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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Lazy Daze

July 14, 2016

We’ve had a large hatching of dragonflies- possibly brought on by a sudden spell of cool wet weather. Squadrons of them, swarming the neighborhood. It seems like a nice omen for a summer that’s already been pretty enjoyable. I am teaching, and watching a lot of football. I pulled for the USA, then I pulled for Ireland, but I’ll pull for Azerbaijan if there’s good beer and someone who knows the difference between an in-swinger and an out-swinger. Subject for a long-postponed future post.

All the rest of the time, I’m reading. There’s been a large hatching of books, too. I had an art show last month; I like to stock up when I have cash. If it sounds like a vacation, that’s what it is. I head back to a temp job next week, and life is short. I’m reading prose; fiction, and non-,  but I’ll save that for another post to cut down on length. Here’s what I’m reading in comics:

 

Spaniel Rage: Vanessa Davis. These are sketch diary entries, in an engagingly loose pencil and ink style, of a twenty-something’s adventures in the NYC Millennials culture. Autobiographical comics have come a long way since the 80’s, and Davis’s uninhibited line work and eye for quirky human detail and absurdity is along with others such as Gabrielle Bell, a great example why.

Black Eye Magazine #1: Ryan Standfest, editor. There isn’t enough of this type of journal. It highlights edgier examples of new comics output, and offers critical examinations of some of the ignored creators of the censored 50’s and 60’s.  This issue has a good eye for comics outliers: Michael O’Donoghue’s Phoebe Zeitgeist, Al Feldman Panic comics, and the objectivist solo work of Spiderman creator and lone wolf Steve Ditko are all discussed. I found this 2011 number at a used bookstore, but I’ve located a second issue on the net ( Rotland Press.wordpress.com) along with an impressive selection of mini comics they’ve commissioned from artists like R. Sikoryak, of which, more below.

Comic Art #8, Todd Hignite, Editor: This well produced, but dearly departed journal featured critical essays and historical research on many comics and creators, from the medium’s origins to the present. This one has an interesting speculation on the origin of the word balloon, only somewhat marred by a tendency toward academic jargon; a long feature on the comics and graphics of Richard McGuire (Here); a look at the influence of Arizona’s Coconino County on  20’s newspaper cartoonists; and a critique of early Marvel Comics auteur Jim Starlin’s trippy, cosmic Warlock, from the 70’s. Back issues can be found on the web, and they’re all worth reading.

Sir Alfred #3, Tim Hensley: I’ll admit to my ignorance- I haven’t more than the barest knowledge of Alfred Hitchcock’s life, though I’ve seen many of his films. The intrigue here, for me, is in Hensley’s well crafted melding of “apocryphal anecdotes” from Hitchcockian lore with a dead on parody of the 50’s Dell children’s comics of once-anonymous now belatedly-recognized-comics-genius John Stanley.

Stanley, who might accurately be called the 50’s most popular feminist writer, wrote and sometimes drew Little Lulu comics. In these, Tubby and his gang, goaded on by an inflated sense of self esteem, often scheme to deprive Lulu Moppet of her allowance or a treat, or to con her into completing an odious task, all without surrendering the supreme entitlement of membership in their “No Girls Allowed” clubhouse. Almost invariably, Lulu, whether through her wits, or the impervious grace of the just, turns the tables on the boys. Stanley’s brave flipping of the insistent 50’s trope of the dumb, emotionally unstable, quiescently domesticated woman serves him well, as these comics will crack you up. Stanley later brought his eye to the burgeoning genre of 60’s teen humor, which Hensley also sends up in a previous effort, Wally Gropius.

In Sir Alfred, Tubby plays the role of eccentric legend Hitchcock, and the sense of entitled aplomb, along with a “well rounded” graphic profile in each makes it a genius bit of casting. Hitchcock was apparently known for poor treatment of women. The comic itself is a clever melange of gossipy vignettes and absurdly reductive movie plot summaries all paced and designed in the classic Dell “One-Pager” format.

This is really a bit overpriced. It’s packaged ($25) as an author-signed, limited edition oversized comic with a Giclee of an interior panel and a letterpress beer coaster (?). But Hensley is a rising star in comics and I was no more likely to pass up his latest satirical project than skip over a well crafted Little Lulu homage, which are more common than one might expect. R. Sikoryak, I think, launched this mini-genre in the 80’s with a pastiche of LL and The Scarlet Letter. These sorts of things are an example of a type of satire unique to comics, which ultimately trace back to the antic transgressions of EC’s Mad (Comics, not Magazine) and Panic. These were censored out of existence in 1955, but lived on in spirit in the 60’s undergrounds and 80’s Raw magazine.  Hensley, Sikoryak, and others are keeping up the tradition.

Spanish cartoonist Max channels The Andalusian Dog along with Charlie Brown and Jimmy Corrigan

Spanish cartoonist Max channels The Andalusian Dog along with Charlie Brown and Jimmy Corrigan

Bardin, the SuperRealist, Max: Spanish cartoonist Max gives us Bardin, a Charlie Brown-like Ligne clair (“clean line” cartooning, popularized by Herge in Tintin) euro-bohemian, who when not cadging cognac from friends in Madrid cafes, is admitted into iconically Dali-esque southern Spanish surrealist landscapes. Max has fun exploring Surrealist tropes, including the infamous “A cloud across the moon…” scene from Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou, and adds his own in a wide-ranging pastiche that includes Mickey Mouse. I’d passed this up when Max published it shortly after The Extended Dream of Mr D. I was still working full time and didn’t feel I had time to experiment with a lot of new reading, especially with such a bizarre approach, but it turns out to be delightful- witty and hilarious. I read parts twice and will return to it soon, I’m sure.

I’m halfway through Kramer’s Ergot #9, my favorite comics anthology, and picked up Emma Rios’ (Pretty Deadly) just-released I.D. I’ll comment on those later. I’ve also started a commentary on the hows and whys of monotypes which collects thoughts I’ve often shared with my classes.

 

 

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Summertime Update

June 23, 2016

Sincere thanks, as always, to the folks who came by during the Art Students League Summer Art Market a couple of weekends ago. It’s always a fun show, and this was another successful one. It’s also a lot of work and often comes during the year’s first full-on heat wave, as did this year’s, so I rewarded myself with a week’s vacation on the back porch with a stack of new reading material. So I haven’t posted, but expect a book post soon; it’s already being written.

I also hied myself down to the DAM for a first peek at the “Women in Abstract Expressionism” show that is attracting a significant amount of national attention. I wanted to get in while the conversation is still just beginning, and I’m joining it soon with a post of first impressions which may be posted here as quickly as a day or two, as I’m in the final edits with that.

My Summer workshops have started again. Most are sold out, but one, “Monotypes for Advanced Beginners“, starting in July, still has space left at last check. It’s intended for people with recent printmaking experience, so contact me if you are in doubt.  If you missed out on one of the others, the Fall schedule for those will be confirmed, and posted here in not too long.

I’ve tentatively added a free Meininger’s Demo and Dialogue to the schedule for November’s Denver Arts Week. I’ll post on the Workshops page when I confirm date and time. I don’t have a lot of free stuff going on this year, but the Meininger demos are real fun, with a great space and usually a good crowd, so I thought you should know.

I hope you are having a great beginning of Summer!

 

 

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Ab Expression: First Impressions

"Epic", Judith Godwin (Detail)

“Epic”, Judith Godwin (Detail)

I took a preliminary stroll through “Women of Abstract Expressionism”, the new and ground-breaking show of “under reported and undervalued” artists from the NYC and SF art scenes of the 40’s-60’s.I wanted to leave all pronounciness at the door, and let the show simply wash over me.

After an initial wide-eyed cruise through the show to take in the lay of the land, the groupings of multiple and various works by each artist, the rich colors, broad or frenzied strokes and gooped-on paint so characteristic of Ab Ex, I began to entertain myself with more ancillary aspects of the show, as outlined in the title cards.

There are 12 artists in the show, most of them now dead. I will not speculate on the role the omnipresent cigarettes dangling from their lips in contemporary photos may have played in this.

Frankenthaler, Krasner, Mitchell and DeKooning have, honestly, long been heavyweights, at least among the cognoscenti. Undervalued, perhaps (out of my league), but certainly not as under reported as several others that I, at least, have never heard of. This provides its own sort of pleasure, as the “bucket list” aspect of the viewing, the anticipated “wow” of seeing the male superstars of Ab Ex is washed away, and a freshness of first impressions takes its place.

A Joy DeFeo in blacks, grays and distressed whites is now on my bucket list for destination viewing in future visits. Mary Abbott shows a diversity of ideas; Pearl Fine’s use of non-traditional materials in painting anticipates Anselm Kiefer’s.

The design of the show, with its generous samplings of each artist, gives perspective. The artists’ own words and work defeats any lingering temptation to typecast along gender lines. For example, it’s hard to miss a large signature Krasner piece at the entrance in defiantly “pretty” pinks; and another later in the show which is awash in a lucsious magenta paired with a spring green. Yet a superficial impulse to judge these in terms of “feminine” qualities is quickly defeated by two nearby stunners executed in a potent, slashing brown/black, their insomniac beiges,drips and spatters palpably all her own, despite the famous “action” of her husband’s multi-million dollar canvasses. Krasner must have known by then that she was fated to become recognized primarily as Jackson Pollack’s wife. In this grouping, we can detect irony, resistance, anxiety and disappointment. And the ever present cigarettes in the photos perhaps speak to a jaded resignation, as they were wont to do in movies of the period.

Similarly, Elaine DeKooning shows an explosively chromatic “Bullfight”, which must certainly be related in many minds to her husband Willem’s work. But across the way are two portraits (of Willem) that in their measured flowing gesture and dark contemplative atmospherics of tone and color, must also qualify as two of the most unique in the show.

The exception that perhaps proves the rule is found in the opening vistas of the show, in the work of Helen Frankenthaler, whose soft pastel colors and abstract, misty riverine washes suggest flowery effusions and vulva-like redoubts in direct lineage to the delicate, so-designated cunts and petals of Georgia O’Keefe. But as the show notes steadfastly maintain, they primarily attest to her innovative and influential discovery of a staining process which spawned an entire movement, color field painting. So the scholarship behind the show is strong, and revelatory, and clearly not afraid to address the inevitable gender issues head-on and straightforwardly.

Nor is Krasner the only artist to allude, if only subconsciously, to the gender gap and its connotations. In a time when Freudian interpretation was still very influential, Judith Godwin, in “Epic”, situates a vaguely erectile swath of black and purple in a field of warming whites. Positive and negative space, good and evil, figure and ground, hidden grotto or towering monument, they are in a state of eternal flux in this show stopping canvas. And so might have Godwin’s ambivalence about her station in the art world expressed itself as well. But for the most part, the women of Ab Ex did their jobs for years despite the iniquities of the art market.

One interesting title card revelation: the testimonial evidence that San Francisco, as an American art scene outlier, was not afflicted with the sexist repressions of the well-monied NY city scene. This is a perspective especially appropriate to a place like Denver, where almost every artist, male or female, is “undervalued and under reported.” It speaks to the balance and thoughtfulness of the show’s curation, by DAM’s Dr. Gwen Chanzit.

Several of the works, by the way, are now in the collection of the DAM itself. This show is not a hasty band wagon leaping-on, a middle American museum calling desperately for attention. The museum clearly intended to find a niche for itself in this area for a while now and will continue to make this type of inquiry in the future. A previously installed, but related exhibition on the level below provides context for this show in a brief but well balanced look at Ab Ex as a whole. You shouldn’t miss it, because it supplies sketches and smaller works by some of the artists in the feature show.

There is much to be said for solitary and spontaneous wanderings through a show like this. It allows one to “listen” to what the show has to say. This show, though it attempts to set the historical record straight, also gives ear to these artists, as artists. I suspect that this show will become one of the more significant conversation starters in Denver- and the nation’s- cultural history.

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Workshop Update

May 18, 2016

I’m enjoying the Spring weather. Yes- even the rain ( see my latest reading list, below). I’m preparing for the Art Students League Summer Art Market, June 11-12, where I’ll be in Booth#98 with fellow monotype artist Taiko Chandler.

In the past, people have stopped by the booth to meet me and ask about Summer workshops I’m offering at the League. Then they go into the office and register right then. I’m not sure that will work this year as the workshops are filling up unusually quickly, and one is already sold out. So if you’d like to know more about the workshops, click here, or send me an email and I’ll try to answer your questions. Then register online to be sure you get the spot you want. If a workshop is full, you can put your name on a waiting list, as there are often cancellations. I’ll offer a new round of workshops in the Fall, too.

Reading List

Assassination Vacation, Sarah Vowell: Is she the queen of the history geeks? Sarah Vowell, of NPR’s This American Life, travels to obscure historical sites, such as the New Jersey beach town where James A. Garfield died after being shot by a deranged office-seeker, to get at the weltanschauung of American political violence. I liked Wordy Shipmates better, for its insightful scope, encompassing the Puritans, English history and the roots of American political thought. Assassination’s a neccessarily uneven tale, in that Lincoln’s death is (still) heartbreaking and consequential; whereas Garfield’s is (by now) stupid and tragically trivial. But it’s a wonderful, funny and amazing read nonetheless, with Robert Todd Lincoln’s bizarre appearances in each of the three stories a reminder of how even the most seemingly inconsequential historical events can be connected in powerful ways.  The last section, on McKinley’s shooting, dovetails nicely with another book I’ve recently read:

Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin: I’ve long-postponed a look into this very intriguing era of unfettered corporate greed, political corruption and progressivism, which speaks not only to the very beginnings of the “American Century”, but to our own era as well. I was not dissappointed. Goodwin links the tales of Teddy Roosevelt, Robert Taft and the Muckrakers of McClure’s magazine in painting a portrait of an era in great flux. The progressive era accomplished much in the way of redeeming the promise of American democracy, then dissipated as conflict over how best to reform fractured the party and opened the door to the inevitable conservative backlash. If this sounds familiar, as it does to me, then it’s a must-read. As they say, one must know it or repeat it.

Murder Me Dead, David Lapham: James M.Cain-like in its violence and bleak picture of doomed romance. Incisive yet lush black and white ink work, in dark puddles or crazed slashes or just haunting and unforgettable, like mascara on a beautiful schemer’s eyes. Lapham has always provided these wholly derivative yet compelling noir tales, because he understands that noir is about the ambience of violence in the harsh light of the extremes of the human soul.

The Best Comics of the Decade, Volumes 1, 2: It’s easy to forget that before the black and white, direct market explosion of the early- to mid 80’s ( where David Lapham, above, first appeared, that truly interesting comics were very hard to find. Many of the artists here pioneered the independent, literary album- or graphic novel-style comics now filling up bookstore shelves ( and providing one of their fastest growing categories). Could easily have been bigger, as inferior stories are included by seminal creators ( Hernandez Brothers, Bill Griffith, Jerry Moriarty), probably to make more artists fit, and others such as Alan Moore, are not represented by their best work because it was done for larger corporate publishers. But a nice return to the days when comics were still struggling to find a place in pop culture, and the corner comic store was where you went to see them grow and succeed.

"Dream Bed", Monotype, 15x11", 2015

“Dream Bed”, Monotype, 15×11″, 2015

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Studio Update

April 28, 2016

20160428-115954.jpg

It’s hard to pick up the thread in the studio after an absence. I’ve been making regular time there since January, but Fall and Summer were mostly a loss as I worked to pay off debt. Glad to be making progress on that, but producing work is the only way to increase sales, which pay debts, too.

I started with some chairs because they are simple enough visually to try new things, yet loaded with enough emotional connotation to make them interesting. I call them my “Place” series as I seek to establish my own place in the studio, and in the wider art world around it. I sometimes use chopped up mylar stencils from older work to create patterns and textures in newer work. It feels regenerative, and doesn’t stink as much as a mulch pile.

My next show will be the Art Students League Summer Art Market, June 11-12, some of these pictures will be available there.

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Get Back, Stack

March 31, 2016

 

Month of Printmaking Colorado has been going pretty well. It’s an artist/volunteer run event,  and Denver’s getting too big to do a large scale event with out professional organization and promotion, really. But the crowds have been pretty good, and the press has covered it well. I was pretty relieved when all of the first month’s burst of shows, events and openings (including my own) were over. Then I caught a mild flu. So I got myself on the couch and finished up several books I’d been reading. I recovered just in time for DINK (Denver Indepedent Comics Expo), a small gathering of the city’s burgeoning small press cartoonists and publishers held in an old Masonic hall downtown. There were also several nationally-known creators there and I picked up quite a haul of new stuff to read; I could easily have spent more time and money there, but I needed to get to a printmaking event.

I haven’t done a reading list since New Year’s Eve, so I’d like to catch up on what’s happening in my book stacks. There are two main ones, both titteringly high in the Winter crepuscule, so this is a long post. 

The Sea and Civilization, Lincoln Paine, is clearly a morning book. That is to say, when I’m not too busy, I can snatch an hour or two with coffee on the couch as rush hour jets by. This is important now, as my body clock makes serious, complex books hard to read at night. Some, like this one, get carried everyday from the Living Room stack (Po-Mo doorstops, notes-heavy history) to my Bedroom stack ( shorter, or humorous fiction or nonfiction, such as ambitious, large graphic novels and edgy short story anthologies), but the sheer weight of the many historical facts crammed into it makes my eyes heavy, and not many pages get read.

The Sea and Civilization deals with the role the seas played in furthering civilization, trade and exploration from the dawn of history on. Some how the author, Lincoln Paine, keeps it to 750 pages, including notes. Paine writes clearly and at a good pace, starting with the fascinating and awe inspiring tale of the ancient island-hopping exploration of Oceania, and through the story of the Egyptian trade and development on the Nile, and subsequent expansion into the Mediterranean and Red Sea. More familiar are the tales of Portuguese, Spanish and English exploration and colonization, though for me, the broad perspective he brings, fitting piecemeal seafaring tales from my youth into larger, economic and social trends satisfies my ship design and key battle geekery with a new found desire to understand cultural history as a whole. For instance, the advent of the printing press has a huge effect on European expansion because of the sudden availability of charts and navigational data. The book has maps to help visualize the myriad place names, though this is precisely the sort of thing for which I bought a historical atlas.

Pure Pajamas, Marc Bell: Pre-dates the Stroppy book I mentioned previously and is less refined- a little more fragmented and edgier of line and humor. The riffs on E.C. Segar and R. Crumb are more evident, and the humor- which sneaks up on you- is yet more surreal. Some things come close but miss altogether, such as some cartoon takes on song lyrics. Others anticipate the strange, commercialized dystopia of Stroppy, and its vapid, eager, Candide-like characters.

Sammy Harkham is a cartoonist and editor in the same vein of younger, somewhat surreal cartoonists whose simple, somewhat nervous line harks back to earlier times and definitely is a riposte to the over-worked, computer-assisted mainstream press. I met him at DINK and picked up Everything Together, a collection of shorter pieces that effectively highlight his well-tuned sense of irony, bathos, and precisely paced cinematic distance. I also got Crickets #5, the latest in his ongoing storyline about a small time movie producer in L.A. He very nicely signed and inscribed them with small drawings and we chatted a bit, but I thought of a dozen more things I’d’ve liked to ask him as I hurried off. And I know I will suffer collector’s remorse over not picking up the copy of the fourth Kramer’s Ergot ( cutting-edge comics anthology, soon to publish #9) he was offering for $50. 

Beverly, Nick Drnaso: These spare, candy-colored suburban nightmares recall nothing so much as the tone in Salinger’s Nine Stories. A surprising assertion, but the parallels are inescapable, and one story even takes place on a family vacation. There is a vaguely disquieting, even menacing tone, and the narrative drifts along, as if in a fish bowl, just short of resolution.  There are vague connections, with characters being referred to by other characters in other stories, and we have a hard time parsing which of them are actually menacing, and which are the menaced. Nor do the emotional weight in the words and pictures always sync up, a careful manipulation on the author’s part that proves as much about comics’ unique strengths as I’ve seen anywhere outside of Chris Ware. I was also reminded of Adrian Tomine, and others who’ve melded the simple lines of long ago Sunday Funnies with an existential dread.

After the Snooter, Eddie Campbell: It’s been a while since I’ve read Scots/Australian Eddie Campbell’s comics and that was an oversight. He’d been one of my favorite autobiographical cartoonists from the 80‘s, though his approach was always more straightforward and literary than the very satirical or stylized American counterparts such as Joe Matt, Julie Doucet and recently, Gabrielle Bell. His scratchy, unfinished-looking inks and impressionistic zip-a-tones mask a real precision of characterization and setting. His dead pan voice over, understated banter and subtle shifts in narrative weighting draw you into a life well-lived but prone to hangovers, regrets, new freindships and old haunts. In short, the whir and whirl of life itself, which Campbell has always excelled at depicting.

As soon as I got home after finding this used copy at Tattered Cover, I went barreling to the graphic novel shelf to assure my self I hadn’t blindly culled my copy of The King Canute Crowd.  I knew this boozy, gestural early chronicle of working class bards and bastards would be next on the bedside stack. I also read Three Piece Suit, a series of linking shorter stories. Campbell has moved from the pub crowd into family and professional life and from England to Australia, all without losing his very understated humor. I will probably be searching out more installments I’d missed. Like Love and Rockets, the story takes on a sort of genius in the aggregate.

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1, Kelly Sue DeConnick and Leandro Valentine: I extol DeConnick’s complex take on female anger and male repression here, and was quite excited to try Planet, which like PD, the company has gotten behind with value-priced TPB compilations. It’s a bit of a disappointment, though. BP is a fairly standard issue Sci-Fi dystopia, albeit with DeConnick’s strong feminist leanings and Fifties-style female prison sexploitation tropes built in. A male media-dominated near future Earth punishes “non-compliant” females by sending them off-world to a prison planet, where contemporary Hunger Games-like gladiatorial combat pertain. I get that it’s a mass medium, and all writers must entertain, and importantly, sell. This, however, is not nearly as original as Pretty Deadly, though the retro-grindhouse graphics by Valentine are pretty clever. I’ve “bitched” about comics’ dark, stereotyped themes before, and don’t really find them improved by simply stereotyping a different gender.

Love and Rockets #8 I’ve linked to my very early L&R homage so many times that it’s pathetic. Search for it if you like. Los Bros continue to explore their respective obsessions, with perhaps a few more missteps than in their earlier days. But Jaime’s 35 year Locas storyline continues its usual understated brilliance and emotional wallop here with a “Hoppers” reunion tale; and Gilberto’s  Palomar characters continue to provide over the top twists and turns. Amazingly consistent and readable saga that has flown underneath the pop culture radar for far too long.

Massive Vol. 6 Ragnarok, Brian Wood and Garry Brown: Ends the cycle of stories that began with the environmental activist vessel Kapital looking for its mysteriously missing sister ship the Massive, after a global environmental “crash.” A strange storm wraps things up somewhat abruptly, though two new series, including a prequel, have now begun. I may check them out, but I wonder if the author, like the near-future Earth he depicts, has run out of gas.

The Surface, Ales Kot and Langdon Foss. Another disappointment as Kot, one of the more popular writers in the mainstream, whose Zero spy saga I was very impressed with before dropping it as it was simply too violent for my taste, weaves a tale of three millennial lovers who attempt to escape a Matrix-like virtual reality for “The Surface”. Just as I was wondering whether I should care, Kot abruptly suspends this little metafiction for his own, blithely declaring that the characters were all “himself” and the comic is really about his relationship with his dad. Thus, the characters and situations from the first three chapters are jettisoned, and lushly rendered metafiction gives way to a spare, peeling away the layers-type surreal personal journey, which to me spells “self indulgence.”

Wordy Shipmates, Sarah Vowell: A book I culled from the Ten Years in the Tub collection of Believer mag columns on books written by Nick Hornby. It was actually Assassination Vacation he’d recommended, but rather than go on Amazon and order that book the easy way, I prefer to poke through local used bookstores until I run across it, and this one turned up first. If the snark factor in this tale of Puritan intellectual infighting, banishments and Indian atrocities is glib seeming, its story sticks to your ribs like Thanksgiving dinner. And does even the word “Puritan” call to mind boring, black-coated prudes? I can tell you Vowell’s writing of it reads like a breeze. (Bedroom Stack!).

The Puritans who left 1630 England with John Winthrop in the ship Arbella to found Massachusetts Bay Colony were non-separatists, anti-Catholic but still nominally pro-Anglican. But the colonists soon soon saw a faction of congregationalist “separatists” emerge who wished the right to treat with their god without the controlling mediation of any Church . This faction rose under the wing of Roger Williams, who was eventually banished to Providence, RI, which he founded. This conflict of ideas, as well as other, more violent conflicts with Indians and Anne Hutchinson, Vowell exploits wittily to tell the rich story of still simmering

If Winthrop’s “city on a hill” sermon was lifted by Reagan to justify American exceptionalism, so his refusal to surrender the colony’s charter anticipated by 150 years the (real) Tea Party. If Williams saw all central authority as against God, so also was he the founding voice for religious freedom and separation of church and state, now anathema to his evangelical descendants. And the guiding Puritan ethic- if you disagree with someone, simply move West and impose your will on the natives (don’t forget the gun powder!) remained a central, polarizing zeitgeist through the era of Manifest Destiny and into today’s Bundy-stained politics.

So the book is highly recommended, and now I’ll probably cave and order Assassination Vacation from Powell’s as I’ll soon be visiting one of its (un)holy centers: Buffalo, NY, where McKinley met his end. I’ve also begun my long-postponed reading of The Bully Pulpit, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s examination of Roosevelt, Taft and the Muckrakers. I’ll post about those in the Summer.

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Studio Update

February 26, 2016

"Dreaming Place" working title for this monotype in progress.

“Dreaming Place” working title for this monotype in progress.

 

I’ve been on the Organizing Committee for Month of Printmaking Colorado, a two months long festival of exhibitions, demonstrations, workshops and lectures about printmaking. It’s a Front Range-wide event that extends from Pueblo, Colorado to Casper, Wyoming. So needless to say, as it kicked off this week, it’s been eating my life.

I’ve really enjoyed it, though, and it’s great to see all my colleagues both long-time and unfamiliar, and to see the amazing amount of great printmaking being done in the Rocky Mountain High Plains. For more about it, and to watch a video interview about my own work from 2014’s MoPrint event, go to the web site. 

Amazingly, despite my MoPrint duties, I’ve been getting regular studio time this year so far. It’s never enough, naturally, and progress is somewhat slow, but I am trying new ideas, and some are almost ready to go to the photographer and framer. In the meantime, here is a snapshot from the studio to give you a taste of what I’m working on. I’ll have more soon.

Leave a comment if you like.

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Reading ‘Pretty’

February 02, 2016

 

“When I was dreaming of what the future of women in comics could be, I was dreaming of her. I just didn’t know it yet,”

-Gail Simone, comics writer and activist ( Women in Refrigerators Blog) on Kelly Sue DeConnick.

Pretty Deadly Volume I (Image Comics) makes one of its stronger statements right on the opening credits page. In a historically male-dominated medium, it is rare enough even today to have a woman writer; rarer still to see two women as lead creators, as with Pretty Deadly’s Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios. Four of five who exercise creative input on this book (writer, artist, colorist, letterer, and editor) are female. I’ve written before about comics as a place where larger issues in the culture wars often get hashed out. Pretty Deadly would be significant even if it was a routine story set in a dusty genre. But it is far more than that.

I’ve described it as a “spaghetti western/ folktale/ pulp fiction bloodbath/ magic realist feminist revenge story”, but its roots in a movement toward creators’ rights in comics, and its embedded questions of what constitutes justice in a violent world place it squarely in a larger dialogue about nature, narrative and power.

I plucked Pretty from the rack because of its arresting colors and imagery, and because it had Jordie Bellaire’s name on the cover. A digression: those who may be considering dipping their toes into the burgeoning pop culture art form of comics, and who are confused by the hundreds of titles now being published (some, as ever, are pure dreck), would do well to do as I quickly learned to do: try anything with Bellaire’s name on it. She’s a colorist who has revived comic book art with her subtle yet expansive tones, comprising complex modernist secondaries with gothic, blood-drenched earth tones. These somehow never lose touch with the non-literal, transgressively lurid tones of comics’ limited, 4-color past. She’s not an owner of the projects she works on, but she’s become in demand among creators and publishers seeking to set their projects apart from the muddied primaries and pat mythos of the longstanding DC/Marvel house style, and apparently now has her pick of which stories to work on. Her taste and intuition rarely fail her, and her comics are always interesting.

Emma Rios’ art also caught my eye. Gestural and impressionistic, like alt-comics superstar Paul Pope’s, yet darkling and obsessively rendered, almost crepuscular at times. The dynamism of this Spanish artist’s pen work and page design brings an appealing, cinematic eye to a very complex tale.

The one member of this team I couldn’t know much about until I sat down and read her, is writer Kelly Sue DeConnick. There was quite a bit of buzz about her because of her re-working of Marvel’s then-typically sexualized Captain Marvel (a female character). DeConnick does not censor herself much, nor does she seek to censor others. In reference to Captain Marvel, she said: “I wasn’t like, writing feminist pamphlets, you know. I was writing stories about this lady who shoots beams out of her hands. But I had the gall to have inter-generational female friendships and a largely female cast and, you know, every once in a while, a joke. It ruffled feathers and I thought, Well, if that’s what we’re going to talk about, then let’s talk about it.”

DeConnick’s complex, non linear storytelling is a series of spaghetti western set-pieces; allusive, surreal and often frenetically violent, refracted through fable, manga-style fight scenes and featuring a crowd of startling female characters, from tattooed revengers to feathered creator/saints. My first reading left me confused but seduced.  The narrative is difficult to parse without close reading and reveals itself, even then, only fitfully, as in a fever dream. It begins as a story within a story in a small 19th Century southwestern town, told medicine show-style on an appropriated hanging platform by a pair of drifters, a young, strangely costumed girl, and a graying blind man, of a Beauty imprisoned in a stone tower by her jealous husband (the Mason). Despairing Beauty summons Death, who instead of granting her release, falls in love with her and fathers a child by her. This story itself is part of a fabulistic framing narrative related by a skeletal ghost Bunny to a Butterfly, both of whom are also alluded to in the main narrative.

This narrative disjunct is a distancing device which suffuses the whole book. It punctures the genre-based Sergio Leone spaghetti western ambience so artfully created by Rios and Bellaire and goes farther back to its stolen roots in Kurosawa’s Rashomon, or more pointedly, its obscure Hollywood homage/sexploitation remake, The Outrage (1964). It forces us to ask (on every level): who is telling the story? And while DeConnick does not immediately make her answer clear, it’s a question that haunts any post-Second Wave feminist enterprise like an Ennio Morricone soundtrack.

This sort of layered writing opens itself to criticism, especially in comic-book land, long the home of tortured, loopy, plots and clumsy, expository dialog. Though DeConnick does not make it easy to tease out her meanings, she does provide plenty of food for thought. Pretty Deadly is a tale of paired opposites, many of them unusual by virtue of being wholly female. Binaries of character, allusion and metaphor create most of the intrigue, tension and drama in this taught, very fragmented narrative.  Here, Deathface Ginny- Pretty Deadly’s central anti hero, a violent, implacable revenger of troubled victims, is paired with Sissy, painter, poet, pruner of Death’s overgrown winter garden, in a sub-texting of Persephone’s journey to and from the underworld. DeConnick forthrightly addresses the themes implicit in her raging mythology: the human scourges of spiritual rape, sexualized repression and vengeance. Ginny rebels against her mother’s imprisonment by The Mason and (her father) Death, so she also vies with Big Alice, a warrior woman who is Death’s enforcer and is sent to bring her back to the underworld. They both hunt Sissy the bird-costumed medicine show beggar, for different reasons too complicated and spoiler-laden to go into here.

Death (the idea, not the character) is often paired with creative impulse, violence with redemption, and the way is fraught, DeConnick seems to say: self-inflicted wounds are another binary- in one chilling confrontation, Alice scarifies her face to match Ginny’s tattoos.

Pretty Deadly's mostly female creative team finds a stark beauty in violence and revenge. Copyright Milkfed Criminal Masterminds and Emma Rios.

Pretty Deadly’s mostly female creative team finds a stark beauty in violence and revenge. Copyright Milkfed Criminal Masterminds and Emma Rios.

Sissy has another mirror in Molly the crow, a companion of Eastwood-like drifter Johnny Coyote, who reveals to her-and us-her real role in the drama. Johnny and Ginny form another pair of opposites. DeConnick has been quoted about her desire to create a female version of The Man With No Name, Leone’s (in Fistful of Dollars) quintessential Clint Eastwood role. But in a book full of anti-heroes, DeConnick, an avowed feminist who regularly advises aspiring young female comics creators on how to navigate the embarrassingly male geek space of the comics industry ( “My advice? Be terrifying.”), does not demonize men. Johnny feels he must protect Sissy, and empower her with narrative truth, and he pays a price. Another of Sissy’s male protectors is Fox, also hunted for a dark secret that is revealed only after the book’s propulsive, biblical, lyrical cacophony of sex, betrayal, retribution, swordplay, fire and flood has been irrevocably loosed. Yeah, swordplay. This is a wild little book, people.

And what is DeConnick saying? Though her imagery is rich and alludes to archetypes both ancient and more recently minted, it’s hard to confidently say, really. For one thing, the creative team (including editor Sigrid Ellis and letterer David Cowles) are not done telling the story yet (more on that below). Clearly these women are just as capable of darkness, violence and ultimately, redemption, as the men. Nor is Pretty Deadly a ‘feminist pamphlet’. She lets all of her characters fight their own battles and their own demons, even when they themselves are, technically, demons.

After too long a wait, Pretty Deadly Volume II has begun, in comic book form. I missed the first installment, but snatched the last copy of the second. I won’t try to describe it on such incomplete reading, but it does not lack for ambition- it jumps one generation ahead in time, to WWI; and one genre to the political left, to war comics. It’s a genre that Kurtzman and Elder rescued from rote patriotic juvenilia in their 50’s EC Frontline Combat series. But it’s as male-oriented a genre as it gets, and once again, DeConnick and Rios do not fear to tread.

The conversation about this book can only continue to grow. It has not, to my knowledge, been addressed in the rapidly expanding field of academic comics criticism and close reading (please link in the comments section if you have knowledge that I don’t), but I would be surprised if the screenplay(s?) aren’t already being banged out. In fact, I’m betting the price of Pretty Deadly’s upcoming Volume II graphic novel/compilation ( $14.99, May 2016 ) that the preceding is also true of DeConnick’s other current project, Bitch Planet, a sci-fi women’s prison sexploitation-themed story. DeConnick has in fact signed a script development deal with Universal Television, along with husband Matt Fraction, also a comics writer (Sex Criminals).

If her seemingly endless capacity for invention, vivid characterization, and mythic staging can be channeled into a real, coherent fictional thesis on what women’s existential -and justifiable- rage might mean to them and society in light of their often redemptive (and also existential) creativity, then we will be talking about Pretty Deadly for years to come.

But already there’s a message in its author’s refusal to bow to convention of any sort. In reference to a question about those who seek to “rebrand” the word ‘feminist’, she says “I don’t flinch, when I say I’m a feminist.  You don’t get to define that for me”.

 

 

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Workshops, Shows and Free Stuff Scheduled for Spring ’16

January 25, 2016

It has been a busy beginning to 2016, and I’ve neglected to post in a while. It’s been a good start to what looks to be a hopeful, transformative year.

I’ll post upcoming ASLD classes, library workshops and samplers here. You can find all of the various links on that page.

"Sex Worker", Monotype, 30x22", 2014. This piece about women's stereotypes is included in the 2016 "Pressing Matters" show juried by Master Printmaker Bud Shark. More info in the post below.

“Sex Worker”, Monotype, 30×22″, 2014. This piece about women’s stereotypes is included in the 2016 “Pressing Matters” show juried by Master Printmaker Bud Shark. More info in the post below.

A couple
Of notes:
This Spring’s DPL workshops will be the last of the year, as I’ll probably take a break from those over Summer and Fall. They’re free, so they’re the best way to try monotypes.

The MoxieU classes are very affordable and allow you to experience the League’s gorgeous print room. Sorry, the one scheduled this term rather quickly sold out, and I guess I’ll need to try and schedule more of these in coming terms. Contact the League at 303-778-6990 if you’d like to be on a waiting list, as cancellations do happen.
The regular workshops have been divided into two lower cost sections for beginners and advanced beginners. The Monotypes for Beginners section is filling fast, so I would register quickly if you’d like to take it.

The Monotypes for Advanced Beginners is intended to provide a more studio-oriented atmosphere for people who have taken Monotypes for Beginners or who have printmaking experience from another class or school. Please contact me if you have questions about this workshop. There are still spots open.

I have a one day, Monotype Sampler workshop on Saturday, May 14th, for people who can’t do weekdays. Very affordable at $67.50 (members). It’s a 6-hour intro, and most can get several small prints done in that time. There are spots still open.

There is a free demo planned for Saturday, March 19th, 1-2:30 PM at Meininger Art Supply on Broadway. Their set up is gorgeous and viewer-friendly with overhead mirrors and a P.A. system and comfortable seats, so you don’t have to strain to see and hear. A discount coupon for supplies is included.
I have several shows coming up this spring and I’ll put up a separate page for show/event info soon. Many are part of the Month of Printmaking Colorado fest, and I’ll be at many of the other MoPrint events, as I’m on the organizing committee. So let’s schmooze! I’m expecting to be in four shows this Spring:

“Print Educators of Colorado”, Space Gallery, Opens Feb 25th.

“Pressing Matters”, Juried by Bud Shark, Art Students League, 200 Grant St. Opens March 12th.

“Planting the Seeds: Pedagogy in Print”, The Corner Gallery, Lakewood Cultural Center, Opens:  TBA (March)

“Summer Art Market”,  200 Block, Grant St, June 11-12. I will again be showing with monotype artist Taiko Chandler.
I also have a couple of nearly complete pop culture posts in the can, and I’ll put those up soon. One is a review of “Pretty Deadly” by Kelly Sue DeConnick, who is leading the breakthrough for women creators in the heretofore embarrassingly male dominated comics field. The other is a pet project; a close reading of a favorite Beatles song.
I think it will be a good year, and I wish you a prosperous and hope filled 2016.

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