Archives for posts with tag: printmaking

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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

 

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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.

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 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.

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.

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Passing through beautiful Puebla on my way to Xalapa, I stopped to see a one-man exhibition of prints. The artist who I knew as ‘Lukas’ invited me to view his Peregrinajes (Pilgrimages) at the Municipal Institute of Art and Culture. The gallery space does double duty as a classroom. When I entered, the floor was covered with student prints set out to dry. The Gallery Director, Domingo Castillo, apologized, but it is good to see so much artistic activity in the city-run institute.

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LUKAS?
The artist arrived with his novia, Gabrielle. As it turns out, Lukas is his Facebook name, his real name is Victor Hugo Mereno Terrez. Considering the literary references in much of work, his birth name suits hims. There were over 20 works in the show, linocuts, wootcuts, etchings and lithos. He brought even more work to show me, sketches and works in progress carved in plywood and drawn on metal. He shared a process new (to me) Silocografia, a dry form of lithography done on metal. Below is a detail from one such print, La Derrota de Quiron.

20130709-085209.jpg He draws quickly with an ordinary ballpoint on sheet metal. I’ve used a litho pencil on a metal plate, but this ballpoint technique in Victor’s hands retains the remarkable vitality of his drawings. I asked him where he studied. He told he was an autodidact, meaning self-taught. He studied philosophy and letters at college. He has, however, since studied printmaking at tallers, teaching studios, across Mexico including with Maestro Bulmaro Escobar Ramirez and Maestro Per Anderson at La Cieba Grafica.

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Detail above from a large print, Logos. Additional examples from the work of Victor Hugo Mereno Terrez appear below. Visitors to Puebla interested in prints should visit the Municipal Institute Gallery and also the famed Museo Erasto Cortes, devoted to the art of printmaking.

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20130709-101206.jpg Lukas, I mean, Victor Hugo, is devoted to the printmaking media. He has an upcoming exhibition in the Ukraine and prints in groups shows throughout Mexico. His future as an artist looks bright. If you want to contact him here is his nom de plume, and Facebook name: http://www.facebook.com/lucas.volturno:

20130709-101839.jpg Finally, to show one more reason to visit Puebla. Pictured below is one of three massive bronzes by the Mexican sculptor, Javier Marin. This one is called Female Head, Chiapas. It stands in the plaza San Geronimo, and is enormously popular with visitors.

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Elephant, cut paper, © Maude White

Elephant, cut paper, © Maude White

I met artist Maude White at Grit N Glory on NYC’s Lower East Side at an opening reception for Carrier Pigeon Magazine. Her medium is cut paper. She illustrated “The Girl Who was Struck by Lightning,” a quite peculiar short story by Chris Stanton. If there is a literary genre called Backwoods Surreal Noir, this story fits the bill.

Art © Maude White Text: Chris Stanton

Art: Maude White    Text: Chris Stanton    Carrier Pigeon Issue #9 Designer: Amanda Bixler

I’m a professor, so I naturally asked Maude where she studied. She told me she had never studied illustration. In fact, she only recently began taking classes at Buffalo State in areas that interest her. Maude’s artwork is quite wonderful. I tell my students one doesn’t need a degree to be an illustrator. Maude White proves that point.

Hand, cut paper, © Maude White 2013

Hand, cut paper, © Maude White 2013

I emailed her a few questions and apologized for the rather dumb one I asked her at the gallery.

“No worries about the college question! I went to a Waldorf School for my early, formative years. I think that influenced my art in many ways. Waldorf Schools place a very high importance on handwork and visual storytelling. Also, I come from a family of visual storytellers. My mother and my sister are both gifted toymakers, and my mother is a puppetmaker as well.”

Maude White at Grits N Glory

Maude White at Grits N Glory

Who are your artistic influences?

“I am influenced by my mother’s art a great deal. When I was little she would make wool felt playscapes – little scenes of a tree stump in a forest-covered in plants and animals, a small garden scene with vegetables and apple trees, a playscape for the story The Three Billy Goats Gruff. It was these types of small, precious, complete worlds that drew me to working with paper. I like the idea of the stark contrast between the black and white paper, and the cut nature of the work makes my art more three-dimensional than paint on canvas. I have always been fascinated by small, hidden, secret things. I like the idea of looking in, or through. With paper cutting there are so many opportunities to create negative space that tells its own story, just by letting the observer become present in the piece, by allowing him or her to look through it. I like that.”

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How did you become an illustrator for Carrier Pigeon?

“I met Russ (Spitkovsky, Editor-in-chief ) at the Book Fest at the Western NY Book Arts Center in Buffalo last summer. We were both vendors and our tables were next to each other. At the time I was making tiny carousel books with pop-out paper cut panels (a carousel book is a type of book that ‘pops’ out into a star shape). Russ and I got to talking and he expressed interest in having me illustrate a story for Carrier Pigeon. He sent me Chris Stanton’s ‘The Girl Who Was Struck By Lightning’ to illustrate for CP9. I never talked to Chris, but after CP9 came out he reached out to me via Facebook and expressed his delight over our collaboration. It was great, and I’m glad to have made that connection.”

Chained, cut paper, © Maude White.

Wild, cut paper, © Maude White.

What are you working on now?

“Currently I’m working on some large pieces, roughly 24 in. x 18 in. and very intricately cut. One is a giant hand, the other is an elephant. The hand will be exhibited at the Western New York Book Arts Center’s member show. Also, I am completing panels for a small 4 in. x 4 in. paper cut alphabet book. Each panel has the papercut letter and usually two things that relate to that letter. For example, ‘D’ shows a dragon blowing fire at a dandelion. ‘S’ has a snail sitting on the ‘S’ looking down at a ship. This has been a really fun project and the only ones I have left to draw and cut are WXY and Z.”

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CP9, Carrier Pigeon, Issue 9, costs $25. Besides Maude White’s artwork there is much of interest, including linocut monsters by Bill Fick and a letterpress cover by Richard Kegler. I love Carol Fabricatore‘s illustrations for Ryan Scamehorn’s ‘Honor Among Thieves’ and the stunning portfolio of Alex Zwarenstein‘s figurative oil paintings. See more at www.carrierpigeonmag.com. As I’ve said before, $25 may be expensive for a magazine, but it is cheap for a work of art. My copy is signed and numbered #95 of 1000, and it smells like fresh ink. I once bought an 1894 copy of The Yellow Book, the London-based magazine art directed by Aubrey Beardsley for $20. Today that issue is on Amazon for $100. I believe Carrier Pigeon will prove as influential as The Yellow Book was in its day. I also expect the limited edition issues of Carrier Pigeon will similarly increase in value. As they say on Wall Street, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.”

Chained, detail, cut paper, © Maude White

Chained, detail, cut paper, © Maude White

More Maude
Visit www.bravebirdpaperart.com to see more of Maude White’s work. You can purchase paper cuts or commission art. She also does felt jewelry. I asked Maude if she ever considered using a laser cutter. She told me she prefers a sharp X-acto knife, “It may sound weird, but I love to cut, ” she said, “I just enjoy the process.” She also shared one trade secret of her technique. She uses a silver colored pencil to sketch on the black paper before she begins cutting.

The secret tool for cut paper art. Thanks Maude.

The secret tool for cut paper art. Thanks Maude.

Hypnotic Skull (detail) linoleum cut © Bill Fick

Hypnotic Skull (detail) linoleum cut © Bill Fick

Bill Fick wrote the book on printmaking. Actually, he co-wrote the book, with Beth Grabowski, Printmaking: A Complete Guide to Materials & Processes. He is a part of the group known as the Outlaw Printmakers.

Bill Fick, headshot, (detail) photograph © Bill Fick

Bill Fick, headshot, (detail) photograph © Bill Fick

Bill Fick draws monsters. He is a nice guy. I met him one rainy night at the Atomic Cowboy bar in St. Louis. Tom Huck was throwing a party and Bill Fick was among the invited Outlaws. I remember a protester outside the bar carrying a sign saying, “STRIPPERS ARE BAD.” The bar was so crowded that I never saw the strippers; maybe they were bad.

Fick's Printmaking text, cover image by Sean Starwars

Fick’s Printmaking textbook, cover image by Sean Starwars

Bill Fick teaches printmaking, drawing, and comics at Duke University. He has set his mind to building something off-campus in Durham, N.C. He has a vision of a self-supporting printmaking studio/work space/ exhibition space, with artist access to equipment, workshops, and classes. There is nothing like it in the area. It will be super and it will be called SUPERGRAPHIC!

YOU CAN OWN A BILL FICK MONSTER!

Bill Fick’s art has been exhibited all over the world. He’s won a National Endowment for the Arts award. His monsters are included in famous collections such as Harvard’s Fogg Museum. His art can fetch thousands of dollars. But his SUPERGRAPHIC dream is your opportunity to own an original Bill Fick artwork for a donation of as little as $35.

pigbat-animated-smaller The details of the SUPERGRAPHIC project can be found here.  If you want to learn more, or donate, check that out. Also check out billfick.com where, oddly enough, there is a photo of Kutztown printmaking grad Josh Dannin working on a monster print project.

"Homer Johnson"  linoleum cut, © Bill Fick

“Homer Johnson” linoleum cut, © Bill Fick

Jim Haverkamp made a charming 7-minute documentary of Bill Fick at work, Anatomy of a Linocut. Another video by Frith Gowan and Ayanna Seals lets Bill Fick speak his mind. It is called Controlling the Monster. He admits, “I am fascinated with the idea of the monster… ugliness… misunderstanding… For me, making the monster may be some kind of response to the constant drone of bad news.”

"Un Gran Consejo"or "Great Advice," César Chávez, 2011

“Un Gran Consejo” or “Great Advice,” César Chávez, 2011

Our 2011 visiting artist César Chávez of Oaxaca, Mexico left a great impression on Kutztown University. He also left a number of plates.

El Chamuco drawn by Cesar Chavez.

“El Chamuco”  by César Chávez, 2011.

Ceramics Prof Jim Chaney formed a half-dozen red clay plates, then iced them with a coat of white slip, or diluted clay. He invited César to the ceramics studio to draw. Prof Chaney speaks some Spanish and once did a ceramics workshop at the University of Azuay in Ecuador. Even though César spent most of his time at Kutztown in the printmaking studio, he was happy to spend one very productive afternoon in the ceramics studio.

"Mescal" by Cesar Chavez 2011

“Mescal” César Chávez, 2011

César is a happy fellow who often draws moody, morbid sketches of the human condition. The plate above suggests mescal, Oaxaca’s agave-based alcohol is “Good for Nothing and Good for Everything.”

"Mojado" by César Chávez

“Mojado” by César Chávez, 2011

Interestingly enough, César is back in Mexico and working in another new material, glass. He has been working with artist Jason Pfohl who founded the international art glass and jewelry studio, Gorilla Glass, in Oaxaca. César’s one-man show “Peste” (Pestilence) opened at Gorilla Gallery this week. He is printing multiple impressions from etched and melted glass. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. César is also continuing his ongoing experiments in computer animation and image projection.

César Chávez, photo  courtesy of Gorilla Gallery

César Chávez, photo courtesy of Gorilla Gallery, Oaxaca, Mexico

César told Gena Mejia of the Imparcial newspaper that he is excited by the infinite possibilities of working in glass. It appears fragile, but can be a strong and very versatile material. If you can read Spanish the full story can be found here. César Chávez is an inspiring artist, a 21st century renaissance man, always searching for new materials in pursuit of his artistic vision.

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april

April Vollmer demonstrates how to carve registration notches on woodblock.

April Vollmer recently taught a two-day Moku Hanga workshop at the Printmaking Center of New Jersey.  KU Prof Elaine Cunfer and I took the class along with five other students. I know a bit about Japanese prints, but had never tried my hand at the traditional Moku Hanga woodblock printing technique. April, a great teacher and printmaker, has travelled to Japan to perfect her skills. She has an extensive gallery of her prints online at aprilvollmer.com.

Moku Hanga print "Migration" ©2008 April Vollmer, from www.aprilvollmer.com

“Migration”  Moku Hanga print © 2008 April Vollmer

Moku Hanga is nothing like my prior printmaking experience. I am used to the down and dirty printing of Oaxaca or Tom Huck’s Evil Prints. Moku Hanga is far more refined. I came to class dressed in my ink-stained black shirt and raggedy painting jeans. I learned there is no need to dress like a hobo to print Moku Hanga.  The pigments are water-based and do not stain clothes like oil-based relief printing inks.

2 horizontal pattern prints © 2011 April Vollmer

2 horizontal pattern prints based on nature © 2011 April Vollmer

April suggests beginners might start printing with tube watercolors, but a more economical color can be had by mixing pigments. She uses the pigments from Art Guerra. For wood and carving tools she recommends McClain’s Printmaking Supplies. The wood we used was shina plywood, imported from Japan. The shina and carving tools are rather expensive. A small, 8 by 10 inch, piece of shina ply costs $6.35. April says the expense is due to the currency imbalance between the Japanese yen and the U.S. dollar. If you have never used real shina ply, it is a joy to carve. McClain’s will send you a free sample; find details here.

Ukiyo-e print by Utamaro, circa 1800, printed with mica  background. (Wikipedia)

Ukiyo-e print by Utamaro, circa 1800, printed with mica background. (Wikipedia)

April showed us master Ukiyo-e prints by the likes of Morunobu and Utamaro before demonstrating her technique. One of the secrets of the art is cutting a precise registration corner and landing pad for the printing paper. The best paper, naturally, comes from Japan.

Blue Vortex, woodblock, (detail) © 2005 April Vollmer

Blue Vortex, woodblock, (detail) © 2005 April Vollmer

More of April’s tips: Your work table should be about navel level. Printing is not done with a press, but by rubbing the baren, a light weight disk, on the back of the paper. Printing starts from a balanced standing position with a quick burst of energy using upper body strength. April says she can print faster with a baren than printmakers who use a press. She claims she can print an edition of 25 in one morning and I believe her.

McCloskey making prints of St. Francis. photo: E. Cunfer

K. McCloskey making prints of St. Francis. photo: Elaine Cunfer

She also demonstrated the proper way to hold the paper, set up one’s workspace, and sharpen cutting tools. There was one student who had no prior printmaking experience; even he came away with successful prints. We managed to do an edition of two-color prints with a single block of shina by carving the second color on the reverse side. If you have the opportunity to study with April Vollmer, you can learn a great deal in a brief amount of time.

April Vollmer pleased with her student's prints at Printmaking Center of NJ

April Vollmer seems pleased with her students’ prints at Printmaking Center of NJ

For more insights into the history and current state of Moku Hanga (also spelled mokuhanga) check out April Vollmer’s comprehensive essay in Art in Print. There is also a brief (4-minute) documentary video filmed by Dempsey Rice of April Vollmer at work, here.

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UPDATE: Dec.12, 2012: April Vollmer sent a note about the post above:  “I hardly recognize myself your review is so flattering, but it is great to have someone describe the class. I always have fun, and people learn a lot. I always talk about the history, and how the technique fits into Japanese culture. I do hesitate about the refinements, it can be overwhelming. But my printmaking career (if one can call it that!) has been about making mokuhanga accessible, less precious, but without throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Good tools and good paper are such a pleasure, and actually much more affordable than, say, coated digital paper, computer software, etc. I paid $120 for my large soainomi (fan-beveled chisel), but I have had it for 20 years already!

Printmaking in NY is very different from Mexico, and that is completely different from Japan…The shina (basswood) plywood from Japan is good not only because of its even grain, but because the glue between plys is very thin and waterproof. Printing wet makes more demands on the wood than oil base does. Shina is also very lightweight which I appreciate, having to carry it around all the time!”

She also noted that she has met the legendary Tom Huck and went bowling with him when they both taught at Frogman’s Print Workshop in South Dakota.

Rostislav “Russ” Spitkovsky by Kevin McCloskey 2012

Russ Spitkovsky makes things happen. He came to Kutztown as one of the 9 artists in the 2012 Print Invitational at the Miller Gallery.  The founder of the cutting edge art magazine Carrier Pigeon hung artwork from the latest issue at the Eckhaus Gallery on Main St. He circled back this week as a visiting artist to spend time with students.

oil monotype illustration by Russ Spitkovsky for “Hall of Mirrors”

Carrier Pigeon is an artist-driven publication. Russ and friends began it after grad school at SVA’s Illustration as Visual Essay MFA Program. Each issue has works by six fine artists, plus six writers, and six illustrators.

Carrier Pigeon cover by Cannonball Press, Martin Mazorra & Mike Houston

The magazine has included original etchings and woodcuts by Russ and guest artists including Marshall Arisman, Bruce Waldman and Frances Jetter. KU Prof. Evan Summer has contributed to several issues.

Russ speaking to overflow crowd in KU Print studio. Photo by Evan Summer

Russ shared some mind-boggling stories. Like the one about a meth addict who tells his wife he’s spending their life savings importing alpacas, but the alpacas are being held up in customs. There are no alpacas; he’s building a giant meth factory. The factory bursts into flames and meth maker gets encased in glass and, well, I don’t want to ruin the ending. The full story by Ryan Scamehorn called “Hall of Mirrors” can be found in Carrier Pigeon #3. It is fiction; I hope.

Illustration by Marshall Arisman for “Good Dog” by Erin Browne, Carrier Pigeon #7

Digression: Many years ago I sent a book idea to Lawrence Ferlenghetti’s City Lights Press. A few weeks later I got the best rejection letter ever. It said, ‘Your project is so interesting, you should publish it yourself. We are swamped publishing our own friends. Start your own press. Here are some resources…‘  Russ Spitkovsky never got that memo from City Lights, but certainly he embodies the D.I.Y. publishing spirit.

Kevin McCloskey, Moe Tierney, Russ Spitkovsky. Photo by Evan Summer

Russ was born in the Ukraine. Why do so many amazing printmakers come from Eastern Europe?  KU’s Print Invitational includes Michael Goro from Russia, Ivanco Talevski from Macedonia, Endi Poskovic from Sarajevo, and Russ. It occurred to me perhaps these artists find core concepts difficult to express in English and are therefore driven to excel at graphic communication. Russ provided a better insight into why so many extraordinary artists come from places once under the Soviet sphere of influence. Growing up in the Ukraine he showed a precocious talent for art. He was plucked from preschool and put in an art academy. He was drawing the human figure from plaster casts at the age of four.

Illustration by Russ Spitkovsky from Central Booking, his self-published visual essay.

On the night of January 3, 2009, Russ was walking down a Brooklyn street. The police stopped and searched him and found he was carrying a knife. It was an ordinary knife purchased at Home Depot. The NYPD decided it was a lethal weapon, “a gravity knife,” and threw him in jail. He spent the next 32 hours in an overcrowded holding cell at Brooklyn’s Central Booking. Charges were dropped, but Russ made art from the experience. Upon his release, drawing from memory, he transformed that grotesque night into a visual essay in book form. He published “Central Booking” via the print-on-demand publisher Blurb. The book was not a financial success, but led him to explore other self-publishing options.

Russ loves working with the likes of Martin Mazorra and Mike Houston of Brooklyn’s Cannonball Press. Russ calls Cannonball Press the pioneers of the indy press and affordable art movements. Russ advises art and illustration students not to hole up in their studios after graduation. “Find a co-op print shop; work among other artists.” He said the community of Robert Blackburn’s  NYC printmaking studio saved his sanity. He was able to get instant feedback on his art and stay in a creative loop.

Today, Russ works not only with graphic artists, but an ever-expanding community of playwrights, jugglers, Coney Island sideshow performers and puppeteers. Strange doors keep opening for Russ. Recently someone gifted Carrier Pigeon with a building in Gutenberg, NJ. To keep up with Carrier Pigeon news and events visit their Facebook page.

Justin Sanz, Eckhaus workers Nicole and Megan, Russ. Photo from http://www.eckhausgallery.org/

If you are fortunate enough to be in Kutztown, PA, get to Eckhaus to see the original art from Carrier Pigeon. There are copies of the latest issues for sale. Each issue costs $25. Twenty-five bucks is a lot of money for a magazine, but not a lot for a work of art.

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