Thursday, May 29, 2008

198 Days to go

198 days to go

Art buddies, J and S, visited the studio yesterday at lunch time. Of course there was nothing concrete to see in the painting area because I had whited out all previous works. We admired the stretched canvases and stretchers. I showed them the sketch wall and also some of the photoshopped reference sketches so they could see what was going to happen. J caught and understood the anxiety I feel over thinking I have to bridge some older works with the new. He didn’t think it was much of a problem and the continuity is there. Because of his job he also understands the curator/exhibit design/artist mode that I am encountering.

J had some good insights and a suggestion on how to get focused. Make a to-do list at the end of the day and check it again when I enter the studio the next time. This is something I have done in an all-encompassing way but not on a day-to-day level. This way you can see some progress being made and keep on track as to what needs to be done.

While I had two more pairs of arms around I had the guys help me lift the big green coffin up onto some saw horses. I’ve been afraid I’m going to run something into that thing and ruin the finish. Propping it up also gives me better access to it for printing.

After work I watched the boys climb trees, drew dragons and knights on the sidewalk with the M, had dinner, and headed off to work in the studio. One of my neices is getting married soon. Her husband to be asked for a print of the marriage scene from one of the coffin sides as a gift. That was enough incentive to attempt to print one of the coffin sides. I mapped out a cropped composition from the 18 x 54” side. I used some paper guides to block out any over rolling and inked up a 18 x 14” portion of the block. It took quite a while to ink up the area with my 6 inch roller. Once the surface looked properly inked I lined up the paper and tacked it down with some painter’s tape so it wouldn’t slip off the vertical surface. I burnished the area with my trusty spoon and got a pretty good impression. I inked up once more and pulled another print for myself.

Once I pulled the paper guides off the block I realized that the inking up of that section was going to leave a distinct area darker than the rest of the block. The only solution was to ink the rest of the side. I thought as long as I was doing that I might as well attempt to pull a print. Now the last time I pulled a print from this block it was a single piece of wood 18 x 54”. It wasn’t attached to other boards, I had S helping lay the paper, and I was able to run it through a press horizontally! This night I was alone, the board was glued to the rest of the coffin sides and was sitting vertically on a pair of saw horses 3 feet off the ground. What the hell? I inked up the block, cut some paper, figured out the registration, rolled up the paper and lined it up as best I could against the block. I held my breath as I lay it down on the ink and started to roll it out. I was concerned if I missed the angle of the paper by a few degrees the image was going to run close to or off the paper at the opposite end of the block. The first one lay pretty good, not centered but pretty close. I burnished and burnished and burnished working left to right. As I got to the opposite end of the block my spoon went over a tiny piece of grit in the ink. The result was a small tear through the paper that had me hopping and cursing the dust gods all around the studio.

I calmed down enough to realize that the print wasn’t a total disaster. I strung it up to dry and sat a while to think out what to do next. By this time it was getting pretty late but I still wanted to get another print after all the trouble the inking up had been. The wood had absorbed enough ink that the block was now an even shade of green. I rolled the whole thing up once more and pulled another print. This time the paper really rolled out skewed but still fell within the image margin. I hung that one up to dry and called it a night.

As I sat writing up my list of things to do next I scanned the side of the coffin and started to see little areas here and there that needed a little more work. I think I’m going to have to carve some more before I get the definitive print from this piece...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

199 and counting

May 20, 2008
199 Days To Go

Beginning and then beginning again.
Task: How to keep a train of thought when there are so many other things vying for attention?

There are many things going on at home and in the studio. However, creating work has dropped low on the list. My full time job is about to kick into busy mode. Schedules are changing at home as the boys get out of school for the summer. When I do get to the studio I’ve had to juggle documenting works, getting information out, storing works and making a workable space, preparing supports, re-evaluating what goes where, and getting references for new works. On top of all that I have to coordinate when to paint and when to print so I’m not splashing stuff all over everything else.

Who said art making was easy? What I started working on before my trip to Mexico has been restarted. After drawing out some figures on the big canvas I realized that the composition was going to be too cramped. I then realized that this painting will have a relation to another and it would be more appropriate if the dimensions to both were closer in scale. (Once again the influence of my day job - laying out galleries - is a gift or a curse as I am thinking of how things will hang in the exhibit space as I am creating them.) So, I begin again. I’ve painted out what I’d done. The 7-year-old-Lightboy thinks I am crazy, my lovely thinks I’m crazy (but is supportive), soon-to-be-4-year-old-Miracleboy has the right idea: he just draws and draws more robots on any scrap of paper he can find.

There are now 4 big canvases staring blankly at me and I’ve yet to build 2 more stretchers. I still haven’t figured out how to reprint the coffin blocks that are glued together…

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Jalisco, Mexico (Day 3)

2008, April 26 (Jalisco, Mexico day three)

This was our last full day in Jalisco. The plan was to check out the town of Tlaquepaque, home of some of the best “arte popular” in the area. Once again Luis was our guide. Today the Zapopan hosts had arranged for one of their group to drive us.

I’m by no means big on shopping (unless it’s for music) but I was interested to check out the local crafts. My plan was to scout out any potential accents that I could use for my own works. The skeleton I used last October in my coffin piece was on loan from a friend. I was looking to find a permanent replacement in case I decide to use it in my Milwaukee show in December. José was looking to find stuff for his home and family. Tlaquepaque is the place to look. Shop after shop of crafts, art, and clothing line the main street area. Huichol artisans lay out their colorful beaded crafts on the sidewalks, kids walk around offering shoe shines, food sellers peddle their stuff and blind singers intone beautiful songs about love gone bad.

We visited a few galleries and a museum dedicated to the ceramic arts of the region. For a small museum they had an impressive collection of the various ceramics methods and styles created in the region and the rest of Mexico. My favorite here was a room dedicated to miniature dioramas depicting various historical and mythological events.

After hours of shopping my head was about to implode. I didn’t manage to find a skeleton but I did find some stamped tin pieces and some gifts for the family. We were also a bit famished so we stopped into Casa Fuerte for lunch and libations. This was a beautiful choice. The entry way was littered with juniper needles. The effect of the scent being released as you walked over the needles was a clever touch. Inside we were really outside. A big courtyard covered in hanging banners and umbrellas let the cool breeze through as a piano player serenaded us with huapangos and even John Lennon tunes. The first prize of the day goes to the tamarind margaritas! I’m not a big fan of margaritas. I prefer my tequila neat. However, Luis and José coaxed me into trying these out. I’m glad I did. The mixed was finely blended ice in a glass rimmed with sea salt and red pepper flakes. The pepper wasn’t hot but did give a fine accent to the whole mixture. Needless to say we polished off a few of these tasty treats.

Once our delicious lunch was polished off we continued on to Casa de las Flores a B&B that Luis’ friend José G. owns. Mr. G. is also an art lover and gallery owner. There we met up with Luis’ friend, Leti, and saw some of her work as well as Luis’. During our conversations in the beautiful back garden enclosure our host asked me a question I didn’t quite hear. What I thought he was asking was “Have you had a margarita?” I answered “Yes” thinking he was referring to us eating at Casa Fuerte. What he really had asked was “Do you want a margarita?” Soon we were on our way to some more drinking. I’ll have to say after the tamarind margaritas these regular lime ones really didn’t compare.

We checked our watches and noticed that we would have to rush back to the hotel to meet Ricardo. He had made arrangements for us to catch the Ballet Folklorico in Guadalajara that night. We took leave of Luis and friends and beat a hasty exit to our parked vehicle. On the way out we ran into a group decked out in Aztec feathers and guaraches practicing it’s dance moves on the street. We watched for a few minutes before moving on. Our companion driver sped us back to our hotel in questionable circuitous path. We arrived just in time to splash some water over us, change into something a bit more formal, and greet Ricardo.

The Ballet Folklorico gets the second prize of the day. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I’ve grown up seeing and even performing (once) in some traditional dances when I was a kid. The set production, costuming and live music of the B.F. in Mexico was something to behold. The dance troupe had about 20 dancers on the stage at times. The simple set design and creative use of light gels really kept the attention on the dancers and singers. The program was designed to highlight the diverse regions of Mexico song and dance. My favorite was the women dancing to the “son” of Veracruz. The stage backdrop was a moonlit tropical beach. The dancers wore light green dresses and danced with lit candles balanced on their heads. The movements created by the women gripping their dress skirts in their hands and undulating forward and backward gave the ghostly effect of moths dancing in the light. I found it all quite moving. Of course the state of Jalisco was saved for last. The crowd roared with enthusiasm as the mariachi came out in full force singing “Jalisco no te rajes…” It was a great ending to an amazing show, day, and the topper for our stay in Mexico.

The next morning we caught an early flight back to the States. While in flight I played over the events of our visit. I’ve been to Mexico many times. This trip was my first in eighteen years. It would be hard to compare the contrast encountered now. When I visited as a kid it was always to see family out in the “ranchos”. Way out in the middle of nowhere where the people were poor, affectionate and willing to give you their all. This time around in a huge metropolis that is Guadalajara I saw the breadth of the economic situation people endure. The culture is rich from it’s varied roots and influx of international industry and money. Mexico is a complicated country with a lot of beauty and problems but always a wonder to experience.

I’m looking forward to seeing the selected pieces arrive in the states. Raul Anguiano’s prints and mixed media pieces by Luis Macias will grace the walls of the old GRAM in July.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Jalisco, Mexico (Day 2)

2008, April 25 (Jalisco, Mexico day two)

Our second day in Jalisco started with the same killer buffet at our hotel. Teresa, the affectionate tortilla maker, had me laughing in no time. José and I planned our day as we ate our breakfast and watched the tourists, movers and shakers eating . We had an appointment with the director of MAZ, Museo de Arte Zapopan, at noon. The rest of the day was open to looking at art and perhaps meeting some of Luis’ friends.

We found Luis waiting in the lobby after we had gorged ourselves of goodies and cafecitos. We caught a cab back down to the heart of Zapopan. We were early for our appointment so we took in the various exhibits at MAZ. A local artist, Carlos Vargas Pons, had his work displayed in the main gallery. His large canvases incorporate realistic representations of figures superimposed on copies of famous art historical pieces. The exhibit covered about 15 years of work. The pieces evolved from pictorial break up of the picture plane to his recent pieces where he literally breaks up the canvases into slivers of individual pieces grouped to create one large image. I much preferred the earlier work. Somehow the newer work seemed geared more towards a commercial market.

In one of the upper galleries we discovered an exhibit of illustrations and sculpture by a fantastic French illustrator, Bruno Fourure. Mr. Fourure has an impeccable way with detail in his ink and watercolor paintings of cities and fantastic landscapes. He also has a unique grasp of creating 3-D pop outs of his works that extend into sculpture in the round. One long case held a zoo train where each car was created in a different material combination – paper, wood, etc. The entire exhibit was kid friendly. There was a school group of 7 year olds camped out on the floor playing a game with cards sporting some of B.F’s images.

Our meeting at noon was quick and to the point. We met Ricardo D., the director of MAZ in his office. José quickly stated our purpose and we were shown a list of prospective prints from the Anguiano show we had seen the day before. While José and Ricardo went over some info I quickly scanned the list and tried to figure out how many of the 22 pieces we could actually exhibit in GR. Ricardo and I then discussed how to get the works to the States. We finished our business talk and moved onto other subjects. I asked Ricardo if there were any galleries showing prints by the Taller de Grafica Popular. I mentioned that I had a personal interest in the TGP, especially my favorite of the groups’ printers, Leopoldo Mendez. A big smile crossed Ricardo’s face as he informed me that Leopoldo was his Grandfather and that he happened to have some prints by him at his home. He extended an invitation to come see them. I couldn’t believe my stroke of luck! We agreed to meet later as we made our exit. I think I floated out of the room.

From the plaza at Zapopan we rode over near the University of Guadalajara to look at the museum there. On the way I noticed many unfinished construction sites. José and Luis explained the nature of politics in Jalisco. The government runs on three year terms. This makes it difficult for anything to get done as the parties seem to flip flop every election. The first 18 months are taken up changing policies from the last administration, for good or bad. The next 18 months are spent defending those changes and trying to get re-elected. The next administration rarely sees through the last administrations projects, therefore there is a lot of wasted money and efforts.

We walked onto the Universidad de Guadalajara campus to see some more Orozco murals in a small auditorium. We chanced upon a declaration being read and then signed by students of the University. The declaration was being sent to the UN. We continued on to towards the museum only to find it closed for installation. Luis recommended we walk on to the Ex-Convento del Carmen, a gallery converted from an old convent. On the way we were able to see some of Luis’ father’s sculpture in a park. The piece was a tribute to 3 founders of the worker’s movement.

The convent had some interesting works on view. I have to admit I was starting to wear down in the heat and sensory overload. I don’t think I gave the art the attention it was due. There were some interesting minimalist abstract pieces on acrylic and glass sheets that did catch my attention but somehow I misplaced the name of the artist.

Next we met up with a lawyer friend of Luis' at an open air bar. Abraham is an art lover and very animated talker. Luis had me show A. my portfolio, which I had loaded on my iPod. He liked my work and started addressing me as "Maestro". I was touched and a little embarrassed but the sentiment seemed genuine. A. had a meeting to catch so J., L. and I caught a so-so lunch at a smoke filled restaurant and headed back to the hotel to freshen up before heading to Ricardo’s home.

Ricardo’s home was in an older part of Guadalajara. The walls were covered with paintings, prints and “arte popular” (Mexican crafts like dishes, ceramic animals, glass, etc.). Ricardo showed us four of Leopoldo’s signed linoleum prints that he had framed in the living room and then pulled some others that were not signed or framed. They were all stunning. Leopoldo’s my favorite of the TGP artists for his strong compositions and exceptional drawing skills. His works have a very cinematic feel to me. Over sips of tequila Ricardo recounted his rediscovery of his grandfather. The family had lost touch with who Leopoldo was until an artist friend visited their home and recognized the prints and clued them in on Mendez’s significance in the Mexican art world. Ricardo recounted how his sister used to color in the prints that had been kept in a drawer in his mother’s house. The prints he showed us were some that he had the sense to save when he was old enough to know better. Reminded me of my little helper.

We closed out the night with a visit to one of the oldest bars in downtown Guadalajara called El Fuente. The bar is infamous for being the meeting place for politicians, artists and performers. Ricardo informed us that long ago he had painted a mural on the walls around the bar. The acrylic paints had long flaked away and been repainted. All that remained now was an image of a moon painted “al fresco” in a niche above the bar. The niche also held one of the grungiest bicycles I’ve ever seen. Legend has it that a patron left the bicycle as an I.O.U. for his bar tab and never came back for it.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Jalisco, Mexico (Day 1)

2008, April 24 (Michigan to Mexico Day One and Two)

I’ve written way too much so I’ll have to break this into a few posts (not that anyone is going to read them anyway!)

I traveled to the state of Jalisco, Mexico last week. I visited the city of Zapopan near Guadalajara with José R., Assistant to the City Manager of Grand Rapids, Michigan. We were there to select some art work for an exhibition taking place in July that will coincide with the signing of an order declaring Zapopan and Grand Rapids as sister cities. While the trip was for selecting artwork and making arrangements for their travel I welcomed the opportunity to revisit my parents’ homeland and get to know more of Mexico.

Wednesday morning was spent looking over the potential exhibit space in Grand Rapids and making notes about what needed to be done to get the space prepared for exhibiting. The exhibit will hang in what used to be the Grand Rapids Art Museum before they moved to their new building. The Zapopan exhibit will share space with the annual Festival of the Arts exhibit. Festival organizers were gracious enough to spare us a space to hang some work. After checking the site José and I caught our flight arriving in Guadalajara late in the evening.

Thursday was my birthday. I hope the travel and new experiences I was about to encounter are signs of good things to come. We caught a great breakfast in the hotel that gave a whole new angle to the term “buffet”. Only in Mexico could you find chilaquiles, pozole, menudo, chorizo and pan dulce along side eggs, potatoes, bagels and yogurt. A very nice and talkative woman named Teresa made us some hot tortillas from freshly ground corn. The rest of the morning was spent meeting representatives from the city of Zapopan and arranging meetings with artists and curators. In the afternoon we headed to the heart of Zapopan and met up with Luis Macias, an artist José had met on a previous visit. Luis took us around to the cathedral and the Huichol museum that is housed right next door. I quickly purchased a couple of brightly colored beaded animal forms for my boys just as the gift shop was closing up.

As we walked around the plaza we noticed a rally of protestors and armed police in front of the city building. I tried to take some discreet pictures as we walked passed them to enter the building where an exhibit we wanted to see was hanging. The exhibit “Trazos de Una Vida” (Strokes of a Life), lithograph prints of Mexican women by Raúl Anguiano was displayed on the second floor atrium of the building. Mr. Anguiano was one of the founding members of the Taller de Grafíca Popular. We walked around the area taking in the sights as Luis made calls to various friends to lock in times to see their art. Before continuing on we took a break from the heat of the day by having a couple of Indio, a tasty dark Mexican beer, at a corner bar.

We next visited Hospicio de las Cabañas where I was able to view works by two of my favorite Mexican masters, José Clemente Orozco and Alejandro Colunga. ( Colunga’s magical bronze chairs decorate the plaza just outside the Cabañas. Luis informed us that he and his father had created the bronzes according to Colunga’s specifications. It turns out that Luis’ father was the official church sculptor for Guadalajara. Luis had worked closely with his father from age 14 on. Once inside the Hospicio Cabañas I was pleasantly surprised to see the intense murals by Orozco. I don’t know how it had slipped my mind that the iconic Hombre En Fuego was in Guadalajara. We chanced upon a very animated and informative tour guide who walked a small group around the space. I found his rapid-fire explanations of various aspects of the imagery and tricky perspective insightful and very well thought out. I particularly liked the minimalist description of the LosTres Grandes: “Rivera was a communist who liked the fine things, Siquieros a red and black socialist, Orozco was…a Humanist.” I lay on the cool stone floor of this former church and children’s orphanage to take in the frescos on the ceiling and snap some pictures.

By the time we got to the mercado we were starting to wear down. It was 4 p.m. – lunch time in Mexico. Luis recommended a food post that would have something we could all eat. I don’t eat any land flesh, which can make eating in foreign meat loving lands like Mexico a bit of a challenge. In addition to my personal eating choices we were being cautious to avoid any chances of becoming host to any opportunist intestinal critters. I was a bit worried about Luis’ choice at first but threw caution to the wind as he ordered up three bowls of spicy fish soup and corn tortillas for the three of us. The soup hit the spot in all the right ways (and luckily not the wrong ways). After lunch José and I parted ways with Luis and the mercado feeling invigorated.

José and I were anxious to check out a fair we had read about in the paper called Zapopum. In a cab headed north I took in the sights and smells of Guadalajara rush hour traffic while José made conversation with the driver. I noticed how the smell of mesquite smoke took me back to the earliest times I had visited Mexico with my family. Upon arriving at our destination we purchased entry to Zapopum for the very agreeable price of about $1.50 American. The fair turned out to be less than what we expected but what had caught our attention in the paper was not. A group by the name Architects of Air had a display entitled Levity III ( The inflatable vinyl structure with its minimal design and soundscape soundtrack was a welcome break from the sensory overload of the day in the city. The translucent quality of the material the structure is built from creates a mesmerizing sensation within a colorful labyrinth of womblike tunnels. Inside it felt like we were being bathed in the light of a stained glass cathedral.

When we emerged from the cool calm oasis of the sculpture we noticed a darkening sky and what we thought were dark rain clouds. We later found out that the clouds (and the smoke I had smelled earlier) were billowing from the arsonist set burning of a forest nearby. 40% of the forest burned that day. We’re told that this a customary occurrence by shady developers that are tired of waiting for building permits.

It was late by the time we got back to our hotel and freshened up. We decided to find a bar nearby where we could kick back and enjoy a few birthday drinks. We skipped the loud and trendy bar full of youngsters because of the awful music selection and the absence of Indio. Instead, we opted for a smaller open bar that had a young hipster bartending. We drank the last two of the Indio beers he had and then moved on to something else that I can’t recall now. Sobering thought for the day: Watching tv coverage of the burning forest while being surrounded by a group of four little girls that looked to be from 1 1/2 – 7 years old. They were begging for money in exchange for some gum packets. We gave them money and told them to keep the gum for someone else. This idea seemed strange to them and they kept trying to leave the gum. José and I sat stunned with probably the same thing running through our minds “those kids our our kids’ ages.”