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Showing posts from 2017

Georg Baselitz: Hero or Goat?

Baselitz is a German artist who is in his seventies. I got to know his work about twenty years ago, and the photo above is from a book about his work that I bought back then. He began painting images upside down in the 1980s or thereabouts, and that's been the well he's gone back to ever since. Whether he's painting/sculpting/printmaking the right way up or the wrong way up, his style is derived from German Expressionism, all violent, crude brushmarks and clashing colour harmonies. His reasoning for painting things upside down, he has said, is that it forces him to think harder about what he's looking at it and how to render it. A few years ago, he gave an interview in which he said that there are no good women artists, and that women could never be great artists. Quite rightly, this caused a furor in the art world, with calls for his work to be boycotted because of his sexism. I have to say, I'm not entirely convinced that that's the right move. I mean, I pul…

New Blog Devoted to the Graphic Novel

A few weeks ago, I taught a weekend workshop in how to set up a blog, and then how to refine or reinvigorate it. One of the participants in that class, Jessica Baldanzi, has sent me a link to her new blog (actually a revival of an older blog). I'm recommending it both because the design is really nice, and it's also on a subject (the graphic novel) that has a wide appeal.



Here is a link to Jessica's blog, Commons Comics.

ArtSpace8 Exhibition at The Art Center, Highland Park

I went to the Highland Park art center last week to speak with the director about the new position I am taking there, as Master Instructor in Printmaking. The center is a handsome building near the center of this affluent north shore town, with classrooms in the lower ground floor, and two exhibition spaces on the main floor. Currently there is an exhibition of high quality paintings in the bigger of the two spaces:


My favourite one was by Krista Harris. Tight organization of space, balance between drawing and colours:

I also like this one by Erick Sanchez. It's like an Anselm Kiefer extravaganza but with birds rather than snakes:

And this painting, by Shar Coulson. The different kinds of brushmarks and textures don't come across well in my photo, though you get the sense of her feeling for colour harmony:


Artists Collecting Artists

We're moving apartments in Chicago at the moment, and so we've spent weeks sorting through all our worldly possessions and deciding which ones to keep and which ones to turn into other-worldly non-possessions. Patty thinks that we have thrown out, recycled, or found other homes for about 100 boxes of stuff -- clothes, furniture, kitchenware, air conditioners, books, CDs, DVDs, old documents, and above all, photos.

So many photos. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Many of them duplicates from our wedding in 2002. You might be horrified at the idea of someone throwing even copies of their wedding photos,but really, how many shots of people standing around in a garden looking at the bride and groom do you need? The whole process of discarding so much accumulated stuff made us marvel at how much junk seems to accrue to you in a short space of time, and how much you really can live without if you just let it go.

Simultaneously I carried out the same kind of ruthless culling of the he…

5 Books from the Joan Flasch Collection

Two of my artist's books were recently acquired by the Joan Flasch Collection at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Here are five really good books by other artists that I saw on display when I went there to deliver my little pieces.






All That Glitters

Here I am again in Interlochen, northern Michigan, where I have been teaching a handmade books class to a group of eager adults. Above is one of the Japanese stab bindings books created during the class.

One drawback about that beautiful decorative paper you see on the cover: I didn't realise when I bought the papers that they were covered in glitter, which slipped off the paper as we were using it and covered everything in the room, including faces and arms.

So people left the class with lots of beautiful handmade books, while looking they had spent the day at a rave.

James Joyce, Rembrandt, Picasso, Fellini, and Me

June 16th was Bloomsday, the annual celebration of James Joyce's novel Ulysses, the action of which takes place on one day in Dublin in 1906. I've written before about the set of etchings I made back in the late 1990s, based on the Nighttown chapter of Ulysses. But after posting images of these etchings via social media during the most recent Bloomsday, I realised I could still say something about the various things that influenced my particular interpretation of Joyce's text.
When I started planning the project in 1997, I was aware of a few other artists' visual responses to the book, such as Robert Motherwell's attractive and entirely abstract etchings, some hasty and uninspired lithographs by Matisse, and (the best ones, in my opinion) semi-abstract etchings by Mimmo Paladino:

I started by narrowing down to one chapter: the Nighttown chapter, which takes place in the red light district of Dublin, and parallels the Circe episode in Homer's Odyssey. Odysseus …

I Talk On Video

Here is a short video of me in my studio, talking about me, my art, and my influences.

My Work Acquired by Important Collection

When so much of making work as an artist involves slogging away in a room with no idea if it's ever going to be seen by the world outside, it's satisfying when a little success comes your way. I am very proud that two of my handmade books were acquired recently by the Joan Flasch Artist's Book Collection at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago. This collection is one of the most renowned collections of books made by artists in the United States, so it's a huge honour to be included.

Here is one of the pieces, an interleaved slit accordion fold of two etchings:


And here is the other, a heavily collaged accordion book bound together by sisal:


Each piece is now being catalogued and digitized, and at some point in the future they will be on display at the library, possibly in the company of books by artists such as Joseph Beuys:

And Christo:


And Richard Tuttle:

I have paintings in my studio that are six feet square, yet it's these two small books that have given m…

Teaching at Interlochen, northern Michigan

Last weekend, my wife Patricia Ann McNair and I taught a one-day journal and sketchbook class at the Interlochen College of Creative Arts. The ICCA runs classes for adults in a purpose-built space on the campus of the internationally renowned Interlochen Center for the Arts. The photo above shows one of the participants in the act of making a 10-second drawing, the first activity of the day.

The Part and the Whole

In a seminar with the painter John Walker, I heard him say that with a painting, you should be able to see it all in one go and then also be able to lose yourself in the details. When I was at the Milwaukee Art Museum recently, I saw a painting by Pierre Bonnard -- one of his later ones from the 1930s -- and I thought this statement is truer of no artist more than him.


The painting is from a series that Bonnard produced based on his morning walks around his house in the south of France. It shows a view looking down across olive groves and gardens, with a few figures working in the rows, and a line of tress like a curtain across the background. When you step back from the painting, you see the large, loosely indicated shapes of field, a small house, the bent figure of a man, a woman to the right, an explosion of sky behind the trees. The foreground is tilted and flattened out in a way that reads as an abstract and not a naturalistic space.


We accept this, because it's once you mov…

R.I.P. John Schultz (1932-2017)

Teacher and writer John Schultz has died at the age of 84. He had a long association with Columbia College Chicago, where he helped found a fiction writing program that used a unique pedagogy: the Story Workshop method, which he began using in the classroom starting in the 1960s. John probably taught thousands of students over the course of a long career, and he was mentor and friend to many who went on to become teachers themselves. Most of the people who knew him, including my wife Patricia Ann McNair, spoke about him with reverence and immense gratitude for how he taught them to become writers.

Compared to her, and her colleagues at Columbia College Chicago, and his innumerable former students, I only had a passing acquaintance with John. Yet my first meetings with him came around the time that I first met Patty, during my first visits to Chicago, and for that reason this has claimed a special home in my memory.

I remember a party that Patty held at her apartment at the end of 200…

Trying Something New: Cyanotype

For the past few months, I've been working on a project with a student from Columbia College Chicago, comprising images and text relating to a travel narrative (he's an Englishman visiting the USA for this academic year). After casting around for a suitable visual vehicle for his photos, I settled on cyanotype:


This is one of the oldest of photographic techniques, dating back to the middle of the 1800s. In a nutshell: you brush a photosensitive emulsion onto paper (or fabric, etc), consisting of a mixture of ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide; place either thin objects or a negative against the paper and expose it to UV light for a while; wash off the emulsion and the image develops before your eyes; dip the print into a solution of water and hydrogen peroxide to turn the print that deep, dark blue cyan colour.

As you can see from the above photo, when you get the balance of light and dark right on the negative, the result is a gorgeously rich print, with a tona…

Truly I Live in Dark Times!

On November 9th, the day after the US presidential election, I had just arrived in England to attend a conference, and I spent the first few hours wandering around in a daze at the unexpected result. "These are dark times, these are the dark times" was a phrase I kept repeating in my head. They are from a poem by Bertholdt Brecht that seemed appropriate for the occasion:
Truly I live in dark times!
An artless word is foolish. A smooth forehead
Points to insensitivity. He who laughs
Has not yet received
The terrible news. The translation is by Scott Horton, from 2008, and his discussion of the meaning and context of the poem is unsurpassable, so I recommend you follow this link and read what he had to say. My personal knowledge of this poem ('To Those Who Follow in Our Wake,' from 1939) goes back to a long phase of devouring Brecht's plays and poems when I was in my twenties. This poem, from his Svendborg poems, was one of the only German poems that I could parti…

Tucson Museum of Art: Part 3

The next print that stood out for me during my visit to the Tucson Museum of Art was this etching by Goya (above). It's from his series Desastres de la Guerra (The Disasters of War), a series of etchings he made between 1810 and 1820 depicting the horrors of the Peninsula War that ravaged Spain during the previous decade. This print shows a tangle of corpses in a house that has been destroyed by cannon fire. I notice how Goya still uses classical drawing techniques even while he draws a violent subject form real life: the legs of the man lying on his back in the foreground could easily have come straight from a Renaissance painting.

Next, this beautiful etching by German artist Kathe Kollwitz, from the 1890s:


The wall text said "etching", but the areas of rich dark tone indicate that she also used aquatint -- and in a brilliantly expert way, too. Look at all that variation in the textures of the shadows between the figures: any printmaker will tell you how much techniqu…

Tucson Museum of Art: Part 2

The second print I noticed during my recent visit to the Tucson Museum of Art was this 1992 etching by artist Luis Alfonso Jimenez (1940-2006). He was born in El Paso, Texas, and lived in New Mexico, and his work is in the Smithsonian Collection of American Art. I liked this print because, although he was mainly a sculptor, this print has the classic skeleton character that one sees in a lot of Mexican printmaking, particularly woodcuts and linocuts.

Very weird fact about his demise: he was moving a piece of sculpture out of his studio so that it could be installed at Denver Airport. The large piece fell on him, pinning his leg, and he died from traumatic injuries the same day. Talk about dying for one's art...

Art in the Desert

I was in the Tucson Museum of Art last week, a compact building with an inner ramp that goes all the way from below ground to two storeys above street level. It's similar in that respect to the Guggenheim museum in New York. The last time I visited, in 2005, I remember seeing lots of paintings of cowboys, and then a Mark Rothko, which was a jarring juxtaposition. This time, there was an engrossing exhibition of art featuring the face and the body, from a private collection. On display were many great prints, all the way from Goya in the early 1800s to 1960s artist James Rosenquist.
The first one that caught my eye was this beautiful, haunting woodcut by printmaker Leonard Baskin, one of my favourites.

Dead-Eye Daumier

During my last visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, I came across these old favourites of mine: a cabinet full of little bronze sculptures by Daumier:



There are about thirty of them, each one a caricature of a French politician or public figure from the 1830s. Daumier fashioned them in clay in about 1835, but they weren't cast in bronze until nearly a century later.

What I love about them is not just that they are wickedly exaggerated, but that each one is so intensely individualised, so that even though we don't know who any of these people are, we have no doubt that they are accurate exaggerations of real people, with their twisted faces, daft hairstyles, ogreishly ugly faces, and mean expressions.


They may be satirical, like cartoons in three dimensions, but they are still so very skilful and so very beautiful.

The Mind's I at the Ed Paschke Center

Last week, I took part in a drawing project at the Ed Paschke Art Center in Chicago. The center in itself is worth a visit, too, by the way: not just to see Paschke's wacky yet beguiling art, but because the repurposing of the building (in a nondescript area bordered by fast food joints and a nearby freeway) was done so well.

The Mind's I is a collaborative project initiated by Chicago-based Anne Harris. To quote from the press release:

Self-perception and self-expression are central concerns of The Mind’s I, which marries mimesis, or representation, with diegesis, or thoughts and actions. The presence of each artist allows their individual portraits to stand on their own, but when taken together, The Mind’s I presents a moving composite about looking as much as it is about being seen. Each participant is asked to draw on 12" x 12" sheets of paper, using any materials they like, but steering away from photos or computers as sources and working instead with the basic …