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Trying To Reason with MoPrint Season

Sharon Strasburg, a longtime printmaking buddy from our old days at Open Press, now a professor at Regis University, did the image for the poster, a monotype about 3 feet wide. It’s in the show, along with several others by her, and several of my larger works. Runs through March 15.

I had participated on the organizing committee that launched Month of Printmaking in 2014 and ’16. I remember that we were sort of shaking our heads at just how many printmakers there were working in Colorado. They seemed to be coming out of the woodwork. I still volunteer on various associated events every MoPrint Biennial, including during this, the 6th one. I’m impressed with what the current committee is doing ( Chairs: Emily Moyer and Jen Ghormley), and am still shaking my head, including the first time I opened this year’s official event flyer. I realized that there was absolutely no way to attend every event. It would be a feat to even go to a majority!

My own participation is relatively restrained, and I’m listing it below. I’ll be out and about at many events I’m not in, as well, and I still hope to do a short video about the event, in my ‘spare time’. Contact me if you have questions about any of these:

Current:

Print Educators of Colorado, Red Rocks Community College, up through March 15, with open hours daily, except Sunday. This is where my largest recent works can be seen.

Upcoming:

Printmaking 101, Opens March 8, 6-8 PM, Art Students League of Denver: will feature a large, new work as an example of ‘stencil monotype’ in a show devoted to catching art lovers up to just what constitutes a ‘fine art print’. Hint: it’s not one of those overpriced reproductions you see at some shows, that have never been touched by the artist. Also: a show of indigenous printmaking, curated by Melanie Yazzie and Sylvia Ortega.

Marks On Paper, Core New Art Space, March 8, 6-10 PM: I’ll have a medium sized monotype in this show, juried by Mami Yamamoto. It’s a national show, so I’m very intrigued by what she chooses, as I had juried the last one, in 2020’s MoPrint, and there was some very intriguing work.

Open Portfolio, Denver Botanic Gardens, March 9, 10-4 PM. They’ve expanded the space to accommodate the enthusiastic crowds from 2022. I get a 4 foot table space, so this will feature all of my small work, including brand new etchings, as well as portfolio test proofs and one-of-kinds from my flat files, all at very low prices. it’s a free day at the Gardens, too!

MoPrint Studio Tour, March 23-24, 10-4 PM, Art Students League of Denver: This may be the most casual of all these events, with several regular ASLD printmakers just hanging out, working, talking to the public each day. I’ll be there on Sunday. I don’t know how much work I’ll get done, but I’ll probably be printing some of my more recent ‘monotype style’ etching plates with chine colle. I’ll bring some finished work down, too.

Art Students League Print Fair, April 6, 10-4 PM: I’ll have a table here, selling aQsmaller prints, mostly. I’ll have a larger work donated to benefit the ASLD Print Room, in silent auction, along with several other artists at auction. And I’ll be doing a monotype demo, for free, along with 5 other free demos. There’s an exhibit on the various techniques included in printmaking, and even some info on collecting prints.

Heart Shaped Box, Monotype, 15×11″ 2024. Already headed for a new home! It was showing in a Valentine’s Day-themed show, “Dark Hearts”, at Kanon Gallery.

#moprint #moprint2024 #asldprintmakers #asldprintfair

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Besties Besties Books, Comics, Music

Besties Be On My Way

I had a lot more time than usual to read this year, and I took it, sometimes ignoring my TV for days into weeks. I read quite a bit of prose this year ( finally finishing The Sot-Weed Factor), but there are reams and megapixels devoted to that, and so I return to my niche, the lowly comic, and yet niche-ier, literary and art comics, sometimes called alternative comics. I probably could’ve put down the reading of them to begin the writing of them a bit earlier, but here they are, just in time for the Oscars.

Alt comics have, since the 90s, made the journey out of the “direct market” comic book stores into bookstores and public libraries, so some will be familiar to prose readers. Others were searched and scoured for, from obscure web sites or persistent Ebay searches. Most, but not all, of the newer ones can be found at Tattered Cover, but the older or more experimental ones are often out of print, and pricey, because of their low print runs.

I do read mainstream Marvels and DCs, though it’s rare. I quit them, for the most part, in the early 70s, when I discovered Art Spiegelman’s (Maus) Raw magazine. I keep tabs on them for the sporadic bursts of creativity they include, and I’m glad I do. Some of the best get mentioned here, and one, Pretty Deadly, has won top Bestieness before. The rise of creator-owned works and royalty participation has shaken the trees for excellent ideas. Monstress, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda continues to be a standout.

Lately, I’ve been monitoring editor’s choices, including my own, for representative diversity, and there is some here, though choices remain few on the shelves, especially in such a limited sample. I don’t think publishers are the problem, after all, many publishers and editors are women now. But the social environment on which a lot of geek culture depends ( for creators, bloggers, etc ) was not that friendly to women for a long time, even into the teens (see below). So choosing comics as a career has only recently become a thing for women.

There is one woman, one POC, and a gender queer artist, are on the top list, with another four women, and four foreign creators if you count the Resties, which is my Honorable Mention category. Another woman was in the stack, waiting to be read, but goes into next year’s list, probably near the top. This does not include the anthology on the list, a 2004 publication where the breakdown is also sparse, about 20 male, to 5 female.

There are thrillers, satire, horror, a Victorian social realist novel adaptation, and gross-out humor, all of them uniquely suited to their medium, a bastard child of cave-wall storytelling, European satire, and American commercial chutzpah. The top choices happened to be the most original and innovative, A French all ages objet d’art that would have made Gutenberg proud, a Japanese spectacle of ideographic motion and onomatopoeia, and a self published L.A. based anthology of zine and mini comics rebels.

Born of the same creative/destructive impulse as graffiti, as Adam Gopnik points out in MOMA’s High and Low catalog ( 1990), most comics here can trace their roots to Rudolph Topfer’s Obadiah Oldbuck from the 1850s, Thomas Nast’s Yellow Kid, for whom “Yellow Journalism” was named, or Harvey Kurtzman’s revolutionary Mad Magazine. All of these predated Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s invention of current pop culture juggernaut Marvel Comics, and were equally influential. All pioneered new ways of storytelling.

The Besties:

Crisis Zone, Simon Hanselman, 2021: At number 5 is this over the top look at how a circle of slacker friends, many of them gender queer or otherwise marginalized, deal with the utter strangeness of the first year of COVID. Three roommates- a witch, her cat boyfriend, and an owl, find themselves forming a quarantine pod with other friends, a werewolf, a vampire, et al. A moneymaking scheme involving doing butt stuff on web cam evolves and is taken to hilarious, cringemaking extremes.

I can’t imagine anyone wanting to binge read Hanselman’s gross out humor, but when you’re in the mood, his sense for social satire is relentless. I assume the only reason this hasn’t been adapted for animation is all of the drugs and you know, butt stuff.

Olympia, Jerome Mulot, Florent Ruppert, 2022: Following up from their first heist thriller The Grand Odalisque, about three female art thieves, here the women attempt to steal Manet’s Olympia. Again the action is heart pounding, and the art gestural and suggestive enough to not bog you down. There is a unique twist to make you wonder if the women will survive, and as in all great caper stories, you cannot help rooting for them against great odds, which include their own womanhood, every step of the way.

The Magicians, Blexbolex, 2023: Blexbolex has been bouncing back and forth between comics and children’s books for years, and now has seemingly decided that there is no point discriminating between the two. This is an art object, printed on uncut leaves of paper to enhance its layered colors and silkscreened delicacy of composition. The story refers to the magic of storytelling as much as to its characters actions. This has become bit of a theme of this year’s Besties.

Detention #2, Tim Hensley, 2023: Henseley is a genius for conflating Golden Age comics stylings with pop culture pastiche, having done Alfred Hitchcock’s Hollywood career as a Tubby and Little Lulu comic previously. Here he goes after 50’s Classics Illustrated, adapting Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, by Stephen Crane. While I can’t compare it to the original Crane, the telling of the story is rich, with characters and styles from across comics history engaged to be the actors, including The Yellow Kid, Reggie from Archie Comics, a Manga cutie, Mad’s Don Martin, etc. A cultural stew is created, reminiscent Sugiura’s 70’s manga adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans, in which American cultural appropriation of indigenous culture is ironically grafted onto ‘nansensu’ manga for children in occupation-era Japan. Hensley is saying something about comics’ limitless ability to tell a story here, with a phantasmagoria of debased cartoon images being deployed to tell a social realist tale of socially debased youth. And the appeal, as well as the message here is that we should be mindful of stereotyping comics as simply illustrated prose fiction.

In reading comics, we are often told that we have the option of reading the whole page- or two pages in the case of a centerfold spread, at once. One takes in the entire grid before choosing to linger, or zip through. The reader is the ‘director’. Here one enjoys the ability to read the entire history of comics, in one sweep. From _ to Sailor Moon, from “Notary Sojac” to Kirby photo montage ( yep, they’re all in there, and more), it’s all here, stuffed (ironically?) into a literary ghetto. Whether I read Crane’s Maggie, or not ( early money: ‘not’. My social realism days may be over. I did garner an ‘A’ for a tenth grade term paper on Zola’s Germinal, so there’s that.), this comic has its own story to tell.

And the 2023 Bestiest:

Plaza, Yuichi Yokoyama, 2022: A comics spectacle that is in constant motion, and incorporates deafening sound into its design through the use of onomatopoeia. There is an even more minimal story than some of his previous manga ( a parade ) and Plaza foregrounds comics’ potential as an art form by emphasizing its formal elements. It’s in black and white with textured screens (it really doesn’t need color ), and its Kirby-esque dynamism is just as compelling and propulsive as the King’s, at his peak. It’s quite possible that this will be one of the more influential comics to come along in years.

I’m midway through Tristram Shandy, by Laurence Sterne. It’s my Post Modern Brick du jour, succeeding Sot Weed Factor. I have to be a bit dialed in to read it- there’s a lot of classical philosophy allusions, and medieval fortification allusions, so I block out some time so I can google the terms, and don’t consider it a fail to get through 5 pages a sitting. Plaza is much the same. One gets in the mood for its spectacle of crashing, rolling, thrumming sound effects which one must actually peer through to get to the visual action. There, exotically costumed humanoids march and cavort in front of a cheering crowd, transforming themselves before out eyes.

Since there’s no plot, one is not in a hurry to get anywhere ( I average 10 pages ) The manga is itself, ink and abstraction and symbol, and not a series of illustrations of ‘writing’, or source material.

This is relatively unusual, and again the reference point is Kirby. He was not afraid to let the stylized ink marks tell the story, and wound up helping to launch a multibillion dollar film franchise. Manga is big money in Japan, not so much, here, but if it ever gets there, we may put Yokoyama up there with Tezuka and Otomo as a reason why. To paraphrase, Plaza is comics for comics’ sake.


The Resties: This is my catch-all honorable mention category for comic book critical analysis, history, and older titles I’m just now catching up on, in no particular order:


Goddess of War, Lauren Weinstein, 2006: Weinstein tell a story of a woman disaffected with her job as the Goddess of War, who falls in love with Geronimo as he battles the U.S. Cavalry in the 19th Century Southwest. She apparently never finished it, or I might have ranked it higher. She later wrote a graphic novel about motherhood during COVID, but I haven’t read it, and we already have one COVID-addled family on this list.
Jimbo’s Inferno, Gary Panter, 2006: Again, I cannot compare it to the original, but Panter warns us right off not to base our term papers on it. The vision of hell as a giant mall is just too rich to resist. It’s not as searing as Jimbo In Paradise, or as visually exquisite as Daltokyo, but Panter rarely disappoints. Again, his invention is dependent on source material. These works exemplify why comics must be treated as their own art form, and not derivative of a source in prose.
Black Hole, Charles Burns, 1999: Burns’ dark vision of a teen plague probably draws from David Lynch’s work, especially Blue Velvet, with its sexual overtones and horrifying weirdness. And it sparked a revival of horror comics, though few were able to match its Lynchian blend of bland suburban creepiness and hyperreal visuals.

All of the Marvels, Douglas Wolk, 2023: I mostly quit reading Marvel Comics in 1978, when I discovered Euro comics, and then, Love and Rockets. This book isn’t nearly as tedious as it sounds, and summarizes a lot of the major threads, including much of the source material for the movies, in a lively way. As with Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, and Dante’s Inferno, reading this in no way commits me to reading all of the Marvels.

Kramer’s Ergot#4, Sammy Harkham, ed. 2004: The break through publication of both the best comics anthology of the 21st Century, and the influential comics art brut of the Fort Thunder group. Its rarity and significance made it hard to find for under $250, but lately as people realize what they have, the market has softened, and I found it for under $100 after years of searching.

As comics finds its artistic niche and its intellectual defenders, landmark publications such as this, and many of Panter’s masterpieces, often self published, or with small print runs, continue to be out of print collector’s items on the secondary market. I don’t know how that will affect Hanselman, Blexbolex and Hensley, though the latter two show signs of being hard to find already. Anthologies such as Kramer’s allow one to explore new, innovative artists without too much guesswork. They can often be found fairly cheaply in used bookstores- for a while at least.

I usually include a “Clunker”, but I’m not sure about the name, as many of them are very readable books. That’s true here, and there are two of them this year, but I recommend these books because they’re actually excellent reads, but with glaring flaws.

Jews in American Comics, Paul Buhle, 2008: The fact that Jewish people were essential in the development of American Comics, and indeed, American humor as a whole, has been an open secret for decades. This book explores that truth in depth, offering fascinating, if perhaps a bit muddy, accounts of seminal Yiddish comics in the early 20th Century Jewish press, solid accounts of EC comics and the undergrounds, and alternative press innovators such as Harvey Pekar and Aline Kominsky-Crumb. It remains on my shelf, to be read again.

But how on Earth you can write a book about Jews in American comics, and mention, only in passing, Jacob Kurtzburg and Stanley Leiber, is beyond me. Lee’s Yiddishisms seem essential to the humanizing spirit of Marvel, and what is Spider-Man but a classic schlemiel with an insect bite? As to Kirby, this is a man who portrayed a character punching Hitler in the jaw, long before Pearl Harbor made the rest of the ‘Greatest generation’ feel comfortable in saying Der Fuhrer must go. And forgive my gentile’s vagueness on the details, but those stoneware husks, fizzing and crackling with light and energy, from which Kirby’s super beings often emerge- do they not seem familiar? [ Fantastic Four #61 for one citation ) Ben Grimm, The Thing in Fantastic Four, is later portrayed as definitively Jewish. We are all wearied by the sheer volume of schlock Marvel has put out over the years, but Marvel definitely belongs in a history of Jewish comics.

There is, I’m guessing, the issue of assimilation, but that haunts all of Jewish pop culture, from Superman onward, as Buhle discusses at length. Buhle is a fan of alternatives, as am I, and that lineage leads pretty directly from EC to Undergrounds and then on. But that’s not what the title suggests, is it? The omission is puzzling to me.

Comic Book Women, Peyton Brunet and Blair Davis, 2023: As with Jews, I was excited to see this title. It is indeed necessary and worthy as a corrective to the male-centric histories of comics’ Golden Age, 1938-1955. These narratives, a precursor to the boy’s club of comics fandom in the 70’s and 80’s, did a lot to close off comics to women and girls, after they’d been a huge part of the audience. Brunet and Davis explore women’s roles as creators and characters, and among the many intriguing assertions made is that it was a woman editor at Fiction House who actually invented the vaunted ‘Marvel Method’ of Lee, Kirby and Ditko. The book is, again, well worth a second read. Its scope is limited, and it does not deal with the slow struggle of women for a place in comics in the 70’s and 80’s, in the U.S. and Japan.

However, it, too, is plagued by editorial error. The book unfailingly gives credit to female creators, but none to males, in its illustrations. This sounds like a quibble, I admit. But it is academically sloppy and projects pettiness, in the sense that male creators at the time were only somewhat less marginalized than women. This calls into question the professionalism of not only feminist pop culture scholarship, but comics scholarship as a whole, something the still nascent disciplines can ill afford.

This is published by University of Texas press. University presses exist to a large degree to publish tenure-track research, and doctoral theses, and are undoubtedly mostly staffed by poorly paid interns. But someone needed to call bullshit. As for Jews, it’s published by New Press, a non profit that I think, seeks to fulfill a similar mission as a university press. This seems a problem of vision, and the definitive book on Jews in comics doesn’t seem to exist yet.

That’s the Besties for this year. I read over 40 books that qualified, and really, enjoyed most, on some level. This list is intended to alert art-minded readers that very creative work is out there, along with interpretive materials.

It’s a busy year, so I don’t know when I’ll post on comics again, but I certainly have a mind to do a post on Shigeru Sugiura, a mid century alt-manga genius who helped set me on the road to enjoying Japanese artists, such as our Bestiest. If you are in the 303, nice places to shop alt comics are Kilgore Book and Comics, and Fahrenheit’s Books. If you prefer the web, check out Copacetic Comics. Comment below if you think I may have missed a recent book on this list.

#comics #alternativecomics #besties

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Holiday Twigs and Berries

Incommunicado, Monotype, 18×30″, 2023. About a certain segment of Americans who have isolated themselves from facts and science, it is, somewhat ironically, hanging in Portugal right now.

2024 is a MoPrint year, thus, I’m very busy right now. There’s a lot of preparation goes into it in the Fall preceding. There are larger shows which require framing; and smaller “market” type shows which need smaller work. During my travels, I didn’t get any studio work done, now I’m trying to add work forMoPrint in Spring, as well as a holiday market I’m trying out in December.

WHAM ( Winter Holiday Art Market ), a new show being held at The Import Mechanics at 235 Broadway.

December 9. I have quite a bit of newer, smaller works for this. The spaces are just 6′, so small work is the focus, although I will have a limited amount of framed work as well. The prices are in the lower range of my Summer Art Market selection, $50-200 or so. There will an evening version on Saturday, which includes food and music ( $20 admission), and a Sunday afternoon version, market only, for $5 entry. Tickets available here.

Open Portfolio, Botanic Gardens, MoPrint 2024

This is a very popular event, held at the Botanic Gardens, that is part of MoPrint 2024 and offers a chance to quickly build your print collection at affordable prices. I bring monotypes and etchings that are unframed or are simply loose, from my flat files. There are often finish quality test proofs that have never been offered, or monotypes that haven’t been offered in years, and are at their original prices (which are lower than today’s). I have a standing 10% discount for two prints, 15% for 3, etc. Admission is free, and there are many artists. This year’s floor space has been expanded, which I think will reduce crowding.

Print Educators of Colorado, Front Range Community College, Moprint 2024

This invitational show highlights teachers of various print techniques at schools around the state. I hope to have multiple works, including my largest recent works. The opening will be February 8th at 4 PM. I’ll be there.

ASLD Print Fair, Upstairs Gallery, Art Students League of Denver

It’s at 200 Grant Street in South Capitol Hill. I will have smaller works and portfolio-type works available, but also a few larger framed works. There will be demos and displays about printmaking, including info about collecting. You can sign up for classes, too.

In addition, I may have work in one or two other shows, I will post news about that when I know.

There are classes coming in Spring, too. The first up is Monotype Blast, a one day sampler, in which the ink is provided, all mixed and ready. You simply print. It’s February 17, a Sunday, 9-4 PM. Registration begins January 2, here: https://reg135.imperisoft.com/asld/ProgramDetail/3331313334/Registration.aspx

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Re-sort Life

I took a break from studio. It makes me anxious to get back, and there tends to be more in my mind than I really have time to do, so it becomes a sort of settling in process, about sorting out my various experiences and trains of thought. During my travels I saw some things which naturally, have an influence. I mentioned the red and black imagery of Classical Greek and Minoan pottery I saw in Toronto. I also saw a Sol Lewitt sculpture which stuck in my mind, that was in Buffalo.

I haven’t been sketching, which is somewhat irrelevant to monotypes. The hand can only approximate what the press might do to the ink. However, I’ve been sorting, which is somewhat relevant, as my basic instinct when making monotypes is to plan/react, and there are always a surplus of images to react to. I have drawers full of them, in fact.

Sorting is also relevant to museums, which essentially sort works for our consideration. So it’s no surprise that I might consider red figure pottery, or Sol Lewitt as jumping off points.

I took some failed works from my drawers and arranged them on the work bench, overlapping them in order to create new contexts. I’ll probably print some in red and black, to experiment with that color combo, which has been on my mind. These are failed works, which means I never showed them, or I showed them very little or they attracted very little engagement. Thus, they are pretty irrelevant, even to me, who is also pretty irrelevant, at least to the people who sort work for museums.

Box with Object, Monotype, 15×11″, 2023. A series of smaller prints led to a larger version (below), done 2 or 3 months later.

Adrift on this sea of irrelevancy, I’m free to do what I want, which can be pretty liberating. Boxes also relate to sorting, in a way, as they are often the end destination for things we’ve sorted, at least until we must re-sort. I’ve posted two boxes I made this year. I describe some of my ‘iconography’ here, in case it is relevant.

#Monotypes #ArtMuseums #Studionotes

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Fall Twigs and Berries

Fall is my happy place. The summer was very busy with shows and classes, so a lighter schedule is welcome. I do most of my longer travels in Fall; this year I spent time in Toronto and Western New York. It’s hard to think of a place where more can be done, in such a small area, and for so little money, as in this area of the Great Lakes.

Toronto has the Royal Ontario Museum, a huge place, and there I saw Roman mosaics and Greek and Minoan black figure pottery. I’ve been considering an exploration of red and black printmaking, iconic modernist graphic colors. So the black figure pottery struck a nerve. I also saw period dioramas of home interiors that resonated when I later went to visit the Susan B. Anthony house in Rochester. Toronto is a very international, user friendly, walkable city. The food is great, and reasonable places to feast on French, Indian, and Asian fusion, as we did.

The prices are noticeably higher than the two smaller cities I visited, but owing to exchange rates, you come out fine.

Rochester is a small city that did take some recent economic hits (Kodak closed), but also has a large University presence to help it through, and it appears to be starting to bounce back. There’s the University of Rochester’s Metropolitan Art Gallery, which I didn’t visit this time, but we did tour their outdoor sculpture garden which featured nice work by Rashid Johnson, Tony Cragg and Tony Smith, among others. I saw a nice artists’ studio complex in a warehouse district a few blocks away. Rochester reminds me of Denver in the 1980’s.

In between the two, Buffalo continues to be an architectural wonderland. The Doors Open Buffalo event featured exceptional examples of Gothic Revival, Nouveau, Prairie, Craftsman, Deco, Gothic Deco and Moderne, all within blocks of each other. Buffalo features an extensive Fredick Law Olmstead park and parkway system, making the two cities pretty much required visits for devotees. Throw in a Beef on Kummelweck, and you’ve got a legendary day.

On another day, I visited the newly reopened Albright Knox Gallery, now known as Buffalo AKG, recently expanded with an addition by OMA/Shohei Shigematsu, and now with more space to show off its spectacular collection of modernist art. This is on the site of the Olmstead Delaware Park, across from Buffalo State, my first University. The list of art history book staples you can see there is prohibitively large, but I’ll restrain myself to mentioning a room full of Kiefers, More Pop and Ab Ex than you can see anywhere outside of MOMA, and my new favorite Nick Cave piece.

Returning to the theme of architecture, we walked across the street to the Richardson Hotel, a refurbished portion of the H.H. Richardson State Asylum complex, a masterwork of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. It contains a small architectural museum and a bar, which we didn’t get to visit as it was closed till 4 PM.

Traveling and reading are aspects of mental drifting that I see as a nice break after a big show. My mind ‘shops’ for new ideas. A lot of my traveling is about relaxing and eating good food and drink- I got on an Old Fashioned kick while away. I’ll be back in studio soon, and I predict that Russian Constructivist red and black, as well as Ernst Barlach’s The Avenger might make their presence felt in new work.

The Fall temperature was congenial, too. The leaves were starting to turn. I tend to hide from Summer. Fall is good reading time. Summer is too busy to focus on big reading projects, graphic novels tend to rule. September came, and suddenly I was reading Tristram Shandy. I’ll be reading it all Fall I’m sure, and will write about it when done. So far, with its digressions and long mazy sentences, it reminds me of an early Modern Pynchon or Barth.

My next class is Monotype Starter, a detailed Beginner/Advanced Beginner class that still has spots available for next week.You get certified to use the print room independently, and we generally enjoy the Fall weather out the tall windows at the (Richardsonian ) ASLD. Click on ‘Contact Me’, if you have questions. Here’s the link for registration.

MoPrint at the League is also on its way, though the date has to be changed owing to a conflict with another League show. There is a holiday show the League is presenting called WHAM ( Winter Holiday Art Market), which sounds interesting, and I’ll be doing it and posting more about that later. I’m also doing the Portfolio Show at Botanic Gardens during March as part of MoPrint ’24, and there is lots of new work in all sizes, so starting your own collection will be very easy this next 6 months.

As I settle in at home with all my new books, I’m sure I’ll be back to graphic novels as well, and I’ll have a post about those

#travel #architecture #art galleries #culturaltourism #buffaloakg

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Finish Lines

A very early improvisation on the theme of a box, with a nested figural object, and an ampersand. I was exploring grammatical symbols as visual elements, such as asterisks. This small study seems to have inspired a later full sheet idea. “And”, Monotype, 13×9″, 2023

I somewhat offhandedly posted a picture of me at work on a monotype in the last post. It seems fair to post the final image. I now have a professional shot, as opposed to my rushed iPhone shots taken while moving between phases. They’re bad, and I generally get professional shots of the bigger, more important pieces a couple of times a year, for publicity. But the snaps can be great for tracing the sometimes confusing history of an image, with elements criss-crossing and popping up in multiple iterations.

This is a second layer view of the piece in the studio picture. The relief element (L), and chine colle element (R) in the margins are actually just laid there to explore composition. You can see the final execution in the last image, below.
I began a series of boxes in different colors with different variations of stenciled imagery. I did not try to make specific ideas, but to take a simple idea and drill down with different solutions. This makes them both decorative and a bit edgy. “Box With Object”, Monotype, 15×11″, 2023.

I have been better about documenting the various stages of a given art work, and it’s been a while since I explored the various permutations leading up to, and out of a given idea, so here’s a series of images that explicates that process.

The ‘Box’ series, like my ‘chair’ or ‘place’ series, is meant to explore the possibilities of a given simple image, both visual and metaphorical, in a gradually refined way. It’s typical for me to start off with many small variations, then pare down the options to execute a grand, refined image using some of the same ideas, or indeed, some of the same stenciled imagery.

A blue toned variation in the same size, printed over two sessions at the Art Students League of Denver.

I always explore different textures and effects as I go. Gradually the image seems to take on meaning, to me, at least. The first boxes were visual/textural experiments. Then I gradually moved into almost pure decoration:

But boxes were meant to contain something, so that implies a simple statement, or context. I’m a fan of organic branchings, and this implies outgrowth. I had added an asterisk, a symbol of “further information to come” to a chair image, and these were quickly co-opted to act as placeholders for stars, their alter ego. The spheres are somewhat molecular, but also astronomical, and I often put those lower in the plane to represent earth, but a famous comics artist Jack Kirby, often employed those as crackling, electric energy. A somewhat heart-shaped object in the box calls to mind an obvious reference to Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box”, but the slatted construction also, to me, feels like a rib cage or a coffin. Sneaking all these diverse elements in is a bit of a gamble, trying to create levels and complexity without becoming too busy.

It is rare that a title comes before the image. Usually, the image suggests a title to me. If it’s a simple image, such as a box, then a simple title becomes a working title. I add other details to the image, usually to create a new metaphor, such as a tablet, or ampersand, or ladder, and these accrue new meanings and new expanded titles.

If the various studies and small work-ups seem to have their own metaphoric presence, I put them in some shows. The #SummerArt Market2023, for example, requires a lot of work, so it’s the best place to see the various stepping stones in the process. The various create threads turn into finished lines. You can track them from the small work bin to the larger framed works. There are many other creative threads on display there, as I have a lot of new work. I hope to see you there!

The Art Students League Summer Art Market is August 26-7, 9-5 Saturday and Sunday. I am in Booth #54, between 2nd and 3rd on Grant Street, near the garden. One ticket ($5) gets you into both days, and is available here: https://asld.org/sam-tickets/

This is the finished piece, “The Juggler”, Monotype, 30×22″, 2023

#SAMprintmakers #ASLDprintmakers #summerartmarket2023 #monotypes

Categories
Books, Comics, Music Summer Art Market

Twigs and Berries: Life’s Been Berry Good

I have the luxury of time lately, which is very good for art. A regular studio routine is great for following up on ideas, and midweek days to work on framing, etc, without feeling rushed or stressed by deadlines, makes one feel more professional.

The weather has been vivid. I’m taking more walks, looking at birds, watching the clouds roll in. Of course, I’ve always believed that an appreciation of ‘now’, a certain presence in the moment, is valuable in the studio. It’s wonderful in daily life as well.

Nights have been mostly about reading, and I’ve chided myself for ‘wasting’ my streaming subscriptions by not flipping on the TV and catching up on my odd series, such as Dickinson ( a Hip-Hop-infused mash up of Puritan retro futurist takes on the poet’s life ), and Upstart Crow ( Shakespeare gets the Black Adder treatment). You can see the problem here- my favorite TV shows only remind me of how much there is to read!

I’ve been organizing my studio/workroom to make a more pleasant place to frame art and work on the computer. It’s less like a storage/ creative dumping ground, and there’s more room to work on projects, which can then remain out until the next time I’m ready to work on them. I wound up with a better set up for quick photos, too:

Illustration of blog post
Homestead, Monotype, 2023 15×11″. From my series of boxes, exploring all a box could be.

#MoPrint24 is bubbling into existence as we speak. The main organizers are working on not just next year’s event, which looks better than ever, but serious organizational issues that will strengthen it for years to come. I’m not as involved in that as I used to be.

I am trying to contribute, in my own way, by helping to organize the ASLD Print Fair event at the school. That is also in process already, and will accelerate in Fall, after the 800-pound gorilla that is SAM is fed.

I have several classes going on, mostly for kids. My next adult class starts July 11, and is registering now. It’s called Monotype Portfolio, for people with a bit of printmaking experience and is registering now. Here’s the link: https://reg135.imperisoft.com/asld/ProgramDetail/3239303238/Registration.aspx

The demos often reflect what I’m currently working on myself, which is certainly valuable dialog for me, and I hope others craving those kinds of conversation- hard to find- will feel free to join us. If you are curious about MoPrint, or just want to talk about books, there’s plenty of time for that as well.

What I’ve been reading is a wider range of fiction, non-fiction, as always, modern and older comics. I’m thinking of starting a separate, pop culture-oriented blog for my reading and bookstore adventures, and converting this one to all art. I perceive this as more professional, although posting regularly is always a challenge. Also, diverse readings certainly inform my creative explorations, and would certainly continue to pop up here.

Examples of things I’m reading lately: The Sot-Weed Factor, by John Barth, a hilarious picaresque that skewers the essential venality at the heart of Puritan America, and led directly to one of my all time favorite novels, Mason & Dixon, by Pynchon. Jews In American Comics, which explores the ethnic, European roots of this historically repressed medium, which naturally goes a long way toward explaining why the repression. I also finally located an affordable copy of the seminal Kramers Ergot #4, a landmark publication for the Fort Thunder group, as well as other avant grade cartoonists. Until Fall, after the Summer Art Market, I won’t really have time to launch a new blog, so I may go into a bit more depth about these books here later.

On a related note, my dictum that ‘a good walk ends in a used bookstore‘ ( it used to be ‘bar’, of course, and there was a “Bookbar” in my neighborhood, a great idea which failed of incompetent management ), has become a mantra. In that vein, I’m inserting a mini-review here of the recently relocated Fahrenheit’s Books.

The new one, several blocks farther down South Broadway, on Antique Row, is larger and less dingy. It’s still cluttered, which some people like, and why not? -it allows them to display more books, and the selection was superior even before. As an example, I quickly found Jews In American Comics and a William Gaddis novel, A Frolic of His Own, in clean copies for great prices. It goes along with my obsession with obscure comics criticism, and Post Modern Brick fiction ( see: Barth and Pynchon, above ). You can’t find these in most bookstores.

There is a sort of simpatico curatorial consciousness to stores like this, and Kilgore, On 13th. There, I found But Is It Art?, a book I’ve been wanting to read. I don’t read as many art books as I used to, partly because I can find plenty of germane concepts in PMBs, where I don’t feel as derivative. Sot-Weed is one of the early PMBs, and Gaddis also was a pioneer, though Frolic comes much later. A store across the street form Fahrenheit’s specializes in nice clean, collectible copies of mysteries and histories, etc. It’s less about the reading, although, I like clean copies, and I collect some of them. There’s such a thing as not enough clutter!

By comparison, another cluttered store, Westside Books, caps off a lot of walks, as it’s near me, and I like to support neighborhood business. But it’s dusty, poorly laid out, and choked with outdated redundancies, which make browsing a chore. Fahrenheit’s is much more mindful in their selection, and user friendly.

I can’t go there every week, as I would just buy 2 or three books every time. But here’s a shout out to a wonderful place to finish a bus ride/walk.

#Artclasses #Bookstores #ASLDprintmakers

Categories
Art Shows Ideas Summer Art Market

A Studio Bestiary

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Uncategorized

Words and Pictures

I try to communicate just what it is about comics that has carried my interest across decades, from my years as a thrilled kid and enthralled teen to my dotage as a book blurb blogger. I have never stopped searching for the thrill that only the synthesis of words and pictures can provide, and the search has taken me around the world, metaphorically, anyway.

It’s ironic to me that my personal experience of comics syncs pretty exactly with their heavy handed censorship. The cultural ghettoization of comics as a children’s medium ( some add insult by ignorantly calling it a ‘genre’) is part of a larger prejudice against communicating with pictures. This is an aspect of America’s puritan/fascist underpinnings. A capitalist/anti-art strain in the country’s cultural life has also contributed. Comic books emerged from pulp publishing in the 30’s, and any artistic or auteurist concerns left over from their newspaper strip cousins, only got in the way of raking in profit. Their popularity brought them under suspicion. (Comic) book burnings were a feature of the censorship crusade in the decade I was born, and it has never really disappeared, as the recent upsurge in library censorship, often targeting the popular graphic novels of the burgeoning Young Adult category, shows.

The still all-too-common assertion that getting one’s content from a medium that privileges art as much as words somehow warps literacy is idiotic and offensive to basic intelligence. It’s the inherent power and creativity of the medium that the censors fear. For one thing, it’s a straw man argument, meant to obscure the censors’ attacks on basic intelligence, which in YA reading, often includes learning about homosexuality, transgender issues, and other cultural differences.

For another, it denies kids- and adults their best opportunity to learn visual intelligence, the poetics of seeing, the almost magical synthesis of right and left brain, an act that is a formative exercise for creative genius. Americans, exceptionalists on both the left and the right, have traditionally undervalued the learning of other languages, and the language of cartoon art is as ‘other’ as they come. Chief censor Frederick Wortham of the 50’s comic book hysteria, for example, was actually a liberal psychologist who lent his voice to the preposterous fascist theory that comics lead to juvenile delinquency.

The prejudice has been persistent, not least in progressive academic circles, which is why comics such as Tillie Walden’s exquisite On A Sunbeam, which is often shelved in the YA section and which deals with, among other things, a coming of age lesbian romance, are so vulnerable to the howling mobs that seek to cripple our libraries. There are few to defend this vibrant art form.

On A Sunbeam is in a broader sense, sci fi. Its characters travel the universe, restoring architectural gems on other planets. Comics grew out of genre (pulp) fiction, though comics themselves are obviously a medium, encompassing many genres, such as sci fi, horror, autobiographical, and of course, superheroes. People who ignorantly or sometimes, deliberately, call comics a genre are doing it to demean the medium, which makes it easier to repress. They’ve always feared comics’ popularity with kids and immigrants, and they fear art.

Part of the thrill of comics is the ability to linger over the art -as long as you want; you’re the director- and to decide for yourself the importance of the art, and how it relates to the words. In the case of the often censored On A Sunbeam, the pictures are of exquisitely detailed, exotic architecture, the artistic passions of ancient alien cultures, which mirror the alien passions of the young women protagonists. Here’s my original review. I’m due for a re-read, and I’m sure I’ll have further thoughts then. By the way, Walden gets shelved in the YA section for her obvious affinity with young women, but there is nothing about her books that would disappoint an adult reader. The synthesis of futuristic sci fi genre with universal themes of love and belonging, along with the echos of the past architecture make for a lovely read.

In the meantime, here is a side by side comparison of two action thrillers I recently read. I like reading genre in comics, because it actually frees up time for literary pursuits in prose. Genre is wide open to various interpretations, and it was a more adult treatment of genre that launched alternative comics in Japan and Europe, before the mercenaries who controlled publishing in the United States dreamed of the possibilities.

Olympia, Vives, Ruppert and Mulot: This may be more audacious than Le Grande Odalisque, where these vibrant characters, 3 women who steal art masterpieces, were introduced. This time, Manet is the target. Not ones to panic when things go wrong, the appeal is in how they triumph over their failures, which include excess partying, overconfidence, violent escapes, and a professional killer who is assigned to oversee a spectacular theft, then eliminate them. Not to mention that one is 9 months pregnant.

There is a nice interplay between the casual attitude of the women as they case their targets, and the action of the actual capers, where the sense of danger is visceral. An essential of this type of thriller is a comfort level with violence and death, and these thieves are as cool as it comes, yet loving and concerned for each other. It’s a good formula, and one would expect to see more of these, as they seem cinema-ready.

In comics, the panel and the page layout are the camera eye. The ink work and colors provide the cinematography. In Olympia, it all seems so offhand. Spacious, uncluttered panels, favoring medium distance shots. Loose pen lines, as sensual as a lace dress, and soft aqueous colors. Euro comics have always benefitted from generous formats, from their album length page counts to their airy page sizes ( 9×12″), and this is a beautiful comic.

Its sophistication and wit override its relatively preposterous plot, and like all good thrillers, your identification with its engaging characters makes it impossible to forget.

Black Widow, Thompson, Casagrande, Bellaire: Like many mainstream American comics lately, this is a screen play wannabe, using cinematic tropes to grab the same fans that never miss a Marvel movie. There is, however, the simple fact that a good screenplay is a good screenplay, and this is one of the recent best. It follows in the same spirit as the slightly under the radar Black Widow movie, which mixed physics-defying action and pyrotechnics to make a surprising point about families: they don’t require blood relations to form strong bonds and provide emotional support.

Its author, Kelly Thompson, made a hash of her run on Jessica Jones with an over reliance on super hero tropes. She does the same thing here, and knocks the thing out of the ballpark. Go figure. I won’t try to analyze whether she’s learned her craft, or if Jessica Jones was just the wrong character for her formula.

With all its action thriller trappings, the underlying conflict here is the eye-rollingly hackneyed script of super villains teaming up to exact revenge on a super hero, seen every Wednesday on new comics day at your local geek infested comics shoppe since before Ditko’s Spider-Man. If you don’t ( or refuse to ) like Marvel movies, then you probably won’t like this. The far more subtle and whimsical characterizations of Olympia ( above ) may be your best bet. But this is certainly as punchy and well paced as any movie, and with comics, you get to slow the plot down to your own pace if you feel like lingering.

For someone who has no family, Black Widow sure has been forming them a lot. In the comics, she is an orphan, abducted as a child and trained in deadly arts in Soviet Russia to be a spy/hit girl. This made for an unapproachable character, who struggled to sustain sales in many various titles.

The movie solved this shortcoming by re-writing her back story to create a ‘family’ around her. In this book, she again forms her own family on her own Island of Misfit Superheroes, in the process tapping into other 2nd tier Marvel characters and thus, into some of their strongest recent storylines.

This is nothing new. The MCU has only succeeded so well because Marvel has, in the last decade and indeed, since the beginning, been unerringly on message- every writer, editor and character. This allows them to get max value from second- and third-tier characters, which aren’t so dialed into the overall mythology that they can’t be given to innovative new artists and writers for a bit of retcon. In this process, we get to drill down into the characters, and Marvel, whose first superhero hit, in 1961, was about a near dysfunctional, yet tight knit and indomitable family ( pull out your copies of Fantastic Four #1, and turn to page one ), turns out to be often all about family.

Stan Lee, who has his detractors in the comics sub culture, got his position at the publishing company that would become Marvel Comics from his wife’s cousin. Make of that what you will. But as much as Lee’s bombast and self promotion made him a pop culture demi god, his humanizing influence made for epically memorable characters. Here, it saves the story from the over-the-top superhero tropes that clog most American mainstream comics.

Clean, excellent art, snappy dialog, a fast paced story with killer action scenes does not hurt, of course. The standard, and relatively cramped 7×10″ format is well served by simple, imaginative breakdowns. But let’s talk about the colors, or rather the colorist. I’ve mentioned this before -It’s the Bellaire Rule: If I see a comic book with Jordie Bellaire’s name on the cover, I buy it. Yes, it would be unusual to buy a comic based solely on who does the colors, but Bellaire is the top color artist in comics, and presumably, has the clout to pick up only the projects she really likes to do, and it turns out she has excellent taste in comics. Pretty Deadly, Zero, Hawkeye, are all groundbreaking comics that benefitted from her colors.

Two very different approaches to the comic book thriller: the breathless, soft focus emotional terror of Olympia, and the snarky buddy movie patter and concise jump cuts of Widow. Like all thrillers these days, they are somewhat over the top, but they provide engaging characters and tense action nonetheless. Taken together, a short course in why comics are very definitely in a golden age right now. Comics are not a genre; they are a camera eye into all the things genre can be.

Categories
Uncategorized

Ride The Rabbit

“Perspective”, Monotype, 30×22″, 2022.

One can’t help but look forward after such a bleak January/February. Winter is a very interior time, given to dream and fantasy, but one must be mindful of the value of solitude in the present moment. I worked steadily in two studios, somehow avoiding most of the weather trauma, which I wished away from the warm comfort of my home. A natural response, I guess, which I leavened with a bit of gratitude for the snowy vistas outside.

The usual ‘resolutions’ apply: there’s been a bit more fiber and exercise; a bit less wine and coffee. A good resolution for any year, new and rabbity, or otherwise, is gratitude. Life, including small-fingered political corruption, gun-fetish fear and rage, creeping physical breakdown, and old fashioned frigid, gray winter lockdown, is good. It’s well to remember that, and going regularly to the studio, even as my so-called career winds down, is a reminder that poetry, however unattainable it may seem sometimes, is magic. And magic is the only thing that can accomplish the alchemy needed to turn darkness into light. Or, to make a long paragraph short: The studio is a good place to wish the winter away. Or to honor its poetic present.

Each day allows for transcendence, should we choose to honor the quest with our presence and our belief. When I walk into the studio, I believe I will become a better poet, at least that day. It helps that I now see studio alchemy as being mostly for my own benefit. The next 12-15 months will have its share of public shows and opportunities, but ultimately the privilege of studio time is its own private reward. I do think it’s worth sharing, but each has their own story, and I think it’s well to listen to the other sounds in the orchestra. And in winter, that sound is often silence.

Here’s what’s going on:

My next class will start in early March, Sunday the 12th, at 1 pm-4. It’s a beginner class called Monotype Starter, and it lasts 4 weeks, with each week introducing a new concept. These include basic ink mixing and printmaking, color mixing, stenciling and resistance techniques.

I’ve updated my Workshops page to reflect all upcoming classes.

As I’ve mentioned, I will be doing the Summer Art Market this year, August 26-27. I’ll have a lot of new work, that was part of the rationale behind skipping a year. I considered doing an additional show in the area, and I haven’t ruled it out, but haven’t decided yet, and I’m certainly enjoying just taking my time in the studio, so I’m not sure.

MoPrint ’24 is coming up next March, and that is sure to feature lots of shows, so having work for that is my current priority.

Speaking of MoPrint, I’ll be working on the committee to organize the 2nd Art Students League Print Fair during that time. That work begins this month, believe it or not. It’s becoming a very popular event, and making sure you are ready to stand out in the crowded landscape is important. The main MoPrint organizing committee started last month, in fact. If you are looking to be involved in one of these projects and don’t know who to contact, there is the MoPrint.org website, or you can drop a message here as well, under “Contact”.

Happy Year of the Rabbit! The stories we tell ourselves matter quite a bit, I believe, and the rabbit’s message of calm introspection certainly resonates with me. Above, the chair imagery, for me, is often a story of being present, of being in the moment, accepting it for what it is. The colors, generally NOT associated with calm, are my Summer of Love colors, inspired by a small show of psychedelic Rock posters at the Denver Art Museum. This is an era of hope that quickly turned bitter in the Nixon years (see: Vineland, Thomas Pynchon, 1990), but it was not the colors’ fault.

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