Some of my favorite reduction linocuts and new monoprint collages have been peacefully coexisting in a library this month. It is nice to see that while the techniques can be very different, both the colors and the structures of the work seem to harmonize nicely.
The library is part of the Saint Meinrad Archabbey located in southern Indiana. While most of the abbey architecture is made of local sandstone blocks, the library is a white brutalist structure that nestles unobtrusively into the hillside.
I was delighted to give an artist talk about the work to a group of Indianapolis IB math, music and art students recently. As I challenged myself to explain the why of my work, I could see the many mathematical and scientific phenomena that inspire me. The students gave me quite a gift — a kind, attentive and inquisitive audience for the debut of my combined works. In a place of peace and contemplation, I was grateful indeed.
My first completed work of 2019 is filled with details. Details make up everything. When I was a child, I would lay in my darkened bedroom and imagine myself going farther and farther into space. Born in 1967, I have never know a time when we did not know what the Earth looked like from space. But past the Earth and the Milky Way, well, I had no conception.
Zoom the other direction in your mind, and you begin to encounter the structures of all life — all of the molecules that make up everything that is animate and inanimate. Neil deGrasse Tyson explains that these elements were formed by ancient exploding stars and recombined to create our entire Earth and universe. “We are literally, not figuratively, stardust,” states Tyson.
If I venture out of my quiet home studio bubble to look at the news, I am saddened by the amount of conflict and discord throughout our country and our world. I know the reasons for discord. I do wonder what it would take for us to see ourselves in others? To acknowledge that we are made from the same stardust.
Business gurus and motivational speakers encourage people to adopt a word as a guide for their intentions for the New Year. A bit less specific than a resolution. My word for 2019 is peaceful.
When I first decided to write this blog, I worried I would sound like an annoying middle-class person who has the luxury of working for myself. Certainly there are innumerable products and services that one can obtain in their quest for peace, but are they necessary? I challenged myself to come up with a few things that anyone can do to seek peace that cost nothing. Here are some suggestions:
Consider your posture We spend our lives hunched — over computers or phones or books or worktables. By engaging your core muscles, sitting up straight and relaxing your shoulders, you open up your chest. This gives your lungs more opportunity to open, you become taller and may feel more supported.
Think about your breathing Is your breath shallow — especially when you are sitting down (and might be hunched over?) Take a moment to breathe deeply, imagining your lungs filling completely and then emptying fully. You can do this at any time without anyone knowing. Try it during your evening commute or a stressful meeting.
Hit unsubscribe I’m assuming if you are reading this that you have some internet connectivity and probably an email address. There are a myriad of things to worry about in our world, and many of them have organizations that will email you…incessantly. Be honest with yourself — how many of these email messages do you actually read? You can still care about issues without having daily doses of hysteria-pitched text thrown into your day.
Choose when to engage Consider taking unnecessary notifications off your phone, and making use of special VIP lists for email you can’t afford to miss. Decide when you will read or listen to news. Do it at a time when you can give the world happenings your full attention. If it is in the background, why not put on some music or an audio book instead?
Why is being peaceful important to me…and to you?
When I don’t feel peaceful — when my mind is filled with anxiety — I make terrible art. And then I feel discouraged, and more anxious, creating a vicious cycle. Being peaceful isn’t just for people who make creative work all day. Peaceful drivers make for safer streets. Peaceful teachers have more patience. Perhaps peaceful legislators will find ways to work together. The possibilities are endless.
What is your word for 2019? Might I suggest peaceful?
Bodies of artwork are like siblings. They come from the same source, and you hope they play well together. There are no guarantees.
Some of my linocuts and monoprint collages are getting ready to be featured together at the St. Meinrad Archabbey in Ferdinand, IN. I chose linocuts that explore similar themes to the newer monoprint collages. Both Breath Intertwined (above) and Multiplicative (below) explore the concept of leaf cellular packing, but from different starting points.
What follows is my artist statement for the exhibit — my explanation of my artistic progeny. I hope they behave themselves.
Making a statement
What if what you perceive is related to more than just your immediate experience? Does an image or natural formation remind you of something other than its current form? I often sense that there is a connection across the macrocosm, where patterns and forms tell a story of the underlying laws of our existence.
A century ago, Scottish scientist D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson mused that “everything is what it is because it got that way.” In contrast to the popular Darwinian evolutionary theories of the day, Wentworth thought that living and non-living things (such as in astronomy and geology) were shaped by the requirements of physical forces. Accidents in formation are also part of the process, leading to wide variations within tremendous similarities. In my work, I strive to explore these similarities and consider how the human experience might mirror that of nature itself.
I gather my inspiration with the assistance of science and technology. My personal photographic catalogue is filled with images taken from commercial airplanes, often partly eclipsed by an airplane wing. I delight in the myriad of satellite images available to me, as well as those unveiled by highly sensitive microscopes. Artists from only decades ago would have been amazed at this source material.
The materials and techniques I choose are surprisingly simple in stark contrast to my methods for gathering inspiration. My imagery is created with linseed oil-based inks on cotton rag paper with the assistance of a hand-cranked etching press built with recycled steel. My reduction linocuts are created by a conversation between carving away layers of one linoleum block and printing the resulting pattern in overlapping inked layers, until the block is mostly carved away, or reduced.
My latest work embraces monoprinting, which is a spontaneous and surprising way to create images. Made by printing an inked sheet of smooth polycarbonate, no two monoprints are exactly the same. I develop unique textures on paper (which are themselves monoprints) that are then cut apart and combined with old maps to create monoprint collages. Taking my cues from the paper cut-outs of Henri Matisse as well as the playful exuberance of children’s book artist Eric Carle, the collages seek to create something that feels resonant and familiar in an abstract form. The addition of gold leaf in some collages hints at the reverence I feel toward my subject matter.
What do you do when what you create does not look its best on a cell phone? I have been struggling with this question ever since I wanted to post my first monoprint collage. Take a look at my latest monoprint collage, Benediction for an Unlikely Journey and I will explain.
I am drawn to small details and want to see how the compilation of details creates an energetic, continually interesting whole. I cut details out of monoprints I have created and maps on which I sometimes print colors. When people take a look at my work in person, they first come close to see all of the details, and then back up to see the work as a whole. I find these dual ways of enjoying artwork means my imagery that doesn’t get boring.
Sadly, many of the people who see my work will never see it in person. It is largest when the image is clicked on through my website. I also post it on Instagram and Facebook. Imagine how tiny the image becomes when viewed in the Facebook platform on a small cell phone. The details are completely lost. Does this make a difference?
Getting up close and personal
To counter the problem of the tiny screen, I have started including details in my social media posts and even on the webpage of the work. I’m hoping that between the two images, viewers can get a clearer idea of the work despite the problems of scale. It takes some work on their part, however…
Making the art feel at home
In my quest for image clarity, I created an in situ photograph of the work. I popped the collage into the frame matted, but without the glass to avoid reflections. Now people can see the scale of the work and how the details read from a few feet away.
Will all of these images help with the problem of the tiny screen? It will probably be some time before I know if it is a reasonable substitute to visiting the work on my living room wall.
One thing I love about creating monoprint collages is how open-ended the process can be. I print the polycarbonate matrix in particular colors and wait for inspiration to come. A large plate (24 x 36in) was covered in tiny tape (1/16 inch chart tape) and printed with bright citrine green and teal blues. All I could think of was rhythm and energy. After several weeks, Inception emerged. (Be sure to click on the image and scroll down for a close-up. This collage is large!)
I have been appreciating colorful collage papers for decades, thanks in part to Eric Carle. While many famous artists create collages using found images from the greater media world, Eric Carle created his work with papers that he painted. Take a look at your copy (or your child’s copy) of The Very Hungry Caterpillar to see Carle’s genius in the use of pattern and color.
Monoprints on monoprints on monoprints
With the exception of some old road and geological maps, everything I have been using in my monoprint collages comes from a monoprint itself. The image below shows a detail of a 24 x 36 inch monoprint collage I have been working on. With my exacto knife in one hand, and my paintbrush with matte medium in the other, small squares of other monoprints become part of a larger work.
Patterns ground me. I’ve tried to make work that had nothing to do with patterns, and it didn’t feel like me. In the midst of midterm election shenanigans in the U.S., working with the Voronoi diagrams has provided me with times of peaceful creation and discovery.
Is it ever really finished? This is not a question I’ve had to ask myself until recently. When creating reduction linocuts, at some point you simply do not have any more linoleum to carve away and so the answer is yes, you are finished.
Delighting in an open-ended medium
My recent foray into monoprint collages has allowed me for the first time to decide that something was not finished. This occurred last week, as I was about to post the remaining monoprint collages based on my Voronoi diagram drawing. Here’s the finished monoprint collage, Galaxy Next Door.
This week tiny tape makes it debut in my creation of monoprint collages. I used black 1/16 inch chart tape from Dick Blick and was pleasantly surprised at how well the tape behaved. To make sure the tape sticks well, I always clean the plate with denatured alcohol to remove any grease before taping. I also run the taped uninked plate through the press with several layers of newsprint to make sure everything stays stuck down. (more…)