Counting On The Arts

February 14, 2017

The most recent biennial Colorado Business Committee for the Arts Economic Activity Study has been released. It uses Scientific and Cultural Facilities District raw numbers in a statistical model developed by Deloitte Consulting using U.S. Department of Commerce multiplier data. In short,  “quantifying the economic and social relevance of arts, cultural and scientific organizations in the metro area.” I’m a geek for this because I live it everyday. Sort of, anyway.

The study can’t measure how much individual artists pump into the economy when they take your $500 dollar check downtown to buy art supplies (and maybe a beer or two), but it can give a hint. It measures numbers reported by organizations, such as the SCFD-supported Art Students League of Denver, which pays me to teach your children- and you- art in the 21st Century economy, which is screaming for workers with creative skills.

I keep it handy and quote from it often, not only to shut up the troglodytes who think art is an indulgence not relevant in the “real world” of business and NFL football, but to reinforce those of us who encounter art every day, and think it matters, but can’t really describe why. You can get one, too, it’s published for free distribution thanks to business sponsors. There’s more info about the CBCA at cbca.org. But I’ll be posting nuggets from it, along with some of the striking graphics, periodically here.

A reminder: The deadline for my next “Monotypes for Advanced Beginners is less than a week away. You can register here: https://asld.modvantage.com/Instructor/Bio/1053/joe-higgins

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Color in Monotypes

February 06, 2017

Most printmakers use a somewhat limited color palette. Editions of hand-pulled prints often require a separate plate for each color- which can lead to a fair amount of time and expense. This has lead to a tradition of very strategic and inventive color use in printing, and its growth as an advertising medium since the Industrial Revolution has reinforced this. Advertising’s need for bold, simple visual form and messaging dovetails with this, too, and it’s no accident that printmaking is very often- not always- on the leading edge of modernist visual style.

Monotype prints- not technically printmaking, we are reminded by an educational poster in the Art Students League Denver print room, since there is no repeatable matrix from which to make identical prints- is not technically bound by the problem of multiple plates, but there are other reasons why the impetus towards simple color schemes pertains. The tradition of bold, clean-edged design is only one of them.

Artists encounter special challenges in using color inks, which are formulated to withstand the roller of a press, bond with different kinds of paper, and create vibrant results when dry whether applied with brayer or brush. Different ink formulations are used with screen printing, wiping etching plates or rolling onto litho plates and wood blocks (though most of these are fine for monotypes). And while oils, for example, are fairly consistent in texture (subject to modification) and are usually intended to be applied with brush or knife to canvas, inks tend to vary a lot in stiffness and viscosity, transparency and covering power. This makes predicting how they will interact with the more and less delicate types of paper used a learning process.

In monotype, ink can be mixed right on the plate, but delicate final effects can be hard predict after a ride through the 5K psi pressure a typical press generates. Textures, brush strokes and glazing are wiped out, so planning often becomes essential, even when trying for expressionistic or “spontaneous” effects. But these strategies work well with graphic, hard-edged modernist imagery too.

Layering is a good strategy for putting down a spontaneous effect in one color that will retain its integrity when another color is laid down next. Transparency in inks or modifying mediums allow different textures and hues to shine through while creating new tonalities and blends. A good understating of positive and negative space and how the (often) white paper will interact with these allows for light to shine from within, like glazing in oil, or watercolor. And printmakers will often pick a limited selection of colors and make a given color perform multiple roles, as in “process” color (CMYK).

A fairly simple image that actually stretches every rule of color usage in composition to create a compelling, dramatic visual message.

The example I’ve included here, which I’ve often used in classes, uses not a “somewhat” limited palette, but an extremely limited one. Its visual elements also are simple and separate themselves very straightforwardly into five elements; two in the foreground, two in the middle ground and a background. It’s in the colors assigned to these elements that we get a sense of creative transgression, and a feel for why the image is so arresting to the eye.

The first foreground element is the press, done in near silhouette, which provides a deep black field to highlight the second  element, the printer’s address. Clever way to deliver crucial advertising info, yes, but for this discussion the important fact is that we are used to seeing black as a background, as in the prints of Rembrandt, or Castiglione (monotype’s inventor), who use it to convey transcendent mystery, or to highlight bright foregrounds. Here it’s used as a visual tease of sorts, with the darkened foreground obstacle challenging us to peek at what’s going on behind.

The middle ground also has two elements- The printer, done in a simplified chiaroscuro to impart the drama of what he’s doing, ala Rembrandt; and the print he’s inspecting.  This is the most important info in the poster, the printer’s solitary quest for perfection, his attention to detail; and it is substantively done all in white, or to be precise, no color at all, since it is the white of the paper that is generally used by printmakers to get the brightest highlights. There is black, of course, to outline the intensity of the expression on his face, and to set his business-like suit off from the background. We are given to understand, both literally and figuratively, that this print shop owner stands out.

The background is the background, naturally. They often suggest distance, a void, an infinity; restful to the wandering eye, open to contemplation on what has been seen in the fore- and middle ground, but not often a hot, in-your-face foreground-type color like red. It is so insistent that it pushes the middle ground out toward us, adding to the intensity of the message.

Almost every color decision is the opposite of how our instincts tell us color should behave in a realistic image. The foreground is an obstacle to entry into the picture. The most important information is done in no color at all. White is the color most often used to denote negative space, but here used to denote the most positive elements in the composition, printer, press and print.The background is a hot, insistent, almost bludgeoning primary. But these visual transgressions grab us and lock us in instantly to a simple, powerful message (presumably, about printmaking’s power to deliver simple, powerful messages).

Again, bold, graphic, advertising is not necessarily fine art printmaking, which often needs to convey complex messages. But the two have developed hand in hand since the dawn of the printing press, and there is much to learn from it. Thoughtful, unique color use can really make your monotypes stand out.

My next workshop is Monotypes for Advanced Beginners, a studio class for people with some past printmaking experience who want a dialogue about developing their ideas in unique ways. Register by February 21 here:https://asld.modvantage.com/Instructor/Bio/1053/joe-higgins

Source of the picture is The Poster in History, Max Gallo, NAL, 1975. I’ve left the photo credit on the scan, at the top. I could find no further info on the artist, Ming.

 

 

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Coming Out of the Refrigerators

January 05, 2017

From the 20’s through the 40s, both newspaper comics and comic books featured women creators and tough smart female characters. That changed with the 50’s move toward conformity and censorship in all media, but especially comics, deliberately infantilized during the Wertham witch hunt, though the medium had previously appealed to all ages. Women often appeared as marriage-obsessed brats who needed a spanking.

An exception was feisty Little Lulu by John Stanley, which belongs with Marston’s Wonder Woman with the great feminist characters of pop culture. Marvel Comics’ much-noted renaissance in the 60’s in fact placed female characters in very subsidiary roles, as Mike Madrid’s well regarded survey, Supergirls, notes. The otherwise revolutionary undergrounds tended to sexualize women. It wasn’t until the alternative publishers that emerged with the growth of the direct market and the Punk/DIY movement in the 80’s when women began self publishing titles such as Wimmen’s Comics and Twisted Sister, that their viewpoints became a part of comics again.

This did not end the struggle, of course. Mainstream (superhero) comics, with the exception of slight stirrings, remained a sexist fanboy’s club, in both production and characterization, for over two more decades of broke-back* “bad girls” and “women in refrigerators”.

It’s finally changing, and as many feminists have long advocated, comics for girls are leading the way. Gail Simone, pioneer female comics creator and the instigator of WiR, speaking of sexualized disposal of female characters in 1999, noted “If you demolish most of the characters girls like, then they won’t read comics.” Women writers, artists and colorists have now taken advantage of the rise in creator-owned properties rising through the zine and web comics world to bring fresh air and light to the dingy fan boy world the direct market comic shops had become. Libraries and traditional bookstores are enthusiastically reinforcing this trend, and the big producers, spurred by a very vocal WiR-inspired feminist voice in the blogosphere, are finally placing women such as Kelly Sue Deconnick and G. Willow Wilson of Captain Marvel, a muslim teen super heroine, in starring roles.

A long time Lulu, and even sometime Archie, fan, I’ve read several critical analyses of women in comics, such as Madrid’s Supergirls or Noah Berlatsky’s Wonder Woman, which defends the positive subtext of then-radical queer sexualities in Marston’s WW, without glossing over its sometimes misplaced fetishism. When I run across a teen or young adult comic for girls, I tend to pick it up, if only out of curiosity.

Many of these titles have been acclaimed critically and have sold well, indicating a market too long ignored. Others seem to pander, as if girls and YA women were a niche market some VP ordered them to check off the list. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

Wet Moon Sophie Campbell: An edgy goth melodrama about multiply tattooed girls at a southern art school. Extremes of punk rebellion manifested in fashion and body piercings and played off against the disdained redneck mainstream as a group of young adult girls attempt to sort their love lives. It’s well paced with good dialogue. It’s only the first of six volumes but sets up well. It seems to be a rewrite of a previous series of comics. I always favor adventurous, edgy writing as opposed to mainstream fluff, and I feel that even pre-teens enjoy somewhat rebellious or transgressive themes, but this would probably be most appropriate for high school or college readers.

Bandette, Colleen Coover: It must be wonderful, if fluffy, summertime reading for girls of 12, with a perky Audrey Hepburn-like hero lifted from To Catch a Thief. It has Euro-style clear line art and some good running gags. But its ineffectual villains and lack of real dramatic tension is a recipe for a superficiality that it rarely transcends.

Nimona. Noelle Stevenson: This is a funny, clever, retro-futurist fantasy about a teen girl who is a shape shifter, and wants to be a super villain. She convinces an aggrieved former do-gooder to take her on as a sidekick, and the mentor/intern relationship is hilariously fraught. “There are rules”, to evil doing, he reminds her rather incongruously when Nimona delights in her body counts. It becomes clear that Nimona is more powerful than any of them dreamed, and the subtle themes of emotional maturity and anger in this quirky coming of age fable, along with the graceful, spontaneous cartooning and bright, evocative colors are enough to make it appealing to any age. It resists easy answers or moral dogma, and its impetuous, transgressive heroine must be a breath of fresh air to a teen reader. It was a finalist for a National Book Award, and will be made into a movie. One senses a classic-in-waiting.

Lumberjanes, Noelle Stevenson: The success of Nimona and the sudden rush to serve the long ignored and hungry girl market opened opportunity for Stevenson, and this collaboration with Grace Ellis and Brooke Allen for Boom! Comics resulted. It’s necessarily more episodic, and becomes fairly silly at times, but its themes of girlhood friendship (and nascent crushes) have made it a hit and won it a comics industry Eisner Award. It takes place in a summer camp with a high incidence of paranormal activity, and the plucky heroines meet each three-eyed terror with resolve while bucking up each other’s courage. I prefer Nimona’s darker, more complex themes, but I’m clearly not the target market and Lumberjanes delivers intelligent fluff ala traditional classics such as Little Luluwith none of Archie’s male-centric conformity.

Patsy Walker, AKA Hellcat, Kate Leth and Brittney Williams: This character as teen market superstar seems like kind of a no-brainer, but something went wrong here. Marvel has been active in development of comics for girls and an early pioneer of strong female characters since the 80’s X-Men reboots. And Patsy herself is a holdover from the first boom in teen- and romance comics in the 50’s. But Marvel obviously overthought or over-analyzed this one. In fact Patsy’s last appearance, as sidekick to She-Hulk in the alt-comics inflected Marvel Now series, had already been named to some comics-for-girls lists when they let a focus-group mentality and cliche take over for the present reboot. There’s nothing wrong with gay and bi characters, until they take on a vaguely stereotyped, check list feel. And the simplistic art in pastel colors also feels a bit like a marketing move. Stereotype infects the storytelling too, with illustrations of smartphone text messages often taking the place of inventive interplay between word and picture, a glaring violation of the ‘show it, don’t tell it’ rule. How did they get this so wrong?

Bombshells: Alternative-universe series where various young female superheroes-including Anne Frank (!) battle Nazis in WWII. The art (meh) and plotting are by committee, and as these group things go, the story is choppy and abrupt, but again, escapist comics targeting girls or young women are rare at DC, and they’ve lasted 18 issues, so who am I to judge?

Mockingbird, Chelsea Cain and Kate Niemczyk: A spin off from TV’s Agents of Shield, with some of the same romantic complications, a healthy dose of snark and fantasy, and some pretty engaging art. Marvel gets this one right, as it does with Hawkeye and Silver Surfer, two other general interest comics with strong female leads that seem inclusive without pandering to stereotyped marketing categories.

Saga, Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples: Though war and sex take very prominent roles in this general interest sci-fi epic-to-be (it’s ongoing), I’m betting teen girls make up a lot of its NYT Bestseller List readership. Partly because its overriding theme is the power of love and family. It’s narrated by the offspring of a very unlikely marriage of warring soldiers, and it’s funny, heartwarming and poignant with appealing illustration and endearingly bizarre characters.

This One Summer , Jillian and Mariko Tamaki: These cousins are the gold standard for graphically and thematically sophisticated cartoon literature for girls, in my opinion. This tale of quietly but seismically changing relationships among friends and family in a previously idyllic summer vacation spot reads like a novel and looks like a master ink painting. In short, it puts the “graphic” and “novel” back into “graphic novel”, a not very descriptive marketing category in the book industry’s raging love affair with the various types of comics now flooding the shelves. As a measure of the suddenness of this infatuation with bookish female teens, their last GN, Skim, was even better in its take on girlhood coming out rites of passage, but did not attract nearly as much mainstream attention. And there is nothing in these richly drawn, subtle, emotionally incisive coming-of-age tales that prevents an engaged reading by even, say, middle aged men, so read them, and see what happens when a vibrant medium meets a diverse and challenging creative landscape.

Paper Girls, Brian K. Vaughan, Cliff Chiang: Image Comics has evolved from the home of sexist “Bad Girls” such as Witchblade, etc, into a solid purveyor of genre with a fairly diverse line up of creators and characters. Interesting, if not all that innovative story of 12-year old paper girls in a post-apocalyptic time warp. Again, if I was a 12 year old, I might think this is great.

*Brokeback is the snide feminist term for the contorted poses that busty, wasp-wasted female superheroes were forced into in order to display both tits and ass during the bad girls era.

 

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Winter-Spring Update on Workshops and Shows

January 01, 2017

Winter-Spring Doings:

I hope all of you had a wonderful autumn, and a great Holiday/Solstice season! I’ve got a lot going on this winter/spring, and I’ll be getting off to an earlier start in 2017.  I hope to see you for one of these events.

Workshops:  The next session of  Monotypes For Beginners begins January 17 and runs until February 7. There are still spots open, if you’d like to or get a start on some creative “me” time in 2017. The full workshop runs on Tuesday mornings and gives you every basic step needed to certify you to work independently in the Print Room.  I also have one Moxie U Monotypes sampler, on February 21. This is a three-hour, hands-on intro type class. I do most of the technical stuff, and you just make monotypes. And it’s less than $30! There are still spots open for that, too. Online registration is here.

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Monotypes For Advanced Beginners comes right after that, Feb. 21- March 7. This is a follow-up class to my Monotypes For Beginners workshop and is intended for people with at least some printmaking experience. It covers some more advanced techniques, such as larger work and Chine Colle, and is a bit more portfolio-,  or studio-oriented. Take it as a part II continuation of Monotypes For Beginners, or take it independently if you’ve already had that course, or other printmaking experience, and can demonstrate knowledge of the press.

 I’ve added an evening session of my Monotypes For Beginners workshop

The biggest news is the spring schedule  running a bit later, as I’ve added an evening session of my Monotypes For Beginners workshop.  I’ll have a Session B of Monotypes For Beginners, beginning  April  4 on Tuesday evenings and it will run for 5 weeks, making it very affordable. It filled up very quickly the last two times I’ve given it, and I’ve also had quite a bit of feedback that more evening sessions would be welcome. This affects younger people who have to work, and teachers looking for development credit, which is available at the League. In all, there are more of my workshops of various sizes and times available this spring.  I’ll post a complete list at JoeHigginsMonotypes.com, or you can search and register online at ASLD.org.

There is also a holiday show wrapping up in Colorado Springs at G44 Gallery. I’ve recently refreshed there with about 10 new pieces, so go say hi to Gundi!  You can buy selected works online through their website, and on JoeHigginsMonotypes.com.

Appointments to see work are always available. Email or call 720.855.7340. This is a productive time of year for me, so if you just can’t wait till Summer Art Market to see new work, contact me.

I will have a brand-new debut piece in the Art and Soul Gala marking the 30th Anniversary year of the Art Students League. Sale of this piece will partially benefit the League, which I believe in, and enjoy teaching at. If you have a question about any workshop or show, feel free to contact me.

Finally, people already active in the print room  have an opportunity to help the League! I’ll let Libby Garon, our Marketing and Development Coordinator, and a printmaker herself, explain:

“After a very creative conversation with Mr. Joe Higgins & Shari Ross, we all came up with the idea of having programs at ART&SOUL [Benefit] with original artwork from the printmaking department on the front.

Prints that have not passed your quality inspection can be torn down to 4”x6” to create unique pieces and placed in photo corners of each program, creating a unique framable piece for each guest (or each pair) to take home that night as a party favor.

If each printmaker was able to donate 12-15  4”x6” pieces we would need about 20 printers, approximately.

The goal is to have a total of 250 and we will have volunteers place each piece in the photo corners.

I am suggesting that we all get together Thursday, January 5 from 4:30-9:00. There will be snacks and wine as well.

Please note: you don’t have to attend the tear down party to participate. You can tear them on your own time, but please do let me know how many you can submit, and  drop them off by January 20.”

To me, this sounds like a fun way to not only support the League, but to meet other artists, compare notes, and creatively re-assess work you’ve already done. As I often say in my workshops, a good print is sometimes not a function of what you put in, but what you take out. I’ll be there, so I hope to see you!

 

A very happy and peaceful New Year to all. We’ve had a rough 2016, but I still believe in the power of art and will be looking forward to meeting new friends in ’17!

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America Goes Low: Art, Culture, and Political Healing

November 30, 2016

I’ve got some news about workshops and shows to post, but first, a little commentary on the current political regression:

I don’t make a lot of political commentary on this page, as it’s a bit counter- productive to what I’m trying to do here. My art isn’t demonstratively political, I can at least provide a haven from my political opinions for the people who come here to enjoy it. But art, culture and politics cannot be completely separated, as my early post on the importance of access to health care to the arts makes clear.

So in trying to come to terms with what most mainstream commentators recognize as a president-elect with fascist tendencies, I’ve had to ask myself how the art can help us reverse this disturbing trend.

Waves of anger and nausea, stress and distraction are to be expected, but I do not intend to add my anger to the bonfire of rage, ignorance and intolerance that the dumbfucks have lit. Resistance is a good thing: well organized and thought out, especially in the areas of health care and Medicare, environmental issues and immigration, which will be under siege in these reactionary times. There are many ways to protest and resist, and I will continue to use them. But in the meantime, art, books and friends will be my refuge. I’ll try to stay off social media for a while, do some more writing and sketching, and let the darkness do what it does, which is to prepare for the light.

First of all it’s polarizing to post too much about it. While anger is a natural human reaction to the travesty of intolerance we witnessed on Election Day, and a time-tested motivator to the type of activism that will be needed to rescue the country from incipient fascism, I don’t wish to add mine to the raging bonfire of entitled grievance that has been started out in the ideological hinterlands. My hot air, however righteous, can only fuel that inferno of ignorance. The proto-fascist backlash has a momentum of its own in this country, and must be met with real contemplation, not reflexive confrontation, lest it feed on itself.

Second, though I haven’t articulated this very well over the years; as I’m sometimes guilty of indulging my own anger- I feel real empathy for those who’ve chosen this path of fear, anger and scape-goating of minorities, though of course without endorsing their rather self- destructive solution. Some of the grievances are real, though whom they have chosen to blame are ghosts and strawmen, planted in the path of their blind rage by the authoritarians and oligarchs who have successfully manipulated them.

Third, anger is destructive to my own personal growth and creative energy. It creates actual physical stress, for one thing, to which many we saw on social media on the night of the election can attest. If we could have done a word search on Facebook and Twitter, I’m sure the word “nausea” would rank very high. It’s distracting and self reflexive, not good companions to personal  reflection and contemplation, which aid in thoughtful creativity.

And of course it doesn’t work. We’ve seen an entire reactionary political backlash fueled by anger, and what they got for all their self-consuming rage was… that. It’s unlikely to make them feel better about their lives, or about their country. After abuse and bullying comes self loathing. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a massive, red-state-wide temper tantrum, and it can’t be solved with more anger. However, we can’t put Michigan and Wisconsin in “time-out”.  We are, much as we hate to admit, not parents, we’re peers. As abhorrent as these people’s views are, they must be addressed as equals.

So it’s time to breathe, count to ten and listen to the grievance, without endorsing the ignorance. Somewhere between the lines of  the ugliness, the anti-gay screeds, the religious intolerance, and the deep seated hatred of women, there are real  issues that could be addressed without buying into the hate, to defuse the bitter anger these people have given into:

Educational opportunities must be increased. The rather pathetic cry to “bring our jobs back” (newsflash, demagogue voters: they’re not coming back, no matter which orange tin-pot you install in the oval office) would be greatly reduced by simply getting more people in rural areas and depressed suburbs into higher ed, even community colleges or computer schools.  Equally at risk with the redneck crowd are the immigrants whose votes are depended on for the Democrats’ coalition, so it’s a win-win.

Infrastructure needs to be repaired. This degradation is the GOP’s own fault of course, but it will provide jobs for the aggrieved and strengthen the country for the future. Again, emphasis must be placed on rural areas, who often  have overcome their distrust of schools, art centers and public transit when real, decent jobs are provided.

Arts, culture, religion are potential allies, not necessarily enemies. Bush’s plan to fund faith-based charities could be revived and converted  to enlist more moderate religious orgs to counteract the poisonous mega-churches where right wing intolerance incubates.  Yes, we’ll wind up funding kitsch like ten commandments sculptures and youth centers with abstinence programs,  but the trade-off could be meth education and occupational training, with opportunities in senior care and home health care in areas where they are desperately needed.

Many rural areas truly are depressed and deserve our attention. This is also true of immigrant suburbs too. The almighty free market has fattened the cities at the expense of outlying areas, and to that extent, the rage is justified. The orange buffoon who rode this wave of ignorance will have little interest in these things, of course, except as a sop to his massive ego. Yes, we could wind up with a brand new hospital or two named after a certifiable member of the rape caucus. But the Republican Congress might be amenable to sliding some relief for their incredibly Gerrymandered districts into the coming care package for billionaires their corrupt colleagues are sure to demand. The demagogues used to sneer at this as “throwing money at the problem”, but the poor whites who actually do the voting are in fact the biggest consumers of welfare, and won’t complain about money flowing to their small towns, as long you don’t call it that. Similarly, The deficit issue was co-opted by Dems from Clinton on, and is a dead issue with the GOP.  Rural economic relief was how FDR sold the New Deal to Congress, thus marginalizing the radical ultra conservatives for two decades. What matter if we drive up the debt to defuse the vindictive rage of the white power crowd. It must be insisted to include black and immigrant areas, too, and when possible to include the more traditional arts as a tourism attractor to depressed areas.

It could lead to a lessening of fear and rage in the boonies. This is the real driver of the dysfunctional  GOP, the demagogues who intentionally fan the flames of hatred only look to profit from it. Jobs and tourism might pave the way for a stronger economy and a more temperate political dialogue.  This could eventually lessen the impact of social change on psychologically threatened white males and loosen the grip of rape culture, bigotry and gun fetishes on the fragile ego of the uneducated white male.  A few more social moderates in the GOP caucus might result, balancing out the political opportunists who prey on these red state insecurities.

Yes, it’s incremental, a real dirty word with the far left dreamers. Yes, the representatives who might sign on to solidify their districts will hypocritically continue to provide lip service during campaigns on “wasteful government programs” for the benefit of the gullible, but they will not vote against it as they are in the White House now and will need to bring something home and is it not better to see them profit politically in this way, than to accept Koch brothers’ money to foment  anti-immigrant hatred?

And it can’t hurt to try. Our own propensity for outrage at every cultural failing, every pipeline, and every moralizing dickhead, hasn’t really solved much, as we found out November 8. We should save our energies for the truly important battles: women’s choice, environmental treaties,  immigration reform  and reducing militarism, which are feeding this incipient domestic terrorism and hardened hatred. We must cop to our own sometimes extremism and admit that we are equal partners in the race to vilify honest political compromise, incremental social change, and the large amount of hard working politicians who still want to do things together but are stranded between the loudmouthed blowhards on both sides. It doesn’t mean compromising our values, it means rewarding honest intentions, whether we agree with them or not.

As a culture, we’ve grown fat slow and angry, swinging for the fences of political absolutism, rather than playing the small ball and manufacturing compromises. It opens the field for manipulators to play a cheater’s game with the lesser angels of our social media and leads to real corruption, as we are about to see, not the kind the conspiracy theorists on both sides screech about.

Neither side is reacting well to seismic social changes, whether the side that desires their undeniable benefits, or the side that fears the insecurities it inevitably brings.  It leads to a failed state. While honorable resistance to the very real threat to democracy that demagoguery brings is needed, so is a recognition  of, and concern for the very real needs of these victims of a rapacious political culture. We can work together without sacrificing our principles.

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How and Why to Do Black and White in Monotypes

October 24, 2016

“Say, it’s only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea”

-A Paper Moon, Billy Rose/ E.Y.Harburg/Harold Arlen

This image relates to memory and the way we move through it.

“Man With Torch”, Monotype, 30×42″, 2004. In this large monotype, black and white each define both positive and negative elements. White forms the infinite misty negative space behind the smoke and the water, for example, but also defines highlights on the water, and billows in the smoke. Charred trees foregrounded in black are silhouetted against distant grays and brown blacks. Similar values used in multiple compositional structures can make for dynamic graphics.

Color is an integral component of all art. We regularly talk of “color” when describing sounds in music, for example.

But in talking color in art, we often forget the two colors that are not considered colors at all: black and white. Managing black and white in ink on paper composition is at the very core of composing good prints.

For one thing, there is the subtractive nature of light in printmaking. As with any sort of color involving pigment, the addition of the pigment subtracts various wavelengths of light from those being reflected back to the eye. Unlike additive color such as projected light, where addition of more color eventually results in bright white, in subtractive color, you tend toward black. And in the thin applications of ink under pressure inherent in printmaking, it’s not possible to completely cover most inks. The most white space, and thus light, you will ever see in a print is in the blank piece of paper you tear before printing anything. Everything thing you do from then on only reduces the amount of light in your composition.

It’s also true to a certain extent, of watercolor, though many water colorists can cover with Chinese white ink, or gouache in their paintings to bring back the white areas. There is a very nice show of  Charles Burchfield pictures at the Denver Art Museum now where you can find wonderful examples of that. Print makers can certainly add opaque water media such as acrylic paint or even pastel to a print, making it a hand colored print, but in its essence as something run through a press and thus presented as something graphic and in some way repeatable (monotypes are not strictly repeatable, though a ghost can be made, which has very unique advantages in itself, explained here). So white is a valuable visual resource in the print room. And in managing the sorts of positive/negative relationships that bold graphics and dynamic compositions often depend on, it is indispensable.

Its material opposite and spiritual twin is black. While both can evoke a void or an infinity, and each bring definition to shape, as in chiaroscuro, only black can be physically applied in a pure state in printing. And it cannot be taken away. White is just the opposite, and thus becomes almost sculptural. It is fun to work with white inks, but even “opaque” white does not cover nearly as well as black. The best example of this is in scratchboard-style composing such as seen in the monotypes of Castiglione, their inventor, who recently had a show at the DAM.

It thus becomes very important in monotype printmaking to be “present”. One must have a good sense of where the light in a given composition is “coming from” and where it is going. Transitions from white to black and from positive to negative space create compositional movement and intrigue. This is true in any medium, of course, but in print media it cannot be corrected, and must be planned for. A monotype can be layered with great subtlety, tones shifting almost miraculously into hues as complex as many oil paintings, but the white slips away with each run as relentlessly as melting snow. It’s true whether the composition is abstract or realistic, hard-edged or gestural, baroque or minimal.

So having a sense of balance and proportion is vital, even if balance is accomplished with one shining burst of light in the darkness. In the most poetic sense, the two need each other, as the Bible, and artists from Rembrandt to Escher to Motherwell remind us. Because that bit of light may be where your viewer’s eyes enter your picture.  And the finest pin prick may be where they move after that, and how they are led through your composition, searching and constellating as with stars on a dark night. Eyes bring light to the synapses, and their movement is analogous to interest and engagement in the viewer. Grays and blacks can be compelling and dynamic, and a dark composition can create real mystery but there is a danger of busy-ness or a visual claustrophobia when there is too much of a grayness in a print, and if there is real depth or motion in your monotype, a bright graphic electricity, the chances are that the white is shining through somewhere like a big paper moon.

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The World Is a Funny (Book) Place

October 17, 2016

I read some big, brainy, brick shaped books this summer. A respite was inevitable, and when my eyes want a rest, I very often pick up some comics.

Comics, A Global History 1968 to the Present, Dan Mazur and Alexander Danner: The 50’s suppression of comics in America had echoes in Europe and Japan, but they weren’t as long lasting, and thus innovation came sooner there. This is one of the valuable areas of context offered in Comics, which despite its limitations, is the most comprehensive survey of the creative maturing of the medium around the world I’ve seen. I was searching for a history of Euro comics from WW II onward. This isn’t it, but it’s a very readable account of the modern era of comics in their three largest markets.

Any art form requires context for informed interpretation. Comics, a form that has been subject in this country to an infantilizing censorship and commercialized lassitude since the witch hunts of the post war era, have lacked any sort of critical context for decades. This is finally changing, and important scholarship is proliferating, often at a pace that stretches the budget of an amateur scholar.

I thus passed this book up in the store both for cost, and for its scope, which cuts off the crucial 50’s Mad Magazine/EC era, roots of the seminal undergrounds. Mazur and Danner choose to start in 1968, a year rich in a larger cultural sense, but an odd place to start here in that it was the industry’s self-censorship push of ’54 (the infamous Comics Code Authority seal on the comics of my youth) that really led to the Underground comics movement of the 60’s, and ultimately, the innovation of the 70s and especially the 80’s. By putting EC out of business, the Code created an artistic void into which the young fans who missed those raucous comics (such as R. Crumb) ventured when they started Zap Comix, et al.

Mazur and Danner, limited by page count, did find a rich time to start, but nowhere else in the book is cultural ferment linked to pop culture innovation, so it seems arbitrary, and a missed opportunity. The reactionary Reaganauts and the dystopian Dark Knight Returns or Otomo’s Akira? Grinding, punitive Thatcherism, and Judge Dredd, or Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta? Not explored. To be fair, the book runs to 300 pages already, and it’s my only major complaint. The book, which I finally got from DPL, certainly does provide a creative context, if not a cultural one.

Instead, I was impressed by its integrative vision of comics as international art form. Within its narrowed time frame, it examines both Euro and American mainstream comics against underground/alternative upstarts, and provides a nice survey of alt- and mainstream manga, not to mention the frequent cross pollinations, such as Akira’s influence on Dark Knight or the “British Invasion” of creators that led to DC’s Sandman and Watchmen.

This survey attempts to link these culturally disparate but creatively interlinked threads in the development of a more literate and adult oriented comics media. Its authors appear to be knowledgeable about this complex period in comics history, where the rebellious spirit of early 20th century comics found rebirth in reaction to the post war censorship movements.

They note that there was in the late 60’s and early 70’s a movement to different marketing dynamics. The Franco-Belgian comics went to an album format (as American comics are doing today) while American comics began to be sold in the direct market, opening opportunity for creative experimentation. By then, Manga and Euro comics were already appealing to a more mature reader, often in the form of Science Fiction and other genre. This movement came to our shores in the form of Heavy Metal magazine, which despite its T & A editorial bias, published many interesting comics auteurs, as they point out.

At around that time, I  discovered Herge’s Tintin. This was a real revelation when I first encountered it in the college bookstore. His ligne clair (clear line) style defined Euro comics as a whole new simplified graphic style different from over-rendered American superhero comics, a real breath of air. The authors clarify the roots of different European styles of the time, tracing clear line to Brussels, and another looser style, epitomized by Goscinny’s Asterix, to Charleroi.  By the early 80’s Fantagraphics and Raw Magazine had begun publishing Jacques Tardi, Jooste Swarte and other European artists, who’d re-appropriated clear line with an ironic, post modern twist.

I was immediately hooked. Naturally, these early discoveries were on my mind as I read Comics, so I returned to two Euro comics pioneers.

Tintin has been recently repackaged in a smaller format, and I don’t recommend them. The whole appeal of clear line is its simple, open lines, allowing the art and story more space and air. Reducing the size of the panels defeats this. Herge is very funny and engaging in his details. The older format is often found on eBay or in used bookstores at great prices, and allows Herge’s dynamism and visual pacing to shine. The early stories, such as King Ottakar’s Sceptre, echo romantic genre fiction, such as the Prisoner of Zenda, but with interesting political overtones in the approach of WWII.

I found Adele Blanc Sec, by Jacques Tardi, in a favorite used bookstore. Tardi was a pioneer of more adult-oriented genre comics in France in the mid 70’s, mostly in the realm of the murder mystery, but also in a history of a soldier’s (his father) experience in the WW I trenches. In Adele, plots pile complication upon complication in lieu of a cohesive narrative about a mysterious prehistoric bird terrorizing Paris, but his cartooning, hovering stylistically between Herge’s clear line style and George Pichard’s texturally voluptuous landscapes, is atmospheric and evocative of the Edwardian era he seeks to evoke.

Empire of a Thousand Suns, Mezieres: 70’s Euro sci fi in a stylish “Charleroi School” art but fairly unsophisticated plot. Had hoped for something like Barbarella, a sexy pioneering sci fi fantasy, but got a pedestrian space mystery instead. The parallels between it and the slightly later first Star Wars movie are quite striking, though.

It was also in the early 80’s that I had my first taste of Manga. This came in Raw, too, which published 70’s Garo magazine alumni such as Yoshiharu Tsuge. They also introduced such important Punk/DIY (“Do It Yourself”, a movement of self-publishing and music recording) creators as Gary Panter and Mark Beyer. More recently quite a bit of pioneering  alt-Mangaka such as Tezuka and Hayashi have become available, and Mazur and Danner have done a good job of tracking their impact in the Japanese market and elsewhere.  If you become curious about these European and Japanese creators, then any of the better anthologies, such as Kramer’s Ergot or  Mome (Fantagraphics); Drawn and Quarterly Showcase, or the massive Drawn and Quarterly 25th Anniversary collection ( D&Q); or back issues of Raw can provide good samples. Comics: A Global History unfortunately chose to present examples in the original languages (easier to get rights, I’m assuming), but the anthologies’ translations are pretty easily and cheaply available online or at a good used bookstore.

Comics continues into the 21st Century, with brief examinations of web comics; the “Fort Thunder” collective, working in what Mazur and Danner call a “Cute Brut” style of edgy, primitivist graphics merged with Disney-style anthropomorphism; and the autobiographical movement.  It is a real renaissance in comics right now, and the book will quickly become dated. I really hope they revise it then.  In terms of defining creative trends in the three main comics-loving regions, USA, Europe, and Japan, Comics makes for absorbing and necessary reading, and I did find myself referring back to it as I re-discovered old works.

Adult Contemporary by Bendik Kaltenborn: This Norwegian cartoonist is very much in the vein of Brecht Evans (The Making Of, below) and Brecht Vandenbroucke (White Cube); that is, very edgy satire with urban themes in a cartoon brut style of hyperactive color and unrefined line work. They really grew on me as I settled into their neurotically absurd humor.

The Making Of, Brecht Evens: Gorgeous and dense watercolors and absorbing layout in this tale of artistic ego turned loose in the hinterlands of creativity.

City of Glass, Paul Auster: adapted by Paul Kurasic and David Mazzuchelli. A Noirish thriller of identity and social interaction by Karasic, who once worked on Raw Magazine, and Mazzuchelli of Asterios Polyp and Batman Year One where he brought back a purer cartooning style to the over-rendered medium of superheroes. Mazzucheli’s stylizations sometimes carry real elemental power, as in Batman; and sometimes seem overly self conscious or precious. But it’s a compelling story.

Tales to Designed to Thrizzle, Michael Kupperman: bizarre non sequiturs and 50’s style ad graphics collide in this often funny satire of capitalist messaging. Best in small doses, possibly.

Drawn Together, Aline and R.Crumb: Another worthy anthology in the 80’s was Weirdo, where these unexpectedly affecting collaborations between R. Crumb and his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb appeared before being collected in this 2012 edition. Aline influenced him to try autobiographical comics, which she helped popularize, and he alertly recognized the more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts harmony of her scratchy primitivism with his iconic retro-E.C.Segar Zap Comix style. It is a visual analogy of what makes a relationship work; neuroses, kinks, self-absorption and all. The whole becomes a funny and romantic page turner and ultimately tells the fascinating tale of 35 years of their unconventional marriage. And, by extension, of the maturing and broadening of the conventions of an always vital medium.

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Fall News

October 10, 2016

_dsc8170-fwdcopyFall Doings:

I’ve got a lot going on this fall, after a quiet summer. I hope to see you for one of these events.

Workshops:  I’ve still got a couple coming up this fall. The next session of  Monotypes For Advanced Beginners begins October 25 and runs until just before Thanksgiving. This is a follow-up class to my Monotypes For Beginners workshop and is intended for people with at least some printmaking experience. It covers some more advanced techniques, such as larger work and Chine Colle, and is a bit more studio-oriented. There are still spots open, if you’d like to squeeze in some creative “me” time, or get a start on some hand-made holiday gifts. I also have one more Moxie U Monotypes sampler, on October 13. There are still spots open for that, too. Online registration is here.

 I’ve added an evening session of my Monotypes for Beginners workshop

The biggest news is in the upcoming spring schedule, where I’ll be getting off to an earlier start, and running a bit later, as I’ve added an evening session of My Monotypes For Beginners workshop. I’ll have a Session B of Monotypes For Beginners, beginning  April  4 on Tuesday evenings and it will run for 5 weeks, making it very affordable. It filled up very quickly the last two times I’ve given it, and I’ve also had quite a bit of feedback that more evening sessions would be welcome. This affects younger people who have to work, and teachers looking for development credit, which is available at the League. In all, there are more of my workshops of various sizes and times available this spring.  I’ll post a complete list at JoeHigginsMonotypes.com, or you can search and register online at ASLD.org

One of my favorite places for a demo

 

I have a free Demo and Dialogue at Meininger Artist Materials on  November 5 at 2 -4 PM. This is a Denver Arts Week event, and a great way to preview what you might expect in a workshop, or get a peek into my process.  Their set-up is viewer friendly, and the crowd is usually quite lively and full of questions and comments, so it’s one of my favorite places for a demo. You also get a 20% Off coupon for supplies!

I have two upcoming holiday shows: at Open Press, a Denver Arts Week event, opening Friday,  November 11, 6-9 PM, with a  First Friday event on December 2, 6-9 PM. Mark Lunning’s Open Press is a center for Denver printmaking for 30 years, so the show will feature some of the area’s best print work. I should be there both at the opening and First Friday, if you want to chat and say hello.  It runs through December, with gallery hours 12-5 every Saturday, or by appointment at 303.778.1115.

There is also a holiday show at G44 Gallery, in Colorado Springs, beginning  November 18.  You can buy selected works online through their website, and here on JoeHigginsMonotypes.com. Appointments to see work are available. Email or call 720.855.7340.

I hope all of you have a wonderful autumn, and a great Holiday/Solstice season!

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Book Porn

October 05, 2016

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A computer crash and a temp job in a shorthanded college bookstore really cramped my writing though I do have plenty of raw first drafts, typed shakily into my phone or tablet on public transit. So I’m posting some summer reading commentary now as I try to catch up: 

I finished The Novel, A Biography. It’s an eleven hundred page survey of novels and their authors, written by Michael Schmidt.  I’d intended to cherry-pick it, for authors I love, or am curious about. But its many and various cross referencings made it hard to put down. And its subject matter is undeniably as significant as any art history, about which many back-breaking tomes have been published.

The novel exists as both high and low culture, though it must certainly qualify as the world’s first pop culture medium, having come into being roughly at the same time as the printing press. It’s inherently ironizing, which is undoubtedly why it very quickly outgrew its early tendency to masquerade as “true” memoir, and became wildly popular with Cervantes and then Fielding’s introduction of contemporary satire. It goes without saying that most of the novels discussed in the book I haven’t read, though in choosing examples here, most I have.

I’m especially callow in regard to books written before the height of the American Romantic era, around 1850, which is why I picked up the book in the first place. I’d tiptoed around English Victorian novels like literary quick sand and somehow avoided finishing anything by Dickens in high school, actually bragging of not having flunked the class.

In university it was easy enough to concentrate on modernist writing. Summers then and non-term months were for pop culture heroes, genre and post-modernists. Yes, I probably read every Vonnegut novel before 1985. I wasn’t completely ignorant of the novel’s roots, though. I had a vague familiarity with and attraction to the picaresque and the Gothic, having read enough of my parents’ collection and literary criticism to make ad hoc connections between Cervantes, Melville and Pynchon.

But placing those things in the context of the novel’s development from Cervantes to Fielding; from Richardson to Austen to James, requires a road map and that is what Schmidt ambitiously attempts to provide- a bird’s-eye view.

Schmidt generates critical dialogue through the device of writers writing about writers. It’s a shifting perspective to be sure. He has his favorites (Woolf, Ford Madox Ford, Vidal), but often includes contradictory critiques, and thus one is left to compose one’s own critical map through a sort of triangulation. Nor does he hew to strict chronology, especially after 1900. This leads to pairings that are useful (Richardson with Austen), brave (Bruce Chatwin with Daniel Defoe), unimaginative or even stereotypical (a gaggle of early gay novelists followed by a murder of Jim Crow-era black writers) and plain bizarre (fellow paranoids, but political opposites Ayn Rand and Pynchon). A passage on John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress) alludes to Kurt Vonnegut (Billy Pilgrim, get it?). And if “Biography” can be defined in one sense as “mistakes made, lessons learned”, then what are we to make of the fact that the last chapter of the novel’s “Biography” features Saul Bellow, Phillip Roth and Martin Amis?

The point being that seeking the definitive would be a fool’s errand in such an expansive undertaking and Schmidt mostly avoids it.

 Schmidt does not attempt to rank or qualify writers, though he does give oblique commentary and his likes and dislikes are often easy to suss. Likes include picaresque adventures (Cervantes, Fielding) Late Romanticism (Melville) and early modernism (Woolf). Dislikes include Richardsonian romance, the Gothic (Scott), late Modernism (late Joyce) and most Post Modernism (watch out, Thomas Pynchon). Perhaps unsurprisingly, de Sade is not mentioned despite his fairly obvious, though often unacknowledged thematic affinities with Dostoyevsky and others (including Rand). Yet contemporary mainstream writers who’ve had best-selling decades ( Jane Smiley, John Irving) also don’t merit a walk-on.

Schmidt does include a chapter on genre where he discusses Raymond Chandler and Walter Moseley as artists before giving a wave of the hand to the putative heirs of Austen and the Brontes such as Barbara Cartland, who has sold hundreds of millions of books if not over a billion. This gives one an idea, when seen with the advent of mass market and trade PB market in the 50s, of just how massive and diverse the reading public has become. He imposes a cutoff, sensibly set at Y2K. It seems far less sensible after reading this, to subscribe to the conventional wisdom that the book is dying. After the apocalypse, who will survive along with the cockroaches? Jane Austen in various paperback versions, my adventures in bookstores both new and used indicate.

Having a road map is important, I think. I’d like to read Fielding’s Tom Jones, influenced by Cervantes and very influential in its own language. I can probably live- and die- without Richardson, but my sense -or sensibility (?!) is that Austen, inventor of what Schmidt characterizes as a “free indirect” interiority is of far more importance than the commonplace rubric “inventor of the romance genre” that’s often assigned her. I will probably continue to avoid Dickens. I feel I should try to get all the way through a Bronte sister, perhaps Charlotte this time. I can no longer avoid James, I fear, though that brings me to Woolf’s doorstep, a safe haven.  As the “too many books, too little time” shopping bag franchisees remind us, life is short- but novels are long. When the hell will I re-read Ulysses?  And can I get back the hours I spent with the overwrought moral and psychological convolutions of Iris Murdoch?

add to these the regretfully unread (Barthelme, Gaddis, and I did happen to read an old Granta excerpt of a then-prospective Martin Amis novel that Schmidt praises as a modern classic, and I’m very curious about it), the under-read ( Bellow, Roth and always, Woolf), and the untried (Hardy? Conrad?).

So Schmidt’s unwieldy bucket list gets two thumbs up here.  It’s the kind of book one would keep in a home with limited space because one would refer to it often, as each bucket list entry gets crossed off. If it is eccentric in its realization, then so are many readers.

My own bucket list started with Don Quixote, by Cervantes. Digging down to the very roots of the novel, I found an agreeable translation/annotation by Tom Lathrop. Ignoring the clunky framing conceit of a “true history” so characteristic of the era, I dove in. The tale is most ‘modern’ and vibrant when the indefatigably deluded would-be knight-“errant” argues strategy with his faithfully self-interested squire, but I guess we all knew that. The story is culturally imprinted, whether from childhood excerpts or Broadway lyrics, and the copious broken ribs and loosened teeth that incited Europe’s first ever viral laff-riot now seem tiresome and gauche, but the interplay between the Woebegone Knight and Sancho is still pure gold. Cervantes popularized the novel, it is often said. Less often he gets credited with the first buddy movie.

I had to stop near the end of Part I (1605) and skip Part II (1615, partially a Cervantes reaction to pirating) to move on to my temp job. It’s in a college bookstore; life plays some cruel jokes.

The Art of the Personal Essay, Phillip Lopate, Ed: Another bruising, categorizing war-horse that I found on the shelf next to Novel and couldn’t resist lugging home. Some of the major players from Novel are here also; notably Virginia Woolf. Again, there are the early pioneers – Seneca, Addison and Steele, Hazlitt taxing syntactically, but they lead eventually to 20th Century riches. Joan Didion, Max Beerbohm, Walter Benjamin and George Orwell, the list goes on in easily digested five to ten page bites. The editorial work is exemplary, with underlying themes emerging, then carrying from ancient Rome to Edwardian London. These are indexed for ease of comparison, and cherry-picking. My favorite, “Walking”, led to an exquisite, sublimely transporting gem by Woolf, “Street Haunting”, in which the artifice of needing a pencil leads to an impressionist’s fantasia reminiscent of the ‘House’ chapter in “To the Lighthouse”, along with the emotional coda of a domestic squabble and make-up. The kind of piece that in a small way, leaves you a different person coming out than going in.

It’s been a Woolf summer. I found, and dallied with, before I put away for Fall reading, a collection of critical essays on each of her books. I also inhaled Orlando, before savoring each crystalline Woolf-ian blurb on each Victorian and pre-modern writer in Schmidt. All the while repeatedly reminding myself that it’s now been decades since I read To the Lighthouse and A Room of One’s Own. Add them to the list.

Masterpiece Comics, R.Sikoryak: Sikoryak, a Raw Magazine vet from the 80’s, has been writing and illustrating these sly little mash-ups of high- and low culture and publishing them, very much under the radar, in anthologies all along. They’re collected here, and they’re funny because they get to the heart of the artificial divide between high and pop culture. In the process, we get a good laugh and confront the question of how and why we tell ourselves tales.

Here again, context is essential. Most can appreciate the hilarious sight gag of Dagwood in “Blonde Eve”, a biblical Garden of Eden retelling in the iconic “Blondie” style, carting arm loads of apples, waiter style, as he prepares to snack on the tree of knowledge. But a real shock of recognition comes to fans of Golden Age comics in seeing Raskolnikov, with his exaggerated sense of moral agency, compared with Batman’s vigilantism in Jerry Robinson’s dark Gotham City alleys.

 “Lil Pearl”, a Scarlet Letter retelling, gains far more satirical punch if one is familiar with Dell Comics’ Little Lulu, arguably one of the most widely read feminist voices of the benighted 50’s, who was continually and subtly turning the tables on, and claiming moral high ground from, the boys. And “Crypt of the Brontes”, a Wuthering Heights pastiche, becomes creepily compelling as a spot-on take of EC horror comics, complete with the narrating housekeeper in the iconic EC framing role as Crypt Keeper.

Sikoryak has retold Shakespeare, deSade, Camus and Dante ( as Bazooka Joe!) He apparently did not make a fetish of avoiding classic literature, as I did. Might Emily Bronte be rolling over in her grave at the thought of her masterpiece re-cast as  pre-code horror pulp? Possibly.

But she might also be tempted to grab Raskolnikov’s ax at the sight of one billion Barbara Cartland novels.

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A Brief Essay on How and Why to Make Monotypes

July 22, 2016

"Red Place", 2016, 20x13". It was built on a leafy yellow ghost image, with the green being a second layer, and the red being a final layer to highlight the negative/positive dichotomy of the chair. There is a sense, to me, that being "present" or truly in a "place" sometimes requires one to empty the mind.

“Red Place”, 2016, 20×13″. It was built on a leafy green ghost image, with the red being a final layer to highlight the negative/positive dichotomy of the chair. There is a sense, to me, that being “present” or truly in a “place” sometimes requires one to empty the mind.

Monotypes, though simple, are very process-oriented and often defeat results-oriented art making. Change is built in to the creative process, and often, until change is addressed, satisfying prints don’t happen.

We’ve let the word “print” become degraded and we often reflexively see them as a way of producing imitation paintings. The medium especially in recent decades, has outgrown the limitations of making additive paintings in ink, which date mainly to Ab-Ex days, and are a valid pursuit, but hardly cover all that monotype has to offer as a medium. The essence of printmaking is in subtraction and replication. The only form of (near) replication available to a monotype artist is the ghost impression.

The ghost occupies a role in printmaking that is unique to all of artistic expression. It is a post mortem on your original idea, retroactively half-baked, almost, but never quite, a mockery. It points the way to subtractive composition, and the clarity that comes of removing distraction. It contains info, attitude and atmospherics that the artist did not actively put there. It is a by product of a mechanization of the creative process.

It is the ghost in the machine.

A ghost, in printmaking, is a second, generally fainter impression using ink left over on a plate from which the intended first impression has been made. Degas would use these as a matrix for pastel drawings. But it can be layered over, partially or wholly, with variant imagery too, and in pulling ghosts from these variations, monotype’s potential for exploring a single idea quickly becomes exponential, dwarfing the usual, binary, pass/fail equation of the initial image to suggest multiple new ideas and implications. It is rich with suggestion in a creative sense, and its suggestions can easily be seen as subtexts, alternate iterations. or even pre-conscious speculations on the original image/idea.

Thus it takes on a (creative) life of its own, and enters an active conversation with the artist’s own inner monologues, turning it into a rich dialogue. And it often turns out that the ghost side of the conversation may know the artist’s mind better than the artist himself does. It certainly provides an opportunity to continue the conversation, and on a practical level, offers an escape route should the original print fail. It can provide vital feedback. Our ideas can be unworkable, half-baked, or even “not good ideas.” Creative block can ensue.

In case of creative block the ghost can provide a way forward. to “distract” is to perplex and bewilder, in an archaic sense. Its roots are in Latin “to draw apart.” It is a fragmentation of, rather than an imposition on, the creative impulse and in exploring ghost variants we can move physically toward the obstacle and engage its many implications, rather than meekly “going back to the drawing board”.

Monotypes do not eliminate the need for vision and planning. If anything, they quickly expose a lack of it. Vision is not retrospective, one does not “fix” a vision (whether in the sense of “holding” or “repairing”), and if one tries it quickly becomes overworked and imprecise. “Precision” means “exact and accurate” but its roots are in the Latin “to cut off”. The implication is that the longer an idea is worked and re-worked, the less sharp and exact it becomes.

Time is of the essence in monotypes, not in the sense of hurry, but in the sense of being present and alert. And being present, we are realizing in this very distracted life, is the ultimate creative act.

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