New Territory

Bramble _TP 3 _18
Above is a photopolymer etching I did as a test proof during a workshop by Henrik Boegh, a Danish Master Printer well know for developing non-toxic methods in printmaking. I applied marker pen, ink wash and scratches to a hardened polymer surface, then wiped and printed like a regular etching plate. 

I took, at the invitation of the school, a couple of workshops taught by Henrik Boegh, a Danish Master Printer in non-toxic intaglio. Intaglio is a traditional word for etching- it means, roughly, ‘cutting into’. It’s a different medium than monotype, a very simple process of making an ink picture on a smooth plane and then transferring it to paper. For one thing it’s repeatable, as indicated by larger edition numbers, such as 1,2 or 3/10, etc. (Monotypes, unique one-of-a-kind prints, often are designated 1/1).

There were two 3-day workshops on different aspects of etching. Photo-polymer etching was the first. One uses a light source (including the sun) to expose an image onto a polymer film, then hardens it, and prints it like a traditional etching plate (that is to say: put ink on, wipe off the excess until only the etched lines have ink, and run through a hand press.) I’ve done this often with prepared plates, such as Solar Plates, invented by Dan Welden. Here one actually prepares the plate.

The second was the more traditional, centuries-old process of etching lines and tones into a metal plate. Here a whole range of non-toxic, or perhaps more accurately, relatively less toxic, materials were used instead of the highly toxic acids and oil-based grounds that we learned about in school. These are acrylic grounds of various types, some specialized, others using common materials (such as Johnson Floor Wax!)

The whole idea of the League offering this workshop to me and a couple of other instructors is that we would eventually teach it, expanding the school’s offerings into safer processes. So in October, we three will be meeting to process the large amount of new techniques and get on the same page before new classes and workshops start in Spring. Eventually, though traditional methods will continue to be taught at the school, toxic etching materials will be replaced.

Here is an image I made of one process during the workshop. More rough sketch than finished art, this test proof was made to see how well I’d used various ink drawing, washes and scratchings on a photo plate. But it relates to some themes I’ve been exploring about (mental) brambles and undeveloped wilderness, so I may try to clean it up as a finished piece soon, while working on my technique. I’ll post more as I go along.

Mo’ Activity

My haul of delicious prints from Saturday’s #MoPrint2018 Open Portfolio event at Redline Gallery. Clockwise from top left, prints by Jeff Russell (etching w/ Chine Colle’) Greg Santos (silkscreen), Michael Keyes, Michael Keyes (both woodcuts), Sasha Thackeray (aquatint etching), Holly White (linocut), Javier Flores (woodcut reduction), and Sasha Thackeray(etching w/ Chine Colle’).

My interview with Westword’s Susan Froyd is up on the site today. It’s in association with Month of Printmaking Colorado, along with several other printmakers: Jennifer Ghormley, Taiko Chandler, Sue Oehme. It’s a privilege to be included in this series, and it’s a joy to be involved in the burgeoning Denver printmaking community, which for reasons mentioned below, is very supportive and friendly. This includes Westword itself, really. Mo’Print has an all volunteer organizing committee; we try hard to market and publicize professionally, but over the last five years, Susan Froyd, Michael Paglia, and Patty Calhoun have never failed to give it the attention I feel it deserves. This has really helped prevent it from slipping through the cracks during its early stages. I try to return the favor to the community in the interview, and in other ways, as printmaking really enriches my life.

It’s been a busy month owing to #MoPrint2018, and I’m pretty happy with most of the shows and events I’ve been involved with. I had a blast Saturday at the Open Portfolio event at Redline, selling and trading prints in a relaxed setting.

I have two more events upcoming, one of which is the Studio + Print Tour, which I’ll do at the Art Students League Print Room from 10-4 with two or three other artists from the League. Mami Yamamoto and Taiko Chandler will be there too. We’ll probably have snacks and prints there, but later that evening, there will be the Ink Mixer at Ink Lounge, where you can get beer and snacks and see their silk screen set-up and mix with artists and printmakers.

The diversity is incredible. When I joined the 12-15 member Month of Printmaking Colorado organizing committee in early 2013, I think we felt that we knew, or knew of- all the major players in Colorado printmaking. Wrong. Silkscreeners, lithography artists, bookmakers, letterpress artists and more came out of the wood work. Not students or dabblers, mind, though there are plenty of those as well, but career printmakers, small business people, educators. Accomplished creatives, in other words.

One of the few perks of being an artist is the ability to trade for an art collection. For me, lately that has meant prints. Here’s a photo of my haul from Saturday. It’s worth noting that several of these are from artists I had just met that day. I think because printmaking is regarded traditionally as a fairly humble corner of the art market, and because we often need to congregate in groups to utilize public presses, that printmaking has a social component that some media don’t have. One of these community presses, Mark Lunning’s Open Press is moving out of town owing to the real estate inflation. I’ll miss Mark and Open Press, and I’ll write a post about them soon.

A Place For Us

Place, Intaglio, 4/5, 2011
Place, Intaglio, 4/5, 2011

I wrote this post a year and a half ago, but never published it. It seems to fit in well with the Sgt. Pepper’s 50th Anniversary post of a few weeks ago, so here it is:

 

I made the above etching for very practical reasons- its a small work that might  provide a little cash at shows here, where the art-buying public is often living with small crowded walls, or small budgets. It has also turned out to be just ambiguously meaningful enough (to me) to use as a gift- I like to bring a small piece of art to house warming or holiday parties, and was actually able to convince myself that its simpe dichotomy between absence and presence made it appropriate for friends who’d lost a loved one.

So it’s become a small symbolic token of life stages for me, anyway, and a fairly successful creation after first being concieved of as an simple, expressive sketch of a plain subject. It has taken on complexity, which is how I enjoy my works best. It has reminded me that “place” can be a very evocative concept.

The song “There’s a Place” does not get mentioned alot when anthologizing, or  mythologizing the Beatles. But it occupies a unique spot not only in their development, but in the progression of popular Rock and Roll music as a whole.

It serves only a minor role in their history- it comes between their breakthrough no. 1 single “Please Please Me” and the monster releases that brought them world fame: “She Loves You” and  “I want to Hold Your Hand.”  At the time of its recording, their record company was eager to rush them back into studio for their first album, to capitalize on the success of ‘Please’, and its predecessor, “Love Me Do”, which reached Number 5 in England. But LPs were not the central product of the singles-driven music industry then, not the art form that the group would later make them. They were given only 10 hours (?!) to record the collection of George Martin-approved covers of ravers and schmaltzy pop ballads that along with their own songs would become Meet the Beatles, but having fought to get the privilege of recording “Please Please Me”, it was only a matter of time before their very unique muse would push out.

George Martin’s genius for propulsive, immersive song intros, later manifested in classics like “Eight Days a Week”, and “Tomorrow Never Knows”, makes an early appearance here as McCartney’s one strangley neutral bass downbeat launches a nervously rolling guitar /drum backbeat, leavened only by Lennon’s keening harmonica. At the end of the first stanza we don’t know anything about what the song’s about, or where the referred-to “place” even is. But the second reveals much, in the span of eight urgently ascending words : “And it’s my mind/ And there’s no time/” while the next three sum up what’s at stake: “when I’m alone”.

Ironically, as Lennon intones this curiously flattened phrase it sounds less like joy and suspiciously like lament. In Martin’s production the song’s central paradox emerges: he is in fact, utterly alone as the rest of the supporting voices drop off. Into this jarring emptiness, from somewhere distant but achingly real, one single wail of the keening mouth harp intrudes. A stumbling, stuttering, inarticulate ensemble of bass drums and guitar introduces another emotional disjunct- a curiously unconvincing self assurance in the second, less exalted refrain. “In my mind there’s no sorrow/”, Lennon declares plaintively, as the background chorus doggedly stands by his story: “Don’t you know that it’s so?”

Observe that the song names no love object: no Donna or Peggy Sue. It is ambiguously enough written that we can’t really be sure who is loving who. “I think of you,” in the context of its era, and the Beatles’ personal history, seems to suggest a beautiful woman. In subject matter, it can be compared productively with both “All I Have to Do is Dream”, by the Everlys and “Dream Lover” by Bobby Darin. Neither of these song makes an attempt at the existential complexity at work in “There’s a Place”. It is not unusual to sing about dreams of nameless women. The difference is in the palpable sense of sonic disjunct in the rollicking guitars, lonely harmonica and alternately rasping and ethereal vocal harmonies; the nagging sense that the singer is creating his lover from the whole cloth of alienation and existential longing.

There is poetry here, and not only in the raw, street level conjunction of sex with rhythm that elevates the delta-born poetics of the body in early rock’s opposition to the infantilized prudery of 50’s pop. Neither Darin nor Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, writers of  ‘All I Have to Do’ achieve the evocative economy of words that Lennon (with McCartney, but Lennon seems to claim the words, at least) does. ( For the record: 219 Dream Lover (not counting (Yeah, Yeahs), versus 181 All I Have to Do , and 101 Place) “The things you said/Like, I love only you/” is the only place in the song that comes close to describing a specific person, and the lyrical context is not clear whether the words exist on the lips of a real lover, or in the mind of a fantasizing narrator. So who is loving who? And why the unmistakeable tone of melancholy? Is it the love of a man for a woman, or given the Beatles’ still precarious career state ( the song originated in their early live set), a muse, or even the bitch goddess fame? No one, not even Dylan, in ’62, was writing songs like this. On the cusp of becoming part of the biggest musical act the world had ever seen, Lennon brings home a very basic truth about why we sing -and dream- at all.

None of these songs, in fact, names names. But only Lennon tells us what’s at stake- the yawning abyss between happiness (creative fulfillment) and death (loneliness). Although The Everlys sing flippantly “that I could die,” the real problem, as the song sees it, is ( gee whiz! ) he’s “dreaming his life away”. Dreaming and not being married is the problem. With Lennon, loneliness is the problem and dreaming is the solution.”There’ll be no sad tomorrows”, he insists, but his voice betrays his doubts.

In its complex abstraction of what it means to dream- what is its purpose, and who lives in that interior “place,” and the emphasis on the existential loneliness of the “I,” the song can probably be argued as a debut of the modern pop singer-songwriter aesthetic, as Dylan did not release Freewheelin’ till a couple of months later. Lennon, of course was not a singer/songwriter, he was in a group,   but it’s a very personal song. He would return to the approach in “Norwegian Wood”

The song also anticipates the end of album as pure packaging of hits and covers, though the album as artistic concept, also a Martin/Beatles innovation, in their Sgt. Pepper’s incarnation, was still a few years away. The place that this song yearningly describes is not a place at all, but the soul.The real subject of the song is a quest for connection, whether with the self, or another. And its central narrative, framed in relentlessly discordant parts of an ineffably sad whole, is that the soul dreams alone. Lennon and The Beatles were to explore vexing human problems like this long after the cover songs had disappeared. Lennon, who died pretty much alone, albeit in the middle of a small crowd, never got a chance to resolve the basic question of why we dream at all.

The 50’s were over, the 60’s, a decade of Mutually Assured Destruction, moon landings and assassinations, were beginning, and the reassurance of safe havens for the soul, as the Fabs and all of us were about to realize, were becoming harder and harder to find, even in dreams.

Doings and Viewings, Hodgings and Podgings

2015-11-13 12.37.52

The entrance to the new Wizard's Chest store next to Meininger's Art Supply. I'm working on murals inside. It's hard to get real good pics until the electricians have installed the light fixtures. Right now we're working with painter's lights and the skylights.
The entrance to the new Wizard’s Chest store next to Meininger’s Art Supply, and a detail of one of the murals  I’m working on inside. It’s hard to get real good pics until the electricians have installed the light fixtures. Right now we’re working with painter’s lights and the existing skylights.

 

I’ve had a busy fall, as noted. Here are some of the things I’m working on.

Holiday Shows: Most artists here do at least one holiday show because they sell. Small works go well during the holidays, and $2-300 extra cash during the season is never unwelcome. Small, interesting galleries also depend on this yearly cash infusion. I’m in two:

Open Press, 40 S. Bayaud Ave, Denver. Opens Friday, November 20, 6-9 PM. I have several framed and unframed pieces there, and there are a number of other good artists in the show, some of whom are present and former students of OP proprietor Mark Lunning, and coincidentally, myself. I’ll be there for part of the evening.

G44 Gallery, 1785 S. 8th St, Colorado Springs. Opens Friday November 20, 5:30-8:30 PM. A small gallery in the Broadmoor Hotel area that has really made an impact in the Springs’ reviving contemporary art scene. I’ve recently brought down several new framed and unframed works for this show.

I’m also in a non-holiday themed show at the Arts Students League, 200 S. Grant, Denver. Opens November 20, 5:30-8:30 PM. “From Process to Print” Shows both a finished print and the plate or material associated with its production, and features ASLD faculty members and students. I’ll be here too, in the earlier part of the evening, chatting with several of the students from my “Monotypes for Advanced Beginners” workshop just completed, who are also in the show. I’m showing one of my recent drypoint etchings with the plate. If you’d like to track my shows or whereabouts on this or any other night, you can follow me on Twitter @Hggns.

I have one more free Denver Public Library workshop (click “Workshops”, above), and the registration for a whole host of Spring workshops, including the second session of Monotypes for Advanced Beginners, designed to provide a studio-type atmosphere for those who would like to build a portfolio or resume, is now available online or at the ASLD office. The ASLD has a discount offer running if you register before the New Year.

I’ve mentioned the temp jobs I take to catch up on bills and debt. The latest one is a bit different- I’m executing fantasy murals and wall decoration for Lonnie Hanzon, the artist designing the interior of the new Wizard’s Chest toy and magic store on Broadway, in the Baker area. It’s pretty fun. I’m taking a lot of pictures and I’ll assemble an album at some point, but if you want to see what’s going on right now, you can follow me on Instagram @JoeHigginsMonotypes.

And sometime in the spring, I’ll be doing a public talk about a recent graphic novel. I just found out about it, and I’ll post more details soon. I’ve been writing a lot about comics lately- by design- so I’m sure I’ll have a lot to say.

Reading List:

Fall of the House of West, Paul Pope: This is the second part of two. I also read The Rise of Aurora West last month. These are spinoffs, with Pope as cowriter and Spanish cartoonist David Rubin as illustrator, of Pope’s Battling Boy GN from 2013. It’s more of a Young Adult type of effort, or has at least been received that way by libraries and reviews. But it’s fast paced and compelling, despite being a prequel to Battling Boy, and thus involving characters already known to be dead. Pope has a gift for simple youth-versus-monster story lines, and Rubin evokes Pope’s iconic loose, gestural ink style without overtly copying it.

Ant Colony, Michael Deforge: Surreal, horrifying and engagingly cute all at once, this is the story of two ants’ turbulently transforming lives after their colony goes to war. Deforge’s schematic scribblings and acidic bubblegum colors create a landscape both alien and seductive in which his characters act out eternal dichotomies of love and fear, searching and aggression.

Stroppy, Marc Bell: Melding the classic comics sensibilities of E.C. Segar (Popeye), and Milt Gross ( He Done Her Wrong), with the underground sensibilities of Jay Lynch (Snappy Sammy Smoot) and R. Crumb, (Mr. Natural) and never forgetting the dystopian slapstick of punk comics genius Gary Panter (Jimbo), Marc Bell  weaves a nevertheless very original tale of futuristic tribalism. The Candide-like Stroppy suffers job loss, beatings and indignities as the innocent victim of rival factions’ power struggles. It all ends happily, with Stroppy, now homeless, back to his soul-destroyingly boring and insecure job.

I’ve got a couple of longer, pop culture posts I’m working on, so I should be posting fairly regularly during the holidays. One will be on books and reading, another on a favorite song from my youth. So check back.

 

Everything’s a Work in Progress

What I have worked on this winter is a small series of work intended to develop organically from sketchbook ideas on up through experiments in different sized paper and eventually to a large, significant, and fully realized work. Especially as I transition to new methods of working such as stencilling, etc, I’ve tended to have smaller works that experiment in formal ways, but don’t have a refined narrative. Here is a small sketch for a project I’d intended to call Bed Dream with Poppies. Most of these are not very good photos, but most are studies or unfinished experiments.

"Bed Dream with Poppies", 7 1/2" x 10", a small monotype intended as a sketch for a larger project.
“Bed Dream with Poppies”, 7 1/2″ x 10″, a small monotype intended as a sketch for a larger project.

The best way to produce a relatively large set of meaningful work, Ive found is to explore variants of one idea of a few related ideas, and cherry pick the best ones as finished, exhibited work. I’m inviting you  to view the sketches and trial runs, the not neccessarily ready for prime-time pieces that would sometimes be offered to the public, sometimes not. Yes, I  do have large amounts of work that never see the light of day. Here is a larger variation on the theme, with poppies dispensed with and replaced by a sort of pod-like chine colle’ element and a somewhat organic dark field in the background. A somewhat distressed blackness creeps up behind the bed:

Untitled Monotype w/ Chine Colle'. 13x20".
Untitled Monotype w/ Chine Colle’. 13×20″.

I’m already seeing more content, symbolic narrative, and meaning in the work. I intended to leave landscape (a narrative of earth and time) and try more interiors ( as it implies, a narrative of internal life, or the soul). Jumping to a new subject can often jog the creative machinery, and I hope to see fresh approaches. Here’s another experiment that adds in more pod-like or thought-balloon-like shapes above the bed.

Untitled Monotype w/ Chine Colle', 13x20 "
Untitled Monotype w/ Chine Colle’, 13×20 “

Sometimes you have to execute a finished piece, and in this case, I had a deadline to meet for a show. So I tried a larger piece, with more color. I left the poppies out to further explore the pods, and instead placed some layered fauna where the darkness had been behind the headboard. I wanted something more abstract on the left, but added an Icarus-like figure to focus it. It still seems more like a study than a finished piece, and I’ll return to the studio this week after working a temp job to pay some bills. I’ll go back to the poppies, I’m sure, but I’ve also seen the Miro show at the DAM in the interim, I’m sure that will have its effect, too.

"Bed Dream 29", Monotype, 20x26".
“Bed Dream 29″, Monotype, 20×26”.

New Portfolio Page

"Dawning" Monotype, 11x15" on Canson Edition paper. Ghost printing using brayers and Mylar pressings.
“Dawning” Monotype, 11×15″ on Canson Edition paper. Ghost printing using brayers and Mylar pressings.

Today I posted a new page of small works such as etchings and small monotypes to the web site. It felt good to get it done- it’s a simulacrum of sorts of necessary info and images for an upcoming web store, as soon as I research and download the various plug-ins etc. I’m beginning with stuff I can easily ship out anytime, ala ebay.

I also rejuvenated my moribund Instagram account as a way of updating doings in my various workshops. I’ll try to post pix there during tomorrow’s classes. I can highlight students’ work and the ever-so-photogenic Art Students League building.