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Showing posts from March, 2010

On artists who write and writers who art: Part 5

Edouard Manet, 'Portrait of Stephane Mallarme'
Since writing on the subject of Manet and Baudelaire, I've been reading an excellent biography of Manet by Beth Archer Brombert, called 'Rebel in a Frock Coat'. I learned that Manet was also friends with two other significant French writers of the second half of the nineteenth century: Emile Zola and Stephane Mallarme (I know that there are supposed to be acute accents on two of those 'e's).

The friendship with Zola was even less of a communing of souls than that with Baudelaire. Zola, too, used the controversy surrounding Manet's methods as a stick to beat his political enemies with, but when it came to responding to Manet's work, he made condescending remarks about it being all colour patches with no thought behind it. Mallarme, on the other hand, wrote sensitively about Manet's painting, and in an essay published in 1876 he also provided direct reporting of Manet's words, gleaned from many vis…

On small-town public art around the USA

Patty and I just got back from driving around the Ohio River valley in Southern Illinois, researching a travel article. We went over the river to Paducah, Kentucky, for a few hours, where I saw a series of about 15 large-scale murals painted onto the landward side of the flood walls. A lot of towns around the USA boast about the murals painted on the sides of buildings around town. Some of them are OK, some of them are extremely bad, but rarely do you find paintings of this standard. They were done by someone called Robert Dafford (plus a team of assistants), and I thought that they went beyond the usual brief of showing the history of the region. The design and colour sense, and the level of drawing, was very fine indeed. Here's another one:


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On people who read this blog around the world

Using Google Analytics, I've been able to see from which places around the world people have been reading this blog. So I'd like to say 'Hello' to people from the following countries: Canada, Australia, Turkey, Germany, Norway, India, France, South Africa, Romania, and Slovenia.

So: G'day! Guten tag! Salut! Merhaba! Goddag! Adaab! Goeie dag! Noroc! Dobry den!

If you're from any of those countries, please leave a comment on one of the posts. I would love to start a conversation about art and being an artist with you.

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On Japanese masters of Ukiyo-e prints

This week's Meditation is on ukiyo-e prints by Japanese masters:



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On Interlochen, Summer 2010, Printmaking Class

From June 28th 2010, I'm scheduled to teach a beginning printmaking class at the Interlochen Arts Academy's summer program for adults. Above is a slideshow of a similar class I taught in rural Illinois in 2009. It shows people working on their linoleum blocks, followed by some of the prints they produced. Note that no-one in the class had ever done this before, and that only a couple had had any prior art experience at all. Do you want to learn how to do this in the stunning surroundings of northern Michigan? Then go to the Interlochen page on this blog, follow the links, and sign up!

Summer classes at Interlochen
On another collagraph method
Contact monoprints

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On why I make the 'Meditations' on art

'Lovely, lovely!"
There's a funny story behind the weekly videos on art that I'm posting here and on You Tube. The reason why I call them Meditations is because for a brief period, I was contributing 200 word pieces on art to US Catholic magazine, and that was the title of the column, which was printed on the last page of the magazine. The reason I and a few other writers were sending in our Meditations on art was that the regular contributor was no longer available. That regular contributor had been good old Sister Wendy Becket, who had shuffled off this mortal coil and gone to meet her bleedin' maker, to quote the Parrot Sketch. For those who don't know who Sister Wendy was, well, she was a nun who was very popular at one time for talking gushingly about art. She was given her own series by the BBC for a while in the 1980s and 1990s. I seem to remember she would say that things were "lovely" quite a lot. Bonnard's bathroom pictures? Lovely! Rub…

On Marti Somers at Addington Gallery

"Repertoire", Mixed media on panel, 40" x 40"
The paintings of Marti Somers, currently showing at Addington Gallery, Chicago, are rich compilations of images, words, colors, and textures. Flowers, trees, and leaves share the space in each picture with animals, fragments of patterned paper, layers of thin paint over thick, glazes that partially obscure one layer and provide a new layer to work with. 
She almost always works on square panels, whether small or large. This enables her to use the format as a place to play, to move things around, to erase and redraw, to postpone the resolution of the picture until as late in the game as possible. Most often there is an appearance of small shapes dotted around the panels, brought into harmony by bands of lightly scumbled colour. The beauty of the surface stems in part from her use of encaustic, a wax-and-pigment technique that produces a bright, floating look to the painting. 
"Conversations", Mixed media on panel…

On 10 works of art that changed my life

A list of works of art that I saw in a museum or gallery (rather than on the internet or in a book) that drew me towards art or transformed my ideas about art: ‘Pieta’ (1499), by Michelangelo
‘The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian’ (1867-69) by Manet
‘La Romeria de San Isidro’ (1819-23) by Goya
‘Man with a Guitar’ (1911) by Braque
‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ (1907) by Picasso
‘Deutschlands Geisteshelden’ (1973), by Anselm Kiefer
‘The Three Crosses’ (1653), etching by Rembrandt
‘Australia’ (1951), by David Smith
‘Limehouse Basin’ (1990), by Jock McFadyen
‘Altar to the Chases High School’ (1987), by Christian Boltanski
What pictures changed your life in some way?

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On 'Altar to the Chajes High School' by Christian Boltanski

This week's Meditation is on an installation series by French artist Christian Boltanski, whose work deals with memory, loss, and death, often arising from references to the Holocaust:



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On a great day in US history

President Obama and the congressional democrats just passed the greatest progressive victory in 45 years. It stands comparison even with the legislative achievements of my American hero, FDR - who, remember, had gigantic majorities (about 80% of all house and senate seats at one point). With smaller majorities, and facing the most disgusting, hypocritical, and negative political opposition in more than a century, Obama has done what progressives have been fighting for for more than 100 years: established the principle of universal health coverage in the USA. 

I first fell in love with the USA studying American literature at Cambridge, 30 years ago. The tragedy and the greatness of the country was revealed to me through the writing of Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, Whitman, Fitzgerald, Baldwin, Bellow. When I moved here 8 years ago, at the start of the worst presidency in the nation's history, I wondered what had become of the country whose image I had fallen in love with as …

On another collagraph method

Here is another method of making a collagraph with the inexpensive aluminum flashing tiles I talked about in a previous post. It's very simple and effective. The little movie included in this post illustrates it step by step, but here's a summary:
Draw directly on the plate (aluminum flashing tile) with Elmer's glue, or a brush dipped in the glue.Shake carborundum grit over the wet glue.Tip the plate up to shake off excess grit.When the plate is dry, seal it with a layer of acrylic gloss medium (I realised after I made the movie that I missed out this step!).You can then ink and print the plate in the regular way:
Use a brush or piece of card to drag ink across the plate. The carborundum grit holds the ink very well.Wipe away the excess ink using a piece of tarlatan.Place damp printmaking paper over the plate, then run it through the press.For the slideshow, I inked the plate "a la poupee", which means to use different colours of ink on the same plate. The phrase …

On 10 things I wish I'd known when I was 20

If you want to be an artist (a writer, say, or a painter), the first step is to write or paint as often as you can—no excuses.Before showing your work to a publisher or gallery owner, make sure that they publish or show your kind of work.Before showing your work to a publisher or gallery owner, make sure that the work is as good as it can be. In other words, revise, rework, refine.The old clichĂ© is true: who you know is just as important as what you know. So get out and meet people.When you approach people sincerely to ask advice (as opposed to thrusting your manuscript/slides on them when you’ve never met them before), most people will be willing to talk  to you.Having well-made publicity materials—a postcard or a brochure with some images and information on it—makes you stand out from the pack.Being with people who are more talented than you is helpful, not hurtful. Before I went to art college, I tried to do all of the above things on my own, without help from anyone. When I went t…

On returning to Paris

Just over a year ago, Patty and I stayed overnight in Paris on the way to Normandy. We were in a ‘boutique hotel’ on the eastern edge of the city, situated yards away from the peripherique, the ring road that surrounds Paris and effectively marks its boundary. From our hotel window we could see, yards away on the other side of the peripherique (in the area called Porte de Montreuil), the apartment buildings of Paris proper, while on our side of the road it was all concrete tower blocks, and tangled little roads lined with scrapyards and casinos. In the morning we got up early in order to cross the city to Porte de Maillot, where we were picking up a rental car. As soon as we had gone across the roundabout above the ring road we passed into Paris proper, a transformation as clear and immediate as stepping through the looking glass. Even the few yards of that part of Paris around the Metro station offered an encapsulated view of what makes Paris Paris: the tabacs near the street corners…

On Story Week 2010

This week is the 2010 Story Week Festival of Writers at Columbia College Chicago (and other venues around the city). My wife Patty is hosting the event at the Harold Washington Library on Tuesday March 16th - that is, she'll be introducing writers Achy Obejas (Ruins), Aleksandar Hemon (Love and Obstacles), and John Dale (Leaving Suzie Pyle) and then leading the Q & A afterwards. The library has a huge auditorium and there are usually several hundred people there. If anyone in Chicago is reading this and hasn't been to Story Week before, it's very simple: if you've ever read a book in your life, then you'll like Story Week.
Here is the link to the Story Week website.
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On Velazquez's 'Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress'

This weeks' Meditation on Art considers a late painting by Diego Velazquez in the context of twentieth century abstract art:



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On Interlochen printmaking class: Contact Monoprint

A contact monoprint by me from 2007
One of the techniques that we'll start with in the Interlochen printmaking workshop is called contact monoprint. It's a very quick and satisfying way to make a print. What you do is roll out a thin layer of ink on a sheet of glass or plexiglass, place a piece of paper over that, then draw on the paper. This brings the paper into contact with the ink - the heavier you draw, the darker the impression will be. When you lift the paper and turn it over, you see a unique 'fuzzy' style of line that is very much a printmaking mark.

Here are some contact monoprints from a class I taught a few years ago - only one of whom had any prior art experience:



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On artists who write, and writers who art: Part 4

(l-r) Charles Baudelaire, Edouard Manet
One of the most significant friendships between an artist and a writer was that between the painter Edouard Manet and the poet Charles Baudelaire in the 1850s-1860s. It was a friendship that didn’t only influence their respective views on art and its relation to society: some historians say it influenced the development of modernism as it emerged over the next forty years from the artistic movements of the late nineteenth century.
Baudelaire and Manet met in 1858 at a restaurant in Paris which hosted regular lunches attended by artists, journalists, poets, and hangers on. After that, they saw each other almost daily until Baudelaire went to live in Belgium in 1864. Baudelaire was already known as a writer on art, and as the poet who had published ‘Les Fleurs du Mal’ in 1857 – vilified at the time, just like many of Manet’s great paintings, but acknowledged by twentieth century poets such as T. S. Eliot as a significant milestone in nineteenth cent…

On another artist's book: Coalyard

Here is another artist's book that I made at the end of last year. It's called 'Coalyard'. 8" x 15", accordion book, bound in brown bookcloth.

Method: take eight images of industrial buildings and mineworks. Print on tan Hahnemuhle printmaking paper using paper-litho transfer. Write a short remembered instance relating to my miner-grandfather and the local mines where I grew up. Print narrative in continuous line across middle of the images:



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On another performance piece by Dadang Christanto

As a follow up to the last Meditation, on Indonesian artist Dadang Christanto, here is a 60-second clip from a TV station in Indonesia about one of his performances in Jakarta:



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On 'Heads from the North' by Dadang Christanto

This week's Meditation is on a piece by Indonesian artist Dadang Christanto that combines installation and performance:



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On artists who write and writers who art: Part 3

William Blake, Title page to 'Songs of Innocence' (1789)
I talked in the previous post about writers who drew, or painted, and I suggested some reasons about why writers would deviate into visual art. What about artists who write?
For some reason, there are comparatively few artists who turned to writing in the same way that writers turned to art. Maybe if you go back to Renaissance Italy, you find painters and sculptors who wrote poetry as part of their cultivation of a rounded personality. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo wrote sonnets that are still anthologized: 
Michelangelo: Sonnet with marginal drawing
Vasari, who wrote the unreliable but entertaining ‘Lives of the Artists’ was himself a painter. William Blake is perhaps the greatest example of an artist turned writer. He was apprenticed to a printer and ground out a living making reproduction prints for years, while writing poems in his notebooks. The version of ‘Songs of Innocence & Experience’ with his own hand-col…