What can I say. I do love textures and patterns, and I like to photograph them. Vacation photos are a smorgasbord of landscapes, plants, and textures, and in rare cases, people. I rarely use the photos for inspiration in my artwork, but I collect them. Organic, inorganic, natural, man-made, colorful, monochrome. It’s all about the texture.
Our artists have added more layers to each of our six canvases – here are the results:
“A Lullaby” Sleep, my daughter, sleep, and when you wake to everything that’s quick and breathes in every part of you, dream, my daughter, dream. – Gary Gildner Limberlost Press 1995
“Ask Me” You and I can turn and look at the silent river and wait. We know the current is there, hidden, and there are comings and goings from miles away that hold the stillness exactly before us. What the river says, that is what I say. – William Stafford (excerpt) You Must Revise Your Life 1989
“Refuge” I see the lamp, the face, the eye, an altar where the soul bows, a gladness and refuge. My loving says, “Here. I can leave my personality here.” My reason agrees! “How can I object when a rose makes the bent backs stand up like cypresses?” The Soul of Rumi (excerpt) – trans. C. Barks 2001
Born and raised in western Canada, I have been interested in the prints and sculptures created by the Inuit artists of Canada for many years. This documentary about one most revered Inuit artists, Kenojuak Ashevak, was originally only available on the National Film Board of Canada’s website. I was happy to recently discover the 1964 video on YouTube. Hopefully, that means it will be available for many years so others can appreciate the rigors of travel across the snow-covered landscape by dog sled and spending the night in an igloo.
The documentary also shows how Kenojuak’s drawings are carved into stone and printed. Kenojuak Ashevak became the first woman involved with the printmaking co-operative in Cape Dorset. The West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Cape Dorset still exists and thrives. In 1978, Dorset Fine Arts was established in Toronto as the wholesale marketing division of the co-operative.
While I had studied Inuit art and I had seen a lot of work in galleries and museums, I had never met an Inuit artist. Several years ago, the Froelick Gallery hosted one of Cape Dorset’s artists, Saimaiyu Akesuk. I welcomed the rare opportunity to hear a contemporary Inuit artist share the origin and challenges of her artistic process and the details of a very different culture. While Akesuk no longer has to dog sled to the studio, it appears that that she and Kenojuak share a similar visual dialog steeped in their culture.
****** For those of you interested in following contemporary Inuit artists, Dorset Fine Arts, the wholesale marketing division of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, has an Instagram presence: @dorsetfinearts
“Deborah Spanton is currently exploring experimentation, variation, and improvisation, as well as reflecting upon the strange and unsettling mood in which those of us who call the United States home find ourselves living. West Coast Jazz is her first exhibition east of the Rocky Mountains. A painter and a printmaker, Spanton is a west coast artist through and through, her influences include the pop-art themes and candied hues of Wayne Thiebaud, the wild southern California landscapes of David Hockney, as well as the decidedly not-west-coast body-related work of Kiki Smith and Louise Bourgeois.”
— John Brooks, QUAPPI Projects Gallery, Louisville, KY
As part of her gallery show, Deborah invited the artists of Editionvariable to participate by riffing on one of her prints, an interior view. Here are the results.
Polyester litho plates are inexpensive and easy to work with. The process can result in lines which mimic crayon or pencil and can be printed on either a litho or etching press. These 2 videos do a good job of explaining the processes of creating and printing plates.
“The trick is to do what you love and to be content alone in the studio. And if you that, you have everything you need.” Thomas Nozkowski, Painter
The images are getting richer and more intense. Some are even leaning into story-telling. Responding to an active canvas is certainly different than facing a blank one! Although we each work alone in a studio, our collaborators’ spirits join us on the page as we apply color and line with brush, pencil, pen. Here are our artists’ responses:
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression” – Jesus Christ, probably.
How do you unpack that sentence? Let’s start off with a music video.
There are surely people who have fond memories of this song. Also, I am equally sure that there are legions of Eagles fans who also followed Don Henley’s solo career with delight. However, this song is my first memory of Henley (although I surely heard Eagles songs prior to this), a big hit that he had in 1989 that had considerable MTV play (which was a thing). I was 13 years old, and this kind of morose nostalgia was literally the last thing on Earth I wanted to hear. As a result of this song, to this very day I can’t stand Henley or the Eagles (and it feels good that the Dude will back me up on this one). I had similar experiences with Eric Clapton (the Unplugged “Tears in Heaven”), and Jimmy Page (because of Coverdale/Page), but different ones with Robert Plant (“Tall Cool One”) and The Clash (Mick Jones’ Bad Audio Dynamite did “Rush,” a song I still love). In every instance, it’s not so much what these people have done, but when.
I draw comic books. My period of mass consumption of comics came largely in the 90s, the work that I read voraciously at that point was formative. The artists that I revere, to some degree, had their peak work somewhere between the mid-80s and around 2000. I have seen some of those artists’ reputations fall into disrepair or absolute ruin. Their brilliant work is overshadowed in time by when people discover their work, which increasingly over time is not their peak work.
The MoPOP museum in Seattle had a fantastic exhibit up until earlier this year, built around a staggering amount of original artwork from the history of Marvel Comics. I would not say that there were any must-see pieces, what I would consider covers or pages of unmistakable historical importance. Jack Kirby’s work is the foundation of Marvel, and while there were a number of Kirby pages, they weren’t big boys. They were Kirby pages, which was necessary, but the key ones weren’t present in any form. What it did have was a breadth of work, including pages by creators who you don’t see work from exhibited very often.
The very first page in the exhibit was a shock, an old Flash Gordon page by Alex Raymond. Raymond is an artists’ artist, who died prematurely in a car accident. He was also one of the most facile inkers in the history of inking, pages full of lush linework created entirely by brush (being good with a brush was considered the apex of cartooning in that era). This page had nothing to do with Marvel Comics, it was there as an example of pre-Marvel Comics (if we were only so lucky for that kind of work to have been the norm), but I don’t need an excuse. I had never seen Raymond’s artwork in person, and it was everything I had ever imagined it would be.
To the point of when you are introduced to someone being of supreme importance, we’ll look at the work of two artists represented in this show. First is Frank Miller. To me, having been introduced to his work in the early 90s, Miller is the guy who did “The Dark Knight Returns,” “Sin City,” “Daredevil,” and about a million other books that redefined how comics were created.
Art by Frank Miller and Josef Rubenstein
In that era, Miller was a superstar, his work eagerly anticipated and read widely. Arguably, you could probably track the end of that run to the release of the sequel of “Dark Knight,” in 2001. It was a highly anticipated return to a character that Miller was synonymous with that wasn’t received particularly well at the time. That was followed up with another eventually incomplete Batman project drawn by Jim Lee, the response to which was basically dismissal via proto-memes.
Art by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson
But, understanding that at this point, many active comics readers have been introduced to Miller’s work not from the essential works that have been fully absorbed into the creative bloodstream (whether or not people are aware of it), but by late career equivalents of “The End of the Innocence,” it’s easy to see why people do not regard him in the manner that he once was. The brilliance of Miller’s peak works haven’t dulled, but the prevailing first impression that many have had of his work is different.
In reverse of that for me is the case of Steve Ditko. He’s known for being the co-creator of Spider-Man (among others, but that’s the big one), for being into Ayn Rand and being an absolute recluse with little communication with anyone outside of the work that he continued to self-publish until his death last year. He’s a Henley – I was introduced to his work as a teenager, in a form that didn’t make me curious to seek out more (he drew some issues for Valiant in the early 90s, inked oddly by other artists). I was aware that his name carried weight, but I struggled to see why. He engaged in no management of his catalog of work or massaging of his public image, both being absolutely irrelevant to him. He lived to be 90 years old, before you scoff at that notion.
Prior to the MoPOP show, I had never seen a Ditko original before. To me, the hallmarks of his work were flat linework, wonky and stiff poses, and a general awkwardness. It was an appealing weirdness, particularly in his Dr. Strange work, but funky in a way that other artists were not. So imagine my surprise when I saw these original pages (from Amazing Spider-Man #7), and discovered that his linework wasn’t flat at all.
When you look at panel two, his influence on Frank Miller becomes apparent (look at J. Jonah Jameson’s pants), or on panel five, where he just blacks out sides of objects entirely. Newsprint isn’t famous for retaining detail of fine linework, but after years of having seen cheap reprints of his Spider-Man stories that flattened out his tapered, carefully chosen lines and hid them under flat colors, this was a revelation.
What I had, for years, interpreted as a lack of care in his inking, or a lack of flair, were revealed to be false impressions, From seeing these two pages in their unadulterated form, Ditko went from a Henley to a Clapton, someone who I’ve gotten over a lame first impression to appreciate more fully. If I had been around in the 1960s or 1970s, my opinion of Ditko would have been wildly different than having been introduced to his (not peak) work in the 1990s. His Spider-Man pages are exactly the same as they ever were, but it took an open mind and the proper presentation for the power of his work to register.
“Collaboration in art is the ultimate test of placing your ego aside in order to work toward a common idea. Artists often mention how creating art is like a dialogue – a conversation between the artist and the work… For this reason alone, mutual respect between art collaborators is very important…” Brian Sherwin, Fine Arts Review
As for the six artists in the editionvariable group, we are looking for the surprises these efforts will produce. We have reached the “third state” in our year-long collaboration, and adding our own interpretations to the images has been challenging and fun.
Moku hanga is a traditional Japanese form of woodblock printmaking notable for black outlines, vibrant colors, and angled perspectives (think of Hokusai and Hirosada). In modern times the images may have changed, but the process remains much the same, and its simplicity is very appealing, requiring not much more than a block of wood, a cutting tool (gouge), ink, and paper. The image, a type of relief print, is produced by carving away everything except the lines to be printed. To make a print, the block’s surface is saturated with water color and nori paste, and then slightly dampened paper is laid down and pressed with a buren. For multiple colors, multiple blocks are carved, with exact registration (kento) marks on each block. As the images are all hand-pulled, moku hanga prints don’t need a press, and using water-based inks makes this for an easy clean-up. McClains Printmaking Supplies is a good source for tools, blocks, and books about the process.
Carving can take a long time, but it’s an opportunity for contemplation, for “being in the moment” with your image, and the blocks eventually become works of art, along with the prints. San Francisco-based Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) selected Berkeley artist Miwako Nishizawa, born in Kyoto Japan, to create pieces for its 2016 poster art series using the moku hanga woodblock technique.
Here are my first prints using this process. The first, “Breakfast Bee?” (the nuthatch and the bee), is in the Wingtip Press 2019 Leftovers print exchange. The other prints are entitled “Leafy Lullabies” (the crow is listening to, and looking for bugs under the leaves), and “Chrysanthemum” (inspired by a Hirosado print and an image of my niece).