27 March 2012

Reception in Maine

Northern New England friends, I'm planning to attend the artist's reception for the Print/Counter-Print exhibit in Portland, Maine, this Saturday and I'd love to meet you there! Here are the details:

Saturday, March 31, 3:00 - 5:00 pm
Rose Contemporary Fine Art Gallery
492 Congress Street
Portland, ME

Also, note that the exhibit has been extended until April 14, 2012.

23 March 2012

Making Money


I've spent most of this week working on drawings for a new currency that I'm designing to go with my series of woodcuts about money. I'm not finished yet, but it's evolving into a paper currency without numerals. Instead of numbers its denominations (units the currency is issued in) are more like the “suits” in playing cards -- earth, air, fire and water. I'll need to print a lot of these, so I'm planning to use silk screen rather than woodcuts. I'll create just one master drawing for each of the bills, then scan the drawings and duplicate them in Photoshop to create files with 6 bills ganged up to shoot for each screen. I'll show you once I have them laid out and I'm ready to order the screens.

Then, while I'm waiting for the screens to be made, I'll return to the “Mixed Feelings” prints that I started earlier this month.

15 March 2012

Mixed Feelings #1: Dirt


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 print is the first in a series that examines cliches we have about money that use the same metaphor for both wealth and poverty. Here we have sayings that compare both great wealth and abject poverty to dirt and filth. Does this mean that we see money itself as unclean?

The print was made with two blocks of wood, one uncarved for applying the dirty texture and one carved with the "Filthy Rich" text and printed with brown:


The "dirt poor" handwriting (modeled on my father's handwriting) was done with a technique known as transfer drawing. First I printed out the handwriting on laser paper. Then I inked the back:


I placed the inked handwriting template on top of the woodblock print and used the top of a pen to trace the handwriting, transferring the ink onto the print.


I expect that there will be 8 more prints in this series.

14 March 2012

Poor People I Have Known and Loved

Economics is a mental topic. Money, which is just pieces of paper or metal or electronic bits in a computer, is imaginary in some respects. It's valuable because we think it is. It's a tool of the mind, a vehicle for making our dreams and imaginings come true.

I like the mind, and much of my artwork is idea-driven, but I need a good amount heart energy, too, to connect me with the work. So I decided that in order to do these next prints, which examine cliches that use the same imagery for both wealth and poverty, I needed to find an emotional point of entry. And there's nothing like family to pluck the heart strings.

My father, Harry Bissett, came from an impoverished family living in a paper mill town in northern New Hampshire. He was born in 1924, the 9th of 10 children. I remember he used to tell me stories of picking rags or blueberries to earn a little money, and of getting an orange once a year in his Christmas stocking. He barely made it through school (his teachers thought he might have been a little "retarded"), and he was an accident-prone child -- he fell out of a tree and shattered his arm, stepped on a nest of yellow jackets and received hundreds of stings, stepped in a pan of hot grease and scalded his foot. When he joined the army in 1942 and was shipped to North Africa and Europe for WWII, his mother sold all his belongings because she was sure he'd never make it back.

He did make it back, and he never spoke badly of his time in the army. The army gave him his first pair of glasses, which cured his low IQ score as well as his proclivity for accidents. And the army gave him a college education. He became a social worker because he wanted to give back some of what he had received.

My father ended up working with at-risk youth for the state of New York and he used to travel around the state from time to time. I still have the letters he wrote to me from his business trips while I was in college. I scanned a couple of pages of his handwriting and recombined the letters to form the words I'll be using to illustrate the cliches of poverty. My dad died in 2000, but he's very present to me this week as I manipulate his handwriting for these prints.

04 March 2012

Money Talks and So Do Words

From a Google Images search of the word “money”
I've decided to take a break from the large scale prints that have made up the “Loaded” series so far and create some smaller works, still on the topic of money. The topic continues to intrigue me, but it also perplexes me and I've found it challenging to work with.

Part of the challenge lies in the fact that money is so deeply embedded in our culture, in our ideas about life, in our daily existence. As we've seen so clearly in the past few years, our global economic system is the strongest driving force on the planet. When it crashes, we all go down. And in many ways, the global economy is now what binds us together as human beings. Economic theories are the most universally held values in the world, business is our common arena, and transactions are our common language. Money is the water we swim in. We love money, we hate money, we want money, we structure our lives around getting money, we make our personal decisions based on how much money we can access at any given time. We need money. None of this is necessarily bad, but because we have internalized these ideas of ownership, property, credit, value, etc. so deeply we take them as true without examination. As I've worked on these prints, I've found it challenging work to uncover and deconstruct my own attitudes and ideas and conflicts about money and use them as grist for the art-making mill.

In my work as a commercial artist, when I'm assigned a new topic to illustrate I often begin with a search on Google Images. What that search will reveal are the cliches about a topic. For example, if you type in the word “idea,” Google will serve you up a page of light bulb drawings. When creating an illustration for a magazine or newspaper, you don't want to illustrate the cliche (unless you want it to look like clip art), but if you reference a cliche and then put a twist on it you often get a successful image that people will immediately recognize and feel connected with. In the same way, I thought it would be interesting to look at our cliches about money, so I started to collect words and phrases that we use in everyday language about money. That study of our language finally came into focus for me when I heard Kristi Nelson speak about money and mindfulness at the Creating a Mindful Society Conference in New York last fall. Kristi pointed out that we express our ambivalence and sometimes our true feelings about money in companion phrases such as “filthy rich; dirt poor,” where we use the same metaphor to describe both ends of the economic spectrum. This spark from Kristi was all I needed to develop this next group of prints.

So that's the scenario. These smaller prints will be 12" x 19" and will portray 8 or 9 of these companion phrases, cliches we have about money that use the same metaphor for both wealth and poverty. I'm looking forward to getting started on them this week.