20 December 2014

Political Art

Ty the Yellow Lab ponders where to put this box.

Yesterday afternoon the pieces from my NSA series that didn't sell (and yes, a bunch of them sold!) came back to me from Charles Krause Reporting Gallery, reminding me that I need to figure out how to store all the framing supplies that keep multiplying in my basement. My basement being damp, it's not an ideal place to store anything except the plexi and glass, but the living space in my house is only 1240 square feet, so I'm hard pressed just to store my prints, much less framing supplies. Fellow artists, your storage suggestions are welcome.

The return of the NSA work also reminded me that I've intended to blog some of my thoughts on political art. Charles Krause Gallery focuses on political art and, as my regular readers know, so do I. I don't often articulate why that's my focus, though. I'm not even sure if I know -- it feels more like a calling than a choice. But I'd like to make an attempt to define and articulate more clearly why it is that I'm drawn to socio-political work, what makes art political, and what constitutes 'good' political art. I'll blog about this occasionally in the new year, and I welcome your thoughts.

Today, an interview with artist Mark Bradford flickered across my computer screen and I enjoyed some of his words about socio-political work. He sounds a bit like me when he says "My art, I never could completely separate it from the social. I could never just have a hermetic studio life. It’s just part of me. I’ve always been so curious of everything that’s happening—social anthropology, social history.” Also like me, he does a lot of reading when he gets interested in a topic. Here, he studies sea monsters for a body of work of the same name:

 “Another layer for me that I got really interested in is that we always have this thing about making the other dangerous. So I started reading these books. I read this book on sea monsters. The 16th and 17th century maps, they didn’t understand the ocean, so it was a deep, dark, mysterious place. In these books of these sea monsters, they were half dolphins and half walruses. They had names for them. They had categories. I just became so fascinated by this. I just thought: this is so cool. What they didn’t understand, they made terrifying.”

One thing that I personally gain from working with historic material is that I get to see that history does actually repeat itself. This is both reassuring and horrifying -- reassuring because it shows that the things that make us human are persistent, and we are not alone; horrifying because we seem to never learn some very basic lessons. 

Check out the interview with Mark Bradford here.

19 December 2014

Radical Faeries (1979)

CONSORT (Radical Faeries)
White line woodcut and toner transfer
Image size: 12" x 18" (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Paper size: 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm)
Paper: Mawata
Edition: 3 

The Radical Faeries movement was founded in 1979 in California by Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society, and two others. Radical Faeries was not so much a political group as a spiritual one, celebrating and exploring gayness itself as a source of wisdom and initiation. Sex-positive and often rurally based, Faerie circles incorporate elements of paganism, anarchism, environmentalism, shamanism, and indigenous spiritualities in their gatherings, which are called sanctuaries. Today, Radical Faeries embody a wide range of genders, sexual orientations, and identities, with many gatherings open to all, while some still focus on the particular spiritual experience of man-loving men.

At least for the time being, that's the full set of prints for the "Counterspells" chapter.

18 December 2014

GLAD and Lambda Legal (1973, 1978)

BUILD (GLAD, Lambda Legal)
White line woodcut
Image size: 12" x 18" (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Paper size: 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm)
Paper: Mawata
Edition: 3
GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders) and Lambda Legal are both non-profit legal rights organizations that work to end discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression. Lambda Legal, founded in 1973, has a national focus while GLAD, founded in 1978 in response to a sting operation conducted by Boston police at the Boston Public Library, centers their work in New England.

An early victory for GLAD came in 1980 when they represented Aaron Fricke, an 18-year-old student at Cumberland High School in Rhode Island, who won the right to bring a same-sex date to a high school dance. GLAD also represented the plaintiffs in the Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health case that won gay marriage rights in Massachusetts in 2003.

Lambda Legal was instrumental in the Lawrence vs. Texas case.

17 December 2014

Dignity USA and Integrity (1969, 1974)

SANCTIFY (Dignity USA, Integrity)
White line woodcut
Image size: 12" x 18" (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Paper size: 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm)
Paper: Mawata
Edition: 3

Historically, Christian churches have led the charge in the fight to deny LGBTQ civil rights, but there have been denominations (such as United Church of Christ) that have been allies, and several organizations within more hostile denominations emerged in the early years to support LGBTQ members. Dignity USA, founded by Father Pat Nidorf, began in San Diego, California, in 1969 as a "rap group" for gay and lesbian Catholics. And in the Episcopal Church, Integrity was started in 1974 by a gay man named Louie Crew, who came to San Francisco on a teaching fellowship and was looking for a way to meet other gay Episcopalians. For decades, these groups have quietly but consistently ministered to gays who do not want to leave the church even as the church struggles to accept them.

15 December 2014

PFLAG (1972)

White line woodcut
Image size: 12" x 18" (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Paper size: 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm)
Paper: Mawata
Edition: 3

Part of a series of prints based on the shape of a triangle celebrating various organizations that helped move gay rights forward in the U.S. during the later 20th century.

PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is the United States' largest organization for parents, families, friends, and allies of LGBTQ people. The group began in April 1972 when Queens schoolteacher Jeanne Manford walked alongside her gay son at the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, carrying a sign that read "Parents of Gays: Unite in Support of Our Children." So much has changed since the 1970s, it's difficult to convey how much courage and resolve Manford's simple act of marching beside her son displayed. The overwhelming response to that act led Jeanne, her husband Jules, and early pioneers of the LGBT equality movement to create a support group for members of the LGBT community, their parents, family, and friends.

The first time I encountered PFLAG was at the First National March on Washington in 1979. As we walked the route, a number of people lined the streets. I saw marchers who had stepped aside to see the size of the contingent and cheer us on, men in suits taking photographs (we assumed them to be government agents of some sort), religious counter-demonstrators holding signs condemning us to hell. And then I saw a lone woman holding a hand-made sign: "I'm proud of my gay child." Tears sprang to my eyes, and I unconsciously took a step toward her. She spotted me right away and moved toward me, and we hugged. It was a moment of healing and connection and possibility that I'll never forget.

Thank you, PFLAG, for holding us.

12 December 2014

Lavender Menace (1970)

FLAUNT (Lavender Menace)
White line woodcut
Image size: 12" x 18" (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Paper size: 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm)
Paper: Mawata
Edition: 3

Part of a series of prints based on the shape of a triangle celebrating various organizations that helped move gay rights forward in the U.S. during the later 20th century.

A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion. She is the woman who, often beginning at an extremely early age, acts in accordance with her inner compulsion to be a more complete and freer human being than her society (perhaps then, but certainly later) cares to allow her.  …on some level she has not been able to accept the limitations and oppression laid on her by the most basic role of her society -- the female role.  ~ from The Woman-Identified Woman manifesto

The Lavender Menace was formed to protest the exclusion of lesbians and lesbian issues from the feminist movement at the Second Congress to Unite Women in New York City on May 1, 1970. Many of the women involved in the protest were members of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). The phrase "Lavender Menace" was first used in 1969 by Betty Friedan, president of National Organization for Women (NOW), to describe the threat that she believed associations with lesbianism posed to the emerging women's movement. Friedan and some other straight feminists worried that stereotypes of "mannish" and "man-hating" lesbians would provide an easy way to dismiss the larger movement. After the protest, the group continued to meet, calling themselves the "Radicalesbians."

The Lavender Menace protest included distribution of a manifesto called "The Woman-Identified Woman," which is excerpted above. The manifesto posited that lesbians, by virtue of their outsider status in society and their journey of sexual self-discovery, were in fact a step closer to fully evolved personhood than heterosexual feminists who were still tied to the patriarchy.

This all happened a little before my time, but as I worked on this print I was remembering an artist/photographer named Tee Corrine who was known for portraying lesbian sexuality in her work, and especially her Cunt Coloring Book, published in 1975, which I just learned is still in print.

Those were the days.

11 December 2014

Black Lesbian Caucus (1971)

IDENTIFY (Black Lesbian Caucus)
White line woodcut
Image size: 12" x 18" (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Paper size: 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm)
Paper: Mawata
Edition: 3

This woodcut is part of a series of prints based on the shape of a triangle celebrating various organizations that helped move gay rights forward in the U.S. during the later 20th century.

The Black Lesbian Caucus grew out of the Gay Liberation Front in 1971 and is the oldest black lesbian organization in the United States. In 1974 the Caucus reformulated itself as Salsa Soul Sisters, Third World Wimmin Inc, an autonomous group of black and Latina lesbians offering its members a social and political alternative to the lesbian and gay bars, which they felt had exploited and discriminated against lesbians of color. The group identified themselves as ‘womanist’ as opposed to ‘feminist,’ using the term to include race and class-based oppression as well as gender oppression. Now called African Ancestral Lesbians United for Societal Change, the group is "committed to the spiritual, cultural, educational, economic and social empowerment of African Ancestral womyn."

03 December 2014

National Transsexual Counseling Unit (1966)

SHIFT (National Transsexual Counseling Unit)
White line woodcut
Image size: 12" x 18" (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Paper size: 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm)
Paper: Mawata
Edition: 3

This woodcut is part of a series of prints based on the shape of a triangle celebrating various organizations that helped move gay rights forward in the U.S. during the later 20th century.

Rights for transgender people have lagged behind rights for cisgender (non-transgender) homosexuals in America, but transgender people have been a part of the LGBT rights fight since the beginning.

In August, 1966, three full years before the Stonewall riots by which most people mark the rise of the gay liberation movement, a group of transgender customers gathered in a 24-hour San Francisco cafeteria called Compton's Cafeteria in the Tenderloin District. Compton's was one of few places where transgender people could congregate because crossdressing was illegal at the time and gay bars, knowing that police would use the presence of transgender people as a pretext for making a raid, were unwelcoming.

Yes, crossdressing was illegal in many places well into the 20th century. In the mid 1800s, many U.S. cities adopted laws against crossdressing, initially as an extension of laws forbidding disguises but the laws were also used as a way to surpress the early women's movement as well as the so-called "sexual deviancy" of "transvestitism." It was well into the second half of the 20th century before such laws began to be taken off the books, mostly based on their vagueness.

Anyway, on that August night in San Francisco in 1966, the patrons at Compton's became "raucous," causing management to call police. When a police officer manhandled one of the patrons, she threw coffee in his face and a riot ensued, eventually spilling out onto the street, destroying public property as well as Compton's plate glass window.

Following the Compton riots, activists established the National Transsexual Counseling Unit, the first peer-run support and advocacy organization in the world.

Counterspells: a Series of White Line Prints

The next few posts are catch-up posts in which I'll be showing you prints I completed in November 2014 for a show that's hanging here in Northampton, MA, called "I Was a 20th Century Lesbian." Because I needed to get these prints done much more quickly than my usual multi-block woodblock method would allow, I chose to do this group of works as white line woodcuts. The prints, which celebrate organizations that helped move gay rights forward in the U.S. in the late 20th century, are based on the shape of a triangle, and all eleven of them were completed using just two different matrices.

Matrices for the eleven "Counterspells" prints.
You can see in the photo above that the wood gets stained by the watercolor pigments even though I wash the block from one print to the next. You can also see that I used the bottom matrix more than I used the top one. I also occasionally used an uncarved block for background colors.

The process is painstaking. A sheet of washi (Japanese paper) is attached to one side of the block and pulled aside while pigment is applied to small areas of the block, a little bit at a time, using small watercolor brushes. Impressions are taken using the back of a wooden spoon. The prints are thus printed one at a time -- I found it took about 3 hours per print, and I made three of each design.

I've already posted about the first four prints in the series if you'd like to go back for a look:
1. ACCOMMODATE (Daughters of Bilitis)
2. MASQUERADE (Mattachine Society)
3. ACTIVATE (Gay Liberation Front)

First four "Counterspells" prints

02 December 2014

ACT UP (1987)

Photo taken through plexiglass; better photo to come...

White line woodcut and rubber stamp
Image size: 12" x 18" (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Paper size: 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm)
Paper: Mawata
In memory of David Hartwell, who died of AIDS two days before ACT UP was born.

This woodcut is part of a series of prints based on the shape of a triangle celebrating various organizations that helped move gay rights forward in the U.S. during the later 20th century.

ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) started on March 24, 1987, at a meeting at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York City, when a large group of almost 300 people agreed that things were so dire that it was time to form a group devoted to political action in response to the AIDS crisis. The group was leaderless and basically anarchist with a committee structure loosely overseen by a coordinating committee. Actions and proposals were brought to the coordinating committee and then to the floor for a vote.

From the beginning, many ACT UP members were artists and graphic designers who played to the media, including a group of six men who called themselves the Silence = Death Project. The year before ACT UP, these men wheat pasted SILENCE = DEATH posters featuring a large pink triangle on a black background in the streets. They gave this logo and slogan to ACT UP to use freely. This print is a riff on the SILENCE = DEATH slogan.

Detail view

23 November 2014

Artist's Talk in Washington DC: 11/28/14

If you're in the D.C. area over the Thanksgiving holiday, please join me for an artist's talk at Charles Krause Reporting Fine Art on Friday evening, November 28, 2014, 5:30 to 7:00 pm. I'll be talking about my 26 "Secret Codewords of the NSA," which are part of a group show there called "Lines Drawn."

07 November 2014

Gay Liberation Front (1969-1970)

ACTIVATE (Gay Liberation Front)
White line woodcut and toner transfer
Image size: 12" x 18" (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Paper size: 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm)
Paper: Mawata

This woodcut is part of a series of prints based on the shape of a triangle celebrating various organizations that helped move gay rights forward in the U.S. during the later 20th century.

The Gay Liberation Front (GLF) lasted only a few months but it was a major turning point in the approach to American gay rights and, although the GLF was short lived, it spawned many other groups. The GLF grew directly out of the Stonewall Riots in 1969 and harnessed that energy as well as taking on some of the tactics of the civil rights and peace movements. They attempted to address a broad range of social and political issues: racism, war, and capitalism and as well as attacking traditional gender roles, challenging the notion of the nuclear family, and advocating sexual liberation. As happened with Occupy Wall Street in this decade, the GLF fell apart when members were unable to agree on operating procedure.

This print was created using the same matrix used for Accommodate (DOB) and Masquerade (Mattachine).

02 November 2014

Mattachine Society (1950-1969)

MASQUERADE (Mattachine Society)
White line woodcut and toner transfer
Image size: 12" x 18" (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Paper size: 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm)
Paper: Mawata
Edition: 3 (variable)

This woodcut is part of a series of prints based on the shape of a triangle celebrating various organizations that helped move gay rights forward in the U.S. during the later 20th century.

The first 'homophile' group in the United States was the Mattachine Society, founded in 1950 in Los Angeles by Marxist political activist Harry Hay and a small group of his friends. Given the anti-homosexual and anti-communist climate in the U.S. in the 1950s, anonymity was integral to the group during its formative years. (You can see the FBI's files on Mattachine here.) The name, Mattachine, came from a French masque group called the "Société Mattachine." As Hay related to Jonathan Katz in the book Gay American History,
These societies, lifelong secret fraternities of unmarried townsmen who never performed in public unmasked, were dedicated to going out into the countryside and conducting dances and rituals during the Feast of Fools, at the Vernal Equinox. Sometimes these dance rituals, or masques, were peasant protests against oppression—with the maskers, in the people’s name, receiving the brunt of a given lord’s vicious retaliation. So we took the name Mattachine because we felt that we 1950s Gays were also a masked people, unknown and anonymous, who might become engaged in morale building and helping ourselves and others, through struggle, to move toward total redress and change.
The Society's stated goals were to bring together homosexuals isolated from their own kind; to educate society toward an ethical homosexual culture paralleling other minorities; and to assist victimized gays. Like its sister group, Daughters of Bilitis, Mattachine Society chapters were loosely affiliated under a national umbrella, but functionally autonomous, and chapters cropped up across the country. The Society struggled, as the LGBTQ community still does, with the sometimes conflicting goals of celebrating gay sexuality vs. seeking acceptance and respectability. The Society lasted in one form or another into the 1990s, but in the late 1960s they began to be seen as too traditional and not willing enough to be confrontational.

Although contemporary LGBTQ people mark Stonewall as the beginning of gay liberation, the Mattachine Society, and to a lesser degree the Daughters of Bilitis, had already been engaged for two decades in a struggle against police raids, entrapment, censorship, criminalization of sexuality, and labeling by psychiatric organizations.

I used the same matrix for this print as I used for the previous Daughters of Bilitis print.

21 October 2014

Daughters of Bilitis (1955-1968)

ACCOMMODATE (Daughters of Bilitis)
White line woodcut
Image size: 12" x 18" (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Paper size: 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm)
Paper: Mawata
Edition: 3 (variable)

This woodcut is part of a series of prints based on the shape of a triangle celebrating various organizations that helped move gay rights forward in the U.S. during the later 20th century.

Daughters of Bilitis (also called DOB) was the first lesbian social and political organization in the United States. Founded in 1955 in San Francisco by lesbian couple Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon (who were also the first couple to get married in San Francisco once same sex marriage became legal), the DOB began as a social club meant to be an alternative to lesbian bars, which were subject to frequent police raids. This may be hard to imagine today, but in 1955 it was illegal to dance with someone of the same gender in a public place.  The original eight members wanted to dance, but they also often discussed the self-hatred many lesbians suffered as a result of internalizing the society's attitudes and their desire to bring social change by providing support and education to lesbians. Within a year, the group had started a newsletter, The Ladder, which was the first nationally distributed lesbian publication in the U.S., and by 1959 there were DOB chapters in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

The Daughters of Bilitis was an assimilationist organization, advocating for women to "adopt a mode of behavior and dress acceptable to society" and urging women not to engage in butch/femme behavior. This may have been appropriate in 1955, a time characterized by police harassment and witch hunts against homosexuals and communists, but by the 1960s there were many lesbians and gays who felt that conformity was not working as a tactic and they began agitating for political activism and visibility. By 1970 the DOB had fallen apart and in 1972 The Ladder folded for lack of funds.

The print I've made to honor the Daughters of Bilitis mimics a traditional quilt pattern called the 'fairy ring.' I lightly blushed three small triangles on the right to suggest a larger triangle that easily disappears and assimilates back into the overall pattern.

20 October 2014

Back to 'God Is Our Witness'

Last year I started a series called God Is Our Witness (working title), which I envision as a four-part series of prints dealing with some of the history of the gay liberation movement in the last half of the 20th century. After finishing the first group of prints back in November, 2013, I took a break from the series. This was partly because I turned my attention in a different direction, towards Secret Codewords of the NSA which I finished in June. But it was also because I unnerved myself a little with the first Chapter of 'God Is Our Witness' (I'm calling each section a chapter). Titled "The Curse," Chapter One is a group of prints about exile and isolation. Emotional isolation was an experience I lived in for many years, now thankfully in my past, and it's been a large part of life for many LGBTQ people until very recent generations. Digging into it was painful, yet it felt like a necessary part of telling the story.

So after this long pause, I'm moving into the second Chapter, called "Counterspells," which I expect will be a celebration of some of the groups and organizations that helped move GLBT rights forward in the U.S. from the middle of the 20th century to the present day. The Chapter Opener is a somber beginning to this celebration, however.

In World War II Nazi concentration camps, a downward-pointing pink triangle was sewn on the uniforms of imprisoned gay men and other sexual offenders to identify them to the guards as well as to other prisoners. Sometime in the mid- to late-1970s, the gay community claimed the pink triangle as an international symbol of gay pride and it is still used today (although not as often as the rainbow flag). I used the faux pink fabric that I made a couple of weeks ago to make these triangles, which I sewed onto paper printed with stripes.

As I currently envision this chapter, it will consist of prints based on the shape of the triangle.

25 September 2014

Imitating Fabric

My house has been under construction for a number of weeks and, since I work in a home-based studio, my art making has been pretty severely disrupted. Today I waded back in a little bit and made some trompe l'oeil pink fabric with moku hanga and Nishinouchi washi.

The trick is to use lots of rice paste so the brush strokes show.

17 September 2014

Secret Codewords of the NSA: A Book on Blurb

As I often do when I finish a print series, I've made Secret Codewords of the NSA into a print-on-demand book available for purchase on Blurb.

Click here to see a full online preview of the book.

Click here to order the book ($27.95 plus shipping).

And click here to see all of the books I've published with Blurb.

16 September 2014

Portfolios for Secret Codewords

Shortly after my workshop at Anderson Ranch I was feeling anxious to use my newly acquired bookmaking skills, so I made portfolio cases for five full sets of Secret Codewords of the NSA. I used manila file folders for that special touch of authenticity and created string tie closures like those used on inter-office envelopes.

I printed out a label for each folder and stamped them 'classified' for a finishing touch. These full sets will sell for $2000.

14 September 2014

Sometimes I'm Married 2014

Every August (or thereabouts) on the anniversary of my legal Massachusetts marriage to my longtime partner Lynn, I update this slow reduction print series called Sometimes I'm Married (see the series here). I'm a few weeks late this year, but here's the 2014 installment. Four states have been added to the 'I am married' column: Oregon, New Mexico and Pennsylvania by court decision, Illinois by legislative vote. There are twelve states where marriage bans have been overturned but appeals are in progress, a situation which almost guarantees that higher courts will take up the issue. Supreme Court watchers believe that the court will accept a gay marriage case sooner rather than later. I could have labeled these state 'I might be married,' but with the situation so fluid right now I've decided to ignore that category, which I used in the past for states where there was no legal policy at all (neither a ban nor a legalization, and no policy on reciprocity with other states).

When I started this series in 2008 I wrote, "I plan to revisit this very gradual reduction print every year around our wedding anniversary until all the states are one color. Then we can frame the series and hang it on our nursing home wall." How wrong I was! This map will likely be all one color well before Lynn and I reach the nursing home, perhaps as soon as next year! Stay tuned.

02 September 2014

20th Century Japanese Prints in Denver, CO

A Spring by Koshiro Onchi
September 21, 2014, is the closing date for an exhibition of seventy 20th century Japanese prints called At the Mirror at Denver Art Museum. This article by Ronald Otsuka, curator of Asian art, points out the split that still somewhat persists between the shin hanga (new prints in the old style) and sosaku hanga ('creative' prints) movements in 20th century Japanese woodblock printing. The article also discusses the technical perfection of traditional style Japanese woodblock prints, suggesting that this perfection is a drawback in Japanese art.

I don't know if it's a drawback in Japanese art, but the technical perfection of the Japanese woodblock masters can certainly be a stumbling block for contemporary artists who are trying to work with the Japanese method. Unfortunately, that type of perfection is what many people think of when you say "Japanese woodblock," so it's often the silent standard in a viewer's mind. And in an artist's mind, how can one do a bokashi and not think of (and compare oneself to) the Ukiyo-e masters? Making a bokashi connects you to Japanese art; using washi connects you to Japanese art. The carving tools, the brushes, the process itself connect you to Japanese art. There's a challenge, and a bit of humor, in making contemporary American art using a traditional Japanese art form. For myself, I try to take the support of the beauty and elegance and history of the method without letting go of my own voice and identity, which places me firmly in the tradition of the 20th century sosaku hanga artists.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to see this show, but if you go and would like to share your reaction I'd love to hear about it (or publish it on this blog).

21 August 2014

View of Fuji from Mt. Holyoke

View of Fuji from Mt. Holyoke after a Thunderstorm (after Thomas Cole)
White line woodcut on Rives heavyweight

I wanted to try one more white line print before I teach a workshop at Zea Mays in October, and this time I wanted to try something a little more moody, since I was previously disconcerted by the relative brightness (and happy tone) of my white line experiments. If you've ever seen Thomas Cole's "View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow," then you'll know what I mean by moody.

My white line print certainly can't compare to Cole's painting, either in mood or in skill. But it's a view of the same scene (the Oxbow of the Connecticut River at Northampton, Massachusetts) and it perfectly encapsulates my feelings of longing to go to Japan next month for the Second International Mokuhanga Conference. Alas, I can't go, so I will pretend that I can see Mt. Fuji from Mt. Holyoke when I look westward.

On a technical note, I carved this print on birch plywood instead of shina. I'm not fond of carving birch ply – it chips more than shina and the glue is hard on tools – but the grain was fun to work with.

I sent a jpeg of this print to my friend Mariko who lives in the Tokyo area thinking that she would appreciate the sentiment. She did appreciate the sentiment, but I was amused when her feedback included the word 'akarui,' which can be translated as 'bright' or 'cheerful.' I guess white line prints look cheerful in any language.

11 August 2014

Report: Karen Kunc Workshop at Anderson Ranch

Anderson Ranch: view from the porch of the print shop building
I've just returned from a week-long workshop at beautiful Anderson Ranch Arts Center in Snowmass, Colorado, where I took a workshop with Karen Kunc, an artist, printmaker and Cather Professor of Art at University of Nebraska - Lincoln. It's hard to say a thing like this after only a few days, but I'll say it anyway: I think this workshop was a life-changing experience for me.

The workshop, titled "From Text and Image Into Book," had a two-part design. For the first couple of days, Karen introduced a number of low-tech and simple methods of generating printed works that could be made into book pages later in the week. We did woodcuts, collagraphs, monoprints, paper litho, and pressure prints and used stencils, rubber stamps, typesetting and pochoir to print. It was fun, but for me it was also stressful because I've worked almost exclusively with moku hanga (Japanese style woodblock) for most of my career. The methods Karen introduced us to were all new to me: using a press (instead of hand printing with a baren), working with litho inks and Akua intaglio inks (instead of water-borne pigments), printing intaglio -- all of these materials and processes were new to me, so I was on a steep learning curve all week. Even doing woodcut felt unfamiliar, as the wood we used was a thin birch ply with shellac on it and it felt entirely different under my chisels than the shina I usually use. Below is the 8 x 30 inch woodcut I did, a very stylized series of images from the JFK shooting in 1963, that I planned to make an accordion book with. It was all done with oil-based litho ink on a press, so I was way out of my element.

I also generated twenty 6 x 6 inch squares using a combination of woodprint, stencil pochoir, cardboard printing, letterpress and rubber stamp for another book. Here are a couple of those pages:

The next days were devoted to learning some basic book binding techniques. Over the course of three days Karen showed us how to do a basic accordion book, an accordion form called leporello, a bradle binding, and a couple of different sewn bindings. We learned to cover chip board with book cloth or other papers, learned to use an awl and PVA glue, how to wrap corners, how to attach pages to each other, how to make a spine. Again, these were all new techniques for me so there was a certain amount of stress, but I was absolutely thrilled with the results. I made two accordion books, one called 1963 and one called Beloved. They're very imperfect and I don't care! Here are photos.
So how was this workshop life changing? I think because I stretched so hard. I got through a whole bunch of hurdles and fears. I had been afraid of taking my prints apart, afraid of folding them, afraid of messing things up with glue, afraid to try book making because it looked so complicated, afraid of oil based ink and printing presses, nervous to experiment and try new things on my own. Karen gave so much permission to just play, to fool around, to try things. We had SO much paper and so much time and so much support among the nine artists in the workshop -- one just couldn't help but be swept up in the spirit of play and discovery. I feel like I've come home with a huge new toolkit for making things and a whole new attitude towards balancing work and play.

Sample books that Karen brought

If you ever get a chance to go to Anderson Ranch (I got a scholarship from Boston Printmakers, who give one out every year), do it! It's a gorgeous place and the classes are top notch. And if you ever get a chance to study with Karen Kunc, do it! She's a great teacher. In fact, she just opened a studio called Constellation Studios in Lincoln, Nebraska, where she teaches classes and offers opportunities for residencies. Take a look at the web site.

On our last night together, Karen took us all on a hike in the nearby mountains. We had bonded pretty strongly and it was a sweet ending to an amazing week.

31 July 2014

"White Line" Prints by Toshi Yoshida

I just discovered that Toshi Yoshida, who wrote the book Japanese Printmaking that I reviewed in the last post, did a series of prints that he referred to as 'white line' prints in the 1960s. Although he was inspired by the Provincetown white line method, Toshi Yoshida's white line prints were actually multi-block facsimiles of Provincetown prints.

An article about Yoshida's white line series on the Hanga Gallery web site says "The traditional method of creating a white line print uses a single carved matrix block, which is hand-painted with multiple colors inside each of the outlined sections… Toshi's white line prints imitated the style of the earlier Provincetown prints, but they were printed using multiple blocks in large, unlimited editions."

The web page from a 2013 show of Toshi Yoshida's white line prints at Worcester Art Museum (Massachusetts) explains that some of the white lines were actually embossed using un-inked keyblocks.

Even though these aren't white line prints in the strict sense, I feel inspired by them in my pursuit of white line nirvana.

29 July 2014

Book Review: Japanese Printmaking

Japanese Print Making: A Handbook of Traditional and Modern Techniques by Toshi Yoshida and Rei Yuki; published by Tuttle Publishing, 1966.

This wonderful book is out of print, but happily I just received a copy from my friend Paul Ritscher, a California based wood engraver, book maker, and letterpress printer. The link above connects to Amazon, where you'll find copies starting at about $125, or you can use WorldCat to search for a library copy near you. I recently spoke with someone from Tuttle Publishing about re-issuing this book (I told them I know where they can find quite a few buyers!), but sadly they weren't interested.

There are plenty of books in English about Japanese prints, especially ukiyo-e prints, but books in English about Japanese woodblock techniques are few and far between. This book comes from a period in the first decades after World War II when Japanese prints became so popular that even books about techniques could find a readership. I love it not only because it's full of descriptions of advanced techniques, but also because it contains contributions from some of my favorite 20th century Japanese printmakers: Umetaro Azechi, Un'ichi Hiratsuka, and Kiyoshi Saito.

The book is divided into two sections, the first being an overview of ukiyo-e techniques and the second detailing 20th century developments. The ukiyo-e section, while it covers some material that is easily found elsewhere, is not a historical survey but a step-by-step description of how a Japanese woodblock print is made, from getting the design onto the blocks to carving and care of tools to all the details of printing, including discussion of pigments, brushes, the traditional baren, and basic techniques like bokashi.

Part two, "Modern Prints," begins with a brief history of the modern print movement in Japan and color plate illustrations of a dozen or so practitioners. The rest of the book discusses the various ways that these artists expanded the materials and techniques of Japanese woodblock printing, with discussions of various woods, pigment types, and papers followed by well-illustrated examples of artistic effects and techniques. These are too numerous to recount, but they include printed wood grain effects, baren effects, effects caused by different paper absorption, and various overprinting techniques. If you're an artist working with moku hanga, this section of the book is a treasure trove of information that could transform your practice (as I'm hoping it will transform mine). The last chapter in this section is a fascinating account by each of the artists whose work is illustrated in the color plates, detailing how they employed the various techniques in the book.

There's an appendix at the end with a chart called "Guide to the Beginner" which is presented as a kind of curriculum for learning moku hanga. I was amused to see that the very last entry in the chart is "changing of the ategawa," which means "baren re-covering," a task I've yet to master.

25 July 2014

Book Review: Japanese Woodblock Prints

Japanese Woodblock Prints: Artists, Publishers and Masterworks: 1680 - 1900 by Andreas Marks; published by Tuttle Publishing

If you've done any research on Japanese woodblock prints, especially 20th century prints, you've probably come across titles from Tuttle Publishing. Tuttle was established in 1948 by Charles E. Tuttle, who served under General MacArthur’s post-war staff in Japan with the primary mission of reviving the Japanese Publishing Industry, and the company's reputation has always hinged on its specialty in books rooted in Asian culture, language, and history. It happens that two Tuttle books have come into my possession this past month, one new and one older, so I thought I'd use the next few blog posts to do a short series of book reviews.

This book, Japanese Woodblock Prints, is a relatively new book from Tuttle, published in 2012, and is a broad overview of woodblock artists and publishers in Edo (Tokyo) between 1680 and 1900. I should say up front that as a maker of woodblock prints rather than a collector of them, my knowledge of classical ukiyo-e prints is woefully lacking, and my own preferences in Japanese art lean toward the so-called sosaku (creative) prints of the mid 20th century.  I would not recommend this book for people who are already deeply involved in collecting or studying ukiyo-e prints, but for someone at my level the book is highly informative. It would also be very useful for a beginning collector who wanted help identifying ukiyo-e prints.

Like most art books, Japanese Woodblock Prints is lavishly illustrated with over 500 prints reproduced on high quality semi-gloss paper, but the distinctive thing about this book is the way it's structured. After an informative and well-researched introduction to the culture of Edo woodblock printmaking, the book is divided into two sections: Artists and Publishers. The Artists section contains chronologically ordered biographies of fifty of the most famous print designers with representative examples of their work, followed by a Publishers section that offers the histories of 49 different Edo publishers, a unique focus in this genre. This focus on publishers means the book can be a valuable guide for print identification, although it would have added to the book’s value to have printed enlargements of the publishers’ marks and seals. I appreciated seeing the artists' work presented in chronological order, as it’s interesting to see developments in both technique and style over the years, but the Publishers section could just as well have been presented alphabetically as chronologically for easier reference.

Unfortunately, the illustration captions are perfunctory (date, title, size, source). I would have appreciated some explanation from the author about how and why he selected the prints he chose, and although there’s some general information about woodblock techniques in the introduction—tan-e (orange and black designs) and urushi-e (lacquer prints) are mentioned—as a printmaker I would have enjoyed more in-depth information about techniques used by individual artists. Technique identification can also aid in dating a print, which again would have enhanced the value of the book. But overall this is a beautiful book, and the publisher section makes it stand out.

Next post I’ll take a look at an older Tuttle book that’s chock full of Japanese woodblock techniques.

21 July 2014

Power of Tea White Line Print

Here's the final version of the print I showed you in progress in the past two posts. Wow, was this fast to do! Two days, but I could have easily done it in one long day. It's pretty, I think, and as my friend Andrew said in a comment earlier it's elegant. (Although there are pin holes on the right side from my registration method.)

I tried another version using some Masa paper I had around. I found the Masa much less receptive to the pigments than the Echizen Kozo. The surface of Masa is 'harder' and the paper a bit thinner. It slipped around a little and I felt that it didn't absorb the paints as well. I think this method likes a thicker softer paper.

So here are the pros and cons for me about white line printing.

- It's a fast process. It's ideal for one-off images and would be great for client work.
- Nice emphasis on linework, and much easier to do this kind of linework than black (relief) lines.
- Even more low tech than moku hanga since you can print with a spoon or doorknob or other common object.
- You print with dry paper, so it's way less fussy than moku hanga, where you have to always be aware of moisture levels.
- Room to experiment more since the prints aren't editioned.
- One piece of wood instead of many (= cheaper)

- You have to work quickly and/or in small areas or else the paint dries before you can transfer it to the paper.
- No editioning, an issue if you like multiples.
- The lines are white. I know, duh. But white lines have a certain look — light, airy and sort of happy — that I find disconcerting.

It's funny to consider "light, airy and sort of happy" a drawback. "What's wrong with happy?" Lynn asked me when I said that. (Let it be noted that when the Sunday NY Times arrives, Lynn goes directly to the Style Section to look at wedding announcements, while I grab the front page for world news and the Obituaries.) But it's a good question she asks, what's wrong with happy, and this concern about happy certainly says more about me than about white line printmaking. I guess, given that my topics are so often socio-political in nature, I like some gravitas in the look of my prints.

I went looking for some white line prints that aren't quite so happy looking and then I remembered Edvard Munch. Munch didn't make white line prints, but he developed a ‘jig-saw’ cut woodcut in which he cut out shapes from a wood block, inked each part separately and then put them back together for printing. As in the Provincetown white line method, Munch's jigsaw method eliminated the need for a complex registration system while permitting the use of multiple colors, and as in the white line method it left a white line around the cut pieces as in the print below. Nobody can say Munch's prints look light and happy.

It's quite possible that my issues with the white lines are really just issues about trying a new thing and not being confident yet. Flexibility is not my strongest character trait, so what I know is that I need some time to keep experimenting with the white line method before I make any pronouncements about whether or not I like it.

Next on the agenda: a landscape in white line.

20 July 2014

Printing White Line

Today I've started the printing. Whoa! It's easy. It's fun. I could get used to this.

I've read of some people using tape to secure the print to the block, others using thumb tacks or push pins, and still others using some sort of jig. Sometimes white line printers attach the paper to the back side of the block and wrap it around to the front, some artists attach the paper to the side edge and fold it around to the front. I opted for thumb tacks on the front so there would only be the crease in the paper caused by folding it back for inking. I also cut a thin piece of mat board on the assumption that I would use fewer tacks that way. (This image is about 6" x 9".) Because I'm right handed, I attached the paper to the left side.

Then I mixed up some tubed watercolor and started painting the block, one small section at a time. I started with the background just because that's what I was drawn to first. (I don't think it matters where you start, but it might.) I'm using Echizen Kozo because it's a paper I know and trust and I wanted to give myself a head start. I'll test some other papers in prints to come. I tried using both a spoon and a bone folder to print. I like the bone folder because it feels better in my hand, but both do the job. I should note that I'm printing on dry paper.

 I worked in sections using standard watercolor brushes to apply the watered-down paint. This background was printed in four sections with a 1/4 inch brush, then I went back and darkened the floral areas a little bit at a time with a small brush. I did the hands one at a time, though they're too light and I'll be going back in to define them more. More to come in the next post.