Real American Prints

Henry David Thoreau Cabin 2012 by Alan Michelson. Handmade paper over balsa wood.
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Comanche Kiowa, Jason Lujan, 2014, serigraphy on mylar stretchers.

Alan Altamirano, the printmaker from Oaxaca, and I visited IPCNY, International Center for the Prints, NY.  It can be hard to find the first time you look for it. If you walk the High Line in the Chelsea gallery district you might spot the signage in their 5th floor windows on the south side of 26th St.  Enter 508 W. 26th St and you can ride an old gated elevator with a human operator up to the gallery.

There is always something interesting there. One of the two current exhibitions is  “Weaving Past into Present: Experiments in Contemporary Native American Printmaking.” There are over 40 works by artists who identify as Native Americans: Mohawk, Seneca, Navajo, Flathead/Salish, Chiricahua Apache, Cree, and more.

The work pictured above is food for thought. Perhaps the naming of military helicopters was meant to pay the Kiowa and Comanche warriors a compliment. Seems Jason Lujan sampled the graphic images directly from the instruction sheets for Tamiya plastic model kits.

Assembly instruction sheet for Kiowa helicopter model.
Assembly instruction sheet for Kiowa helicopter model. (detail)

Earlier in the day I seen a room chuck full of Andy Warhol’s Campell soup cans at MOMA. I had forgotten his Cream of Asparagus. Warhol and Lujan remind us that appropriation is a given in the fine art world.

Brad Kahlhamer, Looking for Water, 2004, intaglio
Looking for Water, Brad Kahlhamer, 2004, intaglio

I especially liked the expressionistic etchings by Brad Kahlhamer. They seem quite original and energetic. For me they evoke animal totems, handmade maps, and sketchbook art.

Henry David Thoreau Cabin 2012 by Alan Michelson. Handmade paper over balsa wood.
Henry David Thoreau Cabin 2012 by Alan Michelson. Handmade paper over balsa wood.

My friend Alan Altamirano was most impressed by Alan Michelson‘s meticulously constructed paper houses. Altamirano is quick to admit he can’t read English, but he appreciated the tonal effect of the text and he presumed that the writing was a personal reflection on the concept of home. He noted that had seen prints transformed into three dimensions before, but these he found particularly well done.

Screenshot from ICPNY website.
Screenshot from ICPNY website.

There are over 40 works in the exhibition in a wide range of styles. The show runs until Nov.10 and then might travel. All of the prints can be seen on the ICPNY website. There is also a contextual essay by the curator, Sarah Diver, explaining some of the specific events in U.S. history referenced by these works.

My grandmother was an Indian, can you tell?
My Grandmother was an Indian. Can you tell? Lynn Allen Litho, chine collé

ICPNY’s website is worth a visit for its up-to-date list of NYC galleries specializing in prints. ICPNY is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the print, so they are not in competition with commercial fine art galleries. If you ask the staff will gladly point you in the direction of other worthwhile print exhibitions in the neighborhood. We would not have know about the Shepard Fairy show at the Pace Prints if we hadn’t asked.

Orale! Alan Altamirano esta en Kutztown.

One of his grand-scale relief prints.
Alan Altamirano preparing his prints for display at Kutztown University. photo: K . McCloskey
Alan Altamirano preparing prints for display at Kutztown U. photos: K. McCloskey

Alan Altamirano makes art about women, beautiful women. The 27-year old artist is from Oaxaca, Mexico, a city famed for its food and visual arts. Like many of the best Oaxacan artists of his generation he studied with Maestro Shinzaburo Takeda at the School of Fine Arts at the University of Benito Juarez, Oaxaca.

Evan Summer admire a portfolio etchings.
Prof. Evan Summer admires a portfolio of etchings.

Today I spent the day with Alan hanging his large-scale wood block prints in the Student Gallery in Sharadin. When printmaking Prof. Evan Summer visited, Alan shared a portfolio of etchings based on indigenous Zapotec cosmology. Even these etchings portrayed the cardinal elements: Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire as women.

One of his grand-scale relief prints.
One of Alan Altamirano’s grand-scale relief prints.

Some of his models he has known for years. Others Alan met for as little as an hour. In many portraits he includes decorative geometry and elements from nature. The image above is of a Puerto Rican woman he met who told Alan about her memory of her beloved uncle. Her uncle, a fisherman, was swept away at sea and drowned. The drowned man appears to her left. Another male figure, the barefoot campesino, walking across the foreground represents her father. This artwork is a stunning example of relief printing, or xilographia, as it is called in Spanish. Here, Alan carved the image not into wood, but MDF, or multi-density fiberboard.

Alan working on print above. Photo from oaxacaculturalnavigator.com
Alan Altamirano working on print above. Photo from http://www.oaxacaculture.com

RECEPTION Oct 8 4pm Sharadin Student Gallery:

Alan Altamirano’s extraordinary prints will be on display in Sharadin October 6-12, with an artist’s reception at 4pm on Thursday, Oct. 8. This is remarkable work. He will be on campus the following week meeting with interested students. The exhibition and his 2-week residency at Kutztown is funded by the Fine Art and Communication Design Depts. and a generous grant from the Kutztown University Sesquicentennial Committee.

11921987_10207631550164792_1547332123_nKutztown students have a unique opportunity to study with Alan in Oaxaca as part of Kevin McCloskey’s Winterterm course. Alan invites visiting artists to work in his studio. He also offers frequent workshops for printmakers at any level at his Taller Chicharra. See Norma Shafer’s Oaxaca Cultural Navigator for more images from his studio.

More Miracles of St. Patrick in Scranton, PA!

St. Patrick Converts the 50 Foot Woman. © Kevin McCloskey, 2015
St. Patrick Converts the 50 Foot Woman. © Kevin McCloskey, 2015

My grandpa Patrick McCloskey immigrated from Donegal, Ireland. I got the grand idea to have some fun with St. Patrick, the most sacred hero of the Island of Saints. Fortunately for me, the Irish, even religious fundamentalists, tend to have a sense of humor.  St Patrick: The Lesser-Known Miracles will be exhibited at the AFA Gallery, Scranton, March 5-28. The prints will be up for St. Patrick’s Day.

Patrick & Celia McCloskey with baby Patrick, Mary, James (center front my dad)  and John
Patrick & Celia McCloskey with baby Patrick, Front: Mary, James ( my Dad) and John.

These are relief prints, carved from wood or linoleum. It is a down-and-dirty way of printing. In my case, a bit the prints are rough-hewn, but they tell a story. I learned this process from masters like Tom Huck and Endi Poskovic and from my printmaking friends in Oaxaca.

St. Patrick Arm-Wrestling a Pagan. © Kevin McCloskey 2015.
St. Patrick Arm-Wrestling a Pagan. © Kevin McCloskey 2015.

One of the new miracle prints is a linoleum cut of St. Patrick arm wrestling a Pagan. Kutztown printmaking student Victoria Beck asked if the pagan was Tom Huck. Good eye, there is a resemblance. I made my first St. Patrick print at Huck’s studio, Evil Prints in St. Louis. So this image is a shout-out to Huck. On another level, the legend of St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland may be rooted in his driving the tattooed druids out of power.

The Irish discovery of Pi.
The Irish discovery of Pi.

I’ve read Thomas Cahill’s book How the Irish Saved Civilization and Seamus MacManus’s The Story of the Irish Race. Both interesting books celebrate Irish exceptionalism. I am proud of my Irish ancestry, but I toy with this sort of myth-making in my prints. Every nationality tends to inflate their ancestor’s contributions, I suppose.

St. Patrick Driving the Elephants from Ireland
St. Patrick Driving the Elephants from Ireland © KMc 2012

Reading Eagle reporter Lisa Scheid wrote about this project here. “We see a lot of pictures of a saintly St. Patrick, but Kutztown University professor Kevin McCloskey wants people to see something more. McCloskey, a printmaker and an Irish-American who has participated in his share of St. Patrick’s Day parades, has a series of prints about St. Patrick. The series, “The Lesser Known Miracles of St. Patrick,” doesn’t depict any aspect of the saint or legend but is a celebration of its spirit. Patrick came to Ireland as a kidnapped slave; he escaped and then, surprisingly, returned. “It’s kind of a subversive idea to go back and want to change a country,” McCloskey said. “With a religion from the Middle East, he returned to this cold, tough place to spread love.”

Original woodblock, St. Patrick's Headstand, 12 by 16 in, used as illustration for Reading Eagle 3/17/14.
Original woodblock, St. Patrick’s Headstand, used as illustration for Reading Eagle 3/17/14.

St Patrick: The Lesser-known Miracles can be seen at AFA Gallery, 514 Lackawanna Ave, Scranton from March 5-28. Opening: Friday March 6, First Friday 6-9pm. I will be there and look forward to meeting my fellow exhibitors, Veronica Lawlor and Chris Spollen. Gallery info here.  A few more St. Patrick prints can be seen here.  If I don’t see you before March 17, Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

AFA Gallery announcement, Opening March 6, Scranton, PA.
AFA Gallery announcement, Opening March 6, Scranton, PA.

Many thanks to my friend Scranton-based illustrator Ted Michalowski for introducing me to the AFA Gallery. Thanks, too, to Dean Bill Mowder of Kutztown University for a grant to support this project.

OAXACA KU Study Abroad Winter 2015

Update: Kutztown U’s Oaxaca Course will be offered again. Tentative dates: Dec.27, 2015 to Jan.10 2016. Details in August. For a new non-credit 6-day (Jan 10-15, 2016) Oaxaca printmaking workshop see offering here via Oaxaca Cultural Navigator.

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Kutztown University is offering an affordable opportunity to study  in Oaxaca, Mexico with Prof. Kevin McCloskey. Oaxaca may the best place for a visitor to experience art in all Mexico. This beautiful colonial city is famed for its markets, street art, and printmaking studios.

Oaxaca Street scene, art by Arte Jaguar. photo ©K.McCloskey
Oaxaca scene, street art by Arte Jaguar. photo ©K.McCloskey

Students will experience many things they can’t do in Kutztown. For example: We’ll climb and sketch ancient pyramids. Visit a papermill that makes fine art paper from indigenous plants. Work with local artists. Drink spiced hot chocolate in the lobby of the chocolate hotel.

Corey Reifinger sketching a pyramid in Queretaro,  Mexico
Corey Reifinger sketching a pyramid in Queretaro, Mexico, 2008.

Located high in the mountains of Southern Mexico, January weather in Oaxaca is typically sunny with highs around 80°F

CDE 375: Drawing on Location in Oaxaca is a 3-credit Communication Design Elective. A hand’s-on course, students will complete a sketchbook documenting their personal response to the travel experience. Includes a 3-day relief printmaking workshop in a fully-equipped artist’s studio. Field trips to museums, markets and historical sites will provide immersion in the unique cultural traditions of Oaxaca.

Oaxaca Street art by Swoon. photo © K.McCloskey 2012
Oaxaca Street art by Swoon. photo © K.McCloskey 2012

The cost?  For in-state (PA) undergrad tuition, airfare, shared accommodations, printmaking workshop, museum entries, and daily breakfasts should total approximately $2,400. Out-of-state students’ will be need to pay more. (Fees must be approved by KU council of Trustees.)

Young girl in one of Oaxaca's many parades. photo ©K.McCloskey 2012
Young girl in one of Oaxaca’s many parades. photo ©K.McCloskey 2012

Prof. Kevin McCloskey has been visiting Oaxaca for over 30 years. In 2007 he was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship to study the visual arts of Oaxaca. He received a second NEH fellowship in 2011 to explore the visual culture of the Maya regions of the Yucatan and Belize.

Kevin McCloskey with one of his woodblock prints at Espacio Zapata, Oaxaca.
Kevin McCloskey with one of his woodblock prints at Espacio Zapata, Oaxaca.

He has written extensively about Mexican political prints. He has curated eight exhibitions of Mexican prints across the U.S, notably at the Fowler Museum, UCLA. In 2012, he was invited to Princeton University to lecture on Mexican prints at the Woodrow Wilson School of International Studies. Here are two of his recent  articles on the Oaxaca art scene, one at Project Bly, one at Printeresting.

Interested students can email for more info: mccloskey@kutztown.edu

Medula Negra of Xalapa

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Sebastian Fund is an artist on the move. He was born in Argentina, moved to Mexico as a child, and is now beginning an artist’s residency in Havana, Cuba. He collects abandoned shoes. He deconstructs them, inks them up and prints them. The remarkable results evoke the humanity of the individuals that once walked in those shoes.

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Javier Arjona is the second half of the Taller (Studio) Medula Negra of Xalapa, Mexico. He does woodcuts. He likes to use a technique he calls placa perdida. A single plank is carved and printed, color after color, for as many a six colors. Because there is no turning back with this method some U.S. printmakers call it a “suicide print.”

MedulaNegra

I met these two dedicated young artists in July in Xalapa. They gave me a studio tour, and we drank a toast of mescal at their printing press.  They have invested heavily in their studio and put in long hours at the press. I wrote about Medula Negra for the online  journal, Printeresting. They lent me a batch of their small works to exhibit at Kutztown University’s Rohrbach Library.

The press at Medula Negra, Xalapa. Photo by Tirso Pérez
The press at Medula Negra, Xalapa. Photo by Tirso Pérez

They have a killer website: www.medulanegra.com. Their photographer friend Tirso Pérez did a photo shoot of the studio. His black and white photos are far superior to mine, so I will share a few of his fine works here. More of the photoshoot entitled “Un Dia de Trabajo” (One Day of Work) can be found here on Medula Negra’s Facebook page.

Javier checking a proof. Photo by Tirso Pérez.
Javier checking a proof. Photo by Tirso Pérez.
Sebastian preparing shoes to print. Photo by Tirso Pérez
Sebastian preparing shoes to print. Photo by Tirso Pérez

Medula Negra: Grabados Pequenos de Xalapa is on exhibit until Oct. 16 on the 2nd floor of Kutztown University’s Rorhbach Library in the Voices & Choices Gallery space.

The exhibit at KU's Rohrbach Library runs through Oct 16.
The exhibit at KU’s Rohrbach Library runs through Oct 16.

“The Last Supper” by Yescka, Oaxaca

Yescka has a grand mural on a full wall in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Oaxaca. It’s his take on the Last Supper re-imagined Mexico style with Narco-trafficers, cops, politicians and a stripper. I knew him when he was running around pasting his work to walls without permission, risking a beating or arrest.

The Head of Benito Juarez, detail from the Last Supper, stencil and paint.
The Head of Benito Juarez, detail from the Last Supper, stencil and paint.

I met Yescka in 2007 in Oaxaca, and know his real name. He asked me what I thought of his street name of Yescka. I said to English speakers it might sound rather feminine, like Jessica. He laughed and shrugged. I asked if it came from an indigenous language, maybe Zapotec or Mixtec? He told me he made it up from ‘calles’ (streets) backwards. I said calles backwards, sellac, would sound like “Sayack.” He told me it wasn’t exactly backwards, but syllables reversed.  At the time Yescka was one of the younger members of the ASARO collective. He was often in the company of a beautiful young European woman, or two.

Marcha, 2007, detail, woodblock print, ASARO, attributed to Yescka
Marcha, 2007, detail, woodblock print, ASARO, attributed to Yescka

ASARO, the Assembly of Revolutionary Artists of Oaxaca, is a collective founded in 2006. ASARO’s art belongs to Mexico’s long tradition of revolutionary public art. Back in 2006, they sold woodblock prints for 100 pesos, roughly $10, in Oaxaca’s public square. ASARO’s real passion, however, was the work they give away.

Stencil graffiti, ASARO, 2007. Oaxaca cathedral
Stencil graffiti, ASARO, 2007. Oaxaca cathedral

Overnight they cut stencils of an arrested comrade, the next morning her portrait was sprayed all over the walls of the historic city. They would print 3ft. tall woodblock prints of goose-stepping police monsters on tissue paper. By dawn a chorus line of mutant policemen would be pasted on walls of the cathedral or Governor’s Palace. I was lucky enough to spend time with ASARO in their studio. I remember meetings where heated discussions took place. Yescka would calmly weave around the room, always painting, sketching, making collages and popping into the conversation. He made some of ASARO’s most distinctive political prints. In those days, they were unsigned.

Taller Siqueiros, Yescka's studio and gallery, Calle Porfirio Diaz, Oaxaca.
Taller Siqueiros, Yescka’s studio and gallery, Calle Porfirio Diaz, Oaxaca.

As ASARO’s fame grew Yescka began doing more personal work. He travelled to Art Basel, to Munich and Oakland leaving a trail of street art along his route. Today he has his own studio in Oaxaca, Taller Siqueiros, named in honor of the radical 20th century Mexican muralist.

Masked Grafittero, Azompa
Masked Grafitero, Azompa, 2009

AZOMPA, 2009.
One day in the town of Azompa, near Oaxaca, collectives from across Mexico came to paint murals on the walls of the municipal basketball court. Azompa was once a small village known for green clayware; today it’s an overcrowded suburb of Oaxaca City. There was a screamo punk band playing at one end of the ballcourt. The lead singer had a head like a bull and wore tire chains over his shoulders. The municipal police roared up in pick-up trucks. Ten blue uniformed police jumped from the truckbeds brandishing clubs; some had sidearms and rifles. They told the crowd of maybe 100 that event was over. The muralists, grafiteros, stopped in mid-stroke. The punk band fled the stage. Yescka who had been stenciling at the far end of the basketball courts, strode through the crowd and took the band’s microphone.

Yescka with ASARO stencil crew in Azompa
Yescka with ASARO stencil crew in Azompa

The gist of what Yescka said was, “If our music disturbed our Azompa neighbors, we apologize, but WE WILL NOT STOP PAINTING! We will NEVER stop exercising our sacred rights to free expression guaranteed under the Mexican Constitution!” He pumped his fist in the air. “Viva Mexico! Viva la Revolucion! The Revolution Continues!”

The crowd roared in agreement. Yescka went on to say that he was thankful so many important “observers” from Mexico City from other countries were filming the event and nodded to me and cluster of French hipsters with telephoto cameras. Yescka’s speech saved the day. The police commander got on his walkie-talkie. Then he told his men to stand down. By nightfall, there were 20 new murals extending for over 100 yards along the cinderblock walls of Azompa’s ballcourts.

For more info on ASARO: Princeton University’s Library has a great collection of ASARO prints. I wrote about that collection here. If you’d like to know more about ASARO, I have several essays at Commonsense2.com. ASARO maintains a blog, that is occasionally updated. Yescka is on Facebook as Yescka Guerilla Art, here.

New Street Art in OAXACA

Reflejos de Huida, stencil, 2013, Lapiztola.
Reflejos de Huida, stencil, 2013, Lapiztola.

MACO,The Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Oaxaca has an exhibition of street art on its walls. Does street art belong in a museum? Well, MACO’s Hecho en Oaxaca spills over into the streets. The artists came from all over the globe, Swoon, The Date Farmers, How and Nosm, MOMO, Retna, Saner, StenLex, and Vhils. Oaxacan artists Yescka, Dr. Lakra, and Lapiztola round out the show curated by Pedro Alonzo.

Lapiztola Collective's birds seem escape onto the street
Lapiztola Collective’s birds seem escape onto the street.

I am fond of Lapiztola’s work. I’ve met them, in fact they once let me hitch a ride home with them from a birthday party in the hills. Their stencils are always crisp graphic statements, often they relate to musical themes. I was not familiar with L.A. artist Retna. Retna’s blue wall at MACO (below) titled “Somos los ninos de las manos manchadas” translates as “We are the children of stained hands.”

Art by Retna, 2013 Acrylic.
Art by Retna, 2013 Acrylic.

His work resembles Arabic calligraphy. I thought Retna also painted the front of ASARO’s studio, Espacio Zapata, home to a gallery and the cafe,”Atila Del Sur.”  A reader informs me it is the work of Sanez.

Retna, Espacio Zapata, Studio of  ASARO collective, # 519 Porfirio Diaz. Van artist unknown.
Wall by Sanez, Espacio Zapata, Studio of ASARO, # 519 Porfirio Diaz. Van artist unknown.

Dr. Lakra has an untitled mural in the exhibition. It looks to be inspired by Hollywood, Bollywood and cheap whiskey. In Lakra’s case, I prefer his simpler ‘dragon woman’ mural on a wall near Espacio Zapata.

Dr. Lakra, untitled, acrylic and spray paint.
Dr. Lakra, untitled, acrylic and spray paint.
Dr Lakra, Street mural, Porfirio Diaz. Oaxaca.
Dr Lakra, Street mural, Porfirio Diaz, Oaxaca.

Swoon’s project is among the largest artworks in the museum. Like many old public buildings in Mexico the museum was once church property until it was seized by the government. Swoon worked around fragments of painted wall decoration which may date from the 17th century. She turned a high-ceilinged room into a temple of intense female figures. To borrow a phrase, the walls reflect both “agony and ecstasy.” Overall, her imagery evokes a suggestion of hope. I first saw Swoon’s work on a wall in Braddock, PA. She is an inspiring artist.

Swoon, detail, showing fragments of colonial wall decoration.
Swoon, detail, showing fragments of the colonial wall decoration.
Wall by Swoon at MACO, Oaxaca.
Wall by Swoon at MACO, Oaxaca.

Swoon’s outside murals were on prime real estate in the historic center of Oaxaca. I was told the building houses Dr. Lakra’s painting studio. Her works are woodblock prints on kraft paper which are pasted to the walls with wheatpaste. In some places they call these works “throw-ups.” The street artist can unroll the work and throw it up on a wall in a matter of minutes.

Oaxaca Street Art by Swoon, complete with a museum label on right edge.
Oaxaca Street Art by Swoon, complete with a museum label on right edge.

I will leave you with an image that includes art by Swoon, but it looks to be a collaboration with Retna and perhaps the blue skull is by Dr.Lakra. Next post I will share work by my old friend Yescka.

Oaxaca Street art, Swoon, Retna, and maybe, Dr. Lakra.
Oaxaca Street art, Swoon, Retna, and maybe, Dr. Lakra.