28 December 2012

Some Progress Between Holidays


I squeezed in a little more studio time during this week between Christmas and the new year. Managed to print the two characters’ hair, the pastor’s tie, and the boy’s sweater-vest.

I also carved the text that will be included on this print -- written in my best childish scrawl. Next week I'll finish the print by printing black. I'm going to try mixing a chromatic black rather than using straight sumi ink. I find that the sumi offsets when used on large areas like the pastor’s suit. Plus, a chromatic black is a little bit “softer” than a true black.


19 December 2012

Working the Faces

If you look at the video (see previous post for background) that this print is based on you’ll see that it's taken from a distance and at a pretty low resolution. This makes it difficult to see the features on the boy and the preacher. I particularly want the preacher’s face to be very clear, because I’m essentially indicting him and he’s a very specific person. He’s Pastor Jeff Sangl of Apostolic Truth Tabernacle Church in Greensburg, Indiana. So I went to the web site of that church and got some better reference photos to work from.

I then started a new block and did the faces using the reduction method -- carving a shape, printing it, carving some more, printing again with a new color, etc. Here are photos of the three stages.




You can see that I also did some work on the pillar in the background. More to come, of course.

12 December 2012

The Problem

There are an enormous number of people—and I am one of them—whose native religion, for better or worse, is Christianity. We were born to it; we began to learn about it before we became conscious; it is, whatever we think of it, an intimate belonging of our being; it informs our consciousness, our language, our dreams.     ~ Wendell Berry

Like most gay people, I grew up in a heterosexual family and in a heterosexually-oriented society. I learned the same lessons that most Americans in my generation (late baby boomers) learned about homosexuality -- that it’s a sin, or a sickness, something to be ashamed of, something to hide. I learned those lessons way before I had enough consciousness to reject them. This learning process, where GLBT people learn to hate themselves, is sometimes called “internalized homophobia.”

I also grew up attending a mainstream Protestant church. Again, I learned about God and Jesus well before I had enough capacity to question the things I was learning. Even though I rejected Christianity as a young adult, it’s the faith of my childhood. Just as when I lived in an adobe house in New Mexico I continued to dream about New England colonial buildings with attics and basements, my psyche is still full of the language and the mythical templates of Christianity. I am and will always be a cultural Christian, whatever I think about its validity as a religion.

Background, made from one block, five applications of color.

I have no idea if this print (or any of the prints I create in the next few months) will actually make it into the book I'm planning, but this print is where I have to start. It's an ugly print, based on an incredibly ugly video that went viral this past spring, where a young child who can’t be more than 5 years old is coached to sing a song with the refrain “Ain’t no homos gonna make it to heaven.” I hate this image, but it perfectly encapsulates the struggle with internalized homophobia that I’ve experienced in my life. And it also represents pretty perfectly the fact that the loudest voices against homosexuality in America for the past few decades have been the voices of the most passionate followers of Jesus.

Here’s the video, from a church in Indiana. Brace yourself...

06 December 2012

Sort of a Book

It seems like forever since I’ve made a real print. Except for the update to “Sometimes I'm Married” and some fooling around during my home-made artist’s residency, I think it’s been about three months since I finished the “Mixed Feelings” prints in the Loaded series. Not that I haven’t been thinking about what’s next. I've thought about it a lot. I’ve known that I want to try a new format, and I’m pretty sure that I know the topic, too.

Regarding format, I’ve been wanting to try making a book. But I’d have to charge a gajillion dollars for a hand-bound book made of woodblock prints, so that’s not going to work unless I can get a grant or something to do it. But then I thought I could make large enough editions of each print that some can be bound into a book (maybe a small number like between 5 and 8 books) and still plenty will be available to sell as individual prints. I’m thinking I’ll increase my edition size from the usual 8 to 10 to something more like 20. Then, in the end, I’ll also create a Blurb version of the book that can sell for more like $50-ish. So that’s the plan.

Then there’s the topic. I think this is what’s been holding me back so long. I’m a little afraid of my topic. Not that that’s bad, but it’s caused me to procrastinate.

There's an artist named Marshall Arisman who is very well known in American illustration. I don't actually like Arisman's work. It's way too dark for me. But I respect his long career and I once heard him speak some wisdom at an illustration conference. Arisman says that for work to be powerful and effective you have to make work about things you have actual knowledge of, whether it’s bowling or guns or dogs. He says you’ll always make better art when the subject matter is meaningful to you.

So I'm going to go for the subject matter that is the most meaningful to me: gays and god. I know a lot about both, having been raised in a Christian Protestant church, “born again” in adolescence, and rejected from that fundamentalist community when I came out as gay. Being mystical by nature, I spent many years exploring other kinds of spirituality and religion, studied a lot of eastern philosophies, and I've most recently returned to liberal Protestantism in a kind of reclaiming of my heritage. Which I view as a radical and political act as well as spiritual.

I’ll be telling the story more fully as the work progresses, but for now I’m ready to begin making the first image. I had thought of calling the series “Homos In Heaven” but my mother really hates that title and I do respect her opinion. We’ll see what evolves.

09 November 2012

Sometimes I'm Married 2012


2-color Japanese-method woodblock (moku hanga)
6" x 8" (15 x 20 cm)

On August 15, 2004, my partner Lynn and I, who had already been together for 13 years, were married in our home in the company of 60 friends and family. This was three months after our right to marry had been affirmed by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, which found that there was no “constitutionally adequate reason” for denying marriage to same-sex couples. For the next four years, I was only married in Massachusetts, which made for some interesting (and confusing) situations. Back then, whenever we left the state, Lynn and I would joke that we weren't married any more, but the question of whether or not our marriage is valid when we travel out of state is no laughing matter if something bad happens. (Our lawyer advised us to carry a copy of our marriage license when we travel.)

Finally, in 2008, California (for a brief time) joined Massachusetts in allowing gay marriage, so that year I began making a yearly map of where I am and am not legally married. The series is titled “Sometimes I'm Married” and I've typically made the map on my August 15 anniversary. This year I missed our anniversary, but I'm glad I did because this week turned out to be a better week to make the new map.

That's because this month's election has made 2012 a very good year for my marriage. Earlier in the year, President Barack Obama voiced his support of gay marriage, and the election two days ago yielded three new states where gay marriage is now legal in the U.S. -- Maryland, Maine and Washington. A good year. Perhaps a watershed year. Prior to now, all of the changes to state laws have been either legislated or court ordered, but these three new states were all places where the people voted to allow same-sex marriage. The argument by opponents that if we just “let the people vote” then gay marriage initiatives will fail have been proven false. I think it will still be a long while before the red states stop resisting, but it feels to me like it's just a matter of time now.

I've made a LOT of these maps. If you want one, I'll be selling them this weekend at Print Fair North at Zea Mays Printmaking, and I'll also put them on my web site so you can order them there. Cullom Gallery in Seattle will have a batch of them in stock next week, too.

If you live in Maryland, Maine, or Washington and you voted in favor of allowing gay marriage in your state, please accept my thanks for offering me and other people like me the opportunity to choose to be married. I'm deeply grateful.

30 October 2012

What Happened to the Homemade Residency?

As you may remember from last week, I had an epiphany about my art making and realized that I work from ideas rather than working intuitively, which brought my week of experimentation to a screeching halt. So I've been doing other things (freelance work, house work, storm preparation) while waiting for an idea to gel in my mind.

I've also ordered a couple of books, and one of them arrived today. This is an older book, first published in the 1970s, that I read a long time ago and it looks like it was updated in the 1990s. I'm excited about reading it again and hopefully finding some direction for a new series of portraits.

26 October 2012

Blurb Book Sale

From now through November 5, 2012, use the code COLORS at checkout on Blurb Books for 20% off on two books or more.

22 October 2012

Finding Myself. Again.

Wow, I just can't do it. I can't sit down and make a just-for-the-fun-of-it process-oriented print. It's hugely unsatisfying for me. I want to do it, really I do. I have a printmaker friend named Joyce Silverstone who makes gorgeous abstract painterly monotypes (please go look at her site) and I so envy the sheer beauty of her work. Joyce is also a Rosen Method bodyworker and to watch her work is just as beautiful as the prints she makes. She appears to be in a meditative state as she works, and you can see that she works from her body, that she works kinesthetically. I envy that, too.

After my one week of homemade residency, during which I tried to explore mark making, tried to be loose and free, tried to work work kinesthetically, I've realized something that I actually already knew about myself: I work from my mind.

I work from my mind. Not that my work is purely mental, not that I don't use my body (just try clearing a 36 x 40 sheet of plywood with a chisel without using your body), but my work is driven by ideas. The stimulus for any work I make is always an idea, often verbal. I care a lot about process and craft, but the process and craft are in service to the idea. If I were a painter, I would pursue the same idea with paint and if I were a sculptor I would pursue it in three dimensions. The concept, the idea, is what I care about, and my chosen medium happens to be woodblock printmaking.

I knew this before, but it's suddenly clearer to me. And this seems like an important thing, to know my artistic self this way. Another thing I know is that the energy and force required to make my work come from the passion I have for the idea I'm working with -- a mind and heart combination that fires me through the process of creating the work. Any idea I work with has to have enough emotional energy behind it to carry me through the very long process required to make a print or series of prints.

I formed an idea over the weekend that I think has enough *kapow* energy to work with, so my little homemade residency is taking a turn. I'm doing some research and I think I'll be starting a new print later in the week. I'll let you know what happens. For now, it's off to the library to pick up a book by Christopher Isherwood.

I'd love to hear from any of you readers about how you make art, where creativity comes from for you, what motivates you.

18 October 2012

Homemade Artist Residency Day 4


Today was a discouraging day at the residency. In retrospect I feel like I took things too far. First I added some red to the print I made yesterday. Not bad, although there was something about the simplicity of the piece before the red that was awfully nice. I kept two impressions just like this.

Then I tried an experiment with the other four impressions to see if I could add intaglio linework just using a piece of wood and a baren. Not very pretty, although it is intaglio.


Disappointing, but I can't learn new things without trying new things, so there you go. Today's residency is over, tonight I'll be working on some client work, and tomorrow I'll face a fresh piece of wood.

17 October 2012

Homemade Artist Residency Day 3


Today's self-designed stay-at-home artist residency was a half day affair. I managed two layers of color (6 sheets of paper) and was delighted that several of the prints showed some nice wood grain. I'll add more details tomorrow.

This image is straight out of this morning's newspaper, based on a news photo about the Exserohilum rostratum fungus that has sickened over 100 people in the current fungal meningitis outbreak.

16 October 2012

Homemade Artist Residency Day 2

Early this morning I added a little bit of yellow to the "stones." I left two of the six prints just like this, because I liked it.


Then I stopped and went to an appointment with my doctor, came back and did this to four of the prints.


I think I'll call it "biology."

Just a note/reminder: my intention is not to make great art here. My intention is to play and enjoy and be with whatever I'm experiencing. This is a sketch of how I felt about my visit to my doctor's office.

15 October 2012

A Stay-At-Home Artist Residency


It's been a while since I've made a woodblock print; the last one was in August, I think. With three shows currently hanging and a couple of trips to visit those galleries, life has been busy with some of the more business-type activities that make up the life of an artist. The Loaded series is complete for now, and I thought I had an idea for a new series, but now that I'm ready to actually turn my attention to starting some new work, I'm not sure what's next.

So today I'm beginning a self-made artist residency that I'm offering myself in the comfort of my very own home-studio. I've purchased twenty 8" x 10" pieces of shina plywood and a few different kinds of paper and and I'm going to see what happens when I let myself make some small works based on whatever is catching my attention on a given day -- not a series, maybe not even editioned, not a Big Topic, just What Is Here Now. I'm going to try to do a print a day, although that's not a hard and fast rule. And I know already that there will be a few days when other responsibilities won't allow me to work much, but I plan to do this for two or three weeks until I find a new direction.

The image above is what I did today. I made six of them. Tomorrow I might go back in and do more with it, or I might just leave it as it is. I don't know, and "I don't know" is what it's all about.

More to come…

12 October 2012

"Loaded" Video

I love this simple and sweet little video that Beth Cullom made of the Loaded catalog.

The catalog is available at Cullom Gallery if you're near Seattle, online at Blurb Books, or you can contact me if you don't like to buy online.

10 October 2012

Loaded: The Book

I'm happy to announce that the Loaded series is now available in book form on Blurb Books. Printed on thick paper with a slight gloss finish, this 38-page soft cover book showcases the entire group of money-based prints seen here on my web site. In addition to high-quality reproductions of the prints themselves, the book also includes writings from this blog plus text written especially for the book highlighting the back-stories that inform each print. Click here to go to the Blurb web site where you can see an online preview of the book and place an order if you like.

I look forward to hearing your feedback.

09 October 2012

Amherst Biennial - Hope & Feathers

The Amherst Biennial opened this past Saturday and the turnout was great. I spent the evening at Hope & Feathers, where my work is hanging along with work by Susan Montgomery, Liz Chalfin, Andrea Dezso, Louise Kohrman and others.

A short write-up on the Biennial web site describes the exhibit at Hope & Feathers. There are Biennial exhibits all around Amherst, at venues such as the Jones Library, the Frost Library, the Eric Carle Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art at UMass. You can find an online map of all the venues here on the Amherst town web site, so if you're planning to come to the Pioneer Valley for some leaf peeping, download the map and stop in for some art viewing as well.

The Biennial runs through November 30, 2012.

01 October 2012

Review of "Not the Usual Politics"

Checking my email on Sunday morning, I was thrilled to hear from a friend in Maine that the Portland Press Herald contained a review by art historian Daniel Kany of the “Not the Usual Politics” show at Rose Contemporary in Portland. Kany examined two of my works in the show, “God Blesses John Alexander and Thomas Roberts” (or as I like to call that print, “The Gay Pilgrims”) and “Pyramid” (from the Loaded series).

I'll be joining artists Adriane Herman and Dan Mills in Portland at Rose Contemporary for an artists’ talk on Saturday, October 13, from 2:00-4:00 pm.

You can read the review here.

29 September 2012

Preparations for Amherst Biennial

My latest artist task has been framing the nine Mixed Feelings prints for the Amherst Biennial, which begins next weekend. My work will be hanging at Hope and Feathers Gallery for the duration of the biennial:

Amherst Biennial, October 6 - November 30, 2012
Hope and Feathers Gallery
319 Main Street, Amherst
Hours: M-F, 10:00-6:00; Th 10:00-8:00; Sat 10:00-4:00

There will be an opening reception at Hope & Feathers (and around the city) on Saturday, October 6, from 5:00-8:00 pm.


Framing has never been my favorite part of being an artist, but I kind of enjoyed the task this past week. Maybe that's because I'm still in a transition place as far as knowing where I’m headed next in my work, so framing gave me a feeling of accomplishment even as I wait for the muse to point me in a new direction.

I finally heard the small still voice of the muse on Thursday telling me to purchase some small pieces of wood and a few sheets of new paper, so I ordered some 8" x 10" blocks of shina plywood and some Nishinouchi paper from McClain's. The supplies will be here on Friday, and by then I hope the muse will have filled me in on what we’ll be doing!

25 September 2012

Making Books, 1947

 I've been looking into what it would take to make a book from some of my woodblock prints, and today I came across this video which shows state-of-the-art bookmaking circa 1947. Amazing.

13 September 2012

Magic Eye Credit Cards

Printing a small block and talking with visitors about money and the arts.
Beth Cullom posted some nice photos she took at the LOADED show opening on Facebook that I’m re-posting here on the blog. It was a really fun weekend.

Beth and I thought a printing demonstration would be a good idea for one of the days I was at Cullom Gallery. I considered screen printing some Cash for the Crash as I had done in the spring at A.P.E. in Northampton, but the screens I made were too bulky to take across the country on an airplane. I decided to work up something that would be easy to print (one color) and easy to carry, and I remembered that when I was doing research for the Pyramid print I stumbled upon an article in Wired magazine about a formula that reportedly “caused” the 2007 crash. It was a mathematical formula developed by a man named David Li that supposedly quantifies risk and, since risk is something that investors love as long as it's manageable, Li’s formula was used with abandon on Wall Street.

Julia was very good at printing credit cards
Magic Eye credit cards
Frankly, I barely understand the article or the formula, but you can check out the article here if you want to tackle it. I decided that the formula seemed to go well with the eye of the pyramid, and when Lynn walked into my studio as I was playing around with the image and said “that looks like a credit card” I knew that was what I should make.

I even had some paper for it. The first time I went to Japan, my 2003 trip to Tohoku, we visited a paper maker near Sendai, where I bought a package of 100 business-card-sized sheets of thick hand made washi. I thought I would make business cards for myself, but I never used it. So I decided to use this paper to make these credit cards. Magic Eye Credit Cards. I printed and gave these away on Saturday night at the gallery.

Lest you think that all this workaholic did in Seattle was work, here’s one more photo from my trip. Being a map person, I love being up above things a bit so I can get my bearings and see the big picture. When I saw this huge ferris wheel down on the waterfront I couldn't resist getting in line with all the tourists to get a look. I ended up having a car all to myself and I enjoyed the view of Puget Sound a whole lot.

Someday I want to go back to Seattle and have water adventures.

12 September 2012

Demo Video from Seattle

I’ve just returned from Seattle where I went for the opening of my show, LOADED, at Cullom Gallery. It was a great four days, and I was thrilled to see so many virtual friends who I had never before met in person! Thank you all so much for coming. I had a wonderful experience both at the gallery and in the city of Seattle herself. Such a beautiful city. Here’s a short video that a gallery visitor took on Saturday night as I printed some “credit cards” that I gave to people in attendance.

Thanks, Seattle, and thanks Beth Cullom for such a nice visit. The show is up through October 27, so I hope you’ll stop by the gallery if you’re in Seattle. Hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 12:00 to 6:00 pm.

04 September 2012

"Loaded" at Cullom Gallery, Seattle

Please join me this week in Seattle for my solo show, LOADED, at Cullom Gallery. I'll be at the gallery for the opening on Thursday, September 6, 2012, and again on Saturday the 8th for a demonstration and discussion. Here are the specifics:

Annie Bissett: LOADED
the magic, the promise, the curse and the language of money
September 6 - October 27, 2012

Reception with the artist: September 6, 6:00-8:00 pm

Money Talks: interactive printing demonstration and open discussion about making money as an artist. Saturday, September 8, 5:00 pm

Gallery hours: Wednesday - Saturday, 12:00 to 6:00 pm

You can read the Cullom Gallery description of the show and the work here on the gallery newsletter.

26 August 2012

Mixed Feelings - The Grammar of Money

"Mixed Feelings" - Click image for larger view

Here are all nine of the “Mixed Feelings” prints. I can't wait to see them all together on the wall at Cullom Gallery next month for the opening of my solo show there. The week before last, in advance of that show, I brought the prints to my friend Stephen Petegorsky to have photos taken. In addition to his own fine art photography, Stephen is known for his work photographing art for area museums and artists, and he provides beautiful, well-lit, high resolution digital images that can satisfy any need that comes up -- gallery show materials, web site use, etc. Although it can be pricey to have artwork professionally photographed, I find it to be well worth the money.

I've often used words in my art, even before this “Loaded” series. But in working with the topic of money, I realized that words and money have some things in common. Both are vehicles for moving inner mental pictures from the realm of dream/idea to objective reality. And both are things we take for granted, that we use on a daily basis, and that we often don't examine closely.
Words matter. How we phrase things reveals much about our inner state and our beliefs. As I looked at some of our cliches about money, I was stunned to find them so full of ambiguity and almost a kind of anguish. We love money, we hate money. Money is cool like water, money is hot like fire. Money is precious, money is dirty. In these overused phrases we can see our values and beliefs about money, wealth, and poverty. These are our stated beliefs -- we state them every day, with barely any thought. Are these really the beliefs we want to have?

10 August 2012

Mixed Feelings #9: For What


Japanese-method woodblock (moku hanga) with transfer drawing
Image size: 10.25" x 17" (26 x 43 cm)
Paper size: 12.5" x 19" (63.5 x 98 cm)
Paper: Shikoku White
Edition: 12

Here's the last print in the "Mixed Feelings" group, and also the last print in the whole Loaded series about money. It was fitting and poignant for me that my last act in making this print was to trace my beloved father's handwriting: to reproduce the word love just as he wrote it in a letter he sent me 35 years ago.

My dad always told me that the way to be successful in my work life was to "work the system." That's what worked for him, and the system supported him well, from the GI Bill to a life of state-level public service that left him with a nice pension for his retirement. But I've always been self-employed or half-employed, too much outside of the system to "work it." And at this point is there even a system left to work?

The topic of this series has put me face to face with the consequences of my own decisions about work -- my decision to stop putting energy into my career as a commercial artist and to devote myself to fine art. The economic consequences of this have been huge for me. Maybe I'll write more about that later, but suffice it to say that I now earn about 15% of what I was able to earn as a commercial artist.

On the other hand, I'm about 90% happier.

I think it's something of an artificial choice, this love or money question. The two aren't necessarily related -- you love what you love whether you're rich or poor. Love is air, and money is water. But there's a surface tension between the two. You can HAVE what you love a lot easier if you're rich than if you're poor. I have the freedom to choose a life where I earn 15% of what I used to earn because I had 20 years of earning so much more. Lynn & I chose to sock that money away, pay down all our debt, and downsize our lives, which allows me to now choose to be a full-time artist.

During the 13 months I've worked on the Loaded series I've doubled down on that commitment to myself. But I've swallowed hard in doing so. Gone are any illusions that I can get rich this way.

Thank you for following the progress of this work.

with love,

06 August 2012

Mixed Feelings #8: Fork It

Mixed Feelings #8: Fork It

Japanese-method woodblock (moku hanga) with transfer drawing
Image size: 10.25" x 17" (26 x 43 cm)
Paper size: 12.5" x 19" (63.5 x 98 cm)
Paper: Shikoku White
Edition: 10

This is the eighth in a nine-print series examining figures of speech about money that use the same metaphor for both wealth and poverty.

Sometimes it's fun to visually remember that I work with a Japanese method of printmaking. When I thought of raking, I thought of the lovely raked gravel temple gardens I saw in Kyoto at the Mokuhanga Conference last summer.

Raked garden at Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto

Rakes and forks both have prongs that grab things. The prongs on forks (including pitch forks) are called tines. The prongs on rakes are called teeth. English is a funny language.

01 August 2012

Ukiyo-e Heroes Kickstarter

Happy August! An announcement in my daily Baren Forum Digest tells me that a Kickstarter* opened this morning for a new collaborative project between American illustrator Jed Henry and Tokyo-based woodblock printmaker David Bull called “Ukiyo-e Heroes.” The series re-contextualizes video game characters into the old Ukiyo-e style. The digital designs have been completed -- this kickstarter seeks to finance the production of actual woodblock prints in Dave's Tokyo studio.

Here's the link if you want to get in on it.

(*Kickstarter is a web site that allows artists and others to raise funds for their projects.)

19 July 2012

Mixed Feelings #7 - Paper


Japanese-method woodblock (moku hanga) with transfer drawing
Image size: 10.25" x 17" (26 x 43 cm)
Paper size: 12.5" x 19" (63.5 x 98 cm)
Paper: Shikoku White
Edition: 10

Printmakers and money go together like peanut butter and jelly
This pair of cliches about money reveals the dilemma we face in using printed money. It's just paper. Really special paper, made of cotton and linen and colored fiber inclusions, but still just paper. Its value comes from us, from our minds and hearts, not from the paper and not from the ink. I suspect that a lot of printmakers and artists who work on paper will recognize this conundrum.

The words in black are modeled on my father's handwriting.

16 July 2012

Mixed Feelings #6 - Hands


Japanese-method woodblock (moku hanga) with transfer drawing
Image size: 10.25" x 17" (26 x 43 cm)
Paper size: 12.5" x 19" (63.5 x 98 cm)
Paper: Shikoku White
Edition: 10

When I was a child my mom told me never to put my hands in my mouth after touching money. She said money is dirty because so many people have touched it.

This is the sixth print in a series examining figures of speech about money that use the same metaphor for both wealth and poverty. The words in black are modeled on my father's handwriting.

09 July 2012

Mixed Feelings #5 - Piles


Japanese-method woodblock (moku hanga) with transfer drawing
Image size: 10.25" x 17" (26 x 43 cm)
Paper size: 12.5" x 19" (63.5 x 98 cm)
Paper: Shikoku White
Edition: 10

This is the fifth print in a series examining figures of speech about money that use the same metaphor for both wealth and poverty. The "pile" in this image is based on a photograph of a pile of dried cow dung. The words in black are modeled on my father's handwriting.

Four more to go in this little series of works.

02 July 2012

Show at Ferrin Gallery

If you find yourself in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts over the July 4 holiday, stop in at Ferrin Gallery in Pittsfield on July 6 from 6 to 8 pm for the opening of the latest installment of “Zea Mays Printmaking at Ferrin.” Nanny Vonnegut (image on right) and I share a wall with her monotypes and my Loaded series woodblock prints. You can also see the amazing and beautiful COVET show while you're there.

12 June 2012

Mixed Feelings #4 - Burn


Japanese-method woodblock (moku hanga) with transfer drawing
Image size: 10.25" x 17" (26 x 43 cm)
Paper size: 12.5" x 19" (63.5 x 98 cm)
Paper: Shikoku White Edition: 10

If you listen to how we speak, it's clear that money is hot stuff. This is the fourth print in a series that examines cliches we have about money that use the same metaphor for both wealth and poverty.

09 June 2012

Canada, Massachusetts

I like Canada. And I like art, so I was prepared to like the Mass MoCA show, Oh, Canada when I went yesterday. And I did like the show, although I found it a bit disjointed. I guess disjointed is what happens when you mount a show that's supposed to exemplify the current state of a whole country's worth of art and artists. But the show is playful, funny, and ironic and with painting, sculpture, installation, performance, video and photography represented, there's something for everyone.

Of the 60+ artists represented, I had previously encountered only two. I knew the awesome work of Ruth Cuthand because someone wrote to me on my blog about her when I did a print about the role of small pox in the early settlement of North America. Cuthand has a series using beadwork to represent pathogens and four of these pieces were included in Oh, Canada. I also knew of Marcel Dzama as an illustrator, although I don't think he does much commercial work at this point. In the late 1990s I had heard about his use of root beer as a pigment, which is how his name became indelible in my mind. His piece in the Oh, Canada show is a video, which I didn't spend enough time with to speak intelligently about.

Anyhow, I'm an artist not a critic, so I'll just show you some photos of pieces that interested me. The show is definitely worth seeing

A large felted flower-covered bear by Janice Wright Cheney greets everyone at the door. I assume the bear is female, because she's called "Widow," and her claws are HUGE.

Cool lighted spinning bottles by Diane Landry. They make a great sound as they spin.

Stitched Japanese paper (washi) by Luanne Martineau is quiet and elegant. And I love washi.

More objects made of felt. This little tent-room was built by Amalie Atkins. You could go inside and watch a movie.

Amalie Atkins's movie, "Three Minute Miracle: Tracking the Wolf," was sweet magical realism with fairly high production values and interesting music. The wife and I liked it.

There were plenty of animals. I liked this fabric and porcelain wild boar by David Harper.

Graeme Patterson's mountain diorama was intriguing. Inside was an artist's studio with a tiny version of the mountain included, plus lots of little videos and furniture and all kinds of stuff.

There were many small alcoves and rooms where you could view videos and other kinds of installations. This video by Charles Stankievech was gorgeous. It had something to do with the U.S. military but I can't remember exactly.

This two-part life-size diorama by Kent Monkman looks at the relationship between Tonto and the Lone Ranger. In this half of the diorama, the lone ranger character wears an apron and appears to have slit his wrists. In the other half, the native American character wears the apron, although the lone ranger character appears dead in that scene as well. A sign above them reads "The love that dare not speak its name" which is Oscar Wilde's phrase for homosexuality. A video in the "window" behind them plays out a kind of "Brokeback Mountain" scene.

There's another similarly themed installation that celebrates young men in wild and natural settings upstairs. It's NSFW, so I won't post a picture, but you can catch a glimpse of it in this review of the show. (Lots more photos of the show on that page.) The review points out something that I noticed at the show, too, which is that there's little if any educational material presented, either about the individual artists or about contemporary art in Canada -- a missed opportunity by Mass MoCA.

01 June 2012

Mixed Feelings #3: Drowning


Japanese-method woodblock (moku hanga) with transfer drawing
Image size: 10.25" x 17" (26 x 43 cm)
Paper size: 12.5" x 19" (63.5 x 98 cm)
Paper: Shikoku White
Edition: 10

Rich or poor, we're all wet. This print is the third in a series that examines cliches we have about money that use the same metaphor for both wealth and poverty.

The print was made with two blocks of wood. I first used an uncarved block to lay down a couple of layers of blue, then I carved the mountain forms on another block and printed that in a blueish gray. I returned to the uncarved block and added the words "Swimming in cash" and printed that block on top of all of it with another blue-gray tone.

30 May 2012

Neil Gaiman On How to Be an Artist

Neil Gaiman, author of the Sandman series of comics, offered this graduation address to the 2012 class of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. It's full of great tips on living and working as an artist. My personal favorites: "Make good art" and "Pretend you're someone who can do it." Enjoy!

15 May 2012

Shin Jidai Opens This Week in Minneapolis

My woodblock print American Bible Story was juried in to "Shin Jidai: Contemporary Japanese Book and Paper Arts," an exhibition that opens this week at Minnesota Center for Book Arts. The show includes works from over 50 artists and highlights traditional Japanese arts such as moku hanga, origami, kiri-e (paper cutting), and more.

The exhibition kicks off with the Harukaze Festival of Japanese Book and Paper Arts, a day of demonstrations and activities on Saturday May 19 from 10:00-4:00.

Shin Jidai: Contemporary Japanese Book and Paper Arts
May 19 – July 15, 2012
MCBA Star Tribune Foundation Gallery
Minnesota Center for Book Arts
1011 Washington Ave S, First Floor
Minneapolis, MN

14 May 2012

Talking About Money


My mother taught me that there are four things you shouldn't talk about: money, religion, sex and politics. I've hit all those taboos at one time or another, on this blog and in my work. Lately, since I started working on the Loaded series, the big topic has been money.

My proposal for the A.P.E. Gallery show that opened last week was to show my large prints and also to print some money the night of the reception. I decided that in addition to printing the money I also wanted to talk with people about how much was reasonable to charge for a 17-note packet of printed currency. I wrote up a list of all the money I had spent out of pocket ($678.23) and how many hours I had spent (98) to produce a total of 60 packets of money and asked for people's opinions.

Here are some sample responses.

On this blog, a commenter named Curt gave me a formula to use that even included the gallery's 25% take:
If you want to make an hourly rate R and assume you'll sell all of the bundles in a short amount of time, then the math is simple for determining the price P: costs = expenses, i.e.

98*R + 678 = (60*P)*0.75

Thus for rates of 0, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 per hour, you'll want to get 15.07 36.84, 58.62, 80.40, 102.18, 123.96, 145.73 or 167.51 for each bundle
I thought $20/hr was more than reasonable, but that would mean charging almost $60 per packet. My original thought had been that the packets should cost closer to $1 per note, more like $20 or $25 per packet, so this was disappointing.

Ready to start the demo

My Facebook friends had varying opinions. Several said $60 to $100 was reasonable for art. Everyone agreed that it was practically impossible to determine how much a hypothetical buyer would be willing to pay.

Back on this blog, Tibi noted the educational value of revealing the artist's costs. I definitely had that as one of my goals. Diana suggested a sort of sliding scale. I liked that idea, so I decided to use that at the gallery on Friday night.

Talking about the big prints
I set the money packet price at $35, giving myself about $9 per hour, but asked people to consider all the factors I had laid out, including the gallery take of 25%, if they purchased a packet of bills.

Here are some things people said at the gallery:
$35! That's steep!
If you're going where I think you're going with this, I hope these aren't for sale! I mean, this art is anti-money... please tell me it's not for sale!
I'll take a packet for $60.
You could make more money babysitting.
That's expensive!

 It was an interesting night. I printed about 100 Jubilee notes and gave them away to people.

First I printed a background color with woodblock

Then I printed the linework and text with silk screen

People really liked the concept of Jubilee and debt forgiveness. Most people saw the Jubilee note as something they could use to get out of debt. Nobody that I know of spoke of using the notes the other way around, to forgive people who owed them money.

This gallery visitor offered to help me cut up the Jubilee notes. I did not pay her.

Public printing is not quite as hard as public speaking, but close.

Had a nice conversation with this young visitor and her mom.

[all photos by Lynn Koerbel]