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).
After an extended period of wintertime, spring is finally underway, and everything is turning green. But what keeps catching my eye is the color red – admittedly my favorite color and one that I use frequently in my work.
We are all familiar with successful collaborations. With this in mind, the editionvariable group has begun a year-long collaboration, and during this past month, our artists have exercised their imaginations, resulting in a 2nd state for these six works:
What is making me happy? Among other things, the recent work of 3 artists. Here they are, in no particular order:
Ruth Ross worked in the publishing industry in New York City before moving to Portland in 2000. This extraordinarily versatile artist makes prints, paintings, collages, photographs and jewelry. http://ruthrossart.com
The New York Times Style Magazine recently did a long interview with Johns. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/18/t-magazine/jasper-johns.html
He currently has a show at the Matthew Marks Gallery in New York and in 2020 will have 2 shows split between the Whitney and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He is 88 years old.
Last month I attended Ruth Ozeki’s artist talk on the occasion of her 20 year retrospective at the Froelick Gallery. It was a rare opportunity to listen to a Japanese printmaker share insights into her prints and her methods. Yoshihiro Kitai served as interpreter for Ms Ozeki and I scribbled down some quick notes. Most of the photos were taken with my phone and do not fully represent the quality of Ozeki’s prints. (I have noted one photo from the Froelick Gallery site.) I have tried to stay true to the translation of Ms Ozeki’s words about her life and her work.
Ozeki describes herself as a quick printmaker. She studied calligraphy and it is an influence in her work. She makes her marks quickly and fluidly like a calligrapher. All of her prints are made with black ink. When asked why she doesn’t use color, Ozeki responded that the techniques to print in color are too complicated; they remove her from the way she like to make her marks. When she wants to work in color she paints.
Ozeki sketches constantly. She always carries her sketchbook (which she calls her journal) with her. Drawing is her life diary from which she later chooses images of interest to transfer onto copper plates. She does not draw in order to print, she draws as a way of recording her life.
Generally speaking, Ozeki described the theme throughout her work as being of life and death. It is never figurative in content, allowing the viewer to import their own images and history onto the prints. She draws her content from every day life – stairs, vessels – into which she infuses her personal experience. (It is interesting to note that Ozeki embraces what she describes as the “accidental scratches” on the plate.)
Ozeki started with an exploration of lace, then vessels including chine collé on newspaper. Lace and woven materials appear and re-appear. Her choice to use non archival materials is a considered one. She views the shift in color of newsprint as an indicator of daily life.
The most significant evolution of Ozeki’s prints began after her mother’s passing away. Initially, Ozeki described her work as being more poetic; after her mother’s death the prints became more about feelings and magic.
Ozeki found a collection of stockings in her mother’s possessions after her death. The resulting “Slough” series is about the female’s life from baby clothing to the stockings. Vessels evolve from two hands joining to make a bowl to bring food, liquid to the mouth. Upon death, ashes are contained in an urn – another kind of vessel. The last vessel.
Not only has Ozeki experienced loss, she is also a survivor of the 2011 earthquake in Japan. Ozeki began to explore architectural forms, always mindful of the large loss of life. Stairs were often the only thing left standing. Not only do they represent structural stability but the transition from one place to another.
Ozeki has also experienced houses being tossed upside down and a chaos of structure. She developed house forms which she printed in every direction.
The exploration of architectural forms continues into the period of restoration. This print (below) was the most current of the exhibit and the largest at 39″ x 39″.
This print exhibit is one of the few that I have attended where none of the prints were framed. Being able to stand close to the work and follow the mark making was an intimate experience. The paper was allowed to buckle on the wall and cast shadows. As particular as I am about framing, I appreciated this more raw and trusting presentation of the work.
The talk was well attended by a mix of printmakers, artists in other media and collectors. Ms Ozeki was generous with her time and responses. When asked why she simply doesn’t draw what she wants to share, she responded that when she works on copper and pulls the paper back on the press, she feels the hand of God in her images. Most in attendance recognized that feeling. I learned some things about process but mostly this talk reinforced lessons I am already working on. I need to draw more = I can’t draw enough. I need to stay close to the subjects that touch my emotions deeply – being timid is not an option. Regardless of the difference in language and culture, the bones of creativity and sharing your work are universal. I spoke with Ms Ozeki after the talk – even without a lot of common words, I felt a strong sense of recognition.
We are all familiar with artists whose collaborations have sparked synergy in their work. Our Edition Variable group plans a collaboration in which each of our six artists creates an image on 22″ x 30″ paper using any media. Each month these pages are exchanged and transformed using line, color, collage, stitchery, erasure, etc., so that after a year, each artist will have visited each page twice. Like the wardrobe door into Narnia, or Alice’s rabbit hole, these pages will invite our artists into a magical place.
Here are some close-ups of our beginning images. Stay tuned for our monthly transformations!
An article in the Sunday NYT Arts section (12/16/17) profiled art collector Beth Rudin DeWoody. Her Bunker Artspace is located in a residential area in West Palm Beach and is just 2 miles down the road from Mar-a-Logo. She believes that “art should be provocative” this is borne out by exhibits that include an x-rated area, a controversial image of the crucifixion and a doll-sized sculpture of Charles Manson on a playdate. Quite an outlier institution in an otherwise conservative community. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/15/arts/design/mar-a-lago-has-a-feisty-new-neighbor.html?_r=0
One of the pieces I found most interesting was by Jeff Colson. I mistook it for a big luscious trompe l’oeil painting, but it is actually a sculpture. This video of him building it is worth a look. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDg8p53NZJA
Earlier this week I stumbled across the work of Mel McCuddin. Sometimes the most interesting discoveries are serendipitous. It gets better. Not only did I enjoy his paintings, I found a video that gives a glimpse into his process. Something about watching another person work makes me want to do the same. Watching Mr. McCuddin encouraged me to find more looseness and joy in my mark making.
I’m sure (maybe not sure, but pretty sure in that “someone HAD to have done that, right?” way) that a woman somewhere had created a original print prior to 1570, but there is currently an exhibit at the New York Public Library examining the certainly under-heralded work of female printmakers from 1570-1900, which both sounds awesome and makes me rue the fact that my local public library has only a couple of quilts on permanent display to show their support for the arts. Yay quilts, but I know at least one quilt maker whose work could probably improve the breadth and scope of my public library’s display.
Also, for those of us who are neither close to nor inclined to visit New York, there are downloadable images available, so you can load up your Kindle or whatever, balance it on a bottle of wine, and enjoy your own private art tour while approaching publicly inappropriate levels of intoxication. Or not, because I’m not going to tell you how to live your life, aside from that you might want to click that link up there at the top of the article. The rest is up to you.