October 31, 2010

Sand Dollar Print Finished

Tonight I feel as if I'm writing this post in a war zone.  The air outside is thick with smoke and the sound of all the fireworks, one minor explosion on the heels of another for the last couple of hours, has sent the dog cowering into the darkest corner below my work desk.  Halloween.  The little kids have all come and gone and now the rowdies are out. Lots of them tonight even though it's raining.  A good night to be indoors.  

I've now finished the last two colours of my Sand Dollar print and have, mentally anyway, moved onto the next project already.  I've read about other artists suffering from creative block but, so far anyway, this isn't something I've yet gone through.  For me, it's the opposite.  The amount of time I have for printmaking is well outweighed by the volume of ideas for all the prints I want to make.  Generally, by the time I'm nearing the end of one print, my mind is already racing with ideas for the next one.  I guess that's a good thing except that sometime it seems as if I'll never have enough time to do everything I still want to do.  

Anyway, here is the second to last stage:

And here's the print with the last colour added in:
Sand Dollar - 8" x 9.5"
I had to restrain myself from not adding in a stronger darker colour still, that's usually the norm for me, but I really wanted to keep the tones muted this time.  So far, I'm not regretting the decision to stop here. 


October 22, 2010

When Art Becomes Mental

This is what you might call a post between posts because I don't have any pictures to show and I haven't made any progress on the print.  But I've been doing some thinking, for a while now, about what art is and what role artists should have in society and I've decided to throw the topic out into the unknown to see if anyone will offer up some opinions.  

It sort of started with a book on art theory called, appropriately enough, Art Theory, A Very Short Introduction, by Cynthia Freeland.  I picked it up at a university book store I stopped in about a month ago.  In the author's own words it's "a book about what art is, what it means, and why we value it" and it looks at the various social and cultural influences on art now, and through history.  

Wasting no time, the very first chapter addresses the work of a number of contemporary artists who, for various reasons, use blood, urine, semen...well you get the idea...to produce their artwork.  Not surprisingly, their work has caused no small controversy and thereby gained notoriety and thereby, what else, a place in the galleries.  It's "important" work.  Yet when I read about it, I couldn't help asking the cliche question: is it art?  Which of course leads to the other age-old question: what is art?  In my view, and it might be a simplistic one, art is the expression of something within the artist's soul... a way of looking at the world or at something he/she has such a strong internal feeling for, that it absolutely has to be expressed externally. 

That said, I'd better point out that I recognize that great art doesn't have to be beautiful or even necessarily easy to look at. Many artists have used their medium in powerful ways to depict and focus on brutalities and horrors in hopes of affecting some kind of social change.  So my instinctive distaste at the idea of someone using feces as a medium is not based on a concept that art has to conform to some aesthetic ideal.  Yet I  have a hard time seeing such "artwork" as anything but an attempt at shock for shock's sake.  And I find that much of contemporary "serious" art is, at least in part, like that.  

An article in some art magazine I read last year was captioned "15 Artists Whose Work You HAVE to Know", or something like that.  There was a short blurb about each of the 15.  Without exception, the work of every single one of them was, in my eyes, dreadful.  It was all mostly stark black and white, jagged lines and scribbles, and no seeming balance, harmony, flow, or anything else that might lead me look at the work again. It seemed fake.

My father is an abstract artist who had, as I was growing up, many sculptors and painters as friends. I went to my first modern art opening when I was 12.  Point being, I love good abstract art. But I wouldn't hang the work of the 15 people showcased in that magazine article on my walls if they paid me to do it.  And I can't help wondering: have we, as a society, become so complacent in our approach to art that we have to be jarred out this complacency through shock?  Through a visual defibrillator?  

It seems to me that "body fluid art" or an installation of dead rabbits hanging from trees and decomposing, or a canvas depicting nothing but visual noise, is much too cerebral to come from the soul. It's the work of someone thinking up a method for making a statement rather than making that statement as a response to some internal feeling or conviction.

I'm also listening to Alan Watts and, in particular, his Out of Your Mind recordings.  Among the other though-provoking stuff he talks about, he poses the question: is the role of the artist to critique, or to reveal?  The recordings were made during the 60's so around the time of the pop culture art movement.  I get the impression he didn't much care for it, though I guess that's neither here nor there.  The question is still an interesting one.  Should artists critique or should they reveal?  

I actually think it's possible to do both, that an art work can reveal something soul-stirring about the human condition or the world itself and still critique issues that need be brought to light.  I can think of a couple of examples of printmakers who do just that.  But, if I could only choose one of the two, I'd go for the second one.  Show me something new, or something old in a new light.  Surely there's more growth inherent in a revelation than there is in a criticism?  At least that's my take on it.  

What's yours?

October 17, 2010

Sand Dollar Print: Back at It

Sometimes the two separate halves of my life, the creative one and the non-creative working one, flow together nicely and there's balance.  And then again sometimes they don't and I feel like I'm living in two worlds that are miles apart. The last couple of weeks were an example of the "sometimes not" scenario as, between a weekend out of town, a three-day course for work, and all the other regular stuff that sucks up time, the days whizzed by with no room for printmaking.  

It sure is tough to pick up a block left untouched for a couple of weeks and begin carving it again, just as if there were no interruption.  It always seems to take so much more thinking just to figure out what the next step will be.

I'm still not wholly on top of things and it was almost looking like I might not get to print even today but, somehow, I managed to catch up and added the fourth colour after all. With that, the sand dollar part of the print is done. I teetered and tottered between leaving the print be after the last time and going forward as per original idea.  The temptation to call it done definitely was there, made all that much stronger when I realized I wasn't the only one liking the subtlety after colour three.  But, in the end... 

At this point, the top and bottom areas of the print are much stronger than I want them to end up and will need to be lightened.  I considered masking them off for today's printing but finally chose not to go that route; I specifically want the lighter colours to go over this darker one.   

October 03, 2010

Sand Dollar Print: Stage Three

One of the things I love about relief printmaking is the lovely sculptural quality of the block as it's carved and shaped.  I guess it could be argued that, since the whole point of the process is the print itself, the actual block is secondary. But sometimes the patterns and textures that emerge in the block as I'm carving it are so aesthetically appealing, I wish I could save the block and turn it into a separate art piece.  

Like the block for this latest print.  I've reached a stage where it's so very interesting just on its own.  All those textures!  

And here's how the print looks with the latest colour in:

It's beginning to look like something now...