the maze. Fortunately, you get a map to help you get around. In this maze, there are 16 "printing stations" which, if you find them all, allow you to make CMYK reproductions of four famous paintings.


Each station consists of a wooden platform with a lid that holds a rubber stamp and an ink pad, plus a sign indicating the correct orientation for your printing paper.

At the entrance you're given two sheets of paper plus a board to use at the stations. When you find a station, you place your paper and the board in the orientation indicated…


Then close the lid and push down to print.



As with all printmaking, it's a lot of fun to watch the art emerge. Here's how mine looked after an hour or so in the maze:


14 September 2010

White Line Woodcuts in Cleveland - Mabel Hewit

Printmaker Ruth Hogan talks about white-line color woodcut techniques as practiced by Cleveland artist Mabel Hewit in this video from Cleveland Museum of Art. The exhibit of Mabel Hewit's work is on view now through October 24, 2010.

Click here for an article about the show with more background about Hewit's life.

13 September 2010

Call to Moku Hanga Artists

Wow, I don't know yet if I'll be able to swing this financially, but there's going to be an international moku hanga conference in Japan next spring, June 7-12, 2011. This morning I got an email announcing some of the details. According to the web site,
The conference will gather professional print artists, art educators and scholars in the field of woodblock printmaking to exchange current research information and experiences with Japanese traditional craftsmen, printmakers and print related art suppliers and toolmakers.

The conference will move between two locations, Kyoto and Awaji island (where the “Nagasawa Art Park Japanese Printmaking Program” takes place). In Kyoto there will be workshops, demonstrations and moku hanga exhibitions. The second half of the conference in Awaji will focus on lectures, panel discussions, presentations and exchanges with colleagues.

An email I received this morning notes that from now until December 18 applications are being accepted for a juried woodblock print exhibition of prints made in the waterbased moku hanga tradition or with contemporary materials that reflect moku hanga principles. There are PDF entry guidelines here.

I really hope I can go to this conference!

10 September 2010

Artists On the Mayflower

Sarah Peters, Dorothy May Bradford
It's an interesting experience to complete a body of work and then discover that another artist has covered the same material. I've identified five stages of response (take that, Elizabeth Kubler Ross!). My first-stage reaction always includes a tinge of panic (did one of us copy the other?), followed by some Google investigation, then a stage of comparing (hers is so much better than mine), some deep thinking, and finally delight. I had an opportunity to observe these stages in action a couple of weeks ago when Ed Winkleman announced the Winkleman Gallery show of Sarah Peters' Appeal to Heaven, which includes a set of drawings called "The Mayflower Series."

Peters' work and my Pilgrim prints are not at all similar. Her drawings are intricate layered pen and ink crosshatchings, resembling etchings. Most of her Mayflower drawings are depictions of ocean/water. I like them very much and I appreciate the thinking that I can discern behind the drawings. Peters has titled these water drawings with dates -- September 6, 1620 (the day the Mayflower left England), October 5, 1620, etc. -- taking us along on the grueling 66-day voyage. The churning waters and the occasional emerging human faces in the waves convey the terror that must have consumed the passengers' lives during their 66 days at sea and from what I can see on the Winkleman web site, Peters' strong assertive mark making could make one a little seasick up close. It's an effective approach, and very different from mine.

But what struck me immediately is that we both gravitated toward the story of Dorothy May Bradford. At the top of the post you can see Peters' portrait of Dorothy (the only portrait in her series), and mine to the right. My deepest feeling about this co-incidence?  I'm touched by the fact that both of us were touched by Dorothy's story. Dorothy's story is tragic, intriguing, mysterious, deeply sad, and I think highly resonant for a woman artist. I feel affirmed by seeing Peters' work. And delighted.

Sarah Peters, October 20, 1620, detail

Sociologist James William Gibson says
that when a culture is in crisis, the first response is often to go back to the creation myth to start over again. I don't know if Sarah Peters is a Mayflower descendant too (I assume that she is), but that act of reaching back to the American creation myth is the common thread I see in our work. We're each doing it in a different way, not just in terms of our medium of choice and our styles, but also in the audiences we each seem to be speaking to. But our questions appear to be the same. When I see that another artist is asking the same questions that I am, it makes me feel that rather than toiling away in my own little world I'm a participant in a larger dialog.

Sarah Peters' show at Winkleman Gallery looks fantastic, and if I lived in NY I would have spent the evening at the opening last night. The show is up through October 9, 2010. Leave me a comment here if you see it in person -- I'd love to hear your impressions.

08 September 2010

Medical Woodblock Prints

Chasing Measles Away - Utagawa, 1862
This tidbit came to me yesterday through Beth Cullom on Twitter (via Tokyo-based web site Pink Tentacle). The University of California San Francisco has an online gallery of 400 woodblock prints on health-related themes. Very intriguing images for me, given how I love all that sciency-stuff in my art.

A lot of the pieces, 80 in all, deal with the treatment and prevention of three contagious diseases -- smallpox, measles and cholera. A number of these types of prints show Buddhist or Shinto dieties intervening to prevent or cure the disease, such as the one below which is described as a talisman to ward off smallpox.
Talisman to Ward Off Smallpox: Daruma, Momotaro and Shoki, 1849
There are three or four of these smallpox prints in the collection, all executed in red ink. The red ink gave me a little chill, because when I created my Ten Little Nine Little Indians print about smallpox I used red to make the smallpox virus that "wraps" the Indian. There must be something red about smallpox. But then again, maybe there's just something red about the deity called Daruma.

A number of the prints also contain maps and depictions of foreigners because foreigners were thought to be carriers of disease. This is indeed sometimes the case, as happened in Colonial America when the native peoples were decimated by European diseases.

At any rate, I wouldn't mind having a fierce Daruma to protect me from disease.

06 September 2010

Dear Blog Readers

It's Labor Day in New England, the day that we typically think of as the end of summer even though technically it isn't. The nights are cool, some of the leaves are gaining a rosy hew, the thousands of college students that live here in this valley are returning, and I find myself evaluating my life and my projects as I always do at this time of year, noticing the projects I didn't begin or complete and figuring out the ones I want to commit to before the end of the year.

Okiie Hashimoto, 1967
In that spirit, I want to let you know that I feel a blog change coming on. I started Woodblock Dreams five years ago as a diary of my learning process, a place to record my experiments as I grappled with trying to master moku hanga / Japanese woodblock techniques. Up until now the blog has been very tightly focused on woodblock and only woodblock. Because of that focus, I know that many of you, my most loyal readers, are printmakers yourselves. I love that about you :)

So I want to reassure you that I will still be making woodblock prints and I will still be recording my process. But at this point in my development, I find myself also becoming interested in other art forms, interested in learning about the broader so-called art world, and interested in the artistic process in and of itself -- what it means to be not just a printmaker, but an artist.

For those of you blog readers who come here from the Baren Forum discussion list, what this means is that you will see only the posts that are about and are tagged "woodblock." If you would like to see and participate in the other posts as well, I'd suggest that you "follow" the blog by clicking the "Follow" button at the bottom of the right-hand column.

No matter how often you visit, and however you arrive here, thank you as always for following along with Woodblock Dreams.

xo Annie