I Hope You All Enjoyed The Show.

I have a post I didn’t have time to finish and post last week, on the Beatles’ 50th anniversary of the release of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP, June 1. I didn’t post it with the rush to prepare for the annual Summer Art Market show. That went okay, with the main news being I won “Best In Show.” I’ll put up an album of photos soon. But here’s the Beatles post, and I’ve got another that I never posted, so I’m going to finish that, too.

 

It was 50 years ago today. We’ve been seeing that almost obligatory headline a lot recently, as the media return to a longtime, can’t-miss subject: The Beatles, and the anniversary of the release of their ground-breaking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album.

Everyone old enough will have memories of this release, which was a watershed in both artistic and cultural, even political history. Its effect is probably emotional for some people who lived it, and difficult to describe to those who weren’t there without using hyperventilated superlatives. The Beatles were sort of magical at that time; the hair- a big issue then, the flippancy, the “more popular than Jesus” defiance. There were some Goldwater Republicans and what we then called “Jesus Freaks” who hated them, but no one else did. It’s important to note- you young whippersnappers! -that no later artist, no Prince, no U2, R.E.M., Beyonce or Katy Perry, has ever had that grip on the imaginations of the young.

Suffice it to say, I’ll never be all that distant from Sgt. Pepper’s. It seems a part of me, and retains its immediacy. For one thing, at that time Sgt. Pepper’s was the only show in town. But it’s become fashionable to place it behind Revolver in the Beatles’ canon.

Like many, I’ve read a lot of books on the Beatles. My two go-tos, musically, remain Tell Me Why, by Tim Riley, a song-by-song analysis of the musical and lyrical structures of all their albums, and The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, by Mark Lewison, a day-to day record of their studio work with George Martin. Both provide critical analysis, as well as cultural and biographical context for their many moods and innovations. As I’ve mentioned here before, The Beatles Anthology albums (Vols. 1-3), with their out takes, creative progressions and studio half-steps, are an indispensable companion. Also search out The Atlantic’s The Power of Two, (July 2014) by Joshua Wolf Shenk, a shorter analysis of what made the Lennon and McCartney collaboration so effective.

In 1967, others, notably rivals The Rolling Stones, were still standing on the shoulders of blues giants. The Beatles however, had leveraged their unassailable chart postings by quitting touring, and had unlimited studio time to explore pop, folk and psychedelia.

On Pepper’s, the sheer power of George Martin’s control room vision can no longer cover up the centrifugal motion of Lennon and McCartney’s artistic intentions. On Revolver, we hear McCartney’s R&B masterpiece “Got to Get You Into My Life” moments before one of the first great 60’s psychedelic/mystic songs, Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows”. They are clearly moving apart musically. But with Pepper’s, their ideas are still engaged in metaphorical dialog, thanks in part to its loose concept (faux Victorian psychedelic nostalgia, which quickly became the rage for pop bands, and eventually informed steam punk genre fiction and fashion). Three songs epitomize the Pepper album’s failures and its triumphs. One is on the album, two are not.

The first is “A Day In The Life”. It is the emotional core of an album that has been criticized for not having one, when compared with the worldly love songs and social realism of Revolver.  But its disjunct between bouncy pop and existential questioning is part of its brilliance, and the Atlantic article defines this as part of Lennon and McCartney’s collective genius, the tendency of John and Paul to respond to each other’s ideas, in the same way that the dreamy search for identity in Strawberry Fields plays off against the uncannily superrealist nostalgia of Penny Lane, the other two songs I allude to above.

This is the real problem with the record: it’s not complete. In early 1967, their record labels Parlophone and Capitol, anxious that a cash cow single had not been seen for all of 10 months, were pressuring the band, just liberated from brutal touring schedules, for a new 45. The fireman rushes in, indeed. The labels’ release schedule was out of sync with their creative one. Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane were two of the few songs ready. But by custom, these midterm singles were not included on the subsequent album. By late April, work had begun on several other songs, and only a month after Pepper, the “All You Need Is Love” single is released. No song was ever released from  SPLHCB as a single, in fact. “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” are included in December on another Capitol mash-up, the “Magical Mystery Tour LP.  It’s treated as a trivial oddity if mentioned at all, but is in fact a pop artistic tragedy on a par with a lost Shakespeare play. Or perhaps it’s enough to state that George Martin called the songs’ omission from the record “a dreadful mistake”. He’s right- only those two songs refer both to the floating anxiety of Lennon’s distant, ironicized dreamscapes brought together with McCartney’s photorealism in one disturbing “Day”, between morning newspaper and first cigarette.

In A Day In The Life, the Beatles themselves puncture their own nostalgic Victorian band conceit before the record even ends. As Riley points out, in a useful discussion of the song’s metaphoric soundscape, the spare acoustic guitar opening of Day emerges from the fading illusion of Sgt Pepper’s (Reprise), and Lennon’s dreamy absurdity ( “4000 holes”) asks us to ponder what is real and what is illusion. We hear an alarm clock; the dream is over-  a studio alarm clock included in an early take as a time marker inspires McCartney’s man on the bus smoking segment, which plays what is in this context, as quotidian zombie horror, as his working stiff rushes for the bus. This daydream plays off perfectly against Lennon’s existential nightmare.

Without Penny Lane, however, The crystalline nostalgia of McCartney’s hyperrealist suburban vignettes (When I’m 64, Lovely Rita) can sound gratuitous and superficial next to the anxiety-prone absurdity of Lennon’s hallucinogenic Victoriana ( Good Morning, Mr. Kite). These songs, in turn, sound like LSD fripperies without the primal identity quest (“No one, I think, is in my tree”) of Strawberry Fields to anchor them. “Fields”- about an orphanage grounds, and “Lane”, about an everyday intersection, center the ideas of the Pepper sessions as no other song, other than “A Day”, can. The metaphoric backstory of the album begins with these childhood memories and ends with Paul and Martin’s orchestrated crescendos, knitting disparate sounds and leading to a note of attenuated anticipation, a sort of definitive ambiguity. What’s next, the long closing note asks? Martin was excited by the creative effusion, and anxious to return to the studio. But the band, in retrospect, suddenly seemed adrift.

“A crowd of people stood and stared” referring perhaps, to the just-exited Sgt. Pepper’s audience? Or to the Beatles themselves? Nobody was sure what exactly they were seeing. The disjunct between Lennon’s dark apocalyptic dreamscape; and the sunny clarity of McCartney’s blue suburban skies is explained, as a dream within a dream. It all adds up to a kind of existential, hallucinogenic identity crisis,  one that mirrors the one many of us, in large parts of society as a whole, experienced then. But the Beatles, now without Brian Epstein, might’ve been having one, too.

It brings up the question of what might have been released instead of these two songs, and the correct answer is, really, “Who cares?” “When I’m 64” was the other song ready in February 1967, and would be no great loss to the album, where it’s more of a breathing space between more meaningful songs. Same with “Within You Without You” which fits only by virtue of geography into the album’s loose concept. But that brings up band politics, as it was Harrison’s only song on the album. So why not include them all? Recording technology was apparently an issue. Sgt. Pepper runs 39 minutes, Revolver, 35. Mostly, though, it was commerce triumphing over art.

For the Beatles’ part, they’d made themselves clear on this issue with the “butcher” cover to the spurious Capitol Records release Yesterday and Today, but never seemed to have returned to the issue. “Well I just had to laugh” is, as Riley notes, a token of resigned disillusionment.

By the time Pepper’s was released, they’d recorded several sessions for Magical Mystery Tour. Self indulgence was rearing its head. On the very day of the Pepper album release, Lewison reports the Beatles in studio, recording unplanned and “frankly tedious” jams. Perhaps it was the Beatles themselves who had lost their emotional core. Did they have an inkling that some element of magic had gone mysteriously missing? Had hubris set in? But if the album does fail, it’s a failure of execution, not of artistic vision. Sgt. Pepper’s, always great in terms of its cultural influence, if not in terms of its artistic cohesion,  was sacrificed to an already outdated business plan.

 

Walk Right In?

Textures and graphic effects are a way of bringing energy to a print composition. A highly detailed texture will attract the eye and demand attention, a subtle one will invite mental rest and contemplation. A heavier, darker texture or a very transparent one will tend to create depth by playing off what’s behind or underneath it. In this three staged monotype, I had some fairly unique coloring and a balanced, if plain image, and I put it aside with a vague feeling of disappointment as it really didn’t have a lot of intrigue. Intrigue can be defined in prints, probably in all art, as something, a bit of mystery or surprise that might keep the eye exploring the picture, possibly to extract meaning ( or determine if meaning is indeed there), or to solve the puzzle of its composition, or simply to bring the visual exploration to a fairly logical stopping point.

In this case, I didn’t want to give up on the print because I liked the sense of calm, or is it desolation? which I think comes from the pink light and the fairly empty expanse on the left side. So I wanted to heighten that distance and light, without cluttering the picture.

I did this print last year, and while I loved the strange colors and stylized interplay between positive and negative elements, it seemed too sparse to call finished.

The picture was also a bit sparse though, lacked a real focal point and featured mostly hard edges. I wanted to add a bit of visual richness and narrative movement while maintaining the graphic simplicity.

First I added in some more visual elements in the foreground which enhanced the designerly, modernist look of the first layer, and although these are also hard-edged shapes (created with mylar overlays), I think the addition of more complexity in the foreground makes the emptiness in the background more pronounced.

I added some foreground darks to create a focal point in opposition to the rather empty background.

Then I thickened the glade at the right avoiding too much clutter, by adding some trace monotype lines.

I rediscoverd trace monotype, a favorite from Paul Klee’s early work in my art history class days, and decided to experiment with it to see if it might add to these pictures I’d never finished. It has a fairly spontaneous and softer-edged feel to it as opposed to the hard edge of the mylar stencilling, which might, given the subject ( strangely lit glade) add some visual balance. The softer-edged elements were placed in front of the earlier graphic elements, not usually how you do it, but as in photography, the depth of field is being manipulated to sharpen and highlight middle ground elements, an example of what I mean by visual intrigue. When you highlight or sharpen the middle ground, you are, in effect, asking the viewer to “enter” past the foreground elements. Like pushing to the front of the crowd for a street busker, say, it asks for a bit of commitment.

It added a bit of “dirty” look to the print, which adds an edgy but also timeless feel to the modernist hard edges. Blacks ( not too heavy) always add depth by bringing out color and balancing tones, which here were sitting mostly in the middle-light to middle-dark range except the ghostly whites. I used the trace mainly for spindly forest brush (plant) images and ground debris which adds a bit of suggested perspective and realistic “bottom” to the pic, but also a kind of synaesthesia in that one can imagine the crackling of twigs, which draws one in to the place depicted. It’s also somewhat calligraphic and hints at a story in the scene. The second layer of leafy designs in mylar  plays off the twigs to create a sort of diversity of textures and heightens the original play of positive negative space in the pic. I like that the imagery is denser, but the two image sets are now in a bit of visual tension with each other in a sort of necker cube shift of dark and light. Is the white log stencil some sort of border treatment, or is it a log that has shifted to another dimension. A ghost log? I always enjoy signal-to-noise problems, and this one suggests information degradation or decay, since it exists at the edge of the picture plane, where an image might be expected to fade anyway.

Whether this all works is of course for the viewer to decide, but as the “first” viewer, it made me happier.  This was a print which seemingly had no chance of ever being seen by the public, until I decided that other textures might make it just intriguing enough to show ( Yes, I have to see intrigue, or at least stylistic interplay in something before I can bring myself to show it). It seemed to lack any sort of visual grace or interior dialog beyond the pink and brown coloring, which I always loved, and which probably kept it near the top of the stack of unfinished items, rather than buried in a flat file. It seems to have a fair amount of depth and “placeness” in it now. It’s a place I would like to go to and walk around in, so I went there.

You can see it and judge for yourself at the Art Students League Summer Art Market, June 10-11, Booth #96, where I’ll be showing it along with work by my booth mate, Taiko Chandler.

The finished piece has quite a bit more texture, including rub marks from the trace monotype.

Workshop Update for Summer

I’ve updated my workshop page (click at the top) with Summer workshop information and links. The registration for these opened up this week and most have already had enrollees, so don’t wait too long. The first, Monotypes for Advanced Beginners is intended for those who have been printing in recent years, and want to explore a more intermediate level- finished, frame-able work for a show or portfolio perhaps; larger, multi-layered work, or those who need only a minimal refresher in print room technique who want to execute a project or series. There are still openings for this one, which begins June 20, 6-9:30 PM. It runs  5 weeks, excluding July 4.

I’m adding more workshops, and alternating more between morning and evening sessions, so if you don’t see a time slot that works for you, check back for Fall, and it’ll probably be offered.

I’m preparing a long post on the intersection of comics and fine art, but it’s been busy, so I’m not sure when I’ll have it ready. I’m finishing new work in the studio, and I’ll have some new photos to post in mid-May. Summer Art Market is coming June 10-11!

Summertime Update

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!

 

 

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.

Studio Update

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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.

Get Back, Stack

 

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.

Studio Update

"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.

Workshops, Shows and Free Stuff Scheduled for Spring ’16

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.

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.